When we think of serving within our churches, what sort of things immediately come to mind? A year ago, I would have given the easy answers. There are pastors, elders, deacons, ushers, greeters, maybe the set-up team, treasurer, secretary, Sunday School teachers, youth volunteers—a mix of staff members and the consistent volunteers needed to make the events from Sunday morning worship to weekly teaching times run smoothly. Many times, these positions are held by adults. This isn’t a bad thing, of course. Adults have experience, can have background checks for safety, among other great qualities we “over-18” can boast. Through the yearlong CDM Children’s Ministry Certification program, my views have been shattered and are shifting. I’ve thought “But is it biblical to not have children serving? Is this how the Church since ancient times has been called to function?”
We read “serve one another” in 1 Peter 4:10, so how do we interpret what this means across the various age groups within our church bodies? Not only did the apostle Peter begin by sending his blessings to exiles, encouraging them to be born again and rejoice through trials, he also shared that prophets from old served not themselves, but the people exiled for the sake of Christ, and those who would come to know Christ which includes us today. Wow! Through the prophets and their prophesying, their sufferings and vulnerability and writings, led by the Spirit of Christ, they served the elect for the rest of history. To serve one another in love doesn’t imply a “one and done” attitude or event here. A friend recently shared that this attitude regarding service is not a transaction, but rather a lifestyle. Peter clearly reminds us to use our gifts, which each of us has received, as good stewards for God for the generations to come.
I’m reminded here of Samuel. This precious boy’s mother prayed fervently and fiercely over him, dedicating his life to the Lord from even his conception and birth. After he was weaned, he was raised in the temple, taught by Eli the priest to seek after the Lord with open ears and a tender heart. When God called him, he was ready to hear His voice. He was ready to answer the call. But not all on his own. Samuel sought Eli’s counsel and listened to his instruction. First Samuel 3:9 reads, “Therefore Eli said to Samuel, ‘Go, lie down, and if He calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.’”
How tenderly we can use these examples from Peter and Samuel to teach this to our families and our covenant children. Our children have their own personalities, gifts, energy levels, interests, and capabilities. Parents and adults within our covenant communities can have great influence in calling our young ones alongside in serving, teaching them as Eli did to hear the calling of the Lord, to listen and obey His voice and serve Him in all we do. By entrusting our young ones with a sense of responsibility and ownership over a part of the worship, the event and the buildings we gather inside, we are encouraging them to keep on in their faith, to grow in stature, to facilitate relationships—all for the Kingdom of God!
As Children’s Ministry Director, I’ve been encouraged and supported by my Session to think outside the box in terms of equipping our families to consider their children and families serving together. Our deacons have played a part in creating and encouraging ministry leaders and parents to consider “Servant Buddy” positions for their children. A parent or trusted adult can take on an apprentice of sorts, a Servant Buddy, in their ministry area. In this role, we are teaching them to serve while recognizing gifts within our covenant children, fostering a love for our church and God’s people.
In taking even these small steps, we are beginning to see a shift from the dreaded heart-drop when the email is received, letting one know when they are serving in their “post,” to an excitement recognizing the fruits of a consistent, faithful presence:
- Seeing a toddler or young child with their usher dad, handing out bulletins before the Call to Worship and greeting everyone they meet with a smile,
- Hearing adults in the kitchen talking up a storm over nothing and everything, while training a middle school boy who wants to help brew coffee and set up for a time of fellowship after worship,
- An excited elementary school girl who has been so touched by her Sunday School teacher’s tenderly answering all of her (many) questions and concerns and wrestlings that she begs to be a part of teaching in the preschool alongside her own teacher.
These are examples from my own church, my own family this past Sunday. Involving our children in the weekly service of our church from prayer ministry to co-teaching, greeting to set up, and special events we may have in between is such a gift for us to pour into the next generation of the church.
When Jesus said, “Let the little children come to Me,” I believe it was an exhortation for His church to take the little children under our wing, so to speak, sharing the joys of salvation, freedom in Christ, and ministry for His Kingdom. When we as the adults in the room have tasted and seen that the Lord is so good, how can we keep it to ourselves, how can we refuse to let the children come to take part?
Practically speaking, we have enforced a Child Protection Policy that all pastors, elders, deacons, staff, and volunteers working with children (0-18) must complete. This includes background checks, abuse training and certification, an interview with a staff member, and trial periods in the area of ministry chosen. In addition, we have created a Servant Buddy document. This outlines possible opportunities for our children to serve alongside a parent or trusted adult. It covers responsibilities, expectations, and gives kids ownership of the position they hold. Both of these have been well-received by our congregation, and it has opened the doors to people feeling called to something more than “childcare” or greeting newcomers on a Sunday morning. It’s so much more than that. It is a ministry and a responsibility, no matter where you’re serving. When it’s official and someone has made a big deal to be sure we are qualified and our children feel qualified, how much more do we want to do the thing well? Let us serve one another well, for the glory of God, calling our children beside us in the safety and security of our churches where we can hear His Word, find grace, and be filled to go out into the world.