If you love children and have a burden for their souls, Children ministry can be the best place to serve in the church. For me it’s the honesty and wisdom in their prayers, the way their faces become rapt and eyes light up as they listen to a Bible story, how easy they please, and the things that they find funny.Not to mention the childish jokes, disarming smiles and infectious giggles, neck embraces and their bravado as they stand in front of the congregation and say their memory verses with no reservations.
These experiences with kids who love the Lord can clutch at your heart in a way that no other ministry does. That’s the amazing part of children ministry.
But it’s not just about candy cotton, cherubic smiles and cute babies. You will find the real ministry challenges exists, and they exist in the leadership hat you’re about to put on and wear for the next 12 months.
In this post, I will share with you 10 hard truths, survival tips or nuts and bolts advice about leading childrenen ministry. I learnt these in between a number of hits and misses in which I evolved from being a rookie children ministries leader to a ministry-wise one. I don’t think you will find some of these in the church manual or children ministry handbook.
These valuable tips I’ll explain below will help you weather the journey you are about to take on in your joyous, dynamic and sometimes, trying role as a first time children ministry leader.
1. Rely on the power of God. “No ministry or programme can compete with God’s power working in and through you as he gives you a passion for children and you give him a pure heart.” These are the wise words of youth ministry writer, Doug Fields, best selling author of Purpose Driven Youth Ministry who goes on to advise ministry workers to prioritise how to be a person of God over doing the work of God. A healthy children ministry begins when you take seriously and anchor the power of God in your spiritual life. Make this dependency the most integral component of your children ministry. It’s all too easy to create attractive programmes, but leaders who like the hype more than they like and rely on God will quickly fail. Never forget this one. Know God first and build your ministry’s framework on Him.
2. Gear up for the spiritual challenges that come with the hat you now wear as ministry leader, for the bigger your vision and the more passionate you are, the higher your risk of becoming Satan’s target. He will attack you from all angles and in all aspects of your life with volleys of spirit-crippling cannon balls aimed at knocking you off your feet. The devil also wears church hats and suits too, just so you know. The important thing to remember going into 2015 is that Jesus Himself encountered his own share of team divisiveness and other obstacles in his ministry, yet he never gave up. Dig your toes in no matter what Satan throws at you. If there’s a kink in your armour or a soft spot in your heart, he will find and use it for your downfall. Take heed then to Paul’s advice in Ephesians 6:14 (ESV) which says, “Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place.” Only with God’s armour on will you sustain your commitments in the year ahead.
3. Team up with parents for a family-friendly children ministry. Purpose Driven Youth Ministry recommends this as ‘vital’ for youth leaders to understand. He advises that leaders of youth/teens recognize that their role in the teen’s life as ‘helpful’, but a parent’s role as ‘crucial’ and God-given. A healthy ministry has a healthy relationship with parents, Fields says. This is sage advice for those who minister to children as well. Make a conscientious attempt to meet parents, memorize their names, invite them to be volunteers and the experienced ones to be teachers, and spend time with them. Parents, especially those with adolescents have many concerns and fears. Ask them what they are afraid of and listen to them, Fields writes. Meet with them at least once a quarter or plan small groups for parents only. you’ve probably heard of parent ministry support groups such as POTT (Parents of Tiny Totts), or POTs (Parents of Teens). Explore support/fellowship groups for the parents you have. You might also wish to collaborate with your church’s Family Life Ministry on this.
Also be sensitive to family priorities. In other words, respect parent curfews and family rules and never encourage kids to break them. For example, never take children out without parents’ consent. Get those consent forms home and signed.
Design family programmes and facilitate family fun times for families all throughout the year.
Encourage teachers to maintain safe, positive and friendly interactions with children. Read the church’s Risk management policy about safe touch and screening of ministry workers to help you keep sex offenders away from your ministry.
