Sam will not behave. He screams, he runs, he’s defiant, he won’t listen. Bottom line – this kid is not cooperating at church! You’re screaming, “Help! What do I do?” Above all, recognize that far, far more important than behavior modification is true heart change. This is a child’s greatest need, and one that can ONLY be filled by Christ’s work on the cross. Pray for the child, and do your part to help him understand who Jesus is and what God has done for him. In the meantime, prayerfully consider what your plan of action might be and think about these ideas:
1. Consistency. Kids need consistency, especially at church. Sally is only at church once or twice a week. Sometimes she misses a Sunday. If each time she comes to church she sees a different authority figure, then why are we surprised when she won’t cooperate? She doesn’t have a relationship with these people, she might not trust them. When leaders are consistent with consistent expectations, it’s a lot easier for kids to understand. They know what to expect and what’s expected of them.
2. Boundaries. We hear this all the time, but what do “boundaries” really mean? During music time, we sing and do motions. During story time, we listen. During an activity, we do the activity. When I served at a church where Sam, the non-cooperative child, came every Sunday, I decided to consistently place my best leader with the most firm boundaries one-on-one with Sam. He fought back at first, but eventually warmed up. He learned that her boundaries were for his own good, that she wanted him to have fun and learn about God, and that he was not allowed to always disobey and do whatever he wanted. Deep down inside, like all of us, he needed boundaries and responded well to them.
3. Parent Involvement. I’ll go out on a limb here and say that many non-cooperative kids refuse to cooperate because they have no consistency or no boundaries at home. Sam might run all over his parents, and they bring him to church knowing they’ll get an hour or two with no parenting required! If possible, ask the parents to consider doing one or two things each week to help the child with both consistency and boundaries.
4. Patience. Don’t expect to snap your fingers and see an instant change. The non-cooperative child requires time, love, and lots of patience. If Sam has no parent involvement, expect this to take even more time. The Lord has promised to equip us in ministry, so continue to seek Him first and pray for an extra dose of patience along the way. I remember leaving church in tears because of my frustration with a non-cooperative child! What kept me going was remembering that the church was likely the only place where he received love, had boundaries, was lead by consistent teachers, and was taught the Gospel.