Samuel Phun Summit

"We have to teach the children how to share the gospel," said Pastor Samuel Phun, Senior Pastor of River Community Church. "I tell them from young that they are church planters." Photo by Thirst Collective.

Some 25 years ago, Pastor Samuel Phun founded River Community Church through the playground.  

During his quiet time with God one day, he felt God show him that if McDonald’s could bring in thousands of grandparents through their grandchildren, he should start by reaching out to children first.

So with the blessing of the Anglican church that Ps Samuel was serving in full-time at the time, he left to plant a new church – starting at the playground, with just his wife, Eve, and their two sons David and Daniel, then seven and five years old respectively.

“The children’s ministry is actually the whole church ministry.”

Today, there are more than 100 children at e-kidz, the children’s ministry at River Community Church. So valued are these children that they are served not just by children’s ministry workers, but the entire church of about 200.

“The children’s ministry is actually the whole church’s ministry,” shared Ps Samuel, 58, at the LoveSingapore Pastors’ Summit 2024 held this January.

Speaking on a panel with Pastor Eileen Toh, who heads the children’s ministry at City Harvest Church, he shared more about his motivation behind his work, why discipling children is so important and how parents can play a part.

Here is an edited excerpt of what he shared.

Majoring from the bottom up

In Judges 2:10, we see that after Joshua died, there arose another generation that did not know the Lord nor the works of the Lord.

There are two things here: One is the word “know” – the Hebrew word yâdaʻ – which means experiential knowing. If you don’t do biblical parenting, your children won’t know God. You will lose the generation. They don’t automatically come to God.

The other is this: Joel 2:28 and Acts 2:17 say that in the last days, God will pour out His Spirit on all flesh. God is raising up a generation of men and women, and this generation comes from two places: one is inside the church, the other one is outside the church.

“When I run the children’s programme, I tell the children I am looking at them to grow up and plant churches,” Ps Samuel said. All photos courtesy of River Community Church.

Inside the church, we need to major in biblical parenting and to see the children grow in the Lord. Outside the church, we must reach out to the children. God wants these children.

At the end of the day, only three things matter: In Deuteronomy 10:12, God says, “What do I ask from you but that you will fear the Lord, walk in all His ways and love Him, and serve the Lord with all your heart and soul?”

This is the fruit I want to see. That’s why I majored from bottom up. At the end of everything, I really want to see them go out and plant churches.

Training children up in God’s ways

The preaching of the Word of God can come in different ways for the children. You can have puppetry, talk shows, illusions, musicals, for example.

We have only about 25 second-generation Christians in the ministry. The hundreds that come weekly are from the community and most of them are very broken. Once they respond to the Lord, we bring them in to teach them the Word of God so they will grow in the fear the Lord.

Every youth in the ministry becomes what we call a brother’s keeper – he or she adopts a child and takes care of the child. 

I write my own curriculum. I have a six-year curriculum where the community kids come and we talk nothing but two things: the character of God and the importance of evangelism.

So, when the children leave anytime, they remember God’s character.

I have another set of curriculum of three years, which the kids go through two to three times in their six years of children’s ministry, and that flows into the youth ministry.

Basically, the whole curriculum is such that they will end up bearing the fruit of fearing God, loving, obeying and serving the Lord only.

Another thing I do is encourage our children in church to acquire a skill that will help them work and earn a living.

This is so that they can serve God and be able to support themselves financially at the same time. They can go overseas to pioneer a church anytime the Lord calls them and would be able to support themselves. And they can also reach out to the children at their workplace. 

Creating connections with parents

The key to the ministry is actually to build relationships with parents. We make sure that the entrance to the children’s church is welcoming. Everything is pink because it is a colour that creates a happy and calming atmosphere. 

As pink exudes a calm aura, the entrance of e-kidz is decked out in the colour to welcome both parents and children.

During Chinese New Year, we visit the parents, send them oranges, say, “Hello Aunty, how are you?” and tell them how well their children have grown.

November is key because we have what we call “B and B”: befriending and bridging.