Another sure-fire way to build relationships with your parents is to from time to time praise their children. Tell Mark’s mom how well Mark reads and answers questions in class; how kind and helpful Janeil is to her other kindergarten classmates or what a delight Brenda is. Parents value that. If you want parents on your team, genuinely care about their children.
4. Recruit Cheerleaders. Loyal parents are not the only fans you’ll need to cultivate as a children ministry leader however. Surround yourself with other people who will cheer you on when you need support. Find cheerleaders amongst your more influential church elders, your ministry team, and family members. Additionally, do not underestimate what a popularity vote from the children you serve can do for your ministry. Love and show interest in your kids, especially your teens (they’re hardest to win over) and they will throw some love and loyalty back at you. A bunch of cheerleaders will make your job easier when you need a morale boost or approval for a programme in a Board or team meeting. Don’t be aloof. Make friends. Share your vision with them. Get constructive criticism from them firsthand so you can anticipate what’s ahead and use the constructive feedback you receive to tweak your ideas or improve your stance or arguments. Ensure you reciprocate the support when they have a great idea too. Moreover, approach your ministry with passion and purpose and you’ll attract the right cheerleaders without too much effort on your part.
5. Lead from the front with pureness of heart. Work with your assistants, give them enough to do, and give them a chance to share in the ministry in a real way, but never, ever let go of the reins or you could be undermined by those with divisive aspirations and have your leadership called into question.
Sounds like an inappropriate political statement not fit for the context of church, right? Think again.
As the church moves into the 21st century and secularism in the church increases and standards falter, leadership in many of our churches are becoming more political and contentious. However, you don’t have to join the bandwagon, just be aware church politics and corruption among Christians exists just as sure as sin exists in the mortal body. Assert yourself as a spiritually healthy leader, not a power hungry one. Remember whose bride the church is. It will never belong to any of us. So while you enjoy your serving tenure, put a succession plan in place to prepare and train your team members to take up opportunities to serve the next time church election comes around. Don’t get attached to any church post. Lead your ministry by following God, not competing with him for dominance.
6. Plan and communicate your purpose, values and activities effectively and efficiently. Plan events regularly and way in advance, and share your plans with team members and relevant persons so plans can get out of the pipeline and into effect. Monthly meetings are the routine in many ministries. Use an agenda, and if possible calendar meetings the same day each month, like every fourth Sunday or Thursday in the month to encourage consistency.
What communication channels will you use in your ministry? Are they appropriate, effective and efficient for your audience, message and circumstances? Make sure you answer these questions to help you devise a useful communication strategy.
Send in your bulletins early to your communication leader so they can be announced within the given deadlines. If folks are okay with email use email, or if you have the resources, create a monthly Parents Update (newsletter) to keep parents in the know. Collect and create phone and email contacts early in the year and send group messages. Use social media to increase connections.
Also communicate regularly and clearly. Most parents like to be informed about events way ahead of time. You may find that you have to plan around family scheduled Summer and December vacations, for example.
Once you’ve defined your planned values — all the things that are important to your ministry, values such as acceptance, numerical growth, a relational approach, and professionalism — communicate these clearly to all your ministry stakeholders and ask your ministry team especially to learn them until they know them by heart.
Present yourself and ministry professionally to parents, church elders and other adults in the church. If they see that you know what you are doing, they are more likely to respect you and get involved with their time and resources.
Speak up at Board meetings and follow meeting etiquette. If you fail to assert the importance of your ministry or act professionally, prepare to be side-lined. Some folks do not feel that children ministry deserves any attention or be taken seriously. Your report can easily be relegated to the bottom of the agenda. That’s not where you want to be if you want to be heard.
If your pastor has long meetings, members will suddenly have to leave when it’s your time to present, which means you have to cut short your presentation or leave things dangling for the next meeting. Call the church clerk/secretary and ask to be placed near the top of the reports on the agenda early to avoid this.
