BROKEN ARROW—Nearly 1,000 Sunday School teachers and ministry workers gathered for the 2012 Heart of the Child Conference, April 20-21. The preschool & children’s leadership convention, held at Broken Arrow, First, featured experts, authors, pastors and denominational leaders in its programming.
Leading off the lineup of conference speakers was President of LifeWay Research, Thom Rainer. Offering shocking statistical trends showing fewer and fewer Christians with each passing generation, Rainer then pointed to some solutions. “I speak about numbers because they represent people, and people are who God loves,” he said. “We need to realize the extent of lostness of this generation. We must learn to take them deep biblically at even a young age.”
Speaking to the challenges of the digital age, which was a reoccurring theme in the conference, Rainer said that while children, especially teens, constantly text and use social media, they actually crave for adult interaction.
“We need to understand the power of mentoring and the urgency of the task at hand,” he said. “I want to thank you (children’s) ministry workers for what you are doing.”
David Thomas, an author and director of counseling for men and boys at Daystar Counseling in Nashville, Tenn., spoke to attendees about the unique challenge of ministering to boys in an address to the entire gathering.
“Statistics show that boys are more at risk than girls for challenging behavior,” he said. “Eighty percent of ADD and ADHD cases are boys. Eighty percent of high school dropouts are boys.”
With references to Psalm 127 and the children’s book, Where the Wild Things Are, Thomas spoke to the urgency of the task at hand. Sissy Goff, also an author who has worked with Daystar Counseling Ministries, spoke about teaching and parenting girls.
Goff praised parents and teachers who instill manners and virtues in girls.
“I am amazed at how many today don’t give kids consequences,” she said. “Girls must learn about graciousness and the difference between respect and disrespect.”
Goff and other conference speakers, such as Brian Haynes, pastor of Bay Area First Church in League City, Texas, emphasized the need to be a role model.
“The way to reach the heart of the child is through his family,” said Haynes. “As the heart of the child goes, so goes the culture in the next 20 years.”
Haynes said his church has transformed its ministry into a more integrated approach. “If you look at the Hebrew culture of the Bible, parents trained their children intentionally. We create compartments for ministry and discipleship. The Scriptures say it happens as you go.”
Haynes said we need to teach parents to lead frequent talks about faith and celebrate milestones in children’s lives. These pieces of concrete, practical advice were espoused in the numerous breakout sessions as well. Topics of breakout sessions also included, “Building a Transformational Children’s Ministry,” “Learning to Live Out Their Faith,” “Bridging the Gap Between Church and Home” and “Keeping Preschoolers Safe.”
In addition to experts from around the country, Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma personnel, including Mark Jones, childhood ministry specialist, and Keith Burkhart, family and men’s ministry specialist, led sessions.
The Heart of the Child conference was planned in conjunction with ministry associates from Texas, Arkansas, Missouri and Kansas/Nebraska. The key verse for the event was Psalm 78:4, “We . . . must tell a future generation the praises of the Lord.”
“We are so pleased that so many men and women took part in the conference,” said Jones. “We are thankful at how God brought together such a diverse set of information in areas such as music, missions, Bible skills, weekday programs and camps. It was a great mix.”
For more information on the Heart of the Child conference, contact the BGCO Children’s Ministry Division at 405/942-3800 or visit www.bgco.org.