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It Takes a Church

By: President Matt Proctor

“It takes a village to raise a child.”

In my childhood, it was true. I was blessed with a Christian family, and I won the parent lottery. My mom and dad are saints, but as a scrawny, know-it-all little twit, I could be obnoxious. I’m sure there were times they were ready to be done with me. (“Where exactly is this village? If someone could give me directions, I need to drop a kid off…”)

I Had 100 Parents

Every parent needs help, and as great as my mom and dad are, they didn’t raise me alone. New Testament Christian Church was my village. (I still know the address 35 years later—1578 Hilton Road, Keokuk, Iowa.) There I had 100 parents:

None of those folks were church staff. But they each knew my name, each invested in me, and each helped me grow from an insecure, know-it-all nerd into a genuine Christ-follower.

It takes more than a village to raise a child. It takes a church.

How Kids Took Down the Ku Klux Klan

In the 1940s, author Stetson Kennedy went undercover to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan, learning their secret codes and rituals, intending to write an exposé. His resulting book I Rode With the Ku Klux Klan caused a sensation, but that wasn’t why one author called him “the greatest single contributor to the weakening of the KKK.” Instead, Stetson made his biggest impact when he called the popular kids’ radio program The Adventures of Superman.

In 1946, with Stetson’s help, the writers broadcast a 16-episode series with Superman battling “The Fiery Cross Clan.” Kids everywhere suddenly pretended to be the Man of Steel, fighting white-robed racist bad guys. The real-life rituals and codes of the Klan—given to the writers by Stetson—were seen as silly, and even Southern kids saw the organization (that their fathers and grandfathers belonged to) as worthy of ridicule. Recruiting dropped, and the Klan was eventually weakened.

If you want to make a change, mold the children.

The Lord knew that. He made it the last half of his greatest commandment. You remember: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children.” (Deut. 6:5-7).

When God made a to-do list for his people, the top item was children’s ministry: “Love God (and teach children to love God.)” The Lord knew that, if he wanted humanity to follow him, he should start with the kids.

The Most Effective Evangelistic Strategy Under Heaven

I was excited when Ozark started a church planting major. I knew the gospel effectiveness of church plants, and I quoted well-known missiologist C. Peter Wagner, “Planting new churches is the most effective evangelistic strategy known under heaven.”

I was wrong.

I still believe deeply in church planting, and it’s the second-most effective evangelistic strategy known under heaven.

Children’s ministry is the first. A Barna study found that nearly half of all Americans who accept Jesus do so before age 13, and two-thirds do so before age 18. In other words, the greatest evangelistic success most congregations have—by far—is with young people. They are the field most ripe for harvest. Whether it’s slowing down the Klan or building up the kingdom, kids are key.

If you want to make a change, mold the children.

But how exactly does this faith-molding take place?

Much of the gospel’s influence among kids is due to parents. Ephesians 6:4 tells parents, “Bring [your children] up in the training and instruction of the Lord,” and Barna’s study found that half of those who embraced Christ before their teen years were led to Jesus by their mom or dad. The best ministry a church can have is equipping parents to shape their children’s faith.

But if Barna’s statistics are accurate, that means:

The church plays a huge part in shaping a child’s faith. While Deuteronomy 6—“impress them on your children”—is likely aimed primarily at parents, the passage doesn’t actually begin, “Hear, O parents.” It begins, “Hear, O Israel.” The training of children is the responsibility of the whole people of God.

Why I’m Involved in Children’s Ministry

That’s why children’s ministry matters. I’ve been a children’s church teacher for 25 years for at least two reasons:

I am married to a children’s minister. For three decades, my wife Katie (OCC ’92) has poured herself into hundreds of children. (During the quarantine, she organized an amazing Easter drive-by scavenger hunt. Kids and parents worked through the Bible verse clue list, stopping by nine front-yard displays—including a live donkey, a live lamb, a cross, an empty tomb—that told the story of Passion Week.)

One of Katie’s longtime themes has been: “You’re called to be a little Jesus—to act like Jesus would if he were in your Velcro shoes.” Six-year-old Greg heard those words. The only word to describe Greg’s family was broken, but his grandma made sure he was in church. He grew up to be a huge football lineman, and I choked up not long ago when I heard this hulking man pray, “Lord, help us to be a little Jesus.”

And last month, Greg and his wife drove their two girls through the scavenger hunt. “He commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation…should set their hope in God” (Psalm 78:5-7).

If you want to make a change, mold the children.

Every Member a Children’s Minister

In our next issue of The Ambassador, you’ll read about Ozark’s children’s ministry major (and I’m not exaggerating when I say Dr. Teresa Roberts is the best children’s ministry prof in the country). The church needs more biblically equipped children’s ministers, and I’m proud of our program.

But let this article be YOUR call to children’s ministry. It’s not just the job of church staff. Every member is a children’s minister. We aren’t all gifted to teach children’s church, but we can all invest in a kid. The former president of Compassion, International writes:

If God stands a child before you, for even just a minute, it is a divine appointment. You have the chance to launch a life. You never know when you are making a memory. With each child you encounter, you have the power and opportunity to build up…. A life can be greatly influenced with as little as a single word, an uplifting comment, a well-timed hug, a tender prayer, a compliment, the holding of a frightened hand, or the gentle wiping of a tear…

And all of us, with no training, are qualified to do it. No one can say, “Well, children just aren’t my thing—I don’t ‘get’ them.” The truth is, you deserve an honorary doctorate in “childhood.” If you’re an adult, you have done 18 years of “field research” in this complex subject. Having been a child yourself, you’ve experienced firsthand all you need to know....

So put your Ph.D. in childhood to work. It doesn’t take a village to raise a child. It takes a church.

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