Character Before Competence

In order for children’s ministry to grow, an army of faithful disciple-makers needs to be raised up... thus ended my article: The Surprising Grief In Kids Ministry. The raising of this army of volunteers is the most stressful aspect of leading a children’s ministry. It is also the most crucial in establishing an effective children’s ministry.

Paul writes to Timothy, a young leader, and instructs him to guard two things: ”Watch your life and doctrine closely”. 1 Timothy 4:16a

“Watch your life” Timothy is instructed to guard the godly choices he makes. He is called to live a transparent life. A person’s character is his/her qualification for leadership in the church. Anyone entrusted with a group of people to disciple, no matter the age of that group, must be a fully devoted disciple of Christ. This devotion must be evident in his/her daily walk. A person’s godly character is what qualifies him/her for leadership.

Establishing an effective ministry to children begins with asking the question - who are we entrusting these young souls to? Because who they are will have an enormous impact on the children entrusted to them. This impact will be either for good or for ill.

Years ago I entrusted a group of Year 3 boys to a young male leader named Dom. Every week Dom would come with his hair parted and styled in a particular manner. I was fascinated to see that within a month Dom’s boys were coming to church with what I called the “Dom haircut”.

Modelling is powerful! No one understood this more than Paul. His mantra was: “model me as I model Christ.” Your leaders teach children what it means to follow Christ by the very lives they live. Servant-hearted leaders make our servant-hearted Saviour attractive. Children are assured of the love of their Father in heaven, because they experience the love of their leaders here on earth.

I have often heard people speak about the Sunday School or SRE teacher who impacted them as children... I can’t remember much of what she taught me, but I know she loved Jesus and she loved me... I can’t remember his name but I could see that it was God who made him different from all my other school teachers.

So what is your qualification for stepping people into positions of leadership in your various children’s ministries? Does your church have a clearly articulated statement about what is required?

Do you accept volunteers who are willing, available, enthusiastic and express a love for children? If this is your qualification, you may have just handed your children over to a paedophile.

Where does giftedness fit into the equation? It’s not like it’s a choice... character vs. competence... both are important... but the order is important. Character must come before competency. Choose people who are godly and keen to grow in their ability to disciple kids over someone clearly gifted with kids but who is either ungodly or unloving. Both are important, but character outweighs giftedness. Character must come before giftedness.

Notice Paul’s second instruction to Timothy “Watch (your) doctrine closely.” Timothy is to be devoted to the scriptures – to guard the truth and hold uncompromisingly to its message. What your leaders believe matters. This is what they’ll pass on to your youngest disciples. The doctrine they believe will also shape their character – the very character that qualifies them for their role.

When I look back, the great leaders in our children’s ministry are those who love the truth and live the truth. I have never regretted stepping up a godly person into leadership. My failure has been when I’ve compromised and stepped people up when there’s been some uncertainty about their character, simply because I had a roster that needed to be filled.

Hear the implicit warning at the end of 1 Timothy 4:16 “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.”

Who we step up matters!

Let me leave you with a checklist for recruiting your army of disciple-makers:

  1. Are all your present leaders Christian? If you’ve never asked them about their faith, ask them today.
  2. Ask people who know them about their character. Are they a Christian, seeking to grow in their faith (regularly attending church and a small group, prayerful and personally doing business with God in his word)? Someone who could be entrusted with children?
  3. Get to know their story. Ask  “Tell me about your faith story”
  4. Get to know their love, Ask “What is it about Jesus that you love”
  5. Diagnose their faith. Ask “If you were standing before God right now, and he asked ‘Why should I let you into my heaven’, what would you say”
  6. Briefly describe the privilege it is to disciple young children, then ask them to come and have a look at the ministry. Let them see the need and see the privilege set before them.
  7. Encourage them to pray before stepping up into leadership.

There are a lot of assumptions in the steps I’ve just described. These steps assume you have a discipleship model of children’s ministry... assume you’ve established a pattern of serving in children’s ministry that expects leaders to invest both time and energy into teaching and pastoring children... assume you’ve established a structure that guards the personal growth and maturing of your leadership team. These important assumptions will continue to be explored in future blogs.

Never forget that growing young disciples requires disciple makers who are themselves growing.