Special Feature :
Sean Anderson, Children and Family Ministries Director at Vanguard College, PAOC’s Bible College based in Edmonton, Alberta, and many others involved in reaching, training and equipping the next generation would dare to declare that Christianity is only one generation away from extinction. This truth highlights the need for trained leaders who are ready to impact future generations with the life-changing message of the Gospel.
As the body of Christ, we need those who will make a difference in the lives of children and their families. Vanguard believes in this so much that they have a Children and Family Ministries program where students have opportunity to learn and develop skills not only related to theology but also specific to reaching and discipling children, and working with families. It includes practical ministry outlets through their Kids Travel Company. The following interview will let you hear more of the heart and passion for this program from Sean Anderson, Director of the Children and Family Ministries program at Vanguard.
Interview with Sean Anderson
Q. Why should youth consider formal training in the Children and Family Ministries (CFM) Track at Vanguard College in Edmonton?
SA: One big reason is that children’s ministry (and the role of the children’s pastor) is changing rapidly. Children today are dealing with issues that previous generations dealt with in Jr. High or High School. Getting some training can help prepare them to lead children to Jesus in this rapidly changing world, and to see them discipled well.
I also think training is a huge asset because so many people think that working well with kids (something they may already be doing) is the main role of the children’s pastor. In reality, a very small portion of a children’s pastor’s week is actually spent working with and/or teaching kids! While hands-on work with kids is still (obviously) important, we spend a lot more of our time leading, equipping and empowering volunteers and parents, evaluating (or even writing) our curriculum, and doing things like pastoral care with kids and families in crisis. And then there are the dynamics of working as part of a pastoral team as well. Quality training can help prepare a Bible College student for the real world of being a Children’s Pastor or working with children in a role where they may be in missions work (in Canada or overseas) or in a community environment. Training in a CFM program can also help to sharpen and further develop the skills the student may already have been working on.
A final reason involves the academic side of ministry. Practical ministry is very important, but it is also true that how and what you think about ministry directly impacts how you do it. Good training can help with this. What people think about things, like the nature of childhood or how kids process who God is at different age levels, can greatly impact how they teach children and see them discipled in the things of God.
Q. What are three challenges you see our generation of children facing today?
SA: This was such a difficult question to answer! Kids are dealing with so much these days, so it was hard to talk about just three challenges. I chose these three in particular because they may be root causes of so many other issues. In no particular order, here they are:
The Rise Of The Child-Centered Household
This (to me, anyway) is a huge issue. Kids are viewed as the centre of the universe in many homes, and they revolve around the needs of the children. While I obviously have a tremendous amount of love and respect for kids, I think this trend is harmful in a number of ways. More and more, parents and households experience higher levels of stress because their kids are involved in so many activities that everyone is run ragged trying to cope with a demanding schedule. However, even the thought of losing one or more activities is met with disbelief because “it’s for the good of the child.” I think this creates a problem though, because it means families are spending less time together as families, to say nothing of how it affects their spiritual lives (as individuals and as a family). It also has an effect on children when they are given almost anything they want without thinking critically about whether or not they should have it.
I think one way we can curb this trend is to teach and model what healthy families look like.
Biblical Illiteracy In Churches
So many times I see curriculum that, while fun, has little focus on the Bible or that does not interpret the Bible well. Kids are told Bible stories, but little or no connection is made to point kids to where a particular story fits in the Bible (or, worse, the Bible story is made to fit into a lesson theme that it really doesn’t fit into). In many cases, kids are never asked to bring a Bible to church because they are never required to use it to look up or read Scripture in their services, and they rarely (if at all) have Scripture, even small amounts, read to them in their services.
I am happy to see that some curriculum companies are leading a change in this trend, but I still think we have a long way to go. I think the church can help here by carefully choosing the curriculum they use, and more importantly, they can equip and empower parents with tools to help them engage their kids in regular Bible reading at home.
