How a children’s ministry can partner with Christian parents

Helping moms and dads grow in Christ and model true faith

October 28, 2021

We desire a strong and robust partnership between children’s ministry and parents. Some Christian parents view the church as the place where their children merely “get saved.” These parents neglect to teach the Word at home, which puts more pressure on the church to produce Christian children. They send their kids to church, Christian schools, and camps, expecting that full-time Christian ministry folks will teach, instruct, and model faith for their kids. (One ornery parent once said, “After all, that’s why we tithe, right? We pay you so you can do this work for us.”) 

There is no formula to produce Christian children. No way for us to say or do the right things so that out pops a born-again kid. God must redeem our children. We know only God saves (Jonah 2:9). Yet, in his magnificent plan, he uses means to accomplish his sovereign purposes in salvation (Romans 10:14–15). God uses parents to point children to the truth and the gospel community around them to underscore the message of the gospel. 

Children’s ministry (and the church as a whole) is another means that God uses to declare his truth to the coming generations. Children come weekly to sit in Bible classes, listen to the prayers from the adults, and sit under the preaching of God’s Word in the main worship service. God uses adults in church to point children to the truth. 

Children’s ministry should never replace Christian instruction in the home. We teach, model, and disciple children while they are at church a few hours a week. But we also (as a church) build up parents so they can fulfill what God asks them to do — teach the next generation about who he is and about his wondrous deeds (Psalm 78:4–5). 

How does the church come alongside Christian parents to equip them in this task? 

1. Spiritual maturity is always our first goal 

This is what we expect of parents (and any member of our church): 

These are not optional add-ons for the Christian life. God uses these spiritual disciplines to grow parents in faith, hope, and love. 

The best Christian parenting comes from a mom and dad firmly grounded in Christ. Maturity in Christ is the goal, not just for parenting, but for all of life. The apostle Paul declares, 

To them, God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ (Colossians 1:27–28, emphasis added). 

If parents are missing church services often (for whatever reason), if they are not plugged into a small group, if a mom or dad doesn’t meet up with an older Christian to study the Bible, if they never spend any time in the Word or prayer on their own, then we’re not moving toward this most important of goals. 

2. We equip parents to know what Christian parenting looks like in the trenches of real life 

You can’t presume that parents will just “get it.” If you didn’t grow up in a Christian home, then you don’t know what Christian parenting looks like. You don’t know what it means (though you can try to make up for that with Christian videos and books). You experientially don’t know what it’s like and how biblical truths shape and define a home. 

There is far too often a gospel deficit in our parenting. How many parents would be embarrassed if someone played a videotape of their parenting? What would we see? Ugly comments, screaming, impatience, and constant fighting? Parents can sometimes act like the Bible is irrelevant for what happens between Monday and Saturday. You may think the work of a children’s ministry is limited to teaching the children. But the children are connected to families, and the family context is where they most grow and mature in their faith. So, helping families is often the key to real growth in these children’s lives. 

The pastor can share parenting principles from the pulpit whenever it’s appropriate to the text of the sermon. Staff can also instruct in parenting classes, offered for all age groups. An older father or mother in the faith can come alongside and mentor younger parents. There is an abundance of ways we can pass on truth and wisdom to younger parents. 

Terrance sat in the car with Scott, his discipler, as Scott drove his son, Jacob, to soccer practice. In recounting the story to us, Scott couldn’t remember what prompted Jacob’s tantrum, but his 4-year-old son had an all-out-scream-your-head-off fit. All the parenting books in the world can’t teach Terrance what he witnessed over the next few moments — a father frustrated at first (that’s Scott’s sin), then calming down his son with gentle words, and patiently helping little Jacob to work through his tantrum. It’s parenting in 3D — live, in person, real, and raw. Terrance, as a young believer, observed something that he never got growing up in a non-Christian home — a Christian parent whose gentleness (Proverbs 15:1), care, and patience (Ephesians 4:1–3; 6:4a) gives off the aroma of Christ. 

3. We encourage parents to start with the Bible 

We want to build into parents a desire and confidence to read the Bible and instruct their children. If the Bible is functionally irrelevant to what’s going on in the home and parents have no personal engagement with Scripture in their lives, it won’t show up in their interactions with the kids. If parents don’t treasure God’s Word as the very words of God himself, then the Bible will be absent from the home. However, if parents think, This book contains the very words of eternal life, they will do whatever it takes to make Scripture relevant to everything they do with their children. 

Here are a few practical suggestions about a parent reading the Bible to his children. Picture Jimmy, a dad, teaching his three kids — Benny, Betty and Peter. 

He reads the entire Bible. When the kids are younger, he starts with the Old Testament and Gospel stories, sometimes taking time to retell stories in his own words. As they get older, he adds and explains more abstract portions of Scripture, like the Pauline epistles. 

