BEP interviewed Mark Entzminger, national director of children’s ministries for the Assemblies of God, who shares ways to infuse the teachings of Scripture into children’s ministry in the local church.
BEP: Share a little about yourself.
Mark: I serve as the national director of Children’s Ministries, whose focus is on supporting over thirteen thousand churches in the United States. These churches represent over 650,000 children and one hundred thousand leaders on any given Sunday. The Children’s Ministries team’s goal is to inspire and equip leaders to be effective in their assignment of reaching and discipling children with the gospel.
BEP: What is your team is doing to create biblically based resources?
Mark: The Children’s Ministries team understands the challenges leaders face in balancing effective ministry preparation with personal responsibilities. It is our goal to create theologically sound lesson content that is easy to prepare and fun for children. We maximize engagement for children and do our best to take away some of the difficulties in ministry preparation.
BEP: How can ministry leaders create Bible-engaged children’s ministries?
Mark: If you were to interview most children’s leaders across the Unites States about whether they are engaging children in Scripture, I would venture to say that 100 percent of them are. You’d have to look pretty hard to find someone who has assumed the responsibility of teaching children who is not using the Word of God as the foundation of their teaching. But that doesn’t mean we can’t do better.
Recently, in a very informal survey, our team discovered that both parents and volunteer leaders ranked spiritual growth in their children’s ministry lower than safety, fun, and being team-oriented. I take this to mean that there is a high interest level from both parents and leaders regarding the spiritual growth of children, but also a reminder that we can improve.
With that in mind, I’d like to present five tips to creating a more biblically engaged children’s ministry. Simplicity warning: You may read these ideas and discredit them for being so simple. But let me challenge you in that if they are already so simple, I hope you are finding them to be effective. My hunch is that most of these tips are not being implemented in a consistent and intentional way.
1. Study the Word.
So simple, right? Let me explain. I have a feeling that in the rush of life, leaders study the lesson or review a key verse in preparation for teaching children. This is a good start...but it is only a start.
What do you think the Holy Spirit might reveal to you if on Monday you would read the entire passage of the Bible story from the curriculum? What could you discover if all week long you pondered the realities surrounding that specific time? How might you internalize a spiritual truth in a way that the curriculum writers might have missed?
When we open the Scriptures and let the Holy Spirit speak to us, we are modeling Bible engagement in a whole new way. Let’s be honest, it will be hard to challenge leaders and children to engage Scripture if all we do is review a lesson.
Start with reading the lesson multiple times throughout the week. Let it speak to you until you can speak its truth to others from conviction and a fresh revelation from God.
2. Connect the Stories.
Sometimes the stories of the Bible can appear disconnected from each other. Most curricula for children jumps from topic to topic without really telling the full story of who God is and helping them understand that we discover God’s story as He is revealed to us.
This takes some time to get the hang of, but think of it this way: the Bible is one continuous story of God’s love for His creation and people’s decisions to go their own way, which caused a separation in their relationship with God. As a result, they have been trying to find a way to make it right on their own. But Jesus, God’s one and only Son, became the way to full restoration of the relationship with the Heavenly Father.
With this continuous story in mind, each week kids are discovering something new about God. They are also connecting one part of God’s story to the next. When you think of it this way, it doesn’t make sense to teach the Bible any other way until people grasp the full story of God and our relationship with Him. It’s foundational.
3. Expect Engagement.
Now we move into the ministry moments at the church where we engage not only with children, but also with parents and other leaders. Just like we would ask people about their week at school, about a national sporting event on TV, or how they spent a day of vacation, why not ask them about what they read in Scripture?
If you’ve ever asked children if they heard of some major event and they were unaware, they display some evident shock. What if we began to have that same level of shock and expectation that they would be engaging with Scripture throughout the week? It might look something like this: As leaders, parents, and children arrive and you’re making small talk, ask them: “What did you discover about God as you read the Bible this week?” Be sure you are ready with what you learned as you read—don’t be a phony—and state it in a positive, wonder-filled attitude. Demonstrate how you read the Bible and how God spoke to you. It won’t be long until you’ll have a few people who cannot resist following your lead. In the end, you just might shape church culture to get people to open their Bible and read.
