Consider preschool before the pulpit

pastor

Often one of the hardest things for a novice preacher to do is find opportunities to use their burgeoning gifts for effective ministry. One place they may want to consider: children’s ministry.

Seriously.

Not a lot of men seem to enjoy children’s ministry, especially those who have a desire to preach. Though never voiced, some see it as somehow being beneath them… which it’s not. It just lacks the perception of glamor that comes with preaching in the wider service. But children’s ministry has a great deal to teach us about pulpit ministry, and make us more effective as a result.

For the last few years, I’ve been teaching in our children’s worship service, usually once a month (sometimes more, sometimes less). I started out teaching the kids between 5 and 8 years old, but now primarily focus on the older kids (ages 9-10-ish). My experience with both age groups has been extremely helpful. Here are three things I’ve been reminded through it:

1. Teaching children requires you to focus.

Whenever you’re teaching kids, it’s important to remember one thing: You have almost no time to get your message across. Teachers in our program are allotted around 20 minutes.

I aim for ten. And sometimes, I even hit it (I average between 10-15 minutes).

This is not a lot of time, and because kids often have short attention spans, it means I really have to focus. I need to make sure the message is easy to follow, the points are clear, and the application is super-concrete.

Which, by the way, is what we should be shooting for when preaching to adults, too. Adults need just as much clarity of thought and focus as children. There’s nothing worse than listening to (or preaching for that matter) a scattered, rambly sermon—one that has great content, but you can’t follow the flow or find the application. When we’re unfocused in our teaching, we lose our audience.

But if you can get a point across in 10 minutes, chances are you can do it in 40 if needed.

2. Teaching children requires you to be flexible.

Kids are awesome because they’re funny—but they’re also natural hecklers.

If you ask a question like, “Why did Jesus die on the cross,” you might get an answer that makes sense, or you might learn what they had for breakfast that morning. And if you’re not ready for it, you’re going to get flustered.

Teaching kids helps you to learn flexibility and forces you to rely not too much on your prepared notes and more on your preparation.

3. Teaching children requires you to be interesting—and passionate about teaching them.

One of the hardest things to do is keep a child’s attention, especially in a really wide age range.They’re the easiest audience to read in terms of whether they’re paying attention or not, and when they’re all in, you can tell. One of the best ways to keep a kid’s attention: be interesting. One of our teachers uses props pretty regularly (he often dresses up in costume). Me, I’m not a big prop guy, but I do my best to be fun and funny in a way that fits with how God’s wired me.

But it’s one thing to be interesting, it’s another thing to be passionate about teaching them. Just like in any other ministry setting, kids will forgive lame jokes or a lack of props if you actually care about them. If you’re willing to engage with them and not see them as a project, you’ll have them. So ask questions, do something silly, speak directly to them whenever you can… all of this helps you genuinely engage them.

There’s so much more to be said about the importance of children’s ministry, and this is heavily focused on one small aspect. But if you’re feeling called to preach, and you’re passionate about making disciples, consider preschool before the pulpit. Serve in a place where God has already placed you and in a ministry area often sorely in need of volunteers. Do what God has called you to do because whether those benefiting from your teaching are big or small matters less than whether or not anyone’s benefiting at all.

(Updated in February 2015)

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