Darryl, for the third time this morning, gets up from his chair, and wanders over to the box of toys near the wall in the classroom. Keeping one eye on the Sunday school teacher, he defies her to stop him again! He knows he is supposed to be listening to what she’s saying like all the other kids, and part of him even wants to participate. It looks like fun! But he chooses to test her once again. After all, last time she gave him a piece of candy to keep him in his seat. What will it be this time?
Carol stands in the hallway outside her Sunday school class. As she fidgets against the wall, the Children’s Pastor walks up and asks her why she’s out there. As she searches for an answer, the Children’s Pastor is distracted by another teacher and walks away. The truth is she doesn’t really know why she’s out there. She’s only been here twice, and doesn’t quite know what she did wrong. She does know she won’t be coming back!
Jim is exasperated. As he sits alone in his classroom, having just dismissed all the kids, he decides he’s done. He must not be able to handle this kind of teaching ministry. Oh, he loves kids, but he can’t seem to keep control of the class while he’s teaching. Actually, it’s just a couple of kids, but week after week, they seem to overrun what he’s planned, and he just can’t take it anymore. He gets up, makes his way to the Director of Children’s Ministry office, and quits. Discouraged, he walks away and decides it’s time for a break from all ministry for a while. Maybe sometime down the road, he’ll think about getting involved in some other ministry.
Can you relate to any of these scenarios? None of them are what any of us want in our ministry, but in children’s ministry, “discipline” is an issue that each of us must deal with. It can be one of the most challenging– and frustrating. Not only for leaders, but for kids, too! In order to effectively minister, we must understand the issue of discipline, and be able to use it effectively.
Ephesians 6:4 says, “And now a word to you fathers. Don’t make your children angry by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction approved by the Lord.” Paul tells us that fathers are to be careful how their kids are brought up. Specifically, fathers are not to frustrate or anger their kids by the way they are disciplined and instructed. Rather, use techniques and ways that are “approved by the Lord.” In other words, discipline and instruct in ways that are appropriate, that are effective, and that honor God. While this verse is specifically spoken to fathers, the principle of effective discipline and instruction can be applied further, including to children’s ministry.
How do we discipline in children’s ministry? We can try bribes or embarrassing children or “blowing our stack,” and we might get immediate results that we are looking for. But is that discipline? Is that appropriate and truly accomplishing what discipline should be – disciple making? No. In the end, it is not instructing effectively; it is manipulating, punishing, or simply getting our way.
True discipline is, in reality, a continuation of our efforts to instruct. The difference, in most cases, is that the opportunity is generated by a child’s misbehavior instead of a planned teaching situation. Regardless of when it occurs, however, most of us find it a challenge to do, or at least to do effectively! But we all possess tools available to us to allow us to instruct in situations where discipline is necessary. These are tools that require no props, no equipment, and no preparation (except a little practice!) – they are tools we already have! With these tools, we use discipline as an opportunity to I.N.S.T.R.U.C.T!