These brave children’s ministers share their biggest failure in ministry—and how they grew from it.
Everyone knows that awful moment when you realize you’ve just messed up—maybe big time. By its nature, ministry is gilded in grace and mercy—but it’s also a field where missteps can happen and things can go wrong…really wrong. We asked children’s ministry leaders to share their most cringe-worthy ministry moments—and how they overcame and triumphed afterward. Read on to see if you can relate.
HE CALLED ME A LIAR!
“I might just be the queen of ministry ‘failure,’ but I’ve never let it get me down. Each time I’ve fallen, God’s lifted me higher than I ever thought I could reach. I guess that’s why I put failure in quotes, because looking back I see only God putting something in my path to change my direction. God never fails, and as long as I follow him, neither do I.
“That said, I believe my failure two years ago helped me leave my position with peace. I don’t know if the failure was career-ending, because I haven’t felt truly called to another position yet. But I’m still an active and influential minister to children’s ministers. Encouraging and supporting my colleagues in the local church is my passion. Even so, I’d accept another church position if God calls tomorrow, next week, or next year.
“Here’s what happened. Because of a scheduled vacation, I wasn’t present for Move-Up Sunday when kids advance to a new level. I thought I’d prepared the leadership team and parents for the day, but in reality, leadership wasn’t equipped to handle parent concerns about the roster changes. Added to that, the volunteer Sunday school superintendent had secretly resigned unbeknownst to me. The senior pastor knew about the resignation, but decided not to tell me. So our committee hadn’t approved the roster changes taking effect following Move-Up Sunday, meaning kids were going to new rooms, new leaders, and to new groups of kids with little notice. When issues erupted, I began calling parents to address concerns and scheduled teachers’ meetings and parent information meetings for feedback and to get emotions under control.
“Three weeks later the senior pastor, who’d been out of the country on a mission trip, called demanding I immediately reverse the roster changes and cancel the parent information meetings I’d scheduled because he was afraid parents might verbally attack me. I asked him to reconsider because the change was already in effect; parents and teachers were reporting the children were adjusting and thriving in their new groupings. He backed down on reversing the roster change, but not the parent meetings. He then accused me of lying about my actions. I was crushed.
“Up until that point, the senior pastor and I had maintained a healthy trust relationship, allowing us to weather any conflicts that arose. Looking back, I realized that months of vacations and mission trips had created distance between us and had hindered us checking in with each other. Ultimately, at a critical moment, he had information I needed but chose not to share it, and I chose not to bother him with children’s ministry details or ask questions of him. It was a perfect storm, and our relationship was broken by it. We did finally meet later to mend fences, forgive, and pray together. I’m so glad we did. Four weeks later, God called me to resign my position. I left behind a thriving ministry and at peace with my pastor.” — Diana *
I WAS A JERK
My biggest failure? Well, you probably read about it in the paper. (Just kidding.) When I first started in ministry, I was a newly minted college graduate, overconfident and overzealous. In my first year I immediately blew through our budget, tried to overturn 10 years of the previous children’s minister’s work in six months, alienated my volunteer team by treating them like employees, and pretty much forgot that I was there to minister to kids and families. At the end of that year, embattled, unpopular, and really, really sick of it all, I decided maybe I’d misheard God’s calling on my life.
“It took a wise and kind friend (who has no role in ministry at all) to point out all the levels of my jerkiness and help me see the many places I’d gone astray in my campaign to rule the children’s ministry universe. I did some deep soul-searching and spent a lot of time with my pastor that summer relearning what it was I was supposed to be doing. Today, I wouldn’t recognize that me. I like to think I’m wonderfully humble now—a lot more children’s minister and a lot less jerk.” —Peter*
I WAS FIRED
“Several years ago I went through one of the toughest and most humbling experiences of my life. Our church was experiencing serious strife, mostly related to our pastor at the time. We were headed for an acrimonious split. As the children’s minister, I could sympathize with our pastor but could also see the ‘other side,’ too. I remained pretty neutral and mostly just went about my business, although I did have my ‘insider’ opinions about why what was happening was happening. In a big lapse of judgment, I offered my frank opinion of why people were so frustrated with our pastor to a parent I felt a good rapport with. Not long after that, the church split.
