Start this 6 part series HERE or refresh yourself on the last article.
When I taught children a lot more than I do now, I used to often say, “God sends them to us perfect. It’s our job not to screw them up.”
So, when parents tell me things such as…
“My kiddo was just asked to not come back to church next Sunday as punishment for behavior…this is the third church we’ve been to. We’ll try again the next Sunday, but this momma is afraid we might be three strikes and we’re out.”
“I was dismayed today to have it reported that a nursery volunteer told a child ’you’re a bad boy’ in response to something he did. The church has such a profound influence on a child’s identity formation- we need to take care to reach children that they are beloved bearers of Christ’s image.”
it breaks my heart.
When I asked if I should write on this topic, parents said…
“Yes! I honestly can’t even take my children to church at times because they are trauma kids and need help. But they have been told they were bad, they’ve been put in time out, and I’ve been told that I’m not a good mom and don’t have control over my kids… I know they are tough. I live with them. I don’t need them to be hurt at church.”
“Definitely! I have that kid, and now when I serve in children’s ministry, I seek out ’that kid’ and their mom, and try to encourage them and love them both!! I also found that the teacher who I initially felt was tough on my kid turned out to be EXACTLY what he needed.”
I want to be clear about something though: all throughout the responses and emails I’ve received, the parents have been understanding! They’ve been understanding about a lack of volunteers, a lack of training, and more. No parent came across angry or unforgiving. Rather they came across to me as simply wanting a solution, and to be a part of it at that! Occasionally, they were clearly hurting, frustrated, confused, or fearful.
So…how do we fix this?
Well, first – as with any problem , a great part of the solution lies in communication. Just because it’s church, doesn’t mean you just hand off your child as you would with maybe their grandparents. Just as if you were interviewing a babysitter or checking out schools for your little one you need to know the situation they are walking into. It’s OK to ask questions. It’s OK to sit in the back of the classroom and see the way they facilitate their class. It can be frustrating to experience the way a ministry may facilitate discipline, celebration, worship,… any list of things if you are not first aware of how they will be doing that, if you’re not already prepared.
As an example:
If you know that your little Johnny gets out of hand when excited then you need to be his advocate and be proactive. Don’t set him up for failure. If you know that your children’s ministry has exciting worship before their lesson, then maybe you go to children’s church during praise and worship and sit by him simply to teach him how to control himself and then wind down for the lesson…and then you leave. Alternatively, maybe you keep him with you wherever you are until the lesson starts and then you escort him to children’s church.
If you know that your children’s minister calls people out by name and sends them to timeout but your child has experienced a past trauma that would be revisited or exacerbated by this, then speak privately with your minister and come up with a plan beforehand. Hit it off at the pass!
These were just some of the responses that I received from ministers when I asked them “What does your department consider a ‘problem’ that must be addressed immediately with parents?”
“Anything that a child brings up about their home life that could be harmful. That would be first and foremost. If a child is injured I would bring that up immediately with a parent. If a child wants to be baptized and has questions about Jesus or God, I would always pull the parent to the side and have a conversation with them. I never addressed behavior [with a parent] unless they harmed another child.”
“A ‘problem’ would be anything that is keeping the department or class from running smoothly. If a child were to hit, kick,bite, cause distraction, harm Church property or others, defy leadership. Any of these things happen, parents are notified.”
“One of the few times I had problems with behavior was if after many times of trying to redirect a child who was unruly (fighting, yelling out, being sexually inappropriate, cussing) I would send for their parents or if it was one of my inner city kids, I would get the superintendent. One instance I was able to turn around was a child who I suspected was dyslexic. The kids were teasing him. So I just rewrote everything on the chalk board for the class. No one could read it but the said child. Victory for him! Understanding and empathy for the other children [goes a long way].”
Do you see how very different all three of those answers were? Different churches, different ministries, different ministers will respond and direct differently! You need to know who and what you’re dealing with so you can be proactive.
“The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit. Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part…But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it…Yes, there are many parts, but only one body….while the more honorable parts do not require this special care. So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad.” 1 Corinthians 12:12-14, 18, 20, 24-26 NLT
Second, you have to be understanding of your church’s limitations just as you are their positive aspects. Some churches are blessed with an over-abundance of volunteers in every department of ministry. Others are not. Did you know that children’s ministry needs the most volunteers yet typically is the very ministry that has the very least people that volunteer for it? Further, with things being the way that they are in the world now, churches find themselves having to go to the extra expense of paying for background checks. That cost alone can limit them to the amount of volunteers they can afford. Your simple offer to pay for your own background check could nullify that. Also, while there are many that love children and may be parents themselves, they may have not been given any training in regard to the teaching or caring of others’ children outside of or within a church setting…for whatever reason. If there has been no training offered, you should know that before your child has joined children’s church. If you have a problem with that, then you have some options: 1) you can volunteer yourself; 2) you can spearhead getting training brought to your church’s children’s ministry; or 3) you can take your chances knowing that or keep your child out.
When I asked ministers “Are all of your volunteers trained? Some? If so, how?” these were just some of the responses I received:
“[Our] churches do not have a lot of money for training and materials. We offer them the best training possible which is to tell them what we expect in each class/service. If something were to happen, we are to be alerted as the leaders of the department, and then we talk to the Parents.”
“All volunteers are trained before being placed in a classroom. Training takes place monthly for new team members and is required for all team members because it is held monthly in a team rally situation.”
