We’ve been sharing how the local church can nurture each child’s call into ministry. At WC we provide five specific ways to intentionally set the stage to do so in partnership with Mom and Dad. We’ve looked at practical experiences so kids can GROW, TELL, SERVE, and WORSHIP our Lord God with all their hearts, souls, minds, and strengths. Today we consider ways for children to know they BELONG.
We are wired for stories and community. The local church community is the perfect environment to live and tell our stories, to belong, and be drawn into the ongoing Christian story “teaching us how to negotiate the hows and what-nexts, the surprises, struggles, and victories of the radical, countercultural way of life that Christianity is.” (from Susanne Johnson’s Christian Spiritual Formation in the Church and Classroom.)
“When children feel a sense of belonging and sense of pride in their families, their peers, and their communities, they can be emotionally strong, self-assured, and able to deal with challenges and difficulties.” (Alstear: the Early Childhood Curriculum Framework) Children feel a sense of belonging as they experience respect, encouragement, forgiveness, care, approval, and especially love…unconditional love. We want our children to move beyond saying, “That’s my church,” and move toward proclaiming, “That’s where I belong, where I matter, and where I am loved, no matter what!”
Starting in the nursery, we can meet Mom with a “smile at the door and be ready to play on the floor.” We ask how Little Man is doing, how was his night, and show interest in his family with joyful questions. When Little Man is picked up, we share his story with Mom about how he napped, or what he played with, or an anecdote of his experience while in our care. Moms understand Little Man may not be the only one in the nursery, but she wants to know that we have cared for him as if he was.
Write notes, send birthday cards, send postcards from training events and travels, report on their achievements, attend their outside activities, go to a play, share their stories and victories in the church newsletter. Even consider sponsoring the local swim team where your students will be wearing the team shirt with their church name on the back.
Chick Night…for 5th grade and higher to connect with other women of the church. They’ll interact over food, games, craft, mingle, laugh, and know they are acknowledged and welcomed by the Titus 2 women, the ‘models’ of negotiating the Christian life as a woman of faith in Jesus.
Saints Book Club…sign language ministry to go to other churches to help and teach at special events invites them to ‘learn, then teach/pour out’ the gifts and opportunities with others in the Body of Christ…invite them to things I’m doing…going to the movies…small group opportunities…confirmation mentoring/sponsoring…connect with other UMC churches through Messy Night, Winter Ball, Confirmation, Summer camps where students get a chance to meet other adults who are sold out for Jesus.
The greeting/beginning time on Sunday mornings gives them time to make make new friends and spend time together at church because it may be the only time they get to see or play with one another. Provide the environments to play together and pray together. Doing anything that will encourage face time, table life, encouraging memories, and building relationships with one another.
How do we nurture each child’s call into ministry? We intentionally set a balanced stage for personal encounters with the living God as each one grows in wisdom and stature with the Lord and man (GROW), share in their own words their story and experiences (TELL), use his/her gifts and explore interactive opportunities to show mercy, do justice, and love on others (SERVE), experience worship corporately as an integral part of the family of faith (WORSHIP), and repeatedly engage in relationship building so that he/she knows without a shadow of doubt that God’s people are his/her people. (BELONG)
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Matthew 19:14