Leadership in any organization, for any venue, is an honor. When it comes to leadership in children’s ministry, however, we have the greatest privilege of all. Children’s pastors and leaders all across this country are facing an ever-changing, extremely dynamic world of children. What is “hip” and “in” one day, could be gone and out the window the next. Children are daily barraged with thousands of images, ideas, ideologies, and ways to live life. With so many ever-changing aspects in a child’s life, there is still the need for one thing to remain constant—solid leadership.
Leadership in children’s ministry is a serious task. When God calls us to lead children, He calls us to lead His most precious creations, those that will shape the future. It must be done with care and it must be done with excellence. We are also called to lead with excellence in our homes. When combined, leadership in the home and the church can seem like an amazing balancing act … but it doesn’t have to be. It does remain true, however, that God expects us to lead in every area of home life and children’s ministry with exceeding greatness. So how do we get there? What classifies a great leader of children? What classifies a great leader in the home? No matter what size the church, no matter how many children come through our children’s ministries each week, we must follow first, then lead. Here are some truths that I’ve found to be timeless for any children’s leader to be successful both in the church and in the home.
Truth 1: Christ First
Mark writes in his gospel, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it” (8:34-35). As leaders, we must be followers of Christ above anything else. A leader who does not spend ample time on his personal relationship with Christ will be a worthless leader. It always surprises me when I meet people who have these great ambitions to become a renowned speaker or pastor, and when asked about their personal disciplines with Christ, those disciplines are nonexistent. On the flip side, it seems quite heretical to encourage children in their private disciplines with Christ and to let Him lead them, if we as leaders fail to let Christ daily lead us. A great leader is one who chases after Christ and daily gives their life up to be led by Him.
Truth 2: You Have a Shepherd
This may come as a surprise to some, but as children’s leaders, we are not in charge of the church. It pains me when I hear other staff pastors harping on the leadership of their lead pastor. Just as God has entrusted the children of that church to us, He has appointed our lead pastors to shepherd the church as a whole, and that includes his staff.
Whether you are blessed to have a fantastic relationship with your lead pastor or not, scripture reminds us that we are to respect and honor their leadership, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you” (Hebrews 13:17). Now don’t get me wrong, out of my love and passion for kids, I hold that children’s ministry is the most important ministry a church can offer. However, our children’s ministries should support the vision of the overall church and of our lead pastors. Our job as children’s leaders should not be to push our agenda and do what we must to get what we want.
We should be a blessing to our lead pastors, supporting them at all times. This doesn’t mean we’re exempt from conflict, but it does mean that there should never be an ill word coming from our mouths to others about them. God has called all of you there for a purpose, for this time in history. If we will allow ourselves to be led and mentored by our lead pastors, not only will staff relationships be strengthened through mutual respect and remain biblical, but our overall leadership will be strengthened as we learn.
Truth 3: Serve, Serve, Serve
The words of Jesus in the book of Mark say, “If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all” (9:35). Whether it pertains to children, our fellow staff pastors, families in and out of our church, or our volunteers, our mindset must always jump first to serving them. Pages and pages could be written discussing powerful ways to serve each and every one of these people groups, but the main point is simply this: serve them. We are to model Christ’s example of leadership, and there is no greater example of a servant-leader than our Savior. He even took it to the extreme of death on the cross. Our job as children’s leaders is not to lord our influence and power over people. Our job is to use that influence and power in ways that lovingly serve and equip our kids, families, and volunteers to be better for Christ. Our job is to serve our fellow staff pastors to help make their lives a bit easier so they too can be most effective. If we are to be effective leaders, we must follow the example of Christ and serve. A leader who serves others’ interests before their own, is a leader who is worth following by people of all ages.
Truth 4: Retreat
Burnout. For those of us who serve in ministry leadership, this is the scariest concept around. All we have to do is look at the state of marriages in this country (yes, even Christian), and the turnover rate among pastors in churches, and the evidence of burnout is everywhere. Burnout occurs when we fail to keep the proper balance in our lives between our personal spiritual life, family, and church. In the interest of not going off on a tangent, let me simply say this, Christ did not intend for church to overtake our lives and burn us out. He did not intend for ministry to kill our families. Just because we spend our time doing things that are “good” for the kingdom of God, does not mean that we should allow them to consume the rest of our lives. There is this small passage of scripture in the book of Mark where Jesus himself takes a “time out” from His life in ministry. After feeding the 5,000 Jesus calls His disciples together and says this, “Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest awhile” (Mark 6:31). Jesus and His disciples were overwhelmed with ministry. Recognizing the importance of their health, He basically says, “Let’s get out of here!” If we’re going to be excellent leaders, we need to realize it’s okay to say no, and we need to take time to relax to be with our families. We must be solid leaders in our homes before we can expect to be solid leaders elsewhere.
Leadership is a daunting task, especially when it comes to balancing our lives between leadership in our home and our church. If we are to lead in both areas successfully, then we must learn to be leaders who follow first and lead second. Leadership is not about us and what we can get out of the deal. It’s about those around us and what we can help give them this side of eternity. As Paul writes in the book of Ephesians, “Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil” (5:15-16). We are living in a difficult period of human history, one where Christ and following Him are not even a bleep on most people’s radar screens. We live here, our families live here, and our kids live here. It is during this time in human history that God has called us to be the leaders of children. We need to make the most of our time and our opportunities here, impacting children’s lives like never before. To do that effectively we need leaders. Constant leaders. Servant leaders. Leaders who follow well and are worth following.