Jenna’s cell phone rang. She recognized the familiar number. Her boss was calling from the church office … again. From the first day in her new children’s ministry role she struggled to protect these Friday afternoons—a time needed for final weekend preparations. Yet all too frequently, the associate pastor found ways to track her down for “emergency” assignments.
Jenna thought, “No! I don’t want to do childcare for the women’s ministry tomorrow morning. No! I can’t pull the kids together to sing in the worship service because little Emma’s grandparents will be visiting. No! Your failure to plan isn’t my emergency. This isn’t fair to me, my team, or the mission of our church or children’s ministry. We’re about making disciples, not running a babysitting service or kids’ theater group. Don’t you get it? Am I the only one in children’s ministry facing these issues?”
With good reason, Jenna feared answering her phone. She knew it would result in yet another last minute “ask” that would ultimately fall on the shoulders of her and her team. Jenna could sense a subtle shift away from what mattered most under her leadership—reaching kids to become lifelong disciples of Jesus Christ. She was frustrated even before she answered Jeff’s call.
Children’s ministry leaders face many hurdles in a given day or week, but there’s nothing more challenging than interpersonal dynamics and mission drift. When others get in the way and derail a God-honoring vision, it’s painful to a leader’s heart. In a spirit of truth and grace, leaders need to have the guts to say “No!” as a leader. You also need the guts to say “Let’s go!” when the people you lead require a push.
Jenna’s situation is a familiar one. “Growing in guts” is learning to stand firm as a leader, a discipline that rarely develops naturally. Had Jenna been able to stand firm, she could have said “No!” with a clear conscience regardless of Jeff’s request. Most importantly, she needed to keep her children’s ministry mission on track.
Rather than fumble through a similar situation, you can take bold action steps that will help you and your team. God is clear in His Word that the best way for leaders to proceed is in step with Him. Joshua 1:9 says, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” This is foundational to having the guts to say “No!” and “Let’s go!” but it will take effort to improve in effectiveness.
If you want to stand firm in your ability to respond to people and problems, and lead with integrity of heart, start by strengthening your CORE as a ministry leader.
Imagine if leaders like Jenna were spring boarding from a solid foundation (CORE) at any given moment. Imagine if their “No!” and “Let’s go!” flowed naturally out of their center. CORE is an acronym that can help any leader identify and stay true to what is most important. If you and your leadership team strengthen your CORE (personally and as a ministry), you’ll be able to lead with renewed energy, focus, and impact.
Why do you faithfully serve as a leader in children’s ministry?
What we believe impacts how we behave. You decided to step into the leadership ranks of children’s ministry because God placed some deep convictions in your heart. What were those reasons? Did you make a decision to trust Christ for salvation as a child? Were you invited to serve as a children’s ministry leader as a teenager? Was there someone influential who inspired or challenged you to pursue ministry? Maybe you shared the Gospel and saw a child change from the inside out.
Write down five reasons why you chose children’s ministry. Put them in a place you’ll often revisit. Include Scripture passages about evangelism, discipleship, family ministry, or the importance of children in God’s eyes. When you can draw upon your deepest convictions in tough situations, it will empower you to say “No!” or “Let’s go!” as a leader. Doing this exercise as a ministry team is also a fantastic way to align your combined efforts for effectiveness.
What will be the Christ-honoring results of what we’re doing in the lives of kids, their families, the church, and the world?
Children’s ministries come in all varieties. Some are strong in worship and teaching, others on serving and missions, and still others center on fun and games with a splash of Scripture tossed in. What are the primary objectives of your ministry? Does this align with the vision of your church? Programs and curricula can help you achieve your goals, but there are no silver bullets. Discipleship is relational, not plug and play. Evangelism is lived out and proclaimed, not tied to fancy facilities. Take time to assess what it means to know, love, and serve Christ for a lifetime. Do whatever it takes to help your God-guided vision become reality.
When you stand firm on sound objectives, you’ll be able to better discern when to say “No!” or “Let’s go!” when (not if) conflicting or complementary opportunities present themselves.
Who/what are you uniquely called, gifted, and equipped to oversee?
Are you energized by the children’s ministry you do? Do you thrive on the responsibilities you’re handed, or do you want to turn tail and run? If you’re being asked to do things that you aren’t equipped to do, you have a short-term problem with no long-term solution. You need to have a conversation with the people who help make ministry happen so that your leadership becomes healthy and sustainable.
Have you inherited responsibilities that need to be removed? Or, have you started taking on tasks that anyone—not just you—can do. Delete some things and delegate others. If you’re a teacher, teach. If you’re a leader, lead. If you’re gifted to do both, bonus!
As for the uniqueness of your ministry, consider what’s being asked and if it’s in line with what’s most needed. Just because you have a nursery wing, doesn’t mean you need to run childcare seven days a week. On the other hand, God might ask you to do so in order to reach out to non-Christian parents in a distinct way. Having clear responsibilities will ensure you can speak up to say “No!” or “Let’s go!” at just the right time.
What are you measuring to determine effectiveness in making disciples?
Whatever gets measured gets done. Jesus told His followers to make disciples, not count how many they made. On the other hand, the Apostles definitely measured how many newly baptized believers were present in Acts 2. Numbers aren’t everything, but they are something. When you decide an initiative matters, find a way to measure success. Making a plan and then discovering no one implemented it is discouraging. Once you’ve established your leadership convictions, objectives, and responsibilities in children’s ministry, it’s time to start evaluating progress.
Taking steps to evaluate isn’t easy, but it’s as simple as 1-2-3.
- Assess on your own, with your team, and with the church leadership how well
things are going.
- Address the challenges and celebrate the wins.
- Apply steps to change the trajectory as needed.
This analysis process is important so everyone’s on the same page. (By the way, I didn’t create Assess-Address-Apply, but trust me … it works!)
If you really believe evangelism and lifelong discipleship is important, find a way to measure effectiveness. If you really believe family ministry matters, establish methods to discover if and how parents and kids are being impacted. Evaluation is essential. When it becomes part of your “guts,” you can more easily determine when to say “No!” and “Let’s go!”
Remember Jenna? She answered the phone and talked to Pastor Jeff. She hesitantly said “no,” and to her surprise he was okay with that. That made her a little stronger in saying “No!” or “Let’s go!” the next time.
Dan Lovaglia is the Director of New Ministries and Parent Engagement at Awana. He is the co-author of The Gospel Truth About Children’s Ministry and Relational Children’s Ministry. The team he leads is finding fresh ways to equip kids, families, and ministry leaders to know, love, and serve Christ. Twitter and Instagram: @DanLovaglia