Want to pastor a growing church filled with members who love Christ? Who practically fall into your arms when you extend an invitation to commit their lives to His service? Who have years of witness before them and who seldom apostatize? The material for such a productive ministry sits before the pastor in practically every church.
Wrote Dr. Torry: "No other form of Christian effort brings such immediate, . such large, such lasting results as work for the conversion of children. It has many advantages over other forms of work. First of all, children are more easily led to Christ than adults. In the second place, they are more likely to stay converted than those apparently converted at a later period of life. They also make better Christians, as they do not have so much to unlearn as those who have grown old in sin. They have more years of service before them." 1
Dr. Spurgeon once said, "I have more confidence in the spiritual life of the children that I have received into the church than I have in the spiritual condition of the adults thus received. I will go even further than that. I have usually found a clearer knowledge of the gospel and a warmer love for Christ in the child convert than in the adult convert."
Spurgeon went on to say that "87 percent of adult converts fall away within five years, but not more than 40 percent of child converts, in the same time." 2 The child's quick acceptance and long usefulness were emphasized by Dr. George W. Baley: "Less time and effort are necessary for the winning of twenty children to Christ than one adult, and a child is worth more in the extension of the kingdom than many adults." 3
Sometimes we fall into the error of thinking that a child must be ready to shave or date before he or she can make a meaningful commitment to Christ. But Matthew Henry gave his heart to Christ at the age of 11; Isaac Watts committed himself at the age of 9; Jonathan Ed wards was only 7; and Count Zinzendorf while only 4 is known to have signed his name to "Dear Saviour, do Thou be mine, and I will be Thine." How early should ministry for the child start? While he is in his mother's arms. A woman once asked the famous educator Francis Wayland Parker, "How can I begin the education of my child?" "Well, when will your child be born?" Parker asked.
"Born!" she gasped. "Why, he is already 5 years old."
"Woman," he cried, "don't stand there talking to me! Hurry home! Al ready you have lost the best five years."
Other experts on children support this judgment:
"Even before the birth c: the child, the preparation should begin that will enable it to fight successfully the battle against evil." 4
"Children should virtually be trained in a home school from the cradle to maturity." 5
"You are to teach your little ones to know Christ. This work you must do before Satan sows his seeds in their hearts." 6
The pastor's ministry, then, should be only an extension of the parents'.
Our theology of the dignity of man and the church's being the body of Christ should encourage us to minister to the young as well as the adult. Yet, far too frequently we pass by the younger saints and sinners to concentrate on the older members, not perceiving that the child is often the key to the parents' heart. My experience as a pastor has taught me five things:
1. If you treat children with respect and concern, you earn the respect and appreciation of their parents. Children should not be "used," but they can be an excellent avenue to the hearts and minds of parents.
2. Love begets love. As you love the children and show them your interest, they will love you in return—and there is no love more genuine than the sweet, unadulterated love of a child.
3. The rapport a pastor establishes with children will remain throughout their mutual lives. When the children reach the difficult teen years, or when things are going rough at home or at school, they will come to the pastor, their established friend, for counsel and understanding.
4. A message understood by children is understood by all. And lessons learned by children may be a blessing to their parents too.
5. The child who respects his pastor will respect the ministry also, and this happy relationship will encourage love for his church and loyalty to it that can last a lifetime.
The pastor's ministry to the children within his church should begin, I believe, with this understanding: It's not easy to be a child in church. Lavern G. Franzen emphasizes this point in his book Smile! God Loves You:
"On the one hand is the reality of adult concerns that children be properly quiet, immobile, and attentive. On the other hand is another reality of the adult world. For a child it is a world in which pews are several sizes too large, hymns several stanzas too long, and sermon words several syllables too complex. There is little to claim a child's interest, little to attract his attention, and even little to invite participation. The adult church offers a child little to convince him that God's love is exciting and real or that he is already a significant part of the sharing of that love.
"Yet the church hopes the child is so convinced. After all, children are the church. The Christ of the adult is their Christ now, and if the gospel is God's good news about man's bad situation for the grown-ups, so it is for young Christians. God's people need to share it as that good news." 7
Here are five suggestions to make it just that:
1. Begin the church service with a three-to-five-minute story or lesson. Win your church board's approval for the service and its frequency. I would en courage you to do it at least every other Sabbath.
Should you bring the children down front? By all means, Yes. You give them special recognition when you invite them forward. You say by that invitation, "You are important to my ministry and to this church. Your life counts with God and with us here."
2. One Sabbath a quarter, plan a story-time when one or more children share a witnessing experience. This kind of "sermon" will encourage other children—and adults—to live their faith be fore neighbors and others.
3. Try a children's Sabbath. Once a year or a quarter, let the children take as many parts of a worship service as you can prepare them to do. Direct the sermon that day to the children, on their level; drive home the points by repetition. Use visual aids, if you can, and get the children to respond to points of truth, if the message lends itself to such a plan. Children love to respond and remember what they repeat. From time to time a children's chorus may fit the conclusion of a story or a sermon. A child's prayer may be very meaningful.
Seek to have a children's choir—even if only to sing several choruses. More children can take part in a chorus than in a story or sermon—and what parent does not like to see his "angel" performing? With training, the children can move from simple verse in unison to two- or three-part songs.
4. Have a potluck dinner following a children's Sabbath, with parents present, of course. Make special mention of the part the children have in the dinner, and highlight their importance to the church.
5. In smaller churches it works well to have an afternoon with the pastor (usually an hour long). The children come to the church (a Sabbath afternoon works well), and the pastor, with the help of his lay people, participates in a program including crafts, short Bible-story plays acted out by children, songs, and perhaps a continued story told by the pastor. Children can be encouraged to invite friends. Many a neighbor has been won to Christ through the influence of a child working with his children.
Now, let me tell you a story I have told the children of my church. It is a lesson my mother emphasized when I was just a lad. I usually tell it two or three weeks before the nominating committee begins its work.
Mother taught me that whenever I was asked to do something, I should say, "I'll be glad to." She even taught me how to sound enthusiastic about it. "Now, Lloyd," she would say, "you have not been given an abundance of talents, perhaps, but what God has given you He wants you to use to His glory. Whenever you are asked to participate in a meeting—to sing, to give the mission story, or to hold an office in Sabbath school—don't make people beg and urge you. Just say, 'I'll be glad to!' "
In telling the story I get the children to sing out several times, "I'll be glad to!" Parents are not deaf. In every church I pastored, it was only a little while before adults were responding to a request for their services with a resounding "I'll be glad to!"
Now, what do you say about expanding your ministry to include the children?
1 Quoted in Theo. F. Frech, The Junior Leader's Handbook (L. H. Higley, publisher, 1910).
2 Quoted in Lessons for Child Evangelism Institutes (General Conference Sabbath School Department), p. 8.
4 Ellen G. White, Child Guidance (Nashville, Tenn.: Southern Publishing Assn., 1954), p. 21.
5 Ibid., p. 26.
6 Ibid., p. 23.
7 Lavern G. Franzen, Smile! God Loves You (Augsburg Publishing House, 1973), preface.