Graduate Sunday: A morning filled with caps, gowns, testimonies, and great joy as families celebrate the major milestone of graduation. Last Sunday was Graduate Sunday. One high school graduate stood to give her testimony which started like this: I grew up in this church. I have known God before I even knew what that was. Isn’t that the way it should be? But it wasn’t until I was in middle school, I began to understand….

There are tensions between children’s ministry and youth ministry. This is one of them. Setting aside the natural differences in leadership, age, gender, t-shirt messages, and organization, I hope you find encouragement in that we are OK to offer the foundations in the faith of our little people. What is developmentally appropriate for children is not the same as what is developmentally appropriate for middle/high school students. “In Children’s Ministry we are trained for foundation, not exploration (which begins in middle school.)”Rethinking Youth Ministry: What Every Children’s Pastor Wishes Their Youth Pastor Knew

Children are concrete thinkers and learn best through story. Stories of Jesus and family are the stickiest. For example: the story of Joseph and the Coat of Many Colors…his daddy gave him a coat because he loves him; your parents give you a coat because they love you. God made you and Jesus loves you. Be like Jesus. Robert J. Keely in Helping Our Children In Faith writes “We need to take advantage of this developmental readiness to share these stories with them in a way that allows children to live inside of the stories.” Children are greatly influenced by the stories of the faith of people around him/her, his/her own stories of faith, and biblical accounts of faith. Kids begin to connect these stories together, but don’t yet see them as one large story that starts with “In the beginning God” and ends with “Amen” which truly begins in the middle school years (meta-cognition). There is more on why Bible stories are important here.

Ken Blanchard in The Stride speaks of the three spiritual practices which move people to become more like Jesus in strides rather than baby steps: Bible Reading, Financial Generosity, and Serving. We teach this in foundational and concrete ways in children’s ministry when we dedicate intentional time to Bible skills & Giving (loving the Lord our God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength) and Serving (loving our neighbors as ourselves.)

I hope my church was pleased to hear this graduate speak of growing up here and they were successful in partnering with her parents so that she’d know the Lord before she knew what that was. I wasn’t there when she was growing up, but I know some of the men and women who were. This is a legacy we get to share and I couldn’t be more thrilled for them and others who faithfully offer developmentally appropriate teaching and experiences for children. I love the tradition in some churches when a graduate is introduced by name, the people in attendance who were part of his/her journey stand as the great cloud of witnesses who have and will continue to surround them as each graduate runs with perseverance the race marked out for them…so they will not grow weary nor lose heart as shared in Hebrews 12:1-3.

A Rethinking Youth Ministry podcast 069 speaks to this tension and is worth the 40 minutes for those who serve in ministry with youth AND children. If you choose to listen to the podcast, I’d be very interested in hearing your thoughts on some best practices to ease the tension between youth and children’s ministries.

“We are laying a foundation, especially the early years of children’s ministry, that hopefully when it starts to be kicked against at some point in the future, that it won’t completely fall apart, but will be a renovation and not a rebuild.” 30:20 RYM069 podcast, What Every Children’s Pastor Wishes Their Youth Pastor Knew I love 

“Only be careful and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.” Deuteronomy 4:9