Kids and Classrooms, part 1: Love them. Don’t bribe them.

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Children’s ministry is a good thing. I would say it’s a necessary thing. But if we are going to do it, we should desire to do it well for the sake of God’s glory and the kids we are trying to reach.

But this still brings up the question of how to operate within a classroom full of children. Here are four essentials for children’s ministry classrooms. Three big DOs and one clear DON’T:

DO: Win kids’ hearts by loving them first

Building and establishing a relationship is where any and all true ministry begins. We must demonstrate our love and compassion for the kids we’re seeking to teach. As the relationship grows, the opportunities to speak truth directly into kids’ lives will increase as well. You don’t only need to know kids in order for your teaching to be effective. For them to hold on to and apply that teaching, the kids must know and trust you as well. Remember that we aren’t simply teaching head knowledge to kids. We’re preparing them to hear truth in hope that God will transform their hearts.

DO: Show kindness.

Another key to building a relationship with kids is showing kindness towards them. Remember, they are kids and sometimes there is loudness, and silliness, and random questions that come along with being a kid. We have to allow them to be who they are (within appropriate boundaries) if we expect to have an eternal impact on their lives. Showing them kindness builds rapport and communicates the attempt to understand where they are at.

DO: Teach with earnestness and excellence.

Loving kids well will also mean that our teaching is done with earnestness. Kids must have confidence that we know what we are talking about. The pathway to engendering this confidence runs through letting the lesson have its effect on us first. We can’t give away what we don’t possess; we can’t teach what we haven’t applied first in our own lives. When God works in us first and then through our teaching content, our teaching will be done in earnest.

A final loving thing that teachers can do is use illustrations and anecdotes. Getting (and holding) the attention of children is often a difficult task. We must be willing to teach in ways kids can easily understand. The use of these two techniques will help the children process and use what is being taught.

DON’T: Bribe them.

Bribes are sometimes used with children to either gain compliance or modify behavior. Neither is the goal of what we are attempting to teach. Giving rewards for hard work is one thing, but bribing doesn’t show love or concern, it shows that we are simply filling time until parents arrive.

A vibrant children’s ministry is an important ingredient to any healthy church. In order to keep this ministry vibrant, demonstrating love, winning rapport, and avoiding bribing students will keep kids not only interested, but opens the door for the Holy Spirit to work.

Family Friday Links 3.9.18

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Our very own Jared Kennedy wrote for Sojourn Network's Blog this week. He wrote a blog entitled, "Helpful TIps for Grace-Based Classroom Management"   Jared writes, "Here’s the truth: The effective formation of our children requires a stable environment. For this reason, it’s important for a children’s ministry to supplement parental training by upholding high standards for behavior, respect, and discipline. I hope these four goals and nine strategies are helpful for you to that end." 

Jill Nelson at Children's Desiring God wrote a post on, " Communicating to Children the Self-Sufficiency of God." Jill writes, "One way we can help our children grasp this important attribute of God is to be careful with the language we use. For example, it would be in error to teach children: “God created people because He was lonely.” The implication being that God needed our fellowship. Or, “Jesus chose Peter to be His helper.” The implication being that God needs man’s help in accomplishing His purposes. Instead, use language in keeping with God’s self-sufficiency. For example, “God created people for His glory—to show His greatness and worth. He created us to be receivers of His goodness and love.” 

Kasey Fagan at Doorposts Songs website wrote a needed post about, 5 Things Parents Look For When They Visit Your Children's Ministry. Kasey writes, "I’ve been on staff at my church in preschool ministry for 13 years. When you’ve been in the same place doing much of the same thing for so long, it’s easy to get in a rut, stay in your bubble, and forget what it feels like to walk into your building and experience your children’s ministry for the first time. It’s eye opening to step back and think about what it must be like for that first time guest to walk in your doors, not knowing where to go or who to ask for help."

What have you been reading this week? Leave a link in our comment section! 

Thanks for reading.

It's Not About Me

Illustration and layout by Trish Mahoney from   The Beginner's Gospel Story Bible   by Jared Kennedy, (New Growth Press, 2017).

Illustration and layout by Trish Mahoney from The Beginner's Gospel Story Bible by Jared Kennedy, (New Growth Press, 2017).

Teachers make all kinds of plans. But things in our classrooms don’t always go our way. We will experience more peace when we hold our plans loosely.

