Dec 15, 2017

Meet The World's Most Influential Children's Pastor


I'd like to introduce you to the most influential children's pastor in the world.  This person influences children for a lifetime.  They have the ability to invest countless hours in children. 

They influence where children go.  They influence what children watch and listen to.  They influence what children have access to online.  They influence who children choose as friends. 

Their prayers impact children in an incredible way.  They shape children's character more than anyone else. 

Children watch them closely and imitate what they do.  Children also confide in them often and ask for their advice. 

They influence where children go to college. They even influence who children grow up to marry in many cases.  They even have a part in helping children decide what line of work they will go into.

Ready to meet this amazing children's pastor...the most influential one on the world?  Okay.  I won't make you wait any longer.  Here's the big reveal.  The most influential children's pastor in the world is...

PARENTS

When it comes to influencing children, no one is more influential than a child's parents.  For better or worse, parents are the primary influencer of children.

Parents create a spiritual ceiling that children rarely rise above.  They pass along their spiritual fervor and passion to their children in most cases. 

Of course, every person must have their own faith, but when it comes to influencing a child to grab hold of faith and make it their own, no one has more impact than parents.

Would you like to impact children for Christ?  Then spend much of your time connecting with the world's most influential children's pastor.  Spend your time investing in the world's most influential children's pastor.  Focus on equipping the world's most influential children's pastor.  Shift your attention to encouraging the world's most influential children's pastor. 

When we do that, we will begin to see more kids grow up to love and follow Jesus.

Dec 14, 2017

Look Them in the Eyes...Why a Personal Connection at Church Makes All the Difference in a Chlid's Life

I believe one of the keys to seeing a child grow up to love Jesus and His church is the child making a personal connection at church.  I've often said this. 
It only takes one caring adult to make the difference in a child's life.  
Every time they are at church, children need someone who knows their name, looks them in the eye, tells them they matter and prays for them by name.  And it must start early, even in the nursery.

There's a new study that shows the impact it can make in a child's life when they make a personal connection with a caring adult.  The study found that when adults and babies look at each other, their brain waves sync up.  This creates what researchers call "a joint networked state" that helps them connect.  When babies make this connection, they will try to vocalize and communicate more.

A test was done by researchers at the Baby-LINC Lab at the University of Cambridge.  The test showed babies videos of adults singing nursery rhymes.  In the first video, the singers looked straight at the babies.  In the second video, the singers did not look at the babies, and in the third video, singers turned their heads, but keep their eyes directed toward the babies.  

While the babies were watching the videos, the researchers monitored their brainwave patterns.  The results showed that the babies' brains made a stronger connection when they could see the singers' eyes.  And the strongest connection was made when the singers had their head turned away, but were looking at the child.  Researchers believe this is because the babies recognized that the singers were intentionally looking at them.

Researchers then did the same test, but this time they used live singers.  Results showed that both the babies and the adults became more synchronized to each other's brain activity when eye contact was made.  When the singers looked away, the brain connection dropped off some.  The babies also made more sounds while they were making eye contact with the adults, showing they wanted to communicate.

A great goal for your ministry would be to make sure every child has a personal connection with a caring leader.

Encourage nursery leaders to spend time looking in the eyes of every baby while talking to them, telling them they are loved by God and the church, praying for them and reading God's Word to them.

Train your guest services team to look guests in the eyes while they are welcoming them.  This means looking at them, rather than looking past them.  There's a big difference and guests immediately know the difference.

Teach your preschool leaders to get down on their knees and make direct eye contact with every single child sometime during class.

Build a volunteer team in elementary, so every single boy and girl can be part of a small group (and small doesn't mean a ratio of 1 to 20) where a leader personally knows them and prays for them by name.

Have leaders in your pre-teen ministry that are involved in the lives of the kids and know when they are absent.

