A few weeks ago at church I was talking to someone who doesn’t spend much time back in the children’s ministry at church. They’d been coming to our church for awhile but not necessarily regularly. As I was getting to know this person they turned the question around and asked me how long I had been in ministry.
“Have you been doing…(Pointing to the kids area behind me) this, long?”
I lead a pretty young staff and most of the people around me have just sort of known my history or known how long I’ve been doing what I’m doing. So it was fun as I started to talk and get to tell my story. The weird thing was how long it was.
I do this really annoying thing with my staff. I’ll start to talk about things that I was a part of or mistakes I made early on. I feel like an old guy, and I think come off as an old guy as I talk about some of the things I’ve run into. I’m really not old. I’m a spring chicken, internet! So back off!
But in our kids ministry I started volunteering 11 years ago! I came on staff at our church, starting in maintenance, almost 8 years ago. I’ve been overseeing the elementary area in kids ministry for 5 years now.
Now I realize, this isn’t an amazing track record. I’m just getting started! I’m also sure that I have a lot left to learn and I’m sure a ton of mistakes left to make. But thinking back over the past few years there were some things that I have learned and picked up from people who have been in ministry a lot longer then me. Here’s a list of 6 mistakes that if I could, I would tell my 11-year-younger-self to avoid.
- Confusing “sexy” and “significant”.
This really applies to all of ministry. In my 8 years working at the church I’ve had something funny, and I’m sure well meant, said to me many times. It goes like this.
“I would love to have your job”
“You have such a nice job”
“There’s a lot of people that would want your job”
Now, don’t get me wrong, I LOVE my job. I love that I get to do, what I do, every day. But I think there’s a misnomer about ministry. Everyone thinks that ministry is a mountain top experience. It’s not. It’s work. Harder work then some other work. I mean, look at the Bible.
Paul planted churches and he was also a tent maker to pay the bills.
People love it when they get to be involved in the “church plantings” of modern day ministry. But when the “tent-making” comes it’s less then exciting.
I love my job and am passionate about it. But I’m not saying that I go around all week shouting with incredible passion:
“I get to answer emails today!”
“I get to call a parent that was mad we made a Disney reference today!”
“Yay! My bankcard statement is due!”
But, guess what? All of the above, come with ministry. The thing is that while the “sexy” things of filming, writing, performing, creative meeting-ing, and much more are fun, many times the less “fun” things are more important.
Like our church has our staff make miss you calls each week. If a kid misses four weeks in a row, we pick up a phone and call them. Four weeks after Easter, that works out to be like 20 calls a piece.
Some people are glad you called.
Some people are annoyed you called.
Some people get mad because they think you’re wasting their time.
Some people explain to you that they stopped coming because it seemed like you made children’s ministry too big of deal (No, seriously, I had this conversation once)
Now, as much as I enjoy other parts of my job and as much as I don’t do well on the phone or handle tough conversations well, those phone calls are some of the most important things we do.
The thing about this, is that anyone in ministry long, knows that there are less then “sexy” jobs that have saved their ministry. The temptation is to confuse “sexy” for “significant”.
- You think ministry FOR kids always means ministry TO kids.
This is the ministry bait and switch. Most people who get into children’s ministry got into children’s ministry because of how much they loved to work with children. But after you get involved in ministry you find out that you spend a lot of time around volunteers and staff.
Adult volunteers and staff.
Who are boring.
Okay, I’m kidding about the last part, but they are adults. You spend so much time preparing, training, equipping, and supporting staff and volunteers you find yourself spending less and less time with kids.
Early on in ministry this discouraged me.
Until I saw a few lives changed.
Not just kids lives, I am so blessed to see kids lives changed all the time. But I had started watching that from afar. Jealously at times.
What happened for me was I saw an adults life changed.
This was an adult.
He had started volunteering. He was going to school to be a medical-business man. Basically he wanted to run a hospital.
And then he volunteered.
He realized he wanted to go into ministry.
He stopped everything and followed the call to do that. Now he works at another church.
I realized that as much as I loved falling in love with seeing kids fall in love with Jesus, that I began to fall in love, with watching people fall in love, with seeing kids fall in love with Jesus.
But I realized that as much as I loved kids, I was passionate about moving people, all ages of people fall in love with kids and what Jesus wants to do for and through them.
- You get burnt out by #2 because you don’t do for a few.
Now, as much as I love getting to do what I do. As much as I understand the ministry bait-and-switch, I also realize that if you’re not careful you’ll forget why you got into ministry. You’ll manage, plan, execute, produce, train, teach, give, give, give and burn-out.
That’s why, when I heard a senior pastor, Andy Stanley, give a talk entitled “Do for a few” I realized how important it is do stay connected to why you do ministry.
