Relating to Parents in Student and Children’s Ministry

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If you are a leader in student or children’s ministry, do you remember the first time it dawned on you that you needed to figure out how to relate well to parents of kids in your ministry? I do.

Vaguely.

A kid was acting up and I needed to go get his dad to help motivate the child toward better behavior. The child was a pastor’s kid. And the dad? Yea, you guessed it. He was one of the staff pastors.

That incident early in my leadership journey commenced a long road toward learning how to engage parents in conversation, learning how to connect with them with a fully orbed relational perspective. I recognized intuitively that if the only time I approach parents is in the context of their child’s alleged misdeeds, then I was sowing the seeds of destruction in my relationship with them, not to mention ignoring the majority of parents whose children got along just fine.

I didn’t want to be one of those children’s pastors. I wanted to do all that I could to love and pastor both the children and their parents in proactively positive ways. I would go to ball games and concerts. I visited families in their homes. On one occasion I acted as a surrogate father for an young girl whose single mom asked me to attend an awards ceremony honoring the girl (and other children) since the mother could not afford to miss work to attend. The girl beamed with pride as she came off the stage before the cheering crowd and ran into my arms for a hug.

I shared my life with families. Introvert that I am, I strived to overcome my preference for seclusion in order to be faithful in my responsibility to love in the way of Jesus and influence parents to do the same for each other and their children.

There is no secret elixir that will miraculously transform you into a guru of relating to parents. It’s hard work. It means swallowing your pride, ditching some of your ambitions, and choosing to let certain debates revert to the loss column, because you know what? It’s not about you, leaders. It’s about being faithful to the call God has placed on your life. It’s about modeling the way of Jesus.

Don’t worry. God has your back. He will deal with the gossipy parents and kids. He will also deal with senior leadership when they choose sides before gaining an understanding of the whole story. Just be faithful. Be kind. Be consistent in your love for all the kids, all the parents, and all of the church’s leadership.

Respect from parents is earned over the long-term through consistent, daily, credible fulfillment of your responsibilities to the church, the parents, the kids, and especially to the Lord God.

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Marks of a Children’s Pastor

Pastoral ministry to children and their families in the Western world has changed dramatically in the last thirty years. Resources, opportunities to network and receive training, and platforms for sharing ideas have leveled the playing field and heightened cross-pollination of ideas among colleagues, even among those like myself who are relatively unknown.

My aim in this post and in a few soon-to-follow is to call our attention back again to what it means to be children’s pastors in our contexts. Although I am no longer a children’s pastor as of late 2010, I have retained a desire to see pastoral ministry to the youngest done well. But what does that mean? What does it look like to do pastoral children’s ministry well in your context?

Large volunteer base? It surely helps, but it is not nearly as much as a high commitment volunteer base who themselves exhibit pastoral care toward the children and parents they influence.

Killer physical ministry environments? They can have their place, to be sure. But in my view they are not nearly as important as leaders who capture the imaginations of the children, turning their hearts toward the Lord God, and their families, especially their parents.

Creativity? We are all creative in our own right, given the imago dei. It seems those with particular creative preferences, such as puppets, video and pyrotechnics, humor, set design, drama and music tend to get the most attention.

Family ministry engagement? Family ministry has taken the children’s ministry world by storm in recent years, for good reason. However, it has also inadvertently left in its wake many unintended consequences in specific local churches. Not least, we add one more thing for the children’s pastor to do, often requiring her to ditch one initiative (such as outreach to the local neighborhood) in favor of focusing on parent training and mentoring while still attempting to maintain high caliber children’s ministry programming within the walls of the church building during scheduled services.

None of these things are intrinsically bad. Including others in volunteer ministry leadership is great! Awesome environments are fun and important in capturing the imaginations of kids! Creativity? We need it! Family ministry engagement is necessary! Ditching mission to focus on internal pastoral care…well, that is a tragic false-dichotomy based on myopic ecclesiology.

Three general principles may help us navigate these issues.

