Refocusing Volunteers & Nourishing the Parents
I am a passionate volunteer in children’s ministry. I believe a child’s time in church education provides precious and fleeting opportunities to teach the Bible. As a classroom teacher, I err on the side of over-planning. And as soon as small feet enter a programming environment, I am on a mission to cram as much Bible teaching in between a young person’s ears as possible! So as you might imagine, I’m the same volunteer who gets frustrated when a child is not listening to the story or actively participating in the prepared activity. After all, I have spent so much time preparing for this child to learn!
Researching and writing on special needs accommodation has changed my perspective and even my goals as a children’s ministry volunteer. For one thing, I have learned that children are often absorbing the Bible lesson even when they fail to construct the craft or take part in the planned activity. I now know that a child who stays under a table, inside a tent, or rests on the bean bag away from the group may still be listening. And I understand that a student who becomes over-stimulated or disruptive mid-way through a period may still have had a successful learning experience for the first half of class. So, my hard work preparing for children, and even those with special needs, is rarely in vain.
But then there is always one child who offers no signs of spiritual growth or constructive class participation. This child may in fact require constant attention just to maintain the peace. Such a child is the kid I need extra grace to love. The old me (before I started writing on children with special needs) would have labored through a conversation with the children’s minister wrestling on how to talk to the child’s mother. After all, she should know that her child does not show respect to authority and does not constructively engage in the class!
Now that I write with a focus on special needs, as a volunteer my eyes are opened to a new understanding and additional objective. While a child (especially those with learning disabilities) may not learn or participate in a church setting the way I envision, there is one goal, possibly of greater signficance, I must consider: the spiritual nourishment of the parents. While my personal desires for a specific child’s participation and growth may not be attainable , as long he or she is able to stay in church programming, then his or her parents are participating in discipleship, hearing a life-changing sermon, or taking part in a fellowship group. As important as the children’s ministry worker’s role is to provide Bible education, our personal influence will never compare to the impact of a child’s parent. Sometimes the best ministry we can provide is by enabling parents to pursue their own spiritual formation and to fellowship with other believers. Keeping the needs of a parent in mind, a child’s pesky behavior or lack of participation may become marginal and even irrelevant.
I wrote this post after reading Carey Nieuwhof’s May 7th post on The Orange Parent’s blog. See http://www.orangeparents.org/what-your-kids-want-most-from-you/ for an excellent piece on the importance of a parent’s emotional health. Mothers and fathers of high demand children often need the extra grace of the children’s ministry team. By overlooking annoying behaviors and keeping a child in church programming, we are indirectly refueling the daily ministers (parents) for these same children.
– Amy Fenton Lee