You’ve just been elected for the first time as Children Ministry Coordinator/Leader at your local church.
You’re halfway through the first month of the new year, and you’re holding back a panic attack as you ask for the umpteenth time, God, why did I sign up for this, again?
You have responsibilities you need to start executing. Already your assistant keeps calling and asking when you can meet. You don’t want your first impression as a leader to portray a numbskull at the early stages of the learning curve.
Nothwithstanding that, you did very well teaching the Kindergarteners Sabbath School class last year and didn’t do a bad job with your craft class at Vacation Bible School for the last two years, plus you love children and they love you.
You’re refusing to take consolation even from that. That’s different, bigger, you argue. Now, you have an entire ministry with people you have to supervise and programmes to plan, and something called a proposal/plans for the year which you need to submit at the Board Meeting in the next week.
What does a strategic proposal or calendar of events even look like?
Is there a book or handbook or guide that will show you how it’s done, kind of hold your hand until you get it?
Yes, yes, yes. Rein in your melodramatic horses and stop panicking. Where there is a will, there is a way, and in this post I’ll show you eight tools and resources that can teach, guide and empower you with all you need to organise and run a vibrant ministry.
I promise if you take my advice to heart, you will change your status from clueless children ministries leader to confident Children ministries leader. Let’s get started.
1. God is your ultimate Source. Always start with prayer when you are asked to do something for the Lord. He is the Source of strength you need. He’ll clarify your vision and empower you. Read His Word. There are answers and examples there. So, before we go any further, repeat the Psalm below now. Try to memorise it and in future, whisper it to yourself when next you feel overwhelmed by your challenges. Watch how quickly you’ll lose anxiety and regain your confidence. Don’t you feel better already? Remember leadership is not about you. Keep Christ as the leader. Walk in his footsteps. He’ll show you how to lead.
Let’s start first with a source that is within reach but which you may be overlooking:
2. SWOT the Predecessor.
Get it from the ‘horse’s mouth. Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.
As cliché as that sounds, the children ministries leader you’re taking over from can be that vital first source of information right under your nose. He/she has knowledge borne out of the experience. Even if it’s just a year’s worth, the inside information he or she has is still more than you know at this point in time. So, grab your notepad and pen and shoot. Er… questions, of course.
Ask the 5 Ws and H questions that are the proven information-fetchers to use when seeking information: WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, WHY, and HOW.
- Models. You need models of what things look like, so ask to see templates and samples of the materials used by the ministry: budget, calendar of events, proposal, teaching schedules, any documents used in the ministry.
- Do Inventory. This is a good way to feel out first-hand what facilities the ministry owns. Or doesn’t.
- Post-mortem the Programmes. Ask, ‘What programmes and activities would you recommend I continue because they were such raving successes? And if they don’t mind sharing, find out which programmes got stuck in the pipeline and never saw the light of day, and the reasons why.) Don’t forget to ask for advice or lessons worth sharing from these ‘mishaps’. This could prevent you from making the same mistakes.
- Ask for Recommendations. Ask who and what worked, what didn’t and why. Much like your intentions above, you’re trying to get an idea of the best approaches you can borrow, and what and who to avoid if you are going to run a successful ministry. A little snooping could also get the leader to namedrop some references (like who were the workers and who were the shirkers). Remember, your intention is not to seek fodder for gossip, you’re having a leader- to- leader discussion for the purpose of FYI (for your information) only. Classified information. Get it?
- Get a profile of your young charges. Getting the inside information about the children in the ministry (size of classes, attendance and behaviour patterns, children with special gifts, those whose parents attend church and those who come alone), and hearing it straight from the horse’s mouth is priceless information you won’t find in a manual, but can help you do the quick SWOT of your ministry.
The predecessor interview is just the kind of head start you need. (Bet the wheels in your mind are starting to turn already.)
So call up your predecessor now and explain what you want to accomplish.
One down. Now hit the ground running and don’t let go off the ball.
3. Read the Handbook for Children Ministers
Some may argue that this should be your Plan A. I’d say, go with the one which best suits your circumstances. If for some unfortunate reason your predecessor has been hard to pin down or non- cooperative, and you need to find some other source fast, then by all means, grab the book and teach yourself what you need to know. Otherwise, doing both sources simultaneously will give you some great perspective fast.
Which leads us to the pressing question? What source is this and where do you find it. It’s a handbook for Children’s Ministries. Yes, one does exist. The General Conference Children Ministry Department offers a really valuable guide entitled, The Children’s Ministries Coordinator: A Step by Step Guide for Organizing Children’s Ministries in the Local Church. This downloadable resource is available as a PDF book, and the site gives you the option of downloading it chapter by chapter.
Within its 59 pages are step by step guidelines, printable templates, examples and answers to the critical questions about how to get started organising and running your ministry. It the ready blueprint children ministries leaders need.
