I've learned something from my engineer/counselor husband over the last few years called "incremental improvement." We've had to hang onto this as step-parents or we'd completely lose heart at times.
Here's what it's looked like: When Ray and I were dating, one of my sons wouldn't come out of the basement to even greet Ray the first time he came to meet my kids. That was painful and embarrassing. The next time, that son came out of the basement and nodded a greeting then retreated to his safe place. It was weeks before he could speak a word to Ray.
Rather than letting that overwhelm us with disappointment, we learned to apply the "incremental improvement" principle to our family situation. We looked for baby steps and celebrated each one--rather than only looking for big changes. I'm afraid if we'd only looked for big changes, we would've never found them. It's been one baby step after another. And we've managed to stay encouraged along the way--for the most part. We still have ground to cover in bringing two families together (we've been marred 3.5 years now and experts say it takes 7 for things to feel natural). We've got lots more baby steps to take--when people are ready. And we can wait patiently--just as we did when our kids were learning to walk.
How does this apply to children's ministry? I just did a podcast interview with Scott Werner, co-author of Turbocharged! (Group), and he reminded me that a great way for children's ministers to stay encouraged is to celebrate every single little baby step--rather than looking just for the big wins! (One baby step for me this Sunday was when 2-year-old Daisy ran into the room and jumped in my arms!) What are baby steps you can celebrate to ward off any discouragement--the child who finally opens up to his teacher, the shy child who offers a prayer request, the parent who tells you their child said he wants to love Jesus like you do when he grows up, or the child who accepts Jesus as his savior?
Don't just look for big numbers, big results, pats on the back from church leadership, parades in your honor. Instead, bask in the baby steps--and you'll ward off discouragement that can be so endemic to children's ministry leadership. Don't let it step on you! Baby steps...baby steps...baby steps.