The other day I sat in a Zoom call and listened to people talk excitedly about future plans for children’s ministry… programmes, training courses, vision casting… so many ideas, so much inspiration… it was absolutely exhausting! After a bit of a rant to some fellow children’s workers I sat down to unpack why I found the topic of future planning so disheartening… and I came to a few conclusions.
1) We are exhausted.
Churches and those leading and ministering to families did some amazing work during the Pandemic and it’s important not to forget that, especially when hearing what others are sharing about their own successes (and comparing ourselves!). Even though I produced hundreds of resources for churches which I know were a blessing I am now having to sit through conversation after conversation about how resources were not the solution… and to be honest it sucks! Would daily personal contact and support for families have been better… yes… was that physically and mentally possible for every church and church worker in the country… of course not. Whatever you managed to do and share during the last two years you should be proud of yourself, don’t beat yourself up about things that can’t be changed, acknowledge that trying to give emotional support during a Pandemic and giving of yourself for two years was exhausting. Don't let others diminish the value of what you did - only time will show what will grow from the seeds you planted. At some point there will be lessons to learn from our Pandemic experiences and that is important, but if you aren’t ready for that yet… it’s ok… it’s ok to be exhausted.
2) Our families are exhausted.
There are huge differences between the experiences of families around the world and it's important to remember that every family is different. We might talk like we are ‘post-pandemic’ but I am not sure that it feels like it for families, it certainly doesn't for the ones I talk to. Those families who stepped up in the area of discipleship during the Pandemic when they were constantly at home together are now being asked to go back to managing school runs and clubs and lateral flow tests and work… it’s exhausting for them too. For many families it feels like we are in some kind of limbo, we have not gone ‘back to normal’, we’re not even sure what normal is anymore.
Although the desire is there to hold on to some of the quality time and discipleship opportunities carved out during a Pandemic this is a real challenge in this season. We learned during the Pandemic that families want help and training on how to disciple their children well, they have a heart to learn, but right now, if I suggested a training course or programme, I wouldn’t expect anybody to sign up!
3) Connection is harder.
Two years outside of church buildings has many families questioning whether Sunday morning church is the best fit for them and now that many people can catch up online at a time that suits them attendance isn’t the priority it once was. With toddler groups, school visits, Sunday school and youth clubs back in our diaries and families not always at home connecting with church families is harder.
On Sundays we are back to clearing away crafts and toys, we can’t join an after-service zoom and connect with parents, we can’t stop off and stand on a doorstep knowing they will be in, even if we had the time to do so. The connections we managed to create during the Pandemic seem to be slipping away from us, some of the families have disappeared altogether. Many children’s workers are once again disconnected from the church on a Sunday morning and disconnected from the parents they want to support.
Keep plodding on.
Obviously, I would love to be able to tell you the solution… but I’m not there yet. I know there needs to be change, I recognise that the sort of change we need the whole church catching a vision for families, discipleship and connection, but right now... if I'm honest, just pulling together a rota and a Sunday School lesson is the best I've got! I just want to say if you need permission to be exhausted… here it is… if your families need permission to be exhausted… give it to them… maybe this is the season to invest in large bars of chocolate for everybody!
So my motto for this season is “Keep plodding on” – it’s ok to go slow and steady, it’s ok to keep things manageable for you and your team and not to throw yourself into new projects just yet.
Isaiah 30 v 19-21 says this: “You people who live on Mount Zion in Jerusalem will not cry anymore. The Lord will hear your crying, and he will comfort you. When he hears you, he will help you. The Lord has given you sorrow and hurt like the bread and water you ate every day. He is your teacher; he will not continue to hide from you, but you will see your teacher with your own eyes. If you go the wrong way—to the right or to the left—you will hear a voice behind you saying, “This is the right way. You should go this way.”
So today… grab yourself a big bar of chocolate, come to the Lord who hears your cries and keep plodding on, when the time is right his voice behind you will show you the way to go.