Serving in a children’s ministry class wasn’t all that Laura had hoped it would be. She was excited to begin assisting in the pre-k class on Sundays. Kids had always held a place in Laura’s heart, and she remembered with great fondness the impression that caring Sunday school teachers had made on her as a child. She hoped that God might use her to make a similar impact on the lives of children. Laura looked forward to singing and making crafts with the kids, but more than anything, she wanted to see the Lord use the ministry of His Word to draw children to Himself. Sadly, Laura’s experience did not live up to her expectations.
On her first day in class, Laura met Delaney, an opinionated four-year-old who viewed every instruction as an infringement on her liberty. When Delaney refused to sit quietly and pay attention to the Bible lesson, Ms. Carla, the class leader, asked Laura to provide Delaney with some individual discipleship in the hallway during the remainder of the lesson. Apparently, Delaney had previously experienced hallway discipleship and was not a fan. As soon as Laura began escorting Delaney to the door, the little girl lost all ability to support her own weight, forcing Laura to carry the flailing four-year-old out of class as Delaney shouted, “I don’t want to go to the hallway. I want to hear the story. You can’t do this to me. I’m an American!”
Once in the hallway, Delaney’s chorus mercifully petered out. However, Laura then found herself in a rather difficult position. Her task was to calm Delaney and prepare the child for a productive return to class. Laura’s only problem was that she didn’t know how to do that. There she was, staring into the face of an irrational tyrant with an over-developed sense of national pride, and she had no idea how to shepherd this child. Every attempt at discourse was met with obstinate defiance, leaving Laura and Delaney in the hallway for the remainder of class.
At the end of class, Laura had two conversations: one with Ms. Carla and one with Delaney’s mom. Ms. Carla admitted that Delaney’s conduct on that day had been consistent with her behavior in recent weeks. Unfortunately, they had not had success in helping Delaney. Nevertheless, Ms. Carla expressed gratitude for Laura’s involvement because with Delaney out of class, the discipleship of the other students had been much more effective.
When Delaney’s mother arrived to pick up her daughter, she asked with hesitation, “How did Delaney do today?” Laura had to inform her that things had not gone well. At that point, the mother’s eyes welled up with tears. She confided to Laura that Delaney had been such a difficult child. Almost every direction given to Delaney was met with anger and rebellion. She confessed that she did not know how to work with Delany and asked if Laura had any suggestions. Somewhat embarrassed, Laura admitted that she did not know what to do. She offered to pray with Delaney’s mother, and after doing so, Laura suggested that she speak with a pastor or a child psychologist about the matter.
Laura left class that morning feeling both exhausted and discouraged. She had really looked forward to the way the Lord might use her to point children to Him. However, after her experience that morning, she began to question whether she was cut out for children’s ministry. As she left church, she began mentally composing the resignation note she would send to her pastor.
Sadly, Laura’s experience is all too common among those who serve in children’s ministry classrooms. And once a person decides that working with kids is “not for them,” it can be very difficult to disabuse them of that notion.
Most pastors know that providing quality children’s ministries is essential to reaching young families. A 2018 study by Barna Group found that nearly six in ten engaged Christian parents selected their current church primarily because of its programs for children, “proving that even though children may be small, they carry big weight when it comes to family decisions about where to worship.”
Despite the critical role children’s ministry servants play within a church, their positions can be some of the most difficult to staff. Once people agree to serve, retaining those servants is essential for healthy ministry. That’s why equipping servants like Laura to handle the challenges they will face is so important; and biblical counseling training is some of the most helpful instruction a church can provide to these servants.
Consider the situation with Delaney. Laura needed to understand the desires in Delaney’s heart that prompted her behavior. Laura needed to help Delaney compare her wrong motivations to those laid out in God’s Word. Ultimately, Laura needed to help Delaney adopt a different goal for her participation in Sunday school. Laura needed to ask questions like…
- What do you want right now?
- Who are you trying to please? (Myself)
- Who should you be trying to please? (God)
- Is God pleased by the way you behaved in class? (No)
- If you didn’t please God, did you sin? (Yes)
- Did you know that your behavior shows how much you need Jesus? (Explain what Jesus did for us. Explain our need for Him. Determine if the child would like to become a follower of Christ.)
- When we return to class, what could you do to please God? (Obey all the way right away with a happy heart.)
Had Laura been equipped to discern the motivations of Delaney’s heart and provide biblical instruction to replace those motivations, she would have been in a much stronger position to help not only Delaney but also her class and Delaney’s mother. Laura may not have been able to turn Delaney around in a single morning, but she would have had the tools she needed to make progress. Such equipping may have greatly reduced the likelihood of Laura’s resignation.
Biblical counseling training provides the exact sort of instruction servants like Laura need to thrive in their work with children and parents. If you are a pastor or ministry leader, we would urge you to encourage those serving within your children’s ministries to participate in some of the biblical counseling training we offer. You might even consider helping them to cover the cost of training. Doing so could be one of the best things you do to equip and retain children’s ministry servants while strengthening your church’s ministry to families.
Photo by Gabe Pierce on Unsplash