The Parent Trap

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The Voice for Choice

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It’s almost the end of summer, and my most dreaded task is fast
approaching as the Pittsford Community Church deacon of children’s
ministry. I call it the annual “dialing for Sunday school teachers”
event.

My 20-plus years of service as a Marine Corps Officer in “every
climb and place” didn’t prepare me for the dread of cold-calling my
fellow congregation members and asking them to do something that
every military veteran learns quickly to avoid: volunteer. As I
dial through the church directory from A to Z, make frequent pleas
from the pulpit, and attempt to come up with creative church
bulletin notices, I’m frequently tempted to forego all this and
instead force parents to work the classroom. However, despite my
frequent doubts as that first day of fall classes fast approaches,
God always seems to provide those rare diamonds who willingly
choose to serve our children.

Our church has a weekly attendance of over 500 people and has
almost doubled in size in my eight years of membership. A large
part of that growth, with God’s grace, has been a commitment to
bring in new Christians to our fellowship and prepare them for
their life-long journey with Christ. Our pastor has a particular
passion for training our kids and, in response to his leadership,
our church body has made a strong commitment to hold individual
Sunday school classes with dedicated teachers for each grade level
from kindergarten through fifth grade. This requires a full team of
faithful volunteers from our congregation, along with dedicated
substitutes, willing to go through annual training, prepare for
their lessons, and then devote time each week to our children. Is
my Marine stubbornness to take the hard road the reason that I
choose each year to go the volunteer path rather than require
parents to work in the classroom? No…and my reasons are
three-fold.

• Ministry to Adults-Many of our parents are new
Christians and not yet equipped to lead the children in our
classes. Instead, we want them to focus initially on their own
personal walk with God, integrating with our church body, and
developing friendships with other Christians through relationships
developed in their classes. Pulling them periodically from class to
cover their children’s classes doesn’t help this effort.

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• Stability-Children, particularly in younger
classes, need routine. Knowing what to expect each week, building a
regular activity schedule, and having a familiar face up front
allows not only for the continuity in lessons but also the chance
to develop a stronger relationship between the teachers and the
children.

• Teaching as Ministry-A number of our volunteer
teachers are older, have finished raising their children, and look
to this teaching ministry as a way they can give back to their
church. They bring patience, a unique perspective, and a spiritual
depth to the classroom that they’ve gained through the breadth of
Christian life experience.

It’s hard work recruiting these volunteers. However, over the last
five years I’ve learned that there are a number of keys to bringing
in–and retaining–people who choose to volunteer.

• Turnkey Preparation-We provide each teacher
with weekly lesson plans and supplies. This relieves them of the
burden of preparing materials.

• Built-In Support and Coverage-We provide
teachers with as much help, support, and encouragement as possible.
We recruit not only a primary teacher, but also an assistant
teacher and substitute for each grade. The two teachers in each
grade share teaching responsibilities as best suits their
schedules. This team approach relieves them of finding extra help
when they need coverage. Plus, this approach has also helped us
raise our next set of teachers. Many aren’t comfortable enough to
take on the task of a primary teacher. However, they may be willing
to be a substitute or an assistant teacher so they become more at
ease in front of the class.

• Practical Training-We also provide annual
training with more experienced teachers, the pastor, and our deacon
prior to classes starting. This targeted instruction gets them
ready for the challenges ahead, provides tools for a successful
class, and reinforces the importance of their efforts.

• Personal Connection-Finally, just like
leadership in the Marine Corps, raising volunteers is a “contact
sport.” That means that bulletin announcements, pulpit
declarations, and emails–while all helpful–are no substitute for
face-to-face meetings and personal calls to solicit new volunteers.
Many in the congregation hear the appeals and may even be willing
to help, but without a personal invitation from someone in
leadership and a chance to get all of their questions answered
directly, they won’t step forward. In some cases it’s a matter of
confidence–they feel they’re not up to the job and there must be
others out there who are. My challenge, with God’s help, has been
to assure them that they have what it takes and encourage them to
pray about the new opportunity.

While it requires hard work and a little bit of angst, at
Pittsford Community Church we’ve seen real blessings from a strong
Sunday school program led by caring teachers who have volunteered
to be in the classroom. Their choice not only benefits our
children, but also parents and our congregation as a whole.
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Ed McCarthy is a deacon at Pittsford Community Church in
Pittsford, New York.

Opinion: Give ‘Em the Choice!”Serving is of
course a very important part of being a Christian. However, not
everyone’s talents are in the area of children’s ministry. Serving
should be a choice and they should serve where they feel they’re
led by God to serve. If they’re ‘drafted’ into service, they’re
going to miss the entire point and possibly the spiritual benefit
to themselves and to those they’re serving.” -Stephanie, Childrensministry.com poll
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