I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that children’s ministry is one of the least desired roles in the church. It’s high-stress and exhausting… people don’t usually want to continue working on the team after getting a taste of what it’s really like. To top it off, children’s ministry workers are probably the most under-appreciated people serving in a church. How often have you heard people begging for volunteers to serve in the children’s program? And how often have you heard how hard and thankless children’s ministry work is?
Now don’t get me wrong—just because something’s difficult doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do it. We’re called to serve the body of Christ, to lay down our lives for one another, regardless of whether it’s easy or not. So I’m not advocating bemoaning, complaining about, or quitting children’s work.
However, I do want to draw attention to what I believe to be a significant and overlooked issue in our churches and want to encourage church leaders to do something about it.
Is There an Alternative?
Are we stuck with this status quo of children’s ministry? I propose we are not—there is a better way. And not only that, but the solution is probably closer and easier to achieve than we think. Imagine a children’s ministry where the people in your church want to serve on your team—where they find it an experience that builds them up, strengthens them spiritually, and leaves them wanting to continue working with the team, not looking for the quickest way out.
We’ve had the privilege of working in a children’s ministry where these things were really happening, and we want to share with you a few of the factors that made it a success. These thoughts by no means encompass all there is to be said on these topics but are simply a few things we’ve seen work well as we’ve led in ministry.
What Makes the Difference?
What makes the difference between someone wanting to be part of an organization and someone feeling like the have to be involved? Do you want people to join your children’s ministry because they feel arm-twisted into it, because it’s desperately needed and no one else is doing it? Or do you want people to want to join because… they just want to? We know the answer: we all want gladly willing workers, not conscripts.
It all really comes down to how we as leaders walk in love toward our team. Jesus said that the greatest commandment other than loving God is to love others (Matt. 22:37-39) and that the evidence of our Christianity is our love for one another (Jn. 13:35). All the leadership principles and teamwork techniques we implement need to come back to this. Is the way we lead in line with biblical love? Are we living in love toward our people? I submit that when we lead our ministries in love, it will result in people wanting to be part of our teams. It’s not just about getting people to work with us. It’s about showing them the unconditional love of Christ.
This isn’t just a fluffy and ethereal “Be good and loving now, everybody hold hands and sing Kumbaya, and off you go on your merry way.” Leading in Biblical love is real-life, boots on the ground, practical, nitty-gritty, and life-changing. In this series, we’ll look together at several aspects of team leadership that have the potential to radically increase the strength of your ministry.
There are a couple of foundational concepts behind why people think the way they do about joining children’s ministries—or joining any organization, for that matter. I want to briefly touch on these.
Your ministry has a culture. And your culture is one of the main things that either attracts people to work on your team or repels them when they consider or after they’ve joined. So what is culture?
Culture can be broadly defined as the worldview, beliefs, and values that govern behavior. For example, a church can have a Biblical worldview, believe the gospel, value gathering together on Sunday morning, and champion the importance of people hearing truth. Because of these beliefs and values, they decide to serve coffee to help people stay awake during the sermon. Many of us live in a similar high-level culture… we call it Western or American Culture. But we’re also part of smaller segments of culture: family culture or church culture, for example. The fact is that all organizations and individuals to some extent have a unique culture. Your organization is no different.
Why does culture matter so much? People are scared of children’s ministry or burn out and leave because of a deep clash between the culture of their beliefs and values and those of our ministries. For example, a VBS leader could be recruiting lots of workers for crowd control and keeping tons of kids in line, while a worker cares about building relationships with children. This will naturally lead to a clash when the worker is unable to do what she values and is instead obligated to simply manage crazy children. In this context, our goal as ministry leaders ought to be, without compromising the truth of the gospel or Biblical love, to create an organizational culture whose values align with those of the people working with us.
The fact is, deeply ingrained in human nature is the desire to belong. People want to be in on what’s happening. They want to be part of something bigger than themselves. They desire to be loved and to love. In other words, they want to be a real part of a real team.
To the extent that your organization creates a team where people are loved, are involved, and belong, those people will stick with you through the inherent difficulties of children’s ministry. When they are cared for and belong, they develop a loyalty and commitment that won’t easily be shaken.
Shape Your Culture
This is part one of a series on team unity. My goal in this series is to give you the tools you need to begin shaping your ministry in order to cultivate a culture of Biblical love that results in strength and loyalty, freeing your workers to effectively make disciples.
For the purpose of this series, I’m going to break this down into three categories of culture: commitment, community, and trust. Over the next several posts I’ll be going into detail on these. What works in leading a team? How do you cultivate these in your ministry? How do you cultivate a team where people thrive? What are the keys to creating a successful culture, whether you’ve got five people or fifty?
Stay tuned for some exciting stuff!