The vision and philosophy of Children ministry is clarified, as is the To-dos of organising your ministry: from how to create a calendar of events for the year, ministry activities ideas, how and who to choose for your committee, how to set up your budget (a godsend for some of you if you don’t know the first thing about writing a budget) to its additional reading index and FAQs with links to website, this resource is a must-read for all first time Children Ministry Coordinators and a great reference for even veterans in ministry doing a periodic fact check.
Take time to read through the chapters and share it with members of your team.
TIP: To save yourself paper and printing costs, upload and share it as a Google document (Google doc) on your Google Drive so it can be accessible to whoever you want to share it with. If you’ve never shared a Google Doc before, here are easy instructions.
4. Comb through the Church Calendar of Special Events
At the start of the year, many conferences publish a calendar of events for church officers which also outlines the strategic emphases of its various departments. You’ll need to integrate or sync the dates on the conference calendar with your ministry calendar of events for the year.
Since we are one church, it makes sense for the administration’s vision, philosophy and strategic emphases to be intertwined into your Strategic Plan or Proposal. Check in with your church clerk or communication secretary to find out if they received a Calendar of Events for Children Ministry and any other communication from your local conference. Central Jamaica readers or anyone who is curious may use this link to download or have a look at our 2015 Calendar of Special Days and Events at the Central Jamaica Conference website.
Comb through each month on your printed schedule and use a highlighter to mark off your ministry events. You can then create your own calendar using Google calendar or as a Google Doc file. One advantage of using Google docs is that you’ll be able to easily share your documents with team members like those on your committee, your Pastor or anyone with internet connection and a Google account. You can also make your documents editable if you want others to collaborate and give feedback on a document.
TIP: It’s best to create a post as a Google Doc, rather than uploading a Word Doc to Google. Sometimes if you take the latter route, the person invited to edit can’t edit even if you tell the doc to allow him or her to do so.
5. Attend Church Officers Retreats.
Attend your Church Officers retreat planned by the Conference for your church district. This usually occurs in January. Again check with the person who receives bulletins from the Conference. That may be the church clerk, communication secretary, an Elder assigned to your ministry or the Pastor of your church. At the retreat you can ask questions of your Conference representatives in attendance. The Break Out sessions at these Retreats are organised as workshop forums for children ministry leaders to collaborate, brainstorm and share ideas and plans so chime in and ask your burning questions or use the opportunity to collect contact details from fellow leaders who you’d like to connect with for help, counsel or emotional support. So get that date into your calendar right away.
6. World Wide Web Repositories for Resources
Once you’ve got the framework for how you will run the ministry and what should be in your plan, you’ll need Resources. An important concern for any ministry leader has got to be resources. Resources breathe life into ministry, especially one aimed at saving young people and children. The Coordinator’s guide addresses this in this thought- provoking quote:
“We need to use our resources to instill an exciting faith in children now. Many teens have grown disinterested in faith because of their church experiences as children. If we spend more time and money creating exciting children’s ministries, perhaps the excitement would carry over.”
Having presided over a cash-strapped ministry, I quickly learnt to seek out freebies where I could find them. Whenever I need free information or resources for my children ministry, I usually head to my beloved Google and the vast repository of information it leads me to.
In other words, use your search engine to learn about how other churches in your country or even other countries are doing children ministry. There are tons of children ministry websites out there now. These may be hosted by churches or online magazines.
Unfortunately, except for conference web sites, our Church does not have a huge presence on the web, particularly for children ministry, though I must recognise GraceLink, SSNet and KidsZone, and Adventist Mission which have some wonderful lessons, ideas and resources you can take time to explore.
Without a doubt, you’ll find far more resources from other ecumenical church websites than exists under our church banners. but as long as the theological standpoints do not conflict with your church’s, go ahead and use them. I notice that the General Conference website feels the same way. If you click on Links on their Home page, you’ll see what I mean.
Then there are blogs and social media sites like Pinterest. If real to life answers and solutions are what you are looking for, look for children ministry blogs like this one. These are written by ministry leaders like you who are in the trenches, face similar challenges as you do and know what ministry is about. Check out some of my earlier posts where I share ministry ideas and resources that can be used to revamp your Children Sabbath School. A couple of the most popular websites can be found at the back of the coordinators handbook I mentioned at the top of this post, but here are a few others that are worth a mention as well:
- Kids Sunday School Place From teaching aids to managing behaviour, this online site which I recently discovered provides really great help for children ministry leaders and teachers to make not only your Sabbath School but other ministry programmes more impactful. Not all the resources are free. The site recommends membership to access all its resources, but there are enough freebies you can still access that makes them deserving of a visit. Did I mention that that it’s chockful of creative ideas and resources. It’s a great find if you’re looking for ministry activities, skits, story telling tips, VBS know-how and so much more. Your teachers will find this a great resource. For your teen ministry, especially for those who work with your juniors and earliteens, a Teens Ministry Resources section also provides, in the website’s words, fresh, relevant and creative resources to make teaching this age group meaningful and exciting. Whether it’s an icebreaker or discussion topic, Small Group Bible study ideas, activities, object lessons, skits, icebreakers, games, or tips for leading, you can now reach and engage this oft neglected and misunderstood age group with the Word of God. No more excuses. Share this one with everyone in your ministry.
