Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Is Your Church Really a Safe Place?

A few weeks ago I wrote a post entitled, Never Give Up!, and shared Romans 12:9-21, "Be sincere in your love for others. Hate everything that is evil and hold tight to everything that is good. Love each other as brothers and sisters and honor others more than you do yourself. Never give up. Eagerly follow the Holy Spirit and serve the Lord. Let your hope make you glad. Be patient in time of trouble and never stop praying. Take care of God's needy people and welcome strangers into your home. Ask God to bless everyone who mistreats you. Ask him to bless them and not to curse them. When others are happy, be happy with them,, and when they are sad, be sad. Be friendly with everyone. Don't be proud and feel that you are smarter than others. Make friends with ordinary people. Don't mistreat someone who has mistreated you. But try to earn the respect of others, and do your best to live at peace with everyone. Dear friends, don't try to get even. let God take revenge. In the Scriptures the Lord says, 'I am the one to take revenge and pay them back.' The Scriptures also say, "If your enemies are hungry, give them something to eat. And if they are thirsty, give them something to drink. This will be the same as piling burning coals on their heads.' Don't let evil defeat you, but defeat evil with good." (CEV) I said, "As you work on your children's ministry this week, be honest with yourself as to if you love others sincerely, or not. If not, make it right and where you have been mistreated, return love for their mistreatment. Never give up!"

I also said, "Church is the place where we are supposed to be with brothers and sisters who love us sincerely; and who we love sincerely. Sometimes this is true, sometimes church is the place where we receive our deepest wounds." I think these wounds are the deepest and most painful because we expect church to be a safe place; a place where others will love us. When this doesn't happen, the damage can be severe and long-lasting.

 At a church where I served in Redding, CA, we had a new family visit - actually we had new families visit every week, but this particular family stood out because of what the mom asked me. She asked me to never ask her to serve in the children's ministry. She said in their previous church she served as the children's director and ended up so hurt and wounded, she never wanted to serve in the children's ministry in any church ever again - and her husband didn't want her to either. She didn't come across as rude or harsh, just as someone who had been deeply wounded. I smiled and said it was no problem and showed her around to her children's classes.

Over the following months this mom watched. She watched how the volunteers interacted with her children. She watched how I interacted with the volunteers. She noticed a few things - the volunteers were happy! She noticed I was very intentional about supporting and encouraging the volunteers - every other week the volunteers received a newsletter from me with info about the children's ministry, schedule info and volunteer birthday/anniversary info. The weeks in-between newsletters the volunteers received a surprise - usually a piece of candy with a tag such as Reisen Chocolates with a tag which said, "There are so many Reisens we are so glad you are part of our children's ministry!" or a bag of M&Ms with a tag which said, "You are Magnificent & Marvelous - we are so glad you are part of our children's ministry!"

One day she came to me and said, "I know when we first started attending here I asked you to never ask me to be involved with the children's ministry. I had been so hurt at our previous church and never wanted to be hurt like that again. But I've been watching and I've noticed how you really care for your volunteers. I want to be involved, but only as a worker in the nursery." I told her I was delighted to have her be part of our children's ministry and she became involved in the nursery. After a couple months she volunteered to also help in her daughter's class, "but only as a helper!" After a few months she volunteered to teach! And then when we were looking for a department coordinator, she volunteered! She said she found out as she got involved that the volunteers truly were supported and valued. She found our children's ministry was a safe place for her to be involved. She was able to be part of a children's ministry again, a ministry she loved and she was able to experience the joy once again which comes from using the gifts God gave her!

When our children's ministries - and our churches - are not safe places; when they are places where people are wounded, the damage can cause a person to no longer be able to trust. This damage can cause a person to be afraid to serve again. We must make Romans 12 our standard by which we treat others - "Be sincere in your love for others. Hate everything that is evil and hold tight to everything that is good. Love each other as brothers and sisters and honor others more than ou do yourself." Commit to make your children's ministry a safe place where you are sincere in your love for others! 

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