The Kidmin Sandbox: How to Develop and Assess Your Ministry Philosophy
“How do you run an effective children’s ministry?” This is a question every children’s ministry leader seeks to answer. In the barrage of activities and events, leaders want to ensure that what they’re doing is worthwhile and fruitful. The importance of this question can’t be overstated, and I believe the answer can be found in the most unlikely of places… a sandbox.
When I was in elementary school, there was a sandbox on our playground, and my friends and I would play in that sandbox almost every day during recess. With our high energy and big imaginations, there was no limit to the number of games we could create. Some of us would build sand castles, others would push Tonka trucks, and some would dig up buried treasure. As I reminisce on those simple times, I’ve noticed something profound. My friends and I would play in the same sandbox, but we wouldn’t play in the same way. Now, this might not sound profound, but it provides a helpful picture of the power of perspective. My friends and I played in the sandbox differently because each of us had a different view of the sandbox. Put simply, our perspective determined our play.
What is a Ministry Philosophy?
Children’s ministries are unique. Each one has characteristics that make them special, and while no two ministries look alike, there are certain things that every ministry must consider when seeking best practices or solutions. They are- Children. Leaders. Curriculum and Parents. Every question, idea, or concern that is raised in children’s ministry falls within these 4 categories. The decisions being made or strategies being developed are determined by how each of these things is viewed and valued. In other words, how a church plays within the kid’s ministry sandbox is determined by its view and perspective of it. The way a ministry answers questions and solves rising issues around the topics of children, leaders, curriculum, and parents reveals its philosophy.
Whether you realize it or not, your kids’ ministry has a philosophy. It’s the “why” undergirding everything you do. The vision you cast and the mission you deploy flow out of it. Your philosophy determines your practices, and your practices are shaped by your philosophy. This means that if you want to run a fruitful children’s ministry (or play in the kidmin sandbox well), then you need to have a solid, well-defined philosophy of ministry.
This can be done by
(1) evaluating your current philosophy or
(2) developing a new philosophy.
Let’s take a look at the first option.
EVALUATING YOUR CURRENT PHILOSOPHY
Working Backward to Move Forward
Since every ministry already has a philosophy by which it operates, it’s helpful to uncover what that philosophy is and evaluate its strength. But how is this done? The best way to move forward in assessing a philosophy is to work backward. By this, I mean that a church needs to look at what it’s doing in its ministry and then peel back the layers to see why those things are being done. This is where the 4 items I mentioned earlier come in handy. Asking questions around them can reveal the philosophy behind them.
Questions such as: How does your ministry relate with children and help them grow in Christ? How do you train and retain leaders? What do you celebrate in your leadership team and how do you keep them spiritually healthy? Is your curriculum pre-made or self-made? What does it emphasize and how is it structured? How are you connecting with your parents and equipping them to disciple their kids?
More questions could be asked, but you get the point. How you answer these types of questions can reveal the underlying convictions that make up your philosophy. As you unearth the foundational “why” behind all the things you do, evaluation can take place. But how can you know if your philosophy is good? This comes down to knowing what develops a philosophy in the first place.
The Crossroads of Philosophy
A ministry’s philosophy is developed at the crossroads of theology and reality. Theology- a ministry’s understanding of God, Scripture, and His church- is the primary influencer (at least it should be). It’s why churches have different denominational traditions and spiritual practices surrounding the discipleship of their kids. There isn’t a single aspect of ministry that isn’t influenced by theology. Our statements and actions will either show our theology to be strong, haphazard, or weak. While theology is primary to a ministry’s philosophy, it doesn’t work in isolation. Our ministries happen in the real world, and our theology will always play itself out in our perception of reality. That last sentence may sound a bit odd, so let me explain.
We serve kids and families in a specific time and culture, and our understanding of that culture will influence how we relate to and serve them. This is why ministries adapt their approaches over time. They note changes that are impacting kids and adjust accordingly. If a ministry is not adapting its approach, it is usually due to one of two things: cultural freeze or cultural blindness. The first can lead to a philosophy that is misinformed while the latter can lead to a philosophy that is uninformed.
Frozen or Blinded?
In a “cultural freeze,” a church’s values and ideas are so largely attached to the past that they appear to be frozen in it. This is often seen in churches that experience exponential growth and excitement within a specific generation, but struggle to move beyond the metrics and practices associated with it. This leads to a philosophy that is misinformed because it is based on ideas and trends that are no longer true of today’s kids. What was true of children in the 1990s will not be true of kids in later generations. For one, the smartphone hadn’t been invented yet and language around sexual identity wasn’t as prevalent. These types of cultural shifts need to be considered when developing and assessing a philosophy of ministry.
With “cultural blindness” a ministry isn’t stuck in the past; it’s consciously left in the dark. Leaders in these settings see cultural insight as unnecessary to the work of ministry and intentionally put on blinders to keep societal trends out of sight. While the commitment to theology is admirable, theological fidelity with cultural ignorance can do more harm than good. A ministry’s philosophy is strong when it pairs good theology with cultural insight. Not only does this lead to an informed vision with healthy values, but it also lends itself to the wise application of a ministry’s mission and resources.
DEVELOPING A NEW PHILOSOPHY
The Impact of a Ministry Philosophy
Now that we’ve established the necessity for a solid, well-thought-out philosophy, let’s look at an example of how a ministry’s philosophy can impact its practice. Let’s say your ministry is looking for a new Children’s curriculum for Sunday mornings. As you survey the endless options of curricula, your philosophy acts as a filter that helps you sift through the options and choose what’s best for your church. As we’ve seen, a philosophy’s filter includes theology. In your theology, you hold to a high view of scripture, because you believe all of scripture is inspired by God and is essential for discipleship.
Despite scripture’s importance, research shows that biblical literacy has rapidly declined in our country. Because of this, you recognize that the children coming into your ministry may not have the basic Bible knowledge and skills that previous generations possessed. Along with this, you’re also aware of secularism’s pervasive influence on our culture and see the need to combat its distortion of the truth and obsession with the “self.” Together, your theology and studious observations of reality lead you to look for a curriculum that walks children through the Bible and emphasizes scripture memory. You would also like a curriculum that equips leaders to have biblically informed conversations around tough cultural issues.
Notice in this example that your philosophy not only provided guidelines for what to look for in a curriculum but also elevated priorities that pushed other considerations to the background. Nothing was mentioned about video elements, aesthetics, or activities. These things are important, but they weren’t deemed primary. This is just one example of how a ministry’s philosophy can impact its values, structure, and decisions.
Playing with Confidence and Joy
“How do you run an effective children’s ministry?” I pray this brief look into the inner workings of a ministry philosophy has helped you get closer to answering that question. I know ministry can be exhausting. There is an unlimited amount of things that need to be done with an unlimited amount of time to accomplish them. Next time you need to make a decision surrounding children, leaders, curriculum, or parents, I hope you stop to consider your “why,” ask good questions, and seek God for wisdom, so that you can play in the sandbox of Children’s ministry with steadfast confidence and joy.