2 Tim 3:14-15 “But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, 15 and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.”
Christian education is crucial to the church as we learn how to be a disciple of Christ. We want to ensure that education continues and that no one falls through the gaps. This is important especially for children in transition from children’s ministry/children’s church to youth ministry/youth fellowship/Big church.
Not many people revel in new environments. For the most part, we all struggle with separation anxiety when we leave the familiar and step into the new. In transitioning 12 year olds to your ministry, there are broadly 3 parties that may encounter this separation anxiety. It is important that we have healthy transition plans in place to alleviate any concerns that may arise.
These parties are parents, children’s ministry teachers and the pre-teens in transition. This transition definitely cannot be an overnight procedure, but a progression over time, taking into consideration the emotional attachments that have to be cut off. We have to tread sensitively to ensure a smooth handover.
Every child is an individual and not a statistic. The Lord knows each one intimately and acknowledges that the faith of a child is pure and encourages us to have the same kind of a child like, innocent, all endearing faith. No one looks forward to change, especially not children who in our local context have to undergo a strenuous PSLE (Primary school leaving examination), progress onto secondary school, manage puberty and expectations and then find that in church they also need to move on. Each child is different and will respond differently. We would do well to pay attention to each child as they move on to youth ministry.
It is important to acknowledge that these generational christians already have had the gospel taught to them at a young age, and youth ministry would do well to take advantage of that instead of re-inventing the wheel. It is up to us as pastors and leaders to encourage their growth in the Lord in the years that we have with them to influence and inspire them for the next lap of their race. We may not have them for very long and 4-6 years of their developing years can make or break these teenagers.
I have listed out some practical steps that can be taken in this transition :
Parents own the children’s time and give the final say about what the child participates in. Anything from a youth service, outing, bbq, stay-over, camp etc. Parents need to be engaged with and communicated with about the program and expectation on the young person’s time. Do it as early as possible so that they can plan their year’s schedule of tuition and family holidays.
To make this process smoother, youth ministry would do well in giving parents assurance that we are taking proper care of them. Some parents struggle with transition also. Even as the pre-teen is regarded as a developing youth and therefore learn some independence, some parents also need to be weaned off their child, in case they end up smothering them.
A more-than-general discussion is required with the parent to assure them that the youth program will add value to the child’s life. This happens when we assure them that we pay attention to each child as if our own.
Ask them about the child’s behaviour at home, any struggles they face with the child, any learning disabilities that the child has, any issues in being with his classmates or friends. Things like Attention deficiency, hyperactivity, dyslexia are real issues that can hamper their learning.
Ask them about their medical history, medication or food allergies. These are important especially if you are having stay overs and camps. There isn’t a need for a full detailed history but enough to know how to pay attention and keep a lookout for the child’s welfare.
Communicate early and often. Before the year ends for children’s ministry, plan for a parent’s meeting and/or your youth ministry’s welcome pack/brochure, to be sent to them. We would do well to learn from our schools. If they have meet the parents sessions to update parents on the child’s progress, so should we. We need to establish clear channels of communication so that the parents know what to expect and who to call in case of emergencies or concerns.
Encourage the parents. It is not easy to parent a teenager. Our role is not to be the outsourced parent, but a strategic partner to feedback successes and communicate challenges to the parents about the child. As we become a listening ear and source of encouragement, we can be their sounding board to affirm their parenting. In this way, we can earn their trust and respect.
Children’s ministry teachers
Children’s ministry teachers also may have a hard time releasing their precious charges that they have seen grow in the last 6 years. Assure them that the work that they have sown has built a good foundation for the next team to build on. They have been privileged to have walked with the children and now it is time for them to let go.
It’s important to discover if possible, the philosophy of their ministry, what their intentions and purpose were behind what they did, be it curriculum or activities.
Find out what has been done and accomplished in the last 18 months. Assure them that even though you may not have the exact same program, you will continue the disciple making journey. e.g. Evangelism and worship will take on a different expression in a children’s ministry environment compared to youth ministry, due to the fact that youth find some things childish and impractical. We should acknowledge their maturing process and encourage ways for them to exercise their faith.
Find out about the child, any challenges faced, learning disabilities, communication challenges. The former teachers would have spent many hours with the child already, so it would be wise to find out what the child’s personality is like to best care for each one.
Invite them to youth ministry activities so that they can re-connect with the youth and be part of their overall formation as a mature adult in the church. There isn’t any reason why they cannot pop their heads in once in a while. It takes a village to raise a child.
However, having said that, I also want to highlight that “once in a while” should not be too often. Children’s ministry would help these youth very much by “letting go” and encouraging them to fully participate with youth ministry activities.
There are some smaller churches which require more help then others with children’s ministry but facilitating these pre-teens’ new identity as youth ministry would help very much in their personal growth. Retaining youth as teachers in Sunday school may be premature in my opinion as a youth pastor. I much rather allow them some years for maturity and growth before challenging them with a responsibility of teaching. However I am not discounting them being able to be involved in retreats and camps with children. After all, they are part of the same generation.
There are some 13 years olds who may have had enough of the children’s action songs and cannot wait to progress to big church or to another environment where they have older brothers and sisters to be with. However there may be some also that have a hard time leaving. It is important to start the transition process early on before the trauma of separation anxiety takes place. Coming into a new environment is always challenging for them and executing it well is key.
Some churches transit their children at 11 years old and some at 12, following the graduation from primary to secondary schools. Regardless of age,the principles of transition apply.
Youth ministry needs to make themselves visible at children’s ministry. This may mean allocating time to attend sunday school to let the children see you visibly, so that you are less of a stranger to them. Be on hand in classes in their year of graduation to lend a hand. As you have invited the children’s ministry to youth events, take time to be at children’s ministry events and sunday classes.
To have a committed youth, we need to have a closer connection with them and a strong relationship. Don’t just be a salesman for youth ministry, be their leader and friend and establish a relationship quick before their year turns stressful. In this way, they know that they have familiar faces to look out for when they do graduate to youth ministry. No time is better then at camps and activities. Intentionally invite them to camps. Being together for a few days, laughing and worshipping and learning always does wonders and is a great catalyst to jumpstart close bonds.
Parents make decisions based off many considerations, one of which is the desire of their children. If the child is so taken with you as a leader and has a discipleship relationship that is budding, the parent has lesser anxiety allowing the child to proceed on to youth ministry.
In the first few months after their graduation, take time to have fun, establish the parameters and allow the philosophy of youth ministry to slowly sink in. Communicate clearly what you stand for, what your purpose and plan and desire for them is and place the challenge before them for this next phase of life.
Where once they were being looked upon as children, now as teenagers, they have a purpose and plan that they would need to take ownership and exercise their responsibility over as a child of God. Teenagers always rise to a challenge when a credible one is placed before them. Coupled with the assurance that you as their leader will be there walking with them on their discipleship journey it will serve to be a win all around.
Change is never comfortable for anyone, but if we communicate our expectations on them, encourage independence, we will see them succeed. Secondary school is different from primary school, and children ministry is different from youth ministry. There are many parties involved and not only the youth. Pay attention and identify these parties early. Youth ministry starts not only with the people under your care but also those who will be a part of the community.