Memorial children’s ministry bridges gap
JEFFERSON CITY – Working for the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) as naturalists (those versed in natural history such as zoology or botany), George and Jan Syrigos were not planning on being called to children’s ministry.
Day to day they had the opportunity to teach children and their families about a variety of different nature topics – from bats and badgers to snakes and salamanders. They weren’t aware that God was using this experience to prepare them to serve Him in providing for the spiritual growth of the children and parents of Memorial Baptist Church here.
With both of them performing in school assemblies, they traveled together a lot. Jan released “CritterRock,” which won the Parent’s Choiceâ award in 1999 and an Emmy Award in 2002. “CritterRock” is an original children’s album and music video for the MDC.
As they traveled together, George taught children about nature centers and performed in other special events. Their love for children was evident in all they did, and considering they were both sharing one position as state employees with each working half of the week they were able to take turns staying at home to raise their own daughter, Sophia, from the time she was born.
The two were members of Memorial for about one year when Pastor Ken Lumley made an announcement.
“(He) announced that the church’s next hire would be a children’s minister,” George Syrigos said. “We both looked at each other at that moment like ‘whoa…could that be for us?’ As soon as we got in the car – excited, nervous, and even afraid – we prayed together, talked it over with our small group and mentors, and then decided to apply as a job-share team and watch to see what doors opened.”
After completing a lengthy and thorough application and interview process with the church, with each stage of the process bringing more confirmation to the hearts of the couple, they finally reached the last leg of the whole process which ended with a question and answer session at a church-wide business meeting.
“Our final and humbling confirmation was a 100 percent vote, and a line of prayerful people coming over and speaking words of comfort and faith to us, welcoming us over,” the couple said.
Their strategy for children’s ministry is said to be unique.
“We work from the premise that parents are the primary spiritual nurturers of their children,” they explained. “Our vision is to support and model for parents ways to engage spiritually with their children.”
Studying various children’s programs led them to create the mid-week program LifeLine, which begins with an inter-generational ministry. This involves more than one generation engaged in worshiping in the same room.
“There are few places in our culture where the generations are interacting with one another in a meaningful way,” they said. “We wanted to invite parents to join in the spiritual experiences and Bible training of their children.”
They then go into “The Workshop Rotation Model,” an idea developed by Melissa Armstrong-Hansche and Neil MacQueen in the 1990s. Instead of learning a new topic or perhaps a new verse each week, the Syrigos choose a theme and Scripture to explore in four or five different ways over a four- to five-week period. Right now their theme is “the armor of God.” There are also different workshops on the topic and families attend one workshop each week – each focusing on the same theme, but learning it in different ways. The different workshops include drama, games, computers and cooking.
“We find that this rotational method coupled with a multi-generational format encourages interaction among families where primary spiritual nourishment occurs,” they said. “Retention of Scripture and biblical lessons are increased with repetition and use of multiple learning styles. Besides all that, it’s lots of fun for everyone.”
Although George Syrigos, being of Greek heritage, said that he doesn’t believe it plays a role in why or how he does things the way he does, it is hard to think that his outgoing and childlike heart isn’t partly a result of his Greek background.
“We all have things that help shape us and give us our identity, and I do still enjoy reading the Bible in the original Greek text, although I still have to look up certain words to get their full meaning,” he said.
They weren’t expecting or even looking to become involved in the children’s ministry at Memorial, but although they didn’t plan on it, the Lord had a plan and He is using the Syrigos in mighty ways.
“We’ve always had a heart for children, and have been working with them most of our 21-year marriage,” they said. “We’ve volunteered, worked on church camp staffs and served kids in the conservation area. Being with kids, educating and doing things on their behalf is just a part of who we are.
“It seems like everywhere we are we find ourselves swooping up a kid for a hug, bending down to wipe a snotty nose or listening intently to life’s tales from a kid’s perspective.”
As a guideline in ministry, George and Jan claim the verse in Deuteronomy 32:2, which says: “Let my teaching fall on you like rain; Let my speech settle like dew. Let my words fall like rain on tender grass, like showers on young plants.”
“Children are pliable, expressive and generally unafraid to develop a relationship with God,” they said. “They are shining examples of who we are becoming.”