Kids and Classrooms, part 1: Love them. Don’t bribe them.

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Children’s ministry is a good thing. I would say it’s a necessary thing. But if we are going to do it, we should desire to do it well for the sake of God’s glory and the kids we are trying to reach.

But this still brings up the question of how to operate within a classroom full of children. Here are four essentials for children’s ministry classrooms. Three big DOs and one clear DON’T:

DO: Win kids’ hearts by loving them first

Building and establishing a relationship is where any and all true ministry begins. We must demonstrate our love and compassion for the kids we’re seeking to teach. As the relationship grows, the opportunities to speak truth directly into kids’ lives will increase as well. You don’t only need to know kids in order for your teaching to be effective. For them to hold on to and apply that teaching, the kids must know and trust you as well. Remember that we aren’t simply teaching head knowledge to kids. We’re preparing them to hear truth in hope that God will transform their hearts.

DO: Show kindness.

Another key to building a relationship with kids is showing kindness towards them. Remember, they are kids and sometimes there is loudness, and silliness, and random questions that come along with being a kid. We have to allow them to be who they are (within appropriate boundaries) if we expect to have an eternal impact on their lives. Showing them kindness builds rapport and communicates the attempt to understand where they are at.

DO: Teach with earnestness and excellence.

Loving kids well will also mean that our teaching is done with earnestness. Kids must have confidence that we know what we are talking about. The pathway to engendering this confidence runs through letting the lesson have its effect on us first. We can’t give away what we don’t possess; we can’t teach what we haven’t applied first in our own lives. When God works in us first and then through our teaching content, our teaching will be done in earnest.

A final loving thing that teachers can do is use illustrations and anecdotes. Getting (and holding) the attention of children is often a difficult task. We must be willing to teach in ways kids can easily understand. The use of these two techniques will help the children process and use what is being taught.

DON’T: Bribe them.

Bribes are sometimes used with children to either gain compliance or modify behavior. Neither is the goal of what we are attempting to teach. Giving rewards for hard work is one thing, but bribing doesn’t show love or concern, it shows that we are simply filling time until parents arrive.

A vibrant children’s ministry is an important ingredient to any healthy church. In order to keep this ministry vibrant, demonstrating love, winning rapport, and avoiding bribing students will keep kids not only interested, but opens the door for the Holy Spirit to work.

Join the 2019 Children's Ministry Leadership Cohort

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From January to June of 2019, I'll be leading a group of children's ministers in a unique leadership development experience.

You'll learn to assimilate and train volunteers, build a child protection policy for your church, and partner with parents. You'll be developed as a theologically driven, gospel-centered, mission-focused children’s ministry leader. Cost for this coaching cohort includes one in-person ministry retreat,  five conference calls, and five books.

Download more information here, or apply below.

“Jared has served as an incredible ministry coach in my life. He has helped me lay out a specific and detailed action plan for the church I serve in, held me accountable to it, and provided biblically-informed wisdom as I strive to accomplish this plan. However, as important as the church ministry is, Jared has a deep passion and concern for my personal and family life—leading me to set a similar plan for those areas as well.” Brent Cisson, Family Ministries Pastor, Heritage Fellowship, Medford, OR

“I cannot think of anyone more passionate about gospel-centered ministry than Jared Kennedy. His leadership, excitement and coaching has helped me refocus and shape the direction of my church’s family ministry. If you have the opportunity to learn from Jared in any capacity, I highly recommend you take advantage of it.” Josh Hogue, Children's and Family Pastor, First Southern Baptist Church, Scottsdale, AZ

I learned so much while participating in Jared's coaching cohort. Jared used really helpful resources and questions to help me grow and evaluate my church's children's ministry. He walked me through setting up and implementing a strategic ministry plan. Jared took the time to get to know me, my ministry, and my church in order to know how to best care for and advise me as a children's director. He also gave ample time to ask questions and learn from his experience. Laura Knisely, Trinity Church, Abington, PA

Jared does an incredible job of helping you keep the gospel primary while helping you evaluate your ministry and develop and implement an action plan that will help it grow. Throughout and following the cohort, Jared is personable, accessible and ready to help. As a result of my time with him, our ministry has benefited and I have grown as a leader. Finally, Jared is a baller in arcade basketball (but I did beat him once)! Cody Timmerman, Central Baptist Church, Americus, GA

Sharing the Gospel with Your Kids

As our kids grow, we have a responsibility to make their spiritual growth a priority. This doesn’t simply involve reading a Bible storybook to them a few times a week. It also means having intentional times when we simply share the gospel and invite our children to respond by believing it and then obeying the Bible’s command to be baptized.

