This darling, little book picked up from the Cokesbury display at North Georgia’s Annual Conference is an in-your-face challenge for God’s people to respond to children in the church and in the community based on John Wesley’s instructions to Methodist preachers found in the “Large Minutes.” Rev. Dr. Christopher Miles Ritter came to learn early in his ministry career that Wesley believed in ministry to children. So much so that I didn’t have the right to call myself a Methodist preacher if I didn’t spend time with children. My copy is so marked up, starred, underlined, pages turned down, and used it looks like it’s been in my library for 20 years.
Rev. Dr. Chris Ritter is an ordained elder/clergy in the Illinois Great Rivers Conference of the United Methodist Church where he has served as the Directing Pastor of Geneseo First United Methodist Church since 2009. Dr. Ritter considers the following seven things to be the bare minimum in ministry with children:
1. Teach them intentionally – A Christian education should have no other end but to teach them to think, and judge, and act according to Christ. Stop the excuses! Don’t buy into the idea that once your kids have aged up or aged out, so have you.
2. Know them personally – Hagrid took Harry Potter to Hogwarts, Obi-Wan introduced Luke to the ways of the Force. Gandalf called Frodo into the Fellowship of the Ring, Morpheus helped Neo take off his blinders. Batman had Alfred. Daniel had Mr. Miyagi. Bill and Ted had Rufus. Mutants were recruited by Professor Xavier to become X-Men. Could it be that Hollywood makes billions of dollars telling these and similar stories over again because they have tapped into a deep spiritual longing within all of us? Side note: Who is your Obi-Wan? Who is your Daniel?
3. Pray for them intensely – One way to pray with them is simply to bless them in Jesus’ name. It was said that Wesley always had a smile and a kind word for children, and would place his hands on their heads offering a heavenly benediction. Let’s go beyond praying for their safety and traveling mercies. Join me in prayers and fasting a meal a week for them to hear God’s voice, have a hunger for God’s word, and a fearless witness to fulfil the adventure He has for each of them.
4. Mentor families meaningfully – Not only is the home the primary unit of spiritual formation, but it is also the place where we tend to either use or lose our Christianity. Let’s have some honest conversations of living out our family’s spiritual priorities in a regular and faithful way. We have time for what is important. How our kids will view their calendars (and Sundays) as adults is how they see us view each day (including Sundays) when they were kids.
5. Challenge ourselves continually – Pastor Ritter offers the challenge to expand the definition of ‘our kids.’ Poor children are not that difficult to reach…they have time on their hands. Poor kids are never too busy to go to church. What does fishing for kids look like in your community? He goes on to write about the first Sunday Charity School in 1780, and by 1821, roughly a quarter of the kids in England, 1.25 million, were in a Sunday school paving the way for universal education for kids. You many not have the means to bus a load of kids to church, but your kids have friends. Following Jesus is not comfortable, convenient, nor cheap, yet the payoff is huge! Thinking about it is not the same as doing something about it.
6. Shape our ministries appropriately – Children need an advocate, an adult who is seeking their good. Sometimes this involves defending them, sometimes providing for them, and sometimes simply expecting the best from them. Kids insist on changing and growing up, kinda how God wired them/us. The gospel message doesn’t change, but the delivery better. Ministry is all about relationships, yet relationships are cultivated differently than they were even five years ago. Are we engaged in on-going learning to be better at leading kids and their families? A friend confided that she knew it was time to retire when she no longer wanted to learn anything new. What is your plan for learning and growing your ministry with children more deeply and effectively?
7. Care for them practically – Pastor Ritter opens the chapter, “You don’t know the story of Methodism until you know the story of a place called Kingswood.” He then goes on to tell this amazing story of the children of coal-miners considered a little better than beasts.
There is so much goodness in these mere 80 pages I want to offer two books to give away. Comment below how you are meeting one of the seven in your context as an encouragement to your fellow kidmin champions because we are better together. Two different recipients will be mailed a copy in August. You may not have time for a 600 page treatise on Wesley, but this little book will remind you why you’ve been called where you’ve been called.
“Take care of the rising generation.” ~ John Wesley