Sundays. Church days. Early mornings and long afternoons. Sometimes I come home with a tired soul, a weary soul. Other days I come home elated. Grateful, thankful, amazed. Most often it’s a mix of things. But every week there are new stories, new prayers, new experiences that shape our church family. This week was no exception. Sometimes people wonder, what do Kids Director’s and Kids Pastors do on Sundays? Especially if you are not in a classroom teaching. These are the moments of my day I needed to reflect on. These are the moments that remind me of my need for God and God’s powerful presence. Here’s a snapshot of the day of Kids Pastor.
Early morning prayer and prep. Reading lessons in case I need to fill in for someone. Walking through the list of things happening at church today: baby dedications, pastors visiting all the classrooms to pray a back to school blessing for every child, kids worship meeting, training new leaders, inviting kids to fill our chalk board wall with the names of their schools. Prayer. Worship. Teaching. Small Groups.
The moment my feet cross the threshold of the church building- my spirit stirs. I hear the worship team practicing- this week I let someone in who was running late- smiles and laughter mark the 60 second conversation. I walk into the grade school chapel and greet our worship leader who is pouring over music and practicing for the day. We talk about worship plans and things we left unplanned for the week. We talk about changes and setting a meeting to finalize the new kids choir being put together.
I check with the tech team to fix an error I made in the week on an important announcement and I head to team prayer meetings. Our Kids Staff gathers at 8. We are here. We look at each other and take a deep breath- we are packing a lot of things into this “back to school” Sunday, anticipating over 200 kids at church this day. Our teams are still short-handed and we wonder if our classrooms will be managed chaos or gardens of spiritual growth (probably a combination of the two). We pray a prayer reminding ourselves that we are able because GOD is ABLE.
The leaders arrive and check-in begins. Families trickle through the door- some with boundless energy others looking sleepy from whatever burdens they carry or late nights they experienced. All are greeted with a “good morning” and a smile. This is how it begins.
This Sunday in particular was filled with so many things. At each service we dedicated a child- one, the child of our worship director which was powerful and emotional; the other was for a family that is moving away soon- bittersweet blessings and goodbyes. I prayed a prayer of blessing over each child, listening for the spirit to direct my words as the congregation stretches their hands forward as a sign of coming alongside the family. A few minutes after dedications, pastors and leaders laid hands on one of our staff who is moving out of state. Another tearful goodbye. We pray a blessing- believing good things are in store for the next chapter, while also mindful of a hole in our hearts for the deep impact this staff person carries on our lives.
The day continues. I race to the kids area to find a check-in computer spitting out blank white labels at will. This is not what it is suppose to do! Families are waiting in the hall with anxious and weary faces entertaining their toddlers. A classroom is full and these parents are wondering- will my child be able to go to class? Will I sit in the sanctuary with a squirmy child in my lap or a Bible in my lap? We comfort and explain, we check and double check classrooms and do our best to make space for everyone. So after resetting label printers and saying good-bye to relieved parents, I walk to our PreKinder class to share with them our exciting Tithes and Offerings project for the school year, “Kids Helping Kids: Peacemaking”. Explaining tithe to 5 year olds is fun and funny. Tithe is our gift to God! “I have a quarter at home!” says a child. I ask them what they know about fighting, not getting along, and sadness when hard things happen. They know these things. Fighting over toys, crying when you get hurt. And God asks us to be peacemakers, so where there is fighting we are called to be helpers, when someone is sad we are called to be comforting. When there are people doing good work in the world we can support that- sometimes by sharing money. So that’s what our church does with our tithes. We draw a connection between their experiences of fighting and sadness and communities in the world that fight- that’s war, and people groups that are sad because they are hungry or they don’t have houses to live in- there is poverty. It cannot be a one time conversation- because there is so much to take in. But these kids know. One little girl raised her hand and said, “my mom and I don’t have a home. My mom had to leave.” I knew her story and the family that has taken her in as refuge, and in that moment my heart cracked and also swelled because I know that there are good people in this sweet little girl’s life who are working for restoration in her family and for her especially. In that room- we are nurturing little peace makers.
One little boy is lying face down on the floor- resisting encouragement to sit up and participate. Another child is wandering around the back of his classroom, eyebrows knit together clearly upset to be at church this morning. The wails coming out of the 1 year olds classroom echoed in the hallways. It was a hard day for some of our babies. There were three bloody noses at one of the services, but everyone recovered well, including the teachers who had to quickly respond to these incidents while managing a classroom of kids. These are the things that volunteer Kids Ministry Leaders don’t always know they are signing up for.