First, ministry is local. Whether your church is rural, suburban, or urban, it is local. Whether it is a recent plant, a house church, meets under an urban bridge, a historic landmark, a large multi-service contemporary situation, or a multi-site iteration of church, it is still local. Local refers to the specific church people and their neighbors who don’t follow Jesus, geography, climate, and culture, to name a few characteristics.

Second, you are a pastor, not merely an activities director. Whether or not you are ordained, licensed, paid or volunteer, have a different title such as director, or none at all, you got into children’s ministry because you love kids and their parents and you want to see them love God with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength, and their neighbors as themselves. That’s why you write special notes to encourage parents and kids. It’s why you visit the sick child in the hospital. It’s why you endure unfair verbal abuse from an angry parent who is lashing out at you because of something another child said to their child. Your steady, calm temperament has its source in the peace God gives you to love the abusive person even when their wrath is directed toward you. It’s why you have the hard conversation in the pouring down rain with the addict who knows his life needs to change, for his own sake and that of his wife and children.

Third, you joyfully invite others to make this journey with you. You know you cannot do it alone. The needs are too many. To touch the lives of each parent, each child, each family, not only in your church family, but also in the local neighborhood, is a task which exceeds the capacity of any single individual. No matter how creative, how energetic, how talented, how persuasive. You need others to help you. But not just helpers. You need visionaries who are unselfish laborers, people who have God-given dreams of their own. People who are willing and even desire to labor in obscurity so that one more child, one more parent, one more family will come to faith in Jesus Christ, choosing a life of discipleship.

There is more to come soon as I dive more deeply into these three principles, thinking through their practical impact on how and why we do what we do as children’s pastors. I invite you to join me and to invite your friends as well into the conversation.

Five Kidmin Games Which Risk Injury

In my years of children’s ministry experience, I have learned that there are some games which run a higher risk of causing injury to participants. I list below five games which tend to be the most problematic. No doubt, you will be able to think of others, and you may disagree with my chosen culprits. Here they are:

1. Red Rover: Years ago, I stopped allowing this game to be played. Why? Each and every time someone would get hurt, usually one of the smaller children. Their wrists would get injured, their arms bruised, and sometimes there were knots on foreheads. So finally I wised up and stopped it. Funny thing is, the kids did not seem to mind.

2. Tug-of-war: This can be a fun game if properly supervised. You don’t want too many kids on either side. You have to take into account whether you intend to play inside or outside. If inside, do you allow them to wear socks rather than shoes. If outside, what kind of surface is it? Grass? Dirt? Pavement? Ahem, gravel? Too often, wisdom does not prevail when stared down by fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants fun…. Thus, I let this one wander off into obscurity.

3. Dodge Ball: No matter how many times you warn offenders, someone will always get nailed in the face. There are rule options, such as requiring kids to roll a ball to hit the legs or feet of opponents. Yet, I nixed this one too by means of providing more entertaining games.

4. Tag: Who doesn’t love a rousing game of tag, or one of its many variations of freeze tag? Great game. That is, until two or more kids smack into each other, dropping in a heap of tears or even blood. Ugh. The key to a safe game of tag is thorough adult supervision. At least one adult per five children with each adult fully engaged in monitoring the activity. In other words, no discussing irrelevant stuff off in the corner while the children create their own fun. Be involved and you will minimize the risk of injuries or other problems!

5. Jump the River: This game may be less well-known to some readers. The concept is simple. Two lengths of rope or string are placed about one foot apart. Each child individually runs and jumps across it. When it is the original child’s turn again the pieces are placed farther apart, usually an additional foot or so. Eventually it becomes a large span and children begin to lose their ability to jump far enough to reach the opposite side. When they miss, they sit out. Last child jumping wins and the game is over, or can be repeated. Injuries can happen in latter stages of the game if children are not wearing appropriate attire or footwear, and if there are objects nearby which could provide unintended obstacles. Just make sure there is plenty of room and the children are properly dressed for the game, plus provide good supervision.

So, there you have it! Five games which can pose a risk of injury, especially if not properly supervised. Do you agree? Disagree? Sound off about it! Tell me how you really feel….