The other day I went to my daughter’s school to have lunch with her, and while I was there a few of her friends that I know said hi to me, which is always good, and then one kid who I knew from her class and our church called my name, but I didn’t realize he was talking to me until my wife kicked me and said to turn around and that Caleb was trying to tell me something.
So I turned around and he told me that he was reading his bible. This really caught me off guard and it was a really fun to hear.
Then as the kids were leaving the cafeteria to go to recess another kid was saying hi to me and my wife BUT I didn’t even recognize who it was.
So I asked my wife and she told me who it was and I was like, “oh, yeah, I knew that” but I probably didn’t.
I want to know who all of my daughter’s friends are but I’m having a hard time keeping up.
I think it’s because for most of my twenty years in youth ministry I’ve made it a point to begin learning the names of the kids in our churches around the time they get to 4th or 5th grade, knowing that they are at that point a few years away from our youth ministry.
But that way of doing things is falling apart for me.
Most Sundays we do a children’s message at church and in our church, the pastor who preaches usually doesn’t lead the service or do the kids message and since I preach once a month, that means that I do most of the kids messages.
So on a typical Sunday 15-20 kids come forward and sit on the stage with me for 5 minutes as we take them through different passages in a way that I hope connects with them.
But, when they come forward I usually know half of their names. And the ones that I do are my daughter’s friends or those whose parents I’ve gotten to know or a few others who I know.
Sometimes as I sit there, I just don’t know everyone’s names and I really don’t like that. So what does this have to do with youth ministry?
Actually, here’s the connection for me.
A while back I got to do a seminar with my friend Mark who pastors in southern Minnesota, and we were asked for ideas on how to start a youth ministry. One of the answers we gave is that you can grow/start your youth ministry by developing a children’s ministry.
Go with me to Deuteronomy 6:4-9 as it reads:
“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
We tend to hear these words as words for parents, but these are words for all of us and they describe talking with kids about our faith.
If I wait to talk to the future kids of our youth group until they get to our youth group, I’ve missed a huge opportunity.
For me now, I want to
- – Know every younger kid in my church by name
- – I want to be able to ask them how I can pray for them
- – I want to be able to take every teachable moment I can with them
- – I want to befriend them
How does this idea affect you?
Rev. Mark Johannesen is pastor at Word of Life Lutheran Brethren Church in LeSueur, Minnesota.