“I’d planned to stay on with the church and my pastor, never having any inclination to go anywhere. I figured what was done, was done. About a month afterward, the pastor called me into his office. He proceeded to line out everything I’d said to that parent about his failings, told me he didn’t appreciate my lack of loyalty, said I hadn’t embraced his vision—and fired me. I was dumbfounded.
“I learned a powerful lesson: to keep my opinions about behind-the-scenes stuff to myself, especially as a staff member. I realized I hadn’t honored anyone in the situation. Sharing my opinion was a naïve, foolish mistake. Also, I had been ambivalent about the direction our church was headed and, ultimately— my pastor had been right to let me go. In my newly free time, I resolved to do better in my next position. That meant I spent a lot of time ensuring I believed in the mission and the role of children’s ministry in a church before I went to work there. I’m happy to say that six years later, I’m the children’s minister of another church, wholeheartedly behind our pastor and vision, and better equipped to handle church strife than I was previously.” —Dan*
I HIRED A SEX OFFENDER
“I made a terrible mistake once by letting a friend’s brother come to work in our ministry as more of a favor than anything. He needed a job, and we needed someone willing to do simple janitorial and handyman work. I’d known the friend for a few years and thought this would be a win-win situation. I advocated for the brother to be hired. He worked for us for about six months, but soon took another job. “I was stunned and sickened to learn that he’s recently been arrested for possessing child pornography. Our small church has never done background checks, and I’ll be honest, it never crossed my mind that he could be a risk. Our church leadership has investigated the subject with all the families who were attending during that timeframe and alerted law enforcement. Blessedly, we haven’t uncovered any issues. He had little to no contact with children because he was at the church during off hours. Even so, no matter how many assurances I have that nothing happened, this situation will haunt me always. I’ll never be careless again in who we invite into our ministry.” —Janice*
I KICKED A CHILD OUT–AND THE FAMILY
“My biggest failure in 20-plus years of ministry is one I still think about. Years ago we had a boy who constantly misbehaved. We’d exhausted every avenue for helping his behavior, but nothing—and I mean nothing—worked. He was out of control and a signifi cant distraction to the other kids. After months of trying to get him on track, a group of our teachers and leaders met to decide what to do. We all agreed that it was to the point that he needed to leave the program. It was up to me to tell his parents. What seemed like a good thing to do at the time quickly began to feel like a terrible mistake as I was telling the parents their son couldn’t come back to our ministry. They left; I never saw them or their son again. I’ve always questioned our approach and felt like we failed that family terribly.”—Elaine*
MARRIED IN MINISTRY AND FIGHTING LIKE CATS AND DOGS
“My husband and I love ministry and had always dreamed of serving together. We were hired at a good-sized church in a city and began serving side by side, he as the youth pastor and I as the children’s minister. It was great—for about five minutes.
“We discovered our dream was potentially a nightmare. We disagreed on almost everything and had different priorities when it came to our areas of ministry. We spent every waking (and sleeping) moment together. It wasn’t long until we were both going crazy. I know it works great for some couples to work together, but for us it was disaster. We spent entire nights not speaking because of something that had happened at church.
“Finally, it got to the point that we had to make a change to keep our marriage healthy. My husband took another position at another church. We’re both happier—and nicer—now that we’re more independent in our ministry roles.” —Suzanne*
I MOCKED OUR PASTOR
“I made the regrettable mistake of mocking my pastor’s bald head in a moment of frustration… only to realize he was within earshot, watching me, listening to every word as it came out of my mouth. It didn’t end my career, but it did facilitate my ‘reassignment’ to another ministry. In another church. In another town.” —Brad*