Susan and I were saved in 1975 in the original building on Veterans Boulevard.
We were part of the revival that filled the new half of that building soon after the walls came down.
As "older" converts (we were 26 at the time), our first impression was that of a very young yet vibrant congregation. As I look at the congregation today, I see a continuance of that church: a congregation with the vision to go into the world and preach, making disciples.
It is still a vibrant church full of young people who are ministering. But now I see many of the young people ministering who grew up within this very congregation. They are involved in ministry because God has blessed us with a pastor who has a vision for the youth; who over the years has modeled for us how to be confidently steadfast in our faith. We have always had a clear vision of what our local church should be, and that is because our headship has always been clear on transmitting that vision. In the early '80s, as we began to define the direction Next Generation Ministries (NGM) was to take, we took the local vision to heart. After exploring that vision, we asked each of the leaders to mentally create a "photo image” of what NGM should look like fifteen years down the road.
That image is very close to what we see today: children of the congregation have grown, matured, and developed into today's ministers.
Once we shared that vision with headship, we could determine our needs and request the necessary resources. I don’t recall ever asking for resources – be they people or finances – and not receiving them. We always had headship support. I never felt I had to change who I was in order to minister, so I didn’t expect others to change their personalities to fit in with the ministry.
God provided dozens of workers, each uniquely gifted for the ministry, and we allowed each person to express their own gifts of the Spirit.
Our only requirement was that we compared our actions to the church's standards and vision to ensure that we were part of that flow in the ministry.
The result is that we have numerous leaders in NGM who have been active for decades. The vision is steadfast, carried forward from leader to leader as young people step into roles of increasing responsibility.
— Frank King
We were hiking Mt. Bigelow when Timothy ran up to me with his prize: a clear plastic soda bottle filled with something bright red.
He had scooped up hundreds of the beautiful ladybugs that gathered by the millions on the crest of the Catalina range, carpeting the brown bark of the pine trees till they turned a vibrant crimson.
It was the early 1990s, and this was our first Young Servants Faith Camp.
When Timothy was a bright, inquisitive lad of ten, I picked him up each Sunday and we’d clamber down into the deep wash across the street from the church.
There, Ralph Galindez would deliver an open-air class – not exactly a Sermon on the Mount, but a training class for maybe a dozen and a half kids Timothy’s age who sat on the sand. Children’s Pastor Frank King developed the Young Servants (YS) curriculum to reach our “gap” kids – those who had graduated from children’s church but were still too young at 9, 10, or 11 to be involved in youth ministries. Kids naturally love to help, and completing the classes helped ensure they were qualified to work in children’s church. We oldsters now realize it would be hard to do what we do without our eager young helpers! When the YS class was handed off to me, I added a few lessons and suggested taking the kids on a camping trip as a reward for completing their training.
Ralph dubbed it Faith Camp, and the first two were tent camping trips on Mt. Lemmon.
Youth Pastor Ed Gutierrez pointed out the nearby Baptist camp, complete with cabins, a chapel, and a mess hall, that he was using for the teens’ Believers Boot Camp. He helped us organize some character building exercises to incorporate, and Faith Camp became a junior boot camp experience.
Guest speakers came to minister to the campers, including pastors Harold Warner, Bobby Rugnao, and Stacy Dillard.
I can never fully express my gratitude to the many men, women, and teens who labored to make Faith Camp a reality — setting up rope and obstacle courses, training hard to be good drill instructors and counselors; and of course, our fabulous kitchen workers.
My wife, Bonnie, and I continued to run Young Servants and Faith Camp until we slowed down in our later fifties; then our longtime assistants Tim and Cathy Martin stepped in and took over.
It was a timely passing of the baton, as I suffered a heart attack in 2009, followed by other serious medical issues; later, Bonnie got her two bionic knees.
Frank King is now functioning as an evangelist, and the Martins are the children’s church pastors.
And that eager young lad with the bottle full of ladybugs?
Timothy and Sophie Mason are pastoring a church in Cincinnati with their two daughters. The treasure isn’t ladybugs anymore. Now he’s scooping up souls.
Timothy’s story is just one of many, and the Young Servants are our treasure.
— Ken Laue
As I looked back on my many years of involvement in children’s ministry, I had to stop and reflect on what that ministry means.
I’ve come to the conclusion that my specific area of interest, puppetry, has two integral parts.
First, it is one of a variety of engaging methods we utilize in children’s ministry to teach biblical truths and concepts.
Puppets are eye-catching, so they encourage children to use their imaginations to visualize the Bible stories rather that simply hear them told.
The children are more apt to relate to puppets as real friends, and they tend to better remember the lessons that are presented using puppets.
Puppetry is a unique form of communication; a fun way to portray the gospel.
Secondly, being a puppet teacher is very rewarding and challenging.
The students who have been on the team have been discipled and encouraged to develop their God-given talents.
My personal expectation is to see them develop the highest standards of the best puppetry skills.
I encourage everyone to strive for excellence within themselves and also together with the team.
As I look around our church, I see many former team members involved in other ministries.
Some have even become pastors.
