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Author, speaker, pastor’s wife, and mom Jen Hatmaker talks about why children’s ministry matters to her family—and countless others.
Jen Hatmaker is a bestselling author, blogger, TV personality, pastor’s wife, and mother. She’s beloved for her down-to-earth honesty and humorous approach to life and love. We—and hundreds of attendees—were delighted to have Jen keynote at the KidMin Conference in Chicago this past September. Between promoting her newest book release and making appearances on the Today show and the DIY Network, Jen sat down with Children’s Ministry Magazine to talk about what matters most to her—and what role children’s ministry plays in it.
cm: You often talk about the importance of love, community, and humor. Explain why you believe these things are so important to people of faith.
JEN: Love, community, and humor are so important to me that I almost don’t know how to unhook myself from them. I mean I’m 40, so I’ve lived—whatever—half my life. And I’ve figured out that all by itself, life is hard. We don’t have to try to make it harder. We don’t have to try to make it any more serious or sobering than it already is. And so within that, if we don’t have love, community, and humor, I think we’ll just drown. Those are our lifelines. I don’t find them optional. I don’t find them great if you can squeeze them in. I find them essential.
In my life, it is my friends and my tight little faith community here and my neighbors and just straight up laughter that really keeps me going day in and day out. It truly is. As a family, we prioritize it. We make so much space for it. My kids would tell you. We have our best friends over all the time. We sit on the porch. It’s not fancy. But it is that connection and that levity that’s renewing. It’s restorative. I hope and pray for that and I push for that for all my readers and listeners all the time.
cm: You mention loving all kinds of people—from the churchgoing mom to the on-the-fringe person who rejects church. Children’s ministers also love a variety of kids (even the “unlovable ones”) from very diverse situations. What’s important about loving people who push us outside our comfort zones?
JEN: Oh, mercy. Children’s ministers have a heavy responsibility. I can think of so many kids from really dysfunctional homes. Kids whose parents drop them off at any given church every Sunday and just hope for the best and pick them up two hours later. Children’s ministers have a big burden with kids who are hurt.
But almost without exception, I’ve found that the people who are the hardest to love in my life also have the hardest time receiving or even believing anyone could love them in the first place. I have some of this in my own home. We’re an adoptive family, and our youngest two children came to us at older ages essentially having been abandoned. Their love mechanism was so hard to figure out. And the way that comes out a lot of time in churches and in children’s ministry is defiance, obstinance, anger, even “I don’t care; I don’t want to be here.” But I’ve found that to be smoke and mirrors almost all the time. If you could scratch just beneath the surface, those are hurt people and hurt kids. They’re scared and they’re lonely. I know the day in and day out can still be hard. It’s still hard to deal with people who make you crazy. But I think about the parable of the shepherd who’s going to leave the 99 for the one. And to me these kids are the one. They’re the one.
We’re going to primarily deal with 99 out of 100 kids who are reasonable and are going to follow the social rules and at least kind of know how to behave in a social setting. But that one is the one always running off, always not where he or she is supposed to be, just crazy. But that one is worth leaving the pack for. We don’t even know what sorts of seeds that plants. We don’t know what God can do with the power of affection and attention and love. It’s as powerful as medicine. To me, that’s one of my biggest roles on this earth.
cm: What matters to you most about your own children’s faith?
JEN: It’s funny. My oldest is a senior. We’re really getting up to launch base here. We’ve done the work, all the work in the home. We’re about to put him out into the world to see how he does. At this point, what matters to me most about my own children’s faith is that it’s theirs. If they’re just hanging on to God for my sake or because my husband’s a pastor and we have a church, it won’t hold. It’s not strong enough. It won’t hold in adversity or conflict. It won’t hold in disappointment. It won’t hold unless it’s securely anchored in their hearts.
We care less about their behaviors and all the outward things I think a lot of faith communities focus on. “Just behave.” Everybody just behave, right? “Don’t say the f-word.” “Wear modest skirts.” That stuff? It’s not that it doesn’t matter to us, but it doesn’t matter nearly as much as it matters that their faith is something real and true and rooted. We want our kids to ask the really hard questions without shame, without making them feel embarrassed, without dismissing them. They’re growing up in a really complicated world, so every question is on the table with us. Every question is noted and affirmed. We’re hoping to raise kids who really, actually love God. If that’s the case, then everything else will follow.[end of article preview]
Thanks for checking out this special sneak peek of a featured article in the Nov/Dec 2015 issue of Children’s Ministry Magazine.
Subscribe today and get more great articles like this one—delivered to your mailbox and tablet—all year long!