If you take a closer look at Jesus' ministry, you will see a pattern of personal connections.  He often looked for the one person He needed to connect with.  Zacchaeus.  The woman with the issue of blood.  Nicodemus.  The woman at the well. 
Discipleship doesn't happen in a crowd, but in personal connections.
Imagine the impact that could happen this weekend, if every child in your ministry was greeted upon arrival, by an adult who stopped what they were doing, looked the child in the eyes and said "I'm so glad you are here.  I've been waiting all week to SEE you."

That is how you change a child's life.  

Dec 13, 2017

When Is a Child Old Enough to Accept Jesus & Be Baptized?

If you're in children's ministry or you're a parent, you've probably pondered the question, "Is this child old enough to understand what it means to accept Jesus and be baptized?" 

Since beginning a relationship with Jesus is the most important decision a person will ever make, it is crucial that we are prepared to help children and families with this.

While there is no "set age" that a child must be to begin a relationship with Jesus, there are some key indicators you can look for.

Does the child understand abstract concepts?  Normally a child can understand abstract concepts around the age of 7.5 to 8.  In other words, the average four-year-old will think you mean a real bridge when you say Jesus is the bridge back to God.  But when a child understands abstract concepts, they will grasp this as simply an illustration and will connect it to spiritual truth.  

Does the child understand what sin is and realize they have sinned?  Some call this the "age of accountability."  The child must clearly understand that they have sinned and are need of a Savior.  Before you can be "saved" you must first understand you are "lost" without Christ.  The age of accountability is different for each child.  For some kids it could be at age 6.  For other kids it could be at age 9 or 10. 

Does the child understand what Jesus did on the cross?  The child should have a clear understanding of why Jesus came and the price He paid on the cross for our sins.  The child should move beyond just "Jesus died on the cross for me" to understanding that Jesus died on the cross to pay the price of the sin bill we owe.

Does the child understand how one enters a relationship with God?  The child should understand that we enter a relationship with God by asking Jesus to be our Lord and Savior.  They should know we are saved by grace through faith and not by works.

Is the child persistent?  A good sign that God is working in a child's life is the child initiating conversations about it.  The child will begin bringing it up without being prompted.

Want vs. Need.  Do you sense the child "wants" to make a decision or "needs" to make a decision.  There is a difference.  "Want to" can come from being coerced or by seeing other kids make a decision.  "Need to" comes from a sense of the Holy Spirit's drawing.

If you lead a children's ministry, I would encourage you to have a clear process in place for leading children and families to Jesus.

Instead of doing large group "salvation prayers," invite kids to a class where you have time to clearly explain the Gospel and can talk with them individually.  Have parents attend the class with their children.  It is vital to partner with parents during this process.  And the cool thing...as you do this, you will see parents come to Christ as well.

We have created a class called Starting Point for this.  We have seen hundreds of kids and parents go through the class and make a solid decision to follow Christ.  It is available for your ministry at this link.

When a child begins asking questions about following Christ, it's an exciting time.  What a privilege we have to share Jesus with children.  But we also carry a responsibility to help children clearly understand what that means.

It's not our role to push children into a decision nor is it our role to hold them back.  Our role is to walk beside them and encourage them as the Holy Spirit draws them to Jesus.    

Dec 12, 2017

Kids Who Grow Up to Follow Jesus Have Parents Who Do These 7 Things

In a day when we are seeing an alarming number of kids walking away from the faith they grew up in, the good news is there are still many, many kids who are serving Jesus for a lifetime.

The question we often ponder is "What makes the difference?"  What are the factors, seen and unseen, that contribute to a child engaging in a genuine relationship with Jesus and then go on to passionately follow Him as an adult?

Some of the factors that people have identified are...
  • They had a clear salvation experience.
  • They had friends who loved Jesus. 
  • They learned to spend time with Jesus through prayer and reading the Bible.
  • They had caring leaders at church who knew them personally and invested in them. 
  • They were able to avoid getting trapped in major temptations like premarital sex, drugs, alcoholism, etc. in their teenager years.
While all of these are important factors, there is another factor that I believe carries the most impact.  What is it you ask?

