COMPASSION IN ACTION
Church is a place you behave! At least that’s what I grew up understanding. Acting out was not optional. Misbehaving was inappropriate. You sat still in the chair while the preacher taught the Word and that was final! My friends followed these same rules because they were like I was: “church kids” who came with our two-parent birth families (many of whom also grew up in church). Because most of us shared the same background and worldview, I didn’t know any different. I assumed all kids knew how to “do kids church.”
Without realizing it, I carried some of these understandings with me into young adulthood. I was an experienced but overly-confident young children’s pastor, doing things the way they had always been done. I fell into the trap of church cliches and expectations. I valued outreach but was unaware that caring for the lost would require me to approach children’s ministry differently. That is, until I met Caleb.
Caleb was an 8-year-old in foster care who attended our church. He was, quite honestly, the most frustrating student I have ever served. He would not sit during service, he wrestled kids during small groups, and he spent many Sundays screaming in the back of the room to distract every other child. He was impossible to control. I started to believe that he was the problem. Caleb is preventing others from hearing the Gospel. I can’t let that continue. Eventually, I found myself telling my team every single Sunday to take Caleb to his parents in the main service. Every. Single. Sunday. I told myself, I am doing what is best for the greater good…right?
One weekday as I was studying in my office, I came to Mark chapter 10. It is the passage where people were bringing their children to be blessed by Jesus and the disciples were sending them away. It was as if they were saying, “Why are you bringing your kids here? Jesus can’t be bothered by this. It’s too inconvenient and too distracting!” Mark 10:13-16 reads,
“People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.”
Though I had read that passage before, I was instantly enraged. How could the disciples do that to those precious children? Then the Holy Spirit softly convicted my heart, “You do this every Sunday to Caleb.” Whoa! The glass shattered and I saw things differently. It was in that quiet moment in my office that God enlarged my heart for the Calebs in my community.
I finally realized that Caleb’s behavior wasn’t a malicious defiance of our children’s ministry. No, his behavior was a result of his past. He wasn’t raised in church like every other one of our students. He didn’t know what appropriate behavior was or what he should be doing at church. He was still learning and it was our job to help him. It was him we were called to reach.
My whole ministry was in for a huge change. I knew I couldn’t keep doing things like I always had. Our team came together and asked the question, “How can we make changes to better serve Caleb?”
It started by finding out his story. We learned what was causing him stress in kids church and we started making changes. One of the greatest changes was assigning him a “buddy” to connect with. This volunteer’s sole responsibility was to love Caleb well and help him engage in service. Eventually, Caleb’s buddy recruited him to help set up the snack area every Sunday. Caleb loved his new job and found belonging in it!
Making these changes, both big and small, was life changing for Caleb. He began arriving with a smile, experiencing the fullness of the children’s service, participating in small groups, and serving faithfully each week! It was life change for him and a game changer for our ministry.
Over the following years, I came to understand the reality of trauma. That trauma is like pouring bleach on the brain. That kids from hard places need safe adults to love them through their messiness. That behavior isn’t a personal attack on a person or a ministry. That the best thing we could do for kids who had experienced trauma was educate ourselves and make adjustments for them.
If we are called to care for the orphan, then we are called to understand trauma. Trauma-informed churches are better equipped to serve children and youth from hard places. Not only does this approach create a safe and welcoming environment for foster and adoptive children, it ensures a better experience for your staff and volunteers. Children’s ministry is hard. Ministering to children from hard places is even harder. But not only is it what we’re called to do, it’s one of the most rewarding things we can do.
Are you ready to take your children’s ministry to the next level through practical trauma-informed training? Click the link below to access trusted online courses that will equip your teams with the knowledge and skills needed to support children and youth who have experienced trauma. Let’s work together to create nurturing environments where kids can flourish!
Backyard Orphans Program Administrator
Founder and Chief Executive Officer
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