1. Unmotivated, unexcited children
Obviously, "excited" kids are not the primary objective. But their levels of external excitement and motivation are great indicators to help you evaluate your children's ministry. I don't want to be guilty of being "seeker sensitive" in such a way that waters down God-centered theology, but look at the faces of the kids in your ministry when it is time for them to go to Sunday School or Children's church. Heaven forbid that they are bored about the most non-boring subject in the world: God. I want boys and girls to be passionate about their great big God. And excitement tends to flow from the top down. If you as a children's worker are excited about the best stuff, watch the kids get excited about it too. Unmotivated, unexcited children is a problem and that problem is not theirs, it is ours. I'll never forget my 7th grade English teacher, Jack Shea. Mr. Shea was always pumped up about poetry, not a subject that readily excites a 7th grade boy. But his passion for poetry began to get caught by all his students. I remember actually talking about poetry to my friends during recess! That's not normal operating procedure for a 7th grade boy! What made the difference? A leader that was passionate about the topic he was teaching. God, please help us to be excited about You!
Verse to consider: Matthew 15:8 This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.
2. No laughter, no smiles (on kids or the workers)
Laughter and smiles are the language of children. If these wonderful gifts from God are not present, then you aren't speaking "kid-ese." A few years ago a youth-leader pulled me aside after I spoke at a conference and began chiding me about the use of humor in my message. He was lobbing the guilt-grenades fast and furious and it was working. While he was rebuking me his own daughter (no lie!) came up and tearfully testified that God had just done an awesome work in her heart during the message. Then my conversation with her dad abruptly ended. I maintain that God uses the personality of people. God uses me. God uses you. We can be secure in who we are and rest in God's sovereignty. But for heaven's sake if you're not into smiling and laughing even a little bit please reconsider your role within children's ministry! Wherever God manifests Himself, there is always joy. A joyless children's ministry is a godless children's ministry.
Verse to consider: Psalm 16:11 You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
3. No plan for allowing kids to be kids
Kids are goofy and gravitate toward fun. This is just how God made them. When you meet them at their level I think you communicate love and pave the way to share Truth. One of the most influential people in my life was my 3rd grade camp counselor, Tom. He totally met me where I was: a goofy, silly, 3rd grade boy. He condescended to my low estate (hmmm, Who else has done this?) and connected with all of his campers by being fun and approachable. I went away from that week of camp thinking that the greatest thing I could ever do was to become a Christian camp counselor. And later in my life I spent 3 summers doing just that! Tom had an incredible influence on me at a very young age because he simply let me be a kid and accepted me as such! He opened the door for the truth to reach my heart because I knew he cared about me enough to reach me where I was. Is the goal of your children's ministry: "to prepare kids for big church?" Why? Let them be kids. Don't try and raise them up to the level of adult maturity. Show them Jesus where they are. Your main job as a children's worker is to point kids to God. All other goals should be subservient and supportive of that beautiful overarching goal!
Verse to consider: Romans 12:16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly [give yourself to humble tasks]. Never be wise in your own sight.
4. Disconnected workers
Do the workers show up 5 minutes beforehand, pull down the big 3-ring binder from the shelf, flip to that day's lesson, and then proceed to more-or-less read it verbatim to the kids (because if we don't read it verbatim we might miss something important or get something wrong)? This simply cannot be effective, no matter the curriculum you are using. And I say that as one that has written an entire curriculum for kids! Curriculum is never the end-all, be-all answer. Loving, prepared workers that show Jesus to the kids are better than all the curricula in the world. I have been far more influenced in my life through relationships with people than lessons, sermons, or messages. What about you? We can probably point to a few meaningful and memorable lessons, but the first thing that comes to my mind is always real human people that showed me Jesus.
Verse to consider: Psalm 78:4 We must not hide them from their children, but must tell a future generation the praises of the Lord, His might, and the wonderful works He has performed.
5. Content that aims at conformity versus conversion.
Are well-behaved children your main goal? Then please stop. If the main emphasis of your ministry is conformity and "good-behavior," just stop. Seriously, stop it. Stop doing it. Put down the curriculum book and step away. Call someone immediately and tell them you can't do children's ministry because you think like the devil instead of Jesus. Jesus reserved his harshest words for the Pharisees, a group entirely concerned about the external conformity to the law. Jesus told them in no uncertain terms: "You are of your father, the devil." Apparently, aiming for conformity to religious laws without real heart-change is to think like Satan. A sure-fire way to ruin kids is to make abiding by certain external rules the goal and standard. True children's ministry is all about God. Hoping in the God of the Bible changes everything. Faith and repentance toward this God is conversion, not conformity, and it yields a confidence in the character of their God versus confidence in one's own performance. Serious, stern disciplinarians need to be touched by the grace of God and always keep in mind the only goal that really matters: real, saving faith in God.
Verse to consider: Romans 2:4 Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?
Hopefully, you will find these thoughts helpful. My next post will be "5 Ways to Know when Your Children's Ministry is too Fun and Fluffy." In the words of the great Mr. Miyagi: "Find the balance, Daniel-san!"
Waxing off for now,