This is part 2 of a 6 part series on When Children’s Church Goes Wrong: whose fault is it? Begin at Part 1 HERE!
When I asked my dad why he became a children’s pastor, he said, “To make a long story short, you and your brother started to go to children’s church; and, when you did, I wanted to go down there and see what y’all were being taught. There was a young man down there that – little did I know – wanted to rid himself of having to teach children’s church and… I sort of inherited it because of no interest by anyone else in the church. It became something important to me because I saw the effect that it was having on the children there.” My dad didn’t have lesson plans given to him. He created his own lessons; being a long-time Sunday school teacher of adults this wasn’t hard for him to do. He built inspiring sets, had puppetry, and even dressed me up as a giant cardboard Bible for the “Hallelujah Party” (aka Halloween). I’m pretty sure I’ll need hypnotherapy and psychedelics to remove that particular memory.
I think this is often how it happens. A person feels called into the ministry but not necessarily children’s ministry. Or, there’s simply a spot that needs to be filled. I know that, as for me, I kept nursery for many years and when my daughter came along there weren’t many volunteers for teachers. I believe in being part of the solution, not the problem. In other words, I wouldn’t complain that there were no teachers and then not volunteer. So, I found myself teaching my own daughter from Pre-K through 5th grade on Sunday nights. Don’t get me wrong, though, I felt a passion for it – a calling even. I had always volunteered in one capacity or another for the kids and youth. I’ve always liked teaching and talking about the Bible and love, love, love, children; so, this was truly a passionate thing for me and no burden at all. My only requirement, of which the pastor approved, was that I didn’t have to use the lesson plans that the church offered. The pastor knew my family well, knew my father’s teaching style. He understood that I would never deviate from the Bible, so he was fine with my creating my own lessons.
Why would I do this, you ask? Why would a person who was a single mom at the time and working full time, put upon her plate creating a captivating lesson plan each week for her students? I’ll tell you: because the kids could teach me about Noah’s ark and every parable known to man. They all knew them by heart but… not in their hearts. You know? They knew them like you’d know a song. They could repeat them back to me but couldn’t apply them to their lives. Further, they lost their excitement for the stories they had been taught.
Photo courtesy Robert McLaughlin, www.robertmclaughlinart.com
So, I found myself asking them about their days at school, at home, what sort of situations they were dealing with; and we found the Biblical answers for what to do when your friend decides to not be your friend anymore. We found the Biblical answers for why we must be bold and at times quiet. These things were not over the kids’ heads. And… I’m talking about first graders, here. I mean children! These were real-life scenarios that we were conquering through God’s word. Not to disparage such stories as Noah’s ark and the parting of the Red Sea but they weren’t what some may call a “rhema” word. They weren’t the Word that these children needed at the time. They didn’t need the same stories regurgitated to them in a circular fashion for five years in a row. They were hungering for meat and yet still being given milk. Sounds very adult-y, doesn’t it?
Not to digress, as you may already think that I have, but this leads me to a valuable point: When you have people “teaching” Sunday school and children’s church that are really more of a daycare or day school coordinator or administrator, they are approaching the children from a caretaking standpoint rather than a spiritual or ministerial standpoint. When this happens, you find that your children’s ministry is treating your child as if they are a student in school rather than a church member – a child of God. For instance, at school if your child is disruptive, not listening, invading someone’s personal space… they will probably find themselves in time out. If this happens repeatedly, they may be asked to be removed from the class. Have you noticed any of these things happening in your church? If it feels as if that’s wrong, that’s because it is.
“But Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.’” Matthew 19:14
If Christ says it, that settles it. So.. back to our regularly scheduled programming where we left off with Little Timmy and Little Molly having real world “adult-y” problems…
And…just as with a group of adults, a group of children have very different… complex personalities. Sure, I always had my core group of children that I could count on to be called to attention under my authority; but… there were other children that I had sometimes regularly and sometimes not. Those children were the ones that I prefer to refer to as “unpredictable.”
Unpredictable is not a bad word. It’s simply a word that means “not able to determine what will happen.” Some of these children cried at the tiniest thing because there was no continuity at home and slight changes terrified them. Some hit because they thought that was the only way to get something to change, however it ended up… they just wanted the situation changed. Some unpredictable children simply didn’t talk. They were shy. They were quiet. Some were quiet because they didn’t yet feel comfortable talking but once they felt part of the family you couldn’t shut them up. Other quiet children simply were observers. They preferred to keep to themselves yet were devouring everything around them.
Photo courtesy Robert McLaughlin, www.robertmclaughlinart.com
We don’t kick the grumpy out of church. We don’t kick the person who talks all through service out. We don’t kick out the prostitute, the drug addict, the gang banger. So….why are we kicking children out of church? Don’t we realize this is setting a precedent in their minds? Is that how God deals with us when we’re difficult?
As I write this, several children stand out in my head. One child was what some would label “a hitter.” I refuse to label children. I believe it’s a horrific practice. People today would never label a puppy “a bad, biting, puppy.” They would teach the puppy healthier behavior and simply call him a puppy; yet, in the same breath they’ll say, “That kid is a spoiled brat.” It’s awful.
Whenever a kid would do something unexpected this child would hit them. It only happened maybe twice with me. It apparently happened more often on Wednesday nights because that teacher asked me how I had stopped it. Simple, I called his mom and told her she had to come get him in order for me to protect the other children!
Or did I?🤔😏
Come back tomorrow for Part 3 (of 6) of When Children’s Church Goes Wrong: whose fault is it? when I’ll talk about our approach to students, the Church’s responsibility, and ours!
Read Part 3 HERE!