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!

What I’ve Been Reading… And Been On My Mind…

I’ve been doing a lot of catching up on reading due to insomnia… The things I’ve been reading has me thinking even more…. I have a habit of reading 3-5 books at a time. Currently, I’ve been focusing on Dreaming of More by Michelle Anthony and ReWork by Jason Fried & David Heinemeier. I highly recommend both. I plan on blogging specifically on what I’ve learned from ReWork… But for now, I want to share these two thoughts that have my wheels turning at 1:20 am…

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Fail-Proof KidMin…

I started my current ministry back in February.  I was hired to start Children & Family Ministry from scratch at our new multi-site campus.  This multi-site is different in that we will not be duplicating current ministries… but our new site is going to look different to meet the needs and reach people who we’re not currently reaching.  It almost feels like a church plant in a way.  So the past few months have been filled with meetings to plan and prepare for this launch that will happen in the fall.  I have also been trying to meet and get to know as many people as possible.  One of the overwhelming part of this whole experience has been that my reputation has preceded me… and they already have a specific perception of who I am and what I am going to do.  Few conversations have gone like this:

People:  Oh, so you’re THE Pastor Gloria… so we have heard so much about you.  We heard that you’re going to change everything, and it’s gonna be awesome.

Me:  Oh.. nice to meet you.  I don’t know what you’ve heard… I’m not here to change everything… but just to do my best to have the best children’s ministry we can.

People:  We heard that you’re gonna reform children’s ministry… and you’re gonna do all these new programs and stuff…  Is that a rumor?

Me:  Hmmm… I wish I was a miracle worker… but what I’m committed to doing is to help kids connect with Jesus, and love Him more and more!

So you can see the progression of countless conversations like this…  I’m flattered that people think I’m that good (which makes me cringe on the inside…) and scared that people have such high expectations of this ministry I will be launching!  Man, it’s A LOT of pressure!!! I wish there was a fail-proof formula to doing Children & Family Ministry… but we all know that  there is no such thing!  In fact, there are so many variables… what may work gloriously in one church may not work for us.  We need to take into account the context, dynamics, and culture of the church… yes, I believe we can have a bit of control over these… but not 100% control.  I will be honest–I’m scared of this not working out so peachy (at least in the areas I’m overseeing).  This is where I need to be good steward of what is entrusted to me, and do my best to create the best environment for the kids, parents, and volunteers… but ultimately it’s up to God to make this ministry happen!

Recently in my conversation with friends, they reminded me that Jesus often used parables and illustrations that deal with gardening, farming, plants, and agriculture rather than carpentry, which was His job.  If you’re familiar with gardening, you don’t have full control over how your plants grow.  All you can do is to give it what it needs:  appropriate amount of sunlight, water, quality of soil, necessary pruning, etc… All you can do is give it the best environment you can, but you can’t make your plan grow to your liking!  Wow–how profound (it was to me at the time)!  In the photo above, I planted 2 calla lily bulbs… I got them at the same time from the same nursery… they’re even in the same pot.  The bulb on the left bore a lot of leaves.  In fact, it started growing so fast that I thought it was going to flower first.  However, the bulb on the right grew slowly and steadily and birthed a beautiful burnt orange calla lily!  I’m still waiting for the other one to flower!  They both had the same amount of sunlight, water, same soil, and same TLC… but to my dismay, only one of them is growing tall and beautiful…

In the same way, I think ministry is the same way… No matter how much we think we have control over people, we DON’T!  No matter how much I dream of kids becoming perfect children that love and obey Jesus all the time, it’s out of my control… I’m reminded of 1 Corinthians 3:6

“I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow.”

God is the One who will make the kids grow… not I!  My job is to do my VERY BEST to create the best environment for that growth to happen… so there is NO fail-proof Kids Ministry… but I’m trusting in God!  And I look forward to what God will do in and through our new ministry as it launches with excitement!!!  In the meantime, you can see another success/failure of another plant I planted–one bulb on the left just died while the one on the right is slowly steadily growing!

