Imagine a ‘typical’ Sunday school, kids’ church, or SRE Class. Who’s sitting at the front of the room leading the teaching time, constructing projects and playing games with the children?
There exists a lingering stereotype that children’s ministry teachers and leaders are primarily women, typically mother or grandmotherly age, with rarely a male in sight.
My feeling is that this comes from a combination of factors. For one thing, in our Western heritage, young children have tended to come under the domain of women, both in the home and in primary school education. In education, this is still statistically true. Recent research on university graduates found that “97% of pre-primary teachers, 85% of primary teachers and 68% of secondary teachers are female” ¹.
Secondly, church attendance is higher among women than among men², and therefore there are quite simply more women around to lead these ministries.
Despite these factors, as I think back to my time in Sunday school, my leadership of children’s ministry teams in parish, and my role now in visiting, equipping and training churches in children’s ministry, I tend to find that the gender divide in leadership teams is less imbalanced than first thought.
I remember being taught by John, Peter and Fred, as well as Robyn, Lesley and Fiona. I had an almost even mix of men and women in my ministry team (sometimes more men than women). And most churches I visit appear to have a healthy diversity in their leadership teams.
Think about your own children’s ministry team. Who’s is actually sitting at the front of the room leading the teaching time, constructing projects and playing games with the children?
Does your actual team line up with the stereotype? Do you have an imbalance in the leadership team at your church?
Regardless of how you are currently going with the dynamics of your ministry team, we want to be constantly recruiting from a wide variety of members of our church. A diverse leadership team in our children’s ministry gives young people a diverse—and therefore healthy—picture of the family of God. And while all children will benefit from our faithful mothers and grandmothers on team; equally, all children will benefit from having leaders who can be Christian big brothers, uncles, fathers and grandfathers.
Here are four quick tips that will help with your children’s ministry recruiting, with a particular eye towards encouraging more men to lead and serve in this way:
Set the vision
A clear vision for our children’s ministry, as well as clear and constant communication of this vision, will help the whole church understand who the children are as part of your gathering, what their particular needs are, and how each member can be proactively engaged with raising them up in the knowledge and love of Jesus. It will also help you think through how you have recruitment conversations and with whom.
Consider two recruitment pitches:
We need more helpers to fill the roster for our Sunday school teams and we’re particularly looking for more men. Who wants to help out?
For the sake of their spiritual maturity as young disciples of Christ, the young boys and girls of our church need to have long term, safe relationships with multiple older saints. I believe you have particular gifts which would be invaluable for our infants school children and here’s why…
Not only is the second conversation more explicitly tied to the church’s vision for children’s ministry, but it is the conversation that needs to be had one-on-one, rather than announced from the front. This kind of announcement will help set the vision for the men you’re talking to, and also helps them to see that they, and their particular God-given gifts have value and meaning in your children’s ministry team.
Ease their fears
As mentioned earlier, few men are typically involved in children’s education at the pre-primary and primary school level. For many men, this helps reinforce that children, child-minding, and children’s education is just not ‘their thing’.
I have also found that with our increased knowledge and proactive awareness of safe ministry matters that some men exclude themselves from children’s ministry out of a fear of appearing as an unsafe person.
Both of these concerns are real. But both can be overcome through good conversation. In terms of safe ministry, we can assure our men that we have policies and practices in place precisely so that they can enter into ministry, knowing that our infrastructure is helping us all to be accountable to each other, without fear that we will say or do the wrong thing.
In terms of children’s ministry being ‘their thing,’ having set a clear vision and recruiting them with reference to their particular giftings will help them realise that not only is children’s ministry ‘their thing,’ it will also be a deficit for them not to be involved.
Model from the front
One of the greatest promotions for men in children’s ministry is when the senior male leadership of the church model it from the front. Regardless of the size of our church, our senior leadership are always busy with a huge range of commitments.
Therefore, when the senior pastor spends a week answering questions in the primary age small group, making cotton wool sheep with the infants kids, or teaching their own SRE class, it speaks volumes to the church to the value that is placed on children in the church family. It will also help the senior pastor have conversations with other men in the congregation about how they could use their gifts in children’s ministry as well.
Value children’s ministry
The thread that ties all this together is that recruiting men into children’s ministry will be immensely easier in a church that values that ministry. One of the most discouraging conversations I’ve ever had was on this topic with a minister of a local church. They made the comment, “In an ideal world I would like to have more men in children’s ministry, but at the moment all the good ones are tied up as wardens and on parish council”. I could tell in that moment that children’s ministry was not a value for this minister. I also had the feeling that no matter how many mature and godly men there were in this church, there was likely to always be a “more important” role for them to fulfil.
In reality, a church that values children’s ministry will be looking for the mature and godly men and women and asking them to step up into one of our most important tasks as the people of God—to pass on the gospel to youngest brothers and sisters in our congregation (Deuteronomy 6; Psalm 78).
It’s not that parish council matters are unimportant; property and finance matters need to be appropriately cared for. But may I suggest that the spiritual discipleship of the children in our church, their long term care and nourishment in the knowledge and love of Jesus, the modelling of mature obedience to our Lord Christ, and the passing on of the Gospel to the “coming generations” is worthy of even greater priority?
In light of this, who are the godly, mature, Christian men (and women!) in your church who you can sit next to this week, grab a coffee after the service, or even give a call right now, and make the case for why they should consider leading in your children’s ministry team?
¹ Tani, M 2019, ‘Why are teachers mostly female?’ SBS Insight, 21 January, viewed 26 July 2019, https://www.sbs.com.au/news/insight/why-are-teachers-mostly-female
² 2016 NCLS data for Sydney Anglican Churches showed a gender divide in our congregational attendance of 56.4% female to 43.6% male. Average Anglican-Protestant figures for the same study were 59% female to 41% male