“Sons are indeed a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the sons of one’s youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them. He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.” - Psalms 127:3-5 (NRSV)
This Sunday one of the greeters and Stephen Ministers came up to me, she wanted to know the attendance of the nursery, just like every Sunday. Usually it’s this sweet middle aged couple, but today it was Jeanette Scruggs, and she stopped me and starting telling how impressed she was to see a young man working in children’s ministry. Yes, I am one of the unsung heroes, me and the 30 other men in the US that are so bold to burst through the gendered world of children’s ministry. There are many reasons why men don’t serve in children’s ministry, too many to list but I will list three reasons why men don’t do children’s ministry, and three harmful things that result as a result of their absence.
1. Taking care of children is for women, therefore children’s ministry is only for women.
We all know that men can take care of children just as well as women can, and if you don’t believe that - stop watching Leave it Beaver and hop on the Modern family bandwagon. Men have made massive leaps and bounds in the area of homemaking in the same manner women have proven they can do more than cook and clean and “submit” to men’s authority. Unfortunately for children in the church it takes the Church longer to adapt to society. It will be a few years before more men start serving.
Another element in this formula, men have historically only allowed women to serve in two ministry functions: women’s ministry and children’s ministry. Because of that women tend to be better at doing ministry in said arenas, I’m sure a man could be a great women’s minister (I know of a woman that ran the United Methodist Men ministry in her church, and got re-elected). But women have a stronghold in children’s ministry because it was the “leftovers” that men allotted them.
2. Children are difficult to deal with, give me something to build instead.
If we are being entirely honest, children are hard work, and a Sunday morning sermon means free Daycare and a reprieve from the onslaught of “why” questions and “Johnny hit me”, “I want dessert now”, “Let’s buy that toy”, etc. Why should men give up their break from their own children to watch other people’s?
3. Men are rarely asked to help.
Let’s get real, the children’s volunteer table is made to trap women into service, it’s riddled with pink, purple, red, flowers, rainbows, and a host of other stereotypical gendered images used to tug at the hearts of women and trick them into mothering more kids. Men are trapped into gardening, building, moving people, visiting prisons, all worthy services, but things the average male church members are more comfortable.
Some people argue that men can’t be trusted around kids because of sexual abuse cases - which I am going to say is just ridiculous, both genders are just as susceptible to pedophilia, but I’ll the psychologists deal with that.
1. Men are missing out on being blessed by serving kids
I LOVE working with children, not just because I get paid to do it, but because I am so blessed by them. Every time I get to be harassed by my 5th & 6th graders I continually come away extremely tired and worn out swearing that I will never have children, until the next day when I am talking my friends’ ears off about how wonderful all of my kids are. I call them all my children, even though when they were born I was in elementary school, they are my babies, I teach them about faith and life and love, and occasionally about gender inequality. I love their laughter and their ability to find joy in every situation. The children I teach at Sunday school are so loud, crazy, and disobedient; but they want to learn and to help others every chance they get. They are a prime example of what it is to wander, and a prime example of what Christ meant by “childlike faith”.
2. It promotes a gender hierarchy.
I know I have beaten this to the ground, but children’s ministry is typically placed at the bottom of the totem pole, and then given primarily women, basically scraps from the table. Personally, to me children’s ministry is the most important, but I’m a minority in that aspect...but I digress. Placing children’s ministry at the bottom of the totem pole does two things. 1. It shows young boys that women are not to be trusted with important tasks and authority. 2. It makes working with children less of a priority. Which leads to my last point.
3. Men missing can make children feel unimportant and unwanted
Nothing in this world will make a child feel less loved and less valuable than an adult not spending time with them. I can remember as a kid forcing myself to pretend to like sports in a desperate attempt to get the attention of my father. I really don’t want the children I work for to have to go through the same awful experience I did. Men being involved in children’s ministry, stops them from hiding from their children in the main service and gets them involved in their children’s lives and in the lives of other children. The coolest time for me as a kid in Sunday School was when the music man came and sang for us. He not only made the songs so much fun he spent time getting to know us. In 2nd grade we got the man that used to be a clown who gave out candy for accurate answers to Bible trivia. These men shaped my views on God and my life, they lifted me up and encouraged me. They made me feel loved and cared for.
The lack of men in children’s ministry saddens me, but I definitely see a bright future where churches no longer use gender hierarchy to determine where women are placed. A future where men participate in the spiritual formation of their children; where children are loved and cared for by adults, not just the women, but the whole Christian community.