Leading the Lambs: Shepherding the Children in Your Care
by Amy Diller

Perhaps one of the most meaningful illustrations of Jesus’ care for us is that of the Good Shepherd. He feeds His sheep. He protects His sheep. He searches for and brings strays back to the flock. He knows His sheep, and His sheep know Him. In children’s ministry, we can learn from Jesus’ example and apply the role of a shepherd to the way we care for the children we serve.

Get to Know the Sheep

John 10:14 says, “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep, and my sheep know me.” In order for children to best receive messages from you about God and His Word, they need to get to know you and feel that you take a personal interest in them.

Children love the attention of adults. It’s important to build time into your Sunday morning and midweek routines for “getting to know you” interactions. Ask questions that invite more than a yes or no answer. Find out about kids’ likes, dislikes, God-given talents, character traits, and concerns. Use social media to connect with the families in your ministry so you can be aware of and celebrate important events and milestones in kids’ lives. Equip and empower your volunteers in their important role as part of the ministry team. They are an extra set of eyes and hands in practical ways, but they are also connection points of influence in children’s lives.        

Train the Sheep

A shepherd has to make sure the sheep learn to follow his or her instructions. In a practical sense, this means having rules and procedures in place that the kids in your ministry are familiar with and understand the reasons for. As in any setting, rules are established out of care and concern. It’s best to keep the list short and to explain why the rules are important. Address ways kids can respect their church spaces and respect one another and the adults who are with them. Have set consequences for not following the rules and lovingly enforce them. Since children learn through repetition, revisit these rules frequently. It doesn’t have to be a long conversation; quick reminders are more effective. 

Beyond rules for behavior, it’s vitally important to teach spiritual disciplines. The highest percentage of people who become Christians do so in childhood. Equip kids with the knowledge of how to grow in the Lord from a young age. Talk about the importance of reading God’s Word, prayer, worship, and servanthood. Teach them what it looks like to regularly interact with their Heavenly Father and learn to listen for His voice. As Paul wrote to Timothy about setting an example for the believers even though he was young, encourage children to see their faith as a needed presence in the body.

Feed the Sheep

After being on staff at our church for a couple of years, our children’s ministry team decided to change the curriculum. We had been teaching the typical stories from the Bible that we normally focus on with kids – Creation, Noah, David and Goliath, Jesus’ birth, and His miracles. We offered character-based lessons to learn from the people in the Bible. Be bold like David, who stood up to the giant, unafraid like Daniel in the lion’s den, and brave like Peter jumping out of the boat to walk on water. There is nothing wrong in presenting these kinds of lessons to children, but when that’s all we’re feeding them, they miss out on the big-picture narrative of the Bible.

Kids are capable of understanding far more than we often give them credit for. Don’t shy away from using the big theological words and talking about church doctrine. Laying a foundation for kids to build on helps them as they grow. It’s also important to teach the truth of the Bible – even the difficult parts. Children need to grow up understanding the consequences of sin and their need for a Savior. Of course, we present things in an age-appropriate way, but we shouldn’t shy away from the truth. I remember teaching about Cain and Abel for the first time to a group of elementary-aged students. It was hard talking about the sin in Cain’s heart that caused him to kill his brother, but the kids received it, and their discussions reflected the gravity of the message. We don’t need to water down His word with children. When we present the deep truths of scripture, it’s amazing to hear the profound ways kids interact with it.           

Protect the Sheep

Shepherds must be wise to dangers that threaten the well-being of their sheep. As children’s leaders, it’s our responsibility to protect children. We like to believe that the church is immune to the kinds of abuses that happen in the world, but statistics prove otherwise. Asking potential volunteers to go through an application process and background check is a responsible and reasonable step in protecting children. Establishing a two-adult minimum in every classroom not only provides accountability but also protects volunteers from unfounded accusations.

Take the time to think through and put into place security measures in the event of an emergency, and train volunteers to respond appropriately. Local law enforcement is happy to provide direction and education. When at all possible, find ways to limit the traffic in and out of children’s areas and have a purposeful check-in and check-out system. Suppose your church is able to provide resources like security cameras and personnel, all the better. Both of these things are proven deterrents for those looking to cause harm.

Protect the children in your ministry through prayer. Spend time regularly walking through kids’ spaces and praying for the Lord’s protection over them physically and spiritually. Ask for the Lord to give wisdom to all the volunteers who serve in your ministry. We know that the enemy of our souls comes to steal, kill, and destroy. He opposes children entering a relationship with Jesus and will do anything he can to bring harm into their lives. There is a very real spiritual battle, and through Jesus, we have the authority to come against the schemes of the enemy. Make sure you exercise that authority in your prayers for the children you serve.

What a wonderful privilege and responsibility it is to be entrusted to care for the physical and spiritual well-being of children. When we intentionally approach every aspect of what we do with and for children, it builds trust with parents that we have their children’s very best in mind. By stepping into our role as shepherds who lead and guide God’s precious ones, we powerfully impact the next generation to serve and follow Him.