Posts Tagged ‘children's ministry’

“I think of one little buckaroo” – Gabby Hayes

The above quote is from Tuttle’s (2019) Exactly as you Are: The Life and Faith of Mister Rogers, and is part of a story of the early days where Rogers’ was a producer on the Gabby Hayes Show in the 1950’s and asking the lead, in they empty studio and with only Rogers’ there when he was talking to the camera what he thought of. It is a quote that opens up a reflection for me, in a life of community building. Where too often we can be side tracked by the numbers game. How many attended? Sadly, in some ministries, how many baptisms? How many confirmations? And completely missing the point of the one little buckaroo. What happened, happened, and who was meant to be in that part of the journey was meant to be in that part of the journey whether it was 100’s, 1000’s or simply, 1.

Which as I read Tuttle’s book, the reflections on my time in children and youth ministry, how the work I did, was counter to the prevailing ideas of the time (and still run counter to many of the prevailing ideas). See it doesn’t worry about serving those part of the established conclave or community, it doesn’t worry about reaching out to the broader community. It focuses on the welcome of the person that has stepped into the space, and being present to ensure belonging and discovery. It is not about flashiness, or about creating emotional highs through the use of images/music, or about events that excite. It truly is about belonging. These concepts tied in with dumping quite a bit of money into the idea of pre-canned curriculum can create a false sense of spiritual growth for the younger members of the faith family, yet a mark is missed at a community level for we are not building disciples, rather we are building consumers.

Which always did not sit well with me. Though I am the first to admit I was not raised in “proper church”. So that piece of indoctrination never took into the DNA. I was a part of a Vacation Bible School, which was focused on discovery of the stories and belonging, and had relatives that lived their faith that has led to a different lens when I first started out. The other piece is I never believed in the gender fallacy of it being weird if men stepped up to teach Sunday School or youth; or that there is a functional best before date when it comes to being a youth pastor (as I was continually past that) or that one would ever be too old to serve, it was up to the ministry to create space for our elders, and in so many ways it happened as 90 year olds in different settings would provide food and teaching or create the story telling space and then have youth aid taking the youngsters through the activities to reinforce the story.

But I digress, see it is about community, belonging and purpose. For other pieces that shaped my understanding was stories and television. As I reflect back there was pieces of Mister Rogers (though he was more my brother’s favourite than mine), but there was also pieces of learning to do things from my favourite show growing up that stuck- Mr. Dressup, who had worked with Fred Rogers’ before landing his own show in Canada.

Both shows took subjects, and spoke to children where they were at, included creativity, and other pieces that re-inforced the learning. They also both communicated clearly that you were already the ideal you and becoming the ideal you as your grew.

Which brings me to some thoughts on creating the courageous safe space for inter-generational discovery and learning with those 0-17 years old in our churches. I have already shared that which I did not buy into, and I can already feel those reading this going with the “yeah but”. The discomfort is okay. A quick aside, if you are using pre-canned curriculum it is not a time saver, you still need to invest time in your volunteer teachers/leaders on how to use the curriculum, roll with resistance, leverage silence, and create the courageous safe space for discovery.

This is the first step when gathering community. Create the Courageous Safe Space. It does not mean topics are avoided for safety, but rather how do we enter into the difficult conversations, how do we wrestle with ideas/concepts, how do we have respectful dialogue. This can be taken and crafted age appropriately, as you explore with the children or youth what it looks like to them, and provide some prodding or own ideas as well. It also gives a reference back as guideposts. I want to touch on the idea that some will just default to “Christian behaviour”; or something similar. This is the discomfort, for it is a subjective catch phrase– What does it mean? Unpack, wrestle with key teaching points (scripture stories) as pillars and what it looks like in action.

In cultivating belonging, a great piece of fun is naming the space. Take time to discover what names mean including members, then have them look at the courageous safe space, if someone was asking what was happening here what ideas/names arise? Move beyond the age groupings to what actually is (and yes this can be revisited each September, another aside, I realize many spaces use the outdated school year rhythm for children/youth, what I encourage and have shown each time, is that having these ministries open year round provide space for different learning activities, and different generations to engage, so yes September as a renewal, but not a re-start/boot).

Now, how do we teach/disciple?

