Thinking about how to speak to children in Kids Ministry brings a famous quote to mind.
“If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.” -Thumper from Disney’s Bambi.
My mouth got me into A LOT of trouble growing up. I would often speak without thinking. I’d fly off the handle with my words, regardless of who they affected or how they would be received.
If it was in my mind, it came out of my mouth usually before I had a chance to process it. I remember people reciting that Thumper quote back to me, basically telling me to be nice or be quiet.
In this post we’ll look at the following observations that will help you learn how to speak to children in Kids Ministry.
I’d like to point out that as I’ve grown older, I have become more masterful at bridling my tongue. I’d like to. However, the truth is it’s a constant battle. Thankfully, most of my ill-formed words are aimed at myself rather than others, but that’s still a battle I must fight. It’s a battle we all must constantly fight.
It’s a shame there isn’t a piece of the Armor of God for your words. Put on the Helmet of Salvation and attach the Muzzle of Positivity with which you will say something nice or nothing at all!
But back to Thumper’s words of wisdom, I actually don’t buy into that quote. I think it’s a good short-term solution to keep your mouth from getting you into trouble, but I think in the long run, we can and should find something nice to say about and to people, even the most challenging of them.
After all, Jesus saw fit to shed his own blood, and take God’s judgment for even the worst of people, right? So, saying something nice about someone isn’t just a possibility. It’s a necessity!
How Does this Practically Apply to Kids Ministry?
Throughout my years in Kids Ministry, I have learned several truths, one of them being speaking life over kids is crucial. They need to hear that there’s a God who loves them so much that He sent His own Son to die for their sins.
They need to hear that God has a huge plan for their lives and that God wants to use them to change the world! Church may be the only place they hear those life-giving words.
Another truth I’ve learned is that there will be kids who make a challenge to live out that first truth. In fact, you’re probably already mentally picturing that kid right now. Kids that may have been dubbed EGR kids (Extra Grace Required).
Kids that try your patience. The kids that just don’t seem to get it or even want to get it. Perhaps the kids that, though you’d never say it aloud, you’re relieved to find out they didn’t make it to church today. First of all, shame on you! Second of all, we’ve all been there.
When it comes to how we talk to and about those who challenge us, Thumper’s advice just doesn’t cut the mustard. They need to hear life-giving words spoken over them more than any other child. This is why it is crucial to understand how to speak to children in kids ministry.
So how do we find something nice to say, even when it’s super-hard? I find that remembering these three things can help me find the right words to say.
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Our Words Are Powerful
Another quote I remember frequently hearing growing up was, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” What a load of hogwash.
Whereas the Thumper quote I only personally disagree with, the sticks and stones quote is unbiblical. I get it, that it’s an attempt to disarm someone who’s using hurtful words, but the truth is, broken bones heal, but words can have a lifelong impact.
You can’t read the book of Proverbs without realizing the power of words and usually feeling a little conviction about how you are speaking to others.
Proverbs 18:21 is one of the most powerful verses in this regard. In fact, it reveals to us just how powerful and potentially damaging our words are.
“The tongue has the power of life and death…” (NIV)
I really don’t believe this is a metaphor either. I believe that our words have the ability to give life or bring death.
Many theologians believe that before the fall, Adam and Eve cultivated the Garden of Eden primarily by speaking over it. That’s not too hard to believe. God created the universe primarily by speaking it into existence, and mankind was created in His image. Can you imagine just saying to a plant, “Grow!” and it grows?
Regardless of whether or not you believe Adam and Eve were “speech-farmers,” our words are powerful. Jesus himself was able to, just by speaking, heal the sick (Luke 7:1-10) and kill a fig tree (Matthew 21:18-22). I don’t think Jesus demonstrated these powers just to show off. Instead, I believe Jesus wanted to show us just how potent our words can be for better or worse.
What kind of words are you speaking over the kids in your Kidmin? Remember, every word you say carries weight!
Our Words Are Personal
Any time someone starts a sentence with, “Don’t take this personally, but…” pretty much immediately you know you’re going to take it personally. You’re a person! The one delivering the message is also a person! So how can it not be taken personally, at least a little bit!
Have you ever yelled at technology? Of course, you have. Maybe a computer that froze up, a TV that stopped working, or Siri for misinterpreting your command? Did you ever go back and apologize to your technology? Nope. It’s a piece of machinery. They don’t have feelings.
