I am a ballet dancer — performed for years, taught for years, retired to begin a family, became a Montessori teacher while the kids were young, and finally decided to listen to God’s calling — placing me in ministry.
My kids have all of the “benefits” of being a PK with no student loans without perfect credit score from years of seminary. Now, their Mom works at the church in the evening, on the weekend, and every minute in between. They are expected to be involved in every program, every class, and do it with a smile and a seminary level knowledge of the Bible. Often, they get sucked in to the “messiness” of church. Yet, my kids are just all-American boys, who think “rest” on Sunday means skipping church and sleeping in!
How do we minister to these kids, keep them engaged, and rooted in Jesus with minimal resentment of the church? The good news is there are thousands of brilliant ideas. I have included just a few that we have employed in our own congregation and are working for us. I call this particular group of ideas the 5 L’s – just to remind me that I could do this with every letter and still not run out of ideas for the overchurched kids. Thank God!
1 – LEADERSHIP- Kids respond to responsibility. They like to contribute. They will value their participation and take ownership of their task. With responsibility comes independence. As we take these children and give them true responsibility, they will take flight and become independent. They will carry out their task with an ownership – an ownership in the task and the belief behind the task – their faith. Give them true responsibility for the growth and development of the church – overchurched kids have the church in their blood – let that become a constructive passion.
- CREATE A KIDS KREW: We use a group of kids each week in Kid’s Church to run media, lead small groups, organize games etc. When given something they can take ownership of, they really take their responsibility seriously. This idea I credit to Karl Bastien of Kidology. He has a whole book on developing this awesome leadership role. Check out his sight at kidology.org.
- VBS CREW LEADERS: We use ALL middle school and high school students as our “crew leaders” in VBS. We prepare them well in advance with great training, and give them true responsibility for their kids all week. We have minimal discipline problems and this year I had over 50 kids serve as leaders for VBS.
- CREATE A ROLE OUTSIDE OF KID MIN: This week, a 20 year old young man in the congregation is organizing a group of middle school boys to do yard work for a home bound church member. He is taking his role very seriously, as are the young men in his crew that are excited about “yard work” — or are they? They are excited about being given true responsibility and a role in the church and making a contribution.
2. LISTEN – When kids know they are heard, they feel respected, included and valued. They feel their input is an important part of the pulse of the church –And it is!
- FOLLOW THEIR IDEAS: Recently, we have been combining our middle school youth group once a month with another church. My son has forged some pretty strong friendships through this union and came to us this spring with an idea to permanently put the two groups together as one. A it turns out this was a win-win idea for everyone, but especially my 13-year-old who feels he contributed to the bigger picture.
- INCLUDE WHAT THEY WANT TO STUDY: Ask them if there is a book of the Bible they would like to study. Do they have a community-need they feel strongly about?
- GIVE THEM A BREAK: Sometimes its OK to just spend time talking about their lives, what interests them, and their dreams. God knows everything about us and we should know our kids – truly know them. Then, we can assess when true burn out hits and we are losing them to resentment of the church.
3. LEAVE THE BUILDING – Sometimes we need to take the next step, and use the knowledge they have acquired, by letting them share it!
- TAKE THEIR KNOWLEDGE AND APPLY IT: Do stuff in and for the community to connect what they have learned in Sunday School and church to their life and the life Jesus intended us to live. Take a group to the park to play football and cook burgers. Invite kids in the park to join you. Let the kids do the connecting.
- SIDEWALK SUNDAY SCHOOL: Take a group of kids out to a neighborhood and host a Sidewalk Sunday school. Stand back and let them lead!
- MISSION TRIPS: I participate in a Mission Trip for middle school and high school students that brings them back as leaders to the church. We take them to help others grow, but often see the most growth in our kids.
4. LET GO –It seems when we do an event or class at the church we feel our kids should be there. “If the leaders own kids aren’t there … ” The success of your program will be not be determined by whether your child is there or not, but by God’s work being allowed to happen. If you feel people in your church are deciding to participate in an event because your kids are there — think again. And if they really are… then you need to put a stop to that. But this isn’t always that easy. I experienced this last fall, when my husband and I had a conflict with the boys — he had planned to take them to a “guys” event that night, and I had expected he and the boys to be at a “family” event I had put together at the church. I was very upset that my own family was not there at the church’s FIRST family night! Almost every family that arrived asked where my family was… I fumbled with lame excuses and became less than happy about my family choosing not to be there. But, I had to laugh as the event unfolded, because I was up speaking at the podium, and would not even have been participating with my husband and children! So, I explained that as we opened our event. We were honored to host a family event, but as I was the hostess that night, and would not be participating, my family therefore had decided to enjoy a “guy’s” night. I then lead into how these planned events are great family time, but so are the casual times we have together. No one seemed to question anymore that my family was absent – especially me!
5. Let God – Pray for these kids as much as you would an unchurched or troubled child. Children walking away from the church due to resentment is hard thing to come back from, and these kids need our attention before that point.
The key is going to be staying in tune to your child, or the child you are working with, adjusting and supporting them along their path. Keeping the lines of communication open and truly hearing the signs of burn out in our kids.