Brian Dembowczyk is the Managing Editor of LifeWay’s The Gospel Project and was previously Team Leader for The Gospel Project for Kids. He has seventeen years of pastoral ministry experience in churches in Florida, Kentucky, and Maryland and is the author of “Gospel-Centered Kids Ministry,” “Cornerstones: 200 Questions and Answers to Learn Truth,” and “Cornerstones: 200 Questions and Answers to Teach Truth (Parent Guide).” Brian and his wife, Tara, have three children and live in Murfreesboro, TN.
i first met brian when i began writing for the Gospel project. not only did i admire his heart for Gospel-centered ministry, i loved that he served weekly in his local churches kids ministry. i have so much respect for fellow in-the-trenches ministry leaders. then he authored the book “Gospel centered kids ministry.” i couldn’t get enough. i read it, had my staff read it, and gave a copy to each of our kids ministry investors (volunteers). this is a book i think should be in every kids ministry and family ministry leader’s library. then i got to read an advanced copy of his newest book, “cornerstones”. y’all i cannot wait for this book to come out and to hear there is a parent guide as well is a win/win. not only can we equip ourselves and our leaders with questions and answers to points kids to the truth, we can hand parents a resource i believe will be life-changing as the approach their role as primary faith trainers.
so, of course, i couldn’t wait to hear brian’s response to these five questions. he didn’t disappoint. so if you want to be challenged and encouraged, be sure to soak in brian’s answers.
1 – what do you see kidmin and family ministry leaders doing right?
Two areas that stand out to me where I see the Church moving in the right direction are (1) wrestling with how to best integrate kids ministry, student ministry, and ministry to parents and (2) finding the proper balance of our ministry calendars. In the first, I am encouraged to see churches breaking down ministry silos between kids ministry and student ministry and then these church ministries and the role of parents in the home. This is so critical that we work to develop a comprehensive discipleship plan for our kids from the time they are born through when they graduate high school. We are tasked with stewarding for their spiritual care for that time, and to not have a strategy for this is not proper stewardship. So I am glad to see churches working on this. And at the same time, we know that parents are the primary disciplers, so I love seeing how more churches are working to equip parents and partner with them—in something as simple (yet critical) as using the parent resources in the Bible study curriculum being used.
In the second, I see churches trying to find the right balance of what they offer kids, students, and families without overloading their calendars. Up until perhaps the last 10-15 years, I think most churches qualified the vibrancy of their ministries by the quantity of activities and events they scheduled. So a “good” ministry was a very busy one. The problem is that business is not a synonym for godliness or even effectiveness. We were wearing our leaders out, wearing our families out, and isolating ourselves from the culture we are here to reach. Some churches over-reacted (as we tend to do) and cut out almost all programming. That’s a huge mistake too. Each church needs to find the right balance for their context. I am glad to see churches striving to do that.
2 – what do you see as the greatest need in kidmin and family ministry right now?
Gospel-centeredness. I wrote “Gospel-Centered Kids Ministry” for this reason. It weighed on my heart when I would read a kids ministry facebook group post from a leader who had a great theme for VBS, or a retreat, and he or she would ask the other group members for a Bible verse to go with it. That’s backward. We start with the Bible—with the gospel—and go from there. A great theme matters, but that is not what will stick with our kids for the long-term. That is not what will carry them through challenging days when they are a preteen wrestling with their identity and peer pressure. That is not what gives life. But the gospel does—and that is what we need to give them. The gospel is what needs to drive our ministries and everything we do. It is the starting point, the ending point, and all the points in between.
I think this is why we see moralism taught so much today. Many kids and student ministries don’t want to teach it, but it is the default in our hearts, so if we are not proactive to teach the gospel, moralism will come out of us. Designing a VBS or retreat around a theme is a clue that the gospel is not driving our thinking, and if that is the case, there is a good chance that the application of that event will be moralistic.
3 – if you could have coffee with every kidmin/fammin leader, what would you want to make sure you shared with them?
I would, of course, want to talk about gospel-centeredess. What that means and looks like.
But I would also want to encourage them to stretch themselves and grow as followers of Christ. I believe that our kids, student, and family ministry leaders should be the greatest theologians in the church. (We often aren’t seen that way.) But think about it: Our task is to take some pretty intense doctrines and communicate them in a way a kid understands. Whenever I teach or preach—to any age—my goal is always to be true to the gospel and to be clear. A win for me is hearing someone say that I explained something well—not that I used a lot of big words and sounded smart. The sign of really mastering a concept is to be able to explain it to someone else simply, so they understand. And that is what kids, students, and family leaders are to do. So that is why I say we need to be great theologians. We need to grasp theology such that we can communicate it like this. And to be a great theologian we need to grow in our knowledge of theology, our love for God, and our practice of it.
I would also want to hit on our need to partner with parents for this exact same reasoning. We are in this together with parents and they need to be great theologians as well. The problem is, they aren’t trained (most of them anyway) and feel so ill-equipped for the ministry God has called them to. So we need to look at our calendars, our ministry budgets, and our prayer life and see how much we are building into parents to partner with them in discipling their kids.
4 – what word of encouragement do you have for today’s kidmin/fammin leaders?
You are so much more important than your church might indicate. There are times when you might feel like you are sitting at the “kids table” at Thanksgiving, instead of sitting at the “adult table.” Your pay might indicate this. The way members of your church view you might indicate this. Even the way your pastor and other staff treat you might indicate this. But I want you to know that you play a critical role.
5 – why are you passionate about children’s and family ministry?
Because I am a father of three kids and I know how important my church partnering with me is. Because I have served in this ministry and know what it means to kids and students to have someone who loves them and is echoing the gospel to them alongside parents. Because I was a kid who was not taught the gospel and I know how it almost drove me away from the church. Because I am a follower of Christ and I see in Scripture God’s heart for children and how He established families as the primary building block of not just our culture, but our churches.