People find it odd that I’m quite passionate about what we do with our children at our church and within my community. It’s because I don’t have any kids of my own. It doesn’t seem to stop me though from having strong opinions of how we should raise our kids, what role they should play in our church and what should be expected of them and us.
I do not want our kids to be thrown into another room every Sunday to sit through yet another school-type experience so we can implant them with knowledge through a teacher/student relationship. If we’ve learned anything in the evangelical church over the last fifty years it is that our kids aren’t coming back to church when they grow up, yet we keep doing things the same way expecting things to change. They aren’t going to change, so we have to make drastic changes to how our communities interact with our children.
One of the more important things that I find missing in most church experiences is the lack of relationships between the kids and the adults. There might be a special one here and there with that one Sunday school teacher or the parents close friends, but there is very little in terms of a relationship between these kids and anyone else outside their own family and other kids their own age. So over the last year I have tried hard to build relationships which each of the kids, and work to facilitate relationships between kids and other adults. It has been awesome to watch as kids show up at theStory’s space on a Sunday and are seen all over the space having conversations with almost anyone in the room, adult or child. Kids are sitting with other kids parents, or a group of boys are sitting with one of the older youth kids. It’s exciting to see it evolve this way. Now kids want to show up because of their relationships, not because of downloading of information in a craft sort of way.
The hard part though is Sunday school. Normally the kids have their own lessons and experience in the other room while the adults are doing their discussion/teaching time. We tried keeping the kids in the main room, but it didn’t last very long till we realized it wasn’t working for us. So we ship them off to the next room and do Sunday school lessons for them. This is the part I have a hard time with. I am left asking the questions of what story are we really telling them? What story will they grow up remembering? Looking back I remember very little about my lessons. The fact I remembered every book in the Bible in order so I could get my stars and some cookies was an exciting memory. Is this what kids ministry is meant to be though? It still feels like we are missing something.
As a non-parent I do my best to build meaningful relationships with all the kids in our community. I try to have a friendship with them. I do things with just them at times. I have one-on-one conversations. I take them to sport games; I watch their sport games that they play in. I teach them what I know and I ask them to teach me what they know. This feels like it is the best opportunity I will ever have to incorporate our kids into our story. Now when I do “my time” in the kids ministry on a Sunday we have things to talk about and commonalities start to arise. I don’t want to just be some cool sunday school teacher in their life that they remember 10 years down the road as being the guy who let them have fun and brought them candy. I want to journey with them in their lives while they figure out life and be a friend to them when they need support. I want all adults at theStory to have similar relationships with all the kids so it is a safe place where kids can grow, have fun and feel loved and accepted.
If you are married without kids or single, spending meaningful time with other people’s children is probably one of the best disciplines you can do for your own life. If you are married with kids, accepting other kids into your own family (especially those from your kids school who may not come from a stable environment) is a wonderful way to truly pass on the love and grace that we believe in. Kids bring life and bring challenges. Kids bring into relationships something that adult relationships do not have. Kids demand your energy and your time so you don’t have time to think about yourself. Allow the kids in your community to speak into your life and give yourself the gift of being in a relationship with them and journey with them while they are there.