Guest Post by Jayson Bradley:
Jayson D. Bradley is a well-known writer and pastor in Bellingham, WA. He’s a regular contributor to Relevant Magazine, and his blog JaysonDBradley.com has been voted one of the 25 Christian blogs you should be reading.
He is the content strategist for Gradlime: a content marketing agency content that equips faith-based organizations to reach more of the right people.
Every time I hear someone in church say that our children are the church of tomorrow, I get a little annoyed. The truth is that they’re the church of today. They’re just as important and integral to the Body right now as adults are, and with proper guidance and care will only grow in influence.
It’s no secret that a majority of decisions to follow Christ are made before people turn 18. This makes children’s ministry more than just an activity we engage in to keep the kids from bothering the adults during church. In fact, there’s a strong argument to be made that it’s one the most important activities we can be engaged in.
With that in mind I have to ask, where are the men in children’s ministry!? If this is so important—and I can’t imagine anyone who would say it’s not—why isn’t everyone climbing all over each other to be involved?
I have some ideas why men aren’t more involved, and some proposals to overcome it. But keep in mind that it’s probably not any one reason keeping men out of kids ministry, but a perfect storm of considerations:
1. Cultural conditioning
I’ve never heard anyone in church say, “children’s ministry” is women’s work, but that doesn’t mean that we’re not inadvertently communicating it. Sometimes I fear common male/female generalities can send the wrong message.
For example, we tend to make child rearing a female activity, and then reinforce it by talking about how women are more nurturing than men. This can create a culture where guys naturally shy away from kid ministry.
Once men are vacant from that ministry, the assumption that this is a ministry where men aren’t welcome becomes more prevalent. At this point it’s self perpetuating.
I once was at a church service where they were soliciting workers for children’s ministry and the pastor began by saying, “Ladies, we have a need . . .” After the service I asked the pastor if men were unwelcome to help out with the kids. “Oh heavens,” he said, “Of course not!”
Turns out he just had gotten used to it being something men weren’t interested in.
2. Fear of the unknown
My wife was sick one morning, and I offered to take her place. That was my first foray into children’s ministry. I can still hear the click of the door behind me and the look on the fifteen kids’ faces when I turned around.
I was scared to death. What if they hated me? What if I wasn’t fun? What if they weren’t interested in listening to me or getting involved? As it turns out, all of my fears were unfounded. And I signed up that day to be put into regular rotation as a teacher. Almost immediately I started bothering other dads I thought would enjoy and benefit from being involved, too.
One thing I heard time and time again was, “I wouldn’t know what to teach them, and I wouldn’t know where to begin.” But once I showed them how easy it was to come up with material, many of them showed genuine interest.
If your church doesn’t use a regular curriculum, finding awesome lessons is as simple as firing up an internet browser. You can always find great resources. You can start with free Sunday school lessons, or bookmark this list of the best places to find Sunday school content.
Sometimes your best experiences lie right beyond your comfort zone. If you’re afraid of jumping in, do what you can to address your fears—and then jump in anyway.
3. We’re not being asked
As I mentioned earlier, we tend to ignore men entirely when we’re looking for people to get involved. We’ve sent out a million flyers, emails, letters, and bulletins requesting workers, and we’ve only heard back from women for so long that we’re typically only targeting them. This is creating its own problems.
For nearly every church, children’s ministry can begin to feel like a machine that constantly needs to be fed. Workers come and go, or simply burn out. I’ve talked to so many women who have no real desire to work in kids ministry, but have been doing it for years. Why? Because they feel singled out. If they go to a new church, they’re hit up to serve in kids ministry there, too.
But if you ask men whether they’ve been invited to serve in children’s ministry, by and large, they’ll tell you no. And if they are asked, the culture is set up to make them feel a lot more comfortable saying no. This means one of the church’s greatest areas of need falls on only one gender.
And because they’re often tired, burned out, or not really called to this ministry, it’s not quite as dynamic as it could be. That’s no good for anyone, especially men who would thrive and mature in this area.
Changing the culture
If we’re going to make changes that truly address the gender disparity in our children’s ministries, we need to do so from the top down. We need to talk about it from the pulpit, and share our desire to reorganize our youth programs so that our children get to experience both women and men who are serious about their spiritual development.
We need to become better at prayerfully recognizing men and women who’ll be assets to our children’s ministry, and then specifically encourage them to get involved. A request made to everyone is not really made to anyone—it’s a lot easier to ignore or dismiss.
When we target someone and tell them why we think they would make a real contribution, and how they’ll benefit from their involvement, they’re more apt to give it serious consideration.
Having a thriving kids ministry is one of things every church should aspire to. Our kids desperately need it, and the outcome of a powerful ministry to children is that it’s a huge draw to families. But I don’t think we can consider any children’s ministry a success until our kids are learning how to love God from both men and women.