Since being in Kenya, I have visited quite a few churches. Some of the churches I’ve visited have been for the purpose of assessing/assisting with their children’s ministry. Traditionally, ministry to children has not been a big priority here, even though children are EVERYWHERE. Visiting churches, watching how they interact with and teach their children, and getting the opportunity to sing, dance, pray, and play with little ones, is absolutely at the center of my heart.
This past Sunday I visited Community of Hope New Testament Church of God. This church is in a rural area about 30-45 minutes out of Eldoret. The church was planted a few months ago by a graduate of the Discipleship College. A few weeks ago, Pastor Kenneth visited the college to ask for help. You see, he has a congregation of primarily young children.
When he came to the school asking for help, he wasn’t asking how to attract more adults; he wanted resources for teaching the children. That’s where I come in. Gene (the director of Discipleship College) asked if I would meet with Pastor Kenneth. We decided I would come observe church one Sunday, then see what we could do about resources and training.
He had told me they usually have Sunday school with the children, then dismiss the younger children to play while the adults and older children have service. I knew he had more children than adults. However, I was not expecting 21 children sitting quietly in their chairs, waiting for Pastor to begin, and only 1 adult. The entire morning, only 1 adult came for service. Others called or texted… they were sick or a child was sick. A couple who came after church had been delayed because he had to work that morning. But for the entire service, there were 21 children and only 1 adult.
Yet, Pastor Kenneth was not discouraged. He taught these little ones (most of them were grade 3 and younger) with passion and spirit. He laughed with them. He engaged with them. He asked questions and they were eager to answer and participate. We sang together. They told me their memory verses. They shared prayer needs and we prayed together. Pastor Kenneth wasn’t biding his time with the little ones waiting for the adults to show up; he was ministering to his congregation, as young as they are. More than once he told me, “but they ARE the church.” Pastor Kenneth understands what Jesus meant when he said to let the little children come. He truly sees that the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to these.
I have to wonder, if an American pastor planted a church and found themselves faced with 20+ children and fewer than 10 adults, how many would be excited at the potential? How many would look around on a Sunday morning at a congregation of 1 adult and 21 children and see that this IS the church? Or would we feel disappointment, like we had failed in some way by only drawing children?
In my 16 years of ministry with children, I have seen some of the absolute best programs. I have seen children’s pastors with such passion for their ministry that it explodes out of them. But more often than not, our fancy churches with our fancy programs treat the children as though they are a separate entity, like they are somehow not a part of our family. I have witnessed this ungodly mentality that when we have a fabulous children’s pastor, the rest of the leadership doesn’t have to worry about what’s happening “back there.” As long as parents are happy and you stay within budget, all is well. How many times have I visited a church with a great children’s area and really “effective” programming, only to find that the lead pastor has never stepped foot into the children’s area during a service. Is he not pastor of the children, too?
Yes, I am a little biased. My heart and calling is for ministry with children. But if we look carefully (or not so carefully!) at scripture, we find Jesus as the one who took out time for the sinner, the outcast, and yes, children. He gathered children to him and encouraged the grown-ups to emulate their faith. We should not be waiting for the little ones to become big before they join us in life and ministry. We should be running to join them. To understand what this childlike faith is that Jesus told us about. To understand why Jesus said that the Kingdom belongs to them.
I want my life to be about the Kingdom. Who better to teach me than those to whom the Kingdom belongs? After all, these little ones are the hope of our communities.