But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. – Matthew 19:14
My wife and I both work in and within some form of family or children’s ministry since we first entered Anglicanism and was part of it for many years before. For most of these years, we have been involved in programs that worked to ‘attract’ children so that the parents would stick. We worked to make children’s ministry entertaining, engaging, and fun. Now, those aren’t bad things, but they ended up being the focus– how loud we can be, how funny we can be, and then we can throw a ‘life lesson’ on top of the dance moves and games. I am willing to put money on if you walk into most megachurches that you will find a program that’s primary purpose is to segregate the children from the parents for the entire time of the service and to entertain the kids (with the main effect being evangelism) and have some type of small group time. Is this bad? Not necessarily. But what is the fruit of it that we see in the last 10-20 years? We see a culture of kids who know to share but don’t know the Lord’s Prayer or the story of David and Goliath. We have kids (who are now adults) who have walked away from the church because it’s entertainment value has lessened. We have a group of un-catechized adults walking with no knowledge of the Church or Christ outside of the few moral bits they received in children’s and student ministry.
something has to change.
In the Anglican Church in North America, you will find a plethora of different children’s ministry models from the one described above to Montessori-based programs like Godly Play and Catechesis of the Good Shepherd to Sunday School done before or after the liturgy to everything in between. There is no standard for what a program and/or curriculum would/should/could look like and in a lot of ways it depends on the culture of the congregation. One thing that is most common, however, is an emphasis of family worship around the liturgy of the Eucharist. As Anglicans, we baptize our children and invite them into the family of God. As a congregation or community, we make promises along with the parents and God parents to support those being baptized in their life of Christ. We ALL make that promise. In a sense, we all become responsible, not only for our own lives, but for all those within our congregations from our littlest members to our oldest. For the Church, we are at our heart a family, a people, of God, more than a community, but not less than that.
My former vicar, Fr. Dale Brown, wrote the following about what we did for children at our parish:
This is why we invite all kids four and above into the service during Communion. We want our children with us during the Eucharist. Through this part of the common worship we want them to learn with us how to worship God, what it means to be baptized, and how to give thanks to God for his saving acts. In essence, we want our children to learn how to be a part of the family of God. In the end we believe that this is one of the ways that we at the Advent can be faithful to Christ when he commands his disciples, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” Luke 18:16
So what do we do? How do we change the culture of children’s ministry?
I believe it’s two parts, and this isn’t pushing a certain curriculum or method, but first we have to empower our families to be ‘little oratories.’ What that means is that we give parents the resources and backing to learn with their children the stories of the Bible, our rhythms of common prayer, and ways to practice the ways of Jesus and His Church. What we are finding is that most of our parents need catachesis just as much (if not more) than their children. The children who grew up in the segregated children and youth ministries are beginning to have kids. They are malnourished from being force-fed the junk food of Moral Therapeutic Deism disguised as American Christianity. I will say that I believe that more Sunday school is not the answer, but more targeted classes, seminars, and web-based resources (such as Youtube, blogs, websites, etc.) can be and should be utilized. There are already amazing resources being produced through sites like AnglicanPastors.com and The Anglican Family Ministry conference that is occurring in TX in October. There are also sites like FullHomelyDivinity.org. In both the 1979 and 1928 Books of Common Prayer, there is an order for family prayer which is a great starting place for those who are wanting to teach their children the faith.
Secondly, I believe that deepening our worship experience on Sundays where we engage all the senses will draw both adults and children into a deeper relationship with Christ and His Church. We need to be very particular that we aren’t just entertainers on a Sunday, but providing an experience that is engaging and awe-inspiring. Everything thing we do should be purposeful in leading God’s people into a growing and sustainable relationship with Jesus. I think this can be accomplished whether you are snake-belly low church or top of the candle high church (even though I am partial to how the ‘smells and bells’ can engage your less-used senses in church). We need to be catechizing from the pulpit to the choir to the Table. The whole arc of God’s story of grace, redemption, and rescue is told within our liturgy. Make use of those building blocks to build why the sacraments matter and why you need them for the sake of not only you but the whole world.
With all that being said, I want to give you a word of encouragement, especially for those parents who are worn out and those children’s workers who are so under-appreciated, you are doing a good work. Children’s ministry is hard in that it’s not an area that you see a lot of ‘fruit.’ You are planting seeds and tending the soil of young souls who are just discovering God’s world. You have a terrific task ahead of you and it’s not easy and it’s not pleasant. But continue to do it, even if it’s just one thing, that will help strengthen both our families and parishes into places of wonderful multi-generational worship.