Let the little children come to me and, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs. - Matthew 19:14
The Masai people of Kenya and Tanzania in East Africa often greet one another with, “Kasserian ingera?” which means “And how are the children?”
The typical response is, “All the children are well,” acknowledging that if the children are well, then so, too, the community can be considered healthy and productive.
This simple yet power-packed phrase honors and values children and reminds adults of their privilege and responsibility. What would happen if each of us regularly asked this same question in our congregations, homes and communities? What would children’s ministry across the ELCA look like?
If your children’s ministry begins with kindergarten, you’re starting too late.
Researchers tell us that the capacity for faith growth is at its strongest between birth and 3 years old.
As children grow, they are busy discovering the world. It is in those moment-by-moment discoveries that parents and others must expect and anticipate expressions of spirituality as children use their gifts of wonder and imagination in sensing God’s presence through sight, sound, smell, touch and taste.
Even though attention to a clean, well-maintained, secure facility is a must for children’s ministry, a safe and loving emotional environment is far more critical.
When children are assured that more than just the pastor or Sunday school teacher cares about them and prays for them, their identity in the faith community is strengthened.
When children feel at home at church, they come to know God as a trustworthy, loving, caring, life-giving Creator. They trust that they can bring their fears, angers and short-comings without judgment. They imitate caring Christ-centered relationships with others.
For all these reasons, congregations must have clear policies in place that safeguard children from physical and emotional harm or abuse, and eliminate any roadblocks that stand in the way of healthy relationships and Christian formation.
As children and their parents enter your facility, or even as they approach the parking lot or front entrance, all must feel welcome. That sense of hospitality grows when children know they are welcomed with a “come as you are” attitude.
Consider this exercise. Ask each committee in your congregation to list all their responsibilities and volunteer tasks. Review the list marking only those tasks that absolutely could not be done by a child.
Chances are, worship, newsletter articles, bulletin boards and many other aspects of the Christian community would be enhanced by the gifts children can bring.