The youth ministry leaders will go with the children’s ministry to visit the parents. They will introduce themselves to the parents and let them know that their child will be taken care of by the youth leader next year.

Every youth in the ministry becomes what we call a brother’s keeper – he or she adopts a child and takes care of the child. 

So, relationship, relationship.

Techniques can change, but not principles

As time passes, culture changes. When culture changes, techniques must change. We’re talking about creativity.

Last year, we had about 26 volunteers, including children’s ministry workers, who went to Tokyo Disneyland and Universal Studios Japan where they learnt Omotenashi (the Japanese mindset of hospitality centring around care rather than expectation).

When they came back, we changed the techniques. These must be better than Disneyland. That is excellence in our worship.

The children’s ministry team, led by Ps Samuel’s wife, Pastor Eve, is supported by the entire church in ministering to the children.

But although techniques change, principles cannot change. God is still holy.

If we want to teach the children to see and fear the Lord, we cannot use words like, “Oh my God.”  The Bible is very clear: “Do not use My name in vain (Exodus 20:7).”

When we play games with children and they step out of line, they have to go back and do it again. Discipline is important.

We are talking about embracing God’s character and God’s ways – “For my ways are not your ways” (Isaiah 55:8-9). Godly intentions must go with godly practices. I cannot say I want to win souls but use the ways of the world.

These are some of my core principles because I really want to see them serve the Lord. I want to see them obey, love the Lord and fear the Lord.  

The importance of biblical parenting

Biblical parenting is so important.

If you look at Deuteronomy 6, God told Moses to tell the people: “Whatever I’m telling you, do it now so that you will practice this in the Promised Land.”

That is what I call the preventive principle. You don’t fight fire. You’ve got to teach them and train them.

I find the big challenge in children’s ministry is Christian parents who find it hard to trust in God’s ways, but embrace the system of the world. That’s where it is hard for us to raise the child in the ways of the Lord.

All cell leaders and children’s church workers must go through a biblical parenting course before they serve, said Ps Samuel.

Parents can rock their children out of bed and say, “Don’t be late for school.” But it’s okay to be late for church.

The system of the world has seeped into the church. When the parents push the responsibility of parenting their child to the church, that is wrong. So we want to change that, to help them correct that. 

We really need to educate and teach the church so that the church and the parents are in partnership in raising the next generation. 

In our church, parents pay for all their children’s materials because we believe that without sowing, we will not reap. We teach the parents that principle too. 

Children’s ministry must be intentional

Children will grow. If you don’t major in the children, you will have problem youth.

The big challenge in children’s ministry is Christian parents who find it hard to trust in God’s ways, but embrace the system of the world.

Please take the children’s ministry seriously. We must be intentional. Start training them from young to fear God, love and obey God and serve God (Deuteronomy 10:12).

We have to teach the children how to share the Gospel. When I run the children’s programme, I tell the children that I am looking at them to grow up and plant churches.  

About 90% of our church – from youngest to oldest – know how to share the Gospel. If they don’t, I have failed. Jesus basically said: “Go and make disciples.” How would we make disciples if we don’t share the Gospel?

My last encouragement is this: The percentage of the population in Singapore who are 14 years old and below is almost equal to the percentage of the population that are Christians.

If that percentage of Christians reach out to one child over 365 days, the whole island will be saturated with the Gospel of Jesus Christ within a year.

The Word of God says: “So shall be my word that go forth and not return back empty” (Isaiah 55:11).

This is an edited excerpt from a Q&A segment at the LoveSingapore’s Pastors Summit in January 2024.


“Don’t limit God”: Children’s pastor goes to the highways and the byways to bring young ones to the Lord

What this gangster-turned-pastor saw in his late father’s secret cabinet moved him to tears

7 key principles of biblical parenting: Josh McDowell



About the author

Peck Sim

Peck Sim is a former journalist, event producer and product manager who thankfully found the answer for her wonderings and a home for her wanderings. She now writes for Salt&Light and also handles communications for LoveSingapore.