This post is part 2 in a five part series on four imbalanced children’s ministry frameworks. In children’s ministry, balance is crucial. An imbalanced children’s ministry will lead to collapse. What is the purpose of children’s ministry? Much of what we will look at this week flows from thoughts on that very question. One imbalanced framework often employed in children’s ministry is what I will call “The Babysitting Framework.” This framework views children’s ministry like daycare. Volunteers supervise children while their parents worship. As you will see, there are many dangerous pitfalls in this imbalanced approach.
The Babysitting Framework
The problem with the history of children’s ministry is that it has often been viewed as a glorified babysitting service. And while this may simply be a disingenuous description of nursery ministry, many children’s ministries can aptly be described as little more than babysitting.
But before I begin, I want to say that there is indeed an element of “babysitting” involved in children’s ministry. In fact, when this aspect is belittled, safety is not prioritized. It is difficult or downright impossible for parents to enjoy the community of small group if they must bring their children with them. Even small groups in the home work best when the children are not calling, “Mommy, mommy!” every five minutes. Babysitting is incredibly important. It is the care and protection of a child. And this can never be taken lightly. My wife and I cherish anyone willing to care for our son so we can spend the occasional night out to ourselves. But we don’t let just anyone babysit. This is one reason why background checks should be encouraged or mandatory for volunteers in children’s ministry.
But, even though the babysitting element should not be ignored or belittled in children’s ministry for the sake of safety and service to parents, if this is all we offer, we are doing our children and volunteers a disservice. In a babysitting framework, volunteers are simply charged with the task of supervising a group of kids for an hour or so. These volunteers are often not equipped with resources or plans. They are usually left to fill the time on their own. This almost always leads to a chaotic and truly miserable hour. In my opinion, this is the chief reason most children’s ministries are devoid of volunteers. No one wants to provide free babysitting for an hour or more. No one.
I guarantee, if you use a babysitting framework in your children’s ministry, you will have a small group of frustrated volunteers who view service in the church as a begrudging duty–something to get through. But what’s worse, there are three damaging effects of the babysitting framework.
1. Most likely, your volunteers will develop a legalistic attitude toward service in the church.
They will view service as a way to earn favor with God. They will view service as a painful means to an end–like lying back in the dentist’s chair. They will not enjoy serving in children’s ministry, but they will most likely never admit it. The babysitting framework is detrimental for the spiritual health of your volunteers.
2. Definitely, your kids will miss the gospel.
In the babysitting framework, kids may be given a snack, they may play a game, and they may hear general things like, “Jesus loves you,” but they will most likely not hear the gospel and they will definitely not see the gospel displayed. Your only hope for kids being exposed to the gospel is a phenomenal volunteer pouring his or her life into the kids. But the system is set up against a gospel-soaked environment. In the babysitting framework, children’s ministry soon becomes the lazy parent who loves to say, “Here…” as he hands over the iPad. “Anything to keep them occupied,” is the motto of the babysitting framework. Volunteers are in survival mode. When this happens, I guarantee that the kids will miss the gospel. We should definitely provide childcare, but not at the expense of missing the gospel.
3. Probably, parents will be lazy with gospel teaching at home.
The goal of children’s ministry is to come alongside parents and aid them in their God-given responsibility to train their children in the way of the Lord. When the children’s ministry in a church is built around the idea of babysitting, parents will receive the subtle message that the gospel is not for kids. And beyond maybe getting their kids to repeat a “prayer of salvation,” parents in this framework will follow the cues of the church–occupy their kids with churchy things, but refrain from teaching the gospel to their little hearts.
The Babysitting Framework is detrimental on a churchwide scale. It damages volunteers, kids, and parents. If you want to see families cherishing the gospel and living their lives by it, we must do better than merely babysit their children. We must provide a safe environment where we do allow parents to worship or participate in small groups. But in the process, blow their kids away with the amazing truth of the gospel.
The church is not a babysitting service. It is a bastion and pillar of truth. It is an earthly outpost of a heavenly kingdom. We can do better than the local childcare service. We can do better than daycares. We have the truth that sets sinners free, even little sinners. For the sake of our volunteers, kids, parents, and the glory of Christ in the church, let’s not be content to supervise and be intentional about the propagation of the gospel to the next generation.
Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is the Children’s Pastor at First Baptist Church in East Bernstadt, KY. He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their son, Jude Adoniram.