Have you seen one of those memes going around? You know, the one with different pictures on it, each one labelled "what ____ thinks I do", and finally ending with "what I actually do"?
If you're a kids pastor or a kidmin volunteer, chances are you probably can identify with that one. Because it seems like everyone has a completely different opinion on what kidmin does. Maybe your senior pastor thinks you're a magician ("hey, we need the kids to put up a performance at next week's watchnight service. Oh, and there's no budget for snacks."). Parents think that you're a daycare service ("bye Jimmy, I'll see you after service"... and they don't show up till the building manager's turning off all the lights and locking up the place). Kids think that you're (supposed to be) an entertainer (and then they mentally swipe you out when you're not as cool as YouTube). And maybe, after the dust has settled after yet another exhausting Sunday and you're finally done cleaning up some kid's puke off the carpet - you're not really sure what it is you actually do.
Having had the opportunity to head up a children's ministry for a few years in a local church, I know how that feels. It's easy to go into "headless-chicken" mode when you don't know what exactly it is the role of kidmin is supposed to be - when there's no clear understanding of the roles that you play, there will be no defined boundaries to the work that you do, and that's a surefire way to get burnt out fast (see what I did there? SureFIRE? BURNT out? Ok nevermind).
When there's no clear understanding of the roles that you play, there will be no defined boundaries to the work that you do.
So let's clear that up, shall we?
Based on my own experience, as well as the observations that I've made when visiting other churches' children's ministries, here are the 3 main roles that I believe every kidmin is supposed to play:
1. Kidmin is church.
Firstly, and most critically, we need to understand that kidmin isn't just a subset or sub-ministry of church. It IS church. The congregation may look different (generally shorter) and have different attention spans (generally shorter), but make no mistake. Your role is to have church on Sundays, albeit tailored to kids.
This is a major paradigm shift for many pastors and kidmin leaders. Most think of kidmin not as a separate service for kids, but more a place to keep children occupied and hopefully where they can learn something about Jesus. I'm not talking about format - church will definitely look different for kids than for adults. But if we are not clear about kidmin's role as church for kids - then the following outcomes are inevitable:
(1) kidmin becomes a babysitting service;
(2) volunteers will not have a sense of ownership;
(3) you will find no satisfaction in the work that you do;
(4) kids will not have a sense of belonging in the larger church community - they will think of themselves as just following their parents to church, as opposed to actually going to church.
When we understand that kidmin is church for kids, the way we approach what we do becomes different. We become more intentional about how we run kidmin. We're more likely to strive for excellence. We'll treat our relationships with the kids more seriously. We'll be more mission-minded. Kids will start looking forward to coming to church. And Sundays will no longer be a chore, just waiting for the last kid to go home before we heave a sigh of relief and collapse in a heap on the floor.
When you see kidmin as church, it cancels the idea that kidmin is second-class, and therefore what you do can be second-rate. And you'll find what you do so much more rewarding and fulfilling.
When you see kidmin as church, it cancels the idea that kidmin is second-class, and therefore what you do can be second-rate.
2. Kidmin is a partner to parents.
Parents are supposed to be the primary disciplers of their children (Deuteronomy 6:4-7) - this is God's prescribed plan for kids' spiritual growth. This makes sense, as parents are (supposed to be) the ones who spend the most time with their kids. Think about this - out of 168 hours in a week, kids are only in church for 2 (not counting the times when parents are involved in other ministry opportunities, where kids literally just tag along). Sadly, many parents have outsourced the job of discipling their kids to children's ministry - there are many reasons for this, which we'll discuss in another post.
Does this mean that kidmin should just turn off the lights, lower the shutters and flip the sign so it says "We're closed"? On the contrary! Kidmin is still vital - and if I didn't believe that, I wouldn't have talked earlier about how Kidmin is church. What we need to understand is that kidmin is not primarily responsible for a child's spiritual development. Our role is to partner parents as they work out what it means for them to be the primary spiritual caregivers for their kids. We were not meant to take the place of parents. We're meant to create a community for kids that's conducive for them to form Godly friendships and learn how to worship, pray and study God's Word in a congregational setting. Sure, there is an element of role modelling and discipling that takes place during those 2 hours every Sunday. But that needs to fit and feed into the larger scheme of how parents are discipling their kids.
