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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Focus on Families

Children’s pastors reach kids through parents and relationships

By Christina Quick
Oct. 9, 2011

Felix De Jesus, a children’s pastor at Christian Life Center (Assemblies of God) in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., isn’t just interested in teaching kids about the Bible. He wants to reach the entire family.

“The children’s ministry can’t grow unless I’m connected to those parents,” De Jesus says. “The children need support at home to live out their faith. That’s why every event we have is family-based.”

De Jesus’ family focus reflects a growing trend in children’s ministries. In today’s media-saturated culture, the church is one of many voices competing for the attention of young minds. Children’s leaders know that unless discipleship is a priority in the home, faith can easily fall by the wayside.

“We understand we have a limited amount of time with kids,” says Scott Berkey, national director of the Children’s Ministries Agency for the Assemblies of God. “The reality is, a children’s pastor might see a kid for a few hours over the course of a year. We’re doing our best to partner with parents, providing devotional materials and making sure moms and dads are aware of what’s being taught. That will be the key to successful children’s ministry going forward.”

As De Jesus knows, bringing parents into the conversation can be challenging at times. Christian Life Center is a diverse blend of socioeconomic backgrounds, cultures and ethnicities, with about 80 nations represented in the congregation of 5,600.

“It is amazing to see how all these kids come together and just love Jesus in spite of their differences,” says De Jesus, a native Puerto Rican. “We tell the kids Jesus came to save everyone and that in heaven there are going to be different people than what we’re used to, but God wants us to love everyone.”

Volunteers translate into eight languages a monthly newsletter De Jesus creates to keep parents informed of the children’s lessons and activities. De Jesus, who speaks both English and Spanish, also uses translators as needed for face-to-face conferences with parents.

De Jesus oversees a kids’ street ministry and partners with the bus outreach to bring in children from impoverished neighborhoods and single-parent homes. Many of these children eventually convince their families to come to church.

The church hosts an annual Family Fun Day, an event open to children, older siblings, parents and grandparents. It features a sampling of international foods, as well as games, face painting, a rock climbing wall and a gospel message.

De Jesus says the church must be intentional about bringing together families and strengthening them in their faith. On Sunday evenings, Christian Life Center offers fine arts classes for kids. The universal appeal of music, dance and drama draws in parents and kids from a broad range of backgrounds.

“For years we felt like we, as a church, had to do the bulk of the heavy lifting in bringing up the next generation of Christians,” Berkey says. “Now we know a big part of children’s ministry is resourcing Mom and Dad. Even if they’re new believers, they can disciple their kids as they learn and grow together.”

The Assemblies of God recently launched the Children’s Fire Bible, a child-friendly version of the study Bible created by former AG missionary Donald Stamps.

“Because of technology and the constant inflow of information, this generation of kids is being forced to grow up faster than any generation before it,” Berkey says. “We have to make sure they have the ability to defend their faith more than any generation before them.”

Aaron Strawn, children’s pastor at Evangel Assembly of God in Bismarck, N.D., says today’s kids are exposed to computers and other technology at an increasingly early age.

“They watch television, play video games, and most of them have iPod Touches,” Strawn says. “They spend a lot of time on the Internet on YouTube, game sites and even Facebook. Kids are used to things being thrown very quickly at them, and we’ve got to keep up.”

Strawn enlivens his presentations with graphics, videos, moving backgrounds and music. He also creates video devotions for children and parents to watch together on DVD or online.

While the tools for communicating the gospel may change, the message remains the same, according to Strawn.

“Kids are tech-savvy and very culturally involved,” Strawn says. “But technology is a tool; it doesn’t do the teaching.”

Mark Entzminger, senior director of Children’s Ministries for the Assemblies of God, says children’s basic needs remain unchanged as well.

“With all the technology and all the resources that are changing, the leader has still got to love and care about the kids,” Entzminger says. “The new things we implement are successful only when a children’s pastor truly loves and cares for the kids. It’s also foundational how much kids need to know and hear the Word of God. In children’s ministries, this will never change.”

Entzminger says many children’s ministries today are returning to small groups, such as Sunday School, to promote face-to-face time with adults who can learn what is happening in the kids’ lives and teach them to apply the truths of Scripture.

“In a larger kids church setting, you often miss the opportunity to really see and feel what the kids are going through,” says Heather Marble, children’s pastor at First Assembly of God, a congregation of 1,300 in Binghamton, N.Y. “Our small groups serve as a way to have leaders learn the kids’ names, go to their sporting events and concerts, and allow kids to experience that they really are valuable. Because they have built those relationships with the leaders, it allows the kids to open up and ask the questions and help make their faith real to them.”

In a world of digital images and rapid changes, Marble says today’s kids are looking for something lasting and genuine.

“Kids want someone who will listen to them and care,” Marble says. “It’s important for the church to educate themselves and the parents on issues the kids will face. Kids need to learn that no matter what they have done, or what someone may have done to them, God has a plan and purpose for their life.”

CHRISTINA QUICK is a freelance writer and former Pentecostal Evangel staff writer. She attends Central Assembly of God in Springfield, Mo.

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