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!

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?

stop taking ownership!!!

I’ve been on staff at several churches for the past 20 years.  When you’re in ministry, you spend a lot of time discussing ways to get people, especially volunteers, to own the ministry that they’re serving in.  After all, we want people to take ministries seriously and care for them as they would care for their own personal affairs.  However, I recently had a conversation with a pastor regarding teaching people to let go of ownership!  Many of you in ministry may totally disagree… but in the process of trying to encourage people to take personal and earnest care for these ministries, we’ve created monsters.  (I can just feel all these crazy eyes right about now…)

Let me explain… I’ve come across dozens of stories of a single person who has such tight hold on one aspect of ministry that other people are too scared to get near it… or that one person who is THE obstacle to making any changes… or that one person drives people out from getting involved or worse, out of the church altogether!  It sounds crazy, but it happens more often than not!  It’s often that ONE person who has such tight hold on whatever they’ve taken ownership of that it alienates or discourages others from serving joyfully.

We’ve forgotten that this is God’s ministry… not mine nor yours nor Mr. Smith’s.  We’ve led people to take ownership in such a way that it’s become their personal ministry with personal agendas and personal directions rather than God’s ministry with His agenda and direction.  What starts out as a good intentions often lead to disasters… and I think this is one example.  I have witnessed a church where one elder single-handedly drove out all paid staff, other leaders, and eventually majority of the congregation.  And it came down to the fact that he felt too invested in this church… and if ministry direction didn’t fit his vision, it was rejected.  He was very dedicated… he was at the church practically every day… He served with much passion and commitment… In fact, I believe he truly loved the church… but his tight ownership of the church eventually led to people being hurt, rejected, bitter, and departure from the church.

open-handsSo what if we encouraged people to release their tight grips… and release their ministries into the hands of God… after all, God is the owner of the ministries that we’re in, not me nor you nor Mr. Smith!  What if we encouraged people to really listen for God’s direction… and be good stewards of the ministries instead of owning it?  It may just seem like semantics, but would that change people’s thinking and attitudes?

REAL Leaders, Marines, & Moms

So in case you didn’t know, I’m a huge fan of Simon Sinek!  I have a very short attention span, and I can barely sit through anything that takes longer than 10 minutes…  But I’ll sit through 50 minutes of Simon Sinek’s talks.  I find him amazing, fascinating, inspiring, and brilliant!  This morning, I came across this youtube regarding the title of his latest book.  It’s a must see-and it’s only 4 minutes!!!

I absolutely love what he talks about here because this is also biblical leadership.  When I first started ministry, I was trained under an amazing man of God.  He truly led by example.  We would have monthly church beautification Saturdays (that I actually dreaded because I’m not a physical labor person)… but my senior pastor taught us that we needed to be there before everyone else arrived, and we already needed to be cleaning rather than just waiting and sitting around.  As much as I hated these monthly ritual, I always looked to my pastor with awe.  He would show up in his sweats, and he was on his knees gardening at the back of the church.  When I was in seminary in LA and commuted by plane to SF to church, he and his wife gave me the keys to the church mini-van and his home so I would never ben stranded anywhere.  He said I was always welcome.  I could raid their fridge whenever I was hungry.  I knew that this was a man who was willing to lay his life down for any of his staff and congregation members.

So it came as a shock when few years later, I had a pastor who told me that congregation members shouldn’t see me in my “street clothes” or they shouldn’t see me working and living like the rest of them.  My new pastor told me something that was completely opposite of what I had been taught by my first senior pastor.  Over a decade later, I’m always surprised to hear of leaders that demand or feel entitled to the royal treatment.  Aren’t leader suppose to serve?  That’s what I had been taught…

When I came across Simon Sinek’s “Leaders Eat Last,” I just burst with excitement and emotions:  “YEAH!!!  That’s what leaders are!!!”  He even goes on to say “you’re either a leader or you’re not!”  WOW!!!  Marines eat last… Moms eat last…  How about us church leaders?  We live in a society/culture where many church leaders are often revered and put on pedestals.  People often serve me first because I carry the title “pastor” (which I really dislike by the way… I’ve never been fond of titles)… but perhaps we should take note from the marines and moms and learn to eat last!