- Matt Pope
Series: Children's ministry in our churches
How to get parents involved
We left the last posts on the series ‘Children’s ministry in our churches’ saying that ‘you will not really have an effective ministry that makes a difference in the lives of the children unless you get the parents involved.” We will try to delve into this issue today. But before doing that, I would like to suggest a few things to consider.
1) Assume the worst!
Assume that most of the parents, even the very best of them in your church are only opening the bible and reading it with their children 2 or 3 times a month. I have low expectations of people and rarely do people exceed them in this area. We are sinners, saved, but still sinners who sadly love ourselves and our comfort more. Often, in most households, we are waiting for that time when our children are in bed giving us that rare and precious time with our spouse or Netflix!
I think having low expectations of people liberates them to be honest with us. It gives them confidence that we will not judge them, and it also empowers them because the research shows that even if they do a little with their children, even if they only manage to open the bible with their children once a week, they can make a massive impact on their children’s lives. Of course, we would like more, but in my experience, this is very rare. If we set high standards on parents this might lead them to fail, feel guilty and give up trying.
2) Assume they don’t know why they should be doing it!
Personally, if I don’t know why I should be doing something I find that either I don’t do it or I do it half-heartedly. I think most people are the same, therefore we must give parents a vision to have regular ‘spiritual times’ with their children. They need to know that if their children walk through life without the LORD they will not have real contentment, satisfaction, peace or true joy. Let alone what will happen beyond this life.
I would like my kids, in the inevitable ups and downs of life to know that God is with them, that he loves them and has a plan for them. I want them to be people of prayer who cast their anxieties onto the LORD and experience the peace that transcends all understanding. I long that they don’t have the internal struggle that most of my friends have, the constant longing for more, for something different that sadly robs them of enjoying the life that they have. I long that they are secure knowing that they are loved by the LORD and in return that they have a deep love for Him. A love that overflows to loving others all around them.
I desire a lot of good things for them in their lives, but I know that if they do not know and have the LORD in their lives they will miss out now and eternally. So, put it in your own words but help parents see as many times as possible that the time they spend discipling their children a month is the thing that above all will prepare them to have a life to the full, now, and forever. Help them see that these times are more important than school, sports or anything else you do with them.
3) Assume people don’t know what to do!
I recently had a meeting with a pastor, like many I know, he was personally struggling to have regular personal times with God. He is theologically trained, he preaches, he leads doctrine courses etc in his church most weeks but when I suggested that he lowered his expectations and just spend a few minutes a day reading the bible, and thinking about what it said about God and his character he
asked me the following and very honest question. ‘How do I do that?’ Together we then had a wonderful few minute looking at various verses in the bible thinking about God. All I wanted him to do was answer the following two questions 1) what does this verse, text, story tell us about God (who he is, what he is like etc) and 2) why is that truth about him good for us in our lives today?
Very simple but if a trained, mature pastor struggles to know how open a bible and simply see what it tells him about God and connect it to our daily lives, I assume the parents in our church will as well. Let’s inspire them to want to do this with their children and give them the very simple tools to do it with their children.
For me when I talk to parents (and pastors) I think the best place to start is with stories in the bible. Stories in the life of Jesus, the apostles or anyone really in the Old Testament. Read a story, talk about the details in it for a moment then always ask the question; what does it tell us (show us) about God? Even if he wasn’t mentioned in it - what does it tell us about God? Over time this gets easier, but it is the best place to start because God is always the main subject of every part of the bible because it is one book primarily about him! We need to ask questions. Such as what did he do? How did he do it? Why? Etc. But also go further, we want to get to know God, what he is like as a person so go a little deeper. What does that action, or saying etc tell us about what he is like? What does it tell us about his character? How does it show us his kindness, that he talks to his people, that he is patient, that he has a sense of humour? The list is endless. Then ask more; why is that thing about God good for me? I think we sometimes ask the first question, but rarely do I hear the second being asked or see the fruits of someone thinking this.
This little question is life changing. If I don’t see why God is good for me today in my life (if our children don’t see it), when we have a choice to follow his ways or not, we will probably choose not to follow him. My sin, the world and the devil are always telling me, preaching at me that following them will be good for me, so I will unless I know and am convinced that God is good, and his ways are good for me I will not wholeheartedly live for him.
I believe that when we put these steps into place and focus on the parents more than just in what we do in the half hour we spend a week at Sunday school, this will help people in our churches to flourish as believers.
In the next instalments we will explore the focus of our teaching on Sunday school, and how to make disciples.
Matt Pope and his family are Crosslinks mission partners. They serve at Iglesia Providencia in Chile's capital, alongside mentoring local pastors. They have two children, Eva and Judah. Before leaving the UK, Matt was part of the St Ebbs ministry team in Oxford.