Should kids be the targets of outreach or the tools of outreach?

(This is part one of a series on Outreach & Kids.)

When most churches talk about outreach to children, what do they mean? VBS. But have you noticed how many of the kids at your church’s VBS come to you “un-reached?” If we’re honest and accurate, most of us would have to say, “Not many.” (In fact, if you’re new to children’s ministry, here’s a tip: Continue reading

Can a short-term missions trip hurt people?

Unfortunately, yes. The best intentions can be harmful, especially when attempting to minister cross-culturally. This seems to get magnified when the short-term trip is focused on ministering to children.

Many churches from North America are being asked to send their children’s ministry leaders overseas to help local churches learn about this wonderful area of evangelism and discipleship. But as we respond to these requests, we children’s leaders need take seriously what the missions world has known for decades: Not everything we do in the name of Jesus is helpful for those to whom we do it!

Some of our best intentions…most loving acts of service…are choices that have far-reaching, unintended consequences. If we are not careful and thoroughly informed, our short-term trips can actually undermine our good intentions or, worse, actually harm those who we hope to help.

I’d love to hear your thoughts over the next few weeks as I share five key issues that must be considered before taking a team on a short-term missions trip. I’m declaring the first day of each week “Missions Monday” and would like to share some of the principles that guide our thinking at KidZ At Heart International.

Unintended Consequence #1: Taking stuff overseas can create a dependence on Westerners that cripples future ministry efforts by the local leaders and churches.

When we spend weeks gathering up the “trinkets” and supplies that are common to the way we do ministry with kids in the United States, and we take trunks of these supplies overseas, we think we are being generous with our “stuff” and working hard to put on a great program (oftentimes, a VBS) for children who don’t normally get to enjoy such things. And we’re right. These are good intentions.

But what happens is the unintended consequence of dependency. If we model Children’s ministry that requires published teacher’s guides, local teachers will believe they need these things in order to teach kids. If we use techniques that require markers, glue and scissors, the leaders will likewise believe these to be required to reach and teach kids. And if we model a wonderful “show” using puppets, instruments, PowerPoint, illusions, balloons and more, again the local shepherds get the message that without these things ministry is pointless. And they don’t have these things…and most likely never will.

When we met the leaders of one church in Africa and asked them what they needed, they asked for construction paper. I was surprised (as this is a relatively cheap resource) and asked, “Can you not afford construction paper?” Their answer: “No, we cannot. But the bigger issue is that can’t find it in our country; it is not manufactured here and it is not imported.”

“Then why do you want it?” I inquired. “Because the curriculum that a U.S. church kindly donated to us requires construction paper every week for the preschoolers.”

To add to the impact on this church, the curriculum also had take-home pages and student worksheets. In order to provide these “required” papers for their 35 students, this church was forced to search for a new church each quarter to send $1,000 USD to pay for the importation of these worksheets from North America.

Recommendation: When you travel cross-culturally and desire to impact the local leaders positively, don’t take supplies from the United States. Either don’t use resources and supplies at all (yes, it is possible) or only use items that are readily available within the country and affordable to the average Sunday school teacher or parent.

What do the church nursery, parenting and prayer have in common?

I came across this thought-provoking comment from Richard Rohr today:

“When we are fully present, we don’t accomplish presence with our head. Our whole being is present. We learned presence in infancy, but it may have been schooled out of us. Psychologists now say there is no such thing as an infant. There’s only an infant/mother; in the first few years they are one, especially from the infant’s point of view. Infants see themselves entirely mirrored in their parents’ eyes, especially the mother’s. What her eyes tell us about ourselves, we believe and become. It’s a mirroring game. Prayer is much the same; we receive and return the divine gaze (from Everything Belongs, italics mine).

It rings true, doesn’t it? 

So the thoughts it provoked in me were these:

Regarding the church nursery:

√ What does this developmental truth say about the workers we recruit?

√ What does this say about the power of the nursery ministry?

Regarding parenting and family ministry at church:

√ Are we providing so many programs that we are teaching parents to be busy?

√ Am I so concerned about doing the right thing for my kids, that I miss the chance to “be” the right thing?

Regarding prayer and our Heavenly Parent:

√ Am I being quiet, still, present with God, so that I may believe His gaze and allow it to define who I am…and who I am becoming?

As we personally believe and live out the image of God in which we were made, we become prepared to guide young families and their babies to become all that He has made them to be. Our growth toward Him is all about them.