Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A continuation of my thoughts of yesterday.

My point is not necessarily that we are wrong in this way of life we've cultivated. Sunday Schools exist, they likely always will. (I've often wondered what they did in the New Testament church....there were no basements to send the kids off to, and if there was another room, then who taught them? Knowing the community spirit, if they did send the kids elsewhere, I'm sure all the parents took turns. Which we dislike nowadays because we want kids to develop a relationship with a Sunday School teacher and you can't do that when they're here one week and not the other. But I think it would have been different in those days--they were more like families) (But again I digress)

Since we generally do accept that it's ok to let others instruct our children in spiritual matters, now begs the question, so then what responsibility should we be taking?

As one who has now been heavily into Children's Ministry for a couple years now, I can say, a heck of alot more than most do.

There's always the exceptions, the ones who are keenly interested in making sure their children are being sensitively and effectively ministered to. And so they're the ones being a part of that ministering. They're the ones taking on the lions share of this mammoth responsibility. But there are many who drop the kids off and rarely give the next hour or two a second thought.

I don't want to sound like a complainer. I'm doing what I'm called to be doing and that's not going to change until the call changes. But Children's Ministry is not like other ministries. We don't expect everyone to take their turn at being on the praise and worship team (after all, if you are benefiting from the singing, you should take your turn at it, right?) because, frankly, we don't want to hear from everyone in the church through a microphone. Many ministries require a specific talent or gifting. And Children's ministries is somewhat similar there...except that as you can read in my previous post, we get so desperate for people to teach that we have to dumb down the requirements to "love God and love kids". We've actually had to issue an ultimatum concerning our children's program; if we don't get 6 teachers by the end of June, there will be no program come September. So far, we've had no-one volunteer to teach for the year and only 2 or 3 who have said they would do a rotating thing "if you were desperate". 2 of those 2 or 3 have already taught with us sometime in the last two years. Oh and one teacher from this year intends to continue, no matter if the rest of the program runs or not. So at least one class of kids might continue getting something on Sunday mornings.

I wonder if any church has tried "co-op Sunday School"? I know that at the wonderful church in Brantford we attended for about 2 years, it was not very long after we started attending--maybe 2-3 months, before a new nursery schedule came out---and we were on it! (I didn't even realize they knew our names!) At that time we had 2 kids in nursery so this wasn't a huge surprise. I was surprised however that no-one had come and actually asked us to be on the rotation. I'll admit, I was slightly annoyed at this. But it seemed a pretty clear and fair concept to me: you use the nursery, you take your turn. Where else in our society do we involve our children in something at no cost to ourselves, and not expect to give back into it in some way? Even Verity's gymnastics, which was far from no cost to us, asked everyone to do some fundraising mid-year.

Even if, ok, you feel completely overwhelmed and uncomfortable with the idea of teaching a class of children (and by class, I mean around 4-6 children. Not 12). There are other things you can do. Allow me to list a few:

