National forum energizes children’s ministers
By Amy Forbus
With the opening hymn “How Firm a Foundation” reminding them where their ministries are anchored, more than 200 children’s ministry workers converged on First United Methodist Church Little Rock Nov. 17 for the three-day national Children’s Ministry Forum.
Sponsored by Discipleship Ministries (formerly the United Methodist General Board of Discipleship), the Large Church Initiative and the United Methodist Publishing House, the forum drew on the theme, “Rock On: Renew. Discover. Respond.” Attendees had opportunities for spiritual renewal, as well as for learning and networking with others who share the same calling to help children grow as disciples of Jesus Christ.
Holy Spirit at work
The Rev. Telley Gadson, pastor of St. Mark UMC in Taylors, S.C., served as the event preacher. The Pentecost story found in Acts 2:14-21 led her to ask the congregation at opening worship, “Do you have the fever?”—that is, the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit.
She gave thanks that the disciple Peter “spoke what was real, relevant and even relational on the day of Pentecost. Could it be that God positioned Peter to challenge the people to Rock On? And not just rock on to a familiar or comfortable cadence, or the beat of one’s own familiarity, but to rock on where God would get the glory. Why? Because Peter got the fever, and he couldn’t keep it to himself.”
Gadson’s energetic preaching brought amens and applause as she related the fever of the Holy Spirit to their work in ministry with children.
“Are we equipped and excited about having children involved in the life and ministry of our churches, not as window dressings? Not as pew fixtures?” she asked. “Not for our demographics and our end-of-year reporting, but to truly know without a shadow of a doubt that unless we come as children, and have the faith of a child in Christ, we will not please the one who creates us and calls us his own.”
Confessing that she’s “an acronymaholic,” Gadsen left the congregation with inspiration for ministry associated with each letter of the word “fever”: Faith, Energy (“I don’t care if you’re 22 or 92, you need energy” to be in children’s ministry, she said), Victory, Engagement (“we’ve got to meet our children right where they are”) and Redemption.
Attendees chose from dozens of workshops led by ministry professionals from around the country, including Arkansas-based experts such as Michelle Moore (“Organizing Your Ministry”), the Rev. Jenni Duncan (“Engaging Children as Peacemakers), Pam Snider (“Beyond VBS”) and Lesley Andrews (“Quick Tips &Tools for Communication”).
In addition to inviting workshop presenters and keynote speakers, event organizers had created multiple spaces for prayer and reflection throughout the building, including special prayer stations focusing on the previous week’s terrorist attacks on Paris, France.
Event staff, along with the design team that had spent months planning the forum’s schedule, provided key information and guidance for participants, and volunteers from First UMC Little Rock and other churches in Arkansas offered hospitality in numerous ways.
The Rev. Leann Hadley spoke the morning of Nov. 18, sharing her vision for a holistic model for children’s ministry. She’s working with churches in four annual conferences—North Texas, Central Texas, Kentucky and Rocky Mountain—to study children’s ministry, and has started the Facebook page A Time for Children (www.facebook.com/leannehadleyatimeforchildren1) as a place for those churches to share successes. This public page also invites all Christians to stop and pray for children one minute of every day.
The founder of First Step Spirituality, a ministry that provides support to hurting children and teens, Hadley believes the church needs to give more attention to the spiritual needs of the youngest people in our churches, and that the need to do so isn’t new.
“There was a confusion at the time of Jesus,” she said. “There were two ways of looking at children.” People lived under the influence of Greco-Roman culture, where children were viewed as disposable, and the Jewish culture, where they were seen as blessings.
“The Greeks and Romans had a huge influence on the Jews, as secular society has on us,” she said. “And they understood children in a much different perspective than Jesus did.”
Hadley outlined three existing models of children’s ministry: 1) Adults pour knowledge into children and interpret God for them; 2) a mix of pouring in knowledge while using discipline to purge children of original sin; and 3) seeing children as incapable, leaving the focus purely on adults’ spirituality.
Instead of these models, she proposes children’s ministry rooted in three concepts:
• Children are innately spiritual and capable of relationship with God—in fact, that they already have a relationship with God before they are born;
• Children are our greatest blessing; and
• Children and adults need each other.
“Adults are needed by children to pass on the stories, the faith, to give them the prayer tools, to bless them, to let them know that they’re a blessing,” she said. “Adults are critically important in the lives of children—but we need children just as much, because they are critical to our spiritual development, too. And if we put them off in a corner, or if we’re so busy indoctrinating and pouring our information into them, we cannot receive from them.”
Hadley contends the church has lost the togetherness that brings the presence of the Spirit of God. Jesus demonstrated this unity by showing adults how he valued children as part of the Kingdom.
“I believe that ministry to children will revitalize the church,” she said. “Not because children will grow up to save the church, but because as we start interacting with children, the Spirit of God will be so present in churches that it will grow, from the smallest to the greatest.”
She encouraged children’s ministers to bless the children every time they leave a gathering.
“If you do nothing but bless your children, you’ll change the culture of your church in no time,” she said.
Emory Molitor, children’s director assistant and children’s choir director at First UMC Russellville, attended a workshop led by Hadley.
“I learned that it doesn’t matter what curriculum we buy to teach the Bible stories,” Molitor said. “What matters is listening to children and creating sacred space where they don’t have to be perfect. In providing that for them, we bless them to be blessings to others.”