Those of you who know me may need a minute to take that in.
I'm not into kids. I love them, but I don't enjoy them the way most people do. (Right now, half of you are thinking, "Well, Mr. Smarty-Pants, what would you do if you had kids?" I hear this often, because a lot of people assume that since I don't enjoy being around kids that I would be some kind of an abusive father to my own kids. That's really not fair. I don't like U2, but I didn't polish up my shotgun when they were in town. I take good care of kids when I'm around them, but I am very happy to leave them with their parents as soon as possible.) I like peace and quiet, nice music, leisurely reading books while drinking Earl Gray, and other relaxing activities that are normally reserved for senior citizens - and children are really good at taking those liberties away. So, people tend to think that I'd be more likely to join a knitting ministry for old women than help out in the kid's room. And they're probably right.
However, when I joined the church, our children's minister, Dan, told me that he needed to add people to the list of teachers. He has to do this in advance rather than asking for volunteers as he needs them, because he puts each worker through a screening process involving background checks and talking to their contacts before they can be allowed in the children's area (as every church ought to do). He said that he could tell I wasn't really into little kids, but he might need help if he were to get low on volunteers since our church is pretty small. I agreed, and he told me I would be placed on the bottom of the list to only be called on when absolutely necessary. I told him that I appreciated that.
Almost two years went by before I had to actually help him. After some of the Children's Ministry's volunteers moved away unexpectedly Dan was in a bind and needed two competent replacement workers immediately. He found one. Then he found me. I didn't have jury duty or any obvious sickness so I agreed, and that Sunday morning he took me to meet my students. When the normal children's workers saw me in the kids area they looked concerned and might have sounded some kind of an alarm if Dan hadn't calmed them down and assured them that I was helping out in the 3-4 year old's class. They seemed skeptical. So did the students.
"Hey kids, who wants to learn about 5-point Calvinism? No, really, it's more fun than it sounds! Do any of you like tulips? Well, the "t" in tulip stands for Total depravity...hey, don't fall sleep, this is fun! Now, I don't have to tell you why double-predestination was a problem for Rousseau, so I'll skip straight to the neo-Constantinopolitanists..."
But it wasn't so bad. I've been thanked by the children's workers many times for volunteering to do something I really didn't want to do, but I had a very easy job, and the regular teachers who are back there more often are the real troopers. I just kept an eye on them while they played in the playground told them to stop eating paste when I thought they had reached their limit. Easy stuff.
But I learned a few things.
1 - You Have No Secrets
Your kids tell us everything. Now, I'm not a gossip, so I don't let it leave the room. But I hear about things. It's not unusual for kids to tug on my sleeve and tell me that "Daddy slept on the couch because Mommy needed some 'time alone,'" or to ask us to pray about so-and-so because they failed some class. We hear it all. (OK, I exaggerated those examples, but that's because I didn't feel like airing out anyone's dirty laundry.)
2 - I'm Not Good with Kids Because I Always Want to Laugh at Them
I don't respond to problems very well. For example, when a kid says that they fell down and hurt themselves, my first instinct is to laugh at them. Then I realize that laughing at a hurt kid is a good way to scar them for life, so I stifle the laugh and try to remember what real grown-ups do when kids are hurt. Kids have a short attention span, so before I come up with an answer they are usually gone and doing something else. So, all they get from me is a blank stare. One of those cardboard cutouts shaped like a person could probably raise a kid as well as I would, which brings me to...
3 - This Experience Has Not Caused Me to Want My Own Kids
After a day of avoiding snot-nosed kids who want hugs (thank goodness for the enormous bottle of hand sanitizer), and telling kids not to throw rocks at each other, someone said, "Working back here will make you want kids of your own!"
Really? Is that like saying getting hit by a Porsche will make you want your own high-performance vehicle? I have no idea what these people are talking about, but I agree with them: if you enjoy being a task-master to unsanitary rebels then being a parent is probably right up your alley.
3 - The Workers in Your Children's Ministry Deserve Medals
This most certainly does not apply to me. Like I said, I did an easy job for four weeks. Nothing to it. But the teachers who normally teach these kids have to deal with rebelling children and a revolving door of new diseases each week. It's as tough as any work the paid ministers do (no offense intended) and it's all volunteer. They can never be late for Sunday School (anyone else can be late for class - even one they are teaching - and it's laughed off), and they must compose themselves professionally at all times. And they have very difficult decisions to make; imagine, for example, a sad kids asks you for a hug. If you hug them, you might make them feel better, but their parents might decide that you were molesting their child. It's an unfair burden to place on any church volunteer, and, still, these people in your church are doing it every week because it is an important job that needs to be done.
At the very least, you should thank them and let them know how much they are appreciated.
(Also, my spell check insists that "children's" is spelled wrong throughout this entry. Odd.)