There may be times when you need to speak to a child (or maybe even a volunteer) about how they’re behaving. Remember you’re not addressing a piece of machinery. Instead, you’re talking to a real person who is fighting their own, very real battles.
And if you have to address rotten behavior, it’s rarely because things are going great in their lives and they just woke up feeling like misbehaving.
Kids are real people and are dealing with real-world issues. So, when you speak to them, understanding that they are real people battling the same sin-nature we battle every day, you can approach them with understanding, sympathy, and kindness. After all, when you have a rotten attitude wouldn’t you want to be addressed the same way?
Any time you must address behavioral issues, remember you are speaking to a person, not to the problem. I would also suggest when you’re speaking consider your tone of voice. Is it sarcastic or sincere? Is it harsh or gentle? It’s not always what we say, as much as it is how we say it.
Our Words Are Prophetic
This particular point gets me pretty fired up. Think about it. Your words are prophetic! You may not feel like a prophet or prophetess, but when you speak life over a kid you are speaking prophetically about them, not predicting their future, but dictating it!
I’m reminded of the story of Gideon in Judges 6. In this story, the angel of the Lord appears to Gideon, who’s hiding in a winepress. The angel addresses him as a mighty man of valor! What a statement for a guy who’s hiding.
The statement wasn’t necessarily something that was even true at the time for Gideon, but by the end of the story, it was. Though surely Gideon didn’t feel it, I’m sure as he was assembling (and then disassembling) his troops, those words were ringing in his head.
We’ve already established that our words are powerful, and when we are speaking to a child, whether that’s addressing negative behavior or giving encouragement, our words pave a way in that child’s heart and mind. And those words will play back in their heads throughout their lives.
For instance, say you have a child that frequently needs corrections, if you talk to that child using absolutes about their behavior (“You always…You never…”) you’re essentially framing in their behavioral patterns. In essence, you’re dictating to them how they constantly behave and how you’ll continue to expect them to behave.
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A Significant Story about Prophetic Speaking
I’m reminded about a student I had that regularly got in trouble. I had to have many conversations with him about his behavior. He was a perfect candidate for the “Always/Never” conversation. In complete transparency, I probably did speak in absolutes to him once or twice.
One day, just a few weeks before he would have promoted up into youth, I felt prompted by the Holy Spirit to take a different approach. A more prophetic approach.
I told him that it seems like I’m always riding him about his behavior, but the reason I have frequent “Come to Jesus” moments with him was because I saw leadership in him and knew he would be a huge influencer among his peers. So, I called out of him both, things I saw in him, and things I wanted to see in him.
That was the last time I had to have a conversation with him. In fact, it seemed to be a turning point in his time in our Kidmin and his walk with Jesus, because he moved on to be a great leader in our Kidmin!
I truly believe that the conversation I had with him was prophetic and helped pave a new path for him. So, if you have kids that are constantly challenging you, speak some prophetic life-giving words in them! Call out of them the things you see and the things you’d like to see in their lives!
Our Words Can Change the World.
Kids are probably hearing more negative words spoken over them throughout the week than we’d care to know. So, this is why the church must be a positive influence!
At our church, we tell the kids that they are masterpieces created in Christ Jesus, to do good works that God has prepared in advance for them to do and that they are world changers. We want the last thing that kids hear to remind them that they can have a huge impact for Jesus!
And I’ve seen, first-hand how these words have impacted children. One second grade girl we had, took those words to heart and decided that her world was her school bus and chose to sit next to a special needs child on her bus of whom others made fun.
They even teased her for sitting next to them, but because she knew she was created to change the world, she didn’t let the other kids’ words affect her. She was bold and even told the other kids that this boy she was showing kindness to, was a pretty great kid and that if they got to know him, they’d see that.
This little girl told her mom, “I’m not waiting til I’m big [to change the world] because I don’t have to. I can change my bus and my school now. I just have to lead the way.” This little girl heard the words that she is a world changer, and that’s all it took.
The older I get the more those words need to be directed internally. I must remind myself of the same things our church tells its kids. So, what kind of dialogue do you need to have with yourself? Say the following, out loud to yourself.
“I am God’s masterpiece, created in Christ Jesus, to do good works, which God has prepared in advance for me to do. I AM A WORLD CHANGER!”
Now, go change your world!
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