As children’s ministers and leaders, we have such a platform to empower and minister to the next generation. How we go about this is very important! We must not be content to just “get the job done” by planning a great lesson or class time. We need to be intentional and relational with our children, treating them with value and as real people who have thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
One of the greatest ways we can influence the next generation is through building genuine connections and relationships. You cannot expect to have much say in your classroom if you don’t even know your students. If they love and respect you, your words and what you pour into them will carry more weight. We can see throughout the New Testament how Jesus was always eating with and spending quality time with His disciples. He didn’t merely teach them, He spent time with them and genuinely cared for their needs.
Our eyes must first be opened to see the value in relationship with our students before our actions will change. If we see how important it is, we will make a big deal about every opportunity to connect one-on-one with our students. We will not see it as “less spiritual” and therefore unimportant. We will value what it brings to the table and how it impacts our kids.
Games or arts and crafts can often be misused as merely entertainment for our children to keep them occupied. However, when done with care and with proper goals in mind, this can create powerful ways to build relationships with our students. We need to see the value in facilitating what will connect us to our students and engage in these activities with specific goals in mind.
1. BE INTENTIONAL: The first thing we need to do is make sure we are prioritizing time each class period for the sole purpose of relationship building. There should be time set aside for no other agenda than to simply listen to your students and what they have to share. In my experience, there is always something from home or that is going on in their lives that they want to share. This places value on the children and lets them know you truly care about them and what is going on in their lives. It shows them you don’t just have an agenda you want to accomplish but that you are in it for the long haul.
Once healthy relationships are established with your students, you will find them opening up to you and sharing difficult things that are going on in their lives. You can have a short prayer time with them to get it off their chest and put them in a place of peace so that they are in a better place to receive and learn in the lesson time. The last thing we want to be is cold and aloof to the needs our students. Ask the Holy Spirit to open your eyes to see your students through His eyes. Caring for them is so much more important than any lesson plan!
The beginning of class-time, as your students are arriving, is a great time to be intentional. Instead of merely waiting for class to start, engage the children while they’re getting settled in. This is a great time because it can be more one-on-one as they come in. During small group time is also a great option as you are split into smaller groups. Just to be clear, we should always be relational throughout the duration of class time. Meeting the needs of our students should always be a top priority. This in and of itself is a lesson to the other children watching you. It’s good for them to see that you practice what you preach. In most cases they will learn more from what they see you doing than what you say. We need to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit and always be ready to abandon our plans and minister to any child as needed. This requires being less task-oriented and more student-focused.
2. BE ENGAGED: To properly build and foster relationships with children requires you staying engaged throughout the whole class-time. Never take the posture of standing on the side-lines. If the class is playing a game, play it with them, don’t just facilitate it. Yes, you’re an adult and it may feel awkward, but this is key to connecting with your students.
Take Kids Worship for example. I’ve seen group leaders who are involved in the worship time and those who are not, expecting the worship leader to do it all. Guess whose students are more engaged in worship? The ones under the leader who is fully engaged. Yes, you probably don’t use hand motions in your own worship times, but this is the children’s worship time, not yours. Even though you are not the worship leader, you are leading them in worship. So, if the worship leaders are doing hand motions, you must follow suit. If it is a free-space to worship in your own way, do so even though it’s “kids worship.” It is imperative that you are worshiping and going deep so the students feel you are a part and not aloof or just observing them worship. This also helps them break free from any fear of stepping out.
3. BE IN CHARGE: The last key is simple, yet so important. You must be clearly in control and in charge of your classroom. This does not mean that you are demanding or controlling in any way. But children need an atmosphere that is safe to grow in. And they feel safe when they know you have everything under control. A good thing to remember is that you are your student’s coach, mentor, or guide, not their friend. There is a big difference. You want their respect and even “friendship,” but there needs to be clear, healthy boundaries and guidelines in order for your students to flourish.
The one side could be too controlling, but the other side is to be passive and a people pleaser, or in your case a “student pleaser.” If you tend to be a people pleaser, make sure you are not operating from a place of trying to get your students to like you and therefore giving into whatever they want. Sometimes they will not like what you need to enforce for the betterment of the class. But nonetheless, you need to enforce rules at times. Just like a parent-child relationship is vastly different from a friend to friend relationship, so is a teacher to student relationship. This is healthy and should be a priority in order to produce and maintain life-giving relationships within your classroom.
In a nutshell, if we want to build healthy relationships with our children we must never take the route of simply directing, observing, and “traffic control.” But unless we are very intentional, this is unfortunately what tends to happen by default. We must value the littlest of our children and be fully involved and engaged with each one at all times: talking with them, playing with them, laughing and joking with them, etc. We must look for any and every opportunity to speak life, mentor, and coach our students. We must be Jesus to them. Ask God for a heart of compassion and the motivation, energy, and creativity you need to engage your students!