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!

Today’s Warm & Fuzzies

I love getting warm & fuzzy stories from parents! This one landed in my inbox this morning!

Hi Gloria-  I have to share a quick story for you to pass on to M’s teachers at church.  Her teacher told me that yesterday, on the playground, there was a little girl who was crying because she had to get off the swing because her turn was over.  M went up to her and said “Listen, it’s OK because at church I learned that the first shall be last and the last shall be first!”  

This is especially precious because M is a super shy girl… who has only said “HI” to me once! We just learned this lesson couple weeks ago, and for her to have the boldness to comfort another girl with what she learned at church gives me the warm & fuzzies all over!  Have I said lately that kids are the BEST?

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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.”

Life Interrupted 2015

Okay… I have to be honest… I was starting to itch a little in the beginning of 2015. I was feeling a bit tired of the same city, the same routine, the same apartment, the same everything… But as I’ve always said, “I’m going to enjoy and live life to the fullest wherever God puts me… until He takes me someplace else.” I still very much enjoyed my ministry at the church I was at… but I was also starting to feel really comfortable there. Well, God knew my restlessness… and He had some crazy plans brewing…

My comfortable life was interrupted in a BIG way in May when I was given an opportunity to serve in a new church. This would mean moving 350 miles north–away from family and the place I had called home for the past 17 years. This would mean starting a new ministry in a church way bigger than what I was used to. This would mean starting a new life in a new city all by myself. This would mean no more Disneyland and Hollywood Pantages Theatre.

So this is the thing… I was feeling the itch and I had even prayed to God to bring new challenges in my life so that I would be stretched… but when I was given this opportunity, I froze! All of a sudden, everything new felt scary and daunting… and I wanted to retreat to what was familiar. Thankfully I had friends that prayed for me and counseled me… but most of all, I felt the nudging of the Holy Spirit that said “let your life be interrupted!” So in July, I purged so much junk that I had accumulated over 17 years in Los Angeles, and packed up what would fit into my new 525 sq ft apartment and left for a very suburban town in the Bay Area.

And I have to be honest… I had romanticized my new church, my new ministry, my new apartment, my new city, my new life… oh boy… in reality, it’s been a rough transition. I had many moments where I thought I had made the biggest mistake of my life! My new ministry seriously kicked my butt the first few months! I hated how quiet this town is. I missed my family and friends in LA. I missed my favorite foods in Los Angeles (especially my favorite Thai place that would deliver). I missed Disneyland.

But 5 months later, I’m starting to embrace my new life! I still can’t get used to this suburban life… I actually miss the sounds of helicopters and sirens in the middle of the night. I still miss so much of what I had in LA. But I’m reminded that I asked God to stretch me… and He is doing just that! He completely interrupted my life, took me out of my comfort zone, and placed me where I would be challenged and stretched. So lesson learned–be really careful what you ask for!

So this explains why I haven’t been active on my blog. I had so much to process and think through… and I couldn’t bring myself to write it all down! But I’m finally feeling like myself again… and have so much in my brain that I wanna get out… so I’m sure I’ll be writing a lot more in 2016.

Well, 2015 also had some cool highlights!

  • For the first time, I had a premium annual pass to Disneyland and used the heck out of my pass… their record indicates that I went to Disney parks 37 times in 2015. I event spent the whole night at Disneyland for their 60th anniversary and left the park at 6 am!
  • I got to spend precious weekend with all three of my mom’s sisters at the same time! That rarely happens since they all live in different countries… but I learned so much more about my mom through their stories! It was indeed precious!
  • I continued to write in publications and lead workshops at various children’s ministry conferences. This is life giving to me… and I love the people I get to connect with through these events!
  • I went to TWO U2 concerts in the same week! and I stood in line for 8 hours to stand right up against the guard rails! Yes, it was worth it!
  • I was on Jen Hatmaker’s launch team for her newest book “For the Love,” and I got to party with her at her house!!! Not to mention, I got to meet and interact with her 3 times this year! Yes, she is one of my favorite authors!
  • Most of all, I was the recipient of amazing love that was poured out to me by so many friends and family… especially with the big move! I’m truly blessed with so many amazing people that love me!

Looking forward to 2016–perhaps more life interrupted!

More than Bible Stories & Memory Verse!

I was that child who attended church since birth! I knew many Bible stories… I memorized many verses. I was even in every church play starting from kindergarten. I was your model church child. But in my 30’s I had an epiphany. Nobody sat me down and explained the gospel to me! Of course, i heard stories of Jesus dying on the cross for my sins. But nobody made it personal for me. Somehow I actually came to believe in Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior along the way (by the grace of God!) but nobody from the church asked me if I believed in Jesus… they all just assumed that I did because I was a model church child. Sure… it worked out for me… but this isn’t going to work for every child, I know… because I have friends and cousins that went through the same “program,” and they don’t have a personal relationship Jesus today!

DSC02836I just spent 2 days with three of my aunts. One aunt is an overseas missionary, and she told me this story which left a lasting impression. She had a 5th grade boy come to her church for three months from the next town. She loved him and his personality. She was so please to see him come to church regularly. But one day, he stopped coming… and almost a year later, a new girl from the same town started coming to the church. When my aunt inquired about the boy who had stopped coming, she was told that he had died due to drug overdose at the age of 11! My aunt’s heart sank. She wasn’t even sure if he had heard the gospel. She knew that he had been taught lots of Bible stories… but she didn’t know if during the time he had attended, if he had been personally introduced to Jesus Christ. From that day forward, my aunt decided that they needed to share the gospel with every new child that comes to her church…

This applies to churches in the US too. We need to seize every opportunity we have with the children in our ministries. In most of our churches, kids are dropped off by their parents… they come whether or not they want to come (yes, I know some kids absolutely LOVE coming to church to the point that they make their parents bring them…) But we have this unique opportunity that most adult ministries don’t. Kids come to us (I know this isn’t the case in all churches)… and if we don’t seize the opportunity to share the gospel with the kids that come to our ministries, then what are we really doing? i’m not saying that we have to talk about the Easter story every week… but we need to create opportunities to share about God’s greatest love and grace because you never know who has never heard, especially when you have new visitors. Bible stories are important! Memory verse important! Having fun is important! Building relationships is extremely important! But the most important thing is their salvation… our children’s ministry MUST be about teaching more than Bible stories and memory verses… it must be about the gospel!

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?

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!