7 essentials for developing, enhancing, and growing
I started teaching Sunday school when I was 12. That was a while
Throughout my years in the classroom, I've always believed that
children experience and know God in a personal and dynamic way. I
think most of us who work with children understand the importance
of God's impact in kids' lives. Most of us would agree that
children hold a special place in God's heart. From the first
mention of kids in the Bible, it's evident that God wants to
nurture children in their faith walk.
Developing kids' faith isn't optional. Jesus expects us to support
children and their potential for spiritual growth and maturity. As
children's ministers, our understanding of how kids' faith is
developed, enhanced, and shared is crucial. Here's what I've
learned about kids' faith.
1.Kids' faith can be crushed.
Remember when Jesus' disciples rebuked people who were bringing
children to him for blessing? When Jesus witnessed their actions,
he was displeased. "Let the little children come to me, and do not
hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these"
Children have a right -- and a natural desire -- to enter into
Jesus' presence. They have a natural faith. Our job is to encourage
and strengthen that faith.
"It's important for children's pastors to know and understand that
a child's faith is both real and fragile," says Jack Miller,
children's pastor at Grace Point Church in Irving, Texas. "It can
be developed -- or destroyed."
Careless words and behavior can crush kids' spirits. In their
innocent and childlike faith, kids often share prayer requests
about their pets, toys, upcoming activities, television heroes, and
family members. Wise children's ministers will encourage their
faith by praying with kids and encouraging them to believe and
trust in God. Sure, a prayer request may appear to be an obvious
impossibility to an adult. But God listens and responds to his
kids. Be careful about not taking kids' sincere requests
"When a child talks about a wonderful experience or incident of
faith, we must believe and affirm the child," observes Irma
Hendrix, director of children's ministry at Mt. Paran North in
Atlanta. "Use Scripture to show children how God hears them and has
answered. Be careful how you reply to children when their faith
hasn't yet brought the result they've asked for. God is always on
time and never late to answer."
2. Kids' faith has no boundaries.
It's a fact that faith comes by hearing and living God's Word.
Whenever we teach kids the Word and they receive it, their faith
grows. Each Sunday school class, each Bible study, and each
interactive experience grants children the opportunity to grow
their faith. With consistent, positive experiences, it's natural
that children will want to exercise their faith, resulting in
further growth. Their prayers grow stronger as they see and believe
that God can do anything. Such confidence ignites powerful
"A child's pure faith doesn't falter," says Rodney Ragland,
children's pastor at Christway Church in Alabama. "I had a girl in
my children's ministry who began to pray that her dad would stop
smoking. This was her prayer request for six years. When she left
to go to the youth ministry program, her brother took over asking
for prayer for their dad. This dad has been prayed for for over
eight years. He still smokes, but the children know that one day
God will answer their request, and they aren't giving up."
Affirm kids' faith. Teach them examples of faith in the Bible.
Share personal testimonies of your faith growth. Allow children to
talk about how their faith has resulted in answers to prayer.
Display a chart with prayer requests and dates of answered prayer.
Give kids a prayer journal to help build their faith.
3. Kids' faith should be Bible-based.
Knowledge of God's Word is foundational to kids' faith. You can
develop kids' faith in healthy ways based on a solid scriptural
foundation -- not on man-made interpretations of the Bible.
If kids' faith is Word-based, then teachers need to ask tough
questions about what they're teaching. Is the information
scripturally based? Are all activities and plans focused on God's
Word? What media-based tools are appropriate? Media shouldn't only
be used to keep kids engaged. Any media-based tools used need to
directly support kids' faith development by having a clear link to
what they're learning in the class.
4. Kids' faith is strengthened by
Children are an important part of the church...but many
congregations haven't realized that. Some segregate children at all
times and don't afford them the opportunity to learn from the
entire faith community. Many churches want children to be still and
quiet when they are part of a church service. Some churches never
give kids the chance to worship with the entire church
However, when we segregate kids, we prevent them from learning
from the older people in the church, and vice versa. When Jesus was
in the temple, he was practicing the accepted method of teaching in
his day by asking questions that provoked teachers to rethink their
understanding of God's Word. Jesus wasn't asking questions just to
learn their responses or obtain answers.
Children need to be involved in the overall ministry of your
church. This includes worship, singing, leading praise and worship,
reading the Scripture, testifying, praying, and speaking. The
biblical image of God's people includes a community of people
who've been redeemed regardless of age, race, or socioeconomic
class. We are family. Children can worship.
In an orphanage I work with in Poza Rica, Vera Cruz, Mexico, the
children often lift their hands in worship and praise or dancing.
When it's time to pray, they kneel with their forehead touching the
ground or by laying prostrate on the floor, face down, crying out
to God. They walk by their faith, utterly depending on God. They
rely on God for their daily needs. Their faith has grown
exponentially as a result of seeing the hand of God working in
their lives. They've been liberated from lives of sexual abuse,
abandonment, and poverty. God's Word has built their faith. Their
community of faith, the Casa Hogar family, has been the bond that's
strengthened this faith.
