If parents are supposed to be their children’s primary faith influencers, why not require parents to serve in children’s ministry? Two different views; two different approaches.
Yes! Require Parents to Serve in Children’s Ministry!
I remember the first time my wife and I had to walk into our pastor’s office and say: “We need to talk about a real challenge in our preschool ministry. We’ve tried everything.”
With a concerned expression and no idea of the magnitude of what we were about to drop in his lap, he said, “Okay, sit down.”
With research and numbers in hand, the picture we painted was bleak. “Very few people are willing to serve. Our rotation system is broken. We’ve prayed and been upbeat. We’ve made personal contacts, advertised, even changed curriculum, but nothing seems to motivate people to serve.”
How many children’s ministers have had that same conversation with their pastors, children’s ministry teams, or other ministry leaders recently? Most realistic children’s ministers are fully aware of the challenges we’re up against.
For starters, we live in a convenience-driven, warp-speed world. Everything’s fast — whether it’s food, communication, shopping, or information. We’re a culture driven by demand, and what most people demand is high-speed and efficiency. For many people, volunteering is a commitment that’ll take at least some of their time. This is something many are unwilling or unable to give.
Add to that the daycare dilemma. For many, children’s ministry is perceived as a daycare situation where everyone drops off their children for care and training and picks them up when the parents are done with their church activities. It’s easy to forget that most of those who serve in children’s ministry are volunteers — and that daycare isn’t exactly what happens in our rooms.
It was with these two factors and the reality of our sparse volunteer roster in hand, that we sat down with our pastor and worked on clear-cut goals and ways to achieve them for our ministry. We also prayed — a lot.
First Goal: We wanted to provide a ministry and outreach to parents so they can attend Sunday school, small group classes, and worship while their children experience Jesus’ love in our classrooms.
Solution: To facilitate this type of specialized care for children and include strong spiritual instruction, we realized we needed “outside hands” to help with hands-on needs such as changing diapers, restroom breaks, snacks, crafts, and instruction. Our church is able to have some paid team members on hand to offer parents this opportunity.
Second Goal: Our greatest desire was to provide devoted, trained teachers to teach God’s Word to children each week.
Solution: We implemented a new team-teaching model for teachers. Four people team up to teach, with two teaching one Sunday and the other two the next. Knowing that children need consistency, this wasn’t our first choice for teaching time. But at this juncture in our ministry, we needed major overhaul, and this was an appealing option for most volunteers. This setup allowed them to attend adult Sunday school twice per month, and the results have been higher levels of enthusiasm among our volunteers and a more positive image for our ministry to children.
Third Goal: We sought parental involvement in their children’s spiritual training so that we as a church are partnering with parents to disciple children, not attempting the impossible: discipling their children for them.
Solution: We adopted a rather radical approach to accomplish this goal. We implemented a Parent Assistant Rotation, where all parents with children in the ministry would be required to serve. Our pastor gave a phenomenal message from the book of Exodus about “not leaving the children behind.” At one point during the plagues God inflicted on Egypt, Pharaoh told Moses something like, “Fine, go yonder and worship, but leave your children here in Egypt.”
Moses’ response: “We’re not leaving our children behind spiritually. It’s our responsibility as parents to train our kids to love God and serve God.” Our pastor then announced the new parent rotation system to the entire church. He announced that every parent with a child in the department would serve one hour per month — including him! For one full year, our pastor served in the 4-year-old class as a parent assistant.
So you ask, How does it work? When a family joins our church, they receive a letter from the preschool ministry director stating that they’ll be added to the parent assistant rotation. They may choose the hour they’d like to serve, and if they strongly feel they can’t, we make an appointment to discuss the situation. We understand there are times when a family just needs to be ministered to. All we ask is that parents contact us when they’re able to serve. Each month parents receive a calendar with the schedule and the phone numbers of all the parents. If parents need to reschedule, they contact another parent on the schedule and switch, then let the ministry director know.
It’s wonderful to see the changes that’ve taken place. God has brought us excellent teachers who teach God’s Word faithfully each week. Some are parents; some are grandparents. And some are church members who heard God’s call to invest in the lives of this future generation. The greatest reward is seeing the children run up to their teachers and parents and talk about all they’re learning about Jesus, With God’s blessing, this partnership is working.
Andrew and Tracy Orr are children’s ministers at Philadelphia Baptist Church in Deville, Louisiana.
No! Don’t Require Parents to Serve in Children’s Ministry!
It’s almost the end of summer, and my most dreaded task is fast approaching. 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 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 over 500 people attend weekly and has almost doubled in size in the last eight years. 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. 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 Adult
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.
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. They have finished raising their children, and look to teaching 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, I’ve learned that there are a number of keys to bringing in — and retaining — people who choose to volunteer.
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 substitute or be an assistant teacher until at ease in front of the class.
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.
Finally, just like leadership in the Marine Corps, raising volunteers is a contact sport. While bulletin announcements, pulpit declarations, and emails are helpful, they’re no substitute for face-to-face meetings or personal phone calls. Many in the congregation hear the appeals and may even be willing to help. But without a personal invitation from someone in leadership, 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. I 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.
Ed McCarthy is a deacon at Pittsford Community Church in Pittsford, New York.
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