Baby sitting, child care, day care, watching kids…. If you’ve been in the world of early childhood ministry very long, you’ve heard all of these, not very complimentary tags applied to what you know is actually creating a generation of kids that will know that God loves them, God made them and Jesus wants to be their Friend forever. You may have heard it from parents, other pastors, but the most discouraging is to hear it from volunteers, or potential volunteers. How do we move our volunteers from feeling like they are filling a time slot, to filling young hearts and minds with God’s amazing love for them?
This is perhaps one of the most challenging steps leaders in early childhood will tackle, especially with our youngest kids in that birth – 18 month age. Our kids don’t always communicate well (or verbally at all for awhile!). They don’t have baseball games or recitals where we can “show up unexpectedly,” and for our youngest ones, even that nice birthday card that arrives in the mail, is not really going to make their day. So what’s a leader to do!?!
One of the best, most direct ways is to start with calling leaders just that—leaders! When a person moves from thinking of themselves as a leader versus “just” a volunteer, it brings a new level of ownership. You are not just filling a slot, or meeting an adult to child ratio, you are fulfilling a purpose! There is a reason for you to be leading where you are – you are valuable!
Next, educate your leaders about all the life changes and developments that happen at these early stages of childhood development. The value of knowing that between birth and one-year-old, embracing a baby’s physical needs communicates they are safe, the world can be trusted and they are worth loving- can be life changing for a leader of our youngest ones! Remind your leaders they aren’t just feeding a baby and changing her diaper – you are communicating her value and worth! One of the best resources available is Zero to One Parenting through the “I Need You Now” Phase.
Build some structure into the morning for these leaders – provide music, hands on learning, constantly reinforcing that long before babies and toddlers are communicating verbally with you, they begin to associate security with their surroundings. So if they are hearing music and hearing a familiar voice that reminds them that God loves them and they are special, this is laying foundational truths that will be hard to “un-do”.
Ask for feedback from parents that have benefitted from having a consistent leader in a room. Have them write a note thanking leaders for that consistency! As a parent who had a child who cried every time I left him at a church nursery (for 2 years!), the value of a consistent leader who knew my child was a value that could not be overstated. When leaders begin to see that they are not just building relationships with these children, but with their parents and family, it adds another layer of understanding about the value they bring to the ministry. Maybe Baby Jenny won’t know or remember that you sent a card or called her mommy when she was out, but her mommy will soon realize that she and her child are both loved and valued.
A great idea that one of my churches in Indiana has implemented is a closed Facebook group just for the leaders in their nursery environment. She uses this to post daily encouragement and vision. An amazing addition to this is a weekly video she does talking about how important the foundation is and sharing WINS that have been shared by parents, or observed on the weekend.
Once you’ve started this foundation with your nursery/toddler leaders, it is easier to ask for a weekly commitment! Everyone wants to be part of something bigger than themselves, something that they know if they were not there it wouldn’t been done as well, or with as much passion. So let your nursery leaders know they were created for this time and place! No babysitting – it’s a foundation!
Here’s a few other amazing resources I’d recommend: