Looking back over more than two decades, one of the most important and fruitful things I did as a pastor leading family discipleship, children's ministry, and youth ministry, was to begin each year by identifying a text of Scripture to guide our ministry team and parents throughout the year. In a recent webinar, I shared about the context for using a banner text like this and then provided an example with Colossians 1:28 as the guiding text.
With leaders, parents, Sunday school teachers, nursery workers, and other people committed to the next generation in mind, I presented to the webinar audience much like I did with children’s ministry teams in the past–setting the stage and casting a vision for what the new ministry year would be about. Here's what I presented, speaking just like I would to the people of our church:
To begin, I want to thank you for giving me an opportunity to put this 2023-24 ministry year into perspective. For those of you who've been serving with us for a while, you know that every year we identify a verse or a passage in the Bible, which we call our banner text. This is the portion of Scripture that will help unify our efforts as we serve the next generation in the nursery all the way through high school, and give us a common theme amid the various programs and activities we will offer.
Throughout the year, we’ll do everything we can to keep this text on the forefront of our minds and hearts, like a banner waving in front of all of us. We will put it at the top of our communications and at the head of our meeting agendas. We will weave it into our training events, the reports that we make to church leaders, and communications to the congregation as a whole. In fact, you could say that we will talk of it when we sit, when we walk by the way, when we lie down, or when we rise up.
Present the banner verse
The text for this year is taken from Colossians 1:28 where Paul says, “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. (ESV).” I want us to see, first of all, what our goal for this year is. Our goal for everything that we do every year when it comes to our ministry to children and youth in this church is that everyone will be presented mature, or complete, in Christ. So whether you're rocking babies on Sunday morning, teaching a table group, leading a youth retreat, or sweeping the floors, you’re serving in the hope that every child growing up in this church would be complete in Christ.
We have a year to reflect on this text, but let me just give you a couple of thoughts today. Let’s be sure we understand what we mean when we say ”mature,” or “complete in Christ.” It might help to back up seven verses in Colossians. Paul says,
“And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds,  he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him,  if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.” (Colossians 1:21–23 ESV)
We must keep in mind this year that every child you encounter in your home or church has come into the world alienated, hostile in mind, and with a propensity to do evil. I assure you, no one in this church—no parent or church leader—no one wants our children to remain in this state. On the contrary, we want them to be presented holy, blameless, and above reproach, as Paul says at the end of verse 22.
If you ask any parent, “Do you want your child to be holy and blameless and above reproach at the end of time?” there's not a parent in this church who would say, “No, that's not what I want for my child.” There's not a teacher in this church that would say, “No, that's not what I want for the children that I'm teaching.” We want them to be holy and blameless. And Paul says in verse 23, that the way it will happen is if our children “continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel.”
I pray that often for our children because we're seeing so many in this day who are not continuing in the faith, not stable, not steadfast, and shifting away from the hope of the gospel. And I say, “Lord, don't let that be for our children. Don't let that be for the children in my family. Don't let that be for my grandchildren. Don't let that be for any of the children growing up in this church.” We all want our children to be steadfast. We all want them to remain and not shift.
So that's a desire of every parent, but not every parent has a plan for making that happen. Not every teacher has in mind a plan for how to make that happen. We want to be clear about our plan. In fact, I see it as my responsibility in my role to make clear what the goal is, have a plan for accomplishing that goal, do everything I can to impress that upon teachers, and win parents to join us in this plan. That's why we're meeting here today, to get us all on the same page with a goal and to unite us around a common strategy.
Reiterate vision for discipleship
Paul's strategy, as we can see here, for presenting everyone complete in Christ, was that they would warn everyone and teach everyone. That effort of warning and teaching is what we would call discipleship. This is why we are a ministry that is committed to the discipleship of the next generation. We want the children and the youth growing up in this church to hold fast, and be holy, blameless, and above reproach.
For that to happen, we must teach and admonish them. We must have a plan for imparting to them the whole counsel of God. The structure of our programs, content of our teaching, and various activities we do in this church (and hopefully in our homes), all have this end in mind. Your efforts week after week from the nursery all the way through senior high matters to this end and has this end in mind.
God forbid that any child growing up in this church would drift away from the gospel. And if they do, may it not be because of our failure to disciple them in the Truth. Every week we want to be very intentional about what we teach and how we teach. That's why we use the material we've chosen for instructing our children. It has a view toward presenting children growing up in our church as complete and mature in Christ. The content of our teaching, as well as the activities that we do, are all designed to draw our children to the truth and establish them in the truth so that they would remain stable and not drift away from the gospel.
However, we remember from last year’s banner text that “what is impossible with man is possible with God” (Luke 18:27). It is only by God’s grace at work through our efforts that our children will ultimately enter His kingdom. May God, in His rich mercy, work in and through us to that end.