Thinking habits for children’s ministry leaders
Do you remember Winnie the Pooh’s famous phrase? Sitting on a log, trying to figure something out and usually scratching his head with an intense look of concentration on his face, he would repeat the phrase over and over again.
“Think. Think. Think.”
Whenever I hear this phrase I can’t help but smile, because my oldest son could mimic Winnie the Pooh almost perfectly when he was a little boy. I tried to use it as a teaching tool, to help him understand the importance of how we think.
“Think. Think. Think.”
How we think determines so much about our lives. It can be a major factor in our relationships. It can influence our values. It can determine our entire worldview.
The way we think is important in life! And it’s important in the way we lead in ministry, too. Very important.
How we think can affect the quality of leader we are to those we lead. It can bring ministry growth or stagnation. It can result in deep and abiding impact, or rote, religious ritual in those who engage in our ministry.
These important “thinking habits” separate an average or good leader from a great one.
Thinking Habit #1: Great kidmin leaders think “being” over “doing.”
There’s a lot to “do” in leading a children’s ministry (or any ministry). In fact, there’s always something else to do. And that can be a problem. It’s very easy for the leader to become a slave to everything that needs to be done. It’s easy to take on responsibilities that they should be delegating or equipping others to do so that they can focus primarily on what only they can do.
Worse, it’s really easy to let the “doing” define us, replacing the necessity to “be” in our faith. Unwittingly, we allow the fact that we work for a church and the busyness of our role to replace the commitment to nourish our own souls.
Great kidmin leaders don’t let this happen. They think “being” first. They make sure their faith is growing and vibrant, knowing that their ministry really has to flow from that faith.
Remember the story of Mary & Martha? Martha was the one who welcomed Jesus into the home, and then she proceeded to get busy “doing” all the tasks that were good and important to hosting Jesus. Meanwhile, Mary sat at Jesus’ feet, “listening to His word” (Luke 10:39b). When Martha complained and asked Jesus to tell Mary to help her, what was Jesus’ response? He said: “‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10: 41-42).
Sometimes we get so caught up in the good and important tasks of ministry that we forget about the only thing that is truly “necessary”—our relationship with Jesus.
Leaders will often do this in their own lives, but it can also carry over into how we present our ministry to volunteers, families and children. Do we unconsciously present a checklist of “doing” that represents success in their faith? If they attend church every week, memorize their verse and behave like Christians (in other words, do everything they ought to do), are they good? Or are we willing to create environments where individuals can wrestle with their faith and get messy “being.”
There is a place for “doing,” but “being” is what it’s really all about. Great kidmin leaders think “being” over “doing” in their personal lives and in their ministry.
Thinking Habit #2 – Great kidmin leaders think “people” over “program.”
As I work with churches all over the country, I often see this reversed. And it was certainly a lesson I had to learn early in my days as a children’s pastor. Thinking “program” is relatively easy. It’s tangible. Its success is fairly easily measured. It’s very visible and we receive lots of plaudits if it’s done well (which makes us feel good and reinforces that it’s “important”).
Certainly, having a great program IS important. But it’s not the MOST important element of your ministry.
“Well, of course they are” you say? Yes, we all would mentally agree with this. But too often the way we pursue ministry—the way we actually think about ministry—does not reflect this. A kidmin leader who puts “people” over “program” looks something like this.
They walk slowly through the crowd on Sunday morning, looking for opportunities to connect. No rushing around putting out fires without regard to the important conversations waiting to be had with kids, parents and volunteers.
They build their ministry to vision and not to need, knowing that vision inspires people but constant need discourages them and deteriorates program.
They consider the spiritual formation elements of a program first, and design it to have the greatest impact. Numbers matter. Excellence matters. But connecting with a person’s heart matters most.
They equip their team to serve first through relationships, adjusting their teaching to meet the needs presented to them rather than strictly adhering to that day’s lesson plan.
They are as concerned with the spiritual health of their serving team and parents as they are of the kids they serve. Children’s ministry is about spiritual growth of all people involved, not just a program to fill a few hours on Sunday morning.
They understand that, in reality, parents hold the most influence in a child’s life, so they design their environments, create their programs, and shape their relationships into avenues for parents to be connected and equipped to spiritually invest in the lives of their own children.
Program, with all of its various elements (environments, processes, curriculums, resources) is important, but people are what matter most. Great kidmin leaders think “people” over “program.”
Thinking Habit #3 – Great kidmin leaders think “developing” over “equipping.”
Now don’t get me wrong—equipping is essential! In fact, it’s something every church leader should be about. Ephesians 4:12 pretty much says that’s what our job is all about as a church leader (“equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ”). Equipping should take place with everyone in our ministry.
By “developing,” however, I mean growing leaders. This isn’t just training people for the tasks required for their area of ministry, but actually increasing leadership capacity in individuals. Where equipping is about teaching tasks, developing is about inward growth. My former Executive Pastor, Dan Reiland, distinguishes between the two in his terrific book, Amplified Leadership. He says that essentially, equipping is primarily transactional while developing is transformational. Equipping changes the ministry, while developing changes the person and then, ultimately, the ministry.
When we think “developing” over “equipping”, we’re thinking long term (vision) and, eventually, the payoff will be exponential to our investment. Equipping helps us immediately and is the initial part of development, but developing them over the long haul will enable growth doors to open that equipping will never even knock on.
There are some things a kidmin leader understands when they think “developing” over “equipping.”
It requires developing yourself first. We cannot pass on to others what we don’t first possess ourselves. Leaders who develop other leaders are very intentional about having their own personal development plan, which they follow closely.
It requires relationship. Ministry always happens best in the context of relationships, and this is especially true in developing leaders. Whereas equipping can simply be the transferring of information, developing of leaders is a much more personal investment of life into life. Of course, this means that not everyone in your ministry is going to be someone who is developed. Some will only go through the equipping process. Some will be developed to a limited extent. But only a core group will participate in the full leadership development process. Ironically, it is this core group which will be the catalyst for the greatest ministry growth. Increasing leadership capacity through development reaps great reward in the long term.
It requires long-term commitment. Equipping can take place in a training session, or through a 10-minute conversation in the classroom. Equipping might take place through an online video or even through an email. Developing leaders does not work that way. Leadership development requires a long-term process. It requires heavy investment. It requires patience and understanding and a commitment on both sides to learn and struggle and grow. And this is exactly why most leaders do not think “developing” over “equipping”—developing leaders is hard work which takes a concerted and intentional effort over a long period of time.
“Think. Think. Think.”
How are you thinking as a leader? If you work at creating these three thinking habits, you will grow, your people will grow and your ministry will grow. Think about it, and I think you’ll agree!