One of my passions as a missionary wife is teaching children. I was excited about my first opportunity to do so, but I wanted to ease into it. I went with my husband to our first meeting in a new village work to scope the situation out first. As the singing began, children came in and out of the warm, crowded school classroom we met in. Toddlers wondered about up front, and babies crawled around on the floor. None of them knew how they were “supposed” to behave during a service, and nothing changed when my husband got up to preach. There was no way anyone was going to pay attention, so I hopped up, herded the children out, and found an extra room for an impromptu lesson. My first children’s ministry had begun! No children’s director was there to tell me what to do. I had no curriculum and no trained monitors. My only teammate present was the one preaching to the adults at that very moment.
At least the children had a babysitter so the adults could listen without distraction, right? Wrong!
Children’s ministry is just that…MINISTRY. It is more than babysitting, and we should approach our position as children’s workers with as much zeal as the pastor approaches the pulpit on a Sunday morning.
Since the time we started that first work, I have worked with many children and trained other children’s workers. I have marched around a tree in the village pretending it was Jericho, burned smelly candles to make us think of incense, turned water into juice with Kool-Aid powder, and done a demonstration with fire that I won’t repeat again. (Water was on hand, but my helper wasn’t in a hurry to use it.) It has been a fun ride, and I have been so blessed. As with all aspects of life and ministry, I have learned a lot along the way.
• LOVE for the Lord and next for the children has to be my motivation. There are times I have wanted to pull my hair out, but as my own children came along, I kept thinking, how would I want someone to treat my child when I’m not around? We may be the ONLY positive role models some of these children have. The ones acting the worst are usually the most neglected ones starving for affection and love. Sometimes, they may not have even been told what they are doing is wrong. Instead of yanking them around and putting them in their place, my first attempt is to pat them on the head and redirect them with a smile on my face. There are times I may have to be firm, but I have learned to lighten up if the child is not being overly disruptive or hurting others. One of our best children’s workers in our current church LOVES the children. You can see it when she teaches. She makes eye contact, grins, calls the children by name, and keeps her cool when they are rowdy. Outside of class, she asks them about their family, visits their homes, cares if they are sick, and tells them she missed them at church. The love in her heart literally bubbles out when she interacts with the children. It’s not surprising that she is one of the most effective and favorite teachers. When all else fails and we just don’t feel the love, we have to remember we are doing it for the Lord first. Loving him means we must CHOOSE to love the things he did. Remember how he blessed the children? They may have snotty noses, dirty clothes, or wet bottoms. They might act like hooligans. Their parents may not be faithful church attendees or financial supporters. WE LOVE THEM ANYWAY! Even if we get nothing in return, we love!
• PRAYER and PREPARATION. I am the type that can walk into a children’s classroom and kind of “wing it.” I did that in the early days of our ministry when I had so much going on. I have learned the hard way that this method kept me from depending on the Lord. Instead of poring over my lesson making sure every detail was arranged, and asking the Lord’s will, I would walk in and do what I felt like. I depended on ME! I need the Lord’s help to put His Word in their little hearts. I need His calming presence in the classroom so they can receive and understand His Word. If I say they are “precious in his sight,” I must treat them as if they are by putting time, effort, and prayer into them before ever stepping foot into the classroom. I should prepare to the best of my ability and pray that He will do something mighty through the words I say.
• CALL them to salvation! Talk about being saved every week in terms they can understand. Good morals won’t change them. Salvation will. God can and will save adults, but He can also keep our little ones from a world of heartache if we get them while their hearts are still tender.
• BE FUN! If your class is always rowdy, maybe your lesson is BORING! Read books, get help from others; do something to make your stuff interesting. Many behavioral problems can be solved by changing the teaching. (I am not saying change the message but consider your methods.) Children need to wiggle. They retain more when they can see and participate. Use visuals. Play review games. Involve the children in the lesson by making them repeat key phrases or act out certain parts of the story. Be creative. Vary your techniques. I bore my own self with the same tactics all the time, so I know the children would also be bored. Available resources will vary all over the world, but find something that works where you serve. Whether you use the latest technology or chalk and a chalkboard, whether you are in a state of the art building or in a village under a mango tree, find an interesting way to present Biblical truths. Be enthusiastic and find some way to connect. Get their interest and BOOM-drive your spiritual point home into their hearts to stay.
• ENCOURAGE SCRIPTURE MEMORIZATION! Your time may be limited in class, but somehow, some way get the verses into their hearts. Make this fun by repeating the verse in funny voices, using games, or illustrating the verse. You may wish to reward them for learning assigned verses at home. The verses I learned as a child are still in my heart. I can’t retain what I am learning now as well as I retain verses I learned as a child. Help them “hide God’s Word,” in their hearts. They are going to need it in the difficult years to come.
• TRAIN others! My lack of proper preparation in the beginning hindered me from training others to work with me in children’s ministry. It seems harder at first to train others. You have to plan well in advance and know where you are headed on a Sunday morning before you can pull someone alongside of you to run the program with you. You have to meet with that person and assign them a task well in advance so that they can be prepared as well. Start the person with small tasks first like singing a song or teaching a verse. The wonderful thing about discipleship (http://www.womenbehindthescenes.com/2015/05/15/behind-the-scenes-discipleship/) is that you can take the time you are already spending with someone to give them some of this practical training. You or your children will get sick one day, and you will miss a service. You will not always be at that church. Who will be able to teach in your place if you have trained no one? There is no better way for your helpers to learn the Word than to teach it themselves.
• BE FAITHFUL. In children’s ministry the results may not be seen immediately, but they will come. The young lady (mentioned above) that is now one of our best children’s teachers grew up in our children’s ministry. She is now a medical student at the university. It may take a long time, but some of your most solid church members will be the children that came through your children’s ministry. Even the children who may not stick around will carry something away with them. I often remember little snippets of things I learned growing up in church. Sometimes I can hear a Bible story referenced and remember the exact teacher that taught me the story as a little girl in children’s church. Much of what I know about respecting God’s Word, God’s house and the Bible came from faithful children’s workers who never knew that thirty something years down the road, I would remember the lessons they taught me. One of the most passionate advocates of children’s ministry that I know is a veteran missionary in Kenya who told me she felt loved at church so she kept coming back. Her successful children’s ministries can be linked back to the one she grew up in. (Here’s her story; http://www.womenbehindthescenes.com/2014/02/03/phyllis-stirewalt-35-years-in-kenya/)
Children’s workers, Don’t let burn-out get you down. You are getting somewhere with the children even if you don’t realize it. God shares these precious treasures with us for a very short time. Soon they will be off in the world somewhere. Twenty, thirty, and forty years down the road, some story, song or Bible verse that you teach them today will still be engraved in their heart. Children’s workers, YOU are changing the world one little heart at time.
I hope these few thoughts have helped some of you today. I welcome any other suggestions or thoughts in the comment section as I am always looking for ways to do better in this area. Maybe a particular resource helped you. Maybe you have a testimony about how a children’s worker touched your life in a special way or how God has worked in your own ministry to children. Let us hear from you. May God bless you wherever you serve today.