Children's Minister and Mom

August 1st, 2011
The author and her daughter, Becca.

I have worked with children literally since I was a child myself. I’ve been a children’s minister, a pediatric chaplain, a nanny, a preschool teacher, a mentor and a friend. Now I’m all grown up and back in the saddle, having started a new position as a Children’s Minister. And this time, I’m a mother to boot! This is not my first rodeo in children’s ministry. But it is the first time I’ve been in the ring with my own child on my hip. Three weeks into my new role, I’m realizing that being a mother has clarified my priorities in children’s ministry, particularly when I think in terms of what I want for my own child in the program. Here are a few highlights:

1. I want my child to be safe.

Even though we don’t want to think about it, bad things can happen at church. And they do. But there are steps we can take to help ensure the safety of the kids in our care. I expect those to whom I entrust my child to be taking those measures, and to be doing so consistently, regardless of how much they like or trust the children’s ministry volunteers. Sometimes it’s a hassle; sometimes it’s uncomfortable; but if I as a parent don’t know that there is a thorough safety system in place that operates without exception, I can’t leave my child with you. At that moment, anything else a children’s ministry can offer my child becomes moot.

2. I want my child to be and to feel loved.

The crux of the Christian faith is that the God who knit us in our mother’s womb reaches out to us through Jesus to express God’s unconditional love for us. If this is the message we are trying to teach our children, we must first embody that love to them. That means simple things like knowing their names and teaching their Sunday school class. But it also means harder things like being patient as they are learning how to appropriately participate in worship or embracing the energy and impulsivity inherent in childhood.

3. I want my child to learn the stories of our faith.

Kids encounter and make sense of the world outside of their immediate experience through stories. Stories shape all of us, but young children, who are just learning that a world exists outside their own selves, are particularly sensitive to the stories we tell them. What better stories to help in the formation of a young one’s world view than those of the Christian faith? Though we tend to want to teach a life application point with every Bible story we tell, stories, in themselves, are powerful, particularly to the generation of children we are now nurturing in the church. Certainly we want to teach our kids to apply the truths of scripture to their lives, but sometimes it’s important to let the story just be the story. God’s story is a pretty amazing one, after all.

4. I want my child to love church.

These days, when we crest the hill just before our church and my 3-year-old daughter sees the church building, she points and happily yells, “Dere’s da chuch!” She would be thrilled to go to church every day if she could (and since her dad and I are both pastors, that’s not out of the question!). I would love for her to keep that enthusiasm as she gets older. So how do we keep older kids engaged? I suspect that sticking to the above priorities has a lot to do with it. Beyond that, we’ve got to pay close attention to our kids’ changing developmental and learning needs from infancy into adolescence. And that is why, at our first pre-teen event of the year, we will have an entire evening of banana games . . . because 5th and 6th graders NEED to be silly before they can go deep.

What do you want for the children of your congregation? How can staff and laity partner together to ensure that our children’s spiritual and emotional needs are being met? Look through the eyes of a parent for new insight.

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