22 years later in KidMin

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My very first paid position in children’s ministry was in August 1994. I was only 21, and I had no idea that I even wanted to go into ministry. However, my college pastor saw the potential in me, and hired me as an intern… to run preschool – elementary of about 80 children. Honestly, I don’t know what he was thinking… but I’m glad he gave me this opportunity. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about how much I’ve changed as a children’s pastor over 22 years.

22 years ago, I felt the need to prove myself. I mean, how is anyone going to take a 21 year old seriously? I was obviously not a parent, so why would parents trust me? I immersed myself in creating the best events–Fall Family Festival (man, college students really do have lots of time… we transformed our sanctuary into the inside of an airplane and handmade 100 luggages, luggage tags, passports, etc. We transformed our sanctuary into a castle, a spaceship, etc.), VBS (2 nights/3 days of VBS Olympics–seriously, what were we thinking?), field trips, not to mention “Summer Camp” for 8 hours/day for 6 weeks. Man, I must have had lots of energy back then. And to be honest, they were great events because I was fortunate to have an amazingly talented and committed team. They really made me look good. Parents and volunteers gave me praise for a job well done.

When I started seminary and became a part-time staff, I thought I knew all the answers to the tough questions of ministry. I was excited about all the things I was learning, and I desperately wanted to impart my newfound knowledge to those who didn’t have the privilege of attending seminary. Each Sunday, I taught elementary kids on the theology of prayer, the Trinity, survey of Old & New Testament, etc. These weren’t all that bad… but I was focused on the knowledge.  Parents and volunteers gave me praise for a job well done.

Everything I did 22 years ago wasn’t all that bad. But when I look back, I was often driven by my insecurities. I did’t have a firm grasp of why I was doing what I was doing. I simply said “I want to teach kids about the Bible!” However, I rarely shared the gospel. I rarely talked about God’s grace. I was focused on knowledge and great events!

I still believe knowledge and quality events are important. However, the most important is giving kids Jesus! I want to share about the sacrificial love of Jesus every chance I get. I want to share about God’s undying love every chance I get… because my calling is to bring kids to Jesus so they can live for Him as soon as they can. It’s not my job to convert these kids, but it is my responsibility to seize every opportunity to share the gospel… afterall, we never know who’s experiencing and hearing the gospel for the very first time. Now, my events and lessons are based on giving kids Jesus… and not driven by having to prove myself in any way! I still feel the need to prove myself–don’t get me wrong! After 22 years, I still feel the need to make sure parents and volunteer approve of what I’m doing. I want that praise. However, our mission of bringing kids to Jesus has to be #1. Our value of investing in relationships has so we can share Jesus has to be #1. And that has to drive what we do… because Jesus said “Let the children come to Me.” So 22 years later, I find myself very focused. I find myself discerning more about what we provide in our ministry. I find myself unapologetic for not pleasing everyone. Thank you God for the last 22 years of this journey so I can bring Jesus to kids!

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Today’s Warm & Fuzzies

I love getting warm & fuzzy stories from parents! This one landed in my inbox this morning!

Hi Gloria-  I have to share a quick story for you to pass on to M’s teachers at church.  Her teacher told me that yesterday, on the playground, there was a little girl who was crying because she had to get off the swing because her turn was over.  M went up to her and said “Listen, it’s OK because at church I learned that the first shall be last and the last shall be first!”  

This is especially precious because M is a super shy girl… who has only said “HI” to me once! We just learned this lesson couple weeks ago, and for her to have the boldness to comfort another girl with what she learned at church gives me the warm & fuzzies all over!  Have I said lately that kids are the BEST?

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Too Quick to Discipline?