I pray that the discipline, skills, accountability, and relationships learned as Young Servants in children’s church is an integral part of who they’ve become.
My task as a leader is to continue to encourage and develop ministry within the team to produce important and longstanding impact until the Lord tells me otherwise!
I appreciate my leaders who have given me the freedom to do what I do, and I thank God that He deems me worthy of the task.
— Bonnie Laue
In 1978 my wife, Cheryon, and I helped pioneer the Next Generation Ministries (NGM) at The Door Church in Tucson. Since then we've worked in every facet of children's ministry, but in my study of Scripture, I've never found biblical support for a children's church.
The Bible is actually written to parents – specifically, to fathers – and since God undeniably places a burden on certain people's hearts to minister spiritual truths to children, that would make the children's worker a spiritual father, so to speak.
Because parents in modern society have come to rely on outside institutions to help train their children, God uses children's ministry as a means to strengthen their spirits.
“Providing a Platform for God's Spirit to Move” has been my guiding motto.
I've always wanted children to experience the power of the Holy Spirit for themselves, and to discover the satisfaction and joy of reading the Bible.
My biggest concern in recent years has been the biblical illiteracy of our children.
They don't know the Scriptures that are foundational to Christian beliefs. Our Wednesday children's Bible hour, Quest 119, hits at the heart of this problem, providing a Scripture-focused teaching of God's Word.
Rather than challenging children to read the Bible, many ministries present funny, watered-down renditions of Bible stories.
Unfortunately, many in the church world no longer believe the Bible is historically accurate, and this error comes across in their teaching.
Our children don't just need more memory verses.
They need the Word of God to come alive in their hearts and minds, and this is only possible when the teacher believes God and His Word.
“How can I influence the lives of these children in the time I have?” should be the focus; not “What do I do to fill the time?”
This wrong attitude can creep in and become a children's ministry killer.
Our family vision was to build relationships beyond the church with the people that worked beside us in ministry, and we have found that the lives that were influenced most were those that were mentored in this way.
You can't bat 1000, but when there is fruit, that's the ultimate reward.
– Herb Unruh
At The Door in Tucson I have served as the children's worship and choir leader and as the children's church pastor.
Cheryon and I also pioneered the Faith Roots preschool and have taught Creation Science Sunday schools, as well as seminars at children's workers conferences on a wide variety of subjects.
We have designed and built sets and made costumes for major drama productions in the main service as well as in children's services.
In other ministry, we present HIS-storical reenactments in churches, schools, and other public venues. Apologetics has been the common thread throughout our 35 years of ministry, and we each have a teaching certificate from Answers in Genesis, a worldwide apologetics ministry.
Our passion is for everyone to live by the infallibility of God's Word by strengthening their biblical worldview.
By Cheryon Unruh
Children's ministry is an interesting, satisfying, disappointing, exhausting, fun, and vital ministry.
The value of a children's ministry with a godly vision lies in the privilege of the workers to come alongside the parents and help them to usher their child into a relationship with Christ, modeling for them how they can explain the deep truths of the gospel at their level.
As you can see, this is a bit heavier than just grabbing some puppets or other entertainment to help you get through a service.
It is crucial that workers embrace a God-given vision for the children in their care in order to reach their godly goal (Proverbs 29:18).
They must take their calling seriously, realizing they are there to be the children's mentors, not their cool friends. It is a mistake to approach this ministry with the mentality of a babysitter or a Christian entertainer. Trying to compete with TV, video games, and “super church” children's programs will only result in a diet of spiritual fluff. Workers must never believe they are a cut above the parents in the congregation, but rather realize that they are partners together with them. When the child has a spiritual experience during service, they must share that with the parent; not to do so robs them of shepherding their own child.
Workers must believe that the Bible is the His-story book of the universe, God's Word written by our perfect God, and therefore perfectly true and reliable from Genesis to Revelation. Anything less will never help to strengthen and equip children and parents to “always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks them a reason for the hope that is in them” (1 Peter 3:15).
This is not just about rote scripture memorization. Memory verses can become nothing more than busy work if the teachers do not work also to see God's Word come alive in the children's minds and hearts.
Children's ministry is a platform for God to move on a child's heart at a child's level. We give them the milk, then the nuggets, and finally the meat of spiritual truths. This is especially important in this generation, where the grasp of biblical truths that past generations once had has been lost.
The enemy of our souls is sly, cunning, and subtle, and a sign of the times is the unashamed boldness of the seducing sprits and doctrines of devils spoken of in 1 Timothy 4:1.
Just as 1 Chronicles 12:32 tells of the men of Issachar who had “understanding of the times, knowing what Israel ought to do,” so workers must be aware of the dangers of today's cultural climate.
Our society is militant about what they want us and our children to believe, and we should be no less diligent, for we have the truth!
Today most people don't believe in absolutes, but buy into the lie that right and wrong are what each individual decides. We want our children to be able to discern the false teachings that schools and society are using to indoctrinate them. Each congregation will identify specific areas of ministry geared to challenges faced by their unique community, such as children being raised by grandparents. Our ministry is to bring Christ's healing to those wounds that are pertinent to our congregation (1 Chronicles 12:32).
