reflections on running a church toddler group (2)

(For the first post in this mini-series, see here.)

What is it like to run a church toddler group? Let me tell you what it’s like.

It’s like this: on the morning of the group, your husband leaves for work before your kids wake. Your kids wake, and the youngest needs a feed. Rendered incapable of doing anything ‘useful’, you sit and read to your eldest, wondering just when your youngest will have had her fill, as the clock ticks on and the list of things you need to do in order to get everyone out of the house fully dressed gets no shorter.

Eventually the feed ends. There is no time for a shower, let alone make up or straight hair. Yesterday’s clothes are dragged over three tired and mainly unwilling bodies. Breakfast is chomped down at speed. Teeth are cleaned, buggy/scooter/helmet/coat/shoes debacle begins – and ends – and eventually we leave the house. Charging down the street, it becomes apparent that the buggy may have a puncture, although it’s difficult to tell because it’s so laden down with bags – the kids’ lunches, snacks and cake for the group, story props, books for the lending library… Regardless, there is no time to stop – it’s past 8.30 and that’s late enough, although usually we’d still be in our pyjamas at this time.

We arrive at the hall and carry myriad toys, heavy carpets and books down one flight of stairs. We shift chairs, tables and screens. We lay out books, prepare the craft activity, set up for story time. We make drinks, chop up fruit, put out cups and plates of biscuits. I dash off to take the eldest to preschool. At 10 o’clock I’m sweaty and exhausted and feel like I’ve done a day’s work already – but the doors are only just about to open. And open they do – to a swarm of glamorous mums who had time to do their hair and make up, and didn’t sweat through all their layers in order to set up the room. Then it’s two hours of heavy socialising, followed by another 45 minutes spent reversing the work of a couple of sentences ago, in order to make the hall a pleasant place again.

This is, of course, a slight exaggeration (writer’s license) – not all of the above happens every single week, and I’m happy to say the youngest is now weaned. I didn’t mention the incredible buzz that I feel every Tuesday morning: when I first get out of bed, when I leave the house, when I get to the hall, when doors open. Tuesday Tots is an amazing group of parents and carers, and I love every minute we’re there!

But this doesn’t change the simple reflection that running a toddler group is hard graft. Physically, mentally and emotionally, it’s exhausting, humbling and sometimes even demeaning. Why do it? Why serve other mums when we’re struggling enough with our own families?

Recently, I’ve been reading Paul’s letters, and have been struck by how often he refers to hard work – either his own work, or that of others. I’m struck by how much of it seems to be physical graft – it’s not all about preaching and praying – and passages like this one, from 2 Corinthians 6 (using the Message translation), have really encouraged me that our efforts are not in vain:

Our work as God’s servants gets validated—or not—in the details. People are watching us as we stay at our post, alertly, unswervingly . . . in hard times, tough times, bad times; when we’re beaten up, jailed, and mobbed; working hard, working late, working without eating; with pure heart, clear head, steady hand; in gentleness, holiness, and honest love; when we’re telling the truth, and when God’s showing his power; when we’re doing our best setting things right; when we’re praised, and when we’re blamed; slandered, and honored; true to our word, though distrusted; ignored by the world, but recognized by God; terrifically alive, though rumored to be dead; beaten within an inch of our lives, but refusing to die; immersed in tears, yet always filled with deep joy; living on handouts, yet enriching many; having nothing, having it all.

If you’re involved in a ministry which just feels like hard work, perhaps these verses will encourage you too. Just imagine the impact that your lifting and carrying, pushing and pulling, setting up and packing down, could be having in eternity. When we’re feeling at our weakest, our generous God gives us His strength and energy. When we choose to give this back in service to others, they see His grace towards them. They see the God who created the universe, yet washes our feet. And this may just change their lives. Let’s believe it!

6 Replies to “reflections on running a church toddler group (2)”

  1. Tuesday morning is probably the only morning where I don’t mind waking up (as a student, mornings tend not to exist unless I need to sit through a lecture counting down the seconds until I can go back home to bed!). The group is amazing and totally worth it. Even if I am aware that I will be at the hall in less than 9 hours and awake in less than 8.

    1. Thanks Kerry – I feel the same! Glad you enjoy it too 🙂 I think when God puts something on our heart, we don’t mind the hard work involved, although that doesn’t mean that it’s always easy. I definitely have my grumbling moments!

      1. If we didn’t want to do it and God didn’t want us to do it, he wouldn’t give us the motivation to get up in the morning time, or spend our time off preparing things for the group. It’s obvious that even though we have our grumbling moments it is something that we want to do and that God wants us to do

  2. How have I only just seen this post?! (WordPress tells me I get instant updates from your blog. It lies!) Anyhoo, what a wonderfully honest and authentic expression this is of the weekly challenge of opening our wonderful group to the public each week! God is soooo good and I’m sure if we weren’t seeking his face for the success of this group, we’d have foundered long ago, because the pitfalls you describe eg getting toddlers into town at silly o’clock could potentially be terribly limiting for us. (One friend who planned to come to the group for the first time thought she had the time of the group wrong because her husband had reported seeing me and Freddie on lendal bridge at 8.30am – so I think another aspect of “hard graft” ministries is that people you’re serving sometimes don’t realise how much you put in.) My mum thinks this ministry is beneath me, my in-laws never speak to me about it. Thank you so so much for these verses which encourage me to take the long view (and give examples of immeasurably worse things other Christians are subjected to in the name of serving Jesus! Sobering thought.) I would like to add another verse you gave me once: ‘Throw yourselves into the work of the Master, confident that nothing you do for him is a waste of time or effort’. (1 Cor 15:58). Amazing – NOTHING we do for him is a waste of time or effort! We have seen so much good fruit borne already through the toddler group – so here’s to getting our hands dirty and loving people! X

    1. My parents like to joke that the reason I like the group so much is because its all at my mental age! They are probably right but I love doing it. Even with just doing the creche so that a few mums can do Alpha, I don’t mind it, I actually enjoy it. I’m rubbish at the socializing with adults but I’ll happily sit and entertain a drooling baby for a kid going through the terrible 2’s!

      I surpose I’m lucky in the sense that I don’t have to run around getting everyone else ready in the morning. I’ve only got myself to get up and ready and I really feel for you guys cause sometimes I have to fight with myself to get out of bed and get washed and dressed and down to the hall on time, let alone having to get other people ready in the morning as well.

      I think that what you guys have done over the past year and a half is amazing. I’m sure it has been hard work and stressful and shattering (I’m shattered by the end of the morning!) and you kids have been amazing through it all so a well done to them! I think that you guys have got amazing kids that are happy to wander off and play whilst you’re setting up the hall and that’s great cause its one less stress. Seeing how much you kids have come on in the group as well as other kids just shows how well the group is going and how much people value it. We may not go home looking glamorous (Easier to turn up looking like a scruff then it can’t really go down hill!) but your kids have had a great time and all the hard work, time and energy has done something good!

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