In the story in Mark chapter 10, the disciples didn’t realize that they were doing something that Jesus was going to take very personally: they hindered the children from coming to Jesus. They were rebuked by Jesus in front of the parents, because Jesus became indignant. He was upset with them. He told them not to hinder them, but to let them come. Jesus wants us to remove the barriers. So, how do we do it? How do we not hinder the children? How do we let them come closer and closer to Jesus? Let’s look at the first barrier that keeps many children in our churches from coming to Jesus.
Barrier #1: No Relationships
The first barrier is No Relationships – or a lack thereof. Real ministry happens in the context of relationship. We open up our hearts to those we trust and to those who respect us and value us. If the children in our churches do not have relationships with people in church, they will not feel connected. If there are no adults who purposefully enter into a genuine relationship with a child, who show a child that he is seen and valued and wanted, it will become very difficult for this child to feel like he is part of the church.
Let’s think about it from a child’s perspective. He might say, ‘If you don’t pay attention to me, and if you act like I am a nuisance and need to be babysat so that I won’t interrupt your precious program, please don’t expect me to ask you any questions about God. Don’t expect me to tell you about any of my problems. And certainly do not expect that I will ever open up my heart to you.’
We conquer barriers with values. When we highly value something, it will always be part of how we do things – not just one week, but each and every single week. The value that conquers this barrier is obvious: we must build relationships with the children! These relationships must be genuine and must be based on love, trust and respect.
In order to be able to build relationships with our kids, we need to know why we are in Children’s Ministry in the first place, because if our reasons are not right, we will spend time with them, but we probably will not enter into relationships with the kids. Only if we are genuinely interested in the kids, if we actually really care about them as individuals, then we will be able to build relationships. There may be many reasons why people are involved in Children’s Ministry, and often several reasons are mixed together. Kids are able to sense if our motives are genuine or not. We need to examine and re-examine our motives to make sure we are involved for the right reasons. Are we there to meet our own needs? Are we trying to look impressive? Are we trying to be the coolest teacher with the most fans? These kinds of motives mostly focus on us and not on the kids! Not a good foundation for relationships! Are we serving because we really care about the kids? Do we truly see them as they are? Are we aware of God’s fierce, passionate, deep love for them, and of His desire to pursue them because He wants to have an amazing relationship with them?
Our relationships need to be based on love. We need to ask ourselves: Do we actually love them? Do we love the kids who behave well and the kids who disrupt the program? Do we love the quiet kids and the loud ones? The wiggly ones and the giggly kids? You see, the funny thing is that it is actually much easier to love these kids once we build a relationship with them! The more you get to know them, the more you will see their strengths and uniqueness, the stronger your love for them will grow.
Our relationships need to be based on trust and respect. We need to ask ourselves: Are we trustworthy? Do we listen to them, and take their questions seriously? Do we treat their questions and the things they share with respect? Do we ask more questions when we don’t quite understand what they mean so that we can draw out what they truly are trying to communicate? Do we make sure that the kids in our Small Group won’t be laughed at by the other kids in the group?
Relationship building takes time, but it is so rewarding. I’ve noticed that the behavior of the children changes when there is a relationship with the teachers. It’s always a lot more work to work with a group of kids you don’t know, so never let your first experience with a group of kids be the determining factor in whether or not Children’s Ministry is the right place for you to serve. The first time is always hard!
It’s interesting to see what happens when a teacher leaves the room. If the relationship is based on fear (“I better behave so I don’t get in trouble”), the children are quickly inclined to misbehave when the teacher leaves the room. This also happens when the kids have a lack of respect for the teacher (“He is not here to see what we’re doing, so we don’t care that we are misbehaving!!”). When the relationship is based on fear, there needs to be pressure coming from the outside to motivate the kids to behave properly. But when there is a relationship based on love, trust and respect, the children are more inclined to behave well when the teacher steps out of the room, because they have an internal motivation to do so.
Relationship Building Strategy: Small Groups
The easiest way to build relationships in Children’s Ministry is through Small Groups. Jesus modelled this for us. He had his own Small Group of twelve disciples. Small Groups are the perfect setting for building relationships. One teacher and up to twelve kids see each other every week (or every two weeks), talk about how to live their lives for Jesus, share their experiences, and hold each other accountable; that is the perfect setting for cultivating relationships. Week after week the teacher shows the children that he cares about them, that he remembers the details of previous conversations, that he takes them seriously and that loves having fun with them. Can you see it? It is so beautiful. As the relationships grow, the teacher gains the right to speak into the lives of the kids, and he gets to be ministered to by the children, too.
Building relationships takes time and effort and it does not happen overnight. You must be willing to invest, just like Jesus invested in his disciples. In order to facilitate this, I always keep the rule that volunteers must come every week or every two weeks. No exceptions. When I started in Children’s Ministry, I volunteered once a month and real relationships simply did not develop. It just doesn’t work. If a child doesn’t come the week that you are there, you won’t see that child for two months! If you are serious about reaching kids, volunteering every 2 weeks is no big deal at all, and it will actually make it much, much more rewarding for everyone involved.
Kids are desperate for adults who will invest in them in this way. I have seen it happen so many times; suddenly kids start to share very personal stories, or they ask questions that have been on their minds for a long time. They are waiting for an opportunity to share with someone – someone they can trust, someone who will actually listen, someone who genuinely cares and who will pray for them. Sadly, often kids don’t have many adults in their lives who are really there for them. If you are willing to invest your time, you can be the person for them. The kids are waiting to have this barrier broken in their lives – the barrier of not really knowing people in their church, people in Children’s Ministry. And this barrier keeps them from getting closer to Jesus. They are waiting for someone. Will you be that person for them?
Coming up next – Barrier 2: Church is Boring