R. Steven Norman III
There are many things Matthew Clayton could do after church on Sabbath, but the 14-year-old chooses to join other youth singing and spreading God’s Word at a nearby nursing home — and he loves it.
“In the Bible, it says to go out and minister, and spread the Word,” said Clayton. “I’m ministering to them, and it’s very fulfilling.”
Clayton is participating in a program that’s part of children’s ministries at Cooper City Church in Cooper City, Florida. It’s among a number of initiatives children’s ministries leaders are using to win young souls, and help youth make what they study in the Bible and Sabbath School lessons tangible.
“It allows them to make the application,” said Tanya Wilson-Sejour, who started the nursing home program. “They don’t just go through the lesson each week. They have a choice to be a servant to someone, and that’s in a nursing home with someone that needs compassion.”
Wilson-Sejour said the children, some as young as five, are all active when they visit the nursing home. They sing and recite Scripture, and some give sermonettes, using the week’s Sabbath School lesson.
“You’d be amazed at the 9- and 10-year-olds who take a lesson about Mordecai, or a lesson about Esther, and break it down,” said Wilson-Sejour. “I’m blessed to work with an amazing group of youth who are on fire for Jesus. It motivates me.”
The nursing home residents are also moved, she said, and appreciative.
“You bring church to us because we can’t get to the church,” said one resident during a visit, continuing, “and if you don’t come, I don’t get anything.”
Judy Smith is director of children, family, and singles’ ministries for the Florida Conference. In July, she led a child evangelism leadership seminar that was attended by more than 100 people, including Wilson-Sejour.
Smith said children’s ministries leaders have a special opportunity to teach youth about discipleship, and what it really means to be a good steward.
“It’s not just about returning your tithes and offering, but about being a steward of your time, of your resources,” said Smith. “We want to make our children feel important. They need to know they’re going to make an impact, not only in church, but outside in the community.”
At the seminar, Smith also emphasized using programs like Vacation Bible School (VBS) to attract youth in the community who may not be part of a church, and teach them about Christ, which could lead to baptism.
“I’ve found that Vacation Bible School is one of the last neutral evangelistic tools that we have that people are not threatened by,” said Darryl Howard, children’s ministries and Sabbath School director for the South Atlantic Conference. “You can put a sign at your church for Vacation Bible School, and kids will come. They don’t care what denomination you are.”
25 Baptized During VBS
Olin McGraw, elder, agrees. McGraw oversees Lighthouse Ministries, which is part of Mountainside Church in Decatur, Georgia. About two years ago, the church had a VBS that was attended by several youth. When it ended, McGraw said he and some more members were moved to follow up with the youth, and see if they’d be interested in attending Wednesday night Prayer Meeting at the church. To their surprise, each of the youth said yes. But, the Holy Spirit apparently wasn’t done.
McGraw said the youth also asked if they could attend church with them the upcoming “Sunday,” not knowing they attended church on Saturday. When McGraw told them, one of the youth said, “Oh, OK, can we still come?”
Ministry leaders used the church bus to pick up the youth and bring them to Prayer Meeting and church, which they seemed to enjoy.
“The first week we had seven, the next week we had 14, the third week 22, the fourth week 32,” recalled McGraw. “They were telling their friends.”
During the appeals, some of the youth raised their hands. Each one of them said they wanted to get baptized. After talking with their parents, the ministry leaders prepared the youth for baptism by using Wednesday night Prayer Meeting to continue Bible study and discuss the Church’s fundamental beliefs.
After seven months, 25 youth were baptized.
“Many of the ones that joined had never attended a church,” said McGraw, adding that the ministry is ongoing and youth continue to be baptized.
Howard said such additions to the Church are a testament to the importance of children’s ministries.
“Without a strong children’s ministry, it’s difficult for churches to grow,” he said. “If you give them [youth] Christ and show them a relationship, then eventually they will find a church, and they will find a stronger relationship with Christ.”
Michayla White is executive director of the International Network of Children’s Ministries, which for almost 40 years has trained, equipped, and inspired the children’s ministries community.
She said children’s ministries is “critical to the future of the Church.”
“The power of the Church is being able to see a community surround a child, surround a family, and pass on the things that we need to remember about who God is, what He’s done for us, and who we are because of what He’s done for us,” said White.
is a former reporter for The Associated Press. He is also author of the book, Finding the Good, which was featured on National Public Radio.
Southern Union | September 2018