From a very young age, Melinda Shunk knew she wanted to pursue a life of faith. Even as a kid growing up in Iowa, Shunk loved spending her summers at church camp, attending youth events at her church, and being what many would consider your typical youth group kid.
“My mother thought it was very odd that I wanted to pursue a faith at such a young age, you know, as a 12 and 13-year-old,” said Shunk. “She just thought that was too young, but I just felt pulled and called by God.”
Shunk’s faith journey took many interesting twists and turns growing up, first attending a Lutheran Church as a teenager and then later attending an Evangelical church as a high schooler. These two very different faith worlds – one liturgical and progressive, and one contemporary and conservative – led Shunk to see two sides of the Christian faith growing up. However, by the time she reached college she had started to actively push away from organized religion.
According to Shunk, however, it was during those formative years in college that she felt the closest to God.
“I was having an authentic, genuine relationship with God during that time. Growing up, I was given rules and damnation and fear from the Evangelicals, and then I was given strict tradition in the Lutheran Church, butI wasn’t given reasons why we had those traditions,” Shunk said. “So, because I was given traditions versus shame and scare tactics, then when I could just be authentically me with God, I felt a much closer connection with God when I prayed or when I just talked to God.”
It was also during her time in college that she realized teaching was where she was being called by God; specifically, teaching children in public schools.
Ministry was nowhere on her radar at this time. Even though she was encouraged by many friends and family to go into some sort of ministry, Shunk saw it as a male-dominated industry and didn’t see a place for herself in the church.
So, Shunk went about her chosen career and spent many years in the public education sector. Although teaching in public schools gave her great joy and she loved helping kids, Shunk felt restricted by the rules of public education; specifically, rules preventing her from sharing her faith with them.
“I would see a child having a problem, and I would have to stop myself from saying things like ‘oh, it’s okay, sweetie, because God made you that way.’ You can’t say what you want to say to these kids in school that are struggling with all of these different problems,” Shunk said.
After seven years, Shunk decided she needed to take a break from public education. In 2004, she took a year off from teaching when her second child was born.
At the same time, a position had just opened up in at her church in Iowa for early childhood ministries. The position was the perfect answer to her questions of where she belonged, and she eagerly took the job soon after.
Working with kids and getting to talk about God was the perfect merger of her two worlds, and it’s what ultimately led her to the position she’s in now as the Arkansas Conference Children’s Ministry Coordinator.
Shunk’s position requires her to promote and strengthen the Children’s Ministries of the Arkansas Annual Conference by leading the Conference Children’s Council and District Children’s Coordinators to resource local church children’s ministries and leaders.
What that means is Shunk is primarily in charge of making sure every church has the resources they need to effectively minister to the children in their congregation and grow them into fantastic and faithful future leaders in the church.
You would be hard pressed to find someone who thinks and breathes and lives children’s ministry as Shunk does.
“Children’s ministry and children’s ministers are the foundation of the church. They are the ones that we need to make sure we reach out to. And when you bring in children, then you bring in their parents who can be reached as well. When you minister to children, then that’s where you’re going to find your future church. I know it’s cliché, and it’s been said before, but children are the future!”
Shunk says that when you minister to children, you have to consider the age of the child. For very young children, it’s best to use light versions of Bible stories that cover the basics. Something that gives them a hands-on experience of who God is and His love for other people. For older children, you can start to dive into a deeper understanding of who God is and what it means to be a Christian. Once they’re in junior high and high school, you can begin to really explore larger ideas that affect teenagers’ daily walks with Christ.
Quest – a new children’s program created by former Children’s Ministry Coordinator Karen Swales – is one way that Shunk and her team are hoping to reach a new group of kids in the church. The event – which is geared toward ministering to third, fourth and fifth-graders – is a way for kids to learn what their “call” is, regarding Christian faith. It’s also a time for children to learn the meaning of baptism, spiritual gifts, and God’s love, and connect with a diverse range of kids from different areas of the Arkansas Conference.
For the future of Children’s Ministry, Shunk is looking to speak with children’s ministers and pastors from around the state to see what their needs are, and look at the different ways the Conference office can help them to acquire the resources they need to have authentic connections and a vibrant children’s ministry in their church.
“Children’s ministry is all about having authentic relationships. A lot of times we get caught up as children’s ministers with just growing your program with the next big thing or the cool music and videos you’re using,” she said. “But what it really boils down to are the relationships that we build with those people in the church because the Holy Spirit is found when people are together.”