Apple crisp, Pumpkin Spice Lattes, and Comfy sweaters. Fall is my absolute favorite season of the year. I love the predictability of the bold colors on my trees outside my kitchen window. The promise of hayrides and cooler temps are a welcome reprieve after the busy chaos of the summer.
For those of us that have been in ministry for awhile, we know there are seasons to ministry as well. Heading into the fall is typically a season of growth. Newly christened planners, schedules, and a desire for routine will predictably produce a new crop of kids into our Children’s and Youth Ministries. Typically, this is the time of year new leaders, both paid and volunteer, are brought into our leadership circles of influence. Because of that, I thought it would be helpful this month to look at a couple things that we need to make sure we guard as leaders in ministry. We can get so busy and caught up with fall festivals and busy holiday months that it can be easy to slip into some negative habits if we aren’t careful. It’s also the time of year that new ministry roles are typically hired for.
Recently, I transitioned into a new ministry role for an international organization after serving for almost 7 years in a local church. Considering the fact that most Children’s Pastors only last on average about 18 months, I am what is considered a veteran in that arena.
As I look back over my time in that role, there are some things that I wish I did differently. Here are ten things, in no particular order, that I hope you can use to protect heart and ministry in a new position.
1. Stay Positive
Sometimes Children’s Pastors come on staff because the church is growing and there is a need for a dedicated person in this role. More often, however, you are replacing someone else. Often times, there were issues that came up that contributed to the reasons why your position was even available. When I first started, I had a tendency to focus on the negative things that were piling up in front of me. My heart was in the right place, because I was so excited to make my ministry awesome. My mind, however, was not. Focusing on the negative put me in a negative place. It took awhile for this to sink in, but as I started focusing on all the awesome things about the families I got to work with, it balanced out my heart and mind. Finding out that your predecessor did NO background checks on new volunteers?….. Pray over each volunteer as you make your way through the pile of forms that need processed. Lack of communication within the department?….. Have some fun creating a newsletter to send out every month. Low supplies and even lower budget?….. Tell everyone you come in contact with how amazing your kids are and how they can be a part of what God is doing right there in their community. Find ways to use those things that your flesh might want to complain about as an opportunity to pray and bless someone in the process. You will be amazed at what this does for your heart. (And theirs!)
2. Treating Adults Like Adults
When people serve in ministry, it is a commitment to God, not you or me. However, I used to call every person scheduled to volunteer to remind them they were on the schedule. Then I called them afterwards to see how everything went. As my volunteer base grew, so did my phone call list. It got to the point where I was spending the majority of my week on the phone. At some point, I realized that I was treating my volunteers the same way I treated my young children. Reminding, worrying, then checking up. There is obviously value in being approachable and valuing each team member. There is also a sense that holding on to things too tightly prevents people from reaching their potential. At some point, as long as you have done your homework by doing background checks and training them well, allow people the freedom to succeed within their roles.
3. Talk to God Before You Talk to Anyone Else
My husband says I talk to breathe. He’s not wrong. It’s my default setting. So naturally, when the frustrations of working with broken people leave me feeling overwhelmed, my natural tendency is to want to process my emotions and thoughts out loud. That is perfectly fine as long as my primary audience is God. I understand that there may be permissions that won’t break confidentiality if you are sharing things within the staff. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Dumping something on someone else without going to God first does nothing to solve the problem. In fact, it often makes it worse because you are rehearsing the emotions. Yes, there may be times where you need the insight of the staff. More often than not though, taking it to the Lord first will help give you some perspective and peace.
4. Guard Your Relationships and Realizing Some Change
Leadership is lonely. There are things you just can’t talk about with others. There are events you have to go to, even if they are at the same time as a family event or birthday party. Nights out with friends suddenly don’t involve you because there is a layer of awkwardness now because of your role. Even if nothing changes within the relationship, it will still feel that way. Seeking out relationships with other leaders will help this. Finding a network of like-minded ministry leaders whether it’s in your community or through social media becomes more important than ever. Don’t allow yourself to become an island. Instead, be intentional about making sure that as you grow and change, so do your relationships.
