the shape of leadership

Letting Little Ones Lead

Four questions to consider before including your kids in ministry

Karen Huber on February 28, 2017

Dad, can I go to work with you?”

This is a popular question in our house, often asked by a little boy wearing mismatched socks or a tween girl with one foot already out the door. Some days, they see him carry a tool box and wooden pallets to the car, other days it’s his Bible, a briefcase and a clanging jumble of church keys.

As a missionary family serving overseas, our children see their parents carry out God’s call in a different way each day. And now that they’re middlers — no longer preschoolers, but not yet fully in the teen years — they’re starting to want in on the action. Like any “normal” job, our kids want to know what work looks like, where we go, who we meet with, and what we do. Ours in particular want to discover for themselves why we would move an ocean away to follow Jesus.

As ministers of the Gospel, we recognize that following Christ isn’t just a job, but a fully integrated life: a Jesus-infused family and vocation. In order for our children to embrace that same integrated life, we must disciple them the way we would disciple anyone. We need to invite them along and show them the way.

And yet, how often do we default to a quick “not” or “not yet” when they express an interest in joining us in our vocation? Perhaps we haven’t yet thought about what that will mean or what it might look like to include them in our work. Or maybe our ministry is unorthodox and we’re unsure what our children will do or say.

Before your own little guy or gal asks if they can tag along, here are four things to consider.

Is it his idea, or yours?
Chances are, if you’re the parent of a tween or teenager, you exasperate them quite a bit (see Ephesians 6:4). It’s unintentional, of course, but it’s a rite of passage we can get lost in if we’re not careful. We may, be it ever so subtle, push our children to embrace our work or live out the callings we pursue.

Before inviting your child to join you in ministry, listen to him. Inquire about his skills and his likes. Watch his personality and notice when he feels at ease or when he communicates stress.

Almost all pastors' kids feel the same sort of ‘on display’ pressures in their own context,” says author — and famous pastor’s kid — Barnabas Piper. “PKs want the chance to be known as the unique individuals God made them to be, not as chips off the ol' block or the bearer of a great family name. They don't likely want to ‘be a pastor like dad,’ and they definitely don't want to be held to a different moral standard.”

What is your child’s spiritual maturity level?
Brian Dollar, a leader and curriculum developer for kids’ ministry, says that if our children have placed their faith in Jesus, they’re ready to serve Him now.

“God doesn’t seem to be waiting on them to grow up and become ‘the future of the church,’” says Dollar. “Children who have been saved by God’s grace and filled with His power have the same anointing that adults have with the same experience.”

Encourage your children to begin ministry right where they are, whether it be school, sports or making friends in the neighborhood.

Sally and Mike Breen, co-authors of Family on Mission, affirm this view.

“We told them very clearly that they didn’t need to wait until they were adults to be part of what God had called us to do, that they were completely included … .” writes Sally.

In their book, the Breens describe the ancient Jewish custom of older children “standing at the shoulder” of a parent to learn the family business, whether it be managing the home, farming, or in our case, ministry. By 12, one’s child would be ready to begin living out all she had learned from a tutor or guide, simply by walking and working with her mother. 

In the same way, we disciple our peers and our children to begin living out a life following Jesus. Prepare your child to “stand at your shoulder” by naming and affirming her spiritual gifts. Honor the Holy Spirit’s work in the heart of your child and encourage her to listen and obey it.

What is your family’s mission attitude?
Ministry isn’t just something that happens in church, but within the walls of our homes, schools and communities. As we disciple our children as apprentices of Jesus, consider how your family may be already living this out (Deuteronomy 6:7). Are you exhibiting a posture of servanthood in the home and community outside of “normal working hours”?

“We have to know why our family exists,” write the Breens, who urge parents to “cast vision for the kids not just to ‘have a good day at school,’ but also to join Jesus in His work at their school.”

Encourage your children to begin ministry right where they are, whether it be school, sports or making friends in the neighborhood. Help them keep their eyes and hearts open to what God is doing there and how your family is (or can be) involved.

Is it safe?
Finally, the question every parent — or at least, every mother — asks: is it safe? Christians like to say that the safest place is in the center of God’s will, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to physical safety.

Does your child feel safe and secure in body (what is the environment like), mind (does your child understand), and spirit (do you recognize God’s presence)? Are they giving you cautionary non-verbal cues? Pay attention to your child’s boundaries, be consistent with those you’ve already put in place, and have an “open door policy” to adjust them when necessary.

Obviously, some ministry experiences will be better suited to children than others. Activities like hospital visits and community service are tailor-made for kids to be involved. But don’t shy away from having them sit in on a Bible study, watch you teach a class, or even prayer-walk in an at-risk neighborhood.

Show them what pursuing Jesus looks like, day-by-day. Soon, they’ll be showing you, too.

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