Category Archives: Ministry Journal

The JWay Ministry Journal is our online blog for sharing my thoughts and projects.

Teaching “Today’s” Child: Relationships Matter

It's called "reading".  It's how people install new software into their brains.
Teaching and Parenting “Today’s” Child: Relationships Matter

The above comic reminds me of the perceived challenge surrounding teaching “today’s” child in the church.  Today’s child is exposed to multi-media, and empowered to download the programs they wish to watch on their iPads, without the inconvenience of sticking to a TV program, or bearing with the constant interruption of annoying advertisements.  Today’s child is boss of his own stimulation. He decides what he wants to watch, when he wants to watch it, and how much of it too.  Does the teacher or parent of today’s child sometimes feel like a human iPad?  By this, I mean that they feel that children practice selective hearing, tuning adults out if they find the information boring. I’m talking about adults who feel that they are too old-fashioned and therefore out of touch with this generation of youth.  I have a message of hope for today’s teacher and parent:  The gospel never gets old!

Our eternal God is not caught off guard by the changing times.  We cannot outgrow our need for God, and we cannot advance beyond God.  Solomon put it this way:  “There is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl.1: 9). Just because the Bible was written generations ago, does not mean that God remained in the past!  Therefore, the teacher and parent, who are in touch with the Holy Spirit, need not fear that they are dull or irrelevant to their contemporary audience.  God might not be a “modern” concept, but God is ahead of the times, all the time. The Holy Spirit, who prophesied about the New Testament back in Old Testament times, is the same Holy Spirit who prophesies about the end times.  Surely, He who sees the future foresaw what today’s child would need.

God is as relevant now as He has always been.  He is the inventor of relevance.  It is up to the dedicated teacher and parent to find creative ways to present our relevant, eternal God, to today’s child.  “How do we do this task?” I hear the reader thinking…I offer a simple question in return: “Is the human psyche too modern and advanced to appreciate authentic relationships?”  In fact, the advance of technology has further widened the canyon of human relationships.  Children of this computer generation spend far less time in community, and more time in isolation.  They hunger for someone to take a genuine interest in their lives.  They long for affirmation, belonging, friendship, mentorship, and fellowship.  The effects of too much interaction with counterfeit or computerized “personalities” has deepened their desire for human contact.  In short, our children need love.  Technology cannot hug a child.  An iPad cannot listen to a child’s fears and offer comfort.  A Game Boy cannot tell our children that they are loved no matter what – whether they win or loose, they are number one in our books.

Mega churches can boast about the sophisticated media they employ in their children’s ministries, leaving smaller churches feeling like they do not measure up.  I must confess that I do enjoy using lights, sound-effects, smoke machines, camera’s and action to entertain children, but I am convinced that there is no substitute to that of a genuine relationship with a significant adult.  These relationships jet-propel the spiritual development of a child.  These relationships change children’s lives.  These relationships are obtainable to children in small or large churches, as long as the adults in those churches will step up to the task.  This task does not depend on the churches resources, or lack thereof.  The success of this critical task lies squarely on the shoulders of adults willing to be available to the children.

The same Jesus who reached out from heaven to teach crowds on a mountain, or tell stories and parables to listeners; who truly listened to individuals, like the woman at the well, or Zacchaeus in the tree and defended the vulnerable, like the woman who was about to be stoned, or ultimately sacrificed his own life on a cross, is experienced by children through the lives of adults who are committed to them.  Adults who are willing to come down on their level to talk to them, listen to them, share stories and principles with them in ways that they can understand, eat at their homes, worship with them, and in smaller ways than Jesus did, sacrifice themselves for their sake.  Adults who will take the time to show children that God truly cares about them; that God pursues them.

It is not my presentations that children remember most in later years.  Young adults I used to teach as children, now tell me how much our relationship meant to them. By showing up consistently on Sundays (as best prepared as my resources allowed at the time), I was a message in flesh and blood that they matter to God. When children are given the opportunity to build a strong, meaningful, long-lasting relationship with a significant adult, this opens up their hearts to truly experience God.  They find a safe, caring environment in which to learn to trust God. The bells and whistles are a bonus, but it is the relationship that is the true minister.  This is why I encourage children’s ministry volunteers to give this ministry more time.  Where there is a large turnover of children’s ministry staff, the children do not experience as much spiritual growth as they could.  Instability is counterproductive to growth.  Children first learn to trust adults, before that trust is rendered to God.

