Gary Chapman – Loving the Hurting Child

Child Development / Leadership / Ministries / Spiritual Formation //

Recently I had the privilege of talking with Dr. Gary Chapman on the subject of showing love to the children in your ministry.

Gary Chapman, PhD, is the author of the bestselling The 5 Love Languages series, which has sold more than 9 million worldwide and has been translated into 49 languages. Dr. Chapman travels the world presenting seminars on marriage, family, and relationships, and his radio programs air on more than 400 stations. He lives in North Carolina with his wife, Karolyn. For more information Dr. Chapman is Senior Associate Pastor at Calvary Baptist Church, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, a church with an active Awana program.

The Five Love Languages of a Clubber?

Well, not really … but sort of.

Here’s what he had to say.

1. What do you think is the biggest hindrance to strong family relationships in today’s culture?

I think there are several.

First, I would say busyness. Everyone is involved in activities. Many of those activities are good, but they take up time otherwise spent on the family.

Second, addiction … alchohol, drugs … any kind of addiction disrupts the family.

Third (and maybe the biggest) is selfishness. In some ways we are all self-centered and that’s good because that’s what motivates us to feed ourselves and otherwise take care of ourselves. But there’s a big difference between self-centered in taking care of ourselves and self-centeredness when we look at life as “What am I getting out of this?” Wives do this – they accuse their husbands of not meeting “MY” needs.

2. Awana leaders work with more than 2,000,000 children/teens a week and many of those children come from broken, abusive or unloving homes. How can a leader (or ministry worker) show God’s love to those kids when he only has one or two hours a week to do so?  How can that short amount of time compensate for living in an dysfunctional home?

First, the leader needs to believe he can make a difference. Every adult who encounters a child makes an impact – sometimes good and sometimes bad, but it is an impact.  So, leaders/children’s ministry workers need to believe that they can make a good impact.

Second, as you get to know the children, figure out their love language. (Dr. Chapman’s love languages include: touch, words, quality time, gifts and service.)Respond to that child’s love language. Of course, you have more than one child in your group, but you also have more than one adult.

Research has shown that the more a child feels love, the more he’s open to learning.

3. What is the key to communication with kids?

The key issue is to ask questions. For instance, when a child shows you a picture he’s drawn, you can say, “That’s nice,” but that doesn’t introduce conversation until you learn what they are thinking and feeling. But when you ask them “What were you thinking when you drew that?” or “How did you feel when you were drawing that?”  – the child will tell you things you never dreamed would be in his  head.

To me that’s a key issue when it comes to communication with children – asking questions that tell you about their thoughts and their feelings  – and then you can have a meaningful response to that as an adult. But if you don’t know what’s going on in his head, you don’t have a conversation. You can influence her and give them positive words, but you don’t have a conversation with her.

One word can make a difference. When Jesus encountered Simon, he said: (John 1:42) “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter). And Peter, of course, means “rock.” He saw the potential in Simon.

We can look for potential in the children and verbalize it to them. What we say can deeply influence a child.

When my son was young an older lady said to him, “You have the gift of words. I wish I would live long enough to see how you use that gift.” My son is now an adult and has never forgotten that lady’s statement.

God uses our words.

4. We talk about our loving, heavenly Father, but to many kids a father isn’t loving. How do we teach kids God’s love?

This is a rather common problem, of course. We teach by contrast. We do this anyhow. We teach about good and evil. We teach by contrast comparing our heavenly Father with our earthly father and talk about the characteristics of God and what He is (as our Father) and what He does for us as our Father.

Sometimes our earthly fathers do some of these things and sometimes they don’t. They aren’t God. We have earthly fathers and we have a heavenly Father. So I think contrasting our earthly fathers with our heavenly Father is the best way to help that child get a picture in their head of who our heavenly Father is.

5. How do we help kids/teens who face chaos in their homes to trust us? How do we help them feel safe?

What we’ve talked about all ready – loving the child in a language the child understands, expressing interest in the child and her thoughts and feelings. All that goes a long way in helping a child trust you as a teacher. I think in terms of making them feel safe, we (as leaders) must guard our own anger because sometimes we come across as angry or harsh. Failing to recognize that this child gets this at home all the time and now they just get more of it here – they don’t feel safe at home and now they don’t feel safe here. We have to handle out anger. That doesn’t mean we can’t correct a child because we can. But when we do,  we should wrap it love – their love language. If you give them a positive word, they’re more apt to receive that correction.

And when we do fail, we need to go back as quickly as we can and apologize to the child and ask forgiveness for raising our voice. They need to learn from our model and to learn how to apologize.

Thank you, Dr. Chapman, for sharing your thoughts with us.





About the Author

Life is about my love for the Lord and teaching kids about His Word; about serving at Awana (20 years); about collecting counties (every county we visit is marked on a giant map) and grandkids (6) --- and writing about it all. My latest book is How to Raise a Modern-Day Joseph (David C. Cook).