Bully-Proof Your Ministry

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Bully-proof your ministry by stopping
put-downs, power-mongers, and peace-breakers.

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Erik was small for his age. He kept to himself.
He wore thick glasses. He came from a poor family. And he was the
perfect target.

Rather than experiencing the glory of God at church, Erik
experienced the terror of being the target of bullying. He spent
his Sundays after children’s church running — yes, literally
running. A group of older boys who were generally viewed as leaders
and good kids would come after Erik in a malicious “game” of chase.
Nearby adults dismissed it as a child’s game, but Erik ran to save
himself. The chase went on relentlessly, with the boys calling out
threats, insults, and taunts just out of adults’ hearing.
Eventually the boys lost interest-not because they couldn’t catch
Erik, but because he’d learned how to hide in trash cans,
underneath cars, and in the girls’ restroom.

No adult realized what was truly happening until Erik lost his
footing one afternoon and fell face-first on the concrete walkway,
shattering his glasses and suffering a concussion. Rather than lie
on the walkway, in his terror he scrambled to his feet and tried to
run. A young bystander witnessed Erik’s fall and saw his shattered
glasses and the blood. She helped him up and escorted him into the
children’s ministry director’s office, where she cried out, “Why
won’t you do something? Those boys chase him every week!”

Jessica was a genuinely happy girl who excelled in school and was
popular among her peers. However, her parents noticed a change in
her not long after they joined a new church. At first, Jessica was
just quiet after church. When her parents asked her how Sunday
school was, she’d shrug. Soon, she began to ask her parents if she
could skip Sunday school and just go to “big church” with them.
They urged her to try harder to make friends.

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Jessica’s parents felt great relief when, after several weeks,
Jessica appeared excited and happy after Sunday school. Her mother
asked what had happened.

“Stephanie invited me to her birthday party. It’s a slumber party!
Can I go? Please?”

Delighted and relieved that Jessica had finally made a church
friend, her mother quickly consented.

But that Wednesday, the phone rang. It was Stephanie. As Jessica
picked up an extension, her mom couldn’t help but listen in
momentarily, elated that Jessica’s new friend was calling. She was
stunned to hear Stephanie rudely uninvite Jessica to the party,
saying, “It was a joke. Nobody wants you there!”

The face of bullying is shifting, as is the face of the bully.
Bullies don’t come prepackaged in the image of the lumbering
schoolyard oaf rolling up his sleeves before pummeling his hapless
victim. Bullies can be attractive, popular, wealthy, and
well-rounded. They can also be unattractive, unpopular,
disadvantaged, and narrow-minded. They can be a mixture of all the
preceding. Bullies can be hard to spot, especially in places where
adults don’t expect to find them…such as in our children’s
ministries.

“Bullying is a conscious, willful, and deliberate hostile activity
intended to harm, induce fear through the threat of further
aggression, and create terror,” writes conflict resolution expert
Barbara Coloroso in her book The Bully, The Bullied, and the
Bystander.

Schools have come under scrutiny since the events at Columbine
High School, but many churches have felt exempt from dealing with
the bullying issue. After all, church is supposed to be a safe
haven. But the truth is that bullying happens wherever kids are —
regardless of where they are. And the sad fact is, kids who spend
their energy bullying or defending themselves against a bully have
little energy left over to learn — or appreciate — the truths we
want to instill in them. As a children’s minister, you can take
concrete, practical steps to thwart all kinds of bullying and to
build a caring community among the children you shepherd.

     

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