I know many parents feel intimidated by these kinds of conversations. How do I help my child understand things that are still a mystery to me?  Be encouraged. While you bear some responsibility to teach your children, God is ultimately the author of their faith. So, when the moment comes, say a quick prayer. Lean into the Lord and ask him for help, wisdom and discernment as you share the gospel with your child. 

The next step is simply sharing the good news of who Jesus is and what he has done for us. Here is a simple way we teach it in Sojourn Kids. This gospel presentation contains five simple truths.

  • First, God rules. God is the king of the universe. God made the whole world and everything in it. And because God made everything, he is also in charge of everything. But God isn’t mean, selfish, or weak like human kings. God is the good king. He is just, loving, and powerful. And he wants us to be close to him—to trust him and live a good life in his kingdom – the life we were created for.

    Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
     
  • Second, we sinned. The problem with our world is that we have rejected God as our king. We’ve said no to God, and we’ve tried to live life our own way apart from him. Whenever we fight—whether it’s over the last cookie or the first place in line—we’re trying to get our own way instead of his.  The Bible calls this sin. Sin is saying no to God. The Bible tells us that everyone has sinned, and this sin separates us from God.

    Romans 3:23 For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
     
  • Third, sin leads to death. Here’s the truth. We were made to be with God. Though it may work for a little while to live life on our own, eventually the pain of being far away from God in a broken world shows us that something is wrong. People start to see that nothing else will satisfy and they look for ways to get back to God.  We try to be good enough—to make a fresh start. We want to be smart enough so we search for the right answers. We might even get busy with churchy activities. But these are broken bridges that lead to sadness, confusion, and judgment. God is still far away.

    Proverbs 16:25 There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end, it leads to death.
     
  • Fourth, God provided at the cross. The pit created by sin is so wide that you can’t measure it, and there is nothing we can do to bridge the gap. We can’t pay for our crimes and put things back the way they’re meant to be. We can’t climb up to God, but God has come to us. Jesus is God’s son. Jesus was born on earth—fully God and fully man. He lived with God perfectly. Then, he suffered and died on the cross to pay the punishment our sins deserve. Three days later, Jesus rose to life and won victory over sin and death. Because of Jesus, we can live close with God again.

    John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 
     
  • Finally, God gives us his love and grace. God gets close to us, and he still loves us. This is such good news! God accepts us—not because we have earned it or deserve it—but just because he loves us. He showed you how much he loves you by sending Jesus.

    Now, Jesus is inviting you to come into his kingdom and receive his love by trusting him. If sin is saying no to God, then trust is saying yes. Will you say yes to Jesus?

    You can say this to God: Dear God, I trust you with my life. I’ve tried to rule your world as my own. I’ve said no to you, and I’m sorry. Thank for sending Jesus to die so that I might live. I trust Jesus as my king. I trust only him to save me and help me live with you. Amen.

    Romans 10:9 If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

So, that’s the gospel in five simple steps. And I want to encourage you to intentionally share it with your kids then call them to respond.

At the end of that conversation, if your child just isn’t ready, don’t try to pressure or manipulate them. And don’t be discouraged. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they aren’t saved or that they won’t be saved. Jesus didn’t identify his own faith as separate from his parents until the age of twelve, and he was not baptized until age thirty. Keep praying for your child and find a time in the future to come back to this conversation again.

On the other hand, if your child says “Yes!” don’t be tempted to doubt their sincerity. Take it at face value. We know that Jesus loves children and desires to save them, so eagerly encourage your kids to keep on believing—not just today but throughout their life. I pray this simple outline will help you intentionality share the gospel with your child.

 

If you liked this post, check out my Are You Close To God? gospel booklet. The illustrations on each page of this booklet correspond with the training video above. Use them to show and tell kids how God has come to us through Jesus, and how we can receive his love by saying "yes!" and putting all of our trust in him.  Click here to purchase.

 

Reporting Suspected Child Abuse and Neglect

At Sojourn Church Midtown, the church where I serve as a pastor, we're now using a series of training videos both to equip parents as disciple-makers in their homes and to orient and update our children's ministry team on our ministry policies and procedures as well best practices when teaching kids. 

