Should Non-Christians Serve in Children’s Ministry?

My perspective, that non-Christians could serve in a church’s Children’s Ministry, probably puts me in the far minority among church leaders.

Most evangelical churches say that non-Christians should not serve in Children’s Ministry, or even in some other areas of the church. In my time as a pastor, I had a viewpoint that was different than most of my fellow pastors. I loved hearing their perspectives and learning from them, as it made me question my own motives and biases. 


Why They Shouldn’t
Wayne Stocks wrote a series of articles for Kidmin1124 on the topic of volunteers in Children’s Ministry. In one post, he listed some non-negotiable qualifications, including that the volunteer should be a “professing believer of Christ.” His concern, rightly so, is that “the spiritual nourishment of God’s children is at stake.” After all, how can someone lead another (especially a child) to a place where he is not at himself?

In a related article, Michael McKinley states that churches should exclude non-Christians from certain privileges (including serving and small groups) for the sake of protecting the flock. While I agree that protecting a flock is a core responsibility of elders and other church leaders, I suppose that how we define “visitor,” “flock,” and “small groups” can vary from church to church.


Why They Could
Notice I say that they could serve, not they should serve. Whereas I rarely hesitated to challenge non-serving Christians to step up, I would not do this for non-Christians. I might ask, but just to give them an opportunity. Here’s why I think it was often good for them to serve:
  • Opportunity to connect with others in the body.  One large multi-site church that I talked with used serving as a chance to help visitors feel included. The idea was not to put the visitor in a place where he felt isolated, but to partner him with a friend who was already serving. The mindset was, “Come serve with me.”
  • Be under the leadership and shepherding of other leaders.  We’ve had leaders who have connected with parents and volunteers, encouraging them to attend church, go to membership classes, and be a part of Bible studies.  If this non-member didn’t hear this from the Volunteer Coach that they were serving under, who would they have heard it from, on a personal level?
  • Use gifts to meet a need.  There is always a need for more volunteers. When we “needed” 240 volunteers my first year on staff, we had 220.  When we “needed” 550, we had 520. Needed 770, had 720. It’s just how it goes, right?  But think about it from the volunteer’s perspective. Serving is a great opportunity to be a part of something bigger than yourself.  When you are using your time and gifts for a good purpose, it just feels good. You would want to come back.
  • Do we really know?  Especially at our large and growing church, I struggled with the concept of how we would always know if someone is a believer. Especially for folks growing up in a church setting, they could recite the language that they needed to, and sign a covenant agreement acknowledging certain biblical truths. But this doesn’t mean it is real in their heart. Yes, you could make the case that if you know someone is not a Christian, that would eliminate them. But I would rather deal with an honest seeker, than someone who is either deceiving themselves or others out of fear, apathy, or laziness.

Be sure to read some concluding thoughts, including where non-Christians could serve and what we need to remember if we do allow non-Christians to serve.  For now, I’d love your thoughts:

Do you think it’s ok for a non-Christian to serve in Children’s Ministry? Why or why not?


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11 comments:

  1. I would not want a non-believer to be in a position to teach or instruct my children in church regarding Biblical, spiritual, or theological matters.

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  2. ditto to the above post. however, i wouldn't mind a non-believer serving in other aspects of the church such as hospitality, parking, administration, etc.

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  3. Conviction is not necessary for instruction. I could certainly educate myself and seek wisdom on a number of things that I do not personally believe, and be able to teach it, and teach it well.

    Often, teaching is a wonderful way of learning. I can't imagine a non-believer desiring to serve in this capacity unless they were at least seeking God themselves.

    Since a non-believer would not have the Holy Spirit with them though, I think that it would be important for a non-believer serving in Children's ministry to be partnered with a believer when serving.

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  4. Yes, Vanessa. Great point about partnering. This is a great way to get new folks (including non-believers who are attending church) connected with members / believers. We have actually done this intentionally on occasion.

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  5. Joey - another great post and challenge.

    I could find a place to use non-Christians, such as preparing crafts, assisting (but not leading) recreation. I wouldn't want them to be in a place where they could confuse the children.

    We had situations all the time in our after-school programs of parents wanting to help out. A mom was allowed to tutor the children (nothing spiritual so this was okay - right? WRONG) in her one-on-one time with a child she told him intolerable things.

    In your second post you speak of the nursery being a good place for them to serve. I would say that is only true if you don't view the nursery as a ministry. That is a place where I truly want a person with the Holy Spirit inside, as Vanessa stated above, to be holding the children and praying over them. In my nurseries everything we did was intentional. The Shepherds did regular visits in the home - how will a non-Christian go into a home and minister to the young family?

    Discipleship should begin the first time a child is presented in the nursery.

    The other aspect of this is what is the purpose of the Children's Ministry. If we take our eyes, and hearts off of the purpose - to disciple the children - and place it on winning lost adults we are likely to end up doing neither well. Does having non-Christians strip energy and focus from the discipleship of the children?

    One last thought - doesn't Paul tell us something about not putting young believers in places of authority? How much more true should that be of non-believers. At every level of service there is a type of authority. If nothing more than telling someone you are on "staff" of such and such church.

