I get emails and phone calls on a regular basis from pastors and lay people who are searching for a children’s pastor. Immediately, my heart sinks, because I know what the next question is going to be: “Do you have any names of people we could contact and possibly interview?” Most of the time I have no name to offer them. And, why is that?
There are some unique characteristics that go along with finding a children’s pastor.
- Typically, it’s not the greatest paying job. (Just being realistic here.) You don’t find many people who like the idea of relocating their family for a job that doesn’t pay well.
- Many children’s ministry positions are part-time, especially if a church is adding this staff person for the first time.
- A high percentage of children’s pastors/directors are not the main breadwinners in the family. To relocate would mean that the main breadwinner would have to find a new job in their particular field to support the family. In our present economy, that’s not an easy task.
- Higher education is not preparing ministers for children’s ministry. Very, very few Christian colleges have degrees in children’s ministry. Many that say they address this ministry do so with one or two classes included under a general ministry degree. I’m glad that we’re seeing more schools provide children’s ministry education, but they’re not doing it at a rate anywhere close to keeping up with the demand.
There are several organizations and companies that provide help in connecting churches with a possible staff person—some specifically for children’s ministry—and they do a great job. I always respond to an inquiry by recommending they contact one of these groups as a first option, because the companies gather information and do the preliminary search for a good match. But, the fact is that there are more churches wanting to fill the position than there are qualified people. So, what can a church do in order to find a children’s pastor? The answer may be right under your nose. Grow your own!
Our son was a swimmer and often at a swim meet we saw a bumper sticker, t-shirt, or a banner that said, “I’m a swimmer. Just add water.” There may already be someone in your congregation who “is a children’s pastor”, but they need someone to “just add” to them. Is there someone who gets exceptional joy from seeing kids awaken to the truth of God’s Word? Is there someone who is open to new ideas, has a knack with people, receives feedback well, is growing spiritually on their own and gets excited easily? The rest can be learned. You don’t necessarily need to look for someone who has a degree in child development, is ordained, and has 10 years of experience. Just add water and grow your own children’s pastor!
If you do decide to grow your own, there needs to be a sincere commitment on the part of both the church and the person you are recruiting. The church must understand that this person has a lot to learn and the budget should reflect that. The person the church is investing in must commit time and energy with the understanding this is for the long-term. They will be educated in children’s ministry while they are simultaneously pouring into the ministry. It’s learn-as-you-go, on-the-job training.
The Church’s Commitment
Let’s look at the church’s commitment. In addition to the salary package, there are two main financial investments: conferences and mentoring. There are all kinds of children’s ministry conferences available now. Regional and national. Denominational and independent. Curriculum-specific and general. As part of the grow-your-own process, the church needs to provide funds so that this person can attend multiple conferences, especially in the first two years. The first conference they attend should be a general in nature with lots of workshop options and an exhibit hall that displays resources from a variety of publishers. The objective is to get a glimpse of all that is available. If the first conference they attend is organized around one specific philosophy of ministry or one particular curriculum, it’s easy for a novice to think this is the only way to approach children’s ministry. More specific conferences can most certainly come later when they’ve learned how to determine what is best for their church’s ministry. Going to a conference is not a vacation, so the church should not treat it as such. In fact, after attending a conference and being away from family 24/7 for the majority of a week, many churches give an extra day off.
The other financial investment for the church is to provide a mentor for at least one year, but two years would be wiser. A good mentor is someone who has years of experience in children’s ministry and has ministered in two or more different settings (small church, church plant, inner city church, senior citizen heavy church, mega-church, different cultures or areas of the country, etc.) so they understand from their background that not all churches operate the same way. A new children’s pastor will rely on the mentor to be available to walk through the big picture, as well as work through details that are such a part of this position. It’s a great benefit to be able to learn from the mistakes and experiences of others; a veteran can share the scars and the lessons learned, as well as ask probing questions that will help define the recruit’s direction.
Everyone needs someone to hold them accountable, and a good mentor will be that kind of partner, in both the professional and private family realms. A young children’s pastor—whether that’s in age or merely experience—grows quicker when there is someone to help them avoid the potholes.
Because children’s ministry has a very definite annual cycle, a two-year mentorship provides the best opportunity for growth. The mentor is there to guide through the rhythm of an entire year, and points out things to the recruit that they might easily overlook … like, the decision about whether or not to do VBS needs to be made by Christmas and the planning should start in January … or recruiting is an continual process and needs to stay at the forefront of your thoughts constantly. Then, during the second year the mentor is there to be a sounding board and encourager to push the minister and ministry forward.
The Recruit’s Commitment
If the church has agreed to support the recruit by investing in education through conferences and mentoring, then the recruit needs to be very sure this is the direction they want to pursue. It can’t be a this-sounds-like-it-might-be-a-good-thing decision. The recruit must reflect a commitment to excellence. They may not know much about what they’re doing at the beginning, but they’ve got to be committed to reaching for the next step that will make them more equipped. It takes time, energy and an acute understanding that this is a long-term commitment.
The recruit must be committed to putting in the time and the energy to learn all they can. It’s a daily discipline and not putting in the time shows in their growth. When the day’s “to do” list is long, and it’s tempting to send the mentor an email asking to postpone their time together, they’ve got to be determined to keep those appointments. When they’ve set a reading goal, it hasn’t been met, and their favorite TV show comes on, they’ve got to have the will power to click “off” on the remote. It’s easy to say, “Sure, I’ll put in the time”, but when an actual situation is presented, they may have to think twice about what they would choose.
If the church is going to make a huge investment in this one person, both parties must be assured that this is a long-term commitment. The first two years, especially, are going to be full of mistakes, missed deadlines, failure in planning, discipline issues, misplaced words, and mishandled situations with parents … but it’s a time to learn and grow. After two years, the recruit has experience on their side and kids they are attached to. They feel more confident and benefit from seeing kids grow closer to the Lord. They are now doing the investing more than being invested in.
Long-term commitment—staying for years—honors the church that believed in a raw but passionate person enough to say, “We know you can be a great children’s pastor. We’re going to ‘just add water.’”
Tina loves being the Executive Editor for KidzMatter Magazine. She also enjoys gallivanting around the country to energize kidmin leaders and volunteers, encouraging them to dive into children’s ministry with a new passion. tinahouser.net