22 years later in KidMin

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My very first paid position in children’s ministry was in August 1994. I was only 21, and I had no idea that I even wanted to go into ministry. However, my college pastor saw the potential in me, and hired me as an intern… to run preschool – elementary of about 80 children. Honestly, I don’t know what he was thinking… but I’m glad he gave me this opportunity. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about how much I’ve changed as a children’s pastor over 22 years.

22 years ago, I felt the need to prove myself. I mean, how is anyone going to take a 21 year old seriously? I was obviously not a parent, so why would parents trust me? I immersed myself in creating the best events–Fall Family Festival (man, college students really do have lots of time… we transformed our sanctuary into the inside of an airplane and handmade 100 luggages, luggage tags, passports, etc. We transformed our sanctuary into a castle, a spaceship, etc.), VBS (2 nights/3 days of VBS Olympics–seriously, what were we thinking?), field trips, not to mention “Summer Camp” for 8 hours/day for 6 weeks. Man, I must have had lots of energy back then. And to be honest, they were great events because I was fortunate to have an amazingly talented and committed team. They really made me look good. Parents and volunteers gave me praise for a job well done.

When I started seminary and became a part-time staff, I thought I knew all the answers to the tough questions of ministry. I was excited about all the things I was learning, and I desperately wanted to impart my newfound knowledge to those who didn’t have the privilege of attending seminary. Each Sunday, I taught elementary kids on the theology of prayer, the Trinity, survey of Old & New Testament, etc. These weren’t all that bad… but I was focused on the knowledge.  Parents and volunteers gave me praise for a job well done.

Everything I did 22 years ago wasn’t all that bad. But when I look back, I was often driven by my insecurities. I did’t have a firm grasp of why I was doing what I was doing. I simply said “I want to teach kids about the Bible!” However, I rarely shared the gospel. I rarely talked about God’s grace. I was focused on knowledge and great events!

I still believe knowledge and quality events are important. However, the most important is giving kids Jesus! I want to share about the sacrificial love of Jesus every chance I get. I want to share about God’s undying love every chance I get… because my calling is to bring kids to Jesus so they can live for Him as soon as they can. It’s not my job to convert these kids, but it is my responsibility to seize every opportunity to share the gospel… afterall, we never know who’s experiencing and hearing the gospel for the very first time. Now, my events and lessons are based on giving kids Jesus… and not driven by having to prove myself in any way! I still feel the need to prove myself–don’t get me wrong! After 22 years, I still feel the need to make sure parents and volunteer approve of what I’m doing. I want that praise. However, our mission of bringing kids to Jesus has to be #1. Our value of investing in relationships has so we can share Jesus has to be #1. And that has to drive what we do… because Jesus said “Let the children come to Me.” So 22 years later, I find myself very focused. I find myself discerning more about what we provide in our ministry. I find myself unapologetic for not pleasing everyone. Thank you God for the last 22 years of this journey so I can bring Jesus to kids!

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Too Quick to Discipline?

I used to work at a preschool many years ago. Lauren was a full-day child… and she just had the hardest time waking up and getting herself going after nap time. I remember subbing in her class one day… and after the lights came back on and we woke up all the kids, Lauren just looked absolutely miserable. But our protocol is get all the kids up, send them on a visit to the restroom, wash hands, and go outside for snacks and play time. Lauren just looked up and me and whimpered, “I’m freaking out… I just need to chill!” Yes, awfully cute coming out of a 3-year old’s mouth. After I sent all the other kids out, I stayed in the room just tidying up while Lauren chilled out. About 5 minutes later of being left alone, she got up, picked up her sleeping mat, put it away, came up to me and said, “Okay, I’m ready to go outside now!” To my surprise, Lauren was a different child. She was smiling and ecstatic to go play outside.

I also had a child in kindergarten class at church that used to slam doors, throw chairs, and turn over tables. He was an angry child, to say the least. You could just see the anger on his face. Every time I looked into the room, he was seated in the corner with his arms folded. I let his leaders know that next time he acted up, to page me so I can converse with him. It was only 2 weeks later. We walked to the common area, and I sat next to him.

Me: Did you have a bad morning this morning?

B: Yeah!

Me: What happened?

B: I got into a fight with my mom and my brother. I’m just so mad!

Me: Yeah… sometimes I get mad at my brother too. And sometimes I don’t know what to do because I’m so angry.

B: Yeah!

