I don’t do much children’s ministry at the moment, but when I did, I often struggled with what I might describe as the gap between the ideal and the reality. That is, I might have a clear vision in my head of what I wanted the children’s programme to be, and what I wanted it to offer to the people participating in it… but often, due as much to circumstances out of my control as anything else, what we actually settled for looked quite different.
Today I was reading a report on perceptions of parenting (the report can be found here and is interesting in its own right). And one paragraph caught my attention. It said that
“[Effective parenting] is responsive to a child’s individuality and to changing needs, temperament and maturity. This involves tuning in to a child’s interests, perspective and experiences, and interacting with him or her both to address challenges (discomfort, anxiety, confusion, etc.) and to build on strengths (insights, talents, ambitions, etc.).”
It struck me that of course the same is true of effective discipling of children. And yet I can tell you exactly why this often does not happen, and that is that we don’t know the children well enough.
Not because we don’t want to, but because for many families, being in church once a month or so is as much as they can or want to manage. The days when children who came to church, came every week and built genuine relationships with their leaders are gone for all but a very few families, at least in my tradition.
So your typical Sunday school teacher or children’s ministry leader tries to plan and prepare activities or teaching materials which will do all the good things described in the paragraph I quoted, but we do so a) without an adequate relationship with the children concerned, to do it well, and b) often unsure as to which of our various children will be present on any given day. It’s like playing darts in the dark, and then we wonder why we so often miss the mark.
So here’s my plea; if you want the leaders and teachers in your church to be partners with and resources to you as parents, as you seek to nurture your children in faith, then please actually work with us. Take church seriously. Make it a priority. Support us in building relationships with your family. Communicate with us about all the things it would be helpful for us to know about your child, (or at least, about when you will and won’t be in church).
We care about your children and want to do the best we possibly can for them, but we can’t do that if we simply don’t know them well enough.