4. Help Kids Locate the Scriptures.
In today’s children’s ministries, most children don’t need to bring their Bibles because the verses are on the screen. Even if they do bring their Bibles, they are rarely taught how to open the sixty-six books and find where the teaching is coming from.
What if, as children arrived, leaders helped them find which biblical book the lesson is from that morning? The leaders could help kids find the index, look up the page number, and turn to the Bible book. During service, be sure to read the story from the Bible to allow children a chance to read along with you in their own Bible. Older kids may even be encouraged to highlight key verses and take notes on the lesson.
Or, as children end their service, leaders could help them find the Bible story for next week and encourage them to read it at home and come back with their questions. It is a great way to challenge the curious or the overachievers to engage with Scripture on their own.
5. Commit the Bible to Memory.
I’m afraid some churches have lost the art of challenging children to memorize Scripture. In our appeal to help children remember one main point, we’ve become satisfied with reading a key verse but not really helping children memorize it.
This must not be overlooked. A child who memorizes Bible verses can more easily recall those verses later in life than those who don’t. Here are five memorization tips:
Ask the Leaders to Memorize: This goes for the adults as well as the children. Find creative ways to encourage everyone to memorize Scriptures, and don’t let the leaders off the hook! You go first. Be the first to have the verse memorized. Let the kids and other leaders see that you are doing what you are asking them to do.
Put the Words to Music: For example, JumpStart 3 (insert link) does a great job of putting entire Bible verses to music that kids love. Play this music before and after service. In time, you’ll begin to hear the kids singing along with the music, and all you did was press “play.”
Explain the Verse: Sometimes Bible verses cover abstract principles. Since children are concrete thinkers until their teen years, explanation of verses will help kids understand what the the verses mean and make it more likely that they’ll commit the verses to memory. Use simple illustrations; this doesn’t need to take long, but it can have a big impact.
Implement Memorization Activities: There are dozens of active ways you can help kids memorize verses: low-tech, high-tech, loud, quiet, and more. Once you pick up a few games kids love, repeat the games throughout the year using different verses. Repetition is key.
Include Facts about the Bible: In the midst of memorizing Scriptures, don’t miss the importance of helping children learn the facts about the Bible. For example, how many books are there? What are the two divisions of the Bible? Can children recite all the book names in order? These simple tools help them not only know the Word, but also begin to understand why the Word of God is so special for us today. In fact, the Bible Fact Pak and Junior Bible Quiz are two great tools for children’s ministries. Learn more at nationaljbq.org.
Yes, these are simple tips to helping kids engage with God’s Word, but if you’ve not been using them, you may find starting all of them at once to be a bit overwhelming. Why not choose one or two of the ideas to begin this week? After getting a few of them under your belt, add another. In time you’ll begin to see children, leaders, and even entire families being impacted by the power of the Bible.
BEP: Thank you for these tips! What’s your vision for the future of children’s ministries?
Mark: It is our goal to have a trained and equipped children’s ministry leader in every church. We cannot accomplish our goal of a healthy church in every community if we have not solved the challenge of equipping church leaders to help kids grow in a faith that lasts a lifetime.
BEP: Why is God’s Word important to you from a personal standpoint?
Mark: I have seen how a solid foundation of Bible engagement leads to a confidence in God, a trust in who He is, and a strength to weather whatever comes my way. My family and I place a high value on the Word of God.
BEP: Who is someone engaged in children’s ministry throughout the districts in the United States who is knocking it out of the ballpark in terms of Bible engagement?
Mark: In my view, those people who are doing what we call the AG Kidmin Core (Royal Rangers, Girls Ministries, Radiant Life) and Tru Fire—digitally delivered children’s curriculum that emphasizes the power of the Holy Spirit—are leading the way in teaching the Bible in the most effective way for children. These leaders have the big picture of Scripture, they focus on the nature of who God is, and they spend time letting the Holy Spirit form children into the image of Christ.
Do you have other ideas and tips on how to engage children in Scripture? Share them in the comments below.