This week, I am on vacation so I have invited some of my friends and colleagues in ministry to write a few articles about their experiences with children’s ministry. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I have.
Today’s post is from Dustin Rader. Dustin is the Children’s Pastor at East Somerset Baptist Church in Somerset, Kentucky. He has 11 years of ministry experience ranging from Missionary Assistant, to Student Pastor, to Lead Pastor, and now Children’s Pastor. You can follow him on Twitter @DustinRader or follow his blog at dustinrader.com.
For the past three years, my wife and I have been on a grand adventure. We haven’t crossed the ocean, we haven’t travelled across the country, we haven’t banded together with hobbits to take the ring to Mordor. We have been in children’s ministry. To be more accurate, I am a Children’s Pastor and she’s along for the ride. After eleven years in ministry (we’ve been married for eight of those) I can safely say that my biggest challenge has been children’s ministry.
It is a tough job. It’s not for those who are weary or weak stomached, because you will clean up plenty of mystery messes. It’s not for the faint of heart, because the children will definitely do something to scare you to the point of heart failure. Most of all, it is not for those who take themselves too seriously. It’s not for those who live and die by the numbers, nor is it for those who could care less about them. This ministry is a delicate balancing act that involves many variables. If any one of those variables gets thrown off it can be detrimental to the cause.
Here are three lessons that I have learned, which can throw off the balance unless you tightly grasp hold of their reigns:
1. Recruit, Recruit, Recruit
Our church recently went through a rough patch where we lost a sizable amount of our funding and resources, but the most devastating part was losing a large portion of our congregation. When that happens you lose volunteers, and volunteers make or break a children’s ministry.
The biggest struggle I’ve faced is finding and empowering quality volunteers who are willing to go the extra mile to make our children’s ministry the best it can be. Now, don’t get me wrong, we have great volunteers, but many of them work in Sunday School, Nursery, our Children’s Church, Awana, and serve in other areas of the Church. The last thing that I want to do is lead any of them toward a burnout. The only way to combat this is to find more volunteers. However, this isn’t a job that you can step into just because you are willing. There has to be more than just a willing heart.
Search for those in your midst who have the skills necessary to work in each area. Find your schoolteachers, your daycare employees, your bus drivers, your stay at home moms, or your nurses. Find people who work well with children and plug them into jobs where they have the skills necessary to be successful and if you have a first timer who really has no idea what to do, pair them with someone who does. There’s nothing worse than placing someone in a position where they will quickly find themselves over their heads and have no sense of direction. Give them every opportunity to succeed and empower them to take control of their job and make it the best it can be.
2. Training is Essential
Volunteers, who are well trained, will more than likely find success in what they’re doing. Volunteers, who have never been trained, will likely lose their way, get lost in the shuffle, and find themselves wondering, “Why did I sign up for this?”
This is a lesson I learned the hard way. Two years ago we changed up our curriculum for our Eastkids program (Children’s Church). We chose to go with The Gospel Project: For Kids, from Lifeway. It is a great curriculum and has completely changed the way we look at children’s ministry. However, I was still new to the children’s ministry game. I didn’t really know what I was doing yet, so I wasn’t sure how to train our volunteers. We stumbled through the first few months and slowly, but everyone began to catch on to the vision and we witnessed amazing results. Those first few months were a struggle though. We were unprepared and disorganized. The fault lies with me alone, which leads me to my next point. You Must Seek Quality Training for Yourself.
Go to as many conferences as you can, read as many children’s ministry blogs as you can, use Twitter as an avenue to network with other children’s ministry workers, and seek a quality education that can propel you toward success. Every conference may not be for you, but giving them a try can never hurt. If you are well trained, you will be better equipped to train your volunteers.
3. Slow Down, Evaluate, and Have Fun Doing It
“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” (Matthew Broderick, Ferris Beuller’s Day Off, 1986)
The hustle and bustle of ministry can suck the life right out of you and your home. When that happens your ministry loses life and much needed momentum. The hardest lesson for myself has definitely been to learn to slow down. I get so caught up in finding new ways of doing things and getting involved in more and more areas of ministry that I forget to stop and appreciate what God has blessed me with. It leads me to stress and dissatisfaction, which drains me of the energy needed to lead effectively.
Every now and then you need to take a breather. Find someone else who can teach the lesson, sit back, and enjoy the break. This gives you the opportunity to see the program from a different angle. It allows you to evaluate the effectiveness of yourself and your volunteers and it gives you the chance to see things through the eyes of your kids. Take these opportunities to worship alongside of your kids instead of leading them. Show them what it means to sit still for a minute and listen to a lesson. Be a part of the fun not just a facilitator of fun.
In no way will these three tips lead to immediate success, but they have helped me and hopefully they will help you too. Have you learned any leadership lessons the hard way? Share your experience below in the comment section!