7. Find friends of the ministry. Court and establish a resources team and a prayer team as supports for your ministry’s financial and spiritual goals. Volunteers are necessary for the sustainability of your ministry. You’ll need them to paint the walls in your children’s classroom, teach at VBS, help sell tickets or collect books for your book ministry from the community. Give a list of things the ministry needs to the persons who form your resources team when you want to borrow things: a tent for overnight camp, an igloo to store ice or serve drinks at VBS, a van to take the Pathfinders to camp, a home for small group meeting. Form your teams early. Send thank you notes, return loaned items in good condition and treat members of this team well and you’ll retain them for your next project.
8. Learn how to become an avid fund raiser and resources manager. Many churches have tightened their belts due to the harsh economic times that have imposed itself on its members. Present a deliverable budget that reflects in a practical way your church’s Treasury, and leave the six-figure budgets for those who attend a cash-rich mega church. At my church, I use a budget document which has a fundraising column that itemises how every dollar spent can be redeemed back into the church’s Treasury. The reality is that ice cream sales, fundraising movie nights and bottle drives are where 80 percent of the money you will need for your quarterly birthday party and other children ministry events are going to come from. As mentioned in number 5, you’ll need committed friends who are willing to share their means to your ministry. Create a valid, inobtrusive and systematic fundraising programme that won’t compete with the church’s programme, and that will rely equally ( if not more) on external donors as much as congregants for raising your funds.
9. Design a purpose-driven strategy. Reach, disciple and nurture children where they are and help them advance through the rungs of the Sabbath School and the church to become ministry leaders themselves. For example, the purpose driven model purported by Fields suggests there are five audiences into which your ministry can group people and features significantly in formula he recommends works best in fulfilling your ministry purposes:
- community students (those uncommitted to attending church and live with driving distance of the church).
- crowd students (those who come to weekend services and fill out an information card);
- congregation students are those who have give their lives to Christ through baptism.
- Field describes committed students as those who are committed to developing spiritual habits such as personal Bible study, prayer, accountability with another believer and so on.
- Core students who discover their giftedness and want to express it through ministering to others are the inner and final circle in the concentric circle he uses to present the groups visually
Fields recommends that each group be pursued with a different purpose in mind. These purposes he refers to are what we accept as the five purposes of the Christian church: evangelism, worship, fellowship, discipleship and ministry. Based on the purpose-driven framework, evangelism strategies will work to effectively move community students into the crowd. Once a part of the crowd, crowd kids needs fellowship programmes to deepen their connection to the church community and move them through the spiritual process into the congregation stage where your discipleship programmes will strengthen their knowledge of God and start building their faith. The undergirding principle of the model is that as students move towards the Core, you should match their spiritual needs with a purpose-driven programme.
To get a clear picture of what each commitment level looks like and relate students to their respective levels, Fields suggests using the formula, potential audience + purpose = programme. For example, community students + purpose of evangelism= New Yea’s Eve programme. A pretty neat and structured way to come up with programmes that will get you results in your ministry, don’t you think?
Fields explains how the strategy works in much more depth in his book, Purpose Driven Youth Ministry.
10. Follow the health message . I started this article expounding on the importance of keeping up spiritually. But leading a ministry can create wear and tear on much more than the soul. Hence my final survival tip for staying on course: monitoring and maintaining your physical, mental and emotional health. In between nurturing church life, your work and family life can put a load of stress on your shoulders and lead to burnout if not managed properly. Don’t forget to nurture your own spirit in order to stay enthusiastic for the course. Rest, exercise and eat well, balance your workloads, find time to play, stay connected to God and share your blessings with those around you who need help. Laugh and tap into your inner child. This will put some vitality into your step and maintain healthy leadership. A stressed leader is leadership fail waiting to happen. You won’t be any good to yourself, your family or the ministry God appointed you to watch over. Watch your health.
Now these 10 secrets to survival has been exposed, which one are you glad you now know or were reminded of? Is there any you think should not be on the list? Share your comments below.