Me: Well, what I’ve learn to do is just walk away from everyone. I just need some time to myself so I can calm down… Sometimes I’m still mad at my brother but I know it’s not good to take it out on other people. And being by myself helps me to calm down. So maybe next time you’re angry, you can let me know and we can just sit for awhile until we feel better. Sometimes we think throwing things help us feel calm but it doesn’t. It just makes us feel even more angry. Not to mention it’s not safe for you to be throwing things around in the room when other kids are in the room… and that’s not okay.

B: Uhm… okay… I’ll try that!

I’m happy to report that he is in 2nd grade now, and he’s doing phenomenal. He learned to control his anger. In fact, he’s a super happy, compliant child!

I’ve woken up on the wrong side of bed. It usually takes me good 15-20 minutes before I can get myself out of bed after my alarm has gone off. I’ve felt angry and frustrated for no apparent reason. I’ve just felt like not doing anything or talking to anyone at times.  See… I’ve had the same experiences as these two kids described above. The difference is that I’m an adult and I know I can’t hurt other people nor demand things to be done my way. Kids are still learning how the world works. They’re slowly learning that they’re not the center of this world. They’re slowly learning that they can’t act out whenever they want to.

Kids have all the emotions that we feel as adults. But they don’t always know what to do with them. However when we see kids not behaving the way we want them to, our first inclination is to discipline them rather than trying to understand what they’re experiencing and feeling that’s causing them to act out or misbehave. We’re quick to put them in time-outs. We’re quick to single them out. We’re quick to “threaten them.” And we’re quick to judge them.

So next time a child acts out in your class or small group… or even in your home… why not take the time to just sit with them to “chill out,” or converse about what’s bothering them? It’s through these times kids learn how to cope with different emotions, and that they’re not a bad child for not being who the adult wants them to be. These conversations could go a long way… and eliminate the need for “discipline.”

I DON’T make parents volunteer in KidMin…

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I have met many children’s pastors and directors from around the country, and I have yet to meet anyone with a thriving ministry that says “I have a volunteer waitlist!” Whether it be a small church or a large church, everyone is looking for more volunteers in their children’s ministry! Recruiting is a 12-month job… it never ends!

In the past few years, the most asked question from other children’s pastors and directors is… (drum roll, please…)

Do you think it’s okay to make it mandatory for parents to volunteer in children’s ministry?

And my answer is… NO! It’s NOT okay! Making parents rotate is a temporary solution to an ongoing issue. I know that as a children’s pastor myself, I’m trying to get through one Sunday at a time. However, if my goal is to set up our children’s ministry for further success, I can’t have people (even if they’re parents) that are not passionate, gifted, nor bought into the vision rotate week in and week out to sustain ministry. Not all parents are wired to work with kids. Not all parens even like kids (except for their own–hopefully!) I’ve also had friends tell me that their church makes them volunteer in children’s ministry every 3rd week (or whatever the rotation is) and they dread it because they don’t want to serve in children’s ministry!

Some parents are awesome volunteers for children’s ministry! Some of my all-time best volunteers have been parents of kids in our ministry. But just as not all parents are gifted for children’s ministry, there are many college students, singles, married couples without kids, parents of teens, and even grandparents that may have the giftings and passion for children’s ministry. Ultimately, my goal is to find people that are good fit for our children’s ministry – who understand the vision, who have the heart for specific age groups, who loves pouring their time and energy into helping kids grow, and who are gifted in working with kids!

I won’t lie… There are days when it feels painful when you have to rely on every single volunteer to even show up… but I believe you have to put in the work if you want to build a healthy children’s ministry… and yes, with much prayer, diligence, and perseverance, it can pay off! And don’t forget to build a substitute list even if you don’t have enough consistent committed volunteers!

There are plenty of ministries in the church that need volunteers… so unleash your parents to serve where they can best serve and grow! Mandatory volunteerism is just an oxymoron, don’t you think?

Surviving, I mean Thriving, during the Holidays as an Introvert in Ministry

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Yes, it’s true… I boycotted Thanksgiving the last two years. I stayed in bed and watched movies all day long. This year, I decided to be a good sport and participate in the festivities with family (although I did hibernate on Friday after Thanksgiving).