Stronger Wings

ImageCouple weeks ago, I was invited to dinner at one of our church deacon’s home.  They have two little boys, and I got to see something cool for the first time.  Their older son had gotten a butterfly cocoon  from a museum, and it was in an insect cage.  The butterfly happened to emerge from the chrysalis during our dinner, and we all got excited!  They had an instruction manual that said NOT to touch the butterfly, but to put in a branch in the cage.  We did just that. We stared at the butterfly, and it did nothing.  In fact, we all commented on how drab and ugly it looked. About another hour into our conversation, I suddenly saw the butterfly open its wings, and it was colorful and beautiful.  I know I learned about metamorphosis in school (few times I’m sure) but witnessing it for the first time was pretty phenomenal… and I learned more about the life cycle of butterflies at this moment than I had from textbooks.

Two days later, I had dinner with a good friend of mine.  We were talking about struggles of parenting (although I don’t have children, as a minister to children and families this is a topic I take great interest in).  She told me about a story she had read online about why it’s important to allow your children to struggle through life experiences.  It’s apparently a pretty famous story (that I had never heard before)… and I even found several different versions online.  This was my favorite version:

Once a little boy was playing outdoors and found a fascinating caterpillar. He carefully picked it up and took it home to show his mother. He asked his mother if he could keep it, and she said he could if he would take good care of it.

 The little boy got a large jar from his mother and put plants to eat, and a stick to climb on, in the jar. Every day he watched the caterpillar and brought it new plants to eat.

 One day the caterpillar climbed up the stick and started acting strangely. The boy worriedly called his mother who came and understood that the caterpillar was creating a cocoon. The mother explained to the boy how the caterpillar was going to go through a metamorphosis and become a butterfly.

 The little boy was thrilled to hear about the changes his caterpillar would go through. He watched every day, waiting for the butterfly to emerge. One day it happened, a small hole appeared in the cocoon and the butterfly started to struggle to come out.

 At first the boy was excited, but soon he became concerned. The butterfly was struggling so hard to get out! It looked like it couldn’t break free! It looked desperate! It looked like it was making no progress!

 The boy was so concerned he decided to help. He ran to get scissors, and then walked back (because he had learned not to run with scissors…). He snipped the cocoon to make the hole bigger and the butterfly quickly emerged!

 As the butterfly came out the boy was surprised. It had a swollen body and small, shriveled wings. He continued to watch the butterfly expecting that, at any moment, the wings would dry out, enlarge and expand to support the swollen body. He knew that in time the body would shrink and the butterfly’s wings would expand.

 But neither happened!

 The butterfly spent the rest of its life crawling around with a swollen body and shriveled wings.

 It never was able to fly…

As the boy tried to figure out what had gone wrong his mother took him to talk to a scientist from a local college. He learned that the butterfly was SUPPOSED to struggle. In fact, the butterfly’s struggle to push its way through the tiny opening of the cocoon pushes the fluid out of its body and into its wings. Without the struggle, the butterfly would never, ever fly. The boy’s good intentions hurt the butterfly.

Wow!  I never knew this… (or I wasn’t paying attention when I was supposed to have learned this fact!).  I learned TWO amazing life lessons through butterflies this week:

  1. Yes, struggling is an important part of growth experience!  In fact, it’s the struggle that gives you stronger wings to fly!  Not only parents but churches/ministries often make the mistake of raising children, youth, and adult congregation members in a bubble.  We don’t allow people to struggle… we often tell them how to think, feel, respond, and act as Christians… when what we need to do is allow them to struggle through their decisions with our guidance.  We need to let those God has entrusted to us to come to their own convictions through struggles (even if they arrive at undesired decisions at the time).  We need to allow people to make mistakes and learn from them.  We need to allow people to develop stronger wings so that they can fly even when they’re no longer part of our ministries.
  2. Eye witness and experience teaches us more than textbooks.  I know that metamorphosis of butterflies is part of primary and secondary science curriculum… I vaguely remember the diagrams in my textbooks.  However, the details of this lesson never stuck… but when I saw the butterfly emerging from the pupa with my own eyes, I was completely fascinated by the process…  and I haven’t forgotten the details because I experienced the wow of the butterfly pumping fluid into its wings.  Experience will always trump information transfer!

I took this photo of a moth in Minneapolis couple of years ago… I thought it was pretty amazing then… but I now have a whole new appreciation for these beautiful strong wings!