Grating Expectations

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Expectations can be a touchy subject. Christian parents quietly
wonder whether their kids are learning anything of value in Sunday
school. Children’s ministers wonder how parents can possibly
believe that one or two hours each week alone will instill strong
foundations of Christian faith and moral development for a child’s
lifetime.

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Just what are the gaps between a parent’s role and a children’s
ministry’s role in developing lasting faith in children? And why do
fingers get pointed when the roles become confused? It’s a subject
fraught with passion, confusion, and disillusionment.

We asked children’s ministers at childrensministry.com how they
really feel about Christian parents’ expectations of their
children’s ministries. Opinions ranged from downtrodden and
disgruntled to positive and impassioned — but the split was neck
and neck.

The large minority of poll-takers indicate that Christian
parents’ expectations of their children’s ministry are out of line.
According to these people, there’s undeniable tension between
parents and the children’s ministry that boils down to misaligned
expectations.

Behavior Modification — For Parents

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Several people say Christian parents wrongly expect children’s
ministries to serve as a behavior-modification program that
releases them from their parental duties of discipline and
guidance.

“Most parents expect the children’s church to change the
behavior of their children. What they don’t realize is that they
spend most of the time with their children…It seems parents enjoy
other people raising their kids and they don’t want to commit to
God’s calling [to raise their own children],” says one person.

Another says, “While it’s important for us to provide the very
best in children’s ministry, parents need to accept the
responsibility of teaching their child the things of God on a daily
basis, and not expect that we’ll take care of it for them in a
matter of two hours a week.”

Still another person says roles have been improperly reversed.
“As a children’s minister, I’m here to reinforce what should be
taught in the home. I’m not the example that child sees on a daily
basis. Parents often rely on the children’s ministry to do their
job of training their child.”

Whose “Burden”?

A recent study by The Barna Research Group covering the state of
today’s children and their moral development reveals that while the
vast majority — 85% — of parents believe they have the primary
responsibility for the moral and spiritual development of their
children, a staggering 66% admit to handing off that responsibility
to their churches. Many of the poll responses reflect frustration
with this handoff.

Says one, “I see many parents come into the church today
expecting the church to rear their children in Christian faith.
From my reading of Scripture, it’s the parents who should have the
primary burden.”

Another adds, “While a children’s church program should greatly
contribute to a child’s learning about Christ, the parent should
have the bigger burden.”

“It’s parents who have the greatest influence on their child’s
spiritual development, and they need to own that,” says yet
another.

Barna’s study also found that parents typically don’t have a
plan for their child’s spiritual development, don’t rate children’s
spiritual development as a priority, feel unprepared to nurture
their child’s faith, have no goals or standards in mind regarding
their child’s spirituality, and experience no accountability in
their efforts.

Many poll respondents — while agreeing that parents are the
primary faith developers in their child’s life — do question
whether the church is doing enough to support parents in this
role.

“I wonder how much we do to help parents fulfill this
responsibility. Does anyone have a good program in place to do
this?” asks one person.

Interestingly, a Family Disciple-ship Ministries
(www.fsfministries.net) article says that overall churches
currently do very little that actually equips parents to serve as
spiritual guides for their children. And Barna’s study shows that
only 19% of parents of kids under 13 have been contacted by a
church leader, teacher, or volunteer to talk about the parent’s
involvement in the spiritual life and development of their
children.

Don’t Know, Don’t Care

Poll-takers who say Christian parents have unrealistic
expectations of their children’s ministry also tend to assess
parents as generally unaware of how their children are doing in
terms of spiritual growth.

“Most parents don’t know what’s being taught in their children’s
programs. It’s just where they go so parents can have a child-free
service,” says one person.

Another says, “Parents often have no idea what their children
learn in class and they don’t ask. There’s an apathetic attitude
that the kids are just there to be baby-sat.”

Still another says, “People see this as time to be child-free
and feel like they’re no longer responsible for their children.
They feel like it’s our children’s ministry workers’ job to take
care of their kids so they can socialize with their friends.”

Frustration seems prevalent among children’s ministers who
believe parents’ expectations are out of line, but overall people
indicate that they’re called to be a part of children’s ministry
and are determined to make a difference.

