I Was Called to Ministry as a Child

At the age of 13, I was called by God to serve children. I can clearly remember the moment when, after our youth camp ministry time, I knelt at an altar and sincerely asked the Father to reveal His call for my life. My prayer, albeit clumsy and simple, was heartfelt. I came expecting to have to labor and linger in the altar to hear from the Lord, as most youth campers do. But that would not by my experience at all.

Gently and lovingly, the Father spoke clearly to me concerning children’s ministry. As I rose from the altar, I shared what I believed God had spoken to me with the camp evangelist. He told me when I returned home to share that call with my family, and to seek ways to begin growing and serving in my calling.

Only later in life did I realize that this calling shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me. As the son of a pastor of smaller congregations, my mother was often my children’s church teacher growing up. As is the case in smaller churches, there were a limited number of willing volunteers. However, children were abundant from outreach efforts, so she would often enlist my help in her lesson preparations and presentations.

I would gladly serve as a puppeteer and actor, draw her visuals, and spend endless hours assisting with the cutting out of craft supplies.  Our midweek class would meet in the living room of the parsonage, which was connected to our little church building, as dozens of children crammed into our little living space. Children’s ministry occurred regularly in my home, and my mother involved me in that ministry. These moments would plant the seeds for fruit that neither she nor I could have ever imagined would later blossom into full-time service to the church and the kingdom.

The Calling of Children in Scripture

I believe that Scripture reveals that children can not only experience God but also know His call to serve at an early age. John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit from birth from within the womb of his mother (Luke 1:15). David, Jeremiah, and Paul would each give witness to the work of God in their lives from before birth (Ps. 22:9-10, 71:6, Jere.1:4-10, Gal. 1:11-17). One of my favorite examples, Samuel, was given to the Lord to serve in the tabernacle after being weaned. He was raised in the Lord’s presence and in a time when “the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions,” he dramatically heard His voice at an early age (1 Samuel 1-3). God spoke a clear word to Samuel for His people.

How do we ensure that our children are prepared to hear God’s call when it comes? How can they be positioned to embrace His purposes for their lives?

Knowing Him

First, we must acknowledge that it is the desire of God, His purpose, that every child knows Him as their personal Savior. Matthew 18:14 clearly illustrates this when Jesus says, “In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.”

Whether it’s in the home or in children’s ministry, we often fail to give children the opportunity to come to know Christ as their Savior. Here are some thoughts to help you prepare to lead the children in your home or ministry to Christ:

  1. Examine your own life. Your child’s faith will be a direct reflection of your faith. If you desire your child to have strong faith, you must model a strong faith as well.
  2. Know what the Bible says about children and salvation. Familiarize yourself with passages like Matthew 19:14, Romans 3:23, Acts 16:31, Matthew 18:14, John 3:16, John 1:12, Acts 16:31, and 1 John 1:19.
  3. Ask the Father to guide you, to keep you mindful of divine opportunities to share, and to give you the words to speak.
  4. Watch your words. We want children to come to faith as a response to personal conviction by the Holy Spirit. When speaking to children about salvation, avoid overemphasizing fear of strong emotions.
  5. When counseling a child to receive salvation, share a verse like 1 John 1:9 that includes directives for the unbeliever. This scripture tells us if we do our part, “confessing our sin,” God will be faithful to do his part, “forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
  6. Encourage the child to pray, to “talk to God out loud and tell Him how they feel about the wrong things they’ve done.” It may be necessary to guide them through the prayer, asking them to repeat after you.
  7. After the prayer, allow the child to share what God has done for him/her. Remind them of the scriptural promise shared earlier so that their assurance comes from the Word of God.

Growing in Him

Luke 2:53 tells us that “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” God desires that children experience mental, physical, spiritual, and social growth, just as Scripture records Jesus did. Both the Christian family and the local church must fulfill this responsibility. Ephesians 4:11-13 tells us that ministry gifts should be used to prepare the people of God for works of service. If a child knows Christ as Savior, they are God’s people and must be prepared for works of service. Therefore, the strategic disciplining of children must be a priority for both the family and the church.

Serving Him and Others

In children’s ministries, we often ask, “what would happen if we got kids excited about doing something with their faith at an early age?” We believe that an entire generation would grow up knowing that service is a way of life for the believer and would make a significant impact for Him!

Both the Old and New Testament tells of children serving in ministry. Accounts like Miriam guarding the baby Moses, the ministry of Samuel, the slave girl witnessing to Naaman, young King Josiah, the boy who shared his lunch, and the children shouting praise to Jesus in the temple—they all give witness to the fact that God chooses to use children to serve.

We must allow children to serve in the local church. In doing so, we allow them to discover gifts they can develop and use in service to God. Children make wonderful greeters, ushers, vocalists, musicians, janitors, projectionists, audio/visual assistants, and assistants. There are many places within the local church where children can serve.

When a child acknowledges a calling or desire to serve in ministry, affirm them in their calling. Find ways to support them and help them develop in their calling. Make room for them to serve, perhaps being coached or mentored by a loving adult who is already serving in the ministry.

When I first acknowledged my calling, a well-meaning adult in a position to utilize me advised, “I don’t think God really called you to serve children. Children are much more comfortable being taught by women.” This comment crushed me but did not deter me.  As I prayed, God brought a faithful children’s minister into our church. She acknowledged God’s call, found ways to mentor and train me, provided resources to equip me, and supplied opportunities for a young boy to serve in ministry. For nearly thirty years, my ministry continues thanks to the guidance of that children’s minister.

“As children minister before the Lord we can help them identify and develop their spiritual gifts, such as giving, leadership, teaching, pastoring, evangelizing, healing, and more” (The Value and Spiritual Life of Children, 2014).

Can children be called to serve in ministry? I believe the answer as found in the Bible and reflected in the witness of countless others is “yes!” We must be mindful to watch God’s work in their lives, pray for and with them, disciple them, and help them develop as He leads.

Avatar for Shaun McKinley

Dr. Shaun McKinley serves as the international director of Children’s Ministries, administrative liaison to the general overseer, and public relations coordinator for the Church of God of Prophecy International Offices in Cleveland, Tennessee.