If you were to pick up the phone and call the ELCA churchwide offices in Chicago, and said that you had questions about children’s ministry, or Sunday School, or something similar, there would be no one to take your call. It’s true. Say it’s a question about a resource…or perhaps about background checks for volunteer teachers, or maybe continuing education opportunities; there’s no one there who could help you. Or, go to the ELCA web site. There are no pages there that reference children’s ministry.
Don’t get me wrong, you’d probably get transferred to someone, and they’d be nice and would try to help. (They’re all really nice people there) But there would be no one there who could answer your questions, or even tell you where to look.
Those positions were eliminated years ago.
Now I don’t want to get into evaluating those moves. I don’t know why those decisions were made, and the folks who made them have moved on. It could be that in the world of the church, at that time, the decision made total sense. It’s not up to me to judge. But I’ve noticed something interesting:
A few years ago, after a massive restructuring of the ELCA offices, and a reorganization, there were no children, youth or young adult positions left. (The Youth Gathering remained staffed…but that’s self-funding.) After some time and reflection, new positions were created in youth ministry and young adult ministry. And I think the direction these new positions took makes all kinds of sense. No longer “Directors” with heavy programmatic responsibilities, these new position descriptions include being aware of and knowing the landscape; networking; communicating; convening; linking congregations to resources and leadership development for both youth and adults.
But nothing has been done with regard to children’s ministry. There is no one in our denominational offices that relates to those who do ministry with anyone from birth to grade 6.
To be clear, I don’t think that having this position in Chicago would solve our problems. It would not. Our problems with shrinking participation in faith formation for children (see my last blog entry) are congregational problems that will require congregational solutions. But what kind of statement does it make when our denomination doesn’t spend any resources on the first third, of the first third of life? I think that’s troubling.
Ministry is a continuum. We all know that…it’s been one of the operating principles of the Network since its formation (and the church in general for a lot longer than that.) So to expect that we can begin resourcing for ministry with young people when they hit age 12 or 13 without any attention prior to that isn’t realistic or healthy.
I also think it sends an unhealthy message to congregations. We know the developmental importance of engaging children and their parents in faith formation at an early, early age. There is so much ‘bang for the buck.’
I believe this needs to change. I believe churchwide resources should be spent in this vital area (Not at the expense of the other two, but in addition to them). A position structured similarly to the youth and young adult positions will allow for someone at the denominational level to ask the questions…to do the research…to network…to share resources…to invite practitioners to the table to think about solutions…to train…to think big picture with their colleagues…and… to answer the phone.
It would be both a gift, and a statement, to the church.
Networked in Christ,