Hey, my friends. Welcome back to Let’s Encourage One Another.
I have a question for you: How many of you serve with the kids at your church in some way? How many of you at least smile and wave to the kids when you see them on Sunday?
What you may not realize is how many of those kids are coming with some type of hurt or struggle, whether physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual. How can those of us in the church care for them during this time?
In April, I had the opportunity to speak about this very topic at the Mighty Kid Min Conference, put on by Laurie Acker at the Creative Little Church. And with her permission, I would like to share that session with you. Now, I’m not sharing the actual recording, but essentially giving the session again, because I really want to equip all of you who serve as Sunday school teachers, children’s ministries directors, and youth ministry leaders—but even if you don’t serve directly with the children, I know you’ll learn some things you can do with the children in your own family or neighborhood.
There are three very powerful, but very simple things you can do to care for kids in your life who are hurting.
Now, before I get started, let me share something with you. I’ve been involved with children’s and youth ministry most of my life. Since I went to a smaller church, I had the opportunity to start teaching Sunday school at a young age. Then my sister and I co-led our own youth group. I’ve been a youth director and small group leader, I’ve led VBS and Arts Camp programs. And most recently, I stepped down as children’s ministries director to focus full-time on my work here at Love Does That. I love working with kids.
And today I’m excited to talk to you about how to come alongside kids who are hurting. Because I feel like a lot of times, when families in the church are struggling, it’s the adults who will get the care and support they need, but the kids often get overlooked or missed. Like we think the situation doesn’t affect them.
Take a moment and think back to a time in your childhood where you struggled. Did you ever experience the death of a pet or family member? Did you ever have trouble at school? Maybe you had a time when your friends decided they didn’t want to be your friends anymore. Or you got glasses or braces and the other kids picked on you.
Kids in our churches are struggling with these things, too. Did you know that 1 in 14 kids experience the death of a parent or sibling by the time they turn 18 (source)? Or that 1 in 5 students report being bullied (source)? And 1 in 6 children ages 2-8 has a diagnosed mental, behavioral, or developmental disorder (source) and they only get more common as kids get older.
They’re also struggling with school, or coming back to church after being quarantined for so long. Some might be dealing with anxiety. Or maybe they moved to a new house, or a parent lost their job. Maybe they have trouble sleeping at night, or there’s a new baby in the family who upset the routine of things.
And honestly, a lot of them won’t tell anyone about it. They don’t know HOW to talk about it. They don’t know how to describe the hurt or the sadness or the anxiety. Or if they do tell someone, for whatever reason, sometimes the adult doesn’t believe them or doesn’t realize the severity of the situation.
The truth is, we have a lot of kids who are hurting in some way or another. Stop for a moment and think about things your kids at church are going through. Write down some of the things that come to mind. Go ahead and pause the podcast if you need to.
As Sunday school teachers or children’s ministries volunteers, I know you care so deeply about your kids. You want to make it all better for them. You want to fix it. You want to take the pain away. But that’s not your job. And it’s not realistic.
Your role is not going to be as a counselor. The child probably is not going to meet up with you outside of class and tell you everything that is going on. Your role is not a doctor, who can help provide medicine or treatment that might be needed.
But your role is no less important. And there are three superpowers you have as a Sunday school teacher or a children’s ministries director that can help bring healing and love to children who are hurting. Are you ready?
The Power of Showing Up
First, is the power of showing up. This means being there each week as consistently as you can.
And I don’t want you to underestimate the power of showing up.
“Studies show that an hour or two a week with a safe adult in a safe place can make a huge difference in the life of a vulnerable child.” (Julie Cooper, Trauma Free World, TBRI Practitioner) You can make a huge difference in just one hour a week. Do you believe that?
Keep showing up. Week after week. Even when you don’t want to. Even when you’re tired. Even when you’re frustrated. That doesn’t mean you can’t take a week off every now and then, but you’re consistently showing up in the life of a child.
I’m going to pause here and talk about a scheduling issue. I know that some churches have classrooms where the teachers change every week. Maybe your volunteers serve on a monthly basis. I understand that from a volunteer perspective. And if that’s the case, you show up every time you’re scheduled.
But I also invite you to consider the power of having 1 or 2 adults each week who regularly show up. I know it’s hard. I know it’s a big commitment. But it has a tremendous impact on the lives of the kids. Imagine if the kid went to school and had a different teacher every day. Routines wouldn’t be the same, the atmosphere of the classroom wouldn’t be the same. They’d constantly be adjusting and trying to figure things out, making it harder for them to actually learn what they’re there to learn.
Having one adult who is regularly there allows you to build the relationship with them. They know exactly what to expect each week and can slowly begin to trust you and get to know you. How powerful!
The way we did it when I was a children’s ministries director was that I was the adult who was in the room every week and then the teacher who was in the room with me rotated. I understand not everyone can do that. But if you can, I encourage you to do so.
It know it’s a big deal. Especially if your kids only meet during the worship service. That means you don’t necessarily get to go to the worship service each week. And you’ve got to make sure you’re staying close to God and hearing solid Bible teaching. So do not do this lightly or on a whim. Pray about it. Talk to others about it. Make sure it’s not going to draw you away from God.
