ECEnet: Our Mission Is Today
Our Mission Is Today
By Bev Gruenwald
Children come to our schools not knowing how to write their names, and we give them the tools to accomplish this skill. Children come to our schools not knowing how to share, and we model it for them. Children come to our schools not knowing Jesus, and we have the opportunity to share the Gospel—with great joy.
Across the LCMS, early childhood centers continue to enroll approximately 25% of students from their home congregation. The remaining 75% are from the community. Some children may never have stepped their tiny feet into a church building or sat at a table where the dinner began with prayer or had a loved one sing “Jesus Loves Me” as they fell asleep. Our mission is clear and our mission is urgent: to share the joy of Jesus—our Savior and Friend—every day with our children.
Each day as we pull into the parking lot of our place of work, we are entering the mission field—right in our own schools.At one time, many churches erected little signs in their parking lots for congregation members to see upon exiting the campus: “You are now entering the mission field.” As early childhood teachers, administrators, and staff, let’s instead envision that little sign in reverse. Each day as we pull into the parking lot of our place of work, we are entering the mission field—right in our own schools.
Intentional hiring Matthew 9:37 tells us, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” How are we intentionally staffing to share the Gospel with the children and families in our care? LCMS universities prepare teachers with doctrinal foundation and methods classes on how to teach and integrate the faith. Even when synodically-trained teachers are in short supply, we can seek teachers from within the Lutheran church membership or non-Lutherans that profess a strong Christian faith and are excited to share it.
Staff development Enlist your pastor to teach a “Lutheran 101” session to your staff at the beginning of the school year to provide an overview of what we believe. Schedule brief daily or weekly times of devotion and prayer to support one another as sisters and brothers in Christ. Choose a book about Christian growth to use as a staff book study. All of us are lifelong learners in need of regular feeding from the Word of God.
You may be the only Christian influence the family receives.Touchpoints Watch for milestones in the lives of your children and families to reach out with God’s love and support. Send a note or a small prayer book at the birth of a new baby. Have several copies of a Christian book on hand that helps children deal with the death of a loved one and lend one to families during difficult times. Regularly pray for each child by name at staff devotions and then inform parents you are praying for them and their children by sending them a note. Be prepared to pray with a parent or child going through family transitions such as a divorce, a miscarriage, or even moving to a new home. Connect families with support groups at your church or with Christian counselors as needed. You may be the only Christian influence the family receives.
Build relationships Often an unchurched or de-churched parent is reluctant to attend a worship service for the first time, especially with a congregation of strangers. An early childhood ministry can be deliberate about building trusting relationships and thus building a bridge into the church community: host regular coffee hours at morning drop off, encourage parents to get to know one another at fundraisers (an auction, trivia night, bowling event, cook-off, or even spreading mulch during a Saturday work day). Invite families to attend church family events like “Breakfast in Bethlehem” or an Easter egg hunt that includes a Gospel-themed puppet show where the risen Christ is glorified.
Enlarge your mission team Pastors have an integral role in connecting with early childhood families as they mingle during an open house, lead EC chapels, send letters of information prior to Advent/Christmas or Ash Wednesday services, and reach out during times of family need. Other congregation members can also help by welcoming visiting families to events, greeting them at church, providing children’s coloring sheets or activity bags during worship, and being understanding about having a little extra “chaos” on days that preschoolers sing in church. Older children in the K–8 school can adopt an EC class to read books, play games, sit together in chapel, or do an art project together.
- Which of the ideas above would work best for your organization?
- How might you make one of the ideas “your own”?
- Who can you get to help?
We’re not alone When Jesus said, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:14 ESV), it wasn’t a suggestion. This is our mission in the early childhood classroom. We may often feel unprepared or intimidated for the task, but we can fully rely on the Holy Spirit to work through us each day in our ministry. It has been said “God doesn’t call the qualified. He qualifies the Called.” These are His children, His work, His ministry. He will be with us.
Children will ultimately learn their ABCs and how to count to 10, but we know that now, and in their lives ahead, they will need Jesus. May we joyfully share the Good News of Jesus with each and every precious child—today.
Bev Gruenwald is the Early Childhood Center director at St. Paul’s Lutheran, Des Peres, Missouri.
Photos © iStock/sandsun, Whitney Lewis Photography, ImageSource.