Children's Ministry White PaperAbout every three months, our church board asks its pastors to submit a written report that covers their areas of ministry responsibility. I thought it would be worthwhile to share what kind of communication a pastor engages in when his/her words are directed to the leaders of the church to inform, cast vision, and perform honest and authentic reflection.

The following board report was from July 2013, which was one month past my 10-year anniversary of working at Hayward Wesleyan:

Board Report

Pastor Jeremy Mavis // July 2013

10 years ago, I started working @ Hayward Wesleyan Church. I had never been a pastor before and yet I felt somewhat confident in what needed to be done:

Teach kids Bible stories and have fun with them

After all, that’s most of what life is about when you’re a kid: you learn stuff and you play. Simple enough. 10 years later there is still that undergirding simplicity in ministry with children and middle school students. It’s tenure that tends to complicate things. Facilities need to be managed, repaired and updated. Keeping up with a rapidly changing world is tricky. Traditions need to be maintained, revitalized or scrubbed. Routines need to be stabilized, encouraged, and often have life breathed into them. The longer a pastor is at a church, the more “things” get added that need to be managed.

You see, as kids get older, ministry with children tends to still stay the same because there are always new kids to minister to. Sure the paint may change and the landscaping matures, but the simplicity of ministry with children and youth stays the same:

Teach kids the story God weaves through Scripture and how it impacts their lives, and have fun with them.

The weird part is that I feel like I’m stuck at times. Children get older and graduate from Main Street, Followers, and Youth, and Jeremy is still there in Main Street, Followers and Youth. I’ve been through a couple of cycles now so it’s starting to feel more normal, but it’s always funny to me when I see high school students and they ask me how middle school is going, almost as if I’m perpetually stuck in my pre-pubescent adolescent stage of life. Perhaps I am!

I used to do most things on my own. Sure, I had help, but most of the ministry was done on my energy, my relationship, my style. It’s only been in the last couple of years that I am learning not only the value, but also the wisdom of having multiple people directly involved in student’s lives: relaying to students the stories of the Bible and having fun. Our focus and intentional attention on small groups these past three years has not merely been a strategy shift, but rather a radical departure from a model of ministry that relies on just one person to a model that believes the more significant and intentional relationships a student has with a mature, Gospel-centered, growing-in-their-faith adult, the more faith sticks in that student’s life.

Leading, fostering, and managing small groups (both students and leaders) is a whole lot more work than merely doing the job myself. It takes a lot more leadership, humility and faith than I currently have. All the more reason to do it! Fostering an environment of small groups and training leaders to lead these groups force me to learn and grow in areas that I’m both deficient in and simply do not have enough faith in. I’m learning a lot about leading other leaders as well as learning to believe that God is charge of it all and not me. This radical shift in ministry practice is really stretching my faith and kindly forcing me to learn new things. Fun stuff.

Nursery

Our ministry with infants, toddlers and their families is great. I know running a nursery doesn’t seem all that glamorous, especially when you’re cleaning up excrement from a kid who missed the toilet, consoling a screaming child who desperately wants her Mommy, all right when service gets done and parents are picking up their children! But our nursery is amazing! Linda Waystedt excels at her calling in that room every Sunday morning. She and her staff of volunteers take their role to teach kids Bible stories and have fun with them very seriously. It’s great to watch the level of care and attention the nursery volunteers provide in that room week after week.

The schedule, routine, curriculum, environment, staff, and volunteers all work together in near perfect harmony. It’s a ministry that is running really well.

The Nursery always seems to need volunteers. So Linda always needs more people than what she has at times. It’s something we are currently looking at:

How can we provide the amazing level of care, attention and intentionality that we’ve built and have a sustainable pool of volunteers?

Main Street

If any of our children’s ministries adopts the simplicity of: teach kids Bible stories and have fun with them, it’s Main Street on Sunday morning. That’s basically the format.

When I started at Hayward Wesleyan, I created a 3-year cycle through the stories of the Bible. We eventually called both the curriculum and the environment on Sunday morning: Main Street. The first year was the stories in Genesis through Deuteronomy. The second year was the accounts of Israel’s history in Joshua through Nehemiah. The third year we focused on the stories in the Gospels and the history of the church in Acts. We did this 3-year cycle, 3 times. That took 9 years. Simple, right? Yep. And it works. I hear over and over again from parents that their students know the stories of the Bible. And not only that, but the chronological storyline of Scripture. Also, I see it in students who are in middle school and we take the stories of the Bible up a notch and learn them on a whole new level. Their knowledge of Scripture is ahead of the curve compared with other students who have not been in Main Street.

