by Michelle Vincent/ June 30, 2015
As a kids’ pastor for several years, I have learned in order for kids to embrace spiritual truths, they need to feel cared for first. There is a theory about the brain that if information is to be processed, a person must initially feel safe and loved. Most kids work through this progression naturally, yet if faced with a multitude of changes to one’s environment, it may be difficult to overcome. Having been a military kid myself, and now ministering to military kids, I wanted to share some unique obstacles they deal with and how you can help them feel cared for within your kids’ ministry.
Military kids deal with an extreme amount of change. The changes that come with moving are manifold: change of location, culture, house, school, church, and friends. Most encounter only one of these changes at a time or in a lifetime, but military kids endure them all and at the same time, and there’s no getting used to change. To help military kids feel more at ease walking into your kids’ ministry, provide structure, rules, and an environment where they can know immediately what to expect and what is expected of them. One of my axioms as a kids’ pastor was, “You will get what you expect … when your expectations are clear and accountable.” If a military kid understands quickly how things work, a sense of belonging can be developed much sooner.
Military kids deal with constantly being an outsider. A military family is assigned to a base for about 2–4 years. While most kids grow up with their cousins or meet their best friend for life in preschool, military kids don’t have that luxury. They often feel like an intruder in a well-established clique. Ideally, within your kids’ ministry, it is beneficial to have a buddy system in which every new kid is welcomed by another kid his/her age and gender, and who has had age-appropriate training on how to be a friend. This provides a chance for the military kid to be an observer while still belonging to the group. It also helps defeat the feelings of loneliness, allowing a safe initial encounter with potential new friends.
Military kids deal with limited time to be known and involved. They are looking for a place to “plug in” right away to make this new, temporary environment their home. I have observed that military families often become a key part of a church’s volunteer team, if they feel welcomed within the community. Seek out ways to help these military kids feel embraced by remembering their name, asking a few personal questions, and listening to the ideas they have. Then allow them the opportunity to serve using their gifts and talents within your kids’ ministry.Despite the unique obstacles they face, I believe military kids want what most kids want—to know what to expect, to fit in, to be a part of a team—and to overcome the enormity of the obstacles military life provides.