I visit our 4th and 5th grade classroom where they are discussing the impact of Adam and Eve’s sin and separation from God. One child astutely asks- do you think that because Adam and Eve left the garden, God put obstacles in their way to teach them when they try to rely on their own abilities they will become stronger? Or does God put challenges in their way so they will fail and recognize they need him? Another child says, well not that sin was a good thing, but it’s good that they had to work- work is a good thing for us, so we don’t get lazy. As our small group leaders navigates the ins and outs of big questions and big ideas and swirling thoughts- we see kids thinking, wondering, trying to imagine and fill in the gaps of the stories. Of course- we run out of time to have all our conversations tied up neatly- if that is even possible. We did our best to remind the kids that the sin was to disobey God and eat the apple, but the greater sin and consequence of the Fall was separation from God. Adam and Eve wanted to figure it out on their own- to be in charge of themselves, and that was not a part of God’s plan. God had created them for community, and communion with their Creator. This is what God pursues in restoring people to God’s self.
I was reminded of my own fallenness as I had a conversation with a parent who had showed up prepared to do something for kids ministry and I cancelled the opportunity without speaking to her first. I recognized my own brokenness in that moment, trying to “make things work” and “make wise choices” which sometimes means I take control when I just need to let go. It stuck with me for a while, and I had to return to the parent and ask for forgiveness. Yes- we all make mistakes- even Kid’s Pastors.
As I walked through the area behind the sanctuary I saw one of our parents standing alone- and I walked right over. This parent is part of a family that has lovingly opened their home to dear friends from out of state whose child is battling cancer. And though they hold onto hope for a miracle- the family was saying their goodbyes and heading home for care. It’s been a bloody and brutal battle and the prayer warriors and doctors have been fighting around the clock, and love has been showered out, and this little girl has demonstrated strength and resilience and joy beyond her precious eight years of life…but the burden is great, and not carried alone. As I hugged this friend and we cried together, we sat with the hurt- reflecting on the unbearable pain it would be, were it one of our own children, empathetic pain for another parent. How do we help? How do we pray? Why is cancer taking our babies?
Shortly after, I was stopped by a mom between services who asked if she could pray for me. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, I never refuse. She had sensed God asking her to pray for me as my youngest heads off to Kindergarten. This was something that had been consuming my thoughts all week as we waited with anticipation for the start of the new school year. I received the prayer- fully aware that God was ministering to me even as I was ministering to others. I love that about God.
As the day was winding down and we were saying our goodbyes to kids for the week, a parent stopped by and dropped some heavy news. Her husband had just left her. They were okay for the moment but she was worried about her three kids and how they would manage this burden. Oh God. Not another one. With tears in our eyes, we talked about resumes and jobs and paying bills and buying groceries. We prayed and made a plan to connect later in the week. I looked up and was greeted by a another parent who is also walking through a difficult season of life. I was reminded as I saw a small glimmer in her eyes- eyes that had once been hollow and empty- were showing signs of life. We embraced with a knowing look that it was good to see her at church, even if it’s a struggle to show up. She showed up and that was good.
I was gathering my things and looked up to see one of our volunteers who I had been hoping to connect with- she was free for coffee so we decided to have a spontaneous meet up. We sat down for coffee and she began to share her life story. Bits and pieces came out as she shared challenges and struggles and calling and gifts and passions she has been able to use and dreams she is seeking to fulfill. As story after story of struggle and brokenness and hope and life were shared I was- once again- so acutely aware that this was sacred space, these were stories of pain and also of courage, of challenge and also resiliency. What was seemingly impossible- was made possible.
I share these stories- as much for myself as for anyone who might read them. Ministry in the church is often hard. It is often painful. People face really hard things. And ministry in the church is also full of goodness and joy and hope. Without masking pain, or hiding things, it is possible to share burdens and have hope. It is possible to doubt God’s goodness, or wonder if God is present- while still allowing God to demonstrate God’s love. Church is a place that holds both sorrow and rejoicing! We experience powerful connection to God through worship music – dancing, singing, arms wide-open in full surrender. We experience encouragement in our faith by allowing others to share their faith and wisdom with us, to teach and guide us. We are strengthened when we allow the church family to come alongside us and support us. We are recipients of God’s grace and unending love when we participate in communion- taking the bread and drinking the wine- marking us a followers of Jesus.
I close my eyes at the end of the day, heart cracked in many ways, but somehow still beating strong and blood flowing. My reflection feels incomplete- there is something that I’m missing. Maybe it’s something to do with strength. Something to do with offering up all these people, these stories, these experiences of the day to God. That God sees it all and knows it all and is still God over all. Peacemaker. God is the ultimate maker of peace. I want to be a peace maker too. My heart longs for families to be whole, for kids to have hearts turned toward Jesus- fully submitting to this God of love who will journey with them through all of life’s challenges and bring them to greatness as they walk with God. My heart longs for healing and restoration. My heart longs for hope to be stronger than defeat, for courage to be stronger than fear, for faith to be stronger than doubt.
This the anthem we are singing in our house these past few weeks. It’s a banner that covers everything we say and do and experience. Hakuna mungu kama wewe – Swahili for there’s no one like Jesus. We sing it at the top of our lungs. We dance. We remember. We celebrate, there is no one, no one like our God.
This is Sunday.