Ministry is full of peaks and valleys-and boy, do we love those
peaks! The high points are what keep us coming back for more,
knowing that our toil and effort make a real difference in kids'
lives. Every now and then, though, we meander into one of those
dreaded valleys, where problems seem to overshadow the joy of
ministry. It can be easy to become lost. Ministry valleys are often
where our toughest problems lurk-those conundrums that strain our
brains and seem impossible to overcome. With God's help and strong
support, though, we can find our way out of the valley.
Just about every children's minister has traveled into a valley
or two. So we asked you to anonymously share some of the most
vexing issues you face, and then we put our experts to work. The
problems are tough, but our expert advice is stronger. Read on to
find the roadmap out of the valley of common ministry problems!
I've tried everything I can think of to get my church to see the
importance of children's ministry. We've made headway with our
pastor, who's now onboard. But overall our ministry is pushed aside
and overlooked, definitely considered a "minor" ministry with the
lowest budget, no staff, and no visibility. We don't even get a
credit in the bulletin-despite a team of dedicated volunteers, lots
of grass-roots publicity, and a steady stream of kids. What can I
do? I'm so frustrated and completely out of ideas.
-Frustrated in Fresno
Here's the harsh reality: Many children's ministries are
underfunded, understaffed, and overlooked. The recession crimped
budgets and children's ministries often face cuts first. Still, the
good news is your pastor is your fan.
Children's ministry involves planting seeds and tending seedlings;
we rarely see the fruit of our labor. That's why situations like
yours are gut-check moments for why we even do children's ministry.
If it's for visibility or validation, we'll be disappointed. The
reality is, adults tend to push children out of sight, down the
hall, away. No one may care or notice what we do. The joy comes
when children experience Jesus and laugh, learn, or love.
That said-I've experienced similar frustration when ministry isn't
given its due. Other ministries garner more money, attention, and
volunteers, so it can be easy to grow cynical and apathetic. I
encourage you to persevere in patience (James 1:2-8).
You mentioned some important wins, including dedicated volunteers
and attendance (with a positive buzz). Don't let the lack of
bulletin promotion bother you because in the big picture, bulletins
matter very little. Keep working on your grass-roots promotion-it's
more effective anyway. And turn some focus to visibility within
your congregation. If your pastor is open to it, why not dedicate a
day per month to something children's ministry-related? Fifth
Sundays are great days to spotlight and affirm volunteers, let kids
tell their stories, and engage kids in worship. You can also
organize tours of classes or deploy children as greeters, worship
leaders, and ushers.
And by all means invite pastoral staff and other church leaders to
serve in your children's ministry. Not for an hour or every week,
but for a few minutes when possible. Leaders need to see what
you're doing (because they often don't)-and when they see the fruit
of your work, it usually means more funding and attention.
Rick Chromey (rickchromey.com) has 30 years in children's
ministry leadership and is the author of Energizing Children's
Ministry in the Smaller Church (Standard Publishing).
Question: Our church is well-meaning, but "pits" the
youth ministry against our children's ministry as if it's a
friendly competition on everything from attendance numbers to
events to numbers of faith commitments. This has long been the
culture, and everyone else seems to think it's healthy and
productive-but I view it as divisive and leading us to miss so many
opportunities to work together and make our overall ministry to
kids seamless. What do I do? Am I a wrong fit for this
-Divided in Des Moines
Answer: It appears you've been called to be a
change agent; one who sees the potential dangers and successes
within an organization and seeks to nudge it toward becoming a
better version of itself. As you likely already know, people
usually dread change and rarely celebrate it. And proprietors of
change are often targeted at close range, so to speak.
So how can you get those around you to not feel threatened by your
observations? Unfortunately, there are no easy answers or
step-by-step guides to matters such as this. But there are
practical guardrails that'll help you wisely traverse your
- Know that nothing surprises God. This
situation doesn't catch him unaware. He's made a way through for
you that's in accordance with his perfect will. This fact takes the
burden off you to fix the situation. God will show you the way; he
promises that if we ask him for an answer, he'll respond. Pray
sincerely and take refuge in that knowledge.