A Lack Of Intergenerational Community In Churches
While I am absolutely ecstatic to see a rise in the number of churches looking to hire children’s pastors, there is still a huge need for intergenerational community in our churches. Many experts agree that including children in corporate worship with adults is essential to the healthy spiritual development of children (and, I would argue, for adults too!), but in many cases, this is not done. While we do an excellent job at caring for children and teaching them about faith in Jesus at a level they can understand, we also do a great job at dividing up families almost as soon as they walk in our doors on Sundays. This can be very detrimental for a few reasons. First, I think it is very important for kids to see their parents worship and experience worship with them. If for no other reason, it teaches them that God is bigger than mom or dad! Another reason is that we can unintentionally send a message that corporate worship is for adults only, and that kids are not welcome. Finally, it makes it much harder to integrate pre-teens into the life of the church once they leave the children’s ministry. If they spend the first 12 years of their lives sitting in separate services that are designed to appeal directly to them and they never have a chance to be a part of congregational worship, it should come as no surprise that they do not want to be a part of it once they leave grade 5 or 6.
I think one important thing the church can do to help here is to be intentionally intergenerational in their services by doing things like having families with kids take up offering, have kids read Scripture, or including older kids on worship teams. Incorporating some child-friendly (but not childish) songs into the Sunday morning repertoire would also help.
Q. How can a young person prepare themselves for entering Bible College as they journey through their growing up years?
SA: I think two important things they can do are to read the Bible regularly and serve in their churches.
Q. Talk about Biblical illiteracy. It seems to be a big topic of conversation in Christian and church circles these days. Do you deal with this as well when students enter Bible College? Any thoughts, tools, suggestions for kids and teens today when it comes to engaging God’s Word?
SA: We do deal with the issue of biblical illiteracy at a Bible College level. In many cases, incoming students have not read through the entire Bible, and we can no longer assume that they will know certain Bible stories, even well-known ones. I would make the following suggestions to kids, teens, and families today when it comes to engaging God’s Word:
Read the Bible regularly, either on your own, or with friends or family members. A really good resource to get you started is a lectionary. Basically, this is a chart that tells you which passages to read each day. There are four readings to choose from (you can do one or all of them), two each morning and two each evening on a two year cycle. You can find this in a prayer book, or go to www.prayerbook.ca and click on the link to the online prayer book. Then click on the ‘Table of Lessons.’ Of course, this is just one of many resources you can use! One of the benefits of using a reading plan is that it forces you to read parts of the Bible you may never have thought to read on your own.
Be realistic. If you have never read the Bible regularly before, you don’t have to read through the entire thing in one year! While it’s not a bad idea, it can be a daunting task. Try reading it through in two or three years instead. There are many Bible reading plans that can be found online to help with this. Remember, how you read the Bible is as important as what you read. Reading several chapters in a day without taking the time to listen to what God may be saying to you through it is a bit like trying to enjoy the scenery on a car ride when you are driving at 120 km/hour!
Remember that God wants your devotion, not your devotions. A very wise pastor told me this early in my Christian walk, and I have never forgotten it. We read the Bible so we can love God more, not so He will love us more; He cannot love you more than He already does! Don’t feel bad if you miss a day or two when you’re trying to develop a habit of regular Bible study. Just pick up where you left off and keep going.
Remember that something is always better than nothing. If you only read the Bible once a week, that is better than not reading it at all! Try to increase the amount of time you spend in the Word, but don’t be discouraged if you don’t read it for several hours every day.
Experience God’s Word in community. Join a regular small group Bible study. Or, even better, start one yourself! You don’t have to be an expert to lead a discussion, and you don’t even need a curriculum. This can be as informal as getting together with some friends to read together.
Check out Vanguard's video!
God, we thank You for every child you have created, for you created us in your own image. Help children today see the value You place on them. Help them as they grow and mature to consider all the options that are theirs as they prepare for their future careers and life callings. May they listen closely to the call You would have for their life. Help them to respond. For those that you would call to continue their education in a Bible College setting, we ask that you would prepare them even in their growing up years. Help them to develop a deep understanding and love for You. Help them to crave time in your precious Word. Help them to call out to You in prayer daily. May their lives be full of worship to You so you can mold and shape them in the ways you desire for them to go. May they be strong in their spiritual walk with You. Theologically, prepare their hearts and minds to grasp Your ways. And give them a vitality to be missionally strong and focused on reaching those who need to know You.
We pray as well for those whom you are leading into other career paths, even though they are still young. Every day of education now is preparation for all that you have in advance for our children and our youth. Help them in these equipping years to take the courses necessary that they can walk with excellence into the areas of leadership in our world that You would have them to be. Help them to hear your voice and to respond to Your calling. We would ask that you would place them when people still need to hear about You, so that they would have opportunities to lead others to a relationship with You. May we be about your kingdom work daily in whatever path you direct us, both in the future and even right now, today, right where you have us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.