by Henry Zonio
I’ve been involved with children’s ministry for over 20 years, 10 of those years were as a full time children’s pastor at two different churches in two different countries. When I first started out in Children's Ministry, it was all about the kids. I remember being a large group communicator when I was fifteen years of age for a group of 200+ kids at the church I attended. My focus was on the children and teaching them about who God was, how much God loved them, how God wanted them to live and how they could change the world around them. Then, at seventeen years of age I was put in charge of the preschool version of kids’ church… with 80 preschoolers! Fun! Again, it was all about the kids. While in college, I was in charge of the elementary Kid’s Church … again, all about the kids. It continued to be all about the kids in the various churches where I volunteered and even when I first came on staff as a children’s pastor.
I read articles, I go to workshops and conferences, and I talk with many other people in children’s ministry. Most everything is all about the kids. Even when we talk about parents and volunteers… it’s always in relation to the kids.
What is wrong with children’s ministry being just about the kids? Isn’t that why it’s called children’s ministry? Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do?
Children’s ministry does have a target… a focus… and that is children. Children’s ministry exists so that there are people championing children within the church and making sure children are a part of the spiritual community: learning, growing, and participating. Children’s ministry wouldn’t exist without children. I guess you could say that ministering to children is what fuels children’s ministry.
But ministering to children isn’t the support structure… framework… skeleton… that children’s ministry is built on.
Which brings me to lichen… I’m obsessed with lichen.
Ever since learning about it in my biology class at university, I’ve always pointed it out on hikes and walks and wherever I see it. My wife just rolls her eyes and placates me by listening to my explanation of what lichen is (she’s a great wife). My friends think I’m weird about it. And my kids… well, when they were younger they thought I was cool and all-knowing. Lichen is actually two organisms that live together in a symbiotic relationship. The two organisms mutually help each other without harming the other. It is made of a fungus and algae. The fungus provides the skeleton for lichen and the algae lives on the fungus and makes food via photosynthesis for both the fungus and itself. A perfect relationship. Lichen exists only because both the fungus and the algae exist.
What does lichen have to do with children’s ministry?
There are two components to children’s ministry, and those two components must benefit each other. We know that ministry to children is one of those components. The other component is ministry to adults. Now, I’m not talking about volunteer training or even leadership training. I’m talking about spiritual development of adults for the sake of them growing as an image-bearer of God, regardless of whether they are in children’s ministry or not.
Too many times, ministry to children becomes a parasite on the lives of the volunteers who work in our children’s ministries, as well as on the lives of the parents of the children who are in our ministries. We spend so much time focusing on the children and making Children's Ministry all about the kids that our volunteers and parents get sucked dry.
As leaders in children’s ministries, we need to be ministering to the adults who intersect with children’s ministry. It’s not just up to the senior pastor or adult ministries leader; we need to be pouring into our workers so they can grow and mature spiritually. It can’t just be all about the kids and how our volunteers can improve in how they do children’s ministry. Yes, they need training… but they also need spiritual growth.
If we can learn how to minister to adults effectively, then we will have a stronger structure, foundation, and skeleton on which to build the ministry of children and have a healthier and thriving children’s ministry.
What does this look like?
It can be as simple as “checking in” with your volunteers about their journey with God and encouraging and praying with them. Why not have a spiritual growth theme for your volunteers for the year? Set up adult small groups for those involved in children’s ministry. Provide free copies of sermon messages that your volunteers miss. Make yourself available to pray with parents and volunteers. And always remember to ask yourself if the adults in your ministry see you as one of their pastors. When we care about the spiritual lives and development of the church's adults, the children benefit and the outcome is a healthier ministry with both.
Written by Henry Zonio, CSS Board Member, 2018 CSS Scholarship Recipient and Adjunct Instructor in Sociology at Asbury University