He reads thoughtfully. If Jimmy reads with a monotone voice, his kids quickly get bored. Instead, he reads in a way that makes the words comes to life. Sometimes he even uses different voices for different characters, or more inflection and more pronounced pronunciation of key words or ideas. 

He points to Jesus. Jesus is the new Adam; where Adam failed, Christ succeeded. Jimmy helps his kids make connections between the different parts of the Bible and Jesus. Moses, Joshua, and David all point forward to Christ. 

He dialogues with his kids. Rather than turning it into a monologue, he asks questions to help his children engage with the stories and learn from them. “Why did God bring a flood?” (Genesis 6:11–13). “Why didn’t the rich young ruler give up his wealth?” (Matthew 19:21–22). “Why did Jesus weep when he saw Mary and the crowds after Lazarus died?” (John 11:33–35). 

They pray, sing, and memorize Scripture together. Jimmy models prayer. Don’t be surprised if his kids start praying just like him, because they’ve heard him do it often. Jimmy and his kids sing truth and memorize it as another way to know Christ. 

What can we do as a church to help these parents? We equip parents to understand how to read their Bible properly and how to share with their children. The kind of teaching Jimmy submits himself to in his local church will dictate how he teaches his children. If his pastor carefully explains the Bible text and applies it every time he opens the Bible, Jimmy learns from him how to read the Scriptures correctly. If an older man in the faith in one-on-one discipling works through books of the Bible with Jimmy, he learns how to read and ask questions of the text and how to apply it. And as parents learn these things, Jimmy grows more confident in his ability to do this with his children. 

It’s far too easy for parents to presume that much of the Bible will be beyond their children’s comprehension. But that’s just not true. We challenge parents to teach the rich and deep truths of Scripture in a developmentally appropriate way but to not water it down. 

4. We equip parents with gospel tools 

Books or curriculum should never replace a family’s Bible reading, but there is an abundance of books, catechisms, curricula, and music that might help supplement our teaching. Because most Christian books or curricula are not available at your local public library, Christian parents and the church staff are a Christian resource library. Parents can highlight good books for other parents and pass them around. Church staff can also draw attention to resources and give them out on Sundays. 

Parents can expand a child’s knowledge of faithful Christian living. He or she could read a biography about a Reformation character or a missionary. By reading biographies, parents offer living examples of the gospel to their children. 

Parents could spend time at dinner reading about different countries in the world. It’s good to expand the children’s knowledge of God beyond the boundaries of their own neighborhood, to see how big and mighty the Lord truly is. 

5. We help parents to endure in faith 

Jimmy and his daughter Betty have a fight, and Jimmy spends the next hour feeling like a failure and wanting to give up. He piles self-condemnation onto the situation, mumbling to himself afterward, “You’re an idiot of a parent,” or, “You’re no better than your dysfunctional parents.” 

In parenting, you want to play the long game. You help parents remember that one nasty fight or lousy day doesn’t have to set the tone for their home. Out of fear and a lack of faith, parents let hard days define them far too much, but it doesn’t have to be so. The painful reality is that parents are going to sin and make mistakes. 

There are two ways we set an example of faith in Christ for our kids. The first is obvious; children learn by watching their parents obey and follow Jesus. Parents show with their day-to-day choices what it looks like to trust Christ with all of their life. But what about the times when we sin? Second, parents set a good example by demonstrating humble repentance. When parents ask God for forgiveness, turn from their sin, and lean on Christ for strength, their kids have a front-row seat. God’s grace teaches parents to live godly lives and steers us back to the cross when we fail. That is grace upon grace! These parents desperately need a heavy dose of God’s grace. 

The church holds out this grace to parents and reminds them again and again that their life is rooted in God’s grace. Parents can endure and take hope as they stay grounded in the gospel. 

Self-Examination: A gospel partnership 

How is your church building up and supporting parents? What are you currently doing? What can you change, expand, or add to your current offerings? 

Excerpted from Build on Jesus: A Comprehensive Guide to Gospel-Based Children’s Ministry ©2021 by Deepak Reju and Marty Machowski. Used by permission of New Growth Press. May not be reproduced without prior written permission. 

Deepak Reju

Deepak Reju (M.Div., Ph.D. from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is a pastor in Washington, D.C., a husband to Sarah and a father to their five kids. He’s author of On Guard and co-author of Tell Them Jesus: A Comprehensive Guide to Gospel-Based Children’s Ministry. Read More by this Author

Marty Machowski

Marty Machowski is a Family Life pastor at Covenant Fellowship Church in Glen Mills, Pennsylvania, where he has served on the pastoral staff for over 30 years. He is the author of The Gospel Story Bible, Long Story Short, Old Story New, the Gospel Story Curriculum, the Prepare Him Room advent devotional and curriculum, Wise Up family … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24