I don’t think it’s just me… but come November & December, everyone needs something from me… and my stress level just skyrockets! Between family needs, scheduling time with friends, and trying to meet all the demands of ministry needs towards the end of the year, I’m easily put over the edge! Let’s just say Gloria in December ain’t so pretty. I literally just wanna crawl into a hole and hibernate the whole holiday season. For those of us in ministry, every week feels busy because Sundays always keep coming right on time! But add all the deadlines of budgeting, calendaring, and all the Christmas events to the list, and you start to think why you should bother going home just to be back first thing in the morning…

As an introvert, all the demands that are put on my plate is very overwhelming… not necessarily because of the workload but because they all require dealing with people… and lots of people! Don’t get me wrong… I love people! If I didn’t, I would not have stayed in ministry. My passion is to help people grow… but as an introvert, even what I love to do is very draining. I often come home feeling completely depleted. Unfortunately this leads to cranky Gloria. I’ve been feeling horrible because I’ve been so impatient with my family, especially with my dad. I’ve been feeling like the worst daughter in the world. So how do we survive, I mean thrive, during this stressful season?

For me, I need to remember to take more “Gloria Time” for myself. I usually take “Gloria Days” where I go to the beach or do whatever I need to do to refuel! I usually go by myself or with one other friend who I find live-giving and refreshing! As this busy season is upon us, I find myself needing to take more “Gloria Days…” but since it’s just not possible to take that many days off for myself, I take shorter time increments but I take them more often or as needed. I purposefully block off certain morning or evenings to go and do what replenishes me. It could be a walk on the beach, locking myself in my room and relaxing, getting a shoulder massage, getting good coffee or a meal with a friend, etc. Refueling yourself is so important… because when I feel depleted, I just become cranky to everyone around me… and honestly, who wants to be around a cranky person? I know, I don’t!

I need this reminder to take the time to refuel myself regularly, and I find this practice to become especially more important during the holidays as demands and busy schedule grows. If you also feel like you’re on a survival mode, let’s thrive together by doing what we need to do to refill ourselves!

God Knows What We Need

Last Sunday, we talked about how God knows what we need… and how God provides for our needs! Well, I got a first hand experience in God providing for my needs on Sunday, the very day I taught this lesson!

To start, our projector hasn’t been working and we had to do without! Since our lesson was on the Israelites wandering in the dessert and complaining to God during that time, I decided to make the kids act as Israelites… and each small group was to be a family. It felt pretty chaotic having kids walk around in circles (and few that just couldn’t walk but felt the need to run) and their whining and complaining getting louder and louder. Well, when our time was over, I had both leaders and kids come up to me and say: “that was so fun!” “i had so much fun today.” “i wanna come back here.”  Initially I was just thankful to get this feedback and felt encouraged despite all the technical issues we had that day.

When I went out to the foyer to get lunch, I happened to be standing across from a parent that I talk to once in a blue moon. I, of course, started with a small talk: “How are you? How’s work?” Then she proceeded to tell me how much she appreciates our children’s ministry… and she said, “I can’t wait to read this months’ parent newsletter. I read it cover to cover… In fact, I save it every month! Thank you so much for putting that together for us. I absolutely look forward to reading it. In addition, I just want to tell you that my kids tell me what they have learned every Sunday… and I love that they get excited to tell me about it. We love coming here. Thank you!” To be honest, I was caught off-guard because my church doesn’t have a culture of giving feedbacks (positive nor negative) and sometimes I wonder “does anyone read the newsletters? why do parents like bringing kids to our church? why do kids like coming?” I actually told her that her feedback meant so much and her words were my God Sighting for the day because it was one of the most encouraging things i had heard in awhile at the church.

By now, I’m feeling pretty encouraged… and feeling like I’m on Cloud 9, filled with gratitude and great joy for getting to do what I do! Well, that feeling was quickly changed that afternoon as I met with few leaders. Don’t get me wrong… I believe some of our leaders do the best they know how… but I found myself feeling flustered and discouraged in the middle of our meeting. People often tell me that I think very differently about children, youth, & family ministry… and most churches are not ready for that paradigm shift. I always think “how different could I be?” Well, I finally really felt it… and I started to feel crazy trying to explain how I feel about children, youth, & family ministry (I won’t go into too much detail since this isn’t the point of this blog but if you’d like to hear my thoughts, I’m always open for discussion–i just love talking about KidMin, Student Min, & Family Min… so just message me!)

Anyhow, I left that day very deflated. This one incident had erased my joy and excitement… and all of a sudden, I found myself asking a bunch of unhealthy questions. That evening, two of my pastors texted me with encouraging words… When we came into the office on Tuesday, my campus pastor said, “I actually left that meeting feeling more thankful for you and your heart and your vision. As challenging as it is, I am so glad to be doing ministry with you.” Those were the words of affirmation that became medicine to my soul.

