I have the privilege of serving in children's ministry at our church. This morning I sent out an email reminding parents, teachers and helpers about some values we seek to reinforce in the way we approach ministry--beyond the specific content we feature. As I looked at those reflections again, I thought I'd share them here with a broader audience in hopes they might be helpful to others and stir imagination. Here's the short letter...
We structure our children’s ministry time on Sundays in such a way that minute-by-minute the children are hearing the message “You first, God” and being invited to order their lives after God’s desires, not our own.
Our time together is counter-cultural on purpose. We want to provide an atmosphere that is slow and quiet because the world we live in tends to be fast and loud. We intentionally unplug from technology because we know children get plenty of that in their Monday through Saturday. We even take care in how we cross the threshold into the children’s ministry worship spaces. In our everyday lives, we often move from one place to the next without pausing to consider what is already waiting for us on “the other side”. But on Sunday our slow and quiet way of entering the children’s ministry room reinforces the notion that God is already there. As we cross the threshold, we anticipate that we are going to be aware of God’s presence and something special awaits us in our time together.
Together. That is a special word, isn’t it? It is one thing to gather; it is another thing to truly be together. Notice how the one word “together” joins two words “to gather”.
We gather to be together. Gathering does not guarantee togetherness. For that, we need a heart-change, a reorientation of self.
Here’s how we try to nurture this “reorientation of self” in our ministry.
1. Through the reverent, gentle way we work with the story objects.
2. Through the formation of a circle in which the story of God is placed in the center.
3. Through the placement of the Focal Story (that’s what we call it) in the center of the front altar.
4. Through the marking of time each week that retells the entire Jesus story annually.
We also counter a “Me first” attitude through “managing the circle of relationships.” It is a way of being together that seeks mutual respect. We practice the dialectic of listening and speaking, making space for one another.
We are far from perfect at this, but that is why we keep trying to reinforce these things each week. Some weeks we do better at this than other weeks. That’s okay. But we will keep trying. We will not give up because we believe that in all this we are seeking first God’s kingdom, the way God wants us to live. Beyond the specific content we deliver, it is by this process we hope to instill a sense of “You first, God!” in all of us.
So, here’s some homework: consider how you can live into values like this in your everyday life--at home, at work, in leisure. What will you need to stop doing, start doing and keep doing? Be intentional about it. Practice yourself what the children at our church are practicing. It’s truly life-giving.