There’s an older gentleman who’s on our children’s ministry team. Don’t quote me, but I think he’s in his late 70’s. This man, whom I’ll call Gerald, is great. He loves the kids and is very faithful. The only issue with Gerald is that he’s old school. What I mean by that is it’s difficult for Gerald to not treat kids and their negative behavior with how he got treated when he negatively behaved back in the day. I’ve had to “train” this out of Gerald, but he would pinch a misbehaving child on the collarbone and grab and yank arms to try to get kids to listen and obey.
To give Gerald credit, his methods were reflective of prior generations that were valid and socially acceptable ways of disciplining children who were misbehaving. Gerald was ministering to a new culture and had missed the socially acceptable cues of discipline.
I imagine that every church, to varying degrees, has one (or more) Geralds. The trick to minimize the inherent liability risk is to converse, share, and train the Geralds.
- You cannot touch a kid in anger or frustration.
Let me be honest, I want to. I really want to sometimes. But I am (we are) not that kids’ parent. I’m his pastor, his small group leader, or his mentor. I can only guide and discipline with words and consequences. Our role in this “misbehaving” kid’s life is to keep him/her from distracting other kids as well as to prevent him/her from hurting themselves or others.
- We also get the honorable privilege of helping to disciple this child through his/her discipline.
Discipline contains the word “disciple” and this misbehaving child not only need to be stopped, but also corrected and set on the right behavior path. We as ministers of the Gospel get to exemplify to children in their troubled moments what living out the Gospel really looks like in our behavior. It is my strong conviction that when a kid is in trouble he or she is listening more acutely to training and correction often more so than what they “hear” during the lesson.
Remember: Touching a child in anger or frustration not only opens up a ministry to liability, but also forgoes an opportunity to train a child in the way he/she should go.
The Geralds in our various ministries provide us young children’s pastors much needed context and history. I appreciate Gerald and the advice he brings and the expertise and love he offers the kids. We all love Gerald.
Maybe the take home point might be: we all, no matter how old or young we are, need to be trained and held in check. Maybe the community of children’s ministry workers (or any ministry for that matter) should hold each other accountable for the way we interact with the children with whom we get the awesome privilege to minister.