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20/20 Vision

If hindsight is 20/20, then why not get a rearview picture to begin with? That's
exactly why we asked six children's ministers to share what they wish they would've known in their first year of ministry.

by Gerri Baker

At the age of 22, I became the Christian education director for a mid-sized church. I was a woman in an all-male environment, I was young, and I had no idea what I was doing. It quickly became necessary for me to grow in a few areas.

First, I needed to overcome my need for constant reassurance. In many ways it became sink or swim that first year, and I definitely felt I was the only one in the pool. Through some tough bumps, I grew in my confidence in God and his call to me in ministry. I learned not to expect praise from my male counterparts, which wasn't bestowed often, but to highly value it as a worthwhile, true compliment when given.

Second, I had to learn how to control my sensitive and emotional qualities. I had to toughen up a bit and be able to take criticism and confrontation from people within the church without emotionalism. People aren't always so nice and kind; they can say and do hurtful things. This can blindside us, because we don't expect church to be like this. I learned that first year that often these hurtful things aren't about me but about how the people are themselves hurting.

Third, I had to realize I'm not Superwoman. No matter how endless my energy might seem, at some time there's always a stopping point. Out of all the things I wish someone had taught me, at the top of my list is boundaries. This lesson alone would've saved me years of struggling and workaholism.

Gerri Baker is the elementary minister at a church in Indianapolis, Indiana. She has been a children's minister for five years.

by Jennifer Dimbath

I wish someone would've told me early on that there's more to children's ministry than children -- that the adults who influence them require a great deal of love and care from the children's minister.

Before I knew it, my days that had once been spent building relationships with kids around their school lunch table and going to ballgames and dance recitals were now consumed by administrative tasks. Instead of teaching children's church, I was recruiting and equipping someone else to teach. Instead of going on outings, I was putting the dates on the calendar and empowering someone else to plan them and participate in them with the children. Suddenly, I was ministering more to adults than to children. This was not what I'd signed up for!

I struggled for months as the children's ministry continued to grow and I became more removed from the children. Is this really what God wanted me to do? I thought I was going to minister to children!

But as my time with the children decreased, I began to see amazing things happen within the ministry...more children were learning about Christ, and the team members were growing closer to Christ themselves as a result of their ownership and participation in ministry.

And as the children's ministry team became more equipped, felt more encouraged, and was empowered to do ministry, our children's spiritual lives benefited even more!

My #1 priority is still to influence the eternal lives of children. Unfortunately, I had to learn the hard way that I'm least effective when the majority of my time is spent with the children (although it's necessary) and most effective when my time is spent empowering, equipping, and encouraging adults to reach, love, and train children for Christ!

Jennifer Dimbath is the children's ministry director at a church in Peachtree, Georgia. She has been a children's minister for three years.

by Ed Barnes

I assumed that I needed to do it all and be the "go to" person. That's what I thought leadership was -- being the guy in charge and taking care of all needs at all times. My wife slowly drilled into me the fact that other people can do things, too.

My two children began to ask the question, "Daddy, why are you going to the office again?" That was the kicker.

God had things worked out brilliantly, though. It was about that same time that our church staff dug into leadership growth with the help of a John Maxwell study course. My eyes were opened like they had never been before. In short, I began to find joy in mentoring more leaders and giving big decisions and projects and programs to other "very capable" volunteers. They loved it, and it was awesome to see them loving the chance to really make a difference in our church. It was no longer them "helping Ed" do ministry; it was their ministry. My feeling of success then came from helping the church really be the church.

Advice? Study the process of how to "grow" other people for the purposes of the church. Go to your local bookstore and stock up on leadership books. Study leaders in the Bible -- both good and bad.   

The second thing is to find a mentor. I've been blessed with a number of people in my life whom I've learned from simply by watching them and listening to them. I've watched their lifestyle principles lived out. I've listened to how they talk. I've observed how they treat others. After doing this, get ready to mentor your volunteers. Find joy in being mentored and in mentoring others in leadership and ministry. 

Growing your ability to lead is part of your job. Take time each day to pray for God to strengthen your leadership ability. The best part of leadership is leaving a legacy that has the footprints of God all over it.

Ed Barnes is a children's and youth minister at a church in Canton, Ohio. He has been a children's minister for nine years.

by Diana Pendley

I love trying new things! I love doing things the way they haven't always been done; but in the beginning that got me in a little trouble. 

When I started in children's ministry 15 years ago, I was very fortunate to begin at a place that allowed us to color outside the lines. My boss was always open to that. As long as something was in good taste, scriptural, and helpful for us to reach boys and girls for Jesus, we were allowed to try new avenues of ministry.

When I'd attend a conference, I'd come home with a legal pad of new ideas and ministry plans that other churches were doing (that always seemed better to me).

I remember not being able to sleep at night while attending a conference because I was working on plans for different ministries for our children's ministry. It was so difficult for me to hear about these great ideas and not want to do everything.

Now I realize -- through a few hiccups along the way -- that not every good ministry program or plan or even awesome outreach tool is meant to be at our church. If an idea doesn't fit with our vision statement and purposes for our church, then it probably shouldn't be done. 

Finally, with a group of faithful core leaders, lots of prayer, searching the Scriptures, knowing the heart of our pastor and ministry staff, and knowing the mission and heartbeat of our church, we came up with our children's ministry mission and six purposes that are the measuring stick of everything we do. Now when there's a potentially new program idea, I only have to go back to what I know of our purposes and mission. Does it fit? If yes, then great! Let's pray about it and try it. If no, then we don't have to waste time checking our budget and calendar or praying about it. We already know the answer!

Diana Pendley is the minister of children at a church in Plano, Texas. She has been a children's minister for 15 years.

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