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A parent holding her toddler. She is smiling and the toddler is clapping.
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The Surprising Truth a Parent Really Wants to Tell You

An honest, heartfelt letter from a parent to a children’s ministry leader.

The Surprising Truth a Parent Really Wants to Tell You

Dear Children’s Minister,

I watched you this past Sunday as you were running from room to room—making sure kiddos and volunteers were where they needed to be and that they had the necessary supplies. I saw you smiling as you encountered each child and family. And I even watched you chase down a runaway toddler.

It makes me think of my own life-juggling act. Though, I’ll admit, you’re much more graceful. After a day of school drop-off, driving here and there, work, sports and music practice, more driving, homework, and chores, I’m finally sitting down for a quick minute of sanity. A quick breath. That’s the key word: quick.

I notice you week after week—always with a smile on your face and in your heart. What time do you arrive on Sunday morning? I wonder. How late do you work after your other full-time job? How do you keep smiling when you’re elbow-deep in vomit or tears? I don’t know how you do it. Watching you made me realize I needed to take the time to let you know how I really feel about my child being in your ministry. Here are my honest thoughts—laid bare for you to read.

Mostly, I want my child to be noticed and loved.

On Sundays he’s up before I am—dressed and ready. He loves coming to church and can’t wait to see you, his teacher, and his friends. That’s what it’s all about—relationships. All the programming in the world can’t replace relationships. And I promise I don’t mind being “ignored” when we walk up to you. I love that you’re focused on him, talk with him, and give him a hug. You make him feel so special when you call him by name. At that moment, he feels like the most important person in the world because you know his name.

Please don’t ask me to serve out of obligation.

I totally get it: Parents are natural targets as able volunteers. But I’m more than a parent. I’m a person with specific gifts and interests. Please ask me—but not as a give-and-take transaction just because my child is in your ministry. I might be thrilled to serve with you and your team, but get to know me a little first. Learn my strengths and interests. I’d be happy to take a survey so you can discover more about where I might be best suited to help. And get this: I do know other people who’d love to serve in children’s ministry…though I rarely think about mentioning them to you. Feel free to ask me. And if you do ask me to serve and I say no, please don’t judge me. Sometimes parents are dealing with so much more than the everyday hustle.

Thank you for keeping my child safe.

Yeah, I’m talking about both kinds of germs—biological germs that eventually cause our entire family to get sick, and the other kinds of “germs” who shouldn’t be around children because of poor choices in their past. I’m trusting you with my child, and I thank you for continuing to earn that trust.

You, your volunteers, and team ensure that kids are washing their hands and that the toys are disinfected. And as tight as the budget is, I’m thankful you’re not reusing the Dixie cups (stacked nicely with each child’s name written on them) from week to week to save a buck. I definitely appreciate that you’re dedicated to background checks and training your volunteers to ensure each child is safe. I’m sure the process makes some people feel uncomfortable—especially if you know them personally or they’ve served for 20 years. It matters that you take this safety step, and I thank you for doing background checks on all volunteers and team members.

It’s okay if you wing it every once in a while.

I get it. No matter how diligently you plan, surprises happen. I live that reality, too. Most weekends I see an intricate plan that may involve large group, volunteers, small groups, supplies, discussion, preparation, and music—all fitting within a specific theme and lesson. When the plan falls apart (or it’s the Sunday after VBS), it’s okay to punt with a DVD and small-group discussion. My child enjoys those special Sundays, too. It feels like a treat to him when routine gets interrupted. On those days, he’s still able to connect with his friends, you, and his teachers. And there’s still a simple Bible point that he remembers throughout the week.

I do want to hear from you.

I’m a firm believer that raising a child truly does take a village. You, his school teacher, friends, family, and I all play unique roles in his life. I need help, and I want to hear from you. I want to reinforce what he’s learning in your ministry and receive tips and dinnertime discussion starters.

