Getting started in children’s ministry is easy; sticking with it is much more difficult. It’s not uncommon for a new children’s ministry pastor or leader to experience a wonderful “honeymoon” phase followed by a “Hey, I didn’t sign up for this!” season. As the first fiscal year comes to a close, it can become apparent quickly that best laid plans missed the mark of expected success, anticipated attendance by kids and families was inflated, volunteer leader involvement lacked depth, budget forecasts were way off, and long-term hopes for a vibrant children’s ministry are suddenly in question. While this doomsday scenario may not be your experience today, the likelihood that you’ll encounter something similar could be just around the corner. Fortunately, there’s a time-tested approach that will increase the chances that you and the children’s ministry you lead will last.
First, Put Your Pride to the Test
Imagine what God could do if the mission of your church and your children’s ministry were fully aligned. Imagine the difference it would make if you and the leaders around you traded their pride for increasing levels of trust. Imagine how many more lives of children, teenagers, and families could be impacted if humility fueled your ministry. When passions and purposes within church leadership start heading in different directions, this is when many well-meaning ministers check out because of misalignment. The presence of pride can all too often destroy trust between teams of paid and volunteer ministry leaders. The result? Minimal ministry impact because minimal love is present. If you want to get going and stay going in the right direction in children’s ministry, the best way is to let LOVE lead.
Nehemiah’s Ministry Approach
To set the stage, the book of Nehemiah kicks off 140 years after the temple and wall in Jerusalem were annihilated, a season where God’s people desperately needed physical and spiritual restoration. Much like the children, teens, and families inside and outside your own church, their foundation of faith was shaken and could only be re-established by God’s grace. Nehemiah, a servant of the Lord in a neighboring kingdom, was cut to the heart by this news, went before God in prayer, risked his life in the presence of his employer, and made arrangements to return home so he could minister among the people. Fortifying the city was a daunting task for sure, one constantly bombarded with opposition. Yet, God miraculously used Nehemiah along with many faithful men and women to rebuild the wall in less than two months … that’s 52 days to be exact!
So, how did Nehemiah do it? What was his secret to ministry success? Simply put, like every good leader he had a plan and moved forward. However, Nehemiah was wise and made sure to forge ahead with divine discernment. Check out this simple 4-step approach (using the acronym L-O-V-E) to create alignment, establish trust, and minister effectively in children’s ministry.
Listen. Nehemiah 1:1-4 sets the tone for why and how he responded to the plight of God’s people in Jerusalem. Upon listening intently to the painstaking news, Nehemiah wept and sought the Lord for wisdom. He didn’t march out on his own at first; he only moved forward after listening to the whisper of God’s Spirit.
Think back to when you first decided to step into your role in children’s ministry. What did you discover early on that inspired you to meet the needs of kids and families? What stirred your heart, moved you to tears, or dropped you to your knees in prayer? Listening is the first step every leader takes to ensure long-term effectiveness. Before creating an action plan, it’s essential to find out what’s really going on, what’s broken and breaking God’s heart, and what problems people in need and other leaders are facing. When you start by listening, your children’s ministry will rise as a solution to the most pressing issues. When God’s Spirit moves, leaders who listen are ready to go.
Observe. Despite the possibility of losing his life, Nehemiah read his situation carefully and humbly approached the king (Neh. 2:1-5). This bold move resulted in God’s prophet receiving full permission and provisions to safely return to his homeland. Upon arrival, Nehemiah put his observation skills to work for a few days before pulling a construction plan together (Neh. 2:11-16). His leadership would soon be put to the test, so making sure to accurately assess the state of the people’s hearts and the condition of the wall was critical prior to proposing a strategy.
New and veteran children’s ministry leaders often succumb to the temptation to “get to work” before taking a good look around. Taking in information communicates concern without taking control. Observation also helps leaders distinguish between minor issues and major problems. For example, as you assess volunteers in your church, do they need to be trained or moved into totally new roles? Or, when it comes to resources, are the materials you have usable? Or do you need to overhaul the entire program? Observation helps identify where you’ll need to focus your attention today, tomorrow and well into the future. It will provide much needed insights to align the mission of your church with your children’s ministry on the front end.
Verify. It’s important for leaders to get a “green light” before launching out. In Nehemiah’s case, he went before God in prayer and his employer to verify his ministry marching orders (Neh. 2:4, 6). He then followed up by challenging the Jewish leaders and people who would rebuild the wall to see if they too believed the hand of the Lord was on this great task, and they all replied affirmatively, “Let us arise and build” (Neh. 2:17-18). Nehemiah made sure to build trust prior to rebuilding the wall.
Children’s ministry leaders are responsible to confirm with God and the leadership around them that their take on the situation and action plan are right on target. What’s the central mission? Who will this serve? How will the goals become reality? Your willingness to consult other leaders in your church and ministries will help shape what you decide to do, why, and who will join you. Verifying the vision before God and others provides safeguards for you and your children’s ministry.
Engage. After listening, observing, and verifying, Nehemiah and God’s people got moving on rebuilding the wall (Neh. 2:18). Over time the community was re-established and people’s hearts were restored toward God. In resurrecting the wall, everyone contributed to the overall vision by investing his/her time and talents to make it happen. God used a faithful, gifted, and equipped leader to raise the level of engagement among His people and the end result was miraculous. They worked hard together, they faced opposition together, they trusted God together, and they experienced success together. It’s no wonder the rebuilding of the wall only took 52 days (Neh. 6:15)!
Hopefully, you are in a season of wondering what God might do in and through our church and children’s ministry? How will we make sure kids and families hear the good news of Jesus Christ? How will we reach into the community to serve people in need? What will we do to encourage lasting discipleship in people’s lives? Your best-laid plans arrive on the table after listening, observing, and verifying. However, faithfulness as a ministry leader requires taking one more essential step to move forward. You must step out hand-in-hand with God. You must decide to engage.
Keep Building Upon Christ’s Challenge
The next time you read Acts 1-2, see if you can find a similar pattern to Nehemiah’s story among the disciples as God’s Spirit launched them into leadership. They too listened to the Lord, observed their surrounding situation, verified the vision God gave them, and engaged in ministry to launch the church. Jesus may have left, but clearly He didn’t leave them all alone. Their future ministry flowed from their firsthand experiences with Christ and the final challenge He gave them.
After washing the feet of His closest followers, and just prior to facing the agony of the cross, Jesus said: “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Christ’s mission was crystal clear and His ministry resulted in compelling change. His life and leadership emanated from an epicenter that was fundamentally rooted in God’s great love.
Because the Savior of the world set such an example, you can allow yourself to be catalyzed to let love lead in your desire to align ministry direction within your church. You can let love lead you to lay down your pride in order to build trust among ministry teams. And, you can let love lead so more kids and parents can be reached for Christ through your church and children’s ministry. Are you ready to let love lead?