Behavior Problems & Gospel-Centered Ministry

Which of these kids do you have in your ministry?

The kid who is always talking back.

The kid who repeatedly disrupts the lesson.

The kid who can’t keep his hands to himself.

The kid who just can not sit still.

All of the above?

An old quotation attributed to Benjamin Franklin claims that the two certain things in life are death and taxes. Obviously, Mr. Franklin did not serve in kidmin. When you work with kids week in and week out, it is also a certainty that you will encounter behavioral issues of some variety. No matter how fun, creative, and theologically sound your lessons are, you will run into the kids above. Why? Because you are dealing with kids.

I’ve taught on behavior management for years. As a former classroom teacher, this has always been a topic that is important to me. I recognize that kids can learn better when they are fully engaged in appropriate ways. When kids are learning better, they have the potential to better connect with Jesus in our environments.

Just recently I had a sort of “a-ha” moment. I was preparing a breakout session for the Etch Conference next week. I was researching the reasons kids misbehave and came across the “Four Mistaken Goals of Misbehavior” as identified by Dr. Rudolf Dreikurs. He identifies these four goals as: 

  • Undue attention – a child is seeking the attention of adults or other kids to fill a need in his own heart. 
  • Misguided power – a child is trying to gain control and be in charge at some level. 
  • Revenge – a child has been hurt and is trying to hurt back
  • Assumed inadequacy – a child believe she just doesn’t measure up and will try to cover that up through misbehavior or by disengaging.

These four ideas made a whole lot of sense to me. I have always taught that every misbehavior has a “why” behind it. These mistaken goals identify four possible and very real “why’s”.

Then it hit me.

There is only one answer to these mistaken goals. Only the gospel can fully address and heal these hurts and desires. Every single one of these goals of misbehavior is a discipleship answer. The world does not have lasting answers for these problems. Only Jesus does.

And that, my friends, is why understanding how to manage behavior in kidmin is so very important. At this stage in children’s lives, behavior management is a very real part of discipleship.

I am not saying that we teach kids to behave so that they can be right with God. That is not the gospel. (That is however what inadvertently shows up a lot in our church behavior management styles).  What I am saying is that every point of behavior management is an opportunity for discipleship.

  • A child seeking undue attention must learn that they have a God who is always paying attention (Job 7:17). Through the gospel they can learn the beauty of saying of Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” Our selfish nature tells us that all attention must be on us, but the gospel teaches how to lose ourselves in the security of a Savior who gave Himself up for us.
  • A child who is struggling for power can learn that she doesn’t have to. Her life is in the hands of the One who created the whole universe and whose power is unlimited.
  • A child who is seeking revenge due to a wounded heart can learn that the gospel shows that that God gives us “more grace” (James 4:6) and that Jesus took the wrath for our sins. We have been shown grace and can show grace.
  • A child who assumes he is inadequate needs the gospel to show him how dearly loved he is, created in the image of God. Any adequacy we have is from God (2 Cor. 3:5) and we are secure in that through Christ, rather than trying to be perfect on our own.

I get these are kind of deep, theological thoughts when you may just want to know how to stop kids from throwing pencils at each other.

However, we can allow these truths to revolutionize how we deal with behavior in our ministries.

Maybe grace can replace frustration. Maybe instruction can occur hand-in-hand with consequences. Maybe a bigger perspective can aid the temporary annoyance. Maybe we can see discipline issues as discipleship opportunities. Maybe we can maintain our sanity when we remember that God can even use problem behaviors to bring kids closer to Him.





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