I’ve heard it my whole life, “It’s not just what you know but who you know that counts.” Not only is life all about relationships, so is ministry! Jesus came to earth for people! Long lasting ministry is relational in focus. Jesus told us to go and make disciples of all nations. This includes every age. You can’t make disciples without a relationship; it takes a discipler and a disciplee.
I think one of the most wonderful benefits of traveling and doing conferences and seminars is that I get to meet a lot of people in children’s ministry. Not only do I seem to have an instant connection with folks because of our passion for children and family ministry, but I also love meeting the people I’m going to spend eternity with. The more we live in community here on the earth, the more we grow in relationship together as Christ followers. To me heaven is going to be a wonderful reunion, where I can spend eternity with so many of the kidmin universe I’ve grown to love.
One of the first lessons I learned when I started trying to lead others was that the lowest form of leadership is positional leadership. People respond better to others out of relationship rather than from a position of power.
I believe there are eight key relationships that determine the quality of your leadership. Working on these eight relationships has become a way of life for me. I tried to place them by both biblical order and by importance to me. Let’s get started.
The first one, I shouldn’t have to tell Christ-followers, is to know God. One of my very favorite questions to ask myself on a regular basis is, “Has there ever been a time in your life where you were closer to the Lord than you are right now?” You are the only person who can do something about that. Make time with the Lord daily. Appointments work. I love to schedule appointments with the Lord. They are never the same time everyday, but I have a floating to-do that reminds me before I go to bed tonight, look at tomorrow and schedule my time with God. That dog will hunt! Another thing that will really help your relationship with God is to go to church. Just because you are in the ministry doesn’t mean you don’t need to feed your spirit and to lift up the Lord through worship. In fact, I think the more you give out the more you have to replenish on a regular basis.
The second key relationship is your relationship with your family. Your relationship with your family is the greatest sermon you’ll ever preach. I believe with all my heart that what happens at home is more important than what happens at church when it comes to spiritual outcomes! I believe it’s important that you adore your spouse. I’ve learned over the years that whatever I did to win her affection is what I still need to do to keep her affection. Go on dates and keep your marriage strong. Make family time and your day off special. I still love to take my daughters on dates and spend special time with our whole family. Give your family quality and quantity time. They deserve the best time and the most time you can give.
The third key relationship is to know you. What’s the lens you view life and others through? I love gift assessment tests like the love languages by Fred and Anna Kendall or the Path Element Profile (PEP) by Laurie Beth Jones. I think it’s important to know your strengths and your weaknesses. You have to evaluate yourself, your attitude and your abilities on a daily basis. We all know that God’s Word tells us, “Above all else, guard your heart.” You’ll never lead others if you can’t lead yourself.
The fourth key relationship is to know your leader. We exist to serve and help our pastors and leaders. What’s your pastor’s heart and vision? What’s his philosophy of ministry? You should know your leader’s leadership style as well as be willing to model them. Because we represent our leaders, we should take Jesus’ lead to be an exact replica of whom we represent. Do you remember what Jesus said? “If you’ve seen me, you have seen the Father.” That should be our goal!
The fifth key relationship is to know your team, especially the level of leadership directly under you. It doesn’t matter if you have a paid staff or if you lead a team of volunteers. I lead them in the same way. I start with structure. The key is to determine if your structure is a growth structure or a maintenance structure. I have just released a brand new book on this subject called STRETCH-Structuring Your Ministry for Growth. Look for where ministry is happening alone. This will help you know where you need depth and people to represent you. Identify not only the positions needed to minister to children but also the gifts and skill required for each position. Do you have the right people in the right places? Do you have a plan to enlarge the abilities of those you lead? All your meetings can’t be informational; you must also teach skills and enlarge their abilities!
The sixth relationship is to know the key influencers within your church and your ministry. The place to start is within your own worker base. Who are your influential leaders? You should know the influential kids and get to know their parents. Who are the influential leaders within your church? Chances are they are not all presently involved in ministry somewhere. Go out and build a relationship with them, so they can help you cast your vision. Sometimes having cheerleaders on your side is as important as people engaged in serving.
Know your workers and kids. The more the merrier. That’s our seventh key relationship. I shouldn’t have to tell this to Christian leaders but it’s important to
show yourself friendly to the people you lead and to those you serve. Ministry is all about relationship. Learn to listen. Good listeners are also good leaders. People don’t care what you know until they know that you care. Show up at stuff that matters to them. Learning names, as well as being touchable and approachable are ways to help you stick out. You can’t spend all your time teaching; you have to also be willing to move slowly among the people, letting them know you value and appreciate who they are in addition to what they do.
The eighth and final relationship is to know other leaders and network to grow and learn. Iron sharpens iron. We need each other. It is so much easier to get to know other children’s ministry leaders than ever before. I love social media sites like CMconnect.org, Twitter and FaceBook. There are thousands of kidmin leaders that you can friend and follow online. You can also read their blogs, leave them a comment, or even ask a question. I appreciate folks who set up phone appointments and bounce their ideas off others. Join a local children’s ministry group or if there’s not one in your area, start one. Invite local kidmin folks to lunch. Take a road trip on a regular basis. You can also take a web tour and stay at home.
My favorite way to network is still conferences. I make my own conference within a conference. I attended two conferences last week; at those events I connected with leaders who were both speakers and attendees. This was a time of learning that wasn’t listed in the conference brochure. I came home with cell numbers, email address and some brand new friends.
Where do I start? I think the starting place is in prayer, asking Father God which of these eight relationships are lacking. You are the only person who can fix them. The time you spend in prayer will be the difference maker for you. This is what I know … every time I have asked God what He wants me to do, He shows me. We are the Lord’s sheep. He is our shepherd! We will not hear the voice of a stranger. The next step is to practice evaluation. I’ve been saying this for years, but evaluation is usually the missing link. Grade yourself; examine your effectiveness in each of these relationships. Keep them in biblical order. Put Jesus first, your family second and your dreams, goals and ministry after that. Last but not least, become a life-long learner. You can learn something everyday if you want to. The key is that you need to want to. Listen to others. Become a reader! Get a mentor who you can relate to close up and from afar. Learn from your ministry friends and determine to learn from your team.