As a parent, it’s pretty much assumed you’re going to take part in your church’s ministry devoted to your child. That’s been my perspective from having four kids – ages 14 through 7 – at my own church of Cartersville First Baptist.
The only age bracket making it seem like a duty was toddlers/preschool, due to the presence of dealing with doody. Beyond that, though, I looked forward to being a part of my children’s faith development at my church.
Last week I served as a chaperone at a children’s camp for the first time in 20 years, when I was a NAMB student missionary in Cheyenne, WY. While at Woodland Christian Camp Temple, I chaperoned but also led two daily Bible studies for fourth grade boys. Competing with gaga ball and wall climbing was tough, but I made it work. For the last few years my wife and I have taught Sunday School for this age group, and I team-taught fourth and fifth grade boys during RAs on Wednesday nights this last church year, so I wasn’t going in wide-eyed.
What being at camp revealed to me, though, was the immense amount of work required to put into children’s ministry. It also came home to me on how crucial it’s become.
Camps like the one I attended last week vary in their approach, but all look to point kids to Jesus. The one facilitated by First Douglasville Children’s Pastor Scott Patrick kept attendees busy all day. In addition to the Bible study and worship times, groups separated by grade and gender took part in various activities like the ones mentioned earlier. Afternoons were devoted to “choice groups” decided by campers – where they could learn skills like tying knots, creating things out of duct tape, how to make their own inventions, or even producing videos.
Ask any camp leader and they’ll tell you ministry doesn’t just take place in the devoted worship and Bible study time, but can do so at any point. You build connections through sharing a story from when you were their age. It happens in not being afraid of the shaving-cream-and-Cheetos treatment during whatever you call that big, messy, fun fight (Ours was called organized mass chaos, OMC for short.) And, you’d be surprised how many 9-11-year-olds will gravitate to a handheld football game almost as old as their parents.
But Patrick, like all children and student ministers, see what kids have to face these days.
“We see kids coming from broken homes and situations that aren’t ideal,” he said. “There’s not anything you can really do to fix it but love on them and let them know God cares for them.”
For many attendees, camp is a chance to get away from family stresses. I tried to keep that in mind when the guys in my cabin were having trouble coming down from the sugar high brought on during a snack time when they were plowing through Kit Kats like prepubescent woodchippers.
Something I’ve witnessed for awhile now, and Patrick reiterated, points to the importance of senior adults in children’s ministry as well. In the time when they’re supposed to be primarily spoiling their grandkids, too many grandparents also play the role of disciplinarian, chauffeur, and homework resource. At times last week I wondered about my own energy level to keep up. But I’m only 43 and knew I’d get to go home in a few days. These saints keep it up week after week.
If you haven’t found a place to volunteer in your church, consider a spot in its children’s ministry. Like me, you may have felt grossly unqualified at first. Like me, maybe you still do. But, understand that really all that’s needed is understanding and a willingness to talk about what God has done for you. Also, a level of honesty matching theirs will help.
Even though you grew up in a different era, you know what they’re facing. Peer pressure will ramp up in middle and high school. They’re going to encounter all kinds of theological questions in a world not sure if it wants to destroy God or merely redefine Him in its own image.
They need your attention. They need your time. They need your wisdom (Yes, you do have it.).
They need you.