Here is a letter I recently sent to a friend in children's ministry back in Illinois, as they recently have been struggling with a large influx of uncooperative children and not enough staff to deal with them all. I print it here as an encouragement to my fellow-laborers in Christ, around the globe. May you all rejoice in the sufficiency of Christ!
I am writing to encourage you, Stacy, Janice and Amanda (and whoever else) about Wednesday Nights with the kids at church.
All I can do is encourage you in these 2 things:
First: your vision. What IS the vision for the children's ministry, and specifically, the Wed night crowd? Calvary's mission statement is a good place to start -- "Cooperating with God in turning spiritually dead people into fully-devoted followers of Jesus Christ". How does that look for the ministry on Wednesday nights? As I knew it, we were there to feed and get to the hearts of the children we knew well, the ones that were most likely already believers. Because the numbers were smaller than on Sunday morning, it was a time to really get to KNOW and invest in these kids -- bringing them along to being fully-devoted followers of Jesus Christ. I realize this is not the case any more. With MORE kids, and visiting kids and kids from unchurched backgrounds, you are dealing with unbelieving kids! BUT THAT'S GREAT! If anything, we probably made the mistake of assuming belief in a lot of those church kids, and should have shared the gospel with them more regularly and more clearly. NOW is the time for that. If there is anything I can encourage you in, it is the gospel. Of course kids are bad. They are sinners. We don't just want them to be good, we want them to BELIEVE.
Now you need to hash out how that will practically play out. Do you need to be more intentional about sharing the gospel EACH WEEK to all the kids gathered there -- especially in an un-canned, fresh way (not just repeating a bit about Jesus being a sort of ticket to heaven). People need to be convicted about their sin. It is good to specifically point out sin and call it sin (privately, if you are talking to a specific child -- more on that thought). Emphasizing sin and need for Christ bearing our punishment is incredibly important. Consider how you might be able to do that with the kids. During lesson? In small groups? Through songs/discussion? Maybe you need to see about recruiting more people so that you CAN take children aside one on one and talk to them when they are bad -- to show them their sin and need for a Savior! I'm not thinking that every single time a kid is bad they need to go pray a prayer, but the gospel is the ONLY ANSWER for their problem!!! We should be so encouraged because we KNOW THAT ANSWER! Perhaps there are people who could not teach a whole group of kids, but would be willing to join the team to play a role of that sort. Maybe you all should pray about that and seek to recruit people who might be able to do that. These people (and you guys) can plan to take kids who are really acting up out of the general gathering and confront them with their sin and tell them they are under God's judgment for that sin. Tell them they NEED a Savior and that they need to believe. Perhaps pray for them to be able to believe, but then stop there and watch to see if the Spirit is moving. If not, it wouldn't be best to push for a false conversion.
Second: Your encouragement. As a team, you must knit together. Having a common vision helps to do that, but you must be intentional about building one another up. After the kids are gone, your first inclination may be to discuss their behavior, but refrain from doing so, and instead turn to your fellow-laborers and encourage them! This is something I've learned from Ryan Townsend, my children's director here. When I'm finished teaching, he blows me away by blessing me: "Thank you, sister, for using your gifts here," he says. I can't believe it every time. He views our ministry as vital and precious and important and thriving, and communicates that to everyone who serves with him. It is more than just thinking positively, it is encouraging your brothers and sisters IN CHRIST and in the gospel. Everyone serving together with the children ought to be participating in this. You all can be thankful for the gospel. You all can be thankful for how Christ uses the believers in the body to minister. And you can all SAY SO. It is not just delivery, it is not just a smooth running program. It IS dirty hard work, and you ALL need to get down and dirty with one another and HELP one another by knitting your hearts together in brotherly love. A temptation can come to be knit together by sharing a common discouragement. You can all enjoy griping about the little sinners you are called to minister to, that's easy. But how is that different than gossip? Certainly, we bear one another's burdens, and it would be good to pray together, even briefly, before and/or after or at another time. But you cannot knit yourselves together to stress about how hard it is, you must not allow yourselves to do that. Embrace the children God has brought you to minister to. HE has done it. Take it from His hand with thanksgiving, and spur one another on to do the same.
Finally, I want to remind you that our joy comes in the gospel. WE ARE SINNERS. We are not so different from those wicked children. In fact, if we look at them, we see them just as God saw us, apart from His Son. You can show the children love and patience because Christ has shown YOU love and patience. I remember a few months ago, a family sitting behind me had a child misbehaving over and over during the service (it was a Lord's Supper morning, so even longer). I began to feel frustrated with the child because of how many times, over and over, he would begin to be bad, and his parents would patiently stop him. That child had no idea how loving and patient his parents were being. He kept sinning against them. Suddenly, my frustration washed away, as I sat there, remembering Christ's atonement for me. I WAS THAT CHILD. I presumed upon a patient and loving Lord who loved me and called me to be his own. I saw my own sinfulness and foolishness played out in this child's behavior.
Friend, I will pray for you, and seek to encourage you in any way I know how. Have confidence in God's Providence. He has not brought you to a place that He has not before ordained. His grace is sufficient.
Fellow-workers, a book I'd recommend is Ted Tripp's Shepherding a Child's Heart. This book is for parents, but I found it extremely helpful thinking about what my task was in the children's lives in my care.