I'm planning to share these videos here at gospelcenteredfamily.com as we release them to our church community. This third video in the series is designed to orient volunteers to our church's reporting policies for child abuse and neglect. It outlines three things: (1) our responsibility as mandatory reporters (2) how to report, and (3) how volunteers can guard themselves from accusation.  

Our Responsibility as Mandatory Reporters

The first representation a child has of God is their parents and regular caregivers. That’s a truth that should encourage us to be hyper-vigilant about protecting children from predatory or abusive influences. Sadly, most abuse takes place within the context of an on-going relationship.  Over 80% of the time, abusers are people who are well-known to the victim. They are the people we’d least expect.

In Matthew 18, Jesus warns us, “If  anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea” This a strong warning, but it’s one that highlights our responsibility before God to protect kids.

We believe that reporting abuse is a responsibility we have before God. But it’s also a responsibility we have before the governing authorities. It’s important to know that all Sojourn Kids volunteers are mandatory reporters of abuse and neglect according to both Kentucky and Indiana law.

How to Report

So, what do I do if I suspect that a child has been physically, emotionally, or sexually abused? The short answer is, Report Immediately!

In the case of suspected abuse by a staff member, volunteer, or parent, volunteers should immediately make a report to Child Protective Services in your city or state. We also ask that you report your concerns to a safe staff person or pastor at the church. If you’d like, we’re willing to call Child Protective Services with you. After all, you are a mandatory reporter and we are mandatory reporters as well.

Here’s a couple of things about reporting that it’s important to know.

  • First, it’s not your responsibility (or ours) to substantiate your suspicions. We simply have a responsibility as a church community to comply with the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) and cooperate fully with both Child Protective Services and the law enforcement officials in our community. If you’d like to learn more about what constitutes abuse, take a look at the checklist that accompanies this video. But I’d encourage you to err on the side of caution and report any suspicions you have.
     
  • Second, know that you should not discuss the report with other parents or childcare workers. This is for the sake of privacy. But also, if a child is disclosing that a parent or another adult is causing harm, DO NOT talk with that parent or adult. Talking to a potential abuser could result in additional shame or abuse for the child. Instead, as we’ve already said, Report Right Away!

How Can I Guard Myself from Accusation?

One question that regularly comes up when we’re talking about abuse reporting is the question of protecting yourself from accusation. This is important because appropriate physical contact with children can be really helpful (and even necessary!) in a children’s ministry environment. A hand on a child’s shoulder may be helpful for aiding communication, redirecting attention, or calming restlessness. But physical touch can also be easily misinterpreted. So, whether you are serving in children’s ministry or are just interacting with kids in your community group, here are a few simple rules to abide by:

  • Always remain in open sight of other adults.
     
  • Know that appropriate physical contact varies according to the child’s age. What is appropriate for nursery age children (holding, rocking, assisting in the restroom, etc.) is not appropriate for kids in grade school. Sitting on laps for instance may be appropriate for a toddler, but it’s not appropriate for a first grader.  
     
  • Because the majority of sexual offenders are men, our policy at Sojourn Kids is that only females may change diapers. Also, we don’t change the diapers of children over age five.
     
  • Also know that in some situations, a man will need to limit physical contact more than a woman in the same situation, especially when working with older children.
     
  • All caregivers should refrain from roughhousing, wrestling, or giving shoulder or piggyback rides to children. Physical contact in group activities such as ultimate Frisbee, freeze tag, touch football, etc., is reasonable and understandable. But rough play and the kind of personal attention given by a shoulder ride is not appropriate for a classroom setting. And generally speaking, these types of activities should be avoided in a community group setting as well—particularly if a child’s parents are not present or within sight range.
     
  • It’s also important to use care and discernment when hugging a child. Brief side-hugs when greeting or comforting a child are generally appropriate. Prolonged, frequent, or frontal hugs are just not. In older classes, volunteers should not initiate hugs, particularly towards children of the opposite sex. If an older child initiates a hug, redirect them to more appropriate contact such as a side hug or gentle "high-five.”
     
  • Never touch a child on or near any region that is considered private or personal unless you are changing diaper or assisting toddler or preschool age children in the restroom.
     
  • And never touch a child out of frustration or anger. Physical discipline is never an appropriate means of correcting someone else’s child.

Thank you for joining us for this training reporting and protecting children from abuse and neglect.  These are heavy responsibilities that we take very seriously, and we trust that you will as well.