My dad was a pastor. Both he and my mother believed in me. They
poured into me the knowledge that God had a plan for my life, with
God's Word being a focal point in our home. They encouraged me to
put my talents to work for God. I recall one Sunday morning when
the church organist quit. The Sunday school superintendent had led
the congregation in the children's song "Jesus Loves Me." Believing
that this song was "too childlike" for the worship service, the
organist resigned. I'd been taking organ lessons, so my dad
determined that it was my turn to play. Thank God for a community
of faith who understood the importance of encouraging a young man
to use his God-given talent and ability! Subsequently, I started
teaching children's church at age 14 and began a junior choir at
A faith community is vital to faith development in the life of any
person, but especially in a child's life. Kids need avenues to
express their faith, and such a community can provide it.
5. Kids' faith is significantly shaped by experiences
and relationships with parents.
"At the heart of our call to perpetuate faith in the lives of our
children is the realization that the Great Commandment is not
merely an ideal to be understood but an invitation to be
experienced," observes John Kie Vining, director of family
ministries for the Church of God International Offices.
In large part, parents shape their child's image of God by how
they relate to their child. Therefore, to nurture a child who loves
God, has a healthy sense of self-love, and who loves others
necessitates an approach to parenting that's grace-filled. None of
us can truly love a God who is distant, disrespectful, or
disappointed in us. In this manner, parents are indeed the primary
disciple-makers of their children, shaping the child's image of
God, which ultimately is the foundation of children's faith
Your church must do its best to strengthen relationships with
families, equipping parents for their role in faith development.
Before God created the church, he created the family. Your church
must perceive its role to be a support and resource for families as
parents endeavor to make disciples of their children. Encourage
parents to model their faith in their daily living. Equip them to
share God's Word at home. Help them understand principles of child
development so they know how to relate to their children in an
Wise teachers and parents understand the need for experiential
learning. You can help them understand how important it is for
children to experience what they learn rather than try to absorb
life truths through passive learning. Parents teach their children
24/7. Birthday parties, religious celebrations, taking the Lord's
Supper, family ministry events -- all these support and undergird
family units and allow children opportunities to experience their
faith. Only after faith has been explored and questioned can it
really be developed and strengthened.
6. Kids' faith yields results.
God values children and honors their innocence. Jesus demonstrated
this when he accepted a boy's small lunch and fed thousands.
"After a weekend Kidfest kids' event, I had one boy, 11 years old,
who said he heard from God," says Kevin Edgington, children's
pastor at the House of Restoration Worship Center in Milford, Ohio.
"He believed that God wanted him to go home and start having
services for kids in his neighborhood. His family supported him and
helped him begin services for kids on Saturday mornings. In just a
very short time, nine children accepted Jesus as their personal
7. Kids' faith development impacts their eternal
The impact of building a strong faith now can result in a healthy
relationship with Jesus and the church in the future. The moral
development of children is complete by age nine, according to
research by the Barna Institute. Nonreligious-oriented research on
children's moral and values development substantiates that the
foundation for lifelong values and morals are formed during kids'
Every child has a place in the body of Christ. Children's
destinies await them. It's our responsibility to help kids
determine their destinies and their purposes in life. And entire
faith communities must be involved in developing and nurturing
children and their parents.
Tony P. Lane is the coordinator of Christian education,
Sunday school, and children's ministry for the Church of God in
Competent teachers spend time studying child-development experts
such as Goldman, Stonehouse, and Piaget and their theories of
developmental education and stages of moral development. That way
they can create lessons that are appealing and applicable to kids
according to their ability to receive information and act on it.
Developmental insights for various ages are widely available and
elemental to effective teaching.
A Lesson From the Master
Remember when Mary and Joseph took Jesus to Jerusalem to celebrate
the Passover? At the end of the celebration, Mary and Joseph
started the journey home. Upon arriving at the Hebrew version of
Motel 6 after a long day of traveling with a caravan of family and
friends, Jesus' parents discovered that he was missing. Can you
imagine their fear and dismay? They lost God! He was nowhere among
their traveling companions.
After a frantic search, they located him in Jerusalem in the
temple. Luke records the incident in his writing: "After three days
they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers,
listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him
was amazed at his understanding and his answers" (Luke 2:46-47). Jesus, through his questions,
was causing teachers to challenge their beliefs. A child was
teaching the teachers.
This event illustrates how important a role children play in their
faith discovery -- and in ours. Give kids opportunities to grow
their faith by exploring it.
• Encourage kids to ask questions. And don't pretend to always
know the answer. Why did God give dogs tails?
• Open your mind and learn from your kids. Sometimes the most
profound and surprising insights come from young minds because they
see things in a much more concrete, simple way.
• Make faith exploration an element of your class. Ask open-ended
questions. Challenge kids to exercise their faith. Stretch kids
beyond what even they think they can do.