Parental influence. 

You see, no one has more influence in a child's life than his or her parents.  Kids who grow up to follow Jesus as adults normally have parents who influenced them to do so. 

Throughout Scripture, we see examples of children who were influenced by their parents to follow God. 
  • Hannah influenced her son, Samuel.
  • Abraham influenced his son, Isaac.
  • Mordecai influenced his adopted daughter, Esther.
  • Eunice influenced her son, Timothy.  Timothy was also influenced by his grandmother, Lois.
  • Jochebed influenced her son, Moses.
  • David influenced his son, Solomon.
We also see examples of great Christian leaders who were influenced by their parents to follow Jesus.
  • Melvin Maxwell influenced his son, John.
  • Crawford Loritts influenced his son, Bryan.
  • Billy Graham influenced his son, Franklin and his daughter, Anne.
  • Tony Evans influenced his daughter, Priscilla.
  • Susanna Wesley influenced her sons, Charles and John.
  • Charles Stanley influenced his son, Andy. 
  • Ed Young Sr. influenced his son, Ed Jr. 
The National Study of Youth and Religion backs this up as well.  The study shows that parents are far and away the major influence in kids keeping their faith into their adulthood.  Just 1% of teens ages 15 to 17 raised by parents who attached little importance to religion were highly religious in their mid-to-late 20s.  The study compared this to children who were raised by parents who talked about faith at home, attached great importance to their beliefs and were active in their congregations.  82% of these kids grew up to be religiously active as young adults.
No other conceivable causal influence ... comes remotely close to matching the influence of parents on the religious faith and practices of youth.  Parents just dominate.   -Christian Smith, Yale University
What are some of the key things that parents do whose kids grow up to follow Jesus as adults?  Let's look at 7 of them.

Kids who grow up to follow Jesus as adults have parents who prayed with them at home.  They prayed with them at meal time.  They prayed with them at bedtime.  They prayed with them before they left for school.  They prayed with them in times of crisis.  They prayed with them about important decisions.

I mentioned Susanna Wesley earlier.  Her sons, John and Charles, grew up to make a major impact for Christ.  They were the founders of the Methodist church.  Susanna's husband, shared this story about her influence on her children through prayer.

“I opened the door and was surprised to find none of the children about the hall.  Going quietly upstairs, I heard my wife’s voice.  She was engaged in prayer with the children; I heard her pray for them one by one by name.  She came to Charles, and specially prayed for him, for he was of high spirit and daring temper.  I listened till she had ended her prayer, and I felt and said, ‘Lord, I will go on with Thy work. The children will be cared for.’”

Kids who grow up to follow Jesus as adults have parents who read God's word with them at home.  The Bible didn't sit on the dashboard of the car all week collecting dust or it didn't remain an unopened app.  It was used during the week.

Eunice and Lois, who raised Timothy, infused Scripture into his life.  Look what it says about this in the New Testament.
You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus. 2 Timothy 3:15
William Borden, the heir of the Borden milk company fortune and missionary, had a mother who made reading the Bible with her children a priority in their home.  Look what is recorded about this.

"Mary responded to William’s zeal by putting even greater effort into teaching and training her son along with her other children. It became her habit to gather the children for Bible lessons. During one of these lessons, she asked them to write down what they would like to be when they grow up. William’s answer showed both childlike enthusiasm and remarkable maturity: 'I want to be an honest man when I grow up, a true and loving and kind and faithful man.'  God would bless and grant this desire."

Kids who grow up to follow Jesus as adults have parents who take them to church consistently.  We live in a day when parents are taking their children to church less frequently.  The average family who attends church only shows up once every three to four weeks.  Sports, activities, weekend trips and the general busyness of life creeps in and crowds out many families' consistent church attendance.  But this is not the case for families whose kids grow up to love Jesus.  They make attending church the top priority of their weekend.

Research from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health backs this up.  It found that children of parents who believe that religion is very important and display their commitment by attending services are most likely to transmit religiosity to their children.  Teens whose parents attended worship with them are especially likely to be religiously active as young adults. 