  • Substitute teach. Be on our list of people willing to take a class for one Sunday when a teacher is sick.
  • Buy presents: We like to recognize all our kids with a little something on their birthday. How would you like to go on a shopping spree without a single dent in your wallet? You're, right, it does sound like fun! Be our birthday lady/man.
  • Greet children: For 20 minutes every Sunday, you could create lasting and pleasant relationships by simply saying hello. Each child needs to be welcomed and greeted when they arrive for the program. This is a very important foundation for our program--the start of a positive experience at our church. You don't even need to do this every week--we'd be glad to make a rotating schedule.
  • Play an instrument or sing: We have a praise and worship time and normally rely on DVD's and CD's. It's really cool though, when someone can add a live instrument. And we always need singers. Again, this doesn't have to be weekly thing--we regularly rotate groups of kids through as junior p&w leaders, we can do the same for adults. It's important for the kids to see that their program matters--what they are experiencing is not a second-rate service just because they are young. Other adults in the church showing an interest and wanting to be involved will convey worth to the children.
  • Help technically: We attempt to put together an exciting multi-media component....well, it's not really a component, it's really the backbone of our service. From Powerpoint and Easyworship to Youtube and Yahoo video, we are looking to appeal to today's kids. Right now, one person programs this entire 1/2 hour long set-up. He also, with help from one other person, physically sets up our stage, sound and video system, runs the program and tears down afterwards. There are many parts of this that we could import to someone else:
  1. Set up. Come to the children's ministry room and help set up. It takes about 20 minutes before the service.
  2. Tear down. Takes slightly less time.
  3. Create stuff: Videos, scripture presentations, whatever. We are open to creativity.
  4. Fill in: Our tech guy has four kids and they've been known to be ill from time to time. We need people willing to fill in. Spend a Sunday or two observing and learning how our systems work. Then be willing to be on call if by chance he needs to be away on a Sunday.
  • Food: We're thinking of having a snack time in the fall. Having someone coordinate that, buy the food, serve it, clean up, whatever. That would be really great.
  • Miscellaneous talents: Puppetry? Magic tricks? Know a bunch of funny skits or games? Water glass playing? Breakdancing? We want to make our program fun and exciting. You come to us with some miscellaneous talent, skill or idea and we will find a way to use it.
Perhaps you've looked over this list and for whatever reasons, are still convinced you can't be a part. Alright. There is still a way to support us--those you've entrusted to, as we've established, teach your children the incomparable truths of God.
Be in relationship with us. Be our friend! We choose to miss out on the morning service to minister to the children of our church. We miss out on the before and after chit chatting, the general fellowship of being in an adult service, the sense of community that comes from corporate worship.So don't just gather your kids up and head out to the parking lot. Say hello, how did things go today? You're lookin' good, are you over that head cold? And....dare I say it....

Say thank you.

Last year I had one parent send a thank you card and small gift at the end of the year. In my choir work, out of about 35 kids in each choir, approximately 1/3 to 1/2 give me some token in appreciation for teaching their kids music once a week. Or at least an email.
I'm not looking for this. I'm not expecting this. Recognition is not why I do this.
But this year I didn't hear from any parents. Yes, a few other teachers said some words publically or by mass email. But that's different.
As I did last year, I went out and purchased something nice for each teacher and person who had contributed in a significant way to our program. Even at a modest cost per person, it adds up. I was actually a little scared to submit my receipts for these gifts. (Good thing my dad writes the cheques!)
But in working through this anxiety, the thought occurred to me....why am I scared? Do these people not deserve some token of gratitude for their time and sacrifice this year?
Absolutely they do.
And who is grateful to them? Well, yes, me and my mom, who co-directs with me. But who else?
Yes.....the parents.
But who went out and bought the gifts?
Again, I don't begrudge this. I enjoyed it actually. I was really excited about the gift we gave each teacher this year and I think they're all going to enjoy it immensely.
But the point is....not only are myself [and all these teachers] taking responsibility for the spiritual enrichment of these kids, I also took on the job of thanking them....for the families. You see my line of reasoning here?
This past year, we tried to organize a few events beyond the usual weekly program. We did Operation Christmas Child. We did a Christmas play. We had two movie events for missions fundraising--one involving a nice dinner. We did an end of year bbq.
Support our events. If you truly cannot give regular time in some capacity to your children's spiritual education, then show up when something is planned [to add to the Christian education they are already receiving for a short time weekly]. And if you can't come....then at least tell us you're not coming. There's nothing like buying 5 dozen hotdogs and hamburgers and only having 1/2 the expected amount of people show up.

I don't know why being a part of children's ministry is such an issue. I don't know why we don't get people willing to come out and teach the future generation of our churches. Maybe they feel they 'just don't have the gift of teaching'. This may be true. But my usual thoughts when hearing this run along the lines of, if you have kids, you teach. You teach them to drink from a cup, to pee in the toilet, to share their toys, to tie their shoes. Don't kid yourself. If you're a parent, you teach.

Maybe some feel they are too busy.
Need the time in church themselves.
Are involved in another ministry already.

