I never worried about Derrick, a preteen who frequented our children’s ministry. His family was great. His grades were good. His extracurriculars were impressive. He seemed like a perfect kid… until his mom called the pastor with concerns.
As a 5th grader, Derrick had fallen in with kids who were making really harmful choices. These kids devised a plan: Derrick would steal his mom’s jewelry, and they would give it to the girls that they liked. Unfortunately, Derrick had given a family heirloom ring (deeply sentimental to his mother) to these friends. He was in big trouble.
When I heard what had happened, I felt like Derrick was living a preteen movie plotline.
His mother asked our pastor if Derrick could come to church to work off his “crime,” and hoped that the pastor could “straighten him out.” Because of his schedule, our pastor wasn’t free to spend dedicated time with Derrick…but he knew someone who was: me.
I was apprehensive about meeting with Derrick because I was not sure what I could have him do to help me out around the church. But I decided to give it a try. Derrick would come work with me at the church a few times a week for a couple of hours each day. I’d prepare some VBS tasks for him to do while we were together so we could talk and work.
At first, I decided to ask questions and listen. I realized I knew nothing about 5th-grade boys. Derrick opened up quickly, and I noticed right away that he was a genuinely kind child. He had a passion for baseball and loved his grandparents. He was the middle child of three boys, and his younger brother was very special to him.
Over the next few weeks, as he came to work with me, I learned more about him. If he made a mistake playing baseball, he could have a huge outburst. Sometimes, his coach would sit him on the bench to cool off.
While he loved his brothers, he seemed to think he wasn’t as special as his older brother, the star baseball player, and not as precious as his little brother, a cute kindergartner. Turns out, he seemed to think he didn’t belong.
My intent was never to preach at Derrick, but rather invite him into encouraging conversations. We discussed how much God loved him, talked through his issues with friends, and thought through ways to act and react in challenging situations.
I could see that he was a great kid and told him regularly the character I saw in him. We talked about how God is writing a story and that he was a part of it.
As the summer came to a close, I didn’t think much about Derrick going back to school. I knew I would see him helping me in the tech booth on Sundays. But as time went on, Derrick’s mom expressed to me how much Derrick had grown and that he had stopped hanging out with last year’s friends.
She told me that the little time we spent together had made a world of difference to Derrick and to their family. Even when I left my role at that church, they made a point to reach out and remind me of the impact I had in their son’s life.
Connecting with Derrick was not rocket science and it did not take years of my life to do it. You might not feel you have a lot of time, and we know you have a lot of ministry responsibilities. Because our number one priority in ministry is kids, we know that when we sow into them, there’s a harvest for the Kingdom now and in the years to come.
Here are 3 easy ways to start connecting with kids:
- Listen to them. You don’t have to like baseball, slime, the latest video game or music they’re listening to, but if you listen to them, they’ll know you care. Ask them thoughtful questions and remember what they say.
- Encourage them. When you see their kindness, let them know you see it. When they need support, extend help. When they aren’t the best at a game or don’t know the answer, tell them it’s ok. Kids just need to know that you see them and care about them.
- Take time. On Sundays, can you invite kids to help on your ministry teams, and take time to talk with each of them at the front end or following the service? You can also connect on other days of the week, too. You can invite a few kids to help you pack VBS supplies, organize your craft closet, or prepare for next year’s curriculum. Could you invite them to eat lunch with you at your office with your co-workers?
*I would always advise leaders to meet in public and with a few kids if possible. You never want to be in what might look like a compromising situation. You want to keep all parties safe. I was always in public with Derrick and had others popping into my open office to say hello.