“Does your church have childcare?”
“How much do you pay your babysitters for Sunday services?”
“How do you do lessons with 5 year-olds?”
“How do you get volunteers to teach bible stories to preschoolers?”
“Where do the kids go on Sunday’s anyway?”
“I’ve never been down to the basement before!”
These are a few of the questions and comments I get asked on occasion (or quite often) in conversations with children’s pastors/directors, church visitors, or even members of our very own congregation!
I smile a gracious smile, push away the bothered thoughts, and typically reply, “Oh yes, we believe that children are a valuable part of the life of the church, have a place in this community, and are called to be in relationship with Jesus! We consider it a privilege to share the love of Jesus every Sunday with, not just gradeschoolers, but preschool, toddlers, and even babies!” It’s not always that detailed, but usually I can pull it off without getting too upset.
I am sorry (well not really). Maybe I am a little biased. Maybe it is the 16 years I have spent in children’s ministry, serving babies through 5th graders that have helped me understand the significance of ministry to children. Maybe it is the positive impact that children’s worship services, family services, overnight church camps, vbs’, sunday school classes, mid-week programs, teachers and mentors have had on me. Maybe it is the fact that from a very young age I felt secure in my faith- not a life without doubts, distance from God, and struggle- but an awareness of God’s presence in my life, and God’s love for me that goes far beyond how I act, what I may say or do, or how I may feel at any given moment. Am I alone is this?
You know the great thing about working with babies and toddlers at a church? It is through the simplest gestures that we can share God’s love, grace, and truth with children. When we change a diaper and feed a child gold fish we model God’s provision for our daily needs; when we tell a story or wipe a tear we are letting children know that what they feel matters, that the stories we can tell are important, or simply that they matter to us. When we help children enter the story of baby Moses by playing with a basket and a baby we demonstrate to them how faith is a hands-on experience that they can have every day. When we read stories from God’s ‘Special Book’ we are introducing both a love letter and a manual for living a faith-filled life, that they can carry with them for the rest of their days!
With every dedication and baptism class I teach to parents, every newborn I pray for in the hospital, every dedication and baptism service I am a part of, I am convinced more and more that God’s seeds of love must be planted at an early age so they have time to take root, grow strong, and withstand the winds and storms of life.
Every new day I spend at home with my 2 and 3 1/2 year-olds, praying over a meal, reading stories and snuggling together, entering an imaginative world of play, or struggling through toddler tantrums, working through discipline issues, navigating expressions of independence or willful defiance- I become more and more aware of my need for God’s wisdom and guidance, more aware of my need for God’s forgiveness and grace, and more aware of my children’s needs for these very same things. And I want my family to grow with community. Not alone. God did not create us to be alone in our journey. I am thankful for the people who help me take care of my children on Sunday mornings and share God’s love with them as I try to everyday.
There is a crisis in the Church. Too many people are convinced that faith isn’t really real for a child. We often hear the story that a child might accept Christ at a young age, but ‘make their faith their own in middle school/highschool/college’. Does that mean that the faith experience of their childhood does not matter? Certainly not!
What stories of hope can you share about working with babies and toddlers?