For me, building relationships with children and their families beyond the church by making them part of our family has been the greatest area of joy and fruitfulness in this ministry. This is the discipleship mandate, and it brings the most reward.
Now we see many of those children raising up the next generation in such a way that the revival we were birthed in continues to be planted in new hearts – because God has no grandchildren by association only.
-- Cheryon Unruh
I remember going to children's church as a 5-year-old. I loved it. It was a place where I could go and learn about someone who loved me unconditionally.
It was a safe place for me, a haven in my chaotic life. At that time, my father was not saved, and he made it hard for us to go to church.
In order to keep the peace, my mother decided we would stop attending. I remember picking up the phone receiver and holding it out, begging my mom to call her friend and ask if she would give us a ride to church.
How I wanted to be in children’s church! I needed the stories they told, the skits they performed, the songs they sang – but most importantly, I needed the love of Christ that they shared.
Eventually she would give in and we’d go to church. Later my father got saved... and the rest is HIS-story!
My parents had the privilege of pioneering for many years in Mexico City.
Now, many years later, my husband and I have had the privilege of pastoring a church in California.
I sometimes wonder what my story would have been like if not for the children’s church workers who shared the love of Christ with me at The Door in Tucson.
Their dedication to God and their willingness to invest of themselves has had such a ripple effect on my life and on so many others.
As I grew up, I became a Young Servant and later a Senior Young Servant, and then an adult worker.
As a pastor's wife pioneering a baby church, I now run our own children's church, and I’m so grateful for the many lessons that I learned and for all that was imparted to me through Next Generation Ministries.
I learned that it’s very important that children’s church not become so focused on the entertainment aspect that the spiritual aspect is put aside. It's important that Young Servants maintain a testimony: we were required to turn in our grades from school in order to minister to the younger kids. We were required to sit in service when not ministering so that we could be spiritually fed. Otherwise, how could we hope to minister to the younger children?
As the baton passes from generation to generation of Young Servants and adult workers, there is much wisdom and knowledge to gain from those who have gone before and paved the way.
We have tried to model our own children's ministry after NGM in Tucson. This ministry offers us such a unique opportunity to impact the lives of children and their parents.
We are aware that while we only have their children for an hour or two a week, the parents are the main influencers, and we try our best to partner with the parents.
Teaching their children biblical principles in children’s church also gives us the opportunity to build friendships with the parents and families outside of church.
I want the kids in our children's church to see Jesus in the short amount of time we have to spend with them.
We have a small window in which to make a difference, and we must ask God to help us; we never know when these kids may be home picking up the phone and begging their parents to find a ride to church so they can go to children's church.
– Iris Flores
People who sought a touch of blessing, healing, or grace from the hand of Jesus often had to take risks or face adversity in the process.
The woman with the issue of blood, blind Bartimaeus, and the paralytic lowered through the roof all come to mind.
The unsung heroes of Mark 10:13-16 are those who brought the little children to Jesus so that He might touch them and bless them.
Parents, grandparents, teachers, and caregivers stood in the gap on behalf of their children – and faced harsh rejection from the disciples – because they believed in the power of a personal encounter with Jesus.
As usual, Jesus acted counter to the disciples’ thinking on the matter, and interrupted His discussion on divorce and adultery to turn His attention to the children. He extended His arms and His blessing to the innocent little ones, saying, “of such is the kingdom of God.” In children’s ministry, our highest calling and privilege is to lead children to Jesus.
We do this in many different ways and in many creative forms, but our ultimate goal is to see the children we serve encounter their Savior and receive His touch.
The enemy of our souls has an aggressive agenda to capture the hearts and minds of our little ones. He preys on the innocent, seeking to destroy their future before it even begins.
We will surely face adversity, rejection, and many unforeseen difficulties when we answer the call to stand in the gap and love those who are unable to fight for themselves.
But in doing so, we align our hearts with the heart of Jesus.
At the age of 4, I encountered Jesus as my Savior in children’s church, and that moment is clearly etched in my mind.
It was the beginning of my life-long Christ-following journey.
My husband and I are now carrying on the mantle of ministry, leading the next generation of children to Jesus.
Week after week, we link arms with our excellent team of volunteers, grab the hands of our kids, and dive into God's Word together.
On our quest through the Bible, we discover how every story points to Jesus as God's plan for redemption.
He is the very center and heart of the gospel. Our Savior is the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14).
Because of this, when we make God's Word accessible, applicable, and alive to children, we lead them into the open arms of Jesus.
-- Susanna Unruh
Joshua and Susanna Unruh both grew up in the Tucson children's church congregation, where their parents were Next Generation Ministry pioneers.
Today, Joshua primarily serves as the technical director for NGM, discipling other young men to assist in this capacity.
Susanna serves as the leader of the preschool ministry, Faith Roots. Her passion is to teach children the Word of God and to equip others to do the same.
Together, Joshua and Susanna developed Quest 119, a Bible study for kids which they lead on Wednesday nights at The Door in Tucson.