“Why do we have a children’s ministry in the first place?” This is a question you must always be prepared to answer. Sometimes it will come even more aggressively, like: “I don’t see children’s ministry in the Bible.” or “The early church didn’t have a Director of Children’s Ministry!” Before you read on, what answer comes to mind? Are we just succumbing to a modern fad? Are we just trying to attract families to our church? Are we just providing fun programs and events for children? Or, are we ministering to children because of the covenant of grace?
Lesson Fifteen: Grounded in Covenant
From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible presents the covenant of grace: God’s gracious and faithful salvation of His covenant people. It begins with the promise made after the fall–that the seed of the woman would one day crush the serpent (Genesis 3:15)–and unfolds it in major covenant stages throughout history. To Noah, we see the covenant of grace dispensed in the promise of the preservation of life on the earth. Then, God’s covenant with Abraham promises God’s blessing to Israel, which would ultimately bless all the nations. The covenant of grace continues to be revealed through the giving of the Law at Sinai, and then the promise that a Son of David would always be on the throne. Finally, the climax of the covenant of grace comes through the new covenant established in Jesus Christ!
So what’s the Biblical understanding of the theology of the covenant of grace have to do with children’s ministry? Everything! Children of believers are necessarily included in the covenant of grace AS CHILDREN! Children have always been central to the covenant, never to be treated as outsiders of the promises of God, but insiders. We see this reality in God’s covenant with Abraham:
7 And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. (Genesis 17:7)
The everlasting covenant of grace, with its climax in Jesus, always includes the next generation. We call children to obedience to God’s Law precisely because of the covenant of grace. We call children to repent and believe in Jesus because of the covenant grace. This truth was declared by Peter in his first sermon, echoing the covenant of grace:
38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” (Acts 2:38-39)
The promise of salvation is for all who believe AND their children! Of course, this doesn’t mean that children receive salvation when their parents are saved. Salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone, to everyone who is called. Yet, the normative means God most often uses in salvation is to call and save our covenant children as members of the covenant of grace! Therefore, the church must be diligently proclaiming the gospel of grace to our covenant children, as we read in Psalm 78:
4 We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done. 5 He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, 6 that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, (Psalm 78:4-6)
Children’s ministry exists to do its covenantal responsibility, by telling the next generation the glorious and mighty deeds of the LORD. Each generation is bound to the last by the everlasting covenant of grace. Covenant parents must never hide the precious promises of salvation and life in the family of God. We must never be like the disciples, who seemed to think that the kingdom of God was not for children:
15 Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. 16 But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. (Luke 18:15-16)
So what’s the answer to the question of WHY does our church have a children’s ministry? Because children of believers are on the inside of the covenant of grace, not the outside. Because our children must embrace and receive the gospel of grace. Because, as Jesus says, “for such belongs the kingdom of God.” All of what we do in children’s ministry must remain grounded the covenant of grace!