The first law of motion
It was during a sermon that the pastor briefly mentioned Sir Isaac Newton and his laws of motion. Immediately, my thoughts took a detour and I started thinking about the implications on children’s ministry. (Missed a few minutes of the sermon, but I did get back on track.) Newton’s Laws of Motion made a connection that I think can help us retain some important concepts. Let’s look at what Isaac Newton has to say about children’s ministry.
Newton’s first law of motion: An object at rest will remain at rest unless acted on by an outside force. And, an object in motion will continue in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an outside force.
An object, such as a rock, is content to stay right where it is. Likewise, people are content to stay right where they are. Seems that we have a lot in common with rocks! They’re both at rest and are perfectly fine with it. According to Newton, the only way to get them (the rock or the person) to start moving is to apply a little outside force. You can kick the rock, pick it up and throw it, or hit it with a stick. You could also do that to a person to get them to physically move, but I wouldn’t suggest it. But, in order to get children’s ministry volunteers (or professionals, for that matter) to move out of their place of rest, some kind of outside force needs to be applied; otherwise, they’ll be content to stay right where they are, doing exactly what they’re doing.
So, if your ministry is at rest, what are some of the “outside forces” we can apply to prevent it from remaining at rest?
A Fresh Vision. “Do I have to draw you a picture?” is usually a question accompanying frustration, but it’s a critical step to get the ministry that finds itself at rest out of that state of rest and into a state of motion. Draw your volunteers a picture. Help them see what you see. Help them envision the potential. Describe what you picture your children’s ministry and your church looking like in six months … a year … 3 years.
You can do this with descriptive words, but using actual pictures, visuals, charts, and designs is like moving from a little megaphone to a state-of-the-art sound system. Your vision and message come across loud and clear. We all basically think in pictures, not words. When you think about an experience you’ve had, you don’t recall the caption in the photo album; you recall the picture. When you’re planning a vacation, you don’t see the brochure description in your mind; you think about the pictures of the beach, museum, and scenery.
Draw a new picture … present a fresh vision … and the ministry at rest will move.
Communicate the Importance of What They are Doing. After years in children’s ministry, you’re fully aware of how important investing in kids is. But, the average person, your new volunteer, has no idea. They don’t realize that the majority of people make life decisions to follow Christ when they’re children. They don’t realize that moral foundations and belief systems are being set for life before a child moves into the youth group. They don’t realize that preschoolers 3-years-old through 5-years-old take in more information in that 3-year period than during any other time in their lives. They don’t realize that this is far beyond child care; real worship, real learning, real life-change is happening in children’s ministry. Continually communicate the importance of seriously investing in children and what was at rest will take on motion.
Education. We’re way too guilty of recruiting a wonderful volunteer and then handing them a curriculum packet, walking away, without giving them any explanation. More than likely, this is someone who has never worked with a curriculum … and believe it or not, it’s not like casually reading a magazine.
Excitedly walk through a curriculum with a new volunteer, pointing out wonderful opportunities to have fun with the kids and build relationships. Show them how they can do both of those things while taking the kids deep into God’s Word and introducing them to the importance of living a life of obedience to the Lord. You’ve just provided an outside force that will move your children’s ministry to a new level.
Create a Team Environment. Just because you have a good number of people volunteering in children’s ministry doesn’t mean you have created a team environment. You could simply have a lot of separate people doing their thing without any knowledge of what others are doing or without a relationship with them. Individuals working as an island tend to stay at rest. After all, isn’t resting what you do on an island? Teams tend to make it happen. Teams create motion.
Teams feed off one another. They share ideas. They talk through ways to handle difficult situations or challenging students. They pray for one another and have relationships that go beyond their position of leading a specific group of kids. They inspire one another to be better teachers. They hold one another accountable. And, they can’t do any of that without actually being together.
Find ways for your volunteers to “be” together. Get to know one another more than a surface “Good morning” … become a team … and you’ll have that outside force that will take a group of people from rest to motion.