For me this looks like finding a few kids that I purposefully pour more into.
Like a kid that came through KidzWorld a few years back.
He came with his grandfather.
Because his dad was addicted to drugs.
He spent weeks where he went home to his parents and spent the week in crack houses and at drug deals until child services came and took him to his grandparents.
This kids life broke my heart and I tried to insert myself into it.
Another thing I do is purposefully try not to let myself be removed from small things like birthday calls and miss you calls. Don’t get me wrong, there are some weeks the law of 24 hours in a day, demands that I delegate, but I try to keep close to these things that put me face to face with kids.
Find a way to stay connected to the boots on the ground, ministry TO kids. It reminds you why you do the ministry FOR kids.
- Using the word = “Just”.
This is a big mistake people make with kids.
It’s not JUST Kids Ministry.
It’s KIDS Ministry
You’re not JUST a Kids Pastor or Kids worker.
You’re a KIDS Pastor or KIDS worker
If you’re in kids ministry don’t use the word just.
It’s not JUST for kids, it’s for kids and they are incredibly important to our Savior. Thankfully I’m blessed to work at a church, where our senior leadership understands this and backs this belief up.
But I still have to keep myself from using that word.
My boss has always told me to never apologize for demanding the respect of your ministry, from yourself, from your staff, and from your volunteers. If you’re in kid ministry of any size it’s not, a just, it’s a justice. Jesus demanded in the name of justice for the little children to be brought to him. When the disciples held them back so he could do more important things, Jesus inserted himself in and rectified it.
- You think: I’m Alone
This mistake is a killer in ministry. The story that I hold onto is actually found in 1 Kings 19.
Elijah is this awesome prophet. In fact right before this Elijah has this awesome, mountain-top-experience. I mean, he goes head to head with these prophets and priests of this false god Baal. They put their god to the test and Baal fails miserably. Which will happen when you don’t exist.
Elijah, puts God to the test and he blows the people away.
Weird thing is Jezebel this evil queen really doesn’t like how her prophets are treated after this. (They were sort of killed). She demands Elijah’s head on a platter and he falls to pieces and goes running.
You’ve done this.
See an awesome event or camp where kids lives are changed and you hear these stories and then one parent calls your senior pastor and says “Seemed like all fun and no substance.”
Instead of having faith that God is using you and your ministry you think, “What’s the point?”, “Why try?”, “People just don’t get it.”
You go to God like Elijah does and you say “I am the only one left!” (vs 10).
I’ve done this.
Not on the example above but on the edge of burnout. Then I have to hear God’s still small whisper as he says.
“ Yet I will preserve 7,000 others in Israel who have never bowed down to Baal or kissed him!” (vs 18).
Okay…so…the kissing Baal thing isn’t really said. But the point is you are not alone. You know what I love about that verse? How many of those 7,000 people did you get to know? How many of their names made it in the Bible? How many times do you say, oh yeah, there was Elisha and Billy-Bob, Billy never bowed.
Don’t be discouraged because you feel like people don’t see you. Elijah was this great prophet of God and he missed 7,000 people. GOD sees you. God SEES you. He knows what you do, what you sacrifice, what you give and he knows why. So don’t give up because GOD, the God that made everything, sees it and cares. If that’s true and you really live in that it really doesn’t matter who gives you props.
- You don’t partner with parents.
You’re NOT alone. Because chances are as much as you care for your kids in your ministry, their parents care more. Not always. But most times. Partner with them.
It took me being a dad to get this one fully. No one loves my kids as much as my wife and I do. I’ll admit sometimes parents come in and as a person in ministry you want to scream because you’re thinking:
“Isn’t this important to you?”
“Doesn’t this matter more then sports?”
“Doesn’t this matter more then ‘beating’ traffic so you can sit in line at McDonald’s?”
“Don’t you care?”
They do. They’re thinking.
“Is my kid…MY kid, not what you’re trying to TELL my kid, but MY kid important to you?”
“Do you care how my kid does at sports? Because I was there when he missed practice and it was a bad day for the family.”
“Have you seen my 3 year old at 1:30 without McNuggets? If you had, you’d have a sauce packet waiting with some deep-fried toddler crack.”
“Do you REALLY care? About us?”
Don’t ask if they’re on your side, ask if you’ve let them know you’re on theirs. Because as much as those in ministry need to hear we’re not alone, parents need to hear it more.So there’s 6 mistakes I made early on in ministry. Stay tuned for my next post, the 1,000 mistakes I made right after posting about mistakes. It’s a process and I’m glad God promises to carry it on to fruition. Ministry is messy but man is it impossible to beat.