John the Baptist is one of the most interesting characters in the Bible--especially for grade school boys. Let’s face it. He wore camel hair clothes. He ate bugs. And when the Jewish leaders showed up, he boldly rebuked them: “You sons of snakes!” John was confident in who he was. He knew what God had called him to do.

But John also knew his place--second place. John knew his ministry wasn’t for his own benefit. He was called to point others to Jesus. John kept making the point over and over again. He said, “I’ve come to prepare the way for the Lord” (Matthew 3:3). “I’m not worthy to untie his sandals” (John 1:27).  “He must become greater. I must become less.” (John 3:30)

In other words, “It’s not about me.” That’s one of the most important lessons when we’re teaching kids. Whether I’m reading a devotional to my daughters at home or teaching a Bible lesson to kids at a church gathering, I’m tempted. I’m tempted to believe teaching time revolves around my authority or skill as the teacher and my lesson plan. But it doesn’t. God wants teachers to point away from themselves and toward the Son. He must become greater. I must become less.

Here are three things we can do to stay in second place while we’re teaching:

  • Pray. Prayer acknowledges the reality that we’re not in control. We need God’s grace and strength to teach well. We need Him to help the kids to learn. When we pray, we’re asking God to show up in our classrooms. And we acknowledge that He often has better plans than the ones we’ve made.

  • Be Flexible. Even if your lesson is laid out beautifully, class time doesn’t always go as we plan. Hold your plans loosely, because God may have different ideas. Be prepared, and use your lesson plan as a guide. But don’t be so rigid you can’t roll with the punches if the glue sticks dry up or Johnny gets sick during Bible time. Kids need to see there are more important things than following our plans perfectly.

  • Join God where He is working. What if a child in your class shares a particularly vulnerable prayer request? What if she asks an insightful question about the Bible passage? We should recognize moments like these as opportunities. Often God shows up and does something that wasn’t in the lesson plan. Joining God where He is at work may mean changing our plans on the fly. It may mean leaving out part of the lesson you’ve spent time preparing, but it’s worth it.

There is joy in holding your plans loosely and expectantly praying for God to work in your classroom. There is joy in seeing God at work then getting to join him in it.  After all, your class time isn’t about you. It’s about him.

What helps you hold fast to God and hold your lesson plans loosely?

Check out my Bible storybook, The Beginner's Gospel Story Bible from New Growth Press. Every story contains one big truth about God you can teach to toddlers and young readers.

Grace-Based Classroom Management

This post first appeared on the Sojourn Network website.

One of the most important skills for a children’s ministry teacher to learn is how to manage behavior. I’ve found that this is particularly tricky for classroom teachers who are conscientious about the gospel. We know that we’re not saved by our performance so creating a list of classroom rules or giving too much attention to how well behaved children are can seem harsh or legalistic. On the other hand, if a teacher doesn’t think about managing behavior at all, the class can get completely out of control, kids are difficult to teach, and the joy is completely sucked out of a ministry role. So, what can we do?

How DO I manage my classroom? Should I use incentives?

Many ministries use an incentive system—a candy jar or ‘Bible bucks’—to encourage attendance, bringing your Bible, memorizing verses, or appropriate behavior. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this. After all, work and reward is one of the basic structures of life. The trouble is that a classroom culture built on rewards for performance doesn’t fit with gospel message we’re hoping to teach. As Bible teacher Jack Klumpenhower explains in his book, Show Them Jesus:

It wouldn’t do to teach that God’s rewards in salvation come freely, by grace, but that rewards in the church come by being good and memorizing verses. Nor would it work to teach that God values faith over superior churchy behavior, and then give prizes to kids who excel in churchy behavior. I couldn’t say that Jesus is better than absolutely anything else, but reward what kids learned about him with a slip of paper redeemable for candy.

In place of incentive-based environments, we’re looking to create classroom environments that are grace-filled. Klumpenhower goes on to describe the following four goals. We want classroom environments that are:

  • Sin-Aware. We don’t pretend that kids are basically good and just need a little direction. Instead, we expect absolutely everyone (including ourselves) to arrive with big problems only Jesus can fix.
     
  • Delighting in Jesus. We won’t let kids use Jesus to get something else they want more. We don’t approach teaching, prayer, and worship as things to be done because they’re important and necessary—after which we turn to more ‘fun’ activities when it’s time to enjoy oneself. Rather, we communicate that nothing is more enjoyable than Jesus.
     
