This post is the second part in miniseries about children and church – a fleshing out of where my mind and heart have been wandering lately. You can see that first post: “Out of Sight: Out of Mind” here.
I was raised in a couple of different churches during my childhood: different denominations (lest you try to pass off what I am about to tell as one specific group’s issues). In my adulthood I have attended a variety of churches. I won’t name names. If you know me personally you might recognize some of the following scenarios. On the other hand you might not know me and feel like I am talking about your church and childhood. All representations are as true as I can see them – as a grown woman with children of my own.
Church Culture What Happens in the Basement of Your Church?
Fear or Discipleship? Because there is a difference…
In college I worked for a ministry (parachurch organization that met in many a church basement and organized many vacation Bible schools and after school programs) that was known for evangelizing children, however, their tactics have not changed much in the last 30 years.
A lot of children are led to Christ using fear. (I’m not saying all the workers were like this, but there was a tendency to use guilt and shame to convert… how does that work in the long run?).
There is no place for Christ in environments that breed fear.
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18)
Did you catch that? “Perfect love drives out fear…”
An environment built on a foundation of love does not need to use fear, guilt, shame, or other such tactics. Christ did not use fear when he called the children to come to him – he prayed over them, blessed them, and held them. Those things involve: love, trust, acceptance, compassion, and arms – hearts wide open.
Scaring the “Jesus” Out of Church Kids since 1986
I remember the “Thief in the Night” videos from the 1980s. I recall watching those with the lights out on a Wednesday night with all the other 4th and 5th graders. This scared the crap out of me. I spent a good bit of time terrified every time I went down to the basement thinking that when I came back upstairs that everyone I loved was going to be raptured leaving me behind to try and fend for myself.
What kind of adults do this to kids – did YOU come to a better understanding of God after wetting yourself in fear?
Scary stuff happens in church all in the name of fear and disguised as evangelism and discipleship.
Throw it out! It’s rotten. It’s abusive. The long-term costs do not balance the tally sheets of your church’s yearly “conversion” stats/totals.
A Little Secret About Warm Bodies…
Adults who have been working within children’s ministries for years, but they are downright mean. They ridicule and belittle the children in their care. But they are gifted workers?
Sunday School/Children’s Church Workers Have a Shelf-Life – Check the expiration date.
In the third grade we had a Sunday School teacher who was mean and old. Not that being old disqualifies you because some white-haired men and women are filled with grace and love – you want to learn more around them because they give Jesus flesh and their perfume is wisdom. You can’t help but love them and cuddle close.
Their every word is to bless you and you know when you walk away from them that you have been loved and held.
However, this woman was not that woman. We sat in our desks and watched the other adult helpers fawn all over her – I think she not only scared the crap out of us kids, but she must have scared the helpers too.
Check your workers expiration date. Remove what does not bear fruit (or at least find her/him something else fruitful to do).
I know this is touchy with lay ministry workers (how can you fire the unpaid?), but don’t just stick with the same ole’ gang because it’s the same ole’ gang.
Some people feel that they have been called to love on and teach children – be discerning and honest. This is not always the case.
A teacher who is good with children – is overflowing with love not ridicule, not condemnation, not caustic. That grownup acts like a grownup and does not need the children to validate them.
If you are looking for warm bodies to fill a need – you will get all kinds of warm bodies.
Not all warm bodies are safe for children.
Honestly evaluate what is happening and if you can not be biased in your assessments, talk to the kids (without them fearing retaliation for speaking truth). Perhaps you need to find someone (outside source perhaps) that can come in and professionally evaluate what is happening “in the basement.”
In all likelihood if you are in leadership and this particular person has been around longer then you… it’s going to be difficult to pull weedy areas. God be with you… Just remember –
Our children are worth it.
Weeding out difficult, harmful, unsafe people who have close contact with children is worth it.
Your kids are worth it.
Make your church and your home a fear-free zone.
Come on back tomorrow and I’ll share part three “Church Culture: Wolves or Sheep Can You Tell?” – a look at the prevalence of sexual predators and abuse occurring in church basements.
It doesn’t matter if you have security clearances for your workers – as a former case worker (that would be me) you are going to want to read this one.
This is super close to my heart and life so you don’t want to miss it.