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The Key to Effective Ministry to Children and Youth

Late summer is a busy time for children’s and youth ministry as church staff and volunteers gear up for the beginning of a new school year. And, increasingly, there are new and exciting resource options out there to consider—resources that claim to engage students in ways that are “relevant” to their particular age group, along with teaching methods and class resources that will keep students eagerly coming back week after week. There’s nothing wrong with that, necessarily.

Wanting your ministry and materials to be engaging and magnetic is understandable. But holding students’ attention should be the result, not the goal, of what you’re teaching.

In “Recovering the Priority of Personal Holiness,” Alistair Begg issued a challenge that applies to the popular notion that Sunday School should be primarily about giving kids fun things to do so they’ll be excited to come back.

…Let’s consider whether we have allowed contemporary culture to infiltrate our minds and hearts. Have we inverted Christ’s desire that the church be in the world by bringing the world into the church instead? If we take an honest look, perhaps we’ll discover that we are contributing to this trend. Rather than relying solely on the sufficiency of God’s Word, are we employing counselors in our churches who apply worldly methods of psychological analysis to address felt needs? Have we adopted worldly means to reach the seekers [or possibly some teens you know] who sit skeptically in the back pews rather than offering them the truths of the Gospel and the Christian life? Faithful teaching of God’s Word is vanishing. Are we among the number that have replaced preaching with elaborate drama productions aimed at entertaining?

Begg cites Puritan pastor John Owen who wrote, “If the Word does not dwell with power in us, it will not pass with power from us” (The Works of John Owen, vol. 16, page 76). Begg says, “…what gave John Owen success in ministry was not so much his oratory skill, nor his evangelistic zeal, nor even his love for the people he shepherded. John Owen was used mightily by God in all these ways because he was a man characterized by personal holiness.” He writes,

…Rather than devoting much time to developing innovative amusements for the worship hour, Owen made private communion with God a top priority…The Word of God is the means employed by the Holy Spirit to transform us into the image of Christ, so if preaching and evangelism are to be effective, private communion with God in His Word must be more important than discovering the latest ministry technique.

Begg’s excellent article challenged me, as a teacher, to ask myself, How do I prepare for the upcoming Sunday school hour?

  • Do I prioritize private communion with God over and above time spent developing innovative amusements for the Sunday school hour?
  • Do I meditate on the Word of God as the means the Holy Spirit employs to transform me into the image of Christ?

It is only through God’s transforming work that our teaching will flow out of personal holiness. And such is the teaching that will penetrate the hearts of young sinners in need of grace; something no ministry technique can ever do.

It is the power of God’s Word, not a popular curriculum or new-fangled teaching approach, that will change the hearts of your students. What might God be pleased to do this coming year if we were to recover the priority of personal holiness in our ministry to children and youth?