The purpose of children’s ministry should be to partner with parents to encourage children to place their faith in Jesus Christ and to instill in these children a Christian worldview.
This philosophy has a number of components; let me break it down:
To partner with parents: The main task is to train and encourage parents to personally live according to a Christian worldview and then to offer practical ways that they can impress this lifestyle of faith onto their children. The church needs to partner with parents by creating an excellent “Family Ministry” that holistically ministers to the family, as opposed to a “Children’s Ministry” that may have a “drop-off” mentality (that sees the church “taking care of that” while the adults go and do something else.
So, a healthy children’s ministry works cross-functionally in the church with other departments (adult ministries, preaching ministry, women’s and men’s ministries, missions, community service and outreach) to help disciple parents in what it means to live in this way.
To encourage children to place their faith in Jesus Christ: We must remember that just because a child is from a Christian home or because he or she is at church, this does not mean that they have embraced Christ as savior.
Those involved in the children’s ministry must get to know each individual child and take the time to engage him or her with the gospel message.
To instill in these children a Christian worldview: Much of children’s ministry curriculum is geared heavily toward understanding issues pertaining to character (that is, lessons on acting morally). Bible stories are taught in a way that teachers’ application for the children is to help them embrace behavior that we think is appropriate for Christians.
A favorite verse that is used to underpin such ministries is Proverbs 22:6 (“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it”). The thinking is that our goal must be to teach our kids to behave a certain way and to give them incentives to be good little Christians, so that we will see children that “will not depart from” behaving as good Christians. But kids grow up to become adults with minds of their own. When their church training has been focused on how to behave, there are no guarantees that they will not walk away from this life when they get older. This kind of children’s ministry is severely short-sighted.
Rather, I'd like to see a totally different paradigm: The ultimate goal is to help children believe and own a holistic view of the world that is rooted in the story of God’s redemption of all things. When a child embraces God’s plan of redemption and sees himself or herself as an active player in that plan, they find purpose and meaning in life rooted in biblical teaching.
Our hope is that this Christian worldview, if deeply engrained in our children, will overcome the troubles or persecutions that come because of their Christian worldview, as well as the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth (Matthew 13, the Parable of the Sower). If they see themselves as partnering with God to bring redemption and reconciliation into this world, they will see the Christian life as being about more than the good behaviors that Christians do, or the bad behaviors that bad people do. They will see their life on a deeper plane—wanting to become a part of the solution rather than a part of the problem.