It’s your first day on staff as children’s pastor at a new church. The senior pastor has introduced you to the staff, donuts from your first day welcome party have been reduced to crumbs in the bottom of an empty box, and you’re sitting alone in your office. Now what? How you handle the next few months will have a tremendous impact on the remainder of your ministry. Let’s make sure you get off on the right foot. By the way, this advice applies whether you’re launching a ministry from scratch or you’re the new children’s pastor coming into an established ministry.
- First, do nothing.
Spend several months not changing anything that’s currently in place. Use the time to find out what’s been done in the past. Ask lots of questions. Observe carefully. You need to understand exactly how the pastor, parents, kids, and current volunteers define a “great” children’s ministry. It’s likely that their definition won’t be in complete agreement, but everyone will assume your definition of “great” matches his/her own.
- Now fix something, but something small.
Find one small problem and fix it. Don’t tackle anything big yet; nobody knows you well enough to trust you, and you may create a bigger problem than you solve. Find something … anything … that makes life a little better for your kids, teachers, or kids’ families. You want people to realize that you’re actually good for the organization and worth listening to.
- Connect with your leader.
When you go into a church to serve as children’s pastor, decide you’ll be committed to and support your senior pastor. I believe every church staff member should give the senior pastor what the leader wants. We need to all be working toward the same goal. When you come into a church, ask yourself, “What can God teach me through this pastor?” Your teachable attitude will allow you to do significant ministry and also grow spiritually.
- Figure out where you are.
Once you understand the pastor’s vision for the children ministry, see if you have the resources you need to meet it. Is the correct leadership in place? Do you have the right tools—the curriculum, furniture, and rooms? Summarize on paper how you view your current ministry situation. Summarize where you think the ministry should go, too, and share what you’ve written with your senior pastor. This is your pastor’s chance to fine-tune your direction before you set out and make changes.
- Join the team.
Go to lunch with other people on your church staff, one at a time. Ask what’s important to them. Hear their heartbeat for ministry. Remember that even if the youth group consistently leaves the room you share in chaos, you and the youth pastor are on the same ministry team. Next year, you’ll be releasing some of your children into the care of that youth pastor. Esteem that pastor and offer your support. If we want others to respect us, we need to respect them. That means respecting everyone on your team. Don’t fall into the “Us vs. Them” trap. We’re all on the same team.
- Determine where you’re going.
Set goals for each area of your children’s ministry. What do the kids in the
nursery need? The preschoolers? Be specific. Here’s a great exercise to help you develop goals. Ask yourself what you want children to do when they’re adults. Make a list. Do you want them to know Jesus? Write it down. Do you want them to have a servant’s heart? Write it down. Want them to be givers? Put it on the list. Now you become those things, and put people who do those things in front of children. Teach children what God’s Word says about those things, and model what living it looks like. Let your ministry be a place where children see what God wants them to become and where they can practice serving, giving, and being faithful. People follow people with a plan. If you haven’t developed a plan in your first three months to get from where you are to where you’re going, people aren’t going to follow you.
- Communicate with the right people.
Most children’s pastors spend 90 percent of their time working on communicating with kids. That’s great, but you need to communicate with other audiences, too. Create a newsletter that tells parents what you’re teaching and what’s on the schedule. Since you can’t assume that take-home papers make it home, you have to communicate by snail mail, e-mail, or even a worker webpage. Look for ways to keep information flowing to your team, also. Communicate upward.
- Update job descriptions.
Everyone needs a job description. I like to give every volunteer his/her own job description, plus everyone else’s job description. When volunteers know where they fit, everyone does better. Write your own job description first, and submit it to the senior pastor for tweaking. Then, write everyone else’s descriptions. When your job description aligns with the pastor’s vision, and the other job descriptions align with yours, you’re all on the same page.
- Build a team.
We say team building is important. We even believe it. So why don’t we do it? If you don’t allow others to learn by doing—coaching and encouraging them as they go—there’s no way you’ll build a team. See yourself as a coach and a mentor whether you have a team of 200 or a volunteer staff of two. Delegation is good; it’s letting someone represent you in accomplishing tasks and duties. You need that. But even better than delegation is duplication—creating an exact copy of an original. When you instill your heart and passion in another children’s worker, you’ve gone beyond just delegation and actually duplicated yourself.
- Be visible in worship.
It’s important for your own spiritual life that you be in worship. It’s also important for your own spiritual life that you be a worshipper. Your actions set an expectation that every children’s ministry volunteer should be growing in his/her faith. Sit right down front and be visible as a cheerleader for the church, not just for your own ministry.
- Use the church calendar.
Make sure your church office has a central, master calendar and use it. Staying coordinated with other ministries avoids facility conflicts. It also increases participation in children’s ministry, because families don’t have to choose between conflicting meetings.
- Tend to the budget.
Find out how budgets are done, by whom, when, and what the approval process is. Become an expert in the process before you have to produce an annual budget. You can accomplish more with money than without it, so don’t be shy about figuring out how to ask for money. To create a budget, ask yourself what you want to accomplish in the lives of your kids. Then develop on paper a ministry that meets those goals. Price the programs and total them up. That’s the budget you’ll ask for.
- Shelve the great program you did in your last church.
The program that went well in your last church may not meet the needs of children in your new church. Always start by identifying needs and then finding a program or curriculum that addresses those needs.
- Be creative and open to change.
Creative people are open to new ideas. They put things together in innovative ways. They tweak and twist and rearrange stuff. And they don’t accept the first solution offered just because it’s the easiest. That tiny change you wanted to make in your first few weeks may just be adding some direction signs so that people can find their way from one place to another. A small change … but a huge difference.
- Do the job only you can do.
The first priority for any children’s pastor is to work on leadership skills. We have to be problem solvers, encouragers, cheerleaders, coaches. You simply cannot spend all your time in classrooms with kids. Ask the Lord if you’re more valuable to your pastor being a leader of leaders and a problem solver than as a teacher of kids. There are other people who can teach kids, but you may be the only one who can do your role.
This might not seem like a full year’s worth of things to do but, believe me, these 15 things will keep you busy. It’s not easy doing all 15 of these at the same time. Some will be easier to accomplish than others. The key is to remember this first year is all about relationships. One of the best words of advice I could give a person in a new position or church would be to remember that ministry is a marathon; it is not a sprint. Don’t try to do everything that needs to be done all at one time.
It’s also important to remember that your family needs you. They are new, too. They’ll make the needed adjustments they need to make if they have you leading them. Don’t be an absentee parent. Be the leader at home, as well as at the church.
Jim Wideman is a children’s ministry pioneer and leadership coach. He’s in love with one woman and man guitars. jimwideman.com