So Let's Talk About What is Considered Taboo...
Gender Appropriation with Children
Despite being a taboo topic, the church must be prepared to address prevailing issues of the day, including the popular concept of gender fluidity. Children’s Ministry leaders are going to have to become very skilled at understanding the best ways to address it. It is possible for you to have an opinion and be wrong. It is possible to have an inappropriate understanding based off of cultural traditions. This is why our responses need to go beyond a binary “this is right” or “this is wrong.” For the coming generation, this superficial explanation just isn’t enough. To them, growing up in the church doesn’t make you right, but rather very opinionated.
It’s important that we understand today’s children are being challenged to question their very gender.
Children’s Ministry Leaders moving forward must study how to appropriately guide children in the way that they should go without sounding like an uneducated person.You may feel strongly about your position, but your opinion must be grounded in more than your personal views. When you open your mouth, make sure that you are informed as to what you are saying. Many Children’s Ministry leaders are woefully uninformed on prevailing topics of the day, particularly when it comes to emerging concepts in sexual identity and orientation. Many of us have opinions, but limited facts to support our opinions. It’s important that we understand that children today may need reinforcement of their true identity, which is buttressed by a Biblical world view. These explanations, however, must not only take place from an eloquent standpoint, but must be rooted in a reasoned, researched, and intellectually solid foundation. They must connect the Biblical dots while simultaneously doing so in a way that opens up the child to understanding the grave importance of this concept.
We can’t be afraid to address a subject, but we can’t address a subject where we have limited knowledge. It is ignorance at its highest level to get loud about a subject that you know nothing about.
Children’s Ministry leaders moving forward need to take the time to study the subjects that are affecting the children in their ministry. Gender, sexuality, and sexual identity is a subject that is not going anywhere. Get informed to ensure that you can properly present your case if the need arises because you are leading a ministry to children and their families. For instance, there was a girl that attended a church who despite her biological gender started to identify as a boy. Under the influence of school and popular culture, this little girl had the full support of her parents. This little girl loved her church, but now was at a juncture where she wanted her church to support her truth. Once she made the confession that she needed to go to the boy’s bathroom instead of the girls, the church found itself in a challenging situation. Despite being a national issue, the church was ill- prepared to address the situation. How prepared are you?
Sex is a subject matter worthy of critical attention, but is being ignored by many Youth and Children’s Ministries. We live in a sex-saturated world where the subject is so prevalent that many of the kids in our ministries already know all about it. Fewer and fewer children are asking, “where do babies come from?” because they are growing up with the understanding that mommy and daddy came together to make me.
Lack of education and understanding of the role sex plays in our society, and how we should be educating our children in the church is a huge problem. Even if it is mentioned in church circles, it’s generally far below the level of communication it needs to be. As much as we hate to admit it, we have little boys and girls in our Children’s Ministries that are exposed to mature subjects that are far beyond their years. Effective Children’s Ministry leaders of tomorrow will not be afraid to address the challenging subjects. A little girl mentioned the word sex in Sunday school and the teacher responded with, “We don’t use the ‘S’ word in here.” Such responses in this day and age will only widen the disconnect between us and the next generation.
We have to be willing to discuss difficult concepts and help children understand them from God’s perspective.At some point our children will do more than just talk about sex so we must be prepared to equip them with a Biblical understanding.
Admittedly, the word “sex” is viewed as taboo or off limits until we’re 21, 25, or in the case of my kids, 37! But we cannot run from the word sex any longer. The reality is that sex has been around since the beginning of time. But it’s no secret that the word has garnered some negative connotations, especially in the church. As next generation leaders we must be honest regarding the topic of sex and guide our children toward Biblical truth. Such explanations will honestly broach the topic in a way that is age appropriate, reinforced in the home, Biblically-grounded, and relevant to today. We should never make children feel ashamed because of their questions. Of course, as the Children’s Ministry department, we are not going to be the primary place to speak to what sex is and what sex is not, but we must be one of the voices on the subject. If we are going to counterbalance many of the inaccurate or demonic opinions on the subject, we can’t be afraid to point our children to God’s opinion on the matter.
