By Sharon Mager
COLUMBIA, Md. —Kris Buckman, the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware’s (BCM/D) children’s ministry consultant, heard a new term at a recent KidMin forum— “White-washed Bibles.” “Have you noticed that most of the images in today’s children’s Bibles are white? Even our storybooks in our classrooms have people in the Bible all depicted as white,” she said.
Buckman facilitated the “Creating an Ethnically Inclusive Kids Ministry” Zoom meeting on June 30, welcoming special guests, Dorena Williamson, a children’s book author, and Kathie Philips, an author and children’s ministry director from Baltimore.
Williamson, a pastor’s wife, wrote the book, “ColorFull,” part of a three-book series. Williamson writes on her website, “The message is this: “Be fully aware of the colors God made! Plants, animals, and especially people – all are created intentionally with color. See it. Celebrate it. Why be, ‘colorblind’ when we can be ‘ColorFull’ instead!” Williamson encouraged kids ministry leaders to take an honest look at their church’s views and potentially unrealized biases.
Pam Jensen, the children’s minister at First Baptist Church of Upper Marlboro in Maryland, has been working in children’s ministries for 30 years and has grown to be very intentional in choosing materials, including multicultural crayons, and making children’s areas representative of a variety of ethnicities.
“You have to look at it with new eyes,” she said and continually evaluate material and supplies. A church member recently brought it to Jensen’s attention that the puzzles they were using did not represent the diversity of the congregation or the area. She was surprised and quickly ordered new puzzles.
Demetra Bennett, who serves as the assistant to the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware’s Church Services team, said that years ago, while she and her husband, Marty, ministered at a mostly Anglo church, they were intentional about diversifying play toys in the nursery, such as dolls, ensuring a mix of ethnicities were represented — not just white or black, but a variety of skin tones.
The couple recently planted Life Connection Church in Severn, a diverse community near Fort Meade, Maryland. Demetra said the church is very intentional in celebrating diversity, including having a multi-ethnic praise team, and a true representation of Bible characters in the teaching curriculum.
Life Connection Church also has an annual “Diversity Day,” a highlight of the year. “We get to celebrate our cultures. It’s not just for youth or parents, but geared for everybody,” she said. “It makes me think of the song, ‘He Reigns,’ by the NewsBoys – ‘Every tribe, every tongue every nation.’” The church incorporates dress, music, and food into the celebration. It’s another way of emphasizing the diversity of God’s people.
“Take a look at yourself, walk through your ministry, and take a good look at walls, books, and Bibles. It’s important for kids to see people that look like them,” Buckman said to children’s ministers and other church leaders.
Here are several tips from the conference:
- Inventory your space and what ethnicities are represented – are all of God’s people represented?
- Don’t forget to examine your ministries’ social media platforms and website. It’s important for kids to see people that look like them in the images we are providing so they’re better able to relate to our teachings.
- Examine your community — “Is your church situated in the heart of a Hispanic community or an Asian community? Educate yourself on the protocols, practices, and traditions of that community,” Buckman stressed. It will help prepare the church for when those from the community visit the church.
- Evaluate your programming – share other cultures and ethnicities with children aside from the traditional “Missions Night” or just once a year.
- Consider your craft supplies — offer various shades of play dough.
- Change the music up every once in a while. Introduce children to praise music created by groups of different ethnicities and show praise music videos depicting a wide range of ethnicities. Play familiar songs in different languages.
- Make sure you have toys that are culturally diverse in your playrooms. Have baby dolls that have all different color skin.
- Incorporate regular discussions about missions and other cultures. Be mindful of the images you’re showing of those “in need.” Are they always the same race? Seek images that depict the fact that there are all kinds of people who need God’s love and are worthy of serving.
- Build a diverse children’s ministry team if possible. If your church culture is such that there currently isn’t much diversity, seek to have culturally diverse guests speak to your kids about ways they are serving locally or globally in God’s name. God uses all kinds of people for all kinds of reasons. You may have someone in your church who represents diversity but isn’t gifted to serve in children’s ministry but might be willing to come and share a testimony or about how they are actively serving God.