Suffer the Little Children
Dr. James Emery WhiteJames Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina; President of Serious Times, a ministry which explores the intersection of faith and culture (www.serioustimes.org); and ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture on the Charlotte campus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Dr. White holds the B.S., M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees, along with additional work at Vanderbilt University and Oxford University. He is the author of over a dozen books.
- 2010 Nov 18
Most of you are familiar with the music of Bono, the critical acclaim of AMC's Mad Men on TV, and the latest iPhone app. If you are a speaker, you know to litter your talks with allusions to the recent election and the Beatles finally coming to iTunes.
But would I stump you if I mentioned things like The Wonder Pets, Silly Bandz, Leapster and The Fresh Beat Band?
If so, I've made my point.
Many leaders who pride themselves on being students of contemporary culture know very little about one of its most important cultural currents for insight and ministry: children's culture.
Years ago my family and I went to a church while on our summer study break - it was a new church, very small, that was meeting in a movie theatre. How can I say this... it was one of the most programming challenged services I've ever attended.
It was so bad, that we were looking at our watches five minutes after the service started. When the service mercifully ended, we wanted to get out of there and never return.
But when we went to pick up our then very young kids, they were having an absolute blast. They didn't want to leave! There was a young couple who had just poured themselves into that ministry, and made it really, really good. I still recall how they had transformed a meager space into a time-machine with special-effects music that took the kids "back" into Bible times. New kids, such as ours, we're treated extra special and taken to a treasure chest full of small toys from which they could choose.
We went to some of the best churches in the area that summer, but our kids pleaded with us to take them back to the one we could barely stand.
Now if I lived there, and felt compelled to find a church home as a father of four, do you think I would have at least given that church another try?
You can count on it.
If you've been in church leadership for very long, you know that most unchurched parents come to church not for themselves, but for their kids. They wanted their kids to get God, and in the end, they get God.
So win the kid, win the family.
It's that simple.
Take the experience we had with our children. You can drop the ball in the service, but ace it with the kids, and have a chance that they'll return. But no matter how good the service is, if the children's ministry is bad, they won't come back - unless they're folks without kids.
So not only should you see the strategic nature of children's ministry, but also treat it as the strategic ministry it is.
Too many pastors treat children's ministry as a necessary evil. It's severely underfunded, understaffed and underappreciated. Little thought is given to its creativity and vibrancy because it's viewed as little more than babysitting.
Wake up. Children are the heart of your growth engine.
And the heart of fulfilling your mission.
In the old KJV, Jesus said "suffer the little children to come to me."
Better do all you can to keep them, or else the suffering will be real.
James Emery White