The January/February 2017 cover of Children’s Ministry Magazine says, “How changed hearts, change hearts.” I love this phrase. It is what I’ve touted for years, except I have left off the word “how” and simply said, “Changed hearts, change hearts.”
In the article “How to transform the heart of your ministry from perfect programs to rooted relationships,” author Dan Lovaglia talks about the importance of developing relationship with the kids in your community rather than developing programs. 1 His ending really brings it all together:
“If you’re weighed down by running programs rather than nurturing relationships, it’s time to make a heart shift. The change you personally experience in relational rootedness and spiritual connection will cascade onto every child, family, and adult you serve.”
I agree with Dan about this heart shift and want to go a little deeper and talk about assisting children with hurting, broken hearts. When ministering to kids suffering trauma, who have experienced their parents’ divorce, or who haven’t had the privilege of being exposed to healthy, adult relationships, we must learn to accommodate or assist these little hearts.
Let me ask you: if a child in a wheelchair showed up at your ministry, you would accommodate him, right? You wouldn’t expect him to jump and dance to a praise song. So when a child with a broken, hurting heart shows up, we need to learn to also accommodate that child’s situation.
One way to do this is to consider what our body language projects to children. Let me explain.
- Change our body language
Children of divorce are skilled at reading body language. They have to be to survive and live in two different homes. Take a minute to think about the children of divorce who move from household to household.
When they are at Dad’s, they want to fit in with Dad, so they take on Dad’s nuances. They may stand like Dad, talk like Dad, like the things that Dad likes, eat the kind of food that Dad eat, and talk about the same sports that Dad likes.
When they go to Mom’s home, they take on her nuances. They use the same hand gestures as Mom, say the same phrases as Mom, and like the kind of food that Mom likes. At Mom’s, they don’t talk about sports but, instead, do other activities that Mom is into. In other words, these kids very quickly adapt to the home environment where they land on any particular day. Some kids might make this change a couple of times a week or every other week.
What does this mean for your church and your leaders? It means that these kids can read your body language just like they read their parents’ body language. It means that the minute they look at you, they know what you are thinking. If you’re thinking that this child will be a problem today, bank on it—he will be a problem kid today. Sometimes we might have to reframe what we think about a child and how we approach a situation.
- Change our approach
John Nimmo, on Turn-Key DVD: Inspiring Practices for Partnering with Families, explains this very well: “Sometimes, when you’re stuck in your relationship with children, you really have to step back and reframe things. Say to yourself, ‘I’ve got to start looking at this child in a completely different way because I’m boxing this child in. I’m starting to see this child as a certain set of behaviors and responding to that.’”
You want to fix the system of your ministry? Then change your heart first. Ask yourself,
- “What must this child have experienced to act like this?” 2
Don’t ask yourself or others:
- “What is wrong with that kid?”
There is a subtle difference between these two questions. The first question allows your brain to have empathy, while the second question issues blame. Your attitude will come across to the child. Your heart will soften when you have empathy for that child, and the child will know that you have had a heart change.
- Be in the moment with the child
The tips in the article What happens when you have the “warm fuzzies” for challenging children apply to changing our hearts to accommodate a kid’s broken, hurting heart.
In this article, we read, “Want to impact the kids in your ministry in a positive way? Be in the moment with them. That means your mind and thought process need to be with them. You can’t be thinking about the chicken you forgot to take out of the freezer or anything else for that matter. Your mind must be clear and concentrating on that child.”
- Be grateful
Take a few minutes to thank the Lord for bringing a challenging kid into your ministry. I realize that it’s difficult to be thankful when you are with these children, but remember that they will feel and know that you are reacting to them differently when you are grateful that the Lord brought them to your group.
If we want to bring these kids into the kingdom, we must learn how to accommodate their hearts.
- Pray and meditate
Take a few minutes before every class, session, or experience with children to pray and meditate on God’s word about your attitude. Pray that the Lord will fill your heart with love for these hurting kids. Ask the Holy Spirit to dwell in your heart so much so that the children will see, feel, and know the difference. Be the Jesus so many of these children need.
Lastly, apply the following Scripture: “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer” (Ps. 19:14 NLT).
If we want to bring the children of divorce and kids from other traumatic situations into the kingdom, we must learn how to assist and accommodate their hearts because it is true—changed hearts, change hearts.
- January/February 2017 Children’s Ministry Magazine
- Some children experience more traumatic experiences in life than others, which severely impacts the way they process their circumstances and how they relate to others. Understanding what a child has experienced helps us be more compassionate. It allows us to project a Christlike image to a child who might desperately need to experience a loving and caring adult.
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