“Going Deep” is not just a book Clint May has written on children growing with God, it also 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 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, and 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 who have impacted at least 5,000 persons. On those mission trips, children took 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 childrens’ lives and detailed those events in his book, “Going Deep: Taking Children into the Spiritual Depths with God.”
‘Children are the church today, not just the future’
But more importantly than those statistics, the life-changes he has seen have been astonishing, even to him.
“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.”
So many people will say that children and teens are the future of the church, but May states “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 to 2014, and four other churches before that. He said 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 of ministry, 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 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. 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,” she said.
Just because the children take more of a leadership 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,” Kennemur 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 recalled.
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 physically.
“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.”
Sarah 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% 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.
Discover, equip and release
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, May said. “When it came to testimony time, they would be crying and say, ‘I’ve never seen this before,’” May recalled.
“We just need to help them discover those gifts, equip them, and release them in ministry,” said May, who uses a chart to show a ten-step spiritual progression from salvation to the Great Commission.
Other steps include Lordship, brokenness, intercession, God speaks to and through them, boldness to evangelize, spiritual gifts, God’s will, and obedience through experience. May most recently earned a doctor of educational ministries degree in 2015, a master of arts in religious education in 1997, and also received an associate degree and a graduate diploma of theology, all from Southwestern.