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  • October 2009

    moving_truck

    They say the average youth or children’s minister stays in a position about three years. Leaving a ministry position is apparently a common part of our ministry lives. Though I never planned on joining the statistic… my family and I have accepted a position at a church in St. Petersburg, Florida and will be moving from Kansas City in two weeks.

    My wife and I have felt for about a year that we’ve been waiting for something but we didn’t know what. Apparently God was preparing our hearts for a transition. Though we weren’t planning to go anywhere, we committed ourselves to prayer and found that God had released us and was calling us elsewhere. I’m pleased to say that we’re leaving on great terms… no drama to report. Our primary reason for the move is to be closer to family. This has become very important to us since we’ve had children.

    Once a few years ago, I was going through a pretty dark time in my life. No moral failure or anything like that… I was just “going through” as they say. I was feeling as if I wanted to be done with ministry… that I wanted to leave… to get away from the pressure. I talked to a mentor of mine and he gave me some sound advice that I wanted to share in this context. He asked me to recall when God called me to my current position. I was instantly able to remember that moment. He said, “When it’s time to go, He’ll release you the same way. He called you here… he’ll call you away.” His words really clarified things for me. I realized that leaving wasn’t my choice to make. I remained faithful… and God was good.

    So when is it time to leave? When God says. It makes all the difference. On those bad days in ministry sometimes the Call is the only thing that keeps you hanging in there. Knowing that in spite of all of our shortcomings and flaws, that you know that you know that God put you where you are can give us the strength we need to hold on. I’m finding that I need that same assurance as I transition between seasons in ministry. Thank God I have it. I know my future is secure, in spite of all of the unknowns, because we’re following the path that has been laid out for us by our Heavenly Father.

    Those of you who may be struggling where you are… I would urge you to remember that moment God called you to be where you are. If you want to leave, ask… but wait for that call to go before you throw in the towel. God still had a lot of work to do on me that would have not been possible if I had left before. If he doesn’t release you it’s because he has unfinished work to do in your life and the lives you minister to. Trust that.

    socks

    Most of us write up and use pretty basic rules for Children’s Church: Don’t talk, keep your hands to your self, participate, limit bathroom use, blah, blah blah. I’m finding that those just aren’t cutting it these days. There are so many issues that the basic rules just don’t cover. I suggest we add the following to our policies and procedures manuals immediately!

    Rules I Wish I Could Use:

    For Kids

    • You shall not turn your Sunday School papers into airplanes or roll them into weapons.
    • If we have drums, you are not allowed to play them. Ever. If you do we will cancel your next birthday.
    • Do not groan after my movie video clip illustration is over.
    • The answer to every question I ask is not “God”.
    • Please thank your parents on our behalf for buying you a cell phone… right after you tell them you lost it.
    • Knock, knock jokes are banned for life.
    • Understand this: Even though I don’t have your birthday and age memorized… I still love you!
    • Please tell your friends we have bibles and coats here at the church… free gifts from all of you who have left yours here.
    • Nobody stole your socks.
    • Please stay completely still and quiet during worship but move around and talk as much as you want during the sermon.
    • Prayer requests are not a chance to tell a story.
    • If your grandmother is dead… there’s really no reason to pray for her… again.
    • Offering goes in the plate… not in the coke machine after service.
    • Please explain to we leaders how you fit all that stuff in that tiny pink purse.
    • Keep your dangum shoes on girls!

    For Parents

    • Parent’s are required to get angry when they arrive late for check-in. We’re only open for an hour after all… only 30 minutes shorter than the service itself… I’d be angry too!
    • Parent’s must pick up their children within 15 minutes of the end of service. Those who don’t will have their children given to someone who will raise them properly.
    • Deadlines apply to everyone… except you. You’re special.
    • Please don’t act like you’re doing us a favor my dropping off your child. It’s not a problem for me… but some of these folks feel a little under appreciated when you act that way.
    • By all means, fill up a van full of kids, bring them to church and then refuse to volunteer!
    • Offering goes up one dollar for every minute you are late to church.
    • Those papers we send home… they’re useful… and not just as replacement floor mats in the minivan.
    • I know your kid is perfect… like you… but we still need him to stop stabbing others.
    • Thanks for your donation… but the homeless don’t like cans of pepper hulls either.

    For Volunteers

    • If you’ve been sick since Wednesday, please wait to call in till Saturday night or (even better) Sunday morning just before service. For a bonus, do it via facebook!
    • Children’s Ministry is probably not the best place to work off your community service hours.
    • You can pass a background check… but if you smell funny, I’m not going to approve you to work with kids. It’s called mercy.
    • Volunteers who call in sick for the Super Bowl will have the kids from their abandoned class delivered to their home in time for the game.
    • Yes, random church member with an agenda, I’d love to create a class wrapped around your goat farm.
    • Please hold all important, drama-filled conversations until right before service starts. Preferably while I’m trying to get PowerPoint to work.
    • All scary looking relatives of yours are automatically cleared to sit through kids church. Since you asked me with them standing right there so I couldn’t say no. I’ll be sure to send a couple of mine over to watch you sleep tonight in return.
    • If you’re going to read right out of the curriculum, at least hold the book right-side up.

