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!

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?

Kid & Youth Ministries… More than Bible Lessons…

therapy-counseling-familyIt’s a general assumption that Kid & Youth Ministries is all about teaching Bible stories, lessons, and planning activities to the kids that come to church on Sundays! Yes, we do a lot of that… However, that’s not all we do! In fact, that’s not probably not the most significant part of what we do… Gasp! (I can just hear the echo of shock from some reasons…) Yes, it’s true… teaching Bible stories and lessons aren’t the most significant part of what we do! If you ask me, the most significant aspect of our ministry is loving them unconditionally as we journey with the individuals.

We, at church, may have the challenge of not having enough face time with the children (in an average church, an average child will only spend 39-45 hours the whole year in Sunday School… that’s barely 2 full days worth!). However, we have the unique opportunity to journey with them through various life stage as long as the family continues to come to church. Lately, I’ve been reminded that a lot of our kids come to church with baggage from home life, school life, social life, etc. While we give priority to teaching the Bible truths each Sunday, we also make sure each small group leader connects with their students on a more intimate level. Most of the times, that’s where true ministry takes place. We hear about a fight the child had that morning with a sibling, about how he/she got in trouble, about how the child misses a parent who is no longer living with her/him, about feeling lonely and sad, about their hurts, and more. Also in small groups, the kids get to discuss Jesus more in depth with their small group leaders, share good things that happened during the week, and how God answered their prayers. We have the privilege of talking through these challenging and good times. We have the privilege of crying with them and celebrating with them.

Don’t get me wrong… everything we do is because we have deep desire to help kids know and experience Jesus in tangible ways… but people often think kids and youth ministries are all about activities, events, and lessons! We plan activities and events to provide more opportunities for draw more kids. And of course, we want the kids to learn the Bible. But our job doesn’t end there!

As we come to the end of academic year and we also prepare for Promotion Sunday at church, many of the small group leaders tell me that it’s their desire to stay with their small group kids! This makes me happier than I can express… because they realize that they don’t teach a grade, they don’t just teach Bible lessons, BUT they’re investing in the lives of the kids that have been entrusted in their small groups. The relationship and journeying with the kids through the good and bad times is what we really do… and we do this by sharing the unconditional love of Jesus! Kids are experiencing Jesus through their leaders! It can’t get more tangible than that in Sunday School!

All the volunteers and staff are privileged to journey with these kids and youths… because we get to experience God’s grace and redemption in their lives when they make decisions to follow Jesus. We get to develop relationships with the whole family and become a part of their extended circle of influence in the lives of the kids. We get to see them grow and mature!

This past week, I got another invitation to a high graduation of a kid who was in my ministry when he was in elementary school… and I was filled with gratitude as I thought back on his life… I’ve been able to witness him growing right before my eyes… and from a cute little 2nd grader to a tall, handsome, and God-loving young man!

If you ask me, the most significant things that all the volunteers and I do isn’t teaching Bible stories and lessons… but it’s really investing in growing relationship with the kids and families… It’s not easy at times, but I absolutely love what I do!

Christmas Eve Service with a 1st Grader…

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I returned from Christmas Eve service at my church couple hours ago.  I had the joy of sitting next to a first grader… She’s just an adorable little girl with a sense of humor that has me laughing non-stop!!!  She also has some spunk and sarcasm in her, which I just love!!!  I just had to write all this down so I don’t forget my awesome night of sitting next to her.

She pretty much had a running commentary whispered in my left ear throughout the whole service!  As soon as the music began with four percussion instruments, she held her ears tight and yelled “Pastor Gloria, this is louder than I had ever expected!  I feel like my heart is going to come out of my chest!”  Seriously, how could you not love a 6-year old who says stuff like this?

Then we had three monologues from the perspective of a wiseman, a shepherd, and Mary.  In the middle of the shepherd’s monologue, she turns to me and whispers “you know, he’s not really a shepherd… he’s just fake acting!”  Once again, a huge smile on my face… And every time the characters cracked a joke, she would cover her mouth as if she’s trying to hold in her laughter.  At one point, she couldn’t see what was happening on stage so she hopped onto my lap…. and once again she whispered in my ear, “you know Pastor Gloria, it really bothers me that my sister has her feet on my chair.  Hmmm…”  This kid just cracks me up!!!

She sang all the Christmas carols with us… She even danced and held up her hands as we sang to and about Baby Jesus, our King!  We ended the night with “O Come All Ye Faithful” and “Silent Night.”  When we started singing “O Come Let Us Adore Him” multiple times in a cappella, I started to tear as we went into “Silent Night.”  She was standing on the chair next to me, and I don’t know if she could see me… but she gave me a bear hug, put her face right up to mine and once again whispered “I like this song… It sounds familiar to me.”  Once again, my face broke out in a huge smile.

I’m reminded how special it is for kids to worship with adults!  I would have missed out on this precious moment with this first grader had I sat next to another adult.  To see worship through the eyes of a child… It was so special to me!  She also got to experience how adults worship… she saw her mom raising her hands in reverence as she sang.  She got to see people in love with Jesus… and worshipping our King!  What a special night it was… The message was special… but for me, worshipping with a 1st grader and seeing worship through her eyes and her thoughts made it even more special!  I definitely have more thoughts about this… but for now, I just wanted to share my special night before I forget!  I say this all the time… but seriously, KIDS ARE AWESOME!!!

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!