Rules of Engagement

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I’d just finished what I believed to be
another rather inspiring and compelling lesson about God’s purpose
for our lives. I’d retold the exciting moment when Jesus laid it
all out for Peter, saying that every one of God’s commands really
comes down to two simple points: Love God and love
others
.

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I’d emphasized for several weeks now that
if we only figured out how to do those two uncomplicated things,
we’d live the purpose that God has called each of us to. Over and
over I’d driven it home: “Love God; love others. It all comes down
to this.” And I’d ended each lesson with a most sincere prayer
asking God to help us discover how to better love him and all the
people in our lives before dismissing the kids to their small
groups.

As the kids filed out the room, though, I watched as Jackson
grabbed and then hurled Shellie’s stuffed alligator 20 feet across
the room. It was a minor offense at best, but still an excellent —
ahem — learning opportunity for Jackson. I’ll admit I was
a little surprised that of all kids, it was Jackson I was pulling
aside. After all, he was one of our regular, most well-behaved
kids.

I knelt down at his eye level and asked, “Remember those two
things we just talked about? Those two things that Jesus said
matter most as his followers?” I could feel the weight of the
moment, anticipating that this would turn out to be my Teachable
Moment of the Morning. “What were those two things, Jackson?”

Jackson stared hard at me, his brow furrowed, searching for the
right answer. I watched him, certain he’d connect the dots. He was,
after all, always in the front row. His eyes finally met mine in a
silent plea for help. Slightly discouraged, I gave him a little
hint: “Jesus said to love…?”

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Nothing.

I sighed. “Love…? Love Guh…? Guh? Guh…?” I hinted further,
trying to give him some phonetic inspiration — and beginning to
feel foolish.

“Oh yeah!” Jackson’s brow unfurrowed and his eyes lit up. “Love
girls!

Right then I realized that too often I’ve made the mistake of
assuming that Jackson, who’s always sitting quietly, facing forward
in the front row of my room, is attentive and fully engaged in my
lessons. Yeah. I was wrong.

Did Jackson truthfully believe I’d just spent the last 15 minutes
talking about the importance of loving girls? Did he? In that
single exchange, my confidence dried up and my smugness about what
I’d thought my kids must be learning from me evaporated. I
became acutely aware that Jackson — and who knew how many others
— actually didn’t know what I’d been telling him for
weeks. Jackson was a front-row sitter, totally quiet, staring right
at me the whole time, completely and fully…disengaged.

That moment with Jackson taught me a powerful lesson about how
easy it is to mistakenly assume that kids are engaged in our
teaching and actively growing in their faith. The reality is that
engaging kids is a little more complicated than delivering great
lessons and profound truths. So don’t make my mistake of assuming
your kids are tracking right along with you. Follow these five
rules of engagement, and you’ll ensure that your kids become fully
absorbed in your ministry.

[Rule#1] Learn what’s likeable.

Engaging kids begins the very moment they walk into your room.
Kids are highly discerning, and they tend to decide quickly whether
they like or don’t something –often before that something has a
fair chance to win the child’s affections. You, your children’s
ministry, and your classroom are no different. I’ll hold up a
gold-standard example here: Disney can teach us so many things when
it comes to appealing to a child’s intellect, beginning with its
remarkable ability to engage the audience. If you’ve ever visited a
Disney theme park, you probably noticed that the likeability factor
begins before you set foot inside the gates, even as you
approach the property on the freeway. You see signs welcoming you.
The parking structures are tastefully designed with beloved
characters. The strategic décor draws people in and captivates them
the moment they arrive.

You’ll sway the likeability scale in your favor if you
strategically work to attract kids –in other words, think like a
kid. Whether it’s in the form of a child-friendly environment with
right-sized chairs and friendly decorations or in your likeable,
friendly demeanor, see to it that kids will like whatever they
encounter. Don’t assume budget has anything to do with this; you
can create an engaging physical environment on any budget with a
little creativity…and being friendly doesn’t cost you a thing. Look
to your church body for talented and creative people or people who
know talented and creative people who can help you with your room
design and setup. If you work at it, you can develop an all-around
likeable environment and atmosphere that’ll engage kids and give
them a fun and non-embarrassing place to bring their friends.

     

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