4 Actions Family Ministry Leaders Should Avoid During the COVID Crisis.

This is my twenty-second year of doing kids and youth ministry and it is like none other I have experienced so far. It seems that we are all, no matter how long you have been doing ministry, trying to find our footing. It seems each day brings new realities to adjust to. The church has done much better than I could have imagined. It’s so exciting to see pastors and leaders innovate and create in ways they never thought they could have as a result of the COVID crisis.

We are only a couple of weeks into this and here are some of the things I believe we need to avoid as ministry leaders in the midst of a crisis like no other we have faced. It is so great to see the church rise to meet the unique challenges we are facing now. Yet I think we meet those challenges with both wisdom and prayer.

Here are a few suggestions I have about things we are avoiding in our kids and youth ministries during the COVID crisis.

1. Don’t talk about fear each week

This can be a huge challenge because it is low hanging fruit. For teens but especially kids, they need to be reminded of who God is. This is the greatest tool to fight any fears they may have.

I remember when my kids were little when they fell down and skinned their knees we would pick them up brush them off and tell them they were going to be fine. Their reaction was much different than when we made a big deal out of their bobo. Kids are connected and consume media first and second hand like no other generation before them. Rather than address it in our videos skits and stories we need to empower parents and caregivers so they will be able to help their kids better than us trying to comfort kids through a screen. Teach parents simple things to say. Give parents resources to say those things. Find or produce resources for parents to talk about fear with their kids but lets as the church keep disciplining kids as you normally do.

2. Don’t show curriculum videos unless you have no option

I’m not anti-curriculum. There are so many great options. I wrote an ebook to help you decide which curriculum is right for your church. But in this unique time we are in, kids need to see familiar faces. They need to see the church being the church to them.

Given the pervasiveness of editing software and the amount of free time, you or some youth or college kid has now. You should be able to produce something that is decent. It just has to be good because it is you. Kids want to see you not some stranger. Don’t sacrifice comfort for your kids of seeing you and your team because you feel it won’t be excellent. The American church has bought into the CEO lie that everything we do has to be Disney or it is not worth doing. Kids would trade excellent for human, personal, and normal any day. Kids don’t remember the amazing vacation you took them on what they do remember is the fort you built them out of cardboard. Excellence is a good goal but a bad god.

3. Don’t just disseminate content

The easier thing to do right now is to go on Facebook Live to make videos on YouTube. Those platforms have their usefulness to be sure. But don’t fall into the trap that you are pastoring someone because you are making videos about God. Pastors find a way to show up personally. In the times we are now living through may require some creativity it may require old school methods like making phone calls, sending texts or cards it may even some creative new school ways through zoom or by playing video games with kids.

I met with our volunteers and asked them to still volunteer. We ask them to call or send notes to their kids on the weeks they serve. I can’t reach all of our kids myself but we can as a family, if we all do our part we can together.

4. Don’t go back to the way things were

This crisis will change our world, is changing the church and must change us. If we think we can go back to business, as usual, we are wrong. We need to be more digital and more personal than ever. How are you going to do that? We need to start to create virtual ways to bring kids into our actual doors. We need to think of ways to leave our studios and walk through their actual doors.

If we don’t change how we work, who we trust, how we pray. We will have waisted this crisis. We can’t waste this crisis.

The bad news is we won’t be back for several weeks. The good news is we have several weeks to figure out what our new normal of reaching kids and teens is going to look like. Let’s work together to build the church. Let’s push each other to be more like Christ.

You’re Going to be Ok.

There are few things more difficult and few things more important than being with a family who recently lost someone they love. To be with someone who breathes their last is a trust and a responsibility we have with those we love. It’s a reminder that God how issues our first breath is with us when we breathe our last. I remember visiting a mother in the hospital who had recently received a terminal diagnosis and she struggling with fear. Because of the reality of the hope she had at that moment I reminded her that no matter the outcome God was with her: “Everything is going to be ok.” Her countenance changed and she died a few days later. Everything after was hard but it’s been ok she is free of pain and with her savior. Her family whose hearts are broken are trusting Jesus through the storm.