But, please: Keep it simple. Send a monthly email because you know how papers get lost. It’s icing on the cake to hear from you or his teacher when you see him doing something great—asking an intriguing question, helping others, or engaging in a game. You have no idea how positive encouragement keeps me going. By the same token, I really do know he’s not an angel. If you see poor behavior choices and you’ve addressed them with him to no avail, let’s be a team. Let me know what’s happening, and we can both steer him in the right direction.

My child knows Jesus better because of you.

Thanks for being intentional about creating space for my child to spend time with Jesus. You get it—you know kids are never too young to be disciples of Jesus. You creatively blend learning about Jesus and spending time with Jesus. Both are so important. As we’re driving home from church, we often ask what he learned. He shares a little tidbit each and every week—mostly about how much fun he’s had. As he shares about a game or tells a silly story, he shares the Bible point. This may sound like a small thing, but it isn’t. He knows what he’s learned because it’s simple and applicable to his life. My child knows Jesus and wants to spend time with him. Jesus is a real friend.

Less is sometimes more, my friend.

Brutal honesty here: Our family can’t handle more monthly events. I know you’re dedicated, have great ideas, and want to give only your best to the children in our church. But honestly, we’re tired. Would you consider combining events to cover multiple goals? One family event for the entire family—parents, teenagers, and children—with a service project component can be an effective (and efficient!) way to engage families in community for the sake of others. Take a month off of planning an extra event for our kids. You’ll be freed up to focus more deeply on fewer events, and our family can spend more downtime together—a precious and fleeting thing.

You matter.

I’m not saying what you do matters—because I know you already know that. What I’m saying is that you matter. I’m talking about putting on your own oxygen mask before you help someone else with theirs. I want you to be healthy for two reasons—for you and for my child. If I never see you in the worship service, I wonder how you’re being fed in your own spiritual life. Don’t worry, there’s no judgment here. Just freedom. Freedom to put yourself a bit higher on the priority list. Take time to be with God. Take time for your family and to play. Remember playing? I understand you’re dedicated to the children in our church. But I also know you have a life and a family, and you need time with them just as they need time with you.

I’d love for you to help us celebrate milestones.

It’s so exciting when our child first makes a faith commitment. Maybe that happened at home or at VBS. But wherever it happened, I love that we celebrate it! Quite honestly, I don’t always know how to celebrate the major steps within a child’s faith journey. So I’m thankful that you do. I hope you’ll guide the process and invite us parents in as key players when our children reach milestones in their faith journey—whether it’s receiving a first Bible or making a faith commitment. Marking those moments helps my child understand that he made a significant step in his faith journey, that our church recognizes that, and that he belongs to our church community.

Most of all, thank you!

Thank you for following God’s call on your life. Thank you for getting out of bed each Sunday morning—even with a CamelBak full of coffee. Thanks for researching for the interactive, applicable, and effective lessons that kids will enjoy and understand. Thank you for smiling—even when your heart is breaking for a child in your care. Thank you for having fun. Thanks for not being too grossed out over slime, dirt, boogers, and unidentified smells. And thank you for investing in my child’s life. It’s an eternal investment that he will never forget. And neither will I.


A Parent

P.S. Let’s grab coffee sometime. Seriously, I’d enjoy that.

Janna Firestone is a parent to two boys and director of development and communications for KidZ at Heart International.

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2 thoughts on “The Surprising Truth a Parent Really Wants to Tell You

  1. Tracie Meadows

    I agree with much of what you said, but I am a mom AND work in children’s ministry and as our church keeps growing, it is difficult to find time to get to know the parents and discern their strengths. Sometimes it really really helps if I am approached by a parent (or anyone) who offers help and lets me know where they would love to serve. Many of my favorite service times (before employed by the church) were when I offered help and was placed.

    It’s incredibly hard when a parent comes to me with nothing but complaints and that person has never helped or offered to help.

    It takes a village and as I remind people all the time, you don’t have to be a parent to volunteer with the students. You can be a single adult, a grandparent, a retired adult, etc. It definitely takes a village!

    • Christine Yount Jones

      Tracie, great ideas! I think if we could all understand this is a partnership — for all ages — recruiting and keeping volunteers wouldn’t be such a struggle. Thanks for all you do!

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