Discipline That Disciples

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A Changed Heart is the Key to Better Discipline in
Children’s Ministries.

You have them. The kids who disrupt your class with their
antics. The kids who challenge your authority and try your
patience. The kids who ignore the rules without fear of
consequences. Admit it: Sometimes you wish they wouldn’t walk
through your classroom door! Even the “good” kids can get on your
nerves from time to time when their behavior is — well,
childish.

Today’s child can be a handful, and teachers are scrambling for
new ideas to control their classrooms. Too often, classroom
discipline is reduced to a stern face and a set of ineffective
rules and escalating consequences, with the only solution coming
when kids graduate from their class. Then the game begins anew.

While there’s no secret formula guaranteed to calm classroom
chaos, approaching discipline from a different perspective can
help. Don’t think of discipline as punishment for unwanted
behavior. Think of it as a disciple-making strategy. Turn those
trying moments into teachable moments. To do that, we must first
understand the truth about children’s hearts.

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Fruit Of The Heart

“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good
fruit”(Luke 6:43). Jesus wasn’t talking about trees
when he said that; he was talking about people. He was telling us
that misbehavior reveals a heart that’s bad — “desperately
wicked,” says Jeremiah. And kids aren’t exempt! Proverbs 22:15 reveals that, in their natural
state, children are driven by a heart of foolishness — ready to
yield to their selfish cravings without thought of the certain
effects.

We can attempt to control the behavior of children with bribery,
contracts, threats of punishment, time-outs, and the like, but the
heart remains unchanged. If we’re to make disciples rather than to
simply diffuse classroom tensions and distractions, we must seek to
discover the heart issue that each misbehavior reveals.

Sailing illustrates this truth well. I’ve been sailing once.
Until then, it made no sense to me. The wind blows one way, so I
figured that’s the direction the boat would go. “How does it get
back?” I wondered. “Wait for the wind to change direction,” I
guessed. Here’s what I learned: Your destination is determined by
the trim of the sail, not the direction of the breeze.

That’s how it works with kids, too. The “wind” of your
discipline (does that term accurately describe your huffing and
puffing?) may not take children in the direction you intend. It’s
the trim of their “sails” — inclined toward God or toward self –
that’ll ultimately determine their direction.

Discipline, commonly understood, molds behavior. Discipline that
disciples molds the heart. If you recognize this, you’ll focus on
revealing to children the nature of sin and instilling in them the
character of God. To do this, we must tackle the task of teaching
our children a principle about the choices they make.

Sowing And Reaping

My wife and I have a small, raised bed garden. Usually we
purchase those little six-packs of sprouted produce, but sometimes
we get adventurous and plant seeds. We work the soil, we water, we
weed — and we wait. It sometimes seems that the seeds will never
sprout, but eventually a shoot emerges and a full-grown plant
slowly develops.

Children have a hard time believing that the seeds of their
misbehavior will ever sprout. They must learn the principle of
sowing and reaping — their choices made today affect their harvest
tomorrow. “Do not be deceived,” Paul warns. “God cannot be mocked.
A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful
nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to
please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:7-8).

We must teach our children that their choices bring results,
good or bad, sooner or later. But how can we do that?

Use a variety of strategies. Discipline should not be a
knee-jerk reaction to misbehavior; it involves an ongoing process
of training and nurture. It includes instruction, warning, praise,
and encouragement for good behaviors and attitudes. Don’t simply
reprimand your students. Engage them.

Discipline that disciples, says Tedd Tripp in Shepherding a
Child’s Heart
, involves “helping children understand
themselves, God’s world, the ways of God, how sin works in the
human heart, and how the gospel comes to them at the most profound
levels of human need.”

Teach children to recognize the consequences of sin. The
sowing/reaping principle underscores the natural consequences of
sin, but how do children understand this when consequences don’t
materialize immediately?

“Kids learn to respect the reality of long-term, natural
consequences,” says Daniel Hahn in Teaching Your Kids the Truth
About Consequences
, “when [teachers]use short-run, logical
consequences as a routine part of shaping behavior.”

Teach kids to recognize the natural long-term consequences of
their actions. At the same time, use immediate consequences to
demonstrate the logic of their course of action. Also, keep
consequences reasonable and as closely associated with the behavior
as possible. For example, if the child’s misbehavior involves
property damage, require the child to replace or repair the
property. With a relational offense, help the child understand the
other person’s perspective and the need for reconciliation.

Explain the “why” of behavior as well as the “what.” Behind the
choices a child makes is a set of values, hopes, and dreams. Do
these values reflect the attitudes and qualities exemplified in
Christ? Or do they reflect a heart of selfishness? The “why” of
behavior penetrates the heart, sometimes revealing values and
attitudes contrary to God’s nature.

We “tend to see…behavior in very naive terms,” says Tedd
Tripp. “We see the fight over a toy as simply a fight over a toy,
when actually it’s a failure to prefer others.” When we help
children recognize the motives of their hearts, we help them better
understand themselves and their actions. Recognition of sinful
motives is the foundation for heart change.

Practice church discipline. What? Isn’t that just for adults? It
shouldn’t be. If you think of your class as a mini-church, you’ll
find that the Bible provides an abundance of wisdom and instruction
to help you handle relational tension. You can aid your children in
learning how to confront another child when they’ve been wronged
(in accordance with Matthew 18), seeking your intervention only as
a second step. Role play several possible scenarios with your
class. Follow God’s principles of church discipline to teach your
children what it means to be part of the body of Christ.

“I’m continually running into people who are forcing, bribing,
tricking, pleading, kicking, and screaming — trying to get their
kids to ‘be good,’ ” says Daniel Hahn. Does that sound like your
classroom discipline strategy? Then perhaps it’s time to reexamine
your methods and redirect your goal toward discipling rather than
simply controlling the classroom.

Ken McDuff is a children’s pastor in Bakersfield,
California.


Bible Talk

When it comes to setting up classroom rules, most teachers
create their own. Instead, use imperatives from Scripture the next
time you need to train a child. The following are biblical
corrections for common things kids say.

  • “He hit me first!” — “Make sure that nobody pays back wrong
    for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other…” (1 Thessalonians 5:15).
  • “She’s stupid!” — “Do not let any unwholesome talk come from
    your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up…”
    (Ephesians 4:29).
  • “You’re not my friend anymore!” — “Be kind and compassionate
    to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave
    you” (Ephesians 4:32).
  • “You’re not my boss!” — “Everyone must submit himself to the
    governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which
    God has established (Romans 13:1).
  • “Why do I have to do that!?” — “Your attitude should be the
    same as that of Christ Jesus…taking the very nature of a servant”
    (Philippians 2:5-7).

But A Child

I am but a child
whether big or small.

I don’t always obey the rules
or even know them all.

But please be patient with me.
I’m really truly trying.

It’s just sometimes my energy
makes my feet and mouth go flying!

I am growing up so fast
and going through such changes.

It seems as if ‘most every day
my whole world rearranges.

I need your help to be my best,
We’re family you know.

So if I’m getting out of line
please kindly tell me “no.”

– Susan L. Gordon

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