There is a phrase in Latin Memento Mori, which means in English, “Remember, you must die.” Talking about death, understanding death, and living with the knowledge you will die have all fallen on hard times. We live in a culture that idolizes youth and beauty and believes that money is how both those prizes can be achieved. The reality is that we do much of what we do in America because we are running from death. We struggle with anxiety and worry in this life because we have expunged death from every aspect of our daily life.

I go to and perform many funerals in a year. There was a season in my life I attended or performed a funeral nearly once a week. The thing that always struck me was there are no kids at funerals. There are very few teens and college-age kids at a funeral. Most people don’t go to their first funeral until late in life. This detachment and stigmatization of death have created a culture that fears death more than anything else.

This culture of positive confession and beautiful people has infiltrated the church. This detachment and paralytic fear of death that most Christians have has put us out of touch with some of the most critical and far-reaching themes of the Bible. Themes of salvation and forgiveness, sin and death, and suffering and victory.

If you have been to an older church, you would have had to walk through tombstones to come and celebrate the Lord’s day. Preachers used to have a skull they would put on their desk as a reminder that they were dying. They were preaching to people who were dying. And if you want to reach those who are dying, you do it by thinking A LOT about death, not by coming up with positive messages to avoid it.

At every funeral, I perform I read this text from Ecclesiastes 7:1-4.

Wisdom for Life
1 A good reputation is more valuable than costly perfume. 
And the day you die is better than the day you are born. 
2 Better to spend your time at funerals than at parties. 
After all, everyone dies— 
so the living should take this to heart. 
3 Sorrow is better than laughter, 
for sadness has a refining influence on us. 
4 A wise person thinks a lot about death, 
while a fool thinks only about having a good time. 

Ecclesiastes 7:1–4.

Funerals serve a purpose in this life. They are to as the Psalmist says in Psalm 90 Cause us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom. A wise person thinks A LOT about death, while a fool thinks only about having a good time now.

The reason this is so foolish is that we have it backward. We don’t think about heaven because our hope isn’t in heaven; it’s in the things we can gain an acquire. We don’t long for heaven with the homesickness that we should because we are so focused on making this life our best life. We have bought into the lie that aspects of evangelicalism have been selling to the world. If you believe God enough, if you follow him, you will have everything this world has to offer. We want a BMW more than we want heaven. Because our hearts want happiness and we think things will give us that.

But, What About… The Bible?

In a recent blog post, I wrote for David C. Cook’s content site for kids ministry leaders called Spark. I talked about in recent years there has been similar language used by apostates in explaining their “de-construction” stories. One of those familiar tunes they all seem to play is the God of the Old Testament vs. the God of the New. These arguments that modern apostates pose have a cascading effect. Once you attack the nature of God, the next domino to fall is the authority of scripture. What is interesting is that those who apostatize follow the same path that that theologians follow in systematic theology. Apostates tear down the foundations that have been systematically laid.

I had a conversation with my good friend Jana Magruder Director of LifeWay Kids. She recently wrote a book called Nothing Less: Engaging Kids in a Lifetime of Faith. In this book, she and her team discuss the results of a survey done by LifeWay. They found nine indicators that led to lifelog faith in kids. The most surprising finding was that the number one indicator of a lifelong faith is not the faith of your parents. It isn’t church attendance; it isn’t even generations of attendance in the same church. The number one indicator of a lifelong faith is Bible reading. And it’s not even close.

Nothing less than a whole Bible can make a whole Christian

A. W. Tozer

A.W. Tozer says, “Nothing less than a whole Bible can make a whole Christian,” this Jana says is the basis of the book that they wrote. Jana said at LifeWay they were looking for what creates lifelong faith in kids.

At first, we were looking for a formula for a recipe that if we could get this right, we could have more assurance that our kids are not going to leave the church as a different research study says. So many leave and some come back. What can we do as parents and pastors? When we got the results back, our research team came back to us. It said you know you’ve got the number one answer. It is so far away from numbers two, three, and four that it really needs to be in its own separate category, so as you write this book, don’t make it look like number one was this then number two after that… it needs to stand alone, it needs to have its own place. Our research shows it so far in importance and value from the other things. The answer was Bible reading.

Jana Magruder

Jana said that this finding is “profound because it’s not the first thing our brains go to.” In Nothing Less, Jana and her team reveal this is not what we are chasing as a culture. Travel sports, grades, private school, Christian school, home school, big church or small church…” None of these made the difference Bible reading did.

