Children’s ministry: a true story

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I have been involved in Children’s Ministry since I was seventeen years old. I’ve done it all. From serving in nursery all the way to youth, for the past eighteen years, you name it, I’ve done it.  You might be thinking, “Well, that’s probably because you LOVE children – can’t get enough of them” Let me tell you something…you could not be more wrong. I never considered myself a “kid person” and certainly not a baby lover. I’m not one that gushes over babies or jumped at the chance to babysit when I was a younger girl.

When I started attending church, I wanted to get involved. I wanted to serve. I think it’s important to serve and give back, not just sit in service and be a lump on a log. Yes, I play an instrument, but I didn’t ever feel like I would be a good fit on the worship team.  I noticed early on that worship team people are really pretty. I mean really, how fair is that, God? You give them voices of angels, and musical talent, AND the gorgeous face? Yeesh! But I suppose that’s how you weed them out. The pretty people go to worship teams. The friendly grandmas who hug like they mean it, and the pretty people who don’t have musical talent go to the hospitality/greeting/usher team. And the rest…well, especially at a younger age, you get to go to children’s ministry.

I’m kidding.

Before I continue, for those of you who don’t know me, I have an extremely sarcastic sense of humor. So, I feel the need to add the spoiler alert now so you don’t think I’m being too harsh. I LOVE children’s ministry now.

However, this was not always the case. I get it. I used to be you. When I first started at a church (not that we have been to too many, as we like to stay at our churches long term), I always wanted to figure out who was in charge of Sunday School so I could avoid them every Sunday. If I saw them coming to greet me, I would hide in the bathroom if I had to. Why? Because, children’s ministry is always understaffed and always a “great place to start” (so they all tell me). Add to that, I never considered myself a kid person.

People think that you need to be a kid person to serve in Children’s church. Well let me tell you something, you don’t. In fact, all the kid people probably went on to become professional teachers, or run day homes, or found another Monday to Friday, 8-5pm paying position to work with kids. So, guess what? When it comes to another day where you can spend a whole morning with a variety of ages and do it for free, fat chance. Those “kids people” are serving in the café, or the sound booth, or on the prayer team.  Heck, they probably went and learned out how to play an instrument just to join the worship team and avoid Sunday School! How do I know? While I may not consider myself a “kid” person, I’m a “teen” person. My background is teaching high school before I had my own kids. Back in those days, I used to serve in the youth ministry because they thought, “Oh! She’s a high school teacher! She loves teens! She should do youth!” Don’t get me wrong, I love teens, but after working full days from Monday to Friday, the last thing I wanted to do was give up my weekend and do youth ministry. So I understand the teachers out there who would avoid Sunday School to the point of learning to play the recorder professionally to join the worship team.

I’ve had more frustrated years being in children’s ministry than not. It wasn’t until I came to my present church which we have attended for three years now that I truly understand the heart of this ministry. If Jesus was a 5’3, blond woman, He would be my Family Ministries Pastor. I think that woman is a saint. Her heart for children, families, and the desire to see Sunday School be a place of substance and not childcare is inspiring. For someone who spent their first 15 years of Children’s ministry only because there was always a need, I never thought I would ever LOVE it. I thought I would just serve in the gap until I died. Literally.

I’ve never seen a church that had people lining up to teach Sunday School. This ministry, in my opinion, is the most understaffed ministry in most churches, if not all.  I totally get it. Kids are tough! There are so many days where we are wondering how much we love our own children, let alone be in a room full of other people’s kids, with another helper who probably wants to be there as much as you do, teach these kids about Jesus, look ridiculous as you sing songs that you can’t hold a tune to (or else you would be on the worship team), do actions to the song that you don’t know how to, then feed them a snack that you KNOW will end up on the floor or all over themselves, and do crafts you know you are probably going to do 85% of, and God forbid the craft include glitter. You don’t understand at first, how just ninety minutes once a week is actually impactful and worth investing in when it costs your precious time and weekend. I get it. At first glance, and for the first 15 years, I thought children’s ministry was the most unrewarding, demanding, exhausting and irritating ministry to be a part of…let alone LEAD!

When I first attended my current church, I literally held my breath as I checked my boys in the first time, secretly praying that I could  be invisible so I wouldn’t have to have a conversation with the children’s pastor…lest she find out that I’m a Sunday School veteran and recruit me. As it is with most things, the more you want to run, God seems to find a humorous way of opening a door right in front of your face when you think you’ve outrun Him.

