On a pre-COVID Mother’s Day weekend, many of us would’ve normally spent last Sunday going to church as a family and then maybe lunch afterwards. It’s the one Sunday a year when we can get our families to show up without too much grumbling.
This year was different. No request to be made in most parts of the country. Maybe Mother’s Day looked like breakfast and church in bed? I miss corporate worship, but I can appreciate fuzzy socks and sweatpants, if needed.
But what about the other Sundays, when life gets back to normal and we don’t have a holiday to help our children go to church with a good attitude? After I posted Breaking the Rules – Part 3, I was sad to hear how many moms specifically expressed that their child faces the same struggles in Sunday school that they experience Monday through Friday.
Now, if you don’t have children, or if you have children who navigate the classroom scene successfully, your response might be to point the finger at the child. After all, he or she is the common denominator. This might be true – I don’t deny that.
But there’s one huge difference: When a child feels discouragement or shame at school and then it repeats itself in church, you’re setting the child or student up to want to distance themselves from a place that can provide foundational truth and healthy friendships that they won’t find in any other setting. We may graduate from school, but we’re not supposed to ever graduate from church. It’s critical that every child and student feels loved and accepted. If a child feels unwanted at church and at school, where do we leave them to turn?
No one likes to feel like a failure.
I recently had a conversation with my son who revealed that one day when he was still in middle school, he was called out in front of a group of students at church for talking. He was a PK (aka “pastor’s kid”). A new Student Pastor knew his name and not the names of most of the kids he was with – you get the picture. It was an understandable decision with an enormous unintended consequence. At that moment, my son decided he was done with youth work. He hasn’t been connected since.
As a Pastor, I feel the tension of providing an environment conducive to every child while trying to navigate volunteers and staff who come from a wide perspective. Recruiting volunteers to serve in children’s ministry is usually a church’s greatest need. It’s hard work. But as a parent, it breaks my heart.
Whether it’s the middle schooler looking for a reason to bow out or a 2nd grader who’s put in time out for rough housing, the church needs to care enough about these children to think outside the box.
I know there are many leaders who care a great deal and who are doing the best they know how. But I’m hearing more and more stories that point to a broad lack of training. Volunteers need to be educated in a way that creates empathy. Student Pastors and Children’s Directors need the support of their Pastor to have the resources and vision casting they need to serve their families in this way.
Here are two ideas that I think could help…
- Personalize the struggle.
Volunteers need to walk in the shoes of a mom or dad who has a child who struggles in the classroom to help them empathize rather than demonize a child who’s struggling. Perhaps add this as a consistent part of training?
- Can they lead?
At a certain age, a middle-school student (or even an elementary-aged student) may struggle in a traditional Sunday school classroom, but they actually thrive when they’re put in a place to serve. Can they be an assistant in a class with younger children or serve in a role that emphasizes their strengths?
I’d love to hear your ideas… as a mom, volunteer, or staff member who works with children. Let’s help each other help all children feel loved by those who are supposed to be known by love.