By: Adam Walker Cleaveland
I never really liked children’s ministry.
And I hated children’s sermons.
Now, as the founder of Illustrated Children’s Ministry, that sounds a little odd. But let me explain.
First of all, when I say I hated children’s sermons, I should clarify that I hated the way they were usually done in churches I served and visited. So often the children’s sermon or children’s moment or Moment for the Young consisted of a prop, an object lesson, and something funny to elicit a hearty chuckle from the congregation.
Sometimes we were laughing at what little Joey said, since he always seemed to say the darnedest things. Or maybe we’d laugh at the funny way that little Suzie just kept playing with her dress. Whatever it was, the children’s sermon was often a form of entertainment for the adult congregation. Not to mention the fact that most of the time the children’s sermon included an object lesson that completely went over the heads of the children present.
So children’s sermons were not my favorite. And prior to having my own children (Caleb is 5 and Hannah is 2 months), little kids just kind of annoyed me. Children’s ministry seemed like the last thing I’d ever want to get involved with.
Yet, after serving in full-time parish ministry for about ten years, I now find myself drawing illustrated Bible stories geared toward children and working with an amazing team to create illustrated worship resources, children’s bulletins, children’s ministry curriculum and giant coloring posters for churches to use intergenerationally.
I owe many of my thoughts about children’s sermons to a discussion that took place one afternoon on the campus of Columbia Theological Seminary. I was sitting in a course with Rodger Nishioka. We were talking about children’s sermons. Rodger shared many of the same frustrations I had about children’s sermons, and it got to the point where he basically said, “Why does it have to be so hard? Just TELL them the story. You have a great story to tell – so just TELL IT TO THEM.”
Those words, “Tell the story,” stuck with me and informed the way I led the children’s sermons that I hated, when it was my turn. We didn’t need to come up with fancy object lessons that the children never understand, or make the whole time a little show or turn it into entertainment for the adults..
All we had to do was tell the story. So that’s what I did.
About the same time, I started to draw more, and was finding different ways to incorporate art into my ministry. One Sunday morning, I had a few minutes before worship, and I sketched out a quick picture to give to the kids after the children’s moment. Visuals were helpful for me to learn and process. This was also something tangible to give the children.
That’s what I started doing. I began creating small illustrations to give children after the children’s moment to help them remember the story. After a few months, parents told me how much they appreciated the drawings. They would hang them on the refrigerator, and their children would talk about the story throughout the week.
When I posted some drawings on Facebook, many of my friends said, “Hey, that’s a cool drawing. I’d pay a dollar or two for it.” Of course, I figured they were just saying that because they were my friends. At the end of the summer in 2015, I thought it might be interesting to see if anyone else was interested in buying these small illustrations for children’s sermons and children’s moments.
It turns out that people were. There was also an interest in children’s ministry resources that were fun, creative and had a different illustration style than the Precious Moments-style Bible drawings of the 80s and 90s. Illustrated Children’s Ministry also launched around the same time that adult coloring was becoming a huge cultural phenomenon. That was helpful when we decided to start selling large coloring posters for churches and communities.
It’s been amazing to see the response from people around the world. Illustrated Children’s Ministry sells products to families and churches across the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Greenland, and Singapore. We’ve even had a few orders from Jerusalem and the United Arab Emirates.
Adam Walker Cleaveland is the founder and illustrator of Illustrated Children’s Ministry, LLC. Adam has served churches in Idaho, California, Oregon and Illinois, and now spends most of his time drawing and working with his team at Illustrated Children’s Ministry. He lives in Skokie, IL with his wife and two children. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. To sign up on the email list and to claim a free sample packet, go to illustratedchildrensministry.com/freebie
For the next few weeks, the Advocate will be sharing the work of educators who are literally making the future of Christian Education. They have taken a great idea for a resource they couldn’t find, and made it happen themselves. Look for articles about card games, curriculum, puzzles, illustrated worship resources, and more.