“We took classes taught by church for training. I had an advantage in that I had my AA degree in child education and additional classes in special needs children.” Not all ministries have the luxury of having formally trained teachers, obviously.
Lastly, you must be an active participant. You can’t treat children’s ministry as if it’s a babysitting service and then be disappointed, upset, or angry when you don’t get the results you’re hoping for (e.g., your child knowing the Bible, knowing Christ, understanding repentance, your child ultimately accepting Christ). Babysitters don’t do anything other than assure that your child is safe while you’re away. If you treat it all as babysitting, then you should expect to get called out of church. After all, you wouldn’t expect your babysitter to discipline your child would you? If you treat them as a babysitting service, you would be shocked and astounded if you came to pick up your child and your child suddenly knew how to read a book.
You know…you may feel like they want to get your kids and to get rid of you at the door. If you feel that way, that’s probably not what’s going on. Teachers and ministers get in a zone just like the players of a game do. Seriously! They get totally focused on their “game plan” and are anxious to initiate it. So, don’t be afraid to ask, “How can I get involved?” Because just as you’re getting different responses here, you may get a very different response from your children’s minister!
When I asked “What do you think parents can do to be most beneficial overall and for their children specifically, in regard to their relationship with your children’s ministry?” These were some responses I received…
“The most important thing a parent can do is serve in kids ministry. Especially if they have a child in kids ministry. It helps them [that] you sweat and it’s not a babysitting service and opens up communication about their children’s faith. Children’s ministry is one of the most important ministries in a church and will help promote church growth if done correctly and parents are a big part of this.”
“Talking positively about the teachers. Calling them Ms. or Mr., not their first names. Speaking with parents separate from the classroom. No one needs to hear [about situations] but those involved. Not calling out or speaking about the issue in front of [a] child and [the] whole class. Talk about [the] problem, not [the] child, and without naming names!”
“In our department, we had parents who used us as babysitters. If they would see us as much more than that. We are pouring into the souls of their children for the sake of the Kingdom. If parents could put our classes and services on the top of their priority list, ensure their students are in class on time and as often as classes or an event are held, it only helps. If parents could remind students of how they should behave that would be great. If parents would communicate with leadership and let them know about any special needs the student has, that would be great! As volunteers freely give up their time to serve in the ministry, it is our hope that children and students will have a great time so parents can focus on their own class/service.”
No. You need to treat them and respect them for what they are – educators. They are educating your children on the very most important thing they’ll ever need to know in life – God and His will. Do you recall at the beginning of this series where I lined out how “kids” in the Bible learned?
In Christ’s time, a Jewish child was sent to school within the fifth or sixth year of his life. Until they were ten, the Bible was their one text book. From the ages of ten to fifteen, traditional law was their main subject. After the age of fifteen, they studied theology as it was taught in the Talmud. The Talmud is the record of rabbinic teachings that spans a period of about six hundred years… The rabbinic teachings of the Talmud explain in great detail how the commandments of the Torah are to be carried out.
If with school you get progress reports, you meet with the teacher, you assure that they are behaving properly, you ask them what they learned that day…why would you not do that and more for their lessons on God, His Son, and the Holy Spirit? We are talking about their entire life on this planet and eternity!
Somewhere along the line we all get our priorities messed up, out of alignment, out of order. Sometimes our churches do. After all, they’re ran by us – deficient humans. Sometimes Churches get distracted by trying to entertain the children, trying to hem up the children, trying to grow the ministry. So too, though, do we parents get messed up and begin to treat children’s ministry as if it’s somehow less important than school, a reprieve from parenting for a couple of hours, not our responsibility.
So, today take responsibility for yours! If you feel like your children are being entertained rather than ministered, speak up. Do so with respect and patience; because these folks are working hard for your children.
You’d be surprised what you can accomplish when you are directed by the Holy Spirit and speak as Christ would. After all, complaints are usually filed away and put in one of two boxes in our minds: 1) “I can’t let it bother me”; or 2) the box of insecurities. When spoken to with suggestions and concerns, offers of assistance and encouragement, those words are often put into boxes like: 1) “That’s someone who’s on my side. I can work with them.” 2) “Maybe that’s who God is sending me to help me.” 3) “I see there’s an area I need to work on; and, I’m okay with that.”
Lastly, I would challenge you to pray for your children’s ministers and teachers. Are you praying for our president? Your governor? Your boss? Your pastor? You better be! And, if you are, then shouldn’t you be praying for all of those same people that influence your children’s lives?
Thank you for staying with me throughout this series. I pray that God has brought hope and forgiveness to parents. I pray that God has brought insight to teachers and ministers. Above all, I pray that this series is able to change the outcome of even just one of His children and the path that they take for His kingdom.
Do you want to do more with your children? You might start here: Focus on the Family’s Summer Adventure Kit! It’s completely free (but you can always donate) and is a great way for you to take an active part in the Biblical education of your children in a very fun way.
Do you need some more encouragement on a very real and specific thing you and your child(ren) are going through? I encourage you to check out Focus on the Family’s parenting website. They cover a variety of topics from newborn on up. To learn more about them CLICK HERE.
“Focus on the Family is a global Christian ministry dedicated to helping families thrive. We provide help and resources for couples to build healthy marriages that reflect God’s design, and for parents to raise their children according to morals and values grounded in biblical principles.”
STAY TUNED: We’re on vacation this week but because so many of you have responded so well to this series, when I return home, I’m going to be doing a giveaway! Follow my blog, Facebook page, Twitter account, and on Instagram and you’ll never miss a giveaway!