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  6. I think the key issue, as you said, is what the purpose of Children's Ministry is. This will vary from church to church. Of course, the ultimate end is for children to grow in Christ. However, I feel like that for the long-term, we do need to focus on adults as well.

    (I write about that here: http://differentway4kids.blogspot.com/2010/11/how-churches-can-fall-short.html)

    There is an innate tension with how we will direct our resources (time, energy, money), whether to focus on kids or adults. We were focused on developing leaders. Yes, that meant we sacrificed on some other areas. But it was the direction we had chosen to take.

    I'm not sure of the context of that passage that your refer to. I'll have to look it up. But we'd have to define what "young believer" means. And also what "authority" means in this context.

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  7. Joey,

    I'm not sure how I missed this article, but I just happened to come across it today and thought I should weigh in. Thanks for referencing the original article. I appreciate your willingness to ask the important questions and explore these issues further. We should all do that - "as iron sharpens iron." Here are my thoughts and why I made the original assertion that I did.

    Regardless of the curriculum, ultimately children's ministry is about relationships. It is about the children's relationship with God. It's about their relationships with one another, and it's about their relationships with their teachers and leaders. When we put someone into a leadership position in our ministries who is clearly not a Christian, we give them influence over those children (even if it just a warm body to fill a chair at a table to watch kids do crafts). Conversations will happen, relationships will be built, discipleship will happen. I want to know that the person in that position has their own relationship with God that will guide how they respond to those kids. No matter how well curriculum is laid out, when a child asks what it means to have a relationship with God (and they will, because we know kids don't always follow the script :)), I want someone there who can answer that question from personal experience not what they've read in this week's curriculum. When a child's parents dies, or leaves the house, I don't want someone who will simply say "it'll be ok" or "time heals all wounds." I want a leader who can listen and reassure that child that no matter how bad things get, God will always be there. I want a person who can share experiences from their own life to back that up.

    I agree with Vanessa that you don't have to have conviction to teach. Unfortunately, I think that there is plenty of that out there. That said, I don't think you can deny that the quality of the instruction is directly related to the passion and conviction that people feel. When it comes to teaching kids about God, I think we owe them the best, not just "that'll do." I think that is where passion and conviction come in.

    Finally, I wanted to address one more thing raised in your post that I think is of the utmost importance. You are right that we can not know for certain who is and is not saved. Only God knows the heart. But, we can ask and we can observe. We can ask in the application process for an affirmation not just that a person is a nominal Christian but that they are exhibiting the characteristics of someone who is following Christ. We can also observe. Is the transforming work on the Holy Spirit evident in this person? I think when it comes to serving God's kids that erring on the side of caution is probably the most prudent course of action.

    There are plenty of places in the church where non-Christians can, and should be encouraged to, serve. I think it helps to build community and hopefully, God willing, could eventually lead to their acceptance of Christ. I'm a not convinced that children's ministry (at least not in a role that interacts with the kids) is the appropriate place for that.

    Thanks again for your thought and your ministry.

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  8. I don't understand why you would want a non-Christian teaching a Christian class. Unless you wouldn't mind discussing opposing views which imo, most parents do not want at least, if their children are young.

    I am a non Christian volunteer at a church where I am not a member. I volunteer at their food ministry. My peers are wonderful people but I want to share that just because I am not a Christian doesn't mean I never heard The Message. I was raised in the Church, was saved, etc. I am no longer a believer. I am also doing more than half the work in one ministry yet the Church is getting all the recognition. I want to say "I am not a Christian; I just volunteer for this church!" know my thinking is wrong. All that matters is that people are being fed. Not that my name is mentioned. Thank you for allowing me to share.

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  9. Anonymous --

    Thanks for your comment. I appreciate your honesty about where you are and your insight.

    I didn't say anything in this post about a non-Christian teaching a Christian class. (I do refer to that in the next post, but I would still want to know what someone constitutes as "teaching" and a "class." I really have a hard time saying that a non-Christian could not serve in a baby nursery.)

    I am glad that you are connected to others in the church. I might understand what you mean, as I was not a Christian in high school (and really wasn't a part of a church), and yet I still often heard, "Your such a great Christian guy." Made me frustrated.

    On a side note, but not really this conversation (but still feel like I need to say it), I would debate that you were "saved" and are "no longer a believer." I think the Bible is clear that is not possible.

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  10. I think its interesting that not once was a scripture proof provided in that opinion about Whether God wants non christians serving is people, in His house. Lets not forget, matters of religion are never logic based debates, but rather conversations about how best to interpret Gods instruction. To me, every service role in the church its an opportunity to worship God by serving His people. 1 cor 12:12-20 I'm not willing to cheapen the worship of believing volunteers by condoning non believing volunteers. I'd base that on new testament teachings that a non believer cannot worship mat 15: 7&8, mat 7:22, and that the church is made up if believers, 1 pet 2:9.

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  11. Matt -- you have great points that it is best to hear from God's word. But the problem is that there are no scripture references that specifically say whether a non-Christian can serve in a church. Nothing even close that is said about "children's ministry."

    We have to be careful about making big jumps, while pulling in scripture to fit our thoughts.

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