Think Like a Politician, Act Like a Parent
By David Wakerley
David Wakerley is a kids pastor and the creative director of Hillsong Kids for Hillsong Church in Sydney, Australia. He’s the creator of the exciting BIG children’s ministry curriculum. David and his wife, Beci, also help produce Hillsong Kids Praise and Worship albums. They have three children.
In February 2001 I arrived at Bible college as a newly married 22-year-old, not even aware children's ministry existed. That quickly changed, as I soon got the opportunity to serve the kids of our church. Suddenly, I realized a world of ministry was opening up to me, and the joy of serving children got hold of my soul. Soon it became abundantly clear to me that discipleship is one of the biggest needs we should be grappling with as children’s ministry leaders.
So I devoured whatever opinions and thoughts on the matter I could find. Today, many years later, I find myself still asking the question, "How do you disciple a child in order to see him follow Jesus for the rest of his life?"
I've found myself wishing that the Bible contained a few more how-to chapters. But that's not going to happen. And I'm OK with that. I think we can agree that the Bible isn't what's keeping us from instilling a passion for God in kids.
IS INFORMATION ALL WE NEED?
I am aware of ministries that view themselves as Christian Education Departments that run the Sunday schools or similar programs each week. They're clearly influenced by the philosophy that their job is all about imparting information. But is information really all we need for growth and discipleship? No. Before you or I can get behind an idea, we need to see the vision and understand the purpose behind the idea.
Don't think that kids are any different from us. They too must see the vision and understand the purpose. Because in their hearts they will ask: Why do I need to hear about Jesus? Why should I pray, read my Bible, or go to church? Your passion should be palpable as you communicate to your kids. The air should crackle with urgency as you cast the vision before them of a life with Christ.
Habakkuk 2:3 says vision will ultimately accomplish its purpose: "Write the vision and make it plain on tablets, that he may run who reads it. For the vision is yet for an appointed time….Though it tarries…it will surely come" (NKJV).
Curricula and programs are important, but they're only the first step toward a passionate pursuit of Christ. We also need experiences that focus on formation that leads to the ultimate goal—transformation: “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you” (Gal. 4:19, NIV). “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image” (2 Cor. 3:18, NIV).
Now, you may be just beginning your ministry and reading this like the 22-year-old me I described earlier in this chapter, or you may be like the current me, the almost-40 wizened veteran, full of fish crackers and VeggieTales quotes. Regardless of where you are right now in life and ministry, the landscape of kid culture keeps changing and moving. So I want to ask you to do two things.
First, I want you to think like a politician. Second, I want you to act like a parent. Each assignment will help you step back and see the big picture. When worked out together, both will introduce you to practical concepts that will take some of the guesswork out of discipleship.
THINK LIKE A POLITICIAN
If you can suspend your disbelief in political integrity for a moment, I assure you I am going somewhere with this! As a minister/leader of children, you deal with macrocosms—a large number of children whom you personally cannot guide through discipleship successfully. You need the support of volunteers and a team. That's the reason you need to think like a politician (positively speaking, of course).
Politicians are responsible for managing the vast sums of money and influence needed to lead a country in a positive direction. Similarly, your success will be dependent on your ability to see the big picture.
Years ago we did some digging into attendance at our church and discovered a few vital statistics. An important one was that 75 percent of our families attend during a three-week period. This caused us to reimagine just what our curriculum should look like. In short, we now cover a similar topic (such as "faith," "hope" or "love") for three weeks at a time, which gives maximum exposure to as many kids as possible. We'd never have gotten this insight without looking at the big picture.
Perhaps you've heard the saying, “Whatever gets measured gets done.” That means if you want an area to grow or develop, then you have to quantify it. For example:
• How many kids were baptized this year; how does it compare with last year's number?
• How effective is your transition to youth ministry? How many of your kids have connected well with the junior high team?
• Do you track salvations?
• Do you gauge the average consumption of crackers per child per service? (Knowing this could save you hundreds of dollars!)
Think like a politician. Study the big stuff.
ACT LIKE A PARENT
I am involved in the minutiae of my children's everyday lives—the stories from school, the favorite YouTube videos, Pokémon and FIFA, and so much more. That's what parents do: they focus on the microcosm that is the individual child.
The Bible says, "For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers" (1 Cor. 4:15, NKJV). You can't be a parent to every child in your care (and you shouldn't try to be), but as you build relationships, you serve in supporting, affirming and adding to the faith our children experience at home. Your role is powerful because our children observe you.
After studying the religious and spiritual lives of emerging adults, University of Notre Dame professor Christian Smith reported his findings in the National Study of Youth and Religion and concluded with this encouraging statement:
"Religious outcomes in emerging adulthood are not random happenstance about which all bets are off after age 18. Instead, they often flow quite predictably from formative religious influences that shape a person's life in earlier years....[The] religious commitments, practices, and investments made during childhood and the teenage years by parents and others in families and religious communities, matter—they make a difference."
Have faith in a God who is able to finish what He started. "Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:6, NKJV).
In the end, for true spiritual growth and discipleship to occur, we all need a vision we can see and a purpose we can understand. Information, whether it's imparted or received, is good, but information alone isn't enough to take us deep with God. We need experiences that focus on formation that lead to the ultimate goal—making disciples of Jesus Christ.
THE ‘8 PILLARS’ OF TRANSFORMATION
What follows is the "8 Pillars of Formation" created by the Here2Stay initiative (here2stay.org.au). These lead to transformation in the lives of children. I encourage you to assess your current ministry to determine how (and if) each of these concepts is influencing the life of your church. Try assigning a number from 1 to 10 to each category, with 10 matching the category most closely.
1. ANCHORS/RITES OF PASSAGE
How do you help a young person navigate through these significant life events? How can we be more intentional in creating anchors to help kids in their transformation?
2. MENTORS AND LIFE COACHES
Close, warm relationships are vital when a young person is exploring strange territory, wants to ask some of life’s biggest questions or wants to laugh or cry.
3. PEAK EXPERIENCES
Faith is deepened by meeting new people with a vibrant faith, being inspired by new leaders, witnessing community or the wow factor of a special event (such as camps).
4. POSITIVE PEER COMMUNITY
In life, we grow to be like our friends. The more time that’s spent with positive friends the more a child will be influenced by their values and actions.
5. RESPOND WITH COMPASSION
Don’t provide children just with adult solutions to the world’s problems. Rather, present the issue to them and invite their suggestions for what could be done.
6. ENCOUNTERS WITH JESUS
How important it is for us to create the spaces where our children can encounter the living Jesus—not just in words from the front, but in the still small voice of the Spirit.
7. BIG STORY OF THE BIBLE
Every part of the Bible must be understood in the context of one storyline—God’s story. Kids are a part of this story. Our privilege is to help them find their place in God’s story.
8. SERVE IN MISSION
Where are the opportunities for your children and young people to be able to give out as well as take in as they continue to grow in their journey with Jesus?