I used to work at a preschool many years ago. Lauren was a full-day child… and she just had the hardest time waking up and getting herself going after nap time. I remember subbing in her class one day… and after the lights came back on and we woke up all the kids, Lauren just looked absolutely miserable. But our protocol is get all the kids up, send them on a visit to the restroom, wash hands, and go outside for snacks and play time. Lauren just looked up and me and whimpered, “I’m freaking out… I just need to chill!” Yes, awfully cute coming out of a 3-year old’s mouth. After I sent all the other kids out, I stayed in the room just tidying up while Lauren chilled out. About 5 minutes later of being left alone, she got up, picked up her sleeping mat, put it away, came up to me and said, “Okay, I’m ready to go outside now!” To my surprise, Lauren was a different child. She was smiling and ecstatic to go play outside.

I also had a child in kindergarten class at church that used to slam doors, throw chairs, and turn over tables. He was an angry child, to say the least. You could just see the anger on his face. Every time I looked into the room, he was seated in the corner with his arms folded. I let his leaders know that next time he acted up, to page me so I can converse with him. It was only 2 weeks later. We walked to the common area, and I sat next to him.

Me: Did you have a bad morning this morning?

B: Yeah!

Me: What happened?

B: I got into a fight with my mom and my brother. I’m just so mad!

Me: Yeah… sometimes I get mad at my brother too. And sometimes I don’t know what to do because I’m so angry.

B: Yeah!

Me: Well, what I’ve learn to do is just walk away from everyone. I just need some time to myself so I can calm down… Sometimes I’m still mad at my brother but I know it’s not good to take it out on other people. And being by myself helps me to calm down. So maybe next time you’re angry, you can let me know and we can just sit for awhile until we feel better. Sometimes we think throwing things help us feel calm but it doesn’t. It just makes us feel even more angry. Not to mention it’s not safe for you to be throwing things around in the room when other kids are in the room… and that’s not okay.

B: Uhm… okay… I’ll try that!

I’m happy to report that he is in 2nd grade now, and he’s doing phenomenal. He learned to control his anger. In fact, he’s a super happy, compliant child!

I’ve woken up on the wrong side of bed. It usually takes me good 15-20 minutes before I can get myself out of bed after my alarm has gone off. I’ve felt angry and frustrated for no apparent reason. I’ve just felt like not doing anything or talking to anyone at times.  See… I’ve had the same experiences as these two kids described above. The difference is that I’m an adult and I know I can’t hurt other people nor demand things to be done my way. Kids are still learning how the world works. They’re slowly learning that they’re not the center of this world. They’re slowly learning that they can’t act out whenever they want to.

Kids have all the emotions that we feel as adults. But they don’t always know what to do with them. However when we see kids not behaving the way we want them to, our first inclination is to discipline them rather than trying to understand what they’re experiencing and feeling that’s causing them to act out or misbehave. We’re quick to put them in time-outs. We’re quick to single them out. We’re quick to “threaten them.” And we’re quick to judge them.

So next time a child acts out in your class or small group… or even in your home… why not take the time to just sit with them to “chill out,” or converse about what’s bothering them? It’s through these times kids learn how to cope with different emotions, and that they’re not a bad child for not being who the adult wants them to be. These conversations could go a long way… and eliminate the need for “discipline.”

More than Bible Stories & Memory Verse!

I was that child who attended church since birth! I knew many Bible stories… I memorized many verses. I was even in every church play starting from kindergarten. I was your model church child. But in my 30’s I had an epiphany. Nobody sat me down and explained the gospel to me! Of course, i heard stories of Jesus dying on the cross for my sins. But nobody made it personal for me. Somehow I actually came to believe in Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior along the way (by the grace of God!) but nobody from the church asked me if I believed in Jesus… they all just assumed that I did because I was a model church child. Sure… it worked out for me… but this isn’t going to work for every child, I know… because I have friends and cousins that went through the same “program,” and they don’t have a personal relationship Jesus today!

