Saturday, April 23, 2011

Casually Well-Mannered

At our church the title of ‘brother’ or ‘sister’ is standard- as it is in much of the Christian world. I’ve heard both all of my life. When I started in ministry it was in Sunday school and all the kids called me ‘Brother Joseph.’ I never really thought anything about it until I really began to try and discover what it actually means to be a Children’s minister.

I think that perhaps I have a far different road then most in ministry. So much so that many times I even still question the term ‘minister’. I started working with children in Sunday school at 18 years old, added a few years of VBS, planned a few kid’s outings, attended a few summer camps, and eventually was given a title of Children’s Minster.

When I was younger my close friends and I would joke that the church gave me a title simply because they didn’t know what to do me. I didn’t fit into the Sunday school director mold nor was I working with young people. I’ve always seemed to feel a little ‘unsettled’ and almost like I’m intruding on ‘real ministry.’

In fact, most of my adult life, up to this point, has been trying to define exactly what I am. What is a Children’s Minister? Although I am not sure I’ve pinned down exactly what all the burden entails I do know that I disagree with what a lot of people- even with my own movement- would define Children’s Minister as.

The more ‘Children’s Minister‘ I became the more I questioned and thought about things that had always been. One of those was what children call me. Personally I’ve never like being called, “Brother” anything. In fact, I’ve even pretended to not see or hear church family who have used the term in public. What can I say? I’m still only human! Not to mention that I’ve always found it burdensome and ‘outdated’ to explain to an ‘unchurched’ individual in today’s casual society.

For a time I went through a period of dropping ‘brother’ altogether. Whenever I would introduce myself to a child I always used my first name without any sort of title. I even instructed those around me to drop ‘brother’ when talking to me while we were working with the children. I can remember one mother telling me that she didn’t care what I thought, her children were not going to call me by my first name and if she ever heard them do so they would be in trouble. I found it funny.

Some parents see my distaste for the title as a distaste of manners. Since they rightly want their child to grow up with manners they want their children to be as respectful as they should be with any adult at all times. The fact is, I don’t see myself as just ‘any’ adult. I always know when a child walks into a room. When visiting another church I am always aware of the children who are in the service and particularly aware of their participation in the service or lack of.

Children notice if you are watching them. They notice if you look at them when their family walks in the room. They notice if you look them in the eye and talk ‘to them’ instead of ‘at them.’ They may not fully understand the difference but they know one exists.

Last night one of my pre-teens brought a visitor to our pre-teen Friday night activity. He was the most sincere, respectful, and well-mannered child I have worked with in a long time. We played games and went crazy all night long and yet he never used the word ‘brother’ and he did call me by my first name. In spite of all of this, the words, ‘sir’, ‘thank you’, ‘please’, and ‘may I’ were used all night long. I was completely impressed.

I suppose the reason I am blogging about him today is because he was an important reminder that being well mannered is more about actions and behaviors then spoken words or titles. We live in a casual world and I know a lot of people in churches have a distaste for our casualness. I embrace it fully! I do feel that even in the midst of such casualness being kind, well mannered, and well behaved are still very important qualities.

As a Children’s Minister I do think that this is something that needs to be mastered. The ability to maintain a level of casualness, just shy of an authoritative, unidentifiable, non-understanding adult and yet help instill a desire to be well mannered and behaved is a tricky one. It’s an area I need to work on but certainly one that is important for the children I minister to.

I have to learn to walk a fine line that allows me to be in the world of my children yet guiding them through example to be like our young visitor last night. This is a tall order, especially for me. My human nature detests giving respect to those who I feel have not earned it. Last night’s visitor reminded me that part of being a Children’s Minister is being an example of giving respect to everyone... OUCH!! (Lord, this lesson hurts.)

Someone once said that you can never be exalted to the level of ministry until you are content to open the doors and scrub the toilets of the church. Only one question... whoever said ministry was more exalted than opening the doors and scrubbing the toilets anyway?

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