I write all of that to say that the consistency of cycling through the stories of the Bible, chronologically, is working. I strongly believe that, developmentally and the place they are in spiritually, this is what elementary students need at this stage in their lives: Bible stories (simple, dramatic, consistent, and in order).

However, we were missing something those first nine years: a connection and partnership with families. A Main Street students’ parents, unless they asked, didn’t have any idea what we were teaching. There was no “seconding” the conversation or discussion of the Bible story at home. This takes a whole different level of intentionality. So we knew we needed to add some intentional pieces to our Main Street curriculum, but I wasn’t ready to write a whole bunch of new materials yet. So I went in search of a curriculum which kept to our core strategy of chronological Bible story telling and yet had some family connection pieces. I was looking for devotional resources that coincided with the stories we were telling in Main Street.

Well, we found it. The curriculum is called “The Gospel Story for Kids.” It has 76 stories in the Old Testament and 76 stories in the New Testament. It tries to get these stories accomplished in 3 years (we’ll take a couple of months longer than 3 years). There is a children’s story Bible that has all 152 Bible stories, so a child can bring that story Bible to Main Street and be able to follow right along. And at home, a family can follow right along as well. The piece that we are really excited about is the devotional materials that accompany and compliment this curriculum. There are 5 nights of devotions for every Bible story. So the idea is that every Sunday we start a new conversation around a Bible story and the families carry on that conversation all week.

Merely having these materials available doesn’t mean people are doing it. More likely than not, families aren’t using these materials consistently. The pull of other things in our world and in our lives distract us and entice our attention away from these kinds of spiritual activities. But having these materials available is a step in the right direction. I know another step is continual encouragement and challenge. I don’t know what this looks like, but perhaps a 2 or 3 minute talk, once a month, with the audience during the 9:40am service is necessary to keep reiterating as well as challenge and talk to new families. Perhaps one-on-one conversations and maybe email communication are further strategies to explore.

Followers

Followers is this thing that can be a lot of fun. Kids LOVE coming over to the church every other Monday after school! Again, the simplicity is apparent in this ministry: we teach kids Bible stories and have fun with them. I think the children would love it if we had more fun, but we have to balance the two parts of the mission: teaching and fun.

We have a significant following of Followers each year. We oscillate between 90-120 children from year to year. It’s super fun. It’s always a challenge to manage this crowd of Followers, but the students just love it. It seems like every year we are trying and experimenting with different strategies to corral and manage this crowd of Followers. Last year we focused on small groups so we could connect leaders with students more intentionally. It worked and it didn’t work. So we’re going to try and keep the things that worked and tweak the things that didn’t work.

One thing about Followers: it’s always fun!!

Middle School Youth

With great success, we have invested significant amount of time and energy into our small groups the past three years, with last year being even better than the preceding two. We still have a long way to go and we all have much to learn about leading small groups well. I’m learning about how to better train and encourage our leaders without overwhelming them. There is so much to learn: developmental stuff going on, social things, cognitive, spiritual, societal, culture, family dynamics, peer relationships, personality traits, etc… all play a role in what makes a small group thrive or dive. It’s a lot to learn, but we can do it.

We have hired Jessica Heyworth to work part-time in the youth ministry arena. We will be combining both middle school and high school into one large group, but there will be anywhere between 22-28 small groups that make this large group smaller. Jessica brings some great ideas of things we need to be doing with those students in our church (in-reach).

There is so much I could write here about what Youth ministry might look like here in the near future and what things we are looking at doing, but so many things are still in the dreaming and planning stage that it would just be a bunch of rambling at the moment. So I’ll save this for another day.

Family Ministry

We are looking into setting some traditions and milestones (rites of passage) throughout our church body as it relates with families and children/teens.

The first is the Child Dedication milestone

We’ve developed a class and materials to walk a family through the conversation about a young budding faith-filled family. I’ve attached those resources to this report. This is done in conjunction with all the pastors as well as our faith community. Children aren’t dedicated in seclusion, rather in community.

The second is Salvation and Baptism milestone

In a faith community with children, salvation generally occurs when they are kids or teens. Once salvation happens, we need to baptize them. These are definitive moments to have intentional conversations with children and the families they are a part of. Heath has developed some of these resources.

Other milestones include:

  • Purity
  • coming into adolescence
  • rites of passage, initiation
  • the sex talk
  • license (freedom) contract
  • first job / handling money
  • graduation