My thoughts again? (and they are, just, my thoughts).

Make time for your children.

Your children need the time in church too.

Your children are your primary ministry.


Monday, June 14, 2010

"Teach [my words] to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up."

Deuteronomy 11:19

"What good will it be for a child if he gains a whole world of knowledge,

yet forfeits his soul?"

Matthew 16:26, My paraphrase

In this day and age, parents are, well, paranoid. We require police checks and background checks, questionnaires and reference checks on every manner of person who comes within any contact of our children. This is both wise and insulting--wise from the parent and professional point of view and insulting, in many cases, from the viewpoint of the one being check, check and doubled checked.
We like to think we are very careful when it comes to who we allow to influence our children. Some of us send our kids to private school, or Christian school---because we are concerned that our children get the very best education, or a faith-based education. We shuttle them around to sports practices, music rehearsals, social and community clubs because we are convinced that they need to to have these opportunities to develop their gifts, find their niche, flourish, thrive...
And of course, we are trusting all the instructors that are teaching the classes, coaching the teams and running the programs. Or perhaps it's just that we trust the organization behind these leaders.
Let me just think through the people I entrust with my children:
  • Verity takes gymnastics. I trust her coach Sandy. I also sit and watch her every week for an hour and other than not really hearing the exact words Sandy is saying, (because I watch through a window) I'm trusting her ability to coach effectively, compassionately and with professionalism. Because I don't have any extensive gymnastics experience, I have to trust her in that. But I signed up Verity before I even met Sandy. I plunked down hundreds of dollars at the beginning of the season to put her under the influence of a woman I had never met. Who did I trust? The gymnastics club. How did they earn this trust? The website. Yeah. Pretty much their advertising. Which of course we all know is always truthful. (shnark). After the classes started, I was able to view Sandy's qualifications which were posted on a wall along with her picture. And who did I trust then? The letters that followed her name. The national gymnastics organization that deemed her qualified to instruct children. How do I know they are trustworthy? I have no earthly idea. I'd never heard of the organization before I got Verity into gymnastics. I suppose something that comes into play here is reputation. With some sleuthing, you can usually find out something about someone--or some organization's reputation. I didn't, really. But there was the general reputation that clubs of this type are trustworthy. This came through the experience of two people I can think of specifically--a friend and a family member.
  • Honour took a 10 week ballet course over at the Ancaster Rotary Centre. It was part of the programming offered by the city of Hamilton. I trusted her teacher Kristin. I also sat and peeked in the room (not watched quite as much as this was discouraged and during the whole second half of the 10 weeks there was paper over the doors so we couldn't see the wondrous choreography they were perfecting for the final recital) for 45 minutes every week. I trusted Kristin's ability to teach Honour effectively, compassionately and with professionalism. I have absolutely no experience in ballet, so I had to trust that Kristin knew what she was doing. Going to see her dance at Hamilton Place in a primary role of the ballet Hansel and Gretal helped that trust along significantly. But how did I trust her in the beginning, when I was signing Honour up and had never met Kristin? The city of Hamilton was who I trusted. I trusted that they had hired Kristin with full knowledge of her abilities and trustworthiness. I would imagine that they even have police checks done on all their instructors although I can't be sure, because, honestly, I didn't check that. And I'm trusting the city that even though they don't require instructors of this calibre to have some kind of teaching credential, Kristin has some idea of the pedagogy of ballet for children--likely just from the process of having gone through it herself. Which in alot of cases is fine, right?
  • I send Jairus to public school every day. Of all the things I've 'signed' my kids up for, this is the one that I did the most praying, the most investigating, the most in depth consideration. I was advised by trusted family members. I of course had my own experience of having come up through the public school system. There's a natural trust there. I met with the teachers, the principals, the special needs advisors. I walked that line carefully; waiting on , and listening to the Lord for guidance. Who did I trust? Well, yeah, God. (Who of course I also trust in the girls activities). But otherwise, I trusted those teachers, principals and advisors. Who was I trusting beyond that? The Hamilton Wentworth board of education, who hired these people. The province of Ontario, the nation of Canada who set in place the standards for school boards to follow.
So why am I going on like this?