  • Grace-Aware. We celebrate and model the work of Christ for us and in us, and we give God the credit for every good change that happens in a kid’s life or our own life. We expect God to bring growth. This creates a place of mercy and openness, because, when God gets the credit for spiritual progress, there’s no need for either one-upmanship or defensiveness, only deeper faith.
     
  • Focused on the Heart. We’re never satisfied with merely manipulating outward behavior, but instead we recognize that kids who look obedient still need Jesus. We don’t let either rule-keeping kids or rule-breaking kids use their behavior as a way to avoid Christ. We seek heart-level growth in both.

I love these goals. They give a great picture of what we’re aiming for in grace-based classrooms. But it’s possible to come into the classroom with the right heart and still do a poor job handling Johnny when he’s disruptive during the Bible story. In fact, some teachers I’ve talked to feel that if I take away incentives, their classroom culture will spiral into a war zone. This begs the question. Within a grace-based environment, what do I do to manage negative behavior? 

9 Key Strategies

  1. Be well prepared and organized. Know your lesson. Be structured and well paced. Half of classroom management is knowing exactly what you are doing. If you are prepared and organized, children will have less of an opportunity to get out of hand.
     
  2. Give clear expectations. Make instructions clear, and repeat them. Model gentleness, and use a firm tone only when necessary. Some of the best preschool teachers I know, have only four simple rules in their class. They use interactive hand motions to remind the children of these expectations. Here are the four rules: (1) First-time obedience (hold up one finger), (2) Hands up means be quiet (hands up), (3) ‘Five’ means give me your attention (holds up five fingers and explains that full attention—all five senses, though tasting and smelling aren’t necessary—should be focused on the teacher. Sometimes these teachers just say, “Give me five.”), and (4) Keep your hands and bodies to yourself (wiggle hands out and then quickly pull them in).
     
  3. Be consistent. Follow the same rules and same schedule every week, and repeat the rules every week. Week to week consistency helps children to feel safe and secure.
     
  4. Model the way. If the children are singing and doing hand motions during worship times, teachers should be as well. Don’t ask children to do activities that you are not prepared to do yourself. Watch your example, because children are great imitators.
     
  5. Praise children for good behavior. Encourage kids when they do well. Removing prizes and candy incentives does not mean that we should also take away verbal encouragements. You might say, “Thank you, Rachael, for being kind to Lucy.”
     
  6. Give the reason why. Discuss the importance of obeying and being respectful with your class often, even with young toddlers. We want to motivate kids to sit quietly and listen, be active participants, and engage the lesson. Stress the importance of listening to God’s Word, obeying God by obeying teachers who are in authority, and loving others by listening to friends. You might say, “Johnny, it’s important to sit and listen quietly, because God is speaking to you through the Bible.” As we teach kids to participate in Bible study and worship gatherings, they are learning skills that they will carry with them into adulthood.
     
  7. Have a strategy in place for involving parents when a child persists in negative or disruptive behavior. You can download the attached ministry guide that summarizes this post. On the second page, there a sample policy for how to manage particularly disruptive or persistent negative behaviors by getting parents involved.
     
  8. Don’t motivate by comparison. We don’t motivate kids to express better behavior by comparing them to others, and we don’t motivate with shame. Don’t ever say, “Trey, I wish that you could be more like Ashley.” Maybe you’re thinking, “I would never say that.”  But motivating by comparison has a subtle way of sneaking into our teaching. More often I hear: “Boys, let’s listen up and be quiet like the girls” or “Everyone walk quietly. I want us to be the best-behaved class in the preschool department.” Instead of motivating our kids by comparing them to one another, we want to motivate them by the intrinsic good of what we’re asking them to do. As I wrote earlier “We sit and listen quietly because this is God’s Word.”
     
  9. Finally, here are a few last DON’T’S: No children’s ministry leader should ever use corporal punishment. Spanking is not appropriate for someone else’s child. Also, never ridicule, humiliate, or deny a child food or drink.

Here’s the truth: The effective formation of our children requires a stable environment. For this reason, it’s important for a children’s ministry to supplement parental training by upholding high standards for behavior, respect, and discipline. I hope these four goals and nine strategies are helpful for you to that end.