The quote from Toy Story 2 I chose as the title for this blog perhaps over-eggs the cake a bit, but when you remember that in the film it is spoken by a cowboy doll (Woody) to a cowgirl doll (Jessie) it makes sense. For them life is all about being loved by children, for me it’s mainly about loving children.
I have always loved being around babies and children. For the most part they don’t judge you or make you feel bad for being you, unlike some adults. The innocence of a new baby is something to be marvelled at and treasured. As adults we have an obligation to protect that in them, to teach them about the world without pushing them out into its dark places before they are ready. As a children’s worker in church part of my role is to teach them that Jesus loves them and they are never alone in the world. We teach children that they can talk to God about anything and everything and that he is always there and ready to listen. Sometimes I think the best way we can teach them that is by building relationships with them where they know they can talk to us about anything and we are always there and ready to listen. In some circumstances with some children that is easy, but it’s not always so.
My previous church was a small church, all the adults knew each other and trusted each other. Parents there knew that the church would look after their children and keep an eye out for them. I had the privilege of being a Sunday School teacher there. My sister and I taught the under 8s about God and Jesus. For the most part because of the size of the church that meant we would be in a room with no more than 7 children between us. We would often do something together at the start like singing a song or reading the Bible story and then split into under 5s and 5-8s for the part where we talk together and maybe do a worksheet or craft activity. When the planned activities finished there was time for the children to play while we might tidy up or join their games. Play time was always good for building relationships between the children and us and for building on friendships the children had with each other. The children we were teaching were usually children we had know since they were tiny babies and had been building relationships with for that whole time. The children would talk to us and tell us their stories. Sometimes we would be there to listen when a pet died or when there was something else upsetting them, like bullying at school, and that came out of the relationship we had built. With certain children we had such good relationships that they would come straight to us at the beginning of church, before Sunday School went out and want to be with us all the way through until they went home. We were always open and let them spend time in the service with us. Their parents knew and trusted us and it really did feel like we were all part of one big family.
When we changed churches we did so partly because the children were all leaving our old church. There weren’t any ‘regular attendees’ left who had children for us to provide Sunday School for and we knew that our strengths and skills were in children’s work. When we joined our new church we quickly got involved with the children’s work, starting over again with new children. This time though we hadn’t watch as these children made their mothers’ tummies expand or seen the shiny new smiles on their tiny baby faces. They were little people already, aged 3-5, and they already had some experience of the world. We couldn’t be what we had been to the children in our old church, we weren’t faces they had seen almost every week since they were tiny. They had not learnt our names when they were learning to speak and had not been held and cherished by us when they were still in nappies. Being with these children was daunting at first, we knew nothing about them and they knew nothing about us. Because there was a rota we wouldn’t be in that room with them every Sunday morning building the relationships as we had in old church either. The road looked long and winding, but we stepped onto it. We started learning names and ages, noticed the different character traits of certain children and discovered where they were in their understanding of God and Jesus.
It’s been three years and we’re still working on things, still building relationships. Sometimes the way things are structured gets in the way. We lost a few of the children from our Sunday mornings when the church started a tea-time service and our church is a big one where people come and go. Some of the little ones that were in our Sunday morning group when we started have moved up to mid-week groups for the older children. Maybe we don’t have the relationships with the children now that we had in our old church but we still invest the time and the love and sometimes we get a return on that. There’s a little boy who is quiet with most adults, but he speaks to us. I help with one of the mid-week groups and two of the children from the host family are coming out of themselves more with me and will talk to me even when we’re not at their house.
Sometimes working with children is all about being loved by them, but it’s more important for it to be about loving them. There will be the children that readily run to hug you and the ones that run in the other direction, to cling to mum. Investing time and energy in teaching children about Jesus is always worth it and when that brings good relationships with the children that’s a bonus.
I’ll close with a quote from Bob Gass on Word for Today;
‘In this world if you are serious about becoming more like Jesus you must learn to love children.’
Are you there yet?