Kidmin is not primarily responsible for a child's spiritual development.
So what does that look like? One of the first things I did as a kidmin head was to find ways to get parents involved in our activities. So instead of running events that were catered towards kids, we made it a point for all our activities to feature elements of parent-child bonding. Our volunteers were trained to engage parents each week, so that they knew what we were doing in Sunday School and how parents could help to reinforce their learning throughout the week. Every week, parents would be given a simple, summarized version of the lesson that was taught that day, together with suggested activities that the family could carry out together during the week. And twice a year, we would get parents together and have the pastoral leadership challenge them on the importance of practicing faith at home.
A lot of it is about forming relationships with parents, and finding ways to partner with and help them perform their role of primary spiritual caregiver. It could even be as simple as recommending resources that they can use for family devotions, or letting them know some great praise and worship songs that the kids particularly enjoy singing along to. In Singapore, we're used to the idea of sending kids for tuition and enrichment classes for subjects that parents are not equipped to teach. And somehow, because parents feel ill-equipped to grow their kids spiritually, they start to see kidmin as a"spiritual enrichment centre", and kids pastors and teachers as "subject matter experts" who will take care of this particular aspect of their child's development. We need to be mindful not to take on that role. Our job is to partner parents to fulfil their role - not to usurp them.
3. Kidmin is a foster parent for kids with unsaved parents.
So what about kids who come to church or are believers, whose parents do not know Jesus? There is a rising trend in Singapore of pre-believing parents who drop their kids off at church on Sunday mornings, simply because they believe that Christian values are useful for their children to learn and emulate. This presents a massive opportunity for the church to eventually reach out to the parents themselves, and when God starts to transform the lives of the kids, it's not hard for parents to be convinced of the reality of Jesus.
There is a rising trend in Singapore of pre-believing parents who drop their kids off at church on Sunday mornings, simply because they believe that Christian values are useful for their children to learn and emulate.
In the meantime, however, these pre-believing parents are unable to take on the role of primary spiritual caregiver. How could they? Even if they had head knowledge about who Jesus is, they would not be able to show their children the true heart transformation that knowing God brings. So what then?
That's where kidmin steps in.
In such cases, we take on the role of spiritual foster parents to these kids. We need to provide for these children spiritually, since their parents are unable to. That means forming a personal relationship with them and discipling them, even beyond the 2 hours they spend in church every week. City Harvest Church in Singapore has an incredible children's outreach programme where they do just that. Every Saturday, hundreds of kids from unsaved family backgrounds are bussed to church, and many of them end up giving their hearts to Jesus after they encounter His love. But it doesn't stop there. Every day, hundreds of volunteers give up their time to visit these kids at home. Every child gets a visit at least once a week, in addition to phone calls, emails and SMSes. When they visit these children, the volunteers typically spend 10 mins reinforcing what they learnt in church, hearing about their day, and then just praying with them. All of this happens in full view of the child's parents. This enables volunteers to not just build trust, but relationship with the parents. Eventually, the adults themselves see the transformation in their children's lives and experience the love of God personally through the efforts of the volunteers, and their hearts become open for the seed of the Gospel to be sown and take root.
When we perform the role of spiritual foster parents well, we not only help kids to grow in their knowledge and understanding of who God is and who they are in Christ - we also become an effective witness to their parents, and give them a glimpse of how they too, could eventually fulfil their role as primary spiritual caregivers when they give their hearts to Jesus as well.
When we begin to understand these 3 main roles that kidmin needs to play, and when we begin to align all that we do to that understanding, we'll see greater purpose and vision emerge - both personally for ourselves, as well as for parents. Burnout, frustration and unfulfillment will naturally dissipate, and in their place, peace, conviction and joy will rise instead as we find our place in God's plan for raising spiritually healthy kids.
My prayer is that this article would help kidmin leaders and volunteers who are struggling to find meaning in what they do. If you found this helpful, and would like to hear more on this topic, do write in at firstname.lastname@example.org and we could arrange an opportunity to come speak at your kidmin volunteers' training event.