by Trevecca Okholm
OK, let’s get this straight, shall we? Fathers don’t “babysit” their own children, they parent them. And parents don’t “volunteer” to help us out in ministry, they are the primary faith models for their own children. It is a surprisingly hard concept to get across to many congregations; however, the sooner we do so, the more effective our ministry with families will be.
I well remember that one Sunday morning when our church nursery director came up to me with a visitor in tow and announced—yep, in the visitor’s hearing—“Hey, I’ve got a live one here!” (In other words, she wanted to introduce me to a new person visiting our church that expressed interesting in volunteering for children’s ministry.) OK, I know, there are soooo many red flags going up about that situation. You may be saddened—or more likely relieved—to know that we never saw that woman at our church again. But for the purpose of this CSS forum post, let’s just stick with the topic of volunteering.
The verb volunteering wasn’t a word until Benjamin Franklin developed the first volunteer firehouse in 1736. (Rosenburg, A Brief History of Volunteering in America) And it has only been in the last few decades that this term has made its way into the church’s vocabulary.
Ask a grandparent or someone who has been part of the church since before WWII and they’ll most likely tell you that no one was ever asked to volunteer. Oh, they were asked to serve, or to minister and most considered it an honor when elected to serve as an elder or deacon, or even a Sunday school teacher.
I bristle at the secular nature of what we communicate in the church when we ask folks to volunteer . . . especially when we ask parents to volunteer. It brings up images of helping out at the community center, picking up beach trash on Earth Day, or chaperoning at a school event. It communicates that church is just another social institution asking us to help out—not the family of God—not a place I call home and create healthy bonds of attachment. It begins to feel like church is just one more service organization that wants me to give back in exchange for services provided.
It sort of hits me like when I used to show up at an event without children in tow and someone asked if my husband was babysitting the kids. “No,” I want to scream. “he is not babysitting, he is parenting! He actually belongs to our family—he is not just providing a service to us, he is part of us.”
Perhaps one of the most harmful changes the current church culture communicates is that it is a service provider to or for the community versus a place of belonging with the body of Christ.
Here are five thoughts on the church coming alongside parents to assist them in training up their children in the Christian faith, I invite you to add your thoughts to this dialog.
The 5 Es of children’s ministry with parents (and other non-volunteers in the church community) is to . . .
1) Engage with parents, grandparents, and other members of your church family to let them know that your church staff position exists to assist them in training up their kids in the Christian faith and that you are willing to come alongside them to . . .
2) Encourage them to not be afraid to talk about faith with kids and pray with kids, even when they don’t feel adequate for the job! Your goal is to make them look good! Of course, the reality is that many parents are not yet Christian themselves or have been Christ-followers for only a short time, so the next step is to . . .
3) Equip them in their own faith. This might look like providing faith-parenting classes or family Milestone events where parents are learning right alongside their kids. Whatever you provide by way of equipping parents or grandparents in their God-given role, remember that your job is not to guilt them but rather to . . .
4) Empower them to look good even if that means being timidly confident in their ability. Remember that your job is more about equipping and empowering parents than it is about teaching their children! So, look for every opportunity you can find to . . .
5) Enrich their faith and their opportunities to share that faith with their own children, and who knows, perhaps they will even begin to feel comfortable enough to witness that faith to others in their lives!
But the first step begins by your own church’s practice of beginning to see parents as ministers and, for goodness sake . . . not as volunteers in a program you oversee! Got it? Good, now go out and share this message for the sake of your church’s kids!
Contributed by Trevecca Okholm, adjunct professor of Practical Theology at Azuza Pacific University and author of Kingdom Family: Re-Envisioning God’s Plan for Marriage and Family and The Grand-parenting Effect: Bridging Generations One Story at a Time (Summer, 2020)