DSC02836I just spent 2 days with three of my aunts. One aunt is an overseas missionary, and she told me this story which left a lasting impression. She had a 5th grade boy come to her church for three months from the next town. She loved him and his personality. She was so please to see him come to church regularly. But one day, he stopped coming… and almost a year later, a new girl from the same town started coming to the church. When my aunt inquired about the boy who had stopped coming, she was told that he had died due to drug overdose at the age of 11! My aunt’s heart sank. She wasn’t even sure if he had heard the gospel. She knew that he had been taught lots of Bible stories… but she didn’t know if during the time he had attended, if he had been personally introduced to Jesus Christ. From that day forward, my aunt decided that they needed to share the gospel with every new child that comes to her church…

This applies to churches in the US too. We need to seize every opportunity we have with the children in our ministries. In most of our churches, kids are dropped off by their parents… they come whether or not they want to come (yes, I know some kids absolutely LOVE coming to church to the point that they make their parents bring them…) But we have this unique opportunity that most adult ministries don’t. Kids come to us (I know this isn’t the case in all churches)… and if we don’t seize the opportunity to share the gospel with the kids that come to our ministries, then what are we really doing? i’m not saying that we have to talk about the Easter story every week… but we need to create opportunities to share about God’s greatest love and grace because you never know who has never heard, especially when you have new visitors. Bible stories are important! Memory verse important! Having fun is important! Building relationships is extremely important! But the most important thing is their salvation… our children’s ministry MUST be about teaching more than Bible stories and memory verses… it must be about the gospel!

Kid & Youth Ministries… More than Bible Lessons…

therapy-counseling-familyIt’s a general assumption that Kid & Youth Ministries is all about teaching Bible stories, lessons, and planning activities to the kids that come to church on Sundays! Yes, we do a lot of that… However, that’s not all we do! In fact, that’s not probably not the most significant part of what we do… Gasp! (I can just hear the echo of shock from some reasons…) Yes, it’s true… teaching Bible stories and lessons aren’t the most significant part of what we do! If you ask me, the most significant aspect of our ministry is loving them unconditionally as we journey with the individuals.

We, at church, may have the challenge of not having enough face time with the children (in an average church, an average child will only spend 39-45 hours the whole year in Sunday School… that’s barely 2 full days worth!). However, we have the unique opportunity to journey with them through various life stage as long as the family continues to come to church. Lately, I’ve been reminded that a lot of our kids come to church with baggage from home life, school life, social life, etc. While we give priority to teaching the Bible truths each Sunday, we also make sure each small group leader connects with their students on a more intimate level. Most of the times, that’s where true ministry takes place. We hear about a fight the child had that morning with a sibling, about how he/she got in trouble, about how the child misses a parent who is no longer living with her/him, about feeling lonely and sad, about their hurts, and more. Also in small groups, the kids get to discuss Jesus more in depth with their small group leaders, share good things that happened during the week, and how God answered their prayers. We have the privilege of talking through these challenging and good times. We have the privilege of crying with them and celebrating with them.

Don’t get me wrong… everything we do is because we have deep desire to help kids know and experience Jesus in tangible ways… but people often think kids and youth ministries are all about activities, events, and lessons! We plan activities and events to provide more opportunities for draw more kids. And of course, we want the kids to learn the Bible. But our job doesn’t end there!

As we come to the end of academic year and we also prepare for Promotion Sunday at church, many of the small group leaders tell me that it’s their desire to stay with their small group kids! This makes me happier than I can express… because they realize that they don’t teach a grade, they don’t just teach Bible lessons, BUT they’re investing in the lives of the kids that have been entrusted in their small groups. The relationship and journeying with the kids through the good and bad times is what we really do… and we do this by sharing the unconditional love of Jesus! Kids are experiencing Jesus through their leaders! It can’t get more tangible than that in Sunday School!

All the volunteers and staff are privileged to journey with these kids and youths… because we get to experience God’s grace and redemption in their lives when they make decisions to follow Jesus. We get to develop relationships with the whole family and become a part of their extended circle of influence in the lives of the kids. We get to see them grow and mature!

This past week, I got another invitation to a high graduation of a kid who was in my ministry when he was in elementary school… and I was filled with gratitude as I thought back on his life… I’ve been able to witness him growing right before my eyes… and from a cute little 2nd grader to a tall, handsome, and God-loving young man!