I see a glaring inconsistency here. And I will be the first to admit that I've likely fallen into that glare in my child-raising up until now.

One of my underlying principles in educational philosophy is that my children's spiritual welfare is more important than their general schooling education. Alot of people might raise their hands to their mouths in horror over this one. Take a look again at the second verse I quote/paraphrase up at the beginning. What will it matter if my daughters can read years ahead of their age, do multiplication tables at 5 years old or tell me the capitals of all the provinces....if all the "recommended reading" they've done results in an eternity spent separated from God? If all the math equations they've mastered far outnumber the principles of God they've committed to their hearts? If they can tell me where countries are, but not about how much God loves the people in them? I am convinced that while the Lord wants us to educate ourselves, certainly, when we stand before him at the finish of our earthly lives, it will all be as Solomon discovered--'vanity' compared to the riches of knowing and growing in Jesus Christ. All the success our world has to offer cannot hold a candle to that.

As well as a general educational philosophy, I also have some opinions concerning Christian Education. Since the advent of public or community schools, we've been quite willing to hand over the education of our children to other people. (It would be quite interesting to see why this ever came about. Was it just a matter of some having higher education than others? Did Ma Ingalls really think that Mrs. Garby or Liza Jane could teach Laura and Mary and Carrie better than she could? But I digress) I don't think scripture really has much to say on this idea. But I could be wrong.
Christian education however....I think scripture has alot to say about that, starting with the first verse up there--God's direction to the Hebrew parents on teaching their children scripture. I think it's mighty clear that we as parents are responsible for our children's spiritual instruction. This is why we have baby dedication ceremonies; because we recognize that raising our children in the fear and admonition of the Lord is highly important.

And then came D.L. Moody and his Sunday Schools.

I'm just kidding, he didn't start Sunday School, but his were well known. I do think it's interesting that Robert Raikes, credited as really getting the Sunday School idea off the ground apparently started it because he saw children from less fortunate families getting into trouble with the law. How to prevent that? Instruct them in the Bible and introduce them to Jesus. The ugly underside of this premise is that he realized that the parents were failing.He took over the job of Christian education--and these families handed him that reign.

Now, I'm not slamming Sunday Schools, because, well, that would be like shooting myself in the foot. I'm not willing to go as far as to say that Sunday School is a usurption of our parental responsibility as handed down to us by God. It may be true. But I'm not going there.

I'm back to the trust issue. So here we have this situation of Sunday School--a place where we deposit our children every week and trust that the teachers are doing an adequate job in our place of teaching our children the most important truths known to man.

And where again are we putting our trust?

In the teachers. Whom we may or may not know. (Yeah, go ahead, ask yourself if you know your children's Sunday School teacher. Do you even know their name? Do you know anything about their spiritual walk or comittment to the Lord? Just a little something to chew on there.)

But like the hierarchy of trust we see in public school and extra-curricular activities, we ultimately trust in those higher than the teachers. We trust the Sunday School superintendent. The Children's Ministry Co-ordinators. The Deacons, the Elders, the Mission Boards....whatever all those higher-uppers are called in your church. The Pastor. The church as a whole. The Denomination.
So you might not know a darn thing about your children's Sunday School teacher except that she's got brown hair and glasses, but you are trusting that those in authority over her put her in that position because....why?
  • Because she's got a teaching degree?
  • Because she's got graduate or doctorate level training?
  • Because she says she loves God and has accepted Jesus as Saviour?
  • Because she's a natural-born teacher and the children love her?

I find it interesting that one web source says the following about Sunday School teachers:

Sunday school teachers are usually lay people who are selected for their role in the church by a designated coordinator, board, or a committee. Normally, the selection is based on a perception of character and ability to teach the Bible rather than formal training in education.

No degrees. No training necessarily. Perception of Character. What's that? Yeah, our gut.

And this is who we trust to instruct our children in the most valuable lessons on the planet.