I encourage creative teaching.  I love novelties and gimmicks.  It is part of my way of relating to children.  It is my way of engaging the imagination of the child.  I believe that God gave us the arts as a revelation of how awesome He is, and I fully intend to develop the arts to do just that: To communicate God to children in ways that speak to their hearts, their dreams, their souls.  I want children to be so captivated by our God that they want nothing in life more than their desire for Him.  I want children to develop their own creative gifts, as an act of worship.  There is no glory in lazy teaching or parenting.  We cannot hide behind laziness before Solomon’s words, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom” (Eccl.9: 10).  If I am to teach or to parent, I am to do it with might (force, power and capacity)!  God did not leave much to my own imagination when he revealed Himself to me, in turn, I must do my very best to present God to children in practical and inventive ways.  I think that God wants me to inspire the soul of a child.

It may seem that I have presented here a paradox, arguing for relationship over the use of technology, yet on the other hand demanding for the mastering of and use of whatever creative means (including technology) one can employ in order to teach and parent children.  Perhaps a marriage of both relationship and method are required.  The merging into one flesh of a learning, growing teacher and parent, who is willing to give children their time. When I stand before children, I realize that it is I, and not my methods, that can interact with them.  It is I, and not my well-prepared movie clips that can discern their spiritual needs.  It is I, and not my smoke machine, that prays with them.  It is my life, and not the video game, that mentors them.  Yet, it is my sincere attempt to speak their language that wins their attention.  It is my fun attitude and my novelty methods that cause them to seek me out after a service to speak to me.  It is that magic trick which I did, that begs them to come back for more, though it is I who can teach them the same trick to use to evangelize their friends. I become one with my methods:  Relationship skill working in unity with a great presentation, to the goal of winning a child for Christ.

I leave you to consider your own teaching and parenting style. No two people are alike, or used alike by God.  I encourage you to “fan into flame the gift of God that is in you” (2 Tim. 1:6). I believe that children’s ministry is not for a few selected “called out” ones, but rather that every adult can be involved in the spiritual journey of a child.  There are as many different types of children as there are adults, each of which may be impacted by your unique set of gifts.  Ask God how you can contribute to the spiritual development of the children in your church.  Whether your work takes you “behind the scenes” to operate a sound booth, to intercede, to raise funds for resources, to build props, to host events, or any multitude of support tasks available outside of the classroom “pulpit”, or whether you are called to teach in the classroom, you have a significant role to play in children’s lives.   Today’s child is similar to yesterday’s child in this way – both depend on dedicated adults to take them seriously, and to teach them seriously. God is concerned about today’s child, are you?

Significant Adults Change Children’s Lives

 

Children’s Lives are Changed by Significant Adults:

 

What does it take to change the life of a child?  Children need significant adults.  Those individuals who would take them seriously.

Can you recall a significant adult from your childhood?  Significance can be evaluated in many ways.  How about that person who made you feel special?  Or perhaps you’ll recall someone who made you feel your value, or was there for you, or taught you a new skill.

In 1978 I was a shy, awkward, six year old in Grade One.  There was not much to distinguish me from my classmates.  I was not a high achiever.   In fact, I was a slow learner, who needed extra mural classes for reading and spelling.  I could not grasp maths, and I was neither athletic, nor popular.  Dad even had to approach my Grade One teacher to find a friend for me in class.

Mrs. Saunders was my Grade One teacher.  She is very significant to me.  She noticed the little things that were important to six year olds, and of utmost importance to me was my teeth. You see, the tooth fairy lived in my home, and a newly fallen out tooth was worth two rand.  I would put the tooth in my shoe, under my bed, and without fail, it would be exchanged for a crisp two rand note.  If ever there was hint of a loose tooth in my mouth, it was sure to be wiggled on until it obediently came out.

Two rand may not seem like a lot of money to an adult, but to a six year old, back in 1978, it was worth a comic book and some sweets.  I would be rich.  A lost tooth likewise would appear of little importance in the adult mind, but it was extremely important to me, and… I could not find it.  On one particular school day, after what seemed like days of tugging on a loose tooth, I had eventually set it free, only to loose it!  I was in trauma about this lost tooth!

I did not cause a stir, or discuss my situation with any of the other children, so to this day I do not know how Mrs. Saunders came to find out about my lost tooth.  I would never have bothered a teacher, but in the middle of library class, Mrs. Saunders found out about my dilemma, and interrupted class with one mission:  Find the lost tooth.

She mobilized my entire class outside and onto the dusty playground.  Class was stopped for me!  The lesson was stopped for me!  Well, at least for my lost tooth.

Finally, victory was ours as a boy came back to class with the little tooth in his possession.  He had found it!  He had saved the day.  I proudly took my tooth home and the tradition of the two rand exchange for a tooth continued.  More importantly, I had learned that I was important to Mrs. Saunders.  Though not a star pupil, my problem was significant to her.  She stopped everything to help me.  Nothing was more important to her than that of meeting my six year old need.

The story does not end there.  Twenty years later, when I became a children’s pastor and life skills teacher, I was invited to present a school assembly at one of the best schools in Windhoek.  I waited outside the hall, while students began to line up for chapel.  In the distance, I saw a row of neatly lined up Grade one ducks approaching the assembly hall, faithfully following their Grade One teacher.