Often times, discouraging words and experiences can completely erase all the highs of emotions. As I spent some time processing through the events of this weekend, I was reminded that God bookended that meeting with encouraging words of affirmation that I usually don’t hear for a reason! God knew I needed to be reminded of my calling. God knew I needed to be affirmed of our kids transformation. God knew I needed to hear that parents are in this journey together. God knew I needed to hear that I was an integral part of the team. That moment, I was reminded that the truth of the lesson came real and alive to me!  How cool is that???

One more thing… if you’re a parent or a volunteer or even an attendee, do practice giving feedback to your leaders… both positive and negative (but negative should be done in love and with careful words)… encouraging feedback means so much to a weary soul… and constructive criticism will only help your leaders and ministry grow in a good way!

Church Stuff Doesn’t Have To Be Boring…

boring meetingI recently had the opportunity to train children’s ministry leaders and volunteers at a local small church.  I have to admit that I was somewhat dreading this event because it was in the middle-of-nowhere in Central California.  I just wasn’t looking forward to the 2-hour drive on my Saturday morning.  To my surprise, they actually had 20 volunteers show up… this is amazing given that they have around 40 children on Sundays.

We spent about 2 hours together.  We laughed a lot… we made lots of noise.  We jumped up and down.  We used chenille wires to create things.  We used sticky fingers, rolled dies, and played games.  After our 2 hours together, many individuals came up to me to thank me for coming out to their church.  Many of the comments I heard were:

  • I can’t believe how fun this was!  I certainly didn’t expect this training to be so active, interactive, and fun!
  • My daughter (6 yrs old) was upset that I dragged her to church on Saturday morning because I couldn’t find a sitter.  But she had so much fun that she can’t wait to come back to church on Sunday!
  • You make children’s ministry so fun!
  • This is the most fun I had at a church meeting!

Well, I’m very pleased that everyone had so much fun… but it got me thinking… Why do people automatically assume that any training at church, including the ones for children’s ministry, is going to be boring?  Well, it’s probably because that’s their past experience with any ministry workshops and/or trainings.  Well, first of all, I believe that if you work with kids or youths, you just can’t have boring, non-interactive trainings.  We must lead by example, and if the leaders don’t know how to have fun, build relationships, and interact, how can we expect the kids to do the same?  Secondly, I believe a team that laughs together stays and grows together… so I believe having fun together is a big component of a successful team!

So people…. please… let’s stop making church stuff boring… and let’s bring the fun back… especially for children and youth ministry stuff!!!  Afterall, the Bible is actually the most exciting book ever written… and face it, living a Christian life definitely isn’t boring! Let’s have fun!!!

At one of my workshops at KidMin Conference... we love to have fun!

At one of my workshops at KidMin Conference… we love to have fun!

monkey see, monkey do…

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Yes, it’s been a very long time since I last blogged… The last few months have been crazy non-stop… Well, last week, I stopped by my friend’s house because I was in the area.  I got to spend some time w/ her 2 kids.  Her older one just turned 3 years old.  As I was trying to talk to my friend, he kept wanting to play with me.  We started building a tower on his colorful pegboard.  Once we finished our tower, he took the four pegboards and started quizzing me:

pegboardB:  What color is this?

Me:  Blue!

B:  Greeeeaaaaat Joooooob!  Now what color is this?

Me: Red?

B:  Veeeerrry Niiiiceeeee….  How about this one?

Me:  Yelloooooow.

B:  Yesssss!  Gooood.

This quizzing continued for about 15 minutes.  I couldn’t stop laughing.  First, it was ridiculously cute.  Second, I was dying because I could definitely hear his mom’s tone and and intonation in the way he said “great job,” “very nice,” or “good.”  He was talking to me as if I was the child. He was only repeating what he hears from his mom and other adults… We often talk about how scary it is “what kids pick up from adults.”  They pick up words, actions, context, attitude, and even intonation.  They truly observe everything…. and often repeat in the right context!

I was reminded how important it is for us adults to model for the little ones around us!  I’m also guilty of not being the best model around kids at times.  But if you’re around kids often or all the time, you really need to think twice about how kids are catching your behavior, actions, words, and attitude.  As they say, monkey see, monkey do!

How can you change what your behavior, actions, words, and attitude to be a better model this week?