Outreach is a vital part of children’s/youth ministry. Our desire is to reach kids and youth with the gospel. That’s our goal.
But sometimes in developing our outreach, we forget about or ignore our “in-reach.”
“This is it,” I thought, “she’s about to tell me I won.”
At the beginning of the year, the director had announced that we would have a year-long opportunity to earn a trip to a once-in-a-lifetime event. We could earn points by wearing our uniform, bringing our Bibles, saying sections, inviting friends, etc. The usual point requirements.
I wanted to go to the event. I knew I’d finish my handbook anyhow and I often invited friends to come with me so I decided I would work hard and earn a super amount of points. And I did. All year. By the end of the year I had six or seven kids from my class at school regularly attending Awana – including Katie who did her book along with me and finished! But I went on to do a lot of extra credit and sailed into the last night with no one within 200 points of my total.
But the director did not call me aside to tell me I won, she called me aside to tell me that since I was the “preacher’s kid,” they thought it would be better to give it to the second place winner. The second place winner didn’t come to our church (she did go to another church) and they wanted to encourage her. Ironically, that second place winner was Katie and I was the one who invited her to club and helped her learn her sections. The director said she was sure I understood.
Guess what? At eleven-years-old, I didn’t understand. I had worked hard for a trip to that event. Yes, I wanted my friends to know Christ and though my motives for inviting them that year were point driven, I also invited friends to come when points weren’t involved. (Another awkward aspect of the entire situation was Katie not quite understanding why she had won and I didn’t. As my friend she knew I was way ahead.)
Yes, my dad was pastor and yes, my parents knew I was working for the prize and were willing to help if I had questions, but they didn’t push me. I did it on my own.
I walked out of the church and went home (we lived right next door) – in tears. I had just worked nine months to earn something I couldn’t get – because I was the preacher’s kid.
Fortunately my parents did not attempt to comfort me with platitudes about “well, you ARE the preacher’s kid, etc.” Nor, did they complain to the leaders. What they did do was gently agree on the unfairness of the decision and did what they could to make it up to me.
But I missed the event.
I am not the only preacher’s kid, missionary kid, leader’s kid or a child of a core church family that this has happened to. I could continue with stories I’ve heard from others.
The experience has made me overly-sensitive to the way we treat the kids of the pastors, the missionaries, the leaders, the core church members.
I remember listening to a director decide which of two clubbers would receive an award.
“Madison has a few more points, so technically she’s won, but Emma doesn’t come to church so I think we should give it to Emma.”
I said very quietly, “So in other words, we’re punishing Madison because she comes to church?” I then added, “Why not award them both?”
Much has been published lately about church kids walking away from their faith. Are we maybe pushing some of these kids away by not recognizing that they need encouragement and kindness as much as kids who are non-churched? We need to treat all our kids with fairness, not just the ones from non-churched homes.
God’s Word says in Ephesians 4:29 – Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. (Interestingly, that verse is in the same passage that tells us to be kind to one another.)
Edify means to build each other up. We need to ask ourselves if we’re building up our church kids or tearing them down?
From my own experience – both as an Awana clubber and as a leader for many years (watching other kids), here are some suggestions.
*Don’t assume that church kids are getting a lot of help at home. On the other hand, don’t assume that non-churched kids aren’t getting help. I’ve met church parents who could care less if their kids say their verses. But I have also met some non-churched parents who spend a lot of time helping their kids.
* Treat churched kids and non-churched kids fairly when deciding contest outcomes. If it’s the director’s child who wins then have two winners. Be open about point totals so clubbers see that you are judging fairly. Have someone other than the director announce the winners (if his/her child is involved).
*Ask for clubber volunteers to lead in prayer, read the Scripture, help with whatever. Just because someone’s dad is the commander, don’t assume that child is comfortable in front of a group.
*Occasionally give the church kids a “break.” For instance, you give points for every relative a clubber has present at a special parents’ night. This obviously will be easier for a clubber whose parents are both leaders than it would be for someone whose parents have nothing to do with club. But sometimes it’s ok to reward kids for COMING to church. Really.
*If a core kid is winning every contest (and that often happens), award her by allowing her to design the next contest. Depending on the age and capability of the child – she could announce it, keep score (on a visible wall poster) and announce the winner. That way you’re honoring her diligence, but allowing someone else to be the highest point-getter.
On the other hand … as a leader with your own child in club
*If the rule at your church is you need to be 15 years-old, a certified leader and have gone through the church’s child protection training in order to work in Puggles, don’t let your own 10-year-old help you because “after all, she is my daughter.” Rules need to be consistent.
*If you are a leader in your child’s club, have her say her verses to another leader. Even if you’re the fairest leader in the universe, this can come across as “unfair” to other kids.
*If you’re doing the Large Group Lesson, call on a variety of clubbers to help you with the visuals, etc. Of course, sometimes it makes sense for your own child to help you – if this is something that you’ve rehearsed with him/her at home. But don’t have your child be the helper every week. (And be careful of illustrations you use about your own child, too. This can be embarrassing to the child.)
Oh, and by the way – my beginning story has a happy ending. Not too long ago (after many, many years) a lady walked up to me at the mall. She said, “You’re Linda, aren’t you? I’m Katie. Remember me?” When I acknowledged that I did, she said to my friend who was with me, “Linda is the one who invited me to Awana. I’m a teacher and over the years I’ve been asked by many parents if I know anything about Awana and should they allow their children to attend. I always tell them Awana is great!”
A bad memory turned into something good.