    Do you have any of your own rules we should add? Put them in the comments!

    set in stone

    Over the last ten years I’ve been in full-time ministry, most of that in children’s ministry, I’ve found myself repeating a few phrases over and over. The title of this post is one of them: “Don’t make permanent changes for temporary situations”.

    Though I’ve never had a paid ministry assistant, over the years I have had several volunteer folks who have helped to fill that role. Almost without exception, in the first few months, they would come to me with a situation and a solution… and I would find myself repeating that same phrase. Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about, then I’ll explain why it’s not a good idea.

    John was one of my newer volunteers but he was a natural and due to his willingness and availability had become someone I relied on quite a bit. After a few months I had placed him as coordinator over our Sunday evening program for elementary. He came to me one night with a situation… our attendance had dropped over the last two weeks. He proposed that we move the entire program to a different set of rooms that were smaller. What he didn’t know or realize was that every year around this time we had the same dip in attendance but always picked back up. He also didn’t know that if we gave up our rooms, other ministries would be glad to make use of them and we’d never get them back. He wanted to fix a temporary situation with a permanent solution.

    Here are the hoops my situations have to jump through before I consider a permanent solution:

    1. Is it consistent?

    Before I make a new policy or a major change I want to make sure it’s not an isolated incident. I’m not going to make a new policy because one child was left late after a program… but if a month of Sunday’s goes by and I’ve got three or four families consistently abusing our workers by picking up super late… I’m going to write up a policy.

    2. Is there history I’m not aware of?

    For any situation you come across… someone in your church has seen it before and has dealt with it. Typically the Pastor or another staff member who has been there longer knows something you don’t. In my situation with John, he didn’t know how many years we had worked to outgrow the other set of rooms… I wasn’t about go backwards just because of an annual dip in attendance!

    3. Am I Acting or Reacting?

    Some situations seem bigger than they really are. We all get sick children in our ministries from time to time… but with swine flu running amok, we’re tempted to go nuts and treat every kid with a sniffle like they’ve got the plague. I always want to be sure that I’m not just reacting to the high-pressure of a temporary situation. In the heat of the moment, especially when dramatic people are involved, it can be tempting to start churning out changes and new policies until the storm passes. Making choices based on fear, feelings and self-protection is never a good idea. Sure, you solve the immediate issues, but later you have to deal with the consequences of choices made in haste. Does the situation warrant a huge change? Usually your common sense will serve you better than a policy. Urge your volunteers to look at the big picture. Keep existing policies and procedures in mind and use common sense.

    We can easily get drama-happy… where we want to make big deals out of simple issues so that we can feel like we’re doing something important. Drama is not ministry. Ministry is what we do after the drama is quickly and graciously dealt with.

    circus-lg

    There are differing opinions on the level of excitement and fun that should be used in children’s church. Some would say that it should be filled with video clips, sound effects, games, object lessons and fun. Others would fight against such things by proposing we train children to be able to handle big church by giving them their own version of an adult-like service.

    I find myself falling into a different category if you can call it a category at all. I think each church has to decide for itself what atmosphere it provides based on the requirements of their congregation. Even then I don’t believe that you can set the bar and walk away. My own services have changed over the years, going from one extreme at times to the other, based on what my kids needed at the time. Sometimes even within the same service.

    I have an unwritten rule that I use to gauge the amount of ‘fun’ I use in my services. I often share this with my kids as a way to improve their behavior if we’re having a ‘full moon’ Sunday. Every week we make a deal:

    If you promise to learn, I promise to make it fun.

    There are times when fun makes the learning go smoothly. There are other times I have to rein it in in order to get my point across. I find that I have to keep part of my mind on the message… and the other part out there in the crowd. If the one part isn’t receiving what the other part is sending, it’s time to change things up. Right there… on the fly.

    Sometimes fun works. Sometimes fun looks serious, like a secret club meeting in the back yard. Sometimes it’s not about fun at all… but about interest in the topic. Mostly it’s about where your kids are and what they need. Here’s the other guideline I heard somewhere:

    A child’s experience with the content is as important as the content.

    If you can’t get it in their heads somehow, it doesn’t really matter how good of a point your making. I refuse to slot my children’s church into a ‘fun’ or ‘church-like’ category because doing so would limit the methods I need to use to get the Word out. My hope would be that other Children’s Ministers would keep their options open as well. It doesn’t always have to be a playground… or a funeral.