The Surprising Grief In Kids Ministry
“This is not what I signed on for”
“This is not what I thought ministry to children would be like”
What turns someone, clearly gifted with children, to feeling lost and insecure after stepping up to lead the children’s ministry in their church? Why do they begin to doubt their long-term future in this role?
People often begin their journey into children’s ministry as a volunteer leader, uncertain about their suitability. Over time however people around them begin to observe their gifting – they naturally connect with children.
They too become increasingly aware of how energized they are when they teach and pastor children. Put it simply – children’s ministry feels right – they’re round pegs in round holes. And so children’s ministry becomes their focus and life’s passion. They want to see children come to faith and grow in faith, and they feel God has gifted them for this task.
So why do people, so obviously gifted in teaching and pastoring children, begin to doubt God’s gifting?
A growing church will most likely experience tension or stress in their children’s ministry when the average number of children attending Children’s Church (or Sunday School) reaches about 15 per week. As new families join, as children become part of the formal teaching programs, certain dynamics begin to force change.
Whereas once children’s ministry was done in the same room, led by a leader and few helpers, now teams of leaders need to be raised up, trained and equipped for the task.
The most significant implication of these changes is the need to appoint a leader of leaders – someone who will assume the responsibility of children’s ministry across the entire church. This leader of leaders - be they paid or unpaid, theologically trained or not, full-time or part-time, no matter their title, Children’s Minister, Children’s Coordinator, Children’s Worker... becomes the go-to-person when it comes to children’s ministry within the church.
The most natural person to appoint to this role is someone gifted with children. The only problem is, the face-to-face teaching of children they’re so gifted at, is not what now consumes their time and energy.
It’s not that they stop teaching children altogether, but in order for all children, across all age groups, to be faithfully taught and pastored, an army of volunteers is needed. Teams of leaders, passionate to see children become fully devoted disciples, need to be raised up. This focus is essential for all children’s ministries, from the church with 40 members to the church with 400 members. No children’s ministry can move forward without a growing leadership committed to discipling children.
One solution is for Children’s Ministers (Co-ordinators, Workers...) to see themselves as specialists - concentrating on the age group they feel most comfortable teaching. After all, isn't that why they were stepped up in the first place? So they
continue face-to-face teaching these children, ensuring that at least one section of the children’s ministry has their full attention and focus. The leaders in this section benefit from the modeling that takes place each week, problems are addressed on the spot and leaders feel encouraged and equipped.
This solution, though highly beneficial to one section of the ministry, often neglects an even larger number of leaders and children. Specialization makes it impossible to view what’s happening in other age groups, let alone train or equip these teams effectively. Thus, the most neglected teams tend to be those teaching children under five (and often under seven), as most people stepping into the leader of leaders role tend to be gifted in teaching school-age children – and in particular, primary aged children. It’s little wonder a significant number of under-fives leaders feel unappreciated and have a perception that their ministry is viewed as little more than a babysitting service. They only ever have the attention of the Children’s Minister in times of crisis or when things are falling apart.
The alternative to this specialization model is often where the grief sets in. A redefined role is needed that is focused on the training and support of all leaders across all teams. And learning how to do this effectively can be very daunting.
For a start, a significant number of people find it difficult to teach someone else to do what they do instinctively. Being able to teach and pastor children is not the same as being able to train another to teach and pastor children. The gifts people first identified in them are not the same gifts now needed to grow the ministry. They may or may not now be the right people to grow the children’s ministry in their church.
Stepping out of face-to-face teaching into an equipping role is not easy. For those being paid, they may fear people’s perception... Aren’t we paying you to teach the children?
For others, it’s the issue of seeing the standard drop as they step out and others step in. Training leaders is slow and at times painful. Things go backwards, standards drop, mistakes are made, but this is all part of growing a new generation of disciple-makers.
But for the most, it’s just the grief of not being able to disciple one group of children anymore. The role has shifted significantly. They now drop in and out of programs. They know all the children, but not like they did before. Others now teach and disciple these young disciples.
In order for children’s ministry to grow, an army of faithful disciple-makers needs to be raised up. And the raising up of this army takes years. But to invest in your leaders is to ultimately to invest in your children. And is this not our end goal? To see many children won for Christ and mature as his disciples – all for his glory!