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Seeking Silence in Children’s Ministry

child-prayingWe live in a multi-tasking world. At any one time, we might be watching TV, posting on Facebook, and responding to text messages as we engage in sporadic conversations. Once upon a time, waiting in the doctor’s office or somewhere else meant that we had time to read a book or just do some solitary thinking. Now it seems that the sounds of the ubiquitous TV dominate every waiting room.

Silence makes us uncomfortable. Even in worship when we’re having a “time of silence” people often look anxious although the silence rarely lasts more than a minute or two. And yet, we need silence. As the saying goes, “Bidden or not, God is present” but we need to slow down and quiet ourselves to sense God’s presence.

This is true for children as well as adults. In children’s ministry there is a mindset that learning has to beIn children’s ministry there is a mindset that learning has to be active and fun and that a room that isn’t filled with music and loud children is missing the mark. active and fun and that a room that isn’t filled with music and loud children is missing the mark. There is nothing wrong with children having fun and being energetic (and we know from the theory of multiple intelligences that children learn in different ways, so we need to offer a variety of activities), but we need to also provide time for children to slow down and experience the presence of the spirit.

One year my husband and I, along with an assistant, were teaching a class of very energetic 3rd and 4th graders. A typical lesson involved a variety of activities and we moved quickly from one to another.  I decided that it would be a good idea to do a guided meditation with the kids. I mentioned this to my husband and he looked at me as if I’d said we should teach them college-level physics. “They’ll never sit still for that” he said.

We realized that they were hungry for silence and a break from all the stimuli assaulting them, although they didn’t realize it.But I went ahead anyway. We managed to get all the kids to sit down, close their eyes, and do a little deep breathing. There were a few snickers but the kids became very quiet as we read the meditation about Jesus being in their favorite place and reaching out to them. We kept the meditation fairly short, but after it was over our rowdy bunch remained silent for several minutes. We realized that they were hungry for silence and a break from all the stimuli assaulting them, although they didn’t realize it.

I’d like to think we instinctively know what we need for our spirits and act accordingly but this isn’t the case for most of us. I was once part of a weekly Taize worship service that included not only chants but also ten minutes of silence. I considered those ten minutes a magnificent gift but after the services were disbanded I wasn’t able to be silent for ten minutes on my own. I needed the structure, the communal atmosphere to give me what I needed so desperately.

And I think that those in children’s ministry need to give that gift of silence to our children so that they canThose in children’s ministry need to give that gift of silence to our children so that they can experience God’s presence and not just learn about God. experience God’s presence and not just learn about God. How can we do that? By introducing spiritual practices in Sunday school and providing the quiet space that children need to experience God and connect with their innate spirituality.

When I was teaching a confirmation class, one of the activities in a particular lesson was to create a short advertising logo for the church which could be put on a sign outside the church building. After much brainstorming, one student said “How about, ‘We Have Jesus?’’” Yes, that’s what it’s all about. We don’t need to copy what popular culture is offering kids; we need to offer them what we have that is unique to the church. We have the Trinitarian God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and we need to give our kids the opportunity to experience this relationship.


 

Debbie Kolacki will be leading a course on teaching young children in the church, beginning September 15th. Learn more here.

Debbie KolackiDebbie Kolacki is a Certified Christian Educator and Certified Lay Servant in the New York Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. She has a BA in English from Wagner College and completed the courses for her certification as a Christian educator through Columbia College in South Carolina. She has taught children, youth, and adults and served in many areas in her local church for over twenty years.

Debbie is the senior consultant for Practical Resources for Churches where she works with people in all areas of ministry and leads webinars, workshops, and retreats. Her blogs include Faith Geeks and Practical Resources for Churches. She loves doing research of all kinds for church folks. When Debbie is not working for the resource center or doing church things, she enjoys being at home with her family and cat (Bob) writing, reading, and doing faith geek things.

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