At the other end of the spectrum is the majority of poll-takers
who feel that high expectations and a high calling go hand in hand.
These same people generally feel that parents should expect more
from their children’s ministries — that is, more than
“baby-sitting” service, more than programming, and more than cute
crafts and fun games. Passion, dedication, and faithfulness –
regardless of circumstances — flavor these responses.

My Saving Grace

The impact of eternal work is foremost in many children’s
ministers’ minds. When it comes to passing on their passion for
Jesus, for many of these people it’s quite simple — no bar could
ever be high enough.

“We in [children's] ministry need to realize we’re reaching a
group of potential Christians. Much relies on our faithfulness to
this calling. Parents should hope, expect, and desire to have
adults who are godly in the children’s ministry,” says one
person.

Says another: “Are you kidding me? [Those of us] involved in
children’s ministry hopefully feel called to minister to these
kids. If this is our calling, then I truly feel ‘too much’ can’t be
expected of us.”

“As people who are involved in any form of children’s ministry,
we should take the responsibility God has entrusted to us very
seriously,” adds another person. “We should be faithfully using the
gifts God has given to us, not halfheartedly, but with a driving
passion to see children have faith in our Father. Expectations may
be high, but is that wrong?”

Another sums it up by saying, “I don’t believe you can ever
expect too much from a children’s ministry program.”

Good With the Bad

Generally, children’s ministers who believe that parents don’t
expect too much from their children’s ministries acknowledge that
ministry has its rough spots.

“When you’re in ministry, it’s just that — ministry. You accept
the joys and the heartaches. I’m constantly amazed and encouraged
when I teach the little ones in our church. They’re eager to
experience God. I don’t take my call to the ministry lightly, and
therefore I don’t feel others will. I’m making a difference in the
life of a child, and that’s my ultimate goal,” says one person.

Another addresses the stereotype of “baby-sitting” during
grown-up church. “As Sunday school teachers or children’s
ministers, we’ve been given the heart and ability to reach out to
children on their terms…I don’t mind being considered a
baby-sitter, because I know what I do and what my responsibility is
– that is, to teach eager, wide-eyed, curious children about God.
If the parents won’t or don’t know how, I’ll happily fill in the
void.”

Another person says, “To whom much is given, much is expected.
When we volunteer our time with children’s ministry, much is
expected because [children are]the future of the church body and
should be trained in the right way.”

Expect More

Several poll-takers indicate that they wish parents expected a
little more from children’s ministry — and that they themselves
are driven to provide much more.

“I’m amazed at how little our church expects from children’s
ministers. I think they just want a baby-sitter…People should
expect excellence from all ministry areas,” says one person.

Another says, “Parents should expect their children to be
taught. Children’s church is not a baby-sitting program.”

“Children’s ministry is supposed to be to the glory of God,”
adds another. “Nothing is ever too much for God. Excellence should
be expected.”

Win-Win

Many poll-takers offered ways they think parents and children’s
ministries can better work together to forge a life-long foundation
of faith in kids. Redefining roles, creating support for parents,
and fostering partnerships ranked among the most popular solutions
to create a win-win situation for everyone.

One person offers, “A partnership between parent and teacher is
crucial, with the parent reinforcing on a daily basis the lessons
learned at church. Kids’ church isn’t baby-sitting, nor is it
discipline class. Parents who think so need to be reintroduced to
what the children’s program is and what their expected involvement
is regarding the spiritual development of their child.”

Another person says, “It’s how you approach the parents…They
want to feel needed, accepted, and loved, too. Do you greet them by
name at the door? Do you ask how they’re doing? Do you show
interest in their child and greet the child by name? Are you
smiling, or do you look frustrated, tired, and angry?…It’s all
attitude and expectations. Treat each child and parent as though
they’re the best thing on earth. You’ll get more respect if you
respect them first.”

Relationship and support are the keys, according to one person
who says, “The way we talk about ministry needs to change. We say,
‘Parents should’ do this or that. We need to empower parents to
connect with their children and talk with them about faith in any
setting — whether it’s at church, at home, or in the community.
Rather than pronouncing judgment on them for falling short, let’s
encourage parents and educate them on what they can do.” cm

Jennifer Hooks is managing editor of Children’s Ministry
Magazine.

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