If you ask me, the most significant things that all the volunteers and I do isn’t teaching Bible stories and lessons… but it’s really investing in growing relationship with the kids and families… It’s not easy at times, but I absolutely love what I do!

monkey see, monkey do…

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Yes, it’s been a very long time since I last blogged… The last few months have been crazy non-stop… Well, last week, I stopped by my friend’s house because I was in the area.  I got to spend some time w/ her 2 kids.  Her older one just turned 3 years old.  As I was trying to talk to my friend, he kept wanting to play with me.  We started building a tower on his colorful pegboard.  Once we finished our tower, he took the four pegboards and started quizzing me:

pegboardB:  What color is this?

Me:  Blue!

B:  Greeeeaaaaat Joooooob!  Now what color is this?

Me: Red?

B:  Veeeerrry Niiiiceeeee….  How about this one?

Me:  Yelloooooow.

B:  Yesssss!  Gooood.

This quizzing continued for about 15 minutes.  I couldn’t stop laughing.  First, it was ridiculously cute.  Second, I was dying because I could definitely hear his mom’s tone and and intonation in the way he said “great job,” “very nice,” or “good.”  He was talking to me as if I was the child. He was only repeating what he hears from his mom and other adults… We often talk about how scary it is “what kids pick up from adults.”  They pick up words, actions, context, attitude, and even intonation.  They truly observe everything…. and often repeat in the right context!

I was reminded how important it is for us adults to model for the little ones around us!  I’m also guilty of not being the best model around kids at times.  But if you’re around kids often or all the time, you really need to think twice about how kids are catching your behavior, actions, words, and attitude.  As they say, monkey see, monkey do!

How can you change what your behavior, actions, words, and attitude to be a better model this week?

Christmas Eve Service with a 1st Grader…

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I returned from Christmas Eve service at my church couple hours ago.  I had the joy of sitting next to a first grader… She’s just an adorable little girl with a sense of humor that has me laughing non-stop!!!  She also has some spunk and sarcasm in her, which I just love!!!  I just had to write all this down so I don’t forget my awesome night of sitting next to her.

She pretty much had a running commentary whispered in my left ear throughout the whole service!  As soon as the music began with four percussion instruments, she held her ears tight and yelled “Pastor Gloria, this is louder than I had ever expected!  I feel like my heart is going to come out of my chest!”  Seriously, how could you not love a 6-year old who says stuff like this?

Then we had three monologues from the perspective of a wiseman, a shepherd, and Mary.  In the middle of the shepherd’s monologue, she turns to me and whispers “you know, he’s not really a shepherd… he’s just fake acting!”  Once again, a huge smile on my face… And every time the characters cracked a joke, she would cover her mouth as if she’s trying to hold in her laughter.  At one point, she couldn’t see what was happening on stage so she hopped onto my lap…. and once again she whispered in my ear, “you know Pastor Gloria, it really bothers me that my sister has her feet on my chair.  Hmmm…”  This kid just cracks me up!!!

She sang all the Christmas carols with us… She even danced and held up her hands as we sang to and about Baby Jesus, our King!  We ended the night with “O Come All Ye Faithful” and “Silent Night.”  When we started singing “O Come Let Us Adore Him” multiple times in a cappella, I started to tear as we went into “Silent Night.”  She was standing on the chair next to me, and I don’t know if she could see me… but she gave me a bear hug, put her face right up to mine and once again whispered “I like this song… It sounds familiar to me.”  Once again, my face broke out in a huge smile.

I’m reminded how special it is for kids to worship with adults!  I would have missed out on this precious moment with this first grader had I sat next to another adult.  To see worship through the eyes of a child… It was so special to me!  She also got to experience how adults worship… she saw her mom raising her hands in reverence as she sang.  She got to see people in love with Jesus… and worshipping our King!  What a special night it was… The message was special… but for me, worshipping with a 1st grader and seeing worship through her eyes and her thoughts made it even more special!  I definitely have more thoughts about this… but for now, I just wanted to share my special night before I forget!  I say this all the time… but seriously, KIDS ARE AWESOME!!!