5. Only Allow Those That Are Safe Into Your Private Spaces
Three years into my position as a staff Pastor, I had finally saved enough to take our kids to Disney World. Couponing every week and saving any extra funds that came in finally allowed us to take our three daughters on an unforgettable trip. Excited to share pictures of princesses, (both mine and Disney’s) with family, I posted ONE picture on social media of a moment that was a dream come true for my youngest. The response that picture got was not one I was expecting. The ridicule for spending other people’s “tithe money” on our trip cut deep. Yes, I was paid by the church. But I also held garage sales, carefully watched our grocery budget, and shopped second hand. That didn’t matter to those that were watching. Although that attitude was not reflected by our leadership of the church, there were people in our community that felt that way. I didn’t know how to handle that at first. After seeking out the advice of an older and wiser wife of another pastor, I had my answer. “Why are those people even on your social media?” It was a question I had not even considered before. I assumed that because I had a public role in the church that I was required to accept everyone that wanted to follow me. By doing that, I allowed those that didn’t understand my heart and mission to speak into my life, even in a small way. That criticism didn’t feel small. In fact, it stayed with me for quite awhile. Now, the only ones who are able to be in my safe place are those that are, well, safe. Those that love and encourage and support.
6. Do What God Wants YOU to Do, Not What He Told Someone Else to Do
When I first took over the children’s department I inherited a curriculum that was not a good fit for our kids. The previous director told me what a fabulous curriculum it was and how much money she had spent on it. Although I could tell it had some great bones to it, every week I had to re-write it in such a way that it barely resembled what we started with. This added a tremendous amount of work to my week. After praying about it, the Lord very clearly revealed to me that I needed to be obedient to what He was calling ME to in that season. The previous curriculum had been used for seven years. After prayerfully considering what God wanted me to do, we switched curriculum and have never looked back. I am thankful for the role the previous director played in our ministry. But she left. God placed me where He did for a specific reason and a specific group of kids. He did the same with you. Don’t feel like you need to keep things the same because that is how someone else did things. In fact, that’s all the more reason it may need to change.
7. Littlest Ones Matter
It is rare that a new volunteer will ask to be put in the nursery. Although I love babies, it is always difficult to get consistent volunteers for the nursery. When I consider that in light of our more popular areas to serve in our department, I realize that it’s my fault. Do I ever talk about nursery and how spiritual formation starts before birth? Not really. Instead I talk about what God is doing with Elementary kids doing community outreach or preschoolers learning to worship. It is just as important to talk about what God is doing in the hearts and spirits of our littlest ones. They matter to Him and they should matter to us.
There is always a never-ending list of things to do in the Children’s department. It can be easy to feel overwhelmed, especially in the busy seasons. Prioritize what needs done first and allow yourself to walk away at the end of the day. It will be there tomorrow.
9. Keep Family First
Ironically, this is not first on the list. Because initially, I did not struggle with this. It wasn’t until I was months into my new role that I realized the toll it was taking on my family. Time at home was not necessarily time at home because I was always answering one more text message, finishing one last email, and catching up on one last project. Now, there is at least one day a week that my phone and computer stay off, my family gets all of me, and they know they are my priority. Regularly scheduled vacations and family date days get scheduled on the calendar before anything else does. Don’t allow your marriage or kids become a statistic.
10. Taking Time for Your Own Walk
This is last because this is the one that I want you to remember. This is the most important one on the list. If you are only opening your Bible to prepare a lesson, then you are not reading the Word for you, you are reading it for someone else. Yes, we need to be in the Word to develop lessons for our kids and volunteers. Don’t allow that to replace the time you are spending in the Word, hearing from the Lord for yourself. This will be the number one thing that will make the most lasting of an impact in your ministry.
What else would you include in this list? Drop us a line in the comments to let us know some other important things you would say to someone in a new ministry role.
Be Blessed, Rachael