With many churches rediscovering a passion for the gospel and missions, the trickle-down effect has begun to unsettle decades of tradition in ministry to families. Many churches are searching for a culture that promotes healthy discipleship in the whole church, including kids ministry—and we’re not talking about organic gummy worms for snack time. A culture that focuses on the gospel and the mission of God with our kids and families is of utmost importance for the church as we raise the next generation for Christ.
The theological basis for a sending culture in kids ministry comes not from a trend or a fad, but directly from the last words of Jesus’s time here on earth. I recently heard Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, say, “Last words are meant to be lasting words.”
Jesus’s last words were a charge—a commission to his disciples for millennia to come: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:19–20 ESV).
Developing a Sending Culture in Your Kids Ministry
Developing a sending culture in your kids ministry means more than designing a cohesive and visionary space for your kids. It means more than repeating catchphrases like “You are sent” at the end of your services and on your walls.
Instead, it means connecting your families to the centuries-old mandate from our Lord and Savior. It means calling our parents and their children into the gospel story that God wants to tell in each of our cities, communities, and neighborhoods.
“A culture that focuses on the gospel and the mission of God with our kids and families is of utmost importance for the church as we raise the next generation for Christ.”
That begins by viewing the home as our first mission field. But just because our home is our first mission field in no way means it’s our only mission field. We dream, set vision, labor, and pray in order to see saved families grow up into sent families. And we do this because King Jesus’s last words are still our marching orders.
Here are three legs on which our sending kids ministry rest. I hope they are helpful in your quest to make the last words of Jesus “lasting words” in your church and families.
Simon Sinek emphasizes the first leg in his best-selling book, Start With Why, in which he writes, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it” (emphasis added). While traditions can often leave us clinging to the “what” more than the “why,” a sending culture in your kids ministry will only grow in an atmosphere that finds the purpose behind everything you do. Two linchpins in our sending vision drive everything else in our ministry.
- Parents are the primary disciplers of their kids.
- The church partners with parents by both helping disciple their kids and by equipping them to disciple their kids.
Without these two foundations supporting our programming, our priorities, and our flow of resources, we would be working against God’s primary vehicle for a sending kids ministry: the parents. Our ministry is not as much for kids as it is for parents. “Arrows” are not given to the church, but to the “man who fills his quiver with them” (Ps. 127:4–5 ESV).
Therefore, a sending kids ministry sets parents up to be both the primary disciplers and the primary senders of their kids.
After setting the “why” for a sending kids ministry, you have the opportunity to narrow your focus to what’s most important. Instead of only trying to pull off the best events possible, we’ve found ways to emphasize missions in almost any atmosphere. Here are some examples of events we use to promote a mission-focused culture.
- Parent Commissioning
Parent Commissioning is our class and commissioning that formally commemorates the beginning of the partnership between a family and the church. We spend two hours teaching parents God’s vision for a gospel-centered home and how our church wants to partner with them to get there. Then, as a church family, we commission them as missionaries to their homes.
- Family Worship Night
This event is designed for our parents to practice family worship together with other families in the church. We practice what Donald Whitney writes in his little book Family Worship, “There are three elements to family worship: read the Bible, pray, and sing.” In the past two years, we’ve intentionally directed these nights toward missions and sending by praying for missionaries who have been sent out by our church, singing songs in other languages, and setting up Go Centers that feature family-friendly mission trips during the event.
- VBS—or, Kids Week
Kids Week is our version of VBS with a focus on our community. We see this event as a discipleship opportunity for our parents. We celebrate when parents explain their work in their own neighborhoods and invite their kids into that work of evangelism. If we are helping families see and act upon their “sent-ness,” we’ve accomplished the goal of Kids Week.
“When we are focused on making disciples together with parents, families become sent families in our communities.”
Our sending resources for kids ministry are always an outworking of what we’re already doing as a church. Here are a few examples from the past year.
- Missionary prayer booklet
A Family Worship resource that gives a picture and prayer requests from missionaries who serve all around the world.
- “Pray for Missionaries” ornaments
As an attempt to include missions and sending in the Christmas season, we use an ornament that will remain with our families year after year.
- Options for serving as a family
We give our parents regular access to a list of ways they can serve together as a family through our local outreach ministries (e.g. clothing closets, Backyard Bible Schools, school beautification projects, cleaning local Crisis Pregnancy Centers, etc.)
- Missionary curriculum
During our Sunday evening Scripture memory program, we take ten to fifteen minutes each week to teach our kids about missionaries who have taken the gospel to the ends of the earth.
As you strive to be a sending kids ministry, remember that our primary goal must be to make disciples. Families provide a beautiful and God-ordained avenue for that to be accomplished. And when we are focused on making disciples together with parents, families become sent families in our communities.
Josh Navey serves as a kids pastor at The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina. You can follow him on Twitter @JoshNavey.