Despite the gender inequity (which I was prepared for), I heard all kinds of creative ideas about how to bring up my children in the training and instruction of the Lord. That phrasing comes from Ephesians 6:4 and is a direct admonition to fathers, not mothers. From a biblical perspective, a child's education is the ultimate responsibility of dads. We may (and I do) delegate much of this responsibility to our wives but that doesn't excuse us from final accountability on how our kids turn out. Based on some comments I overheard from moms, I would say the majority of dads are disengaged from their children's education.
This is not surprising. Most fathers never get a chance to practice fatherhood before they become one. And they're simply following the model of their own fathers and the path that their peers are taking.
I had opportunities but they were painful. As a counselor at a summer day camp during college, I had some difficult kids and at one point, I lost my temper with a boy who refused to return a basketball and smacked his rear end hard. Apologizing to his mom was tremendously awkward. It was not a fun summer. After we got married, Judy talked me into joining her as an AWANA leader at our church. I didn't enjoy that much either. As pastor, I've regularly taught at and coordinated after school Bible clubs. Often I wondered why I was doing this. Working with young children is exhausting and doesn't fill me warm thoughts.
And yet as I think about my charge to train and instruct my children in the Lord, I am so grateful for all my experiences in children's ministry. I'm excited about home schooling my kids. And I'm confident God will use me to teach my kids because I've experienced Him using me to teach other people's kids. Its as if everything I've done with children was uniquely designed to prepare me to become a father and teach my kids to walk with God. So all this to say, here are three reasons why serving in children's ministry uniquely transforms men in the likeness of Christ and helps us to know God better.
1) Become child-like: If you are teachable and take your service seriously, working with children will make you more child-like. The innocence of young children is contagious. It will soften your heart. Everything is new to a kindergartner. And it doesn't take long to win a kid's trust. And once you do, their hearts are an open book. You'll recognize how short their attention span is, how candid and vulnerable they are, and how they can go from excited to miserable in less than two seconds. In the process of service, you will be called to make a fool of yourself. You will dance to songs with funny hand motions, dress in costumes, and make crafts with glue sticks and glitter (still not used to that part). It is a privilege to be a fool and a clown for Christ.
2) Discover your uniqueness as a man: Judy used to give me a hard time about the way I interacted with children especially our own kids. She said I was too rough, competitive, and reckless. Ain't that the truth. I would think of something crazy to do and something would get broken or someone would get hurt. I have learned to rein in my energy with self-control and wisdom but God made me different from women. I used to feel guilty that I couldn't sit still for long periods of time, didn't like crafts, and wanted to compete in everything. As a male, you will be involved and work with the kids in a totally different way from women and for the most part, it is a good thing. Don't let women condemn you for not being feminine but don't use your maleness as an excuse to be beastly.
3) Experience God as a Father: The best way to know God the Father is to understand fatherhood. Children's ministry allows men to imitate fatherhood. Psalm 103:13 draws a parallel between how a father has compassion on his children to how God has compassion on us. Men experience this compassion by receiving it as sons or expressing it as fathers. Working with kids teaches us how emotionally invested God is with us. It is a fatherhood experience that draws us closer to heart of the Father.
Finally, children's ministry is uniquely challenging for men because it targets our weaknesses. One of my weaknesses is impatience. This has been such a refining area for me and through working with kids (especially my own), my appreciation of how patient God is with me has both deepened and broadened. And because I recognize God is patient with me and delights in who I am, I now enjoy children's ministry so much more than before.
Suggestions for getting started: The great thing about serving in children's ministry is that women are ecstatic when teachable men volunteer. They will bend over backwards to help you. Ask for directions and don't be afraid to mistakes. Its great to serve with other guys so find a buddy and work together. Observe experienced teachers/leaders and imitate how they interact with kids.