November 29

Smooth Stone #1: Paul, Love, Children and Relational Ministry

For the last ten weeks we have looked at the Five Smooth Stones of transformational children’s ministry

We discovered them in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and explored them one-by-one: Relationship, Experience, Truth, Discussion and Response

Over the past five weeks we examined those five qualities in the ministry of Jesus Himself. 

Now, we are going to see these same five qualities in the ministry of the most famous Christian ever: the Apostle Paul

While we may think of Paul as a theologian, lecturer, letter writer and keen intellectual, he was also a pastor whose ministry was characterized by a relational approach to ministry (see my blog on Paul’s Maternal Side). 

His ministry was characterized by genuine love for people!

Genuine Love

Golf course

I like golf, as does my son, and neither of us will ever forget the time when, a few years ago, we arrived at the local course and were paired with a single golfer, younger than me but older than my son.

When we met him at the first tee, we were amazed. Outfitted with the latest golf attire and new golf shoes, this man had what appeared to be a new bag and new golf clubs, so new that they weren’t even out on the market yet.

Our new golfing buddy pulled out his driver, and it looked like it was made of some space-age metal alloy, painted white, with a clubhead that was half the size of Rhode Island.

Then, without warning us, he nonchalantly dropped the bomb: “I work for TaylorMade Golf Company.” 

Now, nobody likes to get beaten badly on the golf course, but it was too late to beg out. My son looked at me and both of us knew he was going to destroy us on the course. He sauntered up to the tee with great confidence, placed his ball on the tee, and took a few practice swings.

I was expecting him to hit a booming 300-yard drive down the middle of the fairway. He stepped up to the ball and let it rip. I almost burst out laughing when he hit a shankopotamus into the bushes 25 yards in front of us and at the edge of the fairway.

He put another ball down and then hit a low-flying worm burner that barely went 100 yards. Shots like these continued for three holes. He was a decent golfer, but no Tiger Woods.

On the fourth tee I asked him about his work at TaylorMade, and that’s when he told us that he was the Director of Finance. He was an accountant! Things are not always as they appear.

Love among God’s people, however, should be as genuine as it appears, if not more so. Love among God’s people is not superficial, and it is never disconnected from the realities of life. Love is like relational currency and is craved by all people, but especially children.

Every child wants to be loved. They want to be accepted and to feel valued by adults as well as by other children.

God has created us to be in relationship, and children who do not experience loving relationships suffer emotionally and psychologically.

So of course, Jesus commands His followers to love each other. The fulfillment of that calling blesses and grows His people; the fulfillment of that command is also a powerful witness to the world.

Paul's Definitive Teaching About Love: 1 Corinthians 13

Love never fails

Practically speaking, though, what does love for one another look like? Paul’s definitive teaching about love—found in 1 Corinthians 13—can help us answer that question.

Over the years I’ve found it helpful to keep in mind this description of love when ministering to children, sometimes in terms of my relationship with them and sometimes also in encouraging their relationships with each other.

I’ll show you what I mean:

Love is patient – Love doesn’t get angry or upset when children make poor decisions about how to behave—and then love chooses to forgive without being judgmental.

Love is kind – Love chooses to act in ways that clearly show care and concern for the children. Sometimes these actions are directed toward the children who choose negative behavior. We can show children our love with a birthday card, hug, or high-five. We show love by remembering their name or picking them first.

It does not envy – Help children appreciate the unique ways that God made them and to be thankful for what He has given them. When children start comparing themselves to others, nothing good happens. And an important caution here: ministry leaders need to be sure that we don’t get caught up in comparing our children’s ministry skills to someone else’s.

It does not boast – Literally, don’t be a windbag. Don’t brag. Don’t make the conversations all about you. Instead, focus on helping children feel loved, valued, and appreciated so that they don’t have the need to talk themselves up. Boasting can be an issue with boys, and we need to help them integrate this proverb into their life:

Let someone else praise you, and not your own mouth; an outsider, and not your own lips. (Proverbs 27:2)

[Love] is not proud – Christlike love is not arrogant or puffed up; it never acts like a know-it-all. This kind of love is always eager to learn, and it therefore models for the smart kids that we can always learn something new—and that we aren’t always right.

It does not dishonor others – Teach by example that we love the way Jesus loves when we are concerned about other people. Help the boys and girls understand the importance of being loving to each other.

[Christlike love] is not self-seeking – Encourage children to show concern for others instead of always and only caring about themselves. Be an example of that—and be aware that two and three-year-old children who have a hard time grasping another person’s perspective may not fully understand this. They will, however, be able to learn from watching you.

It is not easily angered – Don’t ever lose your temper. After all, you’re the adult! Talk to the children about how to deal with their anger and reach out to those who struggle with controlling their anger. Remember, children who are easily angered may have other underlying issues that need attention.

It keeps no record of wrongs – Start with a clean slate. You’ll know that the slate isn’t clean if you look at the class registration list and think, Oh, no! Johnny signed up! Know that children can change—and that’s one of God’s specialties.

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth
– To meet this countercultural challenge, encourage children to be happy and find joy in acts of kindness, forgiveness, giving, and serving. Discourage their involvement with violence (internet gaming ☹), immorality, and sinfulness.

It always protects – Make sure that your children’s ministry environment is safe and secure. Drop-off/pick-up procedures, a screening process for church workers, appropriate furnishings, locked doors, undercover security guards—precautions like these make the environment safe.

[Love] always trusts – Be a leader whom children can trust. In the case of older children, we can help them trust us enough to confide in us.

Always hopes – Be a person of hope and not despair. Show children that Christians are filled with hope because we know that our all-wise, all-powerful, all-good God is in control.

Always perseveres – We never give up on a child. We hang on to the relationship; we commit ourselves to children. We want them to know that God is at work and that nothing is impossible for Him.

Love never fails – When we commit ourselves to love with Jesus’ kind of love, people—and especially children—can see that we are Christ-followers. The qualities of love listed in 1 Corinthians 13 are eternal: they will never fade. The love of God will never fail us.

Closing Thoughts

Love in children's ministry

Modeled and taught by our Lord Jesus, these characteristics of Christlike love are essential qualities of a relational children’s ministry.

They can be evident in our ministry with children today just as they were in the ministry of the Apostle Paul. Like Jesus, Paul practiced what he preached. Paul didn’t just write 1 Corinthians 13, he lived it.

Relational ministry is foundational for a transformational children’s ministry and should be our foremost goal as we meet with children.

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