Everything was set and ready to go. Stack of Bibles. Activity Pages. Boxes of pencils, scissors, glue—all the paraphernalia needed for the day, the first time my kindergartners and I would meet each other and begin forming our small group. They were new to UpStreet (our elementary program) and so was I: new to the church, new to small groups (most of my experience with children had been of the teacher-class variety), and excited about meeting my kids.

The first one strolled in, hands in his pockets. The greeter at the door walked him over and introduced him: Ethan. He plopped down, lips pursed, a gleam in his big brown eyes. “My dad’s the boss of this church,” he said. I could see his mom at the door, poking her head in to make sure he was settled. I waved to her.

“Really!” I said. “What does your dad do?”

Ethan grinned and shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know, but he tells everyone what to do and they do it.”

Thus began a weekly conversation with Ethan: about his brothers, shenanigans at school, Pokémon, how he got tangled up in the seat belt (they had to cut it to get him out), or whatever else happened to be on his mind at the time. Almost without exception, for four years, he arrived early each Sunday, before the other kids, and we enjoyed 10 or 15 minutes of free-flowing dialogue. On the occasions one of us was absent or I ran in last-minute, I really missed that time with him. It had become special, set apart, a favorite appointment.

A long-time teacher friend of mine had a theory about “divine appointments” between leaders and kids. She believed if you had a difficult child in your group, chances were good God had appointed you that child’s leader because you had something he or she needed. I think that theory may apply to more than difficult cases. Ethan was not hard to get along with, by any means, but I kept that appointment with him as if God had made it. Chances are I wouldn’t have gotten to know him nearly as well otherwise.

I’ve learned to cherish that early arriver time for just that reason: an opportunity to know my kids. Sure, there are other benefits to being early—you’re ready to go, you’re less flustered, parents learn that you’re reliable, you can have that extra cup of coffee—but what tops one-on-one time with a child who wants to tell you something important to him, who wants to connect with you?

Maybe you’re a fan of the “early bird special,” too. Or maybe you connect with your kids in other ways, like asking them good questions and listening closely to the answers, inviting them and their families over for cookouts, or calling them during the week. The point is to take the time, and create the opportunities, to know them, really know them. When we do, they won’t just feel known; they’ll feel loved. Don’t we all need both?

Think about it: “To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.”—Timothy Keller, founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York


What do you do to get to know your kids?

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Melanie Williams

Melanie has taught kids at church for a looong time, has a master's degree in early childhood education, and designed and edited children's curriculum for 20+ years. She now edits books.

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