As they neared, I recognized the face of the teacher whom I had not seen since primary school.  She stopped when she reached me and said, “Aren’t you the one who lost your tooth?”  I was shocked that Mrs. Saunders would remember me.  She had taught 20 more grade one classes since mine.  I had not become a prefect at my school, and the only certificate I ever earned was for improved spelling.  Yet, Mrs.Saunders remembered me!

It was then that I found out that Mrs.Saunders was a Christian.  She loved her students. I wonder if it wasn’t her silent prayers for her students which led to my salvation and calling into children’s ministry.  Although wonderful Mrs.Saunders could have been doing anything with her life, she was still a Grade One teacher.  She knew that there is nothing more important that one can be doing in life than to be a Grade One teacher.  She is a significant adult in the lives of many children — children like me who look back and thank her for stopping for me.  I hope to be just like Mrs.Saunders… a significant adult who champions the cause of children.

Today, Mrs.Saunders is the HOD of a primary school in Windhoek.  She continues to be the best Grade One teacher alive.

Madiba’s Message:

Mr.Mandela is one of my heroes.  I often quote his phrase, “There is no keener revelation of a societies soul than the way in which it treats her children.”   I like to translate this to the church, “There is no keener revelation of a churches soul, than the way in which she treats her children.”

Although Madiba is a big man, he is not too important for children.  On his 80’th birthday, he was surrounded not be dignatories, or the VIP’s of the entertainment world, but rather by the children of South Africa.  He sat on the floor, in his suit, and was delighted as little children of all nationalities clamoured all over (and under) him.

I don’t know if Mr.Mandela is a Christian, but I do know this:  He followed the example of Christ.  When Jesus was caught up in the business of the Kingdom, teaching, preaching, healing the sick and performing various miracles, often for crowds of more than five thousand at a time, he would still stop everything to attend to the children.

On one such occasion, Jesus must have caught a glimpse of children being brought to Him.  When the disciples saw them, their perspective was that the children were an interruption.  They lept ahead of Jesus and chased the children away.  The disciples decided that Jesus was too important, too busy, and obviously too unconcerned to be concerned about mere children.  Children had no place there.  Children could not understand the teaching, or contribute to their great cause.  Children were a disturbance, a distraction… they were in the way.  Yet Jesus always acknowledged children in His midst.  Remember who gave the five loaves and two fishes to feed the multitude?  Remember who was raised from the dead?

When Jesus saw the response of his disciples to the children, he publically rebuked them.  This was not an occasion for silent diplomacy, or a matter to be dealt with at a later time.  Jesus took the opportunity to make it known to the masses that children were important to him!  He was so angry to see the children being turned away, that the Bible had to come up with another word for angry, as angry was not severe enough!  It reads, “Jesus was indignant”.  He called for the children to be brought to Him, put his hands on them, and blessed them (Matthew 19:14, Mark 10:14, Luke 18:16)

Jesus was not so important that he cared if his suit got wrinkled, or if during his business meeting, some infant’s grubby hands left a mark or a stain.  He was not concerned whether He would appear less stately or grand, if surrounded by children.  Jesus stopped everything for the children.  Nothing was more important to him at that moment, than to take the children up into his arms, and to bless them.

I can imagine the life long impact felt by a child who had been taken up into the arms of Jesus.  To feel their value as Jesus, in front of everyone, laughed and played with them.  To understand they were loved, even though they brought to Jesus nothing but themselves.  To have Jesus delight in them.  Jesus was a significant adult in the lives of these children.  Jesus noticed them.

Would we stop everything to meet the need of a child?  Even if this need does not appear to be urgent, important, or significant?  Would you stop for a lost tooth, lost self-esteem, a lost soul, no matter the age?  Would you stop for the orphan, the poor, the one who had nothing to give in return?  Will you be a champion in a child’s life?  Will you champion their cause?

Our children need significant adults.  Mentors who will role model the character of Christ in their dealings with children. The Biblical mandate for child rearing belongs to the parent (Deuteronomy 6:4-9), but what about the child with no parents, or godless parents?  Who will stop for them?

The church is mandated to equip parents.  The church is to teach and support parents to bring up their children in the ways of the Lord (Proverbs 22:6, 2 Timothy 1:5-6, 2 Timothy 3:15).  The church is further mandated to look after the orphan (James 1:27).  Parents should seek help to instruct your children.  Non-parents should seek ways to be a significant adult in the lives of the children in their church and in their community.

It is as simple as acknowledging the children with your smile and your warmth.  Touch them.  Invite them to learn from you.  Be their friend.  Bless them.  Take their concerns seriously.  Give them opportunities to learn, serve, grow, contribute and belong.