by Ryan Timpte
Attention youth ministers: children’s ministry needs to matter to you.
Do you know what’s going on in the children’s ministry in your church? How well do you know the point person for your children’s ministry? In the last six months, how many conversations have you had specifically about children? If any of these questions cause you to shrug your shoulders and say, “Meh,” then you have a problem.
The partnership between children’s ministry and youth ministry is one of the most vital relationships in the church. After all, the kids who are in my children’s programs will one day be in your youth programs. It isn’t as if teenagers, like the Greek gods of old, sprang fully formed from their parents’ foreheads. Every adolescent to whom you minister was once a child.
Yes, I know, not all of your youth grew up in the church as kids. And that’s awesome—I’m glad that you are intentionally reaching beyond the church community to unchurched adolescents and their families. But the partnership between children’s ministry and youth ministry is about more than just passing people from one age-defined program to the next (though it is worth asking how well you’re doing that, by the way).
The partnership between our two ministries, more than anything else, is about a grand conversation. When you start talking to your children’s minister, something amazing will happen: your youth ministry will change. For the better.
Look at it this way: partnering with your children’s ministry is a bit like being on a research and development team. Your children’s minister will know what young families in your area are like; they’ll be able to talk to you about education trends, and what kinds of methods are better at focusing their kids, and the singular image of God that their kids are experiencing. No two churches do children’s ministry quite the same, and the ways that kids are formed—both in the narrower church community and in the larger geographical community—impact how they enter your youth ministry.
Over the course of this grand conversation, what begins to emerge is a picture of a person from birth all the way through graduation. No longer are we treating different ages as isolated moments on the timeline; instead, we begin to see that the way a kid learns about God in third grade makes a difference for how they talk about God as a thirteen-year-old. Even if a youth has never encountered God before coming to your youth group, their childhood will have had an enormous impact on their development—and your children’s minister can help you with those questions about childhood.
This will make your youth ministry immeasurably better. If I, as a children’s minister, know what you expect out of your youth—both measurable behavior outcomes and the more ethereal spiritual ones—then I can structure my children’s programming to better support you. If you know how (and why) I am forming kids the way I am, then you can tailor your youth programming to better welcome those kids.
So walk down the hall and poke your head into your children’s minister’s office. Pick up the phone and invite them out to coffee. Whatever you have to do, convince your children’s ministry team that you, the youth minister, want to know what they’re up to. Take it from a current children’s minister: they will appreciate it.
And together, we can minister to an entire generation and help them to start seeking after the living God all their lives.
Ryan Timpte is the Children’s Minister at Lafayette-Orinda Presbyterian Church in Lafayette, Calif. in the San Francisco Bay Area. He has earned an MDiv and an MA in youth ministry from Princeton Theological Seminary.