Thank you for volunteering in your church! You probably hear this all the time from the parents you work with and the staff at your church, but just in case they are running around crazy trying to handle all of the details for the week, here’s a little encouragement for you: What you do makes such a difference in the lives of the children and students you serve.
I serve a church in Tustin, California, and our children’s ministry utilizes a model of Small Group Leaders (SGLs) for age-specific groups of kids. My role is to lead the large group teaching time and pour into the SGLs, and their job is to pour into their children in impactful and age-appropriate ways. Some of my leaders are retired, and some are in high school, but all of them share one important desire:
Each of them wants to be the most influential leader each can be.
I have heard these men and women ask me and each other for tips and tricks toward making an impact. You also might be looking for some ideas or encouragement in making the most of this volunteer experience! If so, please read on as I have a few thoughts to share with you!
Be a Prayer Warrior
Please keep this in mind! Prayer is powerful, and the Holy Spirit intercedes on our behalf! God knows what we need before we ask and is able and often gives us more than we could hope for or imagine!
So why did I list “Prayer Warrior” as the first item on the list? Prayer is incredibly powerful for you as the leader. Coming before God with your own needs and hurts and asking God to heal and guide you is beneficial for your faith and will impact how you serve the kids.
Building your prayer muscles will increase your own ability to serve students as they go through struggles and issues that are part of growing up and growing in faith. Praying opens our eyes to all that God is doing, and it can allow us to minister to hurting parents and children. Jesus modeled a life centered around prayer and obedience to God, and orienting our lives around prayer and obedience will hugely benefit us as we lead.
Read up on the age you serve
It is important to understand the things kids in your class are going through developmentally. What is “normal” behavior for a six year old is far different from a child who is nine.
Expectations that fall outside the ability of a child can lead to missed connections within your class. Why not seek to understand what a child is figuring out or working on mentally, physically, socially, and spiritually? It might make all the difference in how you approach the class time, structure your questions or activities, and how you encourage both kids and parents.
Have some back-pocket tricks up your sleeve
Some days everything that can go wrong does! Even well-prepared leaders will find themselves thrown a curve every now and again! I encourage leaders to have a little bag of tricks to change the dynamic in their room—a few small items you can have with you in case of a disciplinary emergency, a boredom buster, or when you need to get some conversation flowing!
- A stress ball. When the person has the stress ball, they have the floor. You can gently toss the ball around the group to encourage conversation.
- A noisemaker. Sometimes a little distraction is in order! When I have younger kids and they are getting a bit energetic, I will toot my horn and ask for all eyes on me. Oftentimes, I can use this break in the action to refocus the group!
- A box of Band-Aids. I don’t know why, but character Band-Aids help wounds (physical and emotional) and are super handy to have on hand for all age ranges.
- Hard-candy lollipops. If I have had a few restless characters in my groups, I will work toward 100 percent participation by handing out lollipops to kiddos who are focused and present in our time together! (Dum Dums work great.)
- A stuffed animal or rubber chicken. These options depend on the age of the children in the group, but the chicken is incentive for the kiddos to participate, and the stuffed animal encourages comfort and coziness—each has helped me align the group to the lesson.
Nothing can beat preparation. If you aren’t ready for the lesson, you should anticipate some stress and struggle. You know this time you share with your kiddos is valuable and what you are doing is blessed by God and grows little (or not-so-little) hearts that love and trust God!
So go through your lessons with your students in mind. Anticipate and pray through the questions they might have and ask for wisdom in your process, planning, and management of each time you have together. Knowing how your kiddos might react to a lesson and trying to provide the best possible experiences for them will impact their connection to the church for many years!
Don’t go it alone
I hope this is obvious, but make sure you are worshiping in the church community, not only serving. No one can fill a glass from an empty pitcher. God seeks to pour into you—to fill you with His love, forgiveness, and grace—and equip you to share these things with the kids you serve.
You will benefit so much from the community of other believers in your church! Knowing that you will have some SUPER EXCITING days and some not-so-exciting days, I want to encourage you to share your teaching experience with those in your congregation. It is a blessing for parents and members to see you serve and to be able to pray for you and your kiddos.
I know that leading can seem daunting at times. Sometimes you do feel alone or unappreciated. But allow me to encourage you, friend. God goes before you and He is already working amazing miracles in the church you are part of! He loves you and each child you are serving! He loves your pastor and other ministry leaders, and He calls you to rest in Him and walk in faith as you joyfully grow in servant leadership! That is my prayer for you too!