Kids who grow up to follow Jesus as adults have parents who create a place where questions are welcomed and encouraged.  One of the strongest factors associated with kids keeping their faith as young adults is having parents who talk about religion and spirituality at home.

Parents welcome dialogue about the hard questions kids need to work through as they are grappling with faith and making it their own.  In fact, they initiate faith conversations to help prepare their kids for the questions, temptations and cultural pressures they will face as they grow up.  They also look for teachable moments that can spark faith talk in the course of every day life.

Kids who grow up to follow Jesus as adults have parents who emphasize relationship over rules.  This doesn't mean they don't put boundaries and consequences in place.  But what it does mean is they focus more on helping their kids fall in love with Jesus and having a personal, growing relationship with Him.  As they do this, their kids begin to obey and "keep the rules" not out of fear or duty, but out of a heart of love and surrender to Jesus' will for their life.

Kids who grow up to follow Jesus as adults have parents who live authentically.  Simply put.  Their parents are the real deal.  They practice what they preach.  They live at home just like they live at church.

This doesn't mean the parents are perfect.  Yes, they make mistakes along the way.  But when they do, they humbly admit it and seek forgiveness.

Kids can sniff out hypocrisy.  And when they know what their parents are saying doesn't match up with what they are doing, it damages their faith and they can become disillusioned with following Jesus. 
Kids don't always do what their parents say, but they never fail to imitate who they really are.
I mentioned Priscilla Shirer earlier.  She is the daughter of Pastor Tony Evans.  She is a Christian author, motivational speaker, actress and Christian evangelist.  Look what she says about how her parents influenced her as she was growing up.

"Daddy and Mommy constructed a bubble of sorts for us to live in. Home life was padded with instruction in God’s Word, discipline in life lessons (like saving and tithing our money), manners ('No elbows on the table!') and good work ethics.  We had lots of fun with our friends, but we did it mostly at our home instead of theirs, my parents careful about the kinds of influences we might encounter somewhere else.  Sure, that meant taking on the exhausting work of having a dozen sweaty teenagers track muddy prints in and out of the kitchen for snacks and Kool-Aid during games of basketball and ping-pong.  But our parents did it for a reason.  And they did it for us.

When we weren’t at home, we were at church or at school—a simple, quaint, Christian school that reinforced the lessons taught at home.  Public school came later, during the high school years.  But even then, my parents were very involved in our studies and our friendships.  Watching.  Stewarding.  Shepherding.

They just seemed to have this knowing inside—a deep, inner consciousness about the culture.  They knew their job as parents couldn’t be passive.  They knew they needed to fight aggressively against the low values and standards of the common crowd, the crude lasciviousness that was trying to creep into our minds and hearts, our attitudes and opinions, our actions and emotions."

What a great example of being intentional about influencing your children through words, actions and example.

Kids who grow up to follow Jesus as adults have parents who actively serve and involve their children in serving.  Research shows that kids who get involved in serving are much more likely to carry their faith into adulthood.  There is something about serving that activates a child's faith and increases their passion for the things of God.  When a child understands that God has a purpose for their life and that they can be used of God to impact others for the kingdom, he/she engages wholeheartedly. 

And where do kids get a heart for serving?  From their parents.  When they see their parents serving others, it inspires them to serve.  One of the best things churches can do is provide opportunities for kids and their parents to serve together.

As church leaders, we must turn our primary focus to helping parents do these seven things.  Especially parents who have younger children.  After age 12, the role of parents can begin to recede, as kids are influenced more heavily by peers, media, music, social media and the culture as a whole.

We must help parents realize the key role they play in transferring faith to their children by encouraging, equipping and empowering them to embrace the responsibility God has placed in their hands.

If we can influence children's primary influencer, their parents, we can see kids love and serve Jesus for a lifetime. 

Will you give yourself and your ministry to this?  The spiritual future of the next generation depends on it.