 I think the reason why we miss this is because while we may value scripture, I’m not sure we see it as authoritative.

What Do You Do When Sundays are Taken Away?

Recently I read *Resilient – Child Discipleship and the Fearless Future of the Church. One of the things that stood out to me was when the authors described that most kids’ ministry leaders don’t have a metric for measuring success in kids’ ministry.

I know this to be true because one of the questions I ask at conferences is “How do you measure success in kids ministry” to which most people respond with a particular number of kids that attend regularly. I then ask “What do you do to disciple kids?” To this question, most people respond by saying “Sunday Morning.” I say this because there was a time in my life when those would have been my answer.

The metric I used to use was how many kids came and did they have fun. This wasn’t a metric that reflected kids who were becoming disciples of Christ. It was metric that measured fans of Pastor Sam. I was sincere. I was also sincerely wrong. I wanted kids to have fun. I wanted kids to think I was fun more than I wanted them to love and treasure Jesus. I would never have said that but what I measured did for me.

Around twelve years ago God opened my eyes to see the gospel like I never had before. It led me on a journey I am still on to be someone who treasures Christ above all else. It changed my priorities in life and it changed how I measure success in ministry. There was a time in my life where being known by my peers trumped being known by God. I would never have said that but what I measured (likes, fans, and Blog stats) did for me.

If we want to raise kids who treasure Christ. Kids who say Christ is enough for me. We have to lead different we have to measure different things.

Mistake Number 1
– I thought that you disciple kids by being more innovative in looking forward rather than sacred in looking backward.

If I was raising my kids 10, 50, 200 years ago what would that life look like and what would my priorites have been. Just to challange my thinking to think beyond the expectations of the norms of today’s culture. So I would really challange that parent (pastor) to think what are those long term outcomes and goals for your child and what would the pathway be to help your child get there?

Matt Markins CSO Awanna

As a pastor, I thought innovation was the key to discipling kids. When I was young everything new was always better. The older I have gotten the more I have come to realize that what kids don’t need is a relentless barrage of new. What they need is old and true that is presented as new.

What do we measure in our kids ministry? Do our kids know the ten commandments, do they know the overarching story of the Bible, do our kids know the first question of the New City Catechism. Do our kids leave our ministry knowing Jesus is everything?

Mistake Number 2 – I counted kids to know how many were coming rather than who is missing.

Numbers are not wrong. Counting how many kids you have is not wrong. Thinking you are discipling kids because you have 99 coming is not discipleship. You should be counting your kids not so you can revel in the 99 but so that you know the 1 that is missing. We have fallen victim to the American spirit of entrepreneurialism rather than the biblical definition of a shepherd.

We measure how well we are doing not by sheer numbers alone but by who isn’t there and finding out why.

Mistake Number 3 – I thought kids loved Jesus for the rest of their lives by me making information fun, accessible, and memorable.

I spent hours coming up with fun creative ways to transfer information. Should kids ministry be fun and exciting? YES! I have come to learn over the years that the primary goal is not to get kids to know all the facts about God. What matters more than what kids know is what they love. Our job as leaders and parents is to form their loves.

Do we create opportunities for kids to experience God? I don’t mean in any way that we elevate experience over truth. As I have said earlier our kids need to have faith that is grounded in scripture and informed by history so that when they have an experience with God they have the proper framework to understand it and that experience does its work. It forms their loves.

Kids need to know the truth about God but kids also need to experience the person of God.

What should our metric be in kids ministry?

What do kids know?
Catechism
10 Commandments
Lords Prayer
Apostles Creed
The big story of the Bible

Is every kid known by someone?
Does at least one adult leader know each kid and their family?
Can each kid name at least one adult they admire from the church?

Is what kids love more important to us than what they know?

Do we create opportunities for kids to learn to hear God speak?
Do we create opportunities for kids to respond to God?
Do we model as leaders what a life that is gripped by the love of God look like?
Do our kids know that how they love others shows how they love God?

We have got to think in terms of creating disciples more than creating environments. We have to elevate the discussion around how are we as the church going to look backward so that we can move forward.

