Pastoral Care of Children
Something has been heavy on my heart recently. It's a huge, missed opportunity we have in children’s ministry- pastoral care. Many pastors would say that pastoral care is a huge part in caring for their sheep. Why is it that pastors to adults see the need and importance of pastoral care but we seriously drop the ball in children's ministry?
In case you aren’t sure what pastoral care is, simply put, it is the act of a pastor ‘caring for’ their sheep in whatever manner that may entail. For some, pastoral care is counseling a member of the church and hospital visits but it can mean something different to everyone. Pastoral care, in my mind, is anything that a pastor does for their congregation that goes above and beyond preaching (This is my definition, feel free to Google a more detailed one).
Think for a moment about the meaning of being a pastor to a flock and God as our shepherd. What a shepherd would do for his sheep and, more importantly, what God would do for us, his sheep, is what pastoral care should look like. What God would do (and does do) for us in order to bring us into relationship with Him is most certainly more than preaching for an hour each Sunday and Wednesday. He shows us grace in every aspect of our lives that shows us He cares and ultimately brings us into communion and eternity with Him. Being the pastor of and caring for a congregation means a lot more than what we often think. It is not a two day a week commitment, it goes so much further.
So my question is this, how can we implement this idea of pastoral care into our children’s ministries? How can we bring students into a relationship with God and care for their soul outside of typical church services?
You may already have a system of pastoral care in place. If that is you- kudos! Let me know in the comments what that looks like for you!
If that’s not you, let’s chat.
To start, why is the pastoral care of children important?
If a child in your ministry goes through a traumatic event or is in crisis you suddenly have an important new ministry opportunity. The weeks and months following this moment of crisis will effect the rest of that child’s life into adulthood. Think about that. You now have the opportunity to minister to that child in a way that will change the outcome of their life.
Many say that childhood is the most formative time in a person’s life and I agree with that but I would even say that within childhood the most formative time is immediately following trauma. While this abuse example may sound like an extreme case, it is so important that we recognize this volatile time in a child’s life and that we help when possible. If a trauma situation is not handled properly it could easily carry into the child’s adult life. The last thing we want is for a child from our ministry to leave it still carrying the pain and grief from a traumatic event in their life. Trauma in a child can be any number of things ranging from sexual abuse to moving to a new school to the death of a pet. Even the things that seem trivial to us as adults can effect a child so deeply and cause a lot of stress. These events and the way they are handled can effect the way a child views death or change or people for the rest of their life. We not only have the opportunity but the responsibility to step in and lead our students when they undergo a traumatic event.
How can we care for our students?
When I started college and began studying children’s ministry the idea of pastoral care was totally new to me. I loved the concept of caring ‘for’ students. I quickly shifted my thinking from caring about students to caring for their well-being and caring for the physical life as well as their spiritual. Maybe that was a given to everyone else but my mind was being blown! It opened a whole new realm of ministry that I had not seen before. I started asking myself what it would look like to truly care for the kids in my ministry. I decided that pastoral care for children should be pretty similar to pastoral care for adults.
This can mean hospital visits, counseling, house calls or just talking! Really there is no end of possibilities. If a child in your ministry is getting their tonsils taken out, check up on them. If a pet died, make sure the child is handling it okay. If a family member died, offer a counseling session. You may not feel qualified to facilitate a counseling session but as a pastor to children I believe in you! Even if your counseling session just involves chatting and making sure the child has a clear view of God in the situation, I think you’re doing a great job! Play a game, draw a picture, just make sure they are doing okay! Checking in and showing your students that you care and that God cares and can help is huge. You probably teach that from the pulpit on a weekly basis but it means something entirely different in a one on one conversation.
I would even say that supporting your students in their daily life could be a form of pastoral care! Pastoral care does not have to mean that some traumatic event has happened. It certainly can be, but as I said above, pastoral care is simply caring for a student’s well-being. Attending a child’s soccer game falls into that category. Sending a child a card in the mail does too.
There are so many ways to care for a child outside the confines of Sunday and Wednesday services. However, there is one thing that carries through in all forms. You have to be involved. If you are not involved in your kiddos’ lives you will not know if a pet dies or they are moving schools. You certainly won’t know if they have a baseball game coming up unless you make it a point to be involved.
If your children’s ministry is too big to be so involved in every child’s daily life, be sure to instill this in your volunteers and small group leaders. It is so important! Find out how you can care for the kids in your ministry whether it be as small having lunch at their schools or walking them through life’s challenges.
Let me know what you are thinking! What other ways can you care for your students? How have you handled walking through crisis and trauma in your ministry?