Preparation brings peace
The ability to be spontaneous is a must in children’s ministry. You never know when an illustration might go wrong or when the lead pastor might decide to throw in a couple of extra “in closing” statements. You have to be able to think on your feet and keep the kids’ attention even when you weren’t prepared to do so. Spontaneity is a gift, but it can also become a crutch. Sooner or later, spontaneity can become a disease that eats our best work and erodes our credibility with volunteers, parents, and staff members.
As I’ve talked to hundreds of people involved in kids’ ministries across the country, I’ve observed that there’s an epidemic of procrastination. We excuse it in all kinds of ways, but all our reasons lead to the same result. Yes, you have to be quick and spontaneous at times, but many children’s ministry leaders believe their enthusiastic personalities and the spontaneity of their ministry give them a license to walk in unprepared. They try to get by, doing the least they can do, and it shows.
How do I know this is true? I wrote a lesson about Easter and put it on our website. I hoped other children’s pastors and leaders could use it. After Easter, I realized 50 had been downloaded between Good Friday and Easter—and some were downloaded as late as 10:00 on Easter morning! That doesn’t even give enough time to read the lesson before presenting it to the kids. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think Easter sneaks up on anybody. Every person in church leadership knows Easter Sunday is one of the two most important days in the church calendar. If it’s that important, wouldn’t you expect ministry leaders to make sure they’re prepared?
I’ve heard all kinds of excuses—and I’m probably more acutely aware of them because I’ve used some of them myself.
- Full-time kids’ pastors have told me, “My week is so full of other church assignments that I don’t have time to prepare my lesson until Saturday night or Sunday morning.” But I receive Twitter posts, Youtube links, and Facebook updates of their status in “Farmville” from these same guys all week long.
- Volunteer kids’ pastors have said, “I work all week, so I don’t have time to prepare for Kids’ Church before Saturday night.” I’m in awe of the fact that they’re working a full-time job and leading this ministry, but I always ask one question of them: “Did you watch any television this week?” They usually say, “Yes.” Are those programs more important than the spiritual development of their kids?
- Super-spiritual leaders have confidently told me, “Brian, I don’t believe in preparing ahead because that doesn’t allow the Spirit to lead me.” Really? So you’re telling me that the God who knew everything about your kids before time began couldn’t lead you to prepare ahead of time? Come on. Get real.
There’s no excuse for procrastination in preparing for children’s ministry. God gave us an incredible privilege and responsibility to lead kids on their spiritual journey to becoming life-long followers of Jesus Christ. Someday, we’ll give an account for our motives and actions. I don’t want to stand before God on that day and tell Him, “I would’ve been more intentional about my ministry to Your children, God, but I had more important things to do.”
Paul wrote to the Corinthians about the day that’s coming: “Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:9-10). There are many good and noble motivations to live for Christ, to pay attention to His purposes, and to devote ourselves wholeheartedly to the work He has called us to do. We serve kids because we love God with all our hearts and He has given us a love for children. And, we work hard to prepare and serve because someday we’ll give an account of our lives. On that day, we want to see Him smile and say, “Well done, good and faithful slave …” (Matthew 25:23). That’s what I want to hear. How about you?
I know some wonderfully gifted kids’ ministry leaders who create problems on their teams because they don’t prepare. One volunteer told me, “When our kids’ pastor went to the bathroom every Wednesday afternoon, he always came out with his message, a game, and a skit idea. We had a couple of hours to pull all this together and make it work. We loved him, but he drove us crazy. We hoped he’d never go to the bathroom again!”
Create a system of preparation that works for you and your team. The goal isn’t just for you to be ready, but for every person on your team to be informed, equipped, prayed up, and ready to pour themselves into kids. You might try these ideas.
Make a commitment to have two weeks of content prepared. Actually, this only requires you to double up the first week, so you prepare for this week and the next week. After that, you already have the next Sunday planned, so you’re working on the following week’s content. This way, you’ll always be prepared and relaxed, and you have plenty of time to coordinate props, games, and other things with your volunteers. If you want to prepare on Saturday nights, that’s fine, but you’ll be working on the next week’s lesson instead of the next day’s lesson.
Communicate your plans and content with your team a week ahead—at least by Tuesday. You couldn’t do this when you prepared the night before, but now you can. People feel loved and valued when we let them know what’s going on. Send them a quick email, give them a handout, or send them a smoke signal. It doesn’t matter how you communicate, as long as you do it well and consistently. Your team then has time to study, think, pray, and plan for the upcoming Sunday content. I’ve talked to lots of volunteers who love their kids’ pastor, but are frustrated to death because of the lack of preparation and communication. Don’t let that happen any longer. Change the culture of your team.
After being a week ahead for a couple of months, prepare two lessons in one week so you’ll now be three weeks ahead. You may assume you don’t need to do this, but it’s amazing what happens when you let a message marinate in your mind and heart an extra week. You’ll pray more effectively, think more deeply, and find more creative ways to connect with volunteers and kids. Try it. You’ll see.
Find a curriculum that captures hearts and communicates spiritual truth to your kids. Most of the materials on the market today are very easy to use, but many full-time kids’ pastors will want to adapt content to their particular churches. Be careful: The convenience of using this curriculum isn’t an excuse to wing it. Look over it two or three weeks in advance, make any changes you want to make, and then give handouts to your team so they can be informed and prepared.
Preparation Brings Peace
Procrastination produces personal and relational stress and robs us of peace. Why in the world do we put off our preparation? I procrastinated because I didn’t think I needed to prepare, I didn’t think my volunteers cared to be informed, and to be honest, it gave me an adrenaline rush to live on the edge. And I’m not the only one.
I met Martha at a conference for kids’ ministers. She has been a part-time kids’ ministry pastor for five years. She loves it, but when she heard me talk about the need to prepare, she wanted to meet with me. She said, “I know what you mean about the kick you get when you have to deliver but you haven’t really prepared. I’m afraid I’m an adrenaline junkie, too. I have to change or I’ll lose my whole team. They’re sick of me running in at the last minute and racing through instructions—only half thought through—about the activities we’re doing that morning. I recently lost four of my best volunteers. They couldn’t take it any longer.”
I felt bad for Martha. I prayed for her to have the courage to change. I ran into her a year later at the same conference. I asked her how things were going. She beamed, “It’s great! My team recently told me how much they appreciate what I’m doing now to prepare the lessons a week ahead and give them information in plenty of time. I can read between the lines, Brian. They’re saying I drove them crazy before!” She sighed and looked away as she almost whispered, “Why did I wait so long?”
When I look at a lot of kids’ ministry leaders at conferences, it’s like looking in the mirror a few years ago. They’re bright, fun, excited, and gifted, but many of them are driving themselves and their teams nuts by putting off their preparations for Sunday mornings. If that’s you, don’t wait until your team abandons you in frustration. Do the work of ministry: prepare and communicate well.