My 5 year-old son Connar is good at pretty much anything with a ball. He is especially good at baseball, or I guess I should say, Teeball, aka “ruleless” baseball. He’s always been hands down the best player on the team, having never needed the Tee (they pitched to the kids in W.V.). But this year, after having to play his 2nd season on the Tee, there is nothing “hands-down” about his hitting. In the fielding department, no one can throw and catch as well as he can-though the coach’s kid is almost there. But in regards to hitting off the Tee, several other kids have actually hit better than him this year.
At first I thought we should probably practice on the tee at home. But then I thought “why?” Why even seek to make him excel and be the best “Tee-ball hitter” on the team. Is that really my goal? Obviously I want him to have fun too.
Nope, my goal is to get him ready for “kid-pitch.” After Teeball, comes the 40 mph machine pitch. And then then comes “kid-pitch” where kids throw it all over the place. We practice most every day by me throwing him fastballs inside, mixed with outside pitches, and even sidearm pitches too. My goal is not to make him the best Teeball player, but to get him ready for the next level of competition. That’s why we don’t work on the tee at home.
I think this is an important aspect of children’s and youth ministry. Our goal shouldn’t be to have the best Teeball player out there on the field, yet that is what I think many of us, at times, seek in children’s ministry. Instead of having the best behaved, most “programmed” kids out there, we ought to think about getting kids ready to play at the next level: when they leave the house.
The whole “what do you have for my kid to do” approach isn’t churning out “ball players” at the next level. It really isn’t. Kids become teenagers and then college students, and many leave and don’t come back. But many people simply refuse to evaluate and question that perhaps our goals are short-sighted. What do you call someone who does the same thing over time with same results?
I’m not saying to ditch programs. I’m just saying evidence (and the bible too) is showing us why we can’t rely upon them, or even make them the sole reason why you attend a certain church. While there is no magic solution to make sure kids are ready for the next level, there are some adjustments and changes we can all make.
1.) Parents: Mom and Dad have primary responsibility to teach their kids about Jesus. There are plethora of resources that help in this, and it honestly doesn’t take a lot of time. The New City Catechism doesn’t take long and comes with cool songs that the kids and I can dance to. Yes, the dancing is not pretty, but it gets the job done. Plus how much of teaching is simply taking the time to sit down and discuss what’s going on life?
2.) Plugging kids into service of church. I have an 18 year old who told me he would love to train a particular 9th grader on how to do work with sound stuff. How cool is that? This kid gets it. He hasn’t been a spectator but one who has served over the years. My 5 year old wants to hand out bulletins. I saw a 6 year old stacking chairs this Sunday with our church plant. Kids who see the church as a place to serve instead of only as a place to receive, seem to be do better at the next level. Kids have gifts, so lets not wait to use them.
3.) Multiple Adult relationships. This is huge. The other day my 5 year old said, “We need to pray for Mr. so and so who is at the mission conference this weekend.” I forgot. He did that because this adult has shown an interest by simply talking with my son. I can’t wait to see what other adult relationships he develops over time. I’m not putting my hope in one rock star youth leader but hope for him to have several other guys he can look up to outside of the home. I relish that help.
4.) Children’s/Youth Ministry that thinks about the next level. At my last church, the nursery had a goal of getting kids ready to sit in church. The children’s church (4-1st grade) had as a goal to get the kids ready to sit through a sermon. Our youth Sunday School and youth group had specific rotating teaching goals to prepare them for the next level. At Harbor Community’s children church, we have as a goal to both teach them at an age appropriate level, and to prepare them for 4th grade when they’ll be “blessed” to listen to me for 30 minutes! Our goal is to get 5-6 teams of two, and over the years, see relationships with adults develop with these children.
5.) Distinguish gospel from morality. In our children’s church (4-3rd grade), we use The Gospel Story Book Curriculum. It helps teach the kids the redemptive story of the bible as opposed to seeing the separate stories as stand-alone stories without their place in the overall story of the bible. But in general, if kids can begin to grasp the uniqueness of the gospel, they’ll be able to at the very least know the difference between a church and club (or church’s that have become clubs). How is the gospel different than “be good” or “give peace a chance?” Kids have to know the difference.
There’s no magic formula. And I think you can ask too much from kids as well. I’m not trying to get my 3 year old ready for “kid’s pitch.” I want to get him ready for Teeball. That’s the next level for him.
Regardless of results (and many have documented a number of these common denominators in kids who walk with Jesus and His church after leaving the home), we’ll honor Jesus by conforming our efforts with His Word.