A New Path for Children’s Ministry at VCL
Parents’ quick guide:
- We are shifting our focus in children’s ministry to equipping parents, including children in worship, and growing intergenerational relationships.
- Starting June 13th, all children age 4 and over will be with their parents during the worship service.
- Starting June 13th, children ages 4-11 will be learning the New City Catechism during Hour in the Word (formerly “First Hour Connections”). Details, including information on the 2’s and 3’s Sunday school, to follow.
- For more information, please watch Pastor Casey’s sermon, pick up one of several books at the information desk, or reach out to Pastor Casey.
Last Sunday I finished up our three-part series on the place of the family in the church, focusing on the church’s role in discipling children. This sermon was for me a chance to lay out two years of research into the various models of children’s ministry, as well as how the Bible directs us as God’s people to nurture and cultivate healthy child disciples of Jesus.
I didn’t start this work; it was Melissa Younger who began this reflective, intentional analysis. In many ways, I benefited from the groundwork she laid, and she gave me good “tracks” to run on in my own research. I am indebted to her for these reflections and conclusions.
What I wanted to do for you here was lay out the structure for children’s ministry going forward at VCL. As a CE team we have been working for a while to shift our focus toward equipping parents to disciple their children. Now, as we seek to reopen services on Sunday mornings, we have that goal in mind. To do this, children’s ministry will now be structured around three pillars: community, home discipleship, and intergenerational relationship.
Children Grow in Community
At Village Church of Lincolnshire, we take seriously Jesus’ words to the disciples: “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:14). In everything we do for children, we recognize that the one major way they grow is as they are included in the community. Our hope is that they would grow into followers of Jesus, not just with heads full of information, but with hearts formed to love him, minds molded to honor him, and hands eager to serve him.
That’s why we decided that the best place for children on Sunday mornings is not outside the worship experience, but in the sanctuary. This is the model that we find best follows what the Bible says, whether it is Moses demanding that children be present at the Passover, or Joel calling parents to bring their children to solemn gatherings, or even Jesus himself, calling them to his side, taking them in his arm, and blessing them. In each case we see that children are transformed, in part, by being included intentionally in the worship service. When we reopen on June 13th, children age 4 and older will be with their parents during the worship service.
How? When children worship alongside their parents, both the faith of their parents and the community around them is on display. They see the communion plate passed and wonder what it means. They hear the preacher preach God’s word, and they see their parents with Bible’s in their laps. They hear the prayers of faithful followers of Jesus, and the songs sung by all God’s people. The beautiful diversity and unity of God’s people is before them, and all they’ve been taught at home throughout the week sinks deeper as they see old saints blooming with hope, faith, and love, the whole community gathered together, and the Spirit gathered with them. They catch, keenly, the profound mystery of worship, and as they are expected to, they participate in that mystery. To include children in worship is an act that makes our commitment as God’s people plain to children and gives us an example as adult believers of what childlike faith really looks like.
Children Grow at Home
The primary place where children grow is in a healthy, Christian home environment. Whatever impact a Sunday school teacher, preacher, or older friend can have for a few hours a week, parents are the ones who live with, sacrifice for, and are committed to their children day-in and day-out. This is why Moses said that to love God with all our hearts, souls, and strength meant in part that we teach God’s word “diligently to our children.” (Deuteronomy 6:7).
A big part of our way of thinking about children’s ministry at Village Church is this conviction that the Christian home is the ideal place for children’s faith development. Throughout the history of the church, parents have sought to instruct their children in the basics of the Christian faith, and they’ve done this with the support of church-created curriculum called “catechisms.” Catechisms are designed to instruct children, from a young age, in the ins and outs of the Bible’s story and the message of the gospel. At Village Church we use the New City Catechism to do this. Starting June 13th, children ages 4 through 11 will be learning the New City Catechism during first hour (9:15-10:15). This will be a chance to reinforce what is taught at home, so each parent will receive a catechism schedule for their children to follow throughout the week.
One way that catechisms do this is through memorization. Through daily catechism teaching we seek to form the minds of our children from a young age according to the truth of who God is and how he’s made the world. Because of this, our Sunday school time for children is designed mainly to reinforce the daily instruction happening in homes through the New City Catechism. We seek to equip parents to disciple their children through resources, reinforcing daily instruction at home, and helping encourage them to participate in the wider Village Church community.
Children Grow in Relationship
The responsibility for children’s growth isn’t just on parents. It is for all of us. Psalm 78 envisions a whole community who together commit that they will tell of God’s wondrous deeds “to the coming generation” (Psalm 78:4: see also Joel 1:3). As the story of Eli and Samuel illustrates (see 1st Samuel 3), often the people who have a specific and crucial influence in a child’s faith development come from across generational lines. This is why Paul tells Titus to instruct older men to mentor younger men by both conduct and teaching, and to instruct older women to do the same for younger women (Titus 2:1-6).
The basis for this intergenerational mentoring is rooted in the dominate metaphor for the church in the New Testament: Church as family. The remarkable reality that the Bible insists upon is that all believers, when they come to Christ, are not just individually an adopted son or daughter of the Father, but are also now a brother or sister, a spiritual mother or father, to a whole host of new family members.
With these new family members comes new responsibilities. “Working with children” is not a specific spiritual gift for some. At Village Church, we believe that for us to be God’s people means it is the responsibility of all the old to disciple the young, to take a deliberate and thoughtful interest in their lives, and to seek their growth in Christ. This is why we do infant dedications. Such a ceremony is nothing less than a covenant made between the parents and the congregation, that both will seek the child’s discipleship and growth in Christ. The congregation at large is being encouraged to grow in their relationship to the children in our midst. Parents can do their part by participating in the worship service and joining a growth group as a family this fall.
I want to emphasize that this is just the beginning. Be prepared to see more growth in worship integration, equipping parents for home discipleship, and intergenerational connection. Our hope is that through these three avenues the children in our midst will grow, like the oak trees that line the church, robust and strong in the Lord.
For more information:
Pick up a copy of these at the information desk:
Parenting in the Pew: Guiding Your Children Into the Joy of Worship by Robbie Castleman
Family Worship by Donald S. Whitney
Family Discipleship by Matt Chandler and Adam Griffin
Let the Children Worship by Jason Helopoulos
See Pastor Casey’s Sermon, “Shepherding the Next Generation”