It eventually came down to me knowing that I could serve, they needed help, and there was no good reason not to participate. So, after six months of adjustment and settling into the new church, I asked which area was most needed and where I could start serving. I regretted my offer the moment she said it was the toddler class. TODDLERS! Well heck, they’re almost as bad as glitter! They are like a walking, talking, crying, balls of glitter…

Not wanting to be a big baby, I just smiled and accepted my post. What illuminated the fact that I was the worst fit for this classroom, was that my pastor paired me up with Mary Poppins. Legit.  This lady was like a toddler whisperer. She was so kind, gentle, patient and her tone like that of an angel…an angel that probably worked in toddlers ministry up in heaven.  Not me. Every week, I felt like a fish out of water. I wondered quietly, if at the end of every Sunday when Mary Poppins would say, “You did great! Thanks for serving” she was then going to our pastor and asking if I really did clear my security check and fit to work with little ones.  I’m sure it wasn’t that bad. It just felt that way because I didn’t want to be there.

Fast forward a year, I was asked to LEAD the toddler team! I was stunned. Why would they want Shrek when they have Mary Poppins??? But, my sense of obedience to the Lord and my heart’s desire to serve overpowered my natural unction to scream “NO!”…and I started to lead the team, and serve every Sunday.

Fast forward another year, I love my team, I love those kids, and every week, I look forward to greeting the families signing in their children, giving a high five that 4 year old, which a year or two ago, I was petitioning for children Velcro suits and a Velcro wall so I could stick him there when he cried. When my little toddlers would graduate out of my class into the next, I would actually cry. CRY! I missed them. I realized how much they blessed me.

Here’s the thing about serving in children’s ministry that many people overlook. It’s NOT ABOUT US! It’s about them. They are so hungry to know Jesus. They are so eager to learn and innocent to the Word of God. There’s a purity and truth about these kids, that at the end of the day, I always learn more from them, and see so much of the heart of God in each one of them, that I wonder who made the bigger impact in class. I’m almost certain that they did.

My toddlers taught me the JOY in serving Jesus. They don’t care how silly you look; in fact, the sillier the better. They just love with open arms, big smiles, and sticky hands! Just like Jesus…

When we first started, it was hard to get the little ones to settle because there were so few consistent works. Most people only wanted to serve once  a month or once every six weeks. I’m not judging. I get it. I started there too, and I understand that time is precious and you just want to sit sometimes. That’s okay. But, when my team started committing to twice a month or every other week, my class settled. The kids had more fun, and in return, the leaders had more fun. The kids got to know the leaders, they were familiar and comfortable when they were dropped off because they knew our team. People, you have no idea how far that goes for the parents dropping their kids off. If you’ve ever had a screamer, you understand.  When your child is happy to go off into Sunday School and you know they’re being loved, taught, prayed over, cared for…you know your church experience is totally different.

This past year, stepping into a leadership role, one of the privileges is hearing the testimonies of how many parents express their gratitude to so many different leaders. When their child comes home EXCITED about God, or learning a memory verse, or grasping a biblical truth for themselves, the parents are moved and blessed. Children’s church should never be child care. Children’s church should always be treated with as much weight as what goes on in the adult service. I am blessed to be in a church who values this ministry, who’s senior leadership supports what goes on in the back with the kids, to have a senior pastor come in before services and prays in the rooms where the kids will be and even serve in the summer to teach these kids (and for a church our size, that is the first I’ve ever seen or heard of it happening), to have a children’s pastor who encourages and desires to see each child, regardless of age, be a powerhouse in prayer, the working of miracles and a testimony of God’s goodness to us.

For those of you who are reading this and already serving in children’s ministry, I want to encourage you and thank you. It is not always an easy go. You may not always see the fruit of the seeds you sow. Dig in, stand firm, and keep going. You ARE making an impact. What you do is important. I promise. Thank you for giving generously of your time, your heart, and your efforts. Whether you serve once a month or every week, you matter, you count, you encourage your leaders…because Children’s Ministry is typically understaffed.

It took the better part of 16 years, but now, I’m excited to put on my bright green shirt every Sunday morning, step into those rooms, and look forward to each kid that comes in.  Sometimes, to us, we forget that a high five, a hug, a smile, a remembrance of their name and something that they told you last week, is not just casual Sunday “work”…it’s not about us…to them, it’s a high five, a hug, a conversation with Jesus…It’s about them. So, let the little children come…and challenge yourself to be the Jesus that receive them.

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” – Matthew 19:14

 

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