Editor’s note: Sunday, Sept. 18, is Children’s Missions Day in the Southern Baptist Convention.
FORT WORTH, Texas (BP) – “Going Deep” is not just a book Clint May has written on children growing with God. It has been his driving vision for 20 years for children to share their Christian faith through hands-on experience in mission trips, evangelism, and other ministries.
“There is no ‘baby Holy Spirit’ for children and a different ‘adult Holy Spirit’ for adults,” said May, a four-time graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and president of Leaders In Training (LIT) Ministries, which specializes in discipling children in ministry. Adults often underestimate the ability for preteens to participate in ministries ordinarily done by adults and teenagers, May said. He was one of those adults until he personally saw preteens ministering.
Now, however, May has been on 32 mission trips with 3,500 preteens and leaders – trips that have impacted at least 5,000 people. May has seen children take on a substantial portion of the leadership, including administration, evangelism, counseling, preaching,] and worship. He has counted more than 1,400 professions of faith from those trips. Over the years, he has documented how the Spirit of God works in children’s lives, and detailed those events in his book, Going Deep: Taking Children into the Spiritual Depths with God.
But more important than the statistics are the lives changed. “What I found was that at salvation, there is a new identity for them,” May said. “The children are born again, sealed by the Holy Spirit; they’re gifted for works of ministry. … Children are the church today, not just the future.”
May has worked in children’s ministry for 32 years, including children’s pastor at Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth from 2002-2014, and four other churches before that. Recruiting, training and releasing children to minister has become his life’s mission.
Richard Ross, senior professor of student ministry in the Jack D. Terry School of Educational Ministries at Southwestern, has seen results in the children of Wedgwood, where Ross is a member. Ross wrote the foreword of May’s book, saying he has had a “front-row seat” to May’s ministry since 2002.
Ross, who has served Southern Baptists for more than 50 years, explained he has “been watching ministry and nowhere in the Southern Baptist Convention have I seen this kind of confidence in children to do missions and evangelism,” Ross said of the training and results from the Leaders In Training ministry and the accompanying Empowering the Next Generation (ETNG) training.
Karen Kennemur, professor of children’s ministry and Bessie Fleming Chair of Childhood Education at Southwestern, has participated in several mission trips using May’s material and said she has “absolutely” seen the transformation that takes place in preteens. “It’s fascinating to watch,” she said. “Students are excited about the LIT ministry, the attendance is incredible, you have buy-in from the parents, and you have more adults who want to go on the LIT mission trips than any other trip.”
Just because the children take more of a leadership role does not mean that the adults are not a vital part, Kennemur added. The training provided by the adults is necessary so that the preteens are prepared when they lead. “When a child shares the Gospel with another child, an adult is there to make sure that the other child is ready to become a Christian,” she said.
May’s first preteen mission trip was in 2004, when he trained children to lead the worship songs, teach an evangelistic Bible study and counsel lost children. “When I shared with my church staff what I was going to do, they thought I had lost my mind,” May said.
Following the successful mission trip, May continued to develop the training materials and document the results from the mission trips through video and audio recordings and written testimonies from the participants, including a fifth grader named Sarah.
In 2009, May took a preteen mission trip to San Marcos, Texas, when several team members became ill. Sarah overcame her fears of speaking which made her so nervous she was literally shaking. “She just prayed, ‘God, I cannot do this by myself. This is all you,’” May recalled. At that point, May remembered she said, “I don’t know exactly what I said. I just knew that He had given me a calling to go and teach.” She not only filled in the gap on the mission trip, but when she went home, she and others hosted a Bible club at a park in her neighborhood, leading four children to Christ.
“When the church becomes a place where we equip the saints and train them, there is a confidence that they can go into the world and accomplish great things for the Lord,” May said.
May’s zeal for children’s ministry soared after attending the 4/14 Window Global Summit in Bangkok, Thailand, in 2013. May heard that 70 percent of people who come to Christ are between ages 4 and 14. According to Acts 1:8, May said, those preteens are commissioned to be God’s witnesses.
In 2015, May developed the 90-page ETNG manual, which has been used in a two-day training throughout the United States. In 2019, he recorded an abbreviated version of the training, which was used in Zambia, Africa, and quickly spread to 900 leaders in nine different countries. Following the COVID-19 pandemic, May said the online training has been taught in Pakistan and in India, where it has spread to an estimated 2,000 churches.
The training material teaches that children have the Holy Spirit and adults need to be like Eli who encouraged Samuel to hear directly from God. “We need to encourage adults to let God speak to and through the children,” May said.
Adults are deeply moved when they see God moving through the children. “When it came to testimony time, they would be crying and say, ‘I’ve never seen this before,’” he said.
“We just need to help them discover those gifts, equip them, and release them in ministry.”