Provide New Resources and a Fresh Environment. So often, the children’s ministry has the worst carpeting, the same “Sunday School green” walls from the 1950s, broken equipment, and cluttered cabinets containing odds and ends that have been there for 30 years. Don’t deny it … you know what I’m talking about! That environment doesn’t provide a whole lot of motivation. It doesn’t say that the church values kids or their leaders.
Recently, I witnessed a small church that was in the aforementioned state get a new young lead pastor who valued children’s ministry. Immediately upon taking the position, he insisted that the children’s area be refreshed. A few simple changes were made—one wall was removed, rooms were painted, clutter removed by the dumpster load, monitors installed, and carpet squares put down. It so motivated the people who volunteered in children’s ministry that you’d hardly recognize it’s the same group. Freshening up the environment took a children’s ministry that was at rest and became the outside force that moved it into motion.
There are other things that can help cause movement, but let’s look at the other half of that first law of motion: things that are in motion tend to stay in motion unless acted upon by an outside force. You see, it goes both ways. Basically, objects want to continue doing whatever it is that they’re doing. If they’re resting, they want to keep resting. If they’re moving, they want to keep moving. It’s the outside forces that determine what happens. It’s the same with ministries and the people who make them up. If a ministry has always been done this way, and there’s little effort to maintain that, then everybody’s happy. But, if it’s moving and affecting children and their families, then no one’s happy unless it continues to do that. Both can be changed by an outside force.
When you throw a rock, it would like to keep soring through the air … on and on and on. But, other forces act upon it and keep it from continuing in the direction it was headed. The air slows it down. A tree gets in the way. It hits a window! And so it is with children’s ministry. Everything can be in place. Children are excited about being at church and are inviting their friends. You’re seeing kids make life-changing commitments and anxious to grow in their faith. Volunteers are happy and motivated. Parents are realizing that they are the spiritual leaders of their children. All is well with the ministry world … until a tree gets in the way. Until tension arises between some parents. Until several key leaders have job changes and move away suddenly. Until funds are drastically cut. Until church staff changes. Until someone gets a bad attitude.
The role of the leader is to be on the lookout for those outside forces that will try to change the forward movement. Here are a few ways you can prevent outside forces from altering the ministry motion.
Constantly Recruit. Never feel like you have arrived and that you have every position filled. You are never done. You will only be comfortable for a week … maybe two. If you’re constantly recruiting, then the moment someone has to step down, for whatever reason, you have trained and available people in the bullpen. A situation that is potentially an outside force that will change the forward motion has been eliminated.
Address Conflict Immediately. Too often, we think if we just leave it alone, it will go away. Usually doesn’t. Avoiding a situation is a risky thing to do. Something fans the flames more often than it dying down. When you approach someone with an attitude and admission that you’re sensing some tension and want to make sure that everything is okay, you provide a healthy outlet for them to present their grievances and talk through the issue. When something gets infected, you want to get on it quick; otherwise, the doctor’s visits aren’t pleasant. Leaders are anxious to resolve conflict and get that outside force out of the way so forward motion can continue.
Don’t Allow Yourself to Be Drawn In. When discouragement comes because of lagging church finances or staffing changes, don’t allow yourself to take on a let-down attitude the church may be experiencing. Speak words of encouragement. Turn up the dial on your creativity and think of ways that the same caliber of ministry can take place with a smaller budget. Be the one who still sees the vision in spite of the obstacles. Push aside that outside force that may be trying to impede your movement.
Newton knew physics and really had no clue about children’s ministry. Thinking about his laws of motion, though, and contemplating their implications for a healthy children’s ministry can be enlightening.
Some speak of God as an “outside force”, but I’m so glad that He isn’t. I’m glad that the Holy Spirit is personal and intimate. But, I’m also glad that through prayer and obedience, the Holy Spirit can kick us in the pants when we need to stop resting and also be the One who can move obstacles out of the way that threaten the work for the Kingdom.