So as we minister to children and try to train them in the things of God, we find that there are times when the focus becomes an item, or a goal, and not the desire to learn the things of God. When we notice that the focus is becoming the incentive or an item, then it is time to re-direct the focus. I’ll give three recent examples that I’ve expereinced:
The first one occurred when a clubber who has a goal of completing their handbook and the extra credit silver and gold sections in a year began to put pride and recognition before the desire to learn more of God.
One night, when they had several sections to complete, but struggled and because of time, was not able to complete their goal for the night and they were upset. I had a leader who ws willing to work with them a little after club and so I gave out awards earned at the end of the evening and then dismissed this one child with the leader to allow them to complete their sections that they had prepared. Well as I ended the night, this child came back in and said they had completed it the rest of the sections and I said okay, I’d make the note when I saw their book, or record from the leader, and then came the question….”Aren’t you going to tell the other clubbers what I’ve done?” Thus the “teaching moment” arrived. I asked the clubber what was more important, that they were memorizing God’s Word and working toward a goal, or that the other clubbers knew what they were doing and how many sections that they passed? This clubber understood and then the most important part came…I talked to the parent and let them know and so we (the church and parent) were working together to help this child focus on the learning and not the praise. The focus was re-directed.
Next…in children’s church, teams are awarded points for various things and the points are small balls that are collected in a bag and we have a quiz at the end of the lesson. I went to using whiteboards where the children would write the answer down. Well, a few Sundays ago an interesting thing happened. No one wanted the bag to collect the points, but almost everyone wanted to have the whiteboard to write the answers. The focus was not on the lesson, but on the “power” and “authority” that came with the whiteboard. I needed to take away the importance of the whiteboard and so for that week we did not use the whiteboard, but rather they gathered as agroup and had to tell a leader the correct answer thus putting “authority” back in the hands (so to speak) of the leaders. The next week, they had already adapted to that and knew that we wouldn’t be using the whiteboard.
The last example I will use I have to admit that I was “messing” with the child more than teaching a lesson, but a lesson or two was part of the focus. In our club this year, I currently give a pack of trading cards to T&T’ers who complete three sections in a week (to encourage more sections completed). We had one clubber who did that and the only T&T’er who “earned” anything that week (a small club). So instead of bringing in the T&T awards, I just carried in the box with the Sparks awards and I had the pack of trading cards in a jacket pocket so they could not be seen. I did that because I knew that this child would come in looking to see if I had the pack of trading cards with me and sure enough, as I settled in with the awards, they came up and said, “Hey, you forgot something”. When asked, they went on to tell me that I should have a pack of trading cards. So I hand out the awards and acknowledge this clubbers acheivement of pasing three sections and getting the pack of cards and another clubber (who I guess the first told) said and “Commander Bill forgot them”. I put my hands to my chest and said, “ouch, that hurt me!” The clubbers laughed and I asked if they really thought I forgot. I then pulled the pack of trading cards from my pocket and handed it to them.
I then said, okay, now I want you to say, “I’m sorry Commander Bill, I was wrong and I should learn to trust you”. The clubber’s mother was there and she laughed and said that’s good teach them humility. So again, parental support was there and I’m sure it will be a continuing lesson.
In each of these cases, the child had a focus other than just learning the Scripture, or lesson, which was re-directed.
Another aspect to consider. I had an adult who wanted public praise for a child who did something outside of the church setting. I made a decision not to praise the child publicly as this person wanted and they were upset with me for a little while. Why did I not publicly praise them as they wanted? Several reasons. The child would have been praised at the event they participated, there are other ways to publicly acknowledge the child and looking at the bigger picture, I need to make sure that children don’t begin to expect public praise for everything they do (not just this child, but others who would observe this public praise). Then the purpose for serving God is not serving God, but the praise of man and we need to teach early on that we should not be seeking the praise of man. Yes, everyone needs a “pat on the back” every now and then, but it should not be expected, or sought, every time.
Often the “bigger picture” is not considered as we do things. I would rather deal with the small moments of discontent of others, then to lead them down a path that could lead to destruction.
So as we minister to others, be careful that the focus doesn’t become candy, rewards, points, etc and if it does, then seek to re-direct it so the focus is on learning the things of God.