A Conversation with Becky Olmstead
Becky Olmstead is the Women and Kids pastor at the Vineyard Church of the Rockies. She and her husband Rick are members of the Vineyard Executive Team and are passionate advocates for kids and teens in the church. We talked to her about her passion for kids’ ministry.
VCP: Why do you find yourself to be so passionate about kids’ ministry right now?
Becky Olmstead: I think it started because I was a kid that came to know Jesus at a young age, so I grew up always having a heart for God. Then, when I was 5, my sister had shared with me how she had invited Jesus into her heart. It was something I knew I wanted to do.
We went to a really small church, where we attended service at morning and nighttime. One Sunday night I was sitting in church, and the pastor said, “If you want to ask Jesus into your heart, raise your hand.” So I did, and nobody responded to me. I’m sure they thought I wasn’t listening to the talk and I didn’t know what I was doing. But I prayed and I knew. I can still remember to this day a warmth that came through my whole body. I knew something had happened.
So my heart is that kids would know him like I did. Over the years, since I have started leading our kids’ ministry, God started revealing to me more and more about his heart for kids; seeing that God has a special place for them. They are the marginalized, the poor and the broken. And the parable about the lost sheep in Matthew 18 makes reference to not wanting children to fall away from him. I started noticing all the stories in the Bible about God’s interaction with kids.
In the last few years I’ve seen more books that have the same passion: Wess Stafford’s Too Small to Ignore and Future Impact by Dan Brewster. So I think my passion has just grown inside of me.
VCP: Can you talk a little bit more about what you mean when you say kids are part of the marginalized? That’s a really interesting statement.
BO: Well, you read a lot in Proverbs and Psalms about the poor and people who are the set-aside people of society, people that are overlooked and how important they are to God. He sees them as his responsibility to take care of them, and he needs us to reach out to them for him. So I’d read those verses and think about how kids fit into that category, because society doesn’t always value them. They get overlooked.
These verses in Proverbs talk about reaching out to the poor and the downtrodden, the widow and the orphan and how that’s so important to God’s heart. Because when we do that, we are representing Jesus. We’re actually lending to the Lord. We’re doing something that he sees is his job, so he pays us back for doing that, and I really feel like kids fall into that category because they are overlooked; they don’t have a voice. They’re not valued because they’re not contributors to society.
I believe one of the reasons they are marginalized in churches is because they don’t pay the bills. There’s a subconscious thought that the people that pay the bills are more important than the people that just take. But those people God has a special heart for – the children that other people overlook and marginalize.
VCP: What things have you seen, both in your congregation and then maybe around the Vineyard and even other churches, that are going really well with people ministering to kids?
BO: Well, in our church, our leaders are really catching the vision that God wants to use kids and that God wants to raise kids up to the same value as adults. Especially in our church, our young adults are really realizing that they can make an impact in the life of a kid. It can be a big impact, and it doesn’t take a lot of effort, but it really can pay off, and they’re excited about doing that. Our young adults for a long time have been excited about any kind of a social justice issue, and I’m really glad that it’s transcended going far away and overseas to “Hey, we can make a difference in the life of the kids in our own city and in our own church.”
We have a lot of college students, and they have caught the vision of impacting the life of a kid. And young adults that aren’t married yet or don’t have kids of their own wouldn’t normally even think about reaching out to a kid. But now they are getting the vision for reaching out. That really excites me.
VCP: Are there certain programs or strategies you’ve done to be a more welcoming place for kids?
BO: Well, we’re trying to be more holistic in how we reach out to kids in our church. We’ve developed a really quality, age-appropriate ministry to kids on Sunday morning for when we get the largest amount of kids.
I really believe that kids need small groups, that they need to have a place where they can speak up and be heard and be known and have support from others just like adults do. So we’ve established small groups in our church for kids on Sunday mornings. But lately I’ve been really thinking about how we still need to be more holistic, especially after we went to Ethiopia. I just felt like we need to minister to all areas and all the needs of the kids.
So we’ve started a reading program in the summer, to resource kids, to help them and tutor them in reading. We’re continuing to think about what other needs kids have. In what areas can we reach out to them holistically?
In Luke 2:52 it talks about how Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and men. His intellect, his physical needs, his social needs and his spiritual needs were all important to develop. So we’re trying to develop those ways in kids as well.
We offer divorce care for kids, because there are a lot of emotional needs kids have when their parents divorce. We want to be able to support them and help them find healing and growth through that process. When we do our homeless outreach we also put focus on the homeless kids.
VCP: It sounds to me like some of your vision is carried out within programming but it’s also simply about seeing kids – noticing their needs, noticing where they’re at emotionally, and helping others to do that too.
BO: It is. It’s seeing the kids around us and giving people the vision to reach out to them.
VCP: What are specific ways that churches might marginalize kids, even unintentionally, and what would it look like for churches to take the next step in noticing them?
BO: I do think one of the ways churches often marginalize kids is to give them their leftovers. They figure, “They’re just kids, so it doesn’t matter,” and they give them the leftover space and small parts of the budget. Even when churches think of people who could lead the children’s ministry, they’re not looking for a high-level leader. They’re just looking for a volunteer who’s willing to coordinate it, and then hopefully there won’t be any more trouble – they’ll take care of it – other leaders will never have to hear from them again, so to speak.
Often pastors forget to bring a children’s person truly on their team at a level where they’re considered equal with everybody else on the team. That can affect what happens with kids – even down to the level of them feeling unimportant as well.
A great next step for churches would be to think strategically about how they want to reach kids inside and outside the church and not just leave it up to the children’s ministry volunteer. But it would be something that a senior leader would be involved in thinking strategically on a continuum level, not just week by week or a quarter at a time. Instead they would think of kids from the time they’re babies up till adults and their spiritual needs at different points.
How can we help them make transitions at crucial times in their lives so we don’t lose them? In between elementary and middle school we see a lot of kids drop out. Middle school to high school is another time of dropping out, and then when kids go to college it’s even a bigger dropout level. Sometimes it’s just a dropping out of church, but a lot of the time they drop out from a relationship with God.
I also think one of the big things churches also do is to teach kids information but don’t give them as many opportunities to be used of God, to give them training in how to be used. Our Vineyard value of kingdom, theology and practice is that everybody gets to play. And that means kids too. Kids can say, “Can I pray for you right now?” same as an adult. What really affects kids’ lives is when they actually see God using them.
Part Two will be available next week.