- Ministry -To-Children Since discovering this resource last year, I keep coming back for their on-topic articles, but moreso for the free colouring pages and worksheets. You can search this vast repository which according to the website boasts 2,621 free Bible lessons, colouring pages, and ideas for children’s ministry.
- And this is just the tip of what ‘s available . You have to create a Pinterest account to access this visual storehouse of children ministry resources available at the social media platform, but it will be worth it. The vast amount can overwhelm so know exactly what you are looking for when you visit and stay focussed.
7. SDA Church Manual. It’s the official church document that describes the governance, operations and functions of local churches. It’s the go-to manual for all church officers. Want to know the church’s policy on electing officers, reach for the SDA manual.
One of the most challenging tasks you’ll have as a leader is managing people. As leader, you are responsible for managing a Committee, Sabbath School teaching staff as well as any temporary volunteers you invite to work in VBS and any other work in your ministry. Your key job is to cooperate and coordinate all ministries overseeing children in the church under one umbrella.
The Children’s Ministry leaders’ guide calls this “cooperative ministries“, in which the department works with other ministries, such as family ministries, Sabbath School, stewardship, and others to further our shared goals” (p. 7) and it’s one of the ways children ministry fulfils its mission. Hence the church manual recommends that you sit on the SS Council. Likewise, you may invite the Adventurers and Pathfinder leader to sit on the Children Ministries Committee.This way you can collaborate, blend programmes into one Calendar and keep your finger on the pulse of all that is happening in the various ministries .
An entire chapter on how to handle your responsibilities has been devoted to this topic in the Church manual. The organisation allows churches some manoeuvre room so they can tweak or modify some guidelines to fit their context where necessary.
Download the church manual as a PDF at Adventist.org here or pick up a copy from your local Adventist Book Centre (ABC).
8. Certification Training Courses
What makes one qualified to lead children ministry? According to the General Conference, “Coordinating children ministries in the local church requires more than passion and a love for children. Children’s leaders and teachers need to understand children and how to grow their faith. They need to know how to organise programmes, teach children, nurture them and meet their needs.”
The best way to be educated in something you’re not familiar with is through training. The Adventist church makes training and certification available to ministry leaders through seminars. There are nine courses in the Leadership Certification programme for Children Ministry Leaders which, according to the General Conference website usually takes one to two years to complete. These are usually offered at teacher conventions, leadership training or certification weekends. You should check your conference calendar for training dates or contact your conference director.
Although the certification courses should be a regular feature on the calendar, sometimes, for unexplained reasons they are not given the necessary priority, and a year can pass and no training happens.
If that happens, don’t sweat it. If you are hungry to learn, can study independently and don’t mind not getting a certificate, you can still do the course. On your own. How? Because hiding in plain site folks are all nine courses from Levels 1 to 4 and they are all posted on the site. Find it here. Pick your level and start your learning journey to a rounded children ministry education.
Habits of highly effective children ministry leaders
Armed with your governance handbook, the rest will be left to you to demonstrate those qualities that make you a leader. Contrary to popular opinion, great leaders are not always born; with willing and obedient hearts, and a great deal of positive attitude and determination, they can also be made.
Earlier I suggested you do an inventory of the resources the church has available for you to use, but leaders too need to do self-inventory. In assessing your readiness to undertake spiritual leadership, check your skill sets, habits and attitudes against what’s needed to carry out what God has tasked you with.
Is your lifestyle and interactions bearing the fruits of the spirit?
Are you prepared to be servant to those you serve?
Are you prepared to be an honest steward of what God has blessed you with?
Are there leadership and people skills you’ll need to brush up on?
The demands of the task will require you to demonstrate a reasonable knowledge of administrative, human relations, team and verbal communication competencies. Translated, that means knowing how to write meeting agendas, chair and participate in meetings, practise good discussion etiquette, listen actively and empathetically and lead assertively and sensitively.
Because you’re ministering to children, you should love children and possess a good sense of humour, and be able to let down your hair every now and then.
And don’t forget to maintain these four P’s which I wrote about in this recent post: prayer, purpose, professionalism and passion.
Finally, be open to learning and trying new things, not only from others, but from the greatest ministry leader that ever walked this earth.
Follow the blue print recorded in the New Testament and lead as he did, and you can never go wrong.
Take a deep breath and do some reflection on what this author Rick Chromey has to say:
In his book, Children’s Ministries Guide for Smaller Churches, he reiterated an important fact, “ I believe that a dynamic children’s ministry is often what makes a church successful. Successes or failures in children’s ministry will determine who is in the congregation a generation from now.”
So, go and confidently make your mark. The Friend of Little Children children will not be very far away.