by Anita Peebles
Recently, I attended the funeral of one of my kindergarten Sunday school teachers. Mr. Florian was a kind, loving, generous man with a heart for following the way of Jesus. He and his wife faithfully taught kindergarten Sunday school at my home church for decades. At the luncheon following the funeral, one of his children remarked that perhaps a seed that grew into my call to ministry was planted sitting right there in the kindergarten Sunday school classroom—and I had to agree.
From memorizing Bible verses and being rewarded with a shiny sticker to doing crafts to take home to show my family to sitting on the rug singing Bible school songs to watching a simple puppet show describe the act of forgiving others, Mr. and Mrs. Florian’s ministry impacted my life deeply. To be honest, I don’t actually remember the content of a lot of the lessons or crafts, though I’m sure my mom has saved some of the cuter creations in a memory box somewhere. And I’m positive that some of the Bible verses I know by heart are from that sticker-motivated season in my Christian formation. More than anything, I remember the welcoming attitude, the care and concern for the children, and the deep well of faith the Florians drew from. And, once you went through their kindergarten Sunday school, you were one of “their kids.” Even as I moved through elementary to middle to high school to college, whenever I would see the Florians, they would embrace me and check in on me and share a tidbit of a memory with me.
Many churches are facing anxiety as they resume worship and other ministries, wondering what to do with children, how to pick resources and how to bring folks back who may have fallen away from church during the pandemic. Friends, don’t worry about trying to find the perfect resource or the best projects or throw the flashiest party to attract and keep kids’ attention. Children don’t need more entertainment, they need engagement. They need to be listened to, loved and supported.
Of course, please be thoughtful when choosing the children’s Bibles and curricula and game ideas that fit the kiddos in your context (and if you want to talk about ideas, let me know!) But do try not to fall into the trap of thinking that the children’s ministry must be the fanciest, most technologically-savvy, state-of-the-art program or the program will die (or worse, put the burden of “saving the church” on the children). What matters is the heart you bring to the work of stewarding kids’ spirituality. What they will remember years later is how you made the kids feel: if you welcomed their questions and wondered alongside them; if you loved them unconditionally and invited them to bring their whole selves into the classroom; if you took the time to learn from them instead of assuming that it is always the adult who has the content to teach; if you supported them when their families were going through transitions, from new babies to divorce to moving to illnesses. And, in the wake of the pandemic, make sure to listen to kiddos about what their experience of this time has been: what are they celebrating and mourning? When have they been lonely and when have they experienced community? How do they feel about the reopening progress in your church, city and state? What do they need to tell a trusted adult outside their home, that they may not have had the chance to share in a long time?
Beloveds, as you resume ministry with children and their families, listen to the young ones. Love them. Talk openly and honestly with them. Support them. You don’t need to know everything or be everything, but you (and your church) can be a place where children are included, engaged and celebrated as their whole selves. May it be so.
Rev. Anita Peebles (she/her) currently serves as the Associate Pastor for Next Generation Ministries at Seattle First Baptist Church (ABC-USA) in Seattle, WA. She shares sermons and reflections on children’s ministry and being a young clergywoman at revanitapeebles.com. Anita is co-authoring a book, tentatively titled Just and True and Good: Progressive Theology for Children and Families, to be published December 2021 by Church Publishing, Inc.