Welcoming and Safeguarding
By Claire McNabb
Over the past few years my husband has been asked to preach in a variety of churches, and I usually go with him. I’ve been struck by how some churches are very good at making you feel welcome, and others…not so much! It’s always nice when someone comes along to welcome you and have a quick chat so that you’re not sitting there alone. But while I don’t really mind sitting alone at the start of the service, I wonder how the new children who have just walked through the doors of your Sunday School or youth group are feeling. Perhaps they’re anxious that they won’t know anybody, or they’re shy and worry they won’t make friends. Maybe behind that brave face is a little one who doesn’t really want to be there. So, what can we do to help? Welcome them warmly.
In chapter three Jared Kennedy helps us to see the importance of welcoming children and what that looks like practically. But first, he says, “welcoming children begins with taking the posture of a child” (p. 53). We need to get our heart attitude right! Jesus tells us to become like children. To be like the very people who in those days were seen as unimportant and in need. We need to get rid of our pride and stoop to serve the lowly, just as Christ stooped to serve us.
We need to invite them in! We want friendly volunteers to be there ready to welcome other families, we want them to take an interest in both the parents and the children and to take time to learn their names. “For Jesus valuing kids as part of the community is essential” (p. 62). Kennedy makes the point that often in our consumeristic culture we can fall into the trap of seeing children as means to an end: in order to get the parents to church we need to make sure their children enjoy our ministry. But that’s not the point! It’s a great byproduct, but it’s not the point.
In the New Testament letters Paul addresses children directly so we can infer that he is expecting them to be present with the gathered believers. The whole church misses out when children don’t partake in the larger church community. I found it helpful that Kennedy gave some practical application for us based on this. One of the ways we can help our children and especially our young people is by giving them a small task to do like making or serving the coffee, passing the offering plate, playing an instrument, passing out the order of service or helping in the creche. If you are a church leader then I want to encourage you to dwell upon this: “When church leaders are mindful of the next generation as they plan worship services and other events, and youngsters serve side-by-side with adults, kids and youth grow up understanding their own value to the church community at large” (p. 63). As we serve alongside our children and young people we get to know them as individuals. As each church member does that think about the collective impact we can have on them.
I hope from this chapter you were able to grasp the importance of welcoming children for the first time through the doors, but also the continual process of welcoming them and showing your care for them, and their value as we serve together.
However, not all experiences within the church are good. Sadly there have been, and still are, cases of abuse. Chapter four is a heavy chapter. It’s subject that we don’t like talking about, or thinking about. And therein lies the problem. I wonder as you read it did you think to yourself “oh, that would never happen in my church, I know all my leaders”? You’re in danger! We hope and pray that it will never happen, but we must be ready. It’s essential we are prepared for the sake of the children that God has placed into our care.
As you read this chapter you will have seen that the “kind of offenses that cause little ones to stumble are inevitable in a fallen world” (p. 70) and Jesus knows that. But he also knows that the sins inside a church will do the same. He says as much in Matthew 18:7-9. So, what should we do? We must be vigilant, we must not make assumptions about what a sexual predator might be like (and who definitely couldn’t be one), we must report abuse and neglect immediately, and we must have and follow our child protection policy. This chapter highlights how to create one and what that should look like.
After a sobering chapter I thought Kennedy’s closing words were helpful:
We must be vigilant about rooting out false assumptions, properly vetting volunteers, and implementing our protection plans. We don’t do this in a legalistic spirit, thinking that policies will bring life. No, our vigilance is rooted in humility and self-awareness. Who among us has not seen anger and lust in their own heart? The last thing we want is to allow unchecked sin to become a gospel-preventing stumbling block for the next generation. We’re vigilant because in rooting out stumbling blocks, we’re cultivating the kind of children’s ministry where seeds of faith can take root and grow (p. 83).
We need the Lord’s help in being vigilant, we need the Lord’s help in guarding our own hearts, we need the Lord’s help in welcoming children in. Before we even open the doors to welcome people in, our first port-of-call must be prayer. Take a moment now to reflect on the times that you have got up to teach the lesson or lead the club in your own strength, without praying, without relying on God. We can tell ourselves that that we’ve done this a hundred times before or that they’re just children and we can wing it! But each time is a new chance for us to share the great news of the gospel with little ones so why would we not ask for God’s help? I think Kennedy sums this up perfectly when he says, “We can’t do effective children’s ministry unless God shows up. And we can’t expect him to show up unless we humble ourselves, admit our need, and ask” (p. 57).
- Read Hebrews 10:19-25 again. List all of the things Christ has done to welcome you in to his presence. How are you trying to reflect him as you welcome children?
- How often do you pray for the protection and safeguarding of children in your church context? Why not take some time now to pray for them, and for help and wisdom for those implementing the child protection policy.