Steer Around The Potholes

Personalities to avoid

Volunteers //

Much of what we accomplish as children’s pastors revolves around the ability to recruit.  In general, the wider your volunteer base, the more kids you can reach and care for adequately.  In our desperation to do that, we can make some poor choices.  We are sometimes guilty of aligning people with positions even though the match isn’t a good fit; it becomes frustrating, like smacking two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle together that obviously weren’t meant to be joined.  It’s been said that those people who never make mistakes lose a great many chances to learn something.  Well, I’ve learned plenty, because I’ve made loads of mistakes.  I’m going to fess-up right now and tell you about some of the recruiting blunders I’ve made, which resulted in ministry diminishing rather than thriving.

Certain habits or personalities are like potholes on an otherwise smooth road.  They jar your teeth and get your vehicle out of alignment.  Let’s look at some people I’ve created that you’ll want to steer around.

Jungle Jim

At first glance, you’d think this guy is the perfect match for leading kids.  Kids gravitate to him, being lunged along as they stand on his shoes and hold on for dear life around his leg.  Jungle Jim exudes permission to get rowdy.  But Jungle Jims aren’t usually planners and many times fail to see the importance of preparation.  They live in the moment and make sure that the moment is lots of fun.  Children’s ministry should be packed with fun, but you’ll want to be careful where you put Jungle Jim.

I was elated when I recruited a Jungle Jim for the second-grade class.  But, in my “walking about” while classes were supposed to be meeting, I found an empty classroom.  Jungle Jim hadn’t prepared anything, so he hiked the kids across the street to the McDonald’s to buy them breakfast and hang out on the playground.  Parents were livid when they found out that their kids had left the grounds without permission, but the possibility that parents would be upset never crossed Jungle Jim’s mind.

Jungle Jim can be a great addition to children’s ministry, but his bent toward all-out playfulness has a very specific place.  Leading big outdoor games, energizing the kids at large events, or participating in open gym while parents are in meetings are some excellent ways to plug him in.  Lesson planning and gathering supplies most likely won’t happen, though.


Anita Antique

You’ve already got a face pictured in your mind and I haven’t even started!  Anita Antique has been teaching since she was 15 years old and she’s still using the same methods that she came up with on her own at that time.  She has the largest collection of flannelgraphs that anyone could ever dream of.  Her teaching style focuses on pencil and paper activities, and the kids are always around a table.  Her mission is to complete every activity mentioned in the curriculum, and she feels the class time is unsuccessful if that isn’t accomplished.  She’s gotten too comfortable and addresses change with, “I want to do it the way I’ve always done it.”  There’s not an ounce of umph left in poor Anita, but bless her heart, she’s there every week without fail.  The funny thing about Anita is that she’ll go to a local training event (because that’s what she’s supposed to do) and will comment on how wonderful it was … but, nothing she learned shows up in her time with the kids.

Think about going into an antique shop.  You’ve heard of comfort foods, well there are also comfort smells.  An antique shop has that comfort smell, a mustiness, that reminds you of great-grandmother’s house.  It’s that smell that makes you want to curl up in an old wingback chair and stare out the front window at the people walking past.  That’s Anita’s frame of mind.  That might be a nice thought for grandma, but for an 8-year-old, it’s not very engaging.

Antique Anita will be like an anchor that holds you down and keeps your ministry from moving forward.  She’s teaching as if it’s still 1959 and the computer has not been invented.  Because she’s so committed to the church, it’s a very touchy situation to relieve Anita of her duties; finding some other significant way she can help in children’s ministry is your win-win option.  Ask her to organize a group of grandparents who have a heart for seeing their grandkids come to Jesus; these grandmas and grandpas would be a task force to accomplish all kinds of chores: preparing mailings, assembling craft kits, or creating sets and decorations.  Anita can socialize, feel like she’s accomplished something, and still be a contributing force in children’s ministry.


Winnie Whiner

My room’s too hot.  The class next to us is too loud.  My time was too short.  The kids came in late.  The weather ruined my game.  I’ve got a headache.  My table and chairs had been moved. (I’ve heard them all … and all from one person.) You’ve got to wonder how Winnie can find so many things to whine about!  It’s a shame that you want to avoid Winnie, but it’s difficult to resist. She’s mastered the art of making you feel like you need to fix all her many problems.  But you won’t!  You’ll never fix all her problems, because she’ll just find something else to whine about.  It’s her nature; she does this in everything she’s a part of.

Winnie Whiner has used whining to manipulate people and situations, probably all of her life.  It’s her way of turning attention her direction.  Don’t even attempt to satisfy each one of her complaints, because you’ll never get the job done.  Using enthusiastic comments, ones that have to have an exclamation point at the end, will diminish the impact of her whining, but it’s a constant battle.  All the positive talk in the world, and all the redirection, will only challenge her to find something else to whine about.  Dealing with a whiner is draining to any leader.


Allen Absentee

Allen is quick to volunteer and appears to be committed.  Planning an out-of-town training event?  His name will be the first one on the sign-up sheet.  The morning of, though, as the van is full and waiting for Allen to show so everyone can be on their way, he calls with an excuse.  He overslept.  His grandchildren upexpectedly showed up.  Friends from out of town may show up today!  He thinks his wife has made other plans for him. The problem is, it happens every time.  You’ve asked for a refund for Allen’s registration so many times that it’s now easier to not register him and pay a little extra at the door in case he does show.


Running Late Rhonda

One of my Facebook friends posted an update this morning that read, “I was actually on time for once and then got stopped by a train.  Am I destined to be late to every single thing in my life?”  I don’t know about destiny, but being late is so engrained in some people that leaving the house before they’re actually supposed to be somewhere never crosses their minds.

We once had a teacher, a Rhonda, who was 15-20 minutes late every week to teach her Sunday school class.  The church felt she was such a crucial piece to the program that they changed the starting time for her; Sunday school would now begin 20 minutes later.  Guess what?  From the very first week, Rhonda adjusted her lateness and was still her 15-20 minutes behind!

In children’s ministry, a late leader can repeatedly cause chaos.  Kids showing up with no one there to greet them or supervise them is not good for the kids or the program, and discourages parents from making the effort.  Because Rhonda’s lateness is across the board, this is one of the easier potholes to avoid.  You can identify it at social gatherings or meetings that you share.


High Maintenance Hillary

These volunteers need your constant kudos.  They need strokes, every single week.  And if you miss a week of commenting on something that stood out to you about their teaching that week, they slip a comment in like, “Maybe teaching really isn’t for me.”  These people will suck you dry!

My Hillary was extremely creative and high energy; the kids loved her.  She was pretty much everything I could have asked for in a teacher.  But, her need for approval and encouragement had to be my first priority each week or I was in jeopardy of loosing a wonderful leader.  When she finally did step down, I was amazed at how freeing it was for me.  Her special need had caused me to neglect some of the other leaders, and once that obligation was lifted, the team flourished.

Jungle Jim, Anita Antique, Winnie Whiner, Allen Absentee, Running Late Rhonda, and High Maintenance Hillary. Do you recognize them?  I hope this didn’t sound like a lot of negative speak, and I’m way past needing to vent about it.  When you recognize these personalities or traits in potential volunteers, let the warning signal go off in your head–this is someone I need to think through even more diligently than usual.  And, never make a public plea for workers, or it’s almost certain that you’ll get one of these personalities to volunteer.  In which case, there’s no way to avoid the pothole.





About the Author

Tina Houser is the Editor of K! Magazine and creates This iKnow church curriculum. She absolutely loves speaking at churches and events to equip those who work in children’s ministry and spends most of her weekends doing just that. Visit or