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Sunday, March 02, 2008

Children's Ministry

Children are a challenge. There, I said it. We've all known it. Many of us have conscious thoughts of it. Some people resent it. (They write to Dear Abby and complain about noisy children in restaurants and on airplanes.) The Bible says they are a gift from God. Most of us find that believable ... at least some of the time.

Society looks at children as a gift. We're very offended when they're offended. Outrage flashes throughout the community when a child is abused or injured. Parents sue when their kid is told to cut his hair or wear his pants around his waste. A woman in Ohio last week changed schools because her kid couldn't attend with a Mohawk haircut. We seem to think that children should be protected and preserved. Kids rights are often talked about. Nobody in their right mind wouldn't want to protect kids. Right?

I find it an ironic dilemma when we whine and complain about the challenges of our kids --- and celebrate our kids at the same time. How do we pull that off? Where does that get reconciled in our moral consciousness? I think it can start with our churches. Yes, I'm serious. Our churches can teach us how to reconcile the moral dilemma we face with challenging children who nonetheless need to be celebrated.

I've been involved in more than a couple of churches now, and because I have kids and am in ministry, I've been exposed to the inner workings of children's ministry. We hang cool names on them, like HisKidz, Kids for Christ, Promiseland, Kids R.O.C.K., FirstKids, Son City, KidzXtreme and KidZone. We make them attractive and fill them with cool gadgets. Lots of money is spent on curriculum for kids, including videos, music, puppets and a whole host of craft projects.

What do you suppose we're trying to accomplish in our children's ministries? What do you suppose is actually being accomplished? What do you suppose God wants to see accomplished?

My experience with children's ministries hasn't been so great, I have to confess. I have challenging kids. All are adopted, and some have had issues. I've also known other parents with challenging kids. Seizures, handicaps, retardation and other special challenges often show up in kids. Their parents have to deal with it. Their schools have to deal with it. Do their churches?

Mine haven't. More than once I've seen a church turn my child out because they couldn't handle the challenges that child represented. More than once I've seen a parent required to attend the children's program with the child --- or else the child wasn't allowed to attend at all. It turned out the the children's ministry was fun and welcoming and cool --- but only for kids who could operate with a certain set of social norms. If the kid operated outside of the normal, no deal. He or she would have to "sit with their parents in big church."

Jesus seemed to love kids. He welcomed them. We see pictures of children sitting on his lap and hanging on his shoulder. I wonder if He took the annoying ones though --- and sent them back to their parents. What if Jesus would have said, "Oh honey, you can only come see Jesus if mommie or daddie can stay here with you." Do you suppose the intent of His message about children might have changed?

Child psychologists will tell you that our kids today are more challenged than ever. We have more psychological problems, more behavioral problems, more emotional problems, more dysfunctional families --- than perhaps at any other time in our history. Life is not being nice to our kids. Many of them are growing up with severe challenges. When your pastor puts a banner out that invites you to "come do life together," he needs to anticipate the fact that when I come to do live with someone, I have to bring my kids --- and their challenges with me. Did you know that when you invited me to your church?

I'd like to challenge the leaders of children's ministries, the volunteers who work there and anyone else involved. Take a hard look at who you're ministering to. And think about what you're doing to address their real life needs. Making disciples is going to be harder with some people than others. And that's true for their children too. Did you know that? Are you prepared for that?

Children are a wonderful gift from God. But they are a great responsibility. We can do a much better job of stewarding these gifts than we have been.

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