By Joe Isenhower Jr.
“Our job is not just ministry to children, but to come alongside children and help them minister to others.”
With those words, Dr. Roger Theimer summed up what many said was a main point of the Synod’s first National LCMS Children’s Ministry Conference July 11-13 at St. Peter Lutheran Church, Schaumburg, Ill. Theimer is children’s pastor at King of Kings Lutheran Church, Omaha.
The conference — themed “Christ + Children + Community” — drew more than 500 registrants, exhibitors, choir members, musicians, and others — including children. Another 100 worked as volunteers and support people.
As Theimer’s conference keynote presentation on “Community” ended with song, children walked down the aisles of St. Peter, waving water-dipped branches to lightly sprinkle the audience, “to celebrate the truth of the ministry of the baptized,” he explained.
“This conference showed that we value children’s ministry in worship, Sunday school, and special events,” Theimer told Reporter.
He said that at King of Kings, children through age 12 form church- and community-service teams led by adults. And as a result of the congregation’s children’s-ministry priority, “we reach at least a dozen new children every weekend,” he said.
“Your presence here today is huge,” Dr. Judith Christian told the conference audience during her keynote presentation on “Children.”
“God has brought you at this time and to this place for a purpose,” said Christian, who is director of LCMS District and Congregational Services — Family and Children’s Ministry. “It is His plan that we raise up children as Christ raises us up to expand His mission,” she said, urging adults to “shout on behalf of children.”
Christian — whose office was sponsor of the conference hosted by the LCMS Northern Illinois District and St. Peter, Schaumburg — said that response to the event has been “overwhelmingly positive.”
Registrants came from all but five of the 35 LCMS districts, as well as from Canada, Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Ethiopia.
Evaluations and comments indicate that “a huge majority want another similar conference,” Christian told Reporter, adding that participants especially appreciated the congregational setting. She said that much of the success of the conference setting was “thanks to the people of St. Peter and the many local volunteers.”
Christian also thanked a 13-member conference steering committee, and said the committee would look at the possibility of another such conference being held as early as 2011, probably on the West Coast. Like the Schaumberg conference, it would be “offered nationally and targeted regionally,” she said.
“This conference tells us that we have a large group of people who recognize the need and importance of strengthening children’s ministry,” Christian concluded.
“You minister to children because they are precious to Christ,” Lutherans For Life Executive Director Dr. James Lamb said during his keynote on “Christ.”
Reminding listeners that Christ is the answer to the “fundamental question … of why [we] are here,” Lamb reminded the audience that, “From the moment of conception, we were in need of a Savior. So when Jesus told His disciples that they must change and become like little children if they were to get into the Kingdom of Heaven, He meant that they needed to recognize how undeserving they were of the Kingdom and how unable they were to do anything whatsoever to enter it. ‘Become like a child,’ Jesus said, ‘then you will be greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.’
“For, you see, it is for the children that Christ came to open up the Kingdom,” Lamb said.
Lamb, who also manned Lutherans For Life’s booth in a conference “Ministry Marketplace” exhibit area, said he especially noticed “connections people were making, and the exchange of ideas and resources. This happens at all conferences, but seemed particularly valuable at this one.”
And he said he was “struck by how skillfully children were used to minister to those who do children’s ministry. Through song, dance, and short talks, they were more than just cute attractions, but provided meaningful input into the conference.”
In addition to the plenary “festive gatherings” for each element of the conference theme and the Ministry Marketplace exhibits and along with other features, the 2008 National LCMS Children’s Ministry Conference also offered:
Rev. Bob Riggert, executive assistant for Education, Youth, and Stewardship for the LCMS Iowa District West, served as conference chaplain and Bible study leader. Accompanying him “up front” on more than one occasion were his five grandchildren — ages 2 to 7 — who formed what he said another steering committee member called the “grand choir.”
“Most churches have at least a few children those ages,” Riggert said. “Let them sing God’s praises. Let them share their simple gifts.”
He said he senses a “special spiritual enrichment” as a result of the conference. “The keynoters did a great job of developing the theme, a very intentional prayer ministry led up to and was an integral part of the event. The participants and worshippers were very responsive.”
Three children interviewed Synod First Vice President William Diekelman at Saturday’s festive gathering, asking him questions they had formed — such as his favorite Bible passage (answer: Rev. 2:10), car, and restaurant, as well as where he grew up and what he did as a boy.
“It made me think like a child, and put me back in my childhood to be able to respond in a matter of moments. I appreciated that,” Diekelman said. “And it was interesting to hear what was on their minds.”
He said the convocation “just proved to me all the more that we need to celebrate the incredible leadership we have as a church body at the Synod, district, but especially the congregational level. &nbs