For children, I love the concepts Patricia Bays’ (1997) shared in her Great Adventure. It is this rotational model, where there is 3-4 stations per story, and it takes a month to go through each story. Why do I like it? A superintendent or children’s pastor can spend time with core volunteers/families brain storming the stories. Then break it down into 3-4 teachings (for larger groups they can all be live at the same time, for smaller groups, I would have a station a week). The stations? Simple, share the stories and see what talents (passions/skills) emerge from the faith community to facilitate. This is where the idea of Elders’ chair came from as an elder in a church who had almost 80 years of teaching Sunday School but couldn’t keep up. We created space each month where she would read the story, and bring her ideas for song/activity, and then our youth partnered to ensure it happened (things like puppet theatre). Some may share ideas around age appropriate First Aid teaching (Good Samaritan). But yes, it is about creating belonging through connection of various adults within the child’s life.

Before leaping into youth, I do want to pause to discuss the courageous safe space, and what may appear at first blush as accepted safety. Sadly, not always. The concept of police/vulnerable sector checks for those that serve. Yes, these are a necessary step. I know some may balk as they are church members and “we know them” (but honestly how much can you know of someone?) and then some may dive full bore with even more restrictions (this is where gender/age/sexual orientation can be demonized in the equipping phase) as they see a pedophile within every adult. Neither scenario is helpful in creating the courageous safe space. The checks are in place as they weed out the scared/caught predator. Those that are scared of making anything official, or those already caught. It also creates a courageous safe space for conversation/equipping for volunteers (yes this training needs to be ongoing in the church) for adults, and Junior Leaders (more on those later) to understand what healthy boundaries, consent, the mandated adult/child ratio by government and duty to report are (and yes I have facilitated these trainings, and worked with churches in developing healthy policies). By normalizing these conversations, it also creates space for conversations that are open and courageous before and after the ministry with the correct and appropriate vocabulary.

Now with that intermission, we move into the idea of Junior Leaders, these are older youth (possibly Junior High to High School) that want to be involved in the nursery and Children’s ministry. It is designed for those who feel a passion to help, and are willing to work with the adults, learn, and serve. It not only creates a healthy intergenerational approach, but equips the leaders of now. The key is not to turn over running of the younger ministries to the older (for they are still growing as well), but to create healthy partnerships with the volunteers, and see what develops. For Grade 11 or 12 students I also expand Junior Leadership into Youth Group opportunities to officially bring them into leadership and learn/develop a skill set. The boundary conversation here is key, as with all leaders, but especially in pointing out that this step will preclude them from dating members of youth group as they begin to learn and understand authority, power differentials and the law.

Within the scope of Youth Ministry, the creation of Courageous Safe Space, naming of the community are key. Taking time, to ensure what is being learned in that night, and the activity portions tie together to re-enforce and take the message deeper. I have always used a balance of Salvation Army understanding of communion (eating together, even if its snacks); spiritual formation (learning and practicing different ideas/techniques of service, prayer and study); taking time each 1/4 to have the youth take time to brainstorm what books of the Bible they want to learn, and what topics they are curious about in learning how a gospel formed life understands/responds (which may lead to guest speakers); as well simple things of giving as I always loved a spare change jar where each month youth picked a cause to support. This way they learn about the good in their world, and get in the rhythm of giving.

Seeing how, regardless of the form (small community, or larger group with small groups break outs) there is a rhythm given of the call to reach through the thin space between here and the Kingdom of God, and learn to live out the bringing the Kingdom here. It is active discipleship. It is working with those who are called to be leaders, to learn, discover and apply the skills of discipleship and being spiritual guides for the youth. A ripple effect model of servant leadership. It is getting the leaders comfortable with hard topics, and when to pause the guided discussion, and dive deep when a hard topic is thrown out. It is never a simple throw away comment, youth are looking to see if we are living the courageous safe space we profess. Or as one put it to me, “seeing if you actually give a damn about me”.

These are the thoughts that emerge, as I reconnect with stories of others in creating community. As during this time of being a part, technology has been leveraged to keep us together. As we await the next steps, when we can fully be together. What has been heard in the still quiet time? As we emerge out of c-tine, is it about doing the same old same old, or igniting something new, that equips and grows one another?