We see how serious a pandemic can be. If we do not start talking about discipleship, holiness, and gospel centrality in kids and youth ministry the church in North America will become a sterile form of religion that is driven to and fro by every wave culture sends our way. We have to realize that Sunday alone is not enough to disciple kids because we now know Sunday can be take away. If we want to raise kids that are resilient we have got to start measuring more than attendance and discipling with more than take-home papers alone.

How to Deal with Difficult Kids

When I was new to children’s ministry, one of the most challenging things for me to deal with was kids who misbehaved. I so wanted difficult kids, all kids actually, to like me and parents to think well of me. I avoided hard conversations with kids and parents. What I have come to realize is that by avoiding those hard conversations, I was not partnering with parents, and I wasn’t acting lovingly towards their child. Over time I learned you could be fun and firm.

Before we talk about correcting kids, there are a few things you need to remember about most parents.

  1. They love their kids
  2. They want their kids to do well in life
  3. They need help and don’t know how to ask

When we talk about disciplining kids is not primarily about managing your classroom; it is about discipling families. What we are called as the church to do is not turn undisciplined kids into pillars or moral virtue. We are called to preach the gospel and make disciples. In the radically individualized culture, we live in, we are so often seduced by the idea that I can grow in my faith and into Christ. The scriptures tell us that sanctification doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It occurs in the community.

Blogger and author Tim Challies says it this way:

I need to grow in holiness not just for my own sake but out of love and concern for those around me. If I love the people in my church, I will grow in holiness for their sake. I am prone to think that holiness is an individual pursuit, but when I see sanctification as a community project, now it is more of a team pursuit. I am growing in holiness so that I can help others grow in holiness, I am putting sin to death so I can help others put sin to death. My church needs me and I need my church, and this is exactly how God has designed it.

Tim Challies

We can not have a personal relationship with Jesus apart from the context of the community God provided and Christ inaugurated. Disciplining children is gospel work.

There are a few different types of kids workers; most people fall into one or more of these categories.

  1. Freddy Fun – You want to play games have a good time, and your solution to most discipline problems is fun, games, and prizes. (This was me.)
  2. Debbie Doormat – You let kids walk all over you because you don’t want to be harsh or unloving.
  3. Ned the Nonconfronter – Lets kids get away with everything because he is afraid of kids not liking him and parents getting mad at him.

Is there help for these three? Yes, there is.

Come Prepared

Classroom management starts during the week with your prep. You can’t manage your classroom and try and prep at the same time. You need to prep during the week, so you know what you are doing, and so you are free to deal with issues as they arise. Freddy fun – you can’t truly be fun unless you prepare truth to make that fun have meaning. You can’t be fun over time without taking the time to grow in your abilities. You want kids to sit and pay attention? Prepare during the week, so you have something to say during the weekend. This should only take 20 to 30 minutes.

Understand Grace and Understand Work

Something easy to forget when working with kids is not that they need grace, that is quickly apparent. What is easy to forget is we need grace and have received it in Christ. When we remember we have received mercy, we are much more likely to give it to others. You also need to know that what we are doing is not easy, but it is meaningful and so relevant. That as you work, it is Christ who works with you, for you and in you.

How do you Correct Kids in Light of Discipleship

How do we correct kids in Uptown? 1. Warn 2. Redirect 3. Warn 4. Remove. The only exception to this would be if physical with leaders or kids. If this happens, they are to be removed instantly. Make sure that once kids are removed, you affirm them and thank them for coming this week and tell them that you can’t wait to see them next week!

Follow Up

When removing a child from the classroom, I find getting the parents to come to the classroom is much more effective than bringing the child to the parents for several reasons.

  1. When you get the parents (or page them) and bring them to the kids, you can explain what happened. When you bring the kids to the parents, you lose this opportunity to talk with the parents and explain what we do and why.
  2. I find when parents are communicated to, they understand and are more willing partners in the discipleship of their kids.
  3. Parents having to leave the service to deal with their kids makes them more focused and more intent on not having to do that again.
  4. Follow up with a conversation next week, an email or phone call. Make sure parents know that our desire is not to punish their child but to make their child more like Christ.
  5. If a situation is beyond you, make sure you contact the kid’s pastor or ministry leader to deal with the issue.

Bottom line: The goal of managing a classroom is not to have well-behaved kids but rather to conform our kids into the image of Christ. We want disciples, not just good citizens.