We spoke to four of Britain's leading exponents of children's ministry, JIM BAILEY, DOUG HORLEY, SAMMY HORNER and ISHMAEL, asking them some tough questions. Here are their illuminating answers
What changes do you see happening in children's
Jim Bailey: "There has been an increase in the profile of children's ministry in recent years. This has mostly seemed to be in the new or charismatic churches. There has been the biggest known children's training conference in the recent history. Kingsway Communications invited leaders and church children's workers from an eclectic plethora of churches and denominations. 2000 people met in the south and a further 1200 plus met in the north in 1998 for these enthusiastic conferences.
"The temperature of children's ministry is rising. It may only be in localised pockets at the moment but I can see the profile of kid's work rising and more local churches employing children's workers. These workers will not be just to run the local church children's programmes, but be trained to be actively involved in local schools and local government initiatives for the welfare of children and families.
"Children will always be the church's and society's poor relation, but God's heart is for children and he will justify their cause. I have met many people who have a heart to be full time in Christian-based children's work and I can see the pressure for Bible training institutes to offer more specialised training programmes for this growing number of determined and dedicated people."
Doug Horley: "I do think that children's work is still viewed in some quarters as a "rather nice baby sitting service" taking place out of sight while the important adult programme occurs. However, there are signs that this attitude is changing. It certainly needs to, otherwise the church and our children will be the poorer for it.
"However, I think there is a growing realisation that children are
important members of the church now - not just when they grow up. Some
of the stories from around the world of miracles happening as children
pray are just incredible. I had the privilege of visiting Argentina in
1997 and I spent some time at the New Life Christian Centre in
Buenos Aires. Children there are involved in running their own 'miracle' meetings. They have seen incredible things happen as ordinary children who love God engage in intercessory prayer. These children have grown up in an environment where the miraculous happens every week and so it's little wonder that their faith and expectations run at a high level. We're also seeing some amazing things happening in this country as children pray and I hope we see more of it. My prayer is that we raise up a faith generation of children for whom the supernatural is a natural part of everyday life.
"Certainly I believe these things are signs that God takes kids seriously and so should we! I see my job as helping children to realise their importance to God and to train, empower and release them. I'd love to see the 'quaint baby sitting service' that still exists in some quarters become a powerhouse of the miraculous. We need it."
Sammy Horner: "Well, I still think a lot of it is pretty superficial. Some of the 'big name' workers stay solely within the church circles and that's it. Now don't get me wrong, there is a need for worship and teaching for our children, and if that can be done at local level with local churches that's fine, and an occasional special event may often help or boost that work, but it is parents, family and local church in that order that should really be consistently working through Scriptures and teaching, so in fact that is something that needs to be addressed, and I don't always see that happening.
"I also have to admit that I have been really sickened by some workers who give kids the hard sell on their music and books., .kids are very easily influenced and I hate it when events are little more than a selling point for merchandise. If children's events are for worship and teaching then that should be the case, kids in particular should never be pressurised into buying product. So the shorter answer is that local churches are doing more for kids, which is great...itinerant workers should encourage that work....until they put themselves out of business. Some are doing this and that's the change I would like to see growing."
Ishmael: "The good...the Church is slowly waking up to the fact of the importance of children. The bad...some Christians who do not really have a heart for kids have found a market to exploit."
Cross Rhythms reviewers often wince when they are sent a kids
album to review. Why is this?
SH: "Well, because most of them are horrible. I don't know who else will be taking part in this interview, and I don't want to sound like I'm down on everything, especially if all the other people are kinda hippy dudes, but such tripe is put out for kids. When the Spice Girls hit the road, they announced that only members of their fan club could order tickets. Outraged parents everywhere complained bitterly because their little'uns didn't belong to the fan club...their seven and eight year old kids! Children are listening to pop music, not thrown together nursery rhyme nonsense. How many kids albums have really got the three-minute pop song radio hit sound? Of course toddlers need the simple nursery sounds, babies need gentle music, I'm not saying that that kind of thing doesn't have its place, but not almost all the time. Lyrically it often starts in a place that adults think kids understand...or worse, rehashes of old done to death songs. Your reviewers are doing us all a favour by listening to these albums...their honesty means that ordinary mortals don't have to!"
JB: "In most people's minds anything to do with kids is simplistic. Adults want to review adult albums and may even think it below themselves to review a kid's album. More often the case though is that adults don't have a clue what kids are into, even some parents, and feel insecure and ill informed to review a children's album. One of the greatest mysteries of life is how come we forget what it was like to be a child.
"A reviewer is sent a children's tape and may have already made their mind up what it's going to be like, even before they have played the tape/CD. There has been some poor, patronising and even condescending material produced in the past. Even the kids don't like this music and the poor parents feel under compulsion that they must get their kids to listen to this drivel. The facts are though that for every one poor children's album there are 10 good ones. The music being produced by Doug Horley, Shane Rootes. Ishmael and me is striving to give the kids music that they will enjoy, not endure.
"Children Of The Cross was the most expensive children's all age worship album to be made in the UK. We also took a big step in being the first in releasing British children's praise and worship backing tracks on CD. This has been at great cost, but I know I can speak for the rest of the guys when we say we believe in what we are doing and are totally dedicated to giving these kids and their parental units music they will keep playing. I want to produce albums that my children and I can enjoy together, whether that is in church together or in the car.
DH: "Probably because there have been a lot of children's albums where 'wincing' is undoubtedly the most appropriate response! The perception is that a children's album is full of twee little tunes sung off key be twee little kids. Unfortunately there are some albums like that. However, there are also some cracking kid's and family albums around now, with tracks that give even the World Wide Message Tribe a run for their money!