In this issue, we have examples of how members of the Anabaptist Mennonite family are making a place for children in their local churches around the world.
“Impress them upon your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deuteronomy 6:7).
This was a direct command to the Israelites from God to teach children God’s Word thousands of years ago, because children are important to God. God created children, loves them and, most importantly, does not want them to perish. This command to teach applies to us even today in the 21st-century.
Many churches realize this and involve children in different ways. Some have Sunday school for the children. Others involve children in their regular Sunday services through giving them responsibility: take up the offering, read Scripture, help in leading worship, play a musical instrument, distribute and pick up song books.
Sunday school teachers’ training
One of the important aspects of conducting Sunday school is training teachers.
Often, individuals begin teaching Sunday school because of their love for children, even though they may not be particularly trained for it. Also, after many years, there is a need to upgrade oneself as the world is changing.
Children are becoming more advanced than they were earlier. Technology has taken up almost every aspect of our lives. So, churches organize trainings/capacity building workshops for them, or send them for trainings/workshops elsewhere. It is a blessing to learn new, creative teaching innovations and uses of technology to reach out to children.
Our Mennonite church conference has realized the importance of this and has begun organizing Sunday School teacher trainings in different areas. Two trainings in two areas were conducted this fiscal year with external resource persons, and two more will be conducted in the following year.
Challenges in Sunday school
One of the challenges in conducting/organizing Sunday school is the lack of individuals to take up the responsibility. Reasons include not feeling equipped, not being confident enough to handle children, or not having the time to prepare and deliver lessons.
When there are not enough teachers, children cannot be divided according to age groups. Thus, the Sunday school is not able to cater to the needs of each age. One or the other group invariably gets neglected.
Additional activities for children in the church
In 2015, our church joined with two other churches to have a combined VBS, where the theme was “Jesus is our Friend”. It was a great opportunity for the children to interact and get to know each other. We taught stories from the Bible that emphasized this theme, and encouraged the children to forge new friendships. On the last day, children made friendship bracelets for each other.
Here are some other ways children can participate in church community life:
- Christmas program where children perform songs, skits, choreography, recite Scripture portions while parents watch,
- Children’s day celebration or a picnic,
- visit to a children’s home or an old age home,
- distribute gifts to parents on Mother’s and Father’s Day.
An area where we are lacking in is protecting children in case of abuse or neglect. It is still a hushed topic in many parts of India and churches need to work on this aspect. Some of our Mennonite churches have a partnership with organizations who have strict measures of child protection. Every individual working with children had to sign a Child Protection Pledge and follow a strict policy. We are instructed to help children who are abused to make a complaint to the police and follow up.
This is a national issue that has to be taken seriously by the churches.
Overall, most churches understand the importance of children in the church. Children need to be given opportunities to grow and develop to take up leadership in different spheres and activities in the church. In this way, second-line leadership will be developed.
While a lot is being done, there is a need for much more to reach out to them adequately.
My prayer is for ministry with and toward children to increase and that more people be willing to take up the responsibility of ministry among children in their respective churches.
—Mrs. Jessica Mondal is a church leader from Emmanuel Chapel, Calcutta, India. The congregation is part of Mennonite World Conference national member church Bharatiya Jukta Christa Prachar Mandali
This article first appeared in Courier/Correo/Courrier April 2019.