Whatever you decide, do your best to show up every week, even if that’s just saying “hi” to the kids and talking with them when you’re not in the classroom with them. There is a great power in showing up.
The Power of Being Present
So we show up. Week after week. As consistently as we can. Second is the power of being present.
Can we all acknowledge that just because you show up somewhere doesn’t mean that you’re actually engaged with and paying attention to what’s going on?
God has really been convicting me of this over the past several years in my own home, especially since I work from home. When I work, I want to be fully focused on my work, but when I’m with my family, I want to be fully engaged with them. When I’m spending time with God through prayer and Bible study, I want to be fully focused on Him. Don’t you?
So when you’re in class with your kids at church… Where is your mind? What are you thinking about? What are you paying attention to?
Here are few things you can do to be fully present in your classroom.
One, you can show up early. Be prepared and ready so that you can be fully engaged once the kids get there. This means knowing your lesson, having all the materials ready to go, and knowing what snacks you’ll be serving that day.
Two, you can look the kids in the eyes. It’s a lot harder to pay attention to something else when you’re staring a kid in the eye.
Three, you can try not to have conversations with others when you’re supposed to be welcoming the kids into the room or teaching them. Keep your focus on them. I know this can be hard because everyone tries to catch you on Sunday morning to ask you this or tell you that. Find a way to lovingly communicate that this is your time with the kids and you’ll connect with them after church.
Four, if you find your mind wondering during class, you can take a moment to ground yourself. Look around the room. Note what you see. What you hear. But take a moment to look around and remind yourself why you’re there.
Five, you can pray. Pray before church as you’re getting ready. Pray on the way there. Pray during class, if you need to. “God, help me to be present and engaged with these kids. Help me to love them.”
The Power of Play
So there’s the power of showing up consistently, there’s the power of being present, and third, there’s the power of play.
I don’t know how old the kids are that you work with, but play is so important to the life of a child. And I would say, for teenagers, too. In fact, there’s a podcast episode from Reggie Joiner at the Parent Cue about the 6 Gifts Every Kid Needs, and one of those is fun. I’ll link to that episode in the show notes and I really encourage you to listen to it.
Why is play so important? Because children use play to process what’s going on in their lives, to make sense of their feelings, and to engage with God.
Yes, you heard that right. Kids use play to engage with God.
But let me step back and give you an example.
When my daughter was three, she fractured her elbow. And as we were sitting in the hospital room, she looked at the sock she had on her arm and said, “Look, Mom, it’s like a puppet!”
She naturally uses play as a way to process what is going on. She didn’t quite understand the hospital and the pain she was feeling, but she knew what a puppet was like, and she used that connection to help her cope with what was going on.
Similarly, do you have kids in your life who give you a script to follow when you’re playing with them? “I’ll say this, and then you say that, and then I’ll go this way…” They are often using that to process something, to try something on. Maybe school is starting soon and they’re a little nervous, so they create this scenario that it’s the first day of school to help them practice. Maybe they’re going to play the teacher welcoming students in while you play the student.
Kids can use toys or dress-up clothes or cars or blocks. They can use paint or crayons. They can use books. In fact, I took a class with Lacy Borgo, who teaches spiritual direction with children. And we often used things like silly putty, rocks, pictures, and sand to meet with kids and explore their relationship with God.
All are ways they play, ways they process their world, AND ways they can engage with God. To us, it looks like they’re just having fun, but so much more is going on than we realize.
Fred Rogers said, “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.”
Too often, we’re focused on getting through the lesson or having them repeat a certain phrase after us, one that they can tell their parents after class to prove they “learned” something that day. But—but, giving the kids a chance to play gives them a chance to process what they are thinking about.
So if you have a few minutes in class to just let them play. Let them play. Let them draw a picture on their own instead of putting together the craft you think is just so cute, but that doesn’t necessarily convey what is going on in their hearts and minds. Let them build something out of Legos quietly on their own. It’s that quiet chance to process what they just heard in class or the situation that is causing them to hurt.
God put you there as a Sunday school teacher or children’s ministry leader to be a friend, a caring presence for these kids. Kids who are going through so much more than we realize.
You might never see the impact that you have. I know we hear that all the time. I wish that you could see the difference you’re making. It’s like buying a house and doing all the structural work to make sure it’s safe. No one is going to see how that money was spent. You’re not going to have the best finishes or top of the line fixtures. But you will have a house that will be safe, that will stand through the storms, that you will call home. It will be your sanctuary.
By showing up, being present, and allowing kids to play, you are creating a safe place, a safe relationship, where they can “be” who they are and “be” with God. And that is one of the best ways you can care for those kids when they are hurting. Don’t underestimate the impact you can have in just one or two hours a week. You can make such a difference.
Until next time…
QUOTES + RESOURCES:
- “Studies show that an hour or two a week with a safe adult in a safe place can make a huge difference in the life of a vulnerable child.” (Julie Cooper, Trauma Free World, TBRI Practitioner)
- “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” (Fred Rogers)
- Parent Cue Live: 6 Gifts Every Kid Needs