I DON’T make parents volunteer in KidMin…

epic-fail-photos-volunteering-fail

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!

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!

A Tale of Three Boundaries…

This past weekend, I had the privilege of leading a workshop on teaching preteens and teens about helping them to say YES to God’s plan for dating, marriage, and sex!  I know, God’s crazy sense of humor in that…  🙂

As we’re discussing setting rules for teens, we shared a lot of stories from our own teen years.  Three distinct stories stood out to me:

  1. One attendee shared that his parents set strict rules, very strict boundaries without explaining them to him.  He had questions upon questions.
  2. Another attendee shared that while she was given distinct boundaries, her parents never brought God into the equation.  They were rules for rule-sake, and she still rebelled.
  3. Another attendee broke out in tears as her friend next to her shared the hurt she was recounting as she thinks about lack of boundaries she had growing up.  She had many, many regrets of the mistakes she had made simply because there were no boundaries in her life.

boundaryAll of these stories made my heart hurt and yet rejoice in God’s amazing grace.  Yes, I believe without a doubt in my mind that kids and teens need boundaries at every age.  However, we also need to explain to them why these boundaries exist.  Boundaries without why’s only lead to confusion, questions, and even rebellion.  No boundaries lead to lack of discernment and sometimes even conscience to do what’s right.  We give kids and teens boundaries because we love them.  We gives kids and teens boundaries because we want to protect them.  We give kids and teens boundaries because we want to help them make good decisions.  We give kids and teens boundaries because we want to equip and develop them to be responsible, God-loving, God-fearing, and wise adults.  Boundaries are needed… but they cannot be given without the why’s… and the biggest and the most important why is because of our relationship with Jesus.  We make our life-choices based on God’s leading because of our relationship with Him.

What’s also beautiful about these stories is that regardless of the questions, confusions, rebellion, and mistakes, God redeemed all these beautiful people.  I don’t even know their names… but their faces are super clear in my mind.  I just remember thinking–wow, they’re here!  They’re at a Christian Conference, and they’re sitting in a workshop that talks about helping teens commit to Jesus Christ and making life choices that reflects growing relationship with Jesus!  What a beautiful picture of redemption!  God is so cool like that!  God uses our past experiences and even hurts to help others… and these faces were so beautiful to me!

Set boundaries for kids and teens but explain why!  And regardless of what decision kids make, know that God can redeem even the worst questions, confusions, rebellion, and mistakes.

monkey see, monkey do…

monkey see monkey do

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?

letting go of my dreams for 2014

letting go of dreamI’m a dreamer by nature.  I used to get distracted as a child because I was often daydreaming.  As an adult, I still daydream about the life I wish I had or hope to have.  I’m also a planner by nature.  I used to have a blueprint of how my life was suppose to be.

Couple years ago, I will never forget the conversation I had with a dear friend of mine.  Her son had recently been diagnosed with string of special needs, and she explained to me the trial and agony she and her husband had gone through that time.  “You know, the hardest part was letting go of our dream for him and accepting the life God has planned for him.”  She went on to explain that even though they always wanted God’s will for his life, she and her husband still had high hopes and expectations of their son.  They had dreams of their son becoming a successful engineer (he’s always been very good at putting things together) or an athlete or even a pastor.  They had dreams of their child growing up to become an amazing husband and father one day, but she confided that he may not have the capabilities to put others before himself.  I felt the pain as she shared her struggles with me.  And then it dawned on me that this is a process every parent must go through for their children as well as everyone must go through at one point for themselves.  For my friend, they were forced to face this truth sooner than they had expected.

Lately, a lot of people seem to be having babies around me.  And every time I hold the newborn, I can just see the feeling of blank slate in the parents.  This newborn can grow up to be anything he/she wants to be.  This newborn has all the potential in the world.  This newborn can become the president, run a successful company, have huge impact in this world, or invent something amazing!  But reality is, that dream rarely plays out the way we imagine.  Soon or later, we all have to let go of the dream we have for our kids and even for ourselves and exchange them for what it is in reality…

I’ve been known to make a list of new year’s resolution… because I have high hopes and dreams for the new year.  As I’ve been thinking about this for a while, it dawned on me that I haven’t fully relinquished my dreams for my life for the life God has planned for me.  I still dream of fairytale life.  I still dream of fairytale job.  i still dream of fairytale family.  I still dream of fairytale romance.  It’s not bad to have dreams and goals.  I still have set goals to pay off all my debt (mostly incurred through medical and medication bills) so I have vowed to give up my not-so-guilty-pleasure of mani/pedi & spa treatments ’til I pay off all my bills.  But I need to fully accept the life that God has planned for me which is far better than what I have planned for myself and stop daydreaming of “what ifs” and “only ifs.”

So for 2014, I’m letting go of my dreams and plans for my life… and working on accepting the life God has planned for me… and take each day to enjoy and live to the fullest with gratitude!

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!!!