- Keep in mind that peace is priceless. The
Bible says the peacemakers are blessed, and they'll be called
children of God. The road to faithfulness is paved in actions of
peace. Let every word you speak and every action you take on this
issue be cradled in a spirit of peace and unity, for the sake of
God and his church.
- Take to heart that the culture of every church has
roots, history, memories, and feelings attached. You must
handle these things lovingly and graciously because culture is
emotional and personal. Even though you see this competition as a
practice that can be resolved, it's still somebody's tradition. And
ironically, whether people enjoy the tradition or not doesn't
really matter. The minute you address it, it'll feel personal, like
you're taking Grandpa's pew out of the church. While you can't be
held captive nor remain stagnant in ministry because of others'
emotional memories or feelings, you still have to handle people and
their traditions with great care and gentleness.
- Finally, don't forget to check all your
angles. As a photographer, I'm trained to look from every
angle. By doing a 360-degree check around my subject, I can often
minimize or eradicate flaws and distractions in my photo just by
shooting from a different vantage point. God has given you insight,
but you'll be well served to ask others on your team how they see
the same issue-without inviting gossip. It's possible that by
looking at the issue from others' vantage point, the situation may
not seem as severe, or you may see a clearer solution. Whatever the
outcome, by simply asking, you place yourself in the position of
learner rather than accuser or unwelcome critic.
Go in peace. Proceed with grace. Allow God's gentleness to carry
you through, and all will be well.
Jill Riley is a veteran children's and youth minister, and
is currently the lead pastor at Navigate Church in Billings,
Question: Our volunteers serve selflessly, but
I run into the same problems year after year. I recruit new people
regularly and feel like I'm a pretty good volunteer leader. I
strive to be organized, respectful, and appreciative. Yet without
fail, we have a small core group who ends up doing most of the work
and who is always reliable…and burned out. The rest are much less
dedicated and fall away, usually after a period of six months to a
year. They're the ones who call in sick or commit but then back
out. What can I do to reverse this trend and help the committed-but
very tired-core group so they don't end up leaving, too?
-Concerned in Columbus
The 20/80 principle seems to be everywhere. That is, 20 percent of
people do 80 percent of the work. You absolutely can change this
trend. Use these tips in recruiting, developing, and retaining
volunteers so they don't burn out.
Place your volunteers in the right ministry role. When I interview
volunteers, we discuss their "SHAPE" (Spiritual Gifts, Heart,
Abilities, Personality, and Experience). Not everyone can work with
preschoolers just because you have a position there. Rather, take
time to discover volunteers' SHAPE so you can place them where
they'll shine and experience fulfillment and blessings. Well-placed
volunteers look forward to serving because they're not wedged in an
Provide clear job descriptions and clear expectations. We give
volunteers a specific serving term and attendance requirement (we
expect 80 percent attendance). If they can't meet that expectation,
we redirect them to a role that's a better fit.
Pair one of your reliable core volunteers with a new volunteer so
the veteran can pass the responsibility baton to the newbie. This
is a great way to learn-and when you're new, it's more fun to work
and learn as a team.
Follow up with volunteers often to see how they're doing. Our
ministry DNA is relationships-we make it clear that people
(including volunteers) come before programming. Thus, if someone is
overwhelmed or has too much, we remove some of those
It's okay to simplify your ministry and even have unfilled roles.
If you don't have enough volunteers to run an event, you may have
to cancel the event for the year. Your congregation needs to see
that it takes volunteers and time to put events together. In the
meantime, pray with your existing team and with kids to ask God to
send more volunteers who are excited to serve.
Gloria Lee is a veteran children and families pastor in Los
Angeles, California, with more than 18 years of