A child may come into your ministry space and touch another child inappropriately, albeit in an innocent manner, based off of what they are exposed to in the home. We need to be able to address that in a manner that protects all parties and brings about a healthy understanding. To permanently remove a child and forbid them from returning to children’s church is not the appropriate response. Children’s Ministry Leaders must learn how to proactively address these issues rather than being reactive. It’s time for us to stop putting our heads in the sand and acting like our kids are completely insulated from the sexual suggestive content on TV, school, or online. It’s everywhere and we cannot completely avoid it. If we turn a blind eye to them, we become irrelevant and lose our ability to connect with a generation that so desperately needs our guidance. It is vital that we become more relevant and skilled at addressing the subjects that are confronting our kids and their families. Here are 5 tips on how to address taboo subject matters:
We have to have a policy as a church to speak to all relevant subject matter.
We have to partner with the family ministry department to ensure that we are offering the appropriate parenting seminars, workshops, and roundtables to help educate and highlight to parents the ever changing topics that are affecting children today. We need parents to lead the way in addressing these subjects.
We need the senior pastors to address the fact that children are being exposed to explicit content at alarming ages and help lead the effort on the biblical way we are to respond. Also, consider making resources available to children and their families that will help them start the conversation at home in a healthy way.
Mental Illness among Young People
Mental illness is become increasingly more important for church leaders to understand. It’s no secret that the church needs to play a more aggressive role when it comes to addressing mental health. The truth is that mental illness affects many people, including church members. As ministers of the gospel, we have to train our volunteers to recognize the difference between mental illness or behavioral disorders and disciplinary issues. In other words, not all behavior is bad behavior but may in fact be tied to mental illness or other diagnosable conditions. Unfortunately, for many Children’s Ministry leaders, this is another area where many are uninformed. It can be difficult to recognize whether a child is acting out or struggling from a much deeper issue. The child with Tourette syndrome is not trying to be disruptive, but can have little control over what they say due to a breakdown in their nervous system. Mental illness has always been around. The difference today is that society is becoming more informed. The church has become a haven for people struggling with massive emotional challenges and treating them with the remedy of faith. It is important that we not attack those who are struggling with such challenges, but work alongside them to help them deal with their mental illness in a healthy way. The church should be a beacon of light that preserves their dignity while encouraging them to get the help that they need.
It’s important to know that people who struggle with mental illness are normal people. These are people who are capable of still performing. They are people who still want to worship God. They are people who still want to be involved. They are people who are passionate about serving and advancing the kingdom. They simply have a challenge that you and I may not have, but they are still capable and valuable in the kingdom of God. When it comes to mental illness, we need to be cognizant that there are people in our midst who are suffering from clinical depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, post- traumatic stress disorder, among others. People diagnosed with such ailments are not damaged goods and should know that the church is a safe place where they can talk about their challenges without being judged or stigmatized.
Children’s Ministry Leaders of tomorrow must stay informed about mental health as it affects both children and the workers that serve in the ministry. The church of tomorrow will need to train their people on how to recognize symptoms of depression, stress, abuse, Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), Tourette Syndrome, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and other emotional, behavioral, or mental health struggles that commonly affect children. Your readiness in this area could not only impact how we reach them for Christ, but may even save a life. If we are truly going to be the best ambassadors for His kingdom, we need to invest in gaining expertise on the best methods of reaching families who are facing these challenges. At the end of the day, we want to be skilled, informed, and able to help those who call our church home at their various points of need.
Why Are We Afraid to Address the Tough Subjects
Ignorance on the Topic
We just don’t know. To make matters worse, we don’t want to admit that we just don’t know. But ignorance should not be an excuse. Just because we don’t know, does not give us license to remain uninformed. A Children’s Ministry leader who thinks they know it all, is not a good Children’s Ministry leader. Every one of us will find ourselves in a place where we simply don’t have the answer. But we cannot allow the work of Jesus Christ to be limited because of our inability to address a subject. Even when you don’t know where to begin, the good news is, there is always someone around who does. Effective Children’s Ministry Leaders of the future will know when it’s time to bring in the experts. Why? Because we need to know! Maybe that means partnering with the Police Department to learn the best way to respond when it comes to an active shooter or an online predator. Maybe you need to partner with the hospital to bring someone in to teach your team how to recognize signs of abuse.
Don’t put pressure on yourself to have all of the answers. Someone else knows what you don’t and is willing to help you. Too many Children’s Ministry leaders hurt their departments because they don’t want to admit that they just don’t have all of the answers. You’re more of an impressive leader when you are sober-minded enough to know and admit your strengths and deficiencies. Those leaders know when to seek support to enhance their ministries. Leaders must get the help that they need because willful ignorance is never an excuse and will cause you to fail your Children’s Ministry department so get informed!