As parents, we think about our kids a lot. When we’re home, when we’re out, whether they are awake or asleep, we are thinking about them: what they will eat, when they will sleep, where we need to take them, and how we will get there. The What, Where, When, and How of our lives take up a lot of space in our brains but, for me, the Who is the one that I contemplate most. Who is my daughter, and who will she become?
Will she know and always remember that God loves her? Will she lean into Him when the world beats her down? Will she live in the peace of knowing that she is God’s precious creation and she is worth so very much more than at times she might feel like she is?
As a mother, how can I create that for her? The truth is that I can’t. I’ve got my own history of feeling inadequate and lonely. I will never have this whole faith thing figured out, and I have made more than a person’s share of mistakes. A big one though was that, growing up, I didn’t use very often the one tool that can bridge the gap between despair and the divine reality that God loves us and that we are never out of His protection: The Bible.
The Bible is the key to everything. It is our direct access to the Father, His teachings, His motivations, and His comforts. It’s the only book she will ever pick up that has all of the answers. It’s the manual that she will need to navigate this crazy world.
I can do my best to tell her and show her what’s inside, but it won’t be enough. After all, I’m just a regular mom who didn’t really have the best relationship with the Lord growing up. I’m still working on it, and she will need to make a connection with God’s love that is beyond what I do. She’ll need the support of others in her life, and church is one of the places she will connect to the people, stories, and lessons in this most important book.
Cue Melissa J. McDonald. Besides being (I love this) a “children’s ministry innovator,” Melissa is the author of Missing: An Urgent Call for the Church to Rescue Kids. She spends her time training, coaching, speaking, equipping, and consulting with churches and different groups all over the world to get kids connected to the Word in new and exciting ways.
The work Melissa does is much like what we’re trying to do with Bible Belles: show kids that there is more to God than just memorizing some stories and calling it good. Kids need to really care about and be touched by the stories and poetry found in the Bible or the deeper lessons and revelations about God will remain hidden in its pages.
Here are some highlights from my interview with this faith-filled, influential woman.
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Me: Melissa, can you give us a little insight into your background and how you came to do the work you do now?
M2: I grew up in a pastor’s home and always felt called to ministry. I was originally planning to work full-time overseas, but God had other plans. Fresh out of college I took a position as a children’s pastor. I served as a children’s pastor for 6 years and then worked as a missionary in Vienna, Austria. There I worked as the elementary chaplain and counselor for an international school with kids from over 40 countries. When I came back to the United States, God began to open doors for the dream he had placed on my heart many years ago: to serve those serving kids. The Lord moved on my heart in mighty ways, showing me the importance of reaching kids and helping to equip those working to reach kids.
Me: Your book is called Missing: An Urgent Call for the Church to Rescue Kids. Can you talk a little bit about why you felt called to write the book and what it’s about?
M2: For the last 5 years I’ve been speaking, writing, and having conversations about how the church needs to re-engage kids. I had done a lot of research and a lot of talking with churches and had come to some conclusions. I didn’t realize that my ideas were unique and needed to be heard by a wider audience until trusted people in my ministry realm started encouraging me to write a book. I began praying about the possibility of writing it all out, and God opened the doors for me to take the time to do it.
Missing is a call to action for the church. I take research on our Millennial generation and why they’ve walked away from the church and I tie it into ministry to kids and families. It’s a book for really anyone who has a kid, loves a kid, or knows a kid. My educational background is in counseling so basic developmental psychology runs throughout and is easy to understand. Today kids are the largest unreached demographic in the world. Kids are unreached and their Millennial parents have left the church. We have to do something to reach the kids that are missing from the family of God. Missing is a quick, easy to read book. Apparently I write like I talk: lots of stories, direct and scattered, with a little (or a lot) of sarcastic humor.
Me: What did you see in your first years of ministry?
M2: During my first years in full-time ministry, I did everything I thought I was supposed to do. I shuffled curriculum, I taught kids the good Bible songs, we memorized a lot of Scripture, and they performed for their parents and the leadership whenever we wanted them to do so. We had fun and I gave them all the “right” stuff. In hindsight, I see now that what I did during those first years in ministry was help raise Christian robots. They knew all the stories and the right answers but they didn’t really know Jesus. I spent so much time getting information into them I missed connecting their hearts to Jesus and encouraging transformation.
Somewhere around year 3 I began to want something more. I was working on my Masters in counseling and seeing the correlation of what happens in the childhood years to how we function as adults and I wanted something different for my kids. I wanted kids who encountered Jesus and loved him at a deep level, not just kids who could give me the right answers. So I began to try things, little tweaks here and there that were all designed to help kids fall in love with Jesus. Those tweaks and ideas are all in the book. You can learn from my trial and error.
Me: What would you say that you noticed about parents and their role in biblical education in the home?
M2: When the Sunday School movement began it was originally to get street kids off the street and literally school them on Sunday; they were schooled in the Bible. From there Sunday School evolved into the place where parents could bring their kids to learn about God. Back when families went to church three times a week this wasn’t a bad idea. However, culture has shifted and a regular attending family comes to church twice a month. Without meaning to the church cut parents off at the knees by telling them they needed to bring their kids to church so they could learn about Jesus. The church should never try to take over the biblical role of the parent. Parents are the #1 spiritual influencers in their kid’s life; that’s how God created it.
Many parents aren’t aware that it’s their role to impress Jesus on their kids. It takes intentionality, and that is never easy. But who said parenting was easy? :) Kids need to hear their parent’s stories of faith. They need to see their parents be real people. Authenticity makes a bigger impact than words. Seeing their parents live out their struggles and victories and continue to pursue Jesus speaks louder than any Sunday School lesson. Parents aren’t called to have it all figured out, and the church needs to be coming alongside parents to encourage them, give them tools, and do life with them. Having a church family who cares about the whole family makes a huge difference in the life of a kid.
Me: What are some of the ways that you are working to connect kids to these stories?
M2: Kids need to hear their parent’s stories of faith and they need to hear about God’s big story, the Bible. The Bible is not boring and it doesn’t get old. It is important that we connect kids with God’s story for them. Instead of just telling a Bible story I tell kids I’m going to “tell you a piece of history.” Kids love making the connection that the stories actually happened. I encourage kids to enter into the story. We use our imaginations to explore what it might have been like to be Joseph thrown into a pit. Do you think he hurt his leg when he fell? Daniel was in a lion’s den: what do you think he did there all night? Did they have pizza and a sing-along?
Helping them enter into the story makes it that much easier for them to find their place in it. Daniel is a sensational story but instead of focusing on the lions how about focusing on the fact that Daniel did what was right even though it was really hard. Kids need those kinds of connections.
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Take a second if you need it, I did. I mean, seriously? Her ideas seem so simple, and yet we still struggle with the fact that we can and must help our children understand who God is. Whether it is us in our home or at church, we can’t keep telling kids who God is; we have to help them discover Him on their own by tapping into their own creativity and allowing them to interact with these stories in ways that will get their minds and hearts moving.
So, there you have it. We can all go home now. All right, not exactly. It’s time to put aside our own fears and reservations about helping our kids find their faith and take ownership of it. Think about ways to let your child explore these stories creatively and get them connected to more than just facts and details to memorize. After all, we know our children best. We’ve been studying them, watching them closely since the day they were born. Let’s own our role in the Who our kids will become. We are qualified to do this, even if we don’t feel like we are. People like Melissa are working tirelessly to support us, and it’s time to jump in! It’s not hypocritical or wrong for us to help grow their faith just because we did or didn’t “do it right” in our own lives. We are equipped to lead our children toward the Lord. We just need to get out of our own way.