Adversity, despair, and
disillusionment — these children’s ministers have been to the
brink…and survived. Here’s how you can, too.
Some call it a dry spell. For others it’s a low point. Whatever
you call it, a dark season in your ministry life can seriously
impact your motivation, your love for ministry — even your
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Several children’s ministers* bravely shared with us their stories
of adversity in ministry, stories you can probably relate to. We
took their tales to the experts — professional counselors and
career coaches — for their insights on how to find encouragement
With Friends Like These…
Danette was a children’s minister for 14 years at the same church
— the church she always thought she’d grow old in. But when a new
pastor came on board, it was quickly apparent that he didn’t like
Danette. Despite an uncomfortable and at times unhappy
relationship, she was determined to stick it out. Finally after
four years, the pastor pulled her into his office and fired her.
Then he instructed her to lie about her firing and tell her team
she’d resigned. She was tortured by that mandate, so she remained
silent and refused to lie. On Staff Appreciation Sunday, the pastor
stood at the pulpit and announced that Danette had resigned.
Distraught — but needing work — Danette accepted a children’s
ministry position at another church. It was clearly not the best
fit: Danette, a veteran leader, was now being micromanaged and
“trained” by someone who’d never even served in children’s
ministry. After four years in that position, she finally quit,
utterly disillusioned and feeling separated from God.
“I’m scared,” she admits, speaking of the emotional distance she
feels from God. “I never would’ve thought this could happen to me.
I always felt so close to God, but I don’t anymore. I’m better, I
guess, but I’m not where I used to be spiritually.”
Danette has stepped away from ministry at this point, and she
worries that her relationship with God is in jeopardy.
Find Yourself — and Your Faith
“One of the most valuable lessons I’ve ever learned is this: God
is way more concerned about me as his child than he is about my
performance in ministry,” says Julie Beader, children’s ministry
consultant and founder of Connect Ministries International (connectedministry.com).
“When we’ve been through tough, emotionally draining circumstances
(and unfortunately ministry can be loaded with them), we often
forget to take the time we need to heal. We’re so used to moving
forward at a rapid pace that we just keep going and sometimes don’t
notice that we’re bleeding all over the place.”
Danette’s initial situation with the pastor may be an underlying
cause to her feelings of separation from God, notes Phil Monroe, a
Christian psychologist, biblical counselor, director of the
master’s program at Biblical Seminary, and blogger (wisecounsel.wordpress.com).
“Danette’s spiritual shepherd wounded her instead of mentored her
as he should have,” comments Monroe. “When God’s representatives
act in ways God would not, it does damage to the soul. Danette may
need to be more aware of how this damage has interfered with her
relationship with God. She likely has a view of God that’s been
challenged by these circumstances. She needs a friend to walk with
her on a regular basis. Ultimately this friend may be able to help
her see that her disillusionment is with humans and not with God,
and that her faith is not in his human structures but in the Christ
who suffered alone on the cross for her. She should find a friend
who’ll pour into her (not by lecture or advice) by being present
and crying with her during her pain.”
When we experience a situation that traumatizes or rocks our
faith, it’s critical to step back, reflect, and heal before
attempting to forge ahead, says Beader. “When we try to move
forward in ministry while carrying bitterness, anger, resentment,
or even hurts, it’s dangerous for us and for those we’re attempting
to minister to,” cautions Beader. “It flavors our ministry. You
have to get to the bottom of it — and it may get messy — and get
things right. That may mean some serious time alone with God, or it
might involve some counseling.”
When Parents Attack
Veteran children’s pastor Sarah was concerned when one of her best
teachers came into her office and said she was ready to quit. The
teacher’s preteen class was out of control — so much so that the
teacher of 16 years asked Sarah to step in. Sarah was appalled-the
kids were disrespectful and disruptive. They even threw things at
the teacher. After many failed attempts at discipline, Sarah took a
drastic step and called a meeting with the parents and kids. She
told them if they didn’t shape up, she wouldn’t promote them to the
“What a mistake!” says Sarah. “Instead of the parents disciplining
their kids, they turned on me and said they weren’t aware of a
problem, my discipline policy was flawed, and my teachers didn’t
follow through. I left the meeting in tears…One thing I learned:
You don’t mess with Momma Bear — and certainly not a whole pack of
them!” Sarah canceled class for the next week to give the teacher,
the kids, and herself a break.
“It was very discouraging,” she admits. Even though her pastor
supported her, Sarah reeled; her confidence had taken a major hit
from the attack. She knew her reputation and her previous rapport
with many of those parents might be irretrievably broken. “I was
questioning everything about myself and my ministry.”
Plan Your Defense
A parent coup can be nightmarish, especially when the attacks are
personal in nature. In this situation, say experts, the best
response is to step back and let the dust settle while you think
“Sarah’s experience shook her faith in herself and her abilities
to the point of wanting to quit,” says Krystal Kuehn, a licensed
professional counselor, author, and co-founder of NewDayCounseling.org and BeHappy4Life.com. “Never
make a decision when you’re experiencing strong emotions such as
deep frustration or anger. Work through your emotions first,” Kuehn
advises. “And remember that people blame others rather than take
responsibility. That doesn’t make it your fault.” But, cautions
Kuehn, don’t overlook the possibility of self-improvement.
“Recognize the opportunity in the situation to learn and grow as a
leader and disciplinarian.”
Sarah came out of her situation bruised, but intact. The turning
point for her was when a child from the class approached her and
said, “Pastor Sarah, I can’t learn anything in class.” That helped
Sarah get her resolve back.
“After that, I made sure those kids behaved,” she said. “I sat in
on every class, and the kids were aware that if they disrupted once
they were out of the class. Over time, everything eventually blew
over. I’m sad that some bridges may have been burned, but I’m proud
that I stuck to our policies and defended my teacher — who is
The “Pastor’s Wife”
Paula and her husband planted a church two decades ago, and today
it’s thriving with hundreds of members. Paula took on the
children’s ministry at the church’s inception, at first
volunteering a couple hours per week. Soon her work turned into a
part-time, paid position of 20-plus hours…and then 40-plus hours.
As the work increased, so did Paula’s love for children’s ministry
— even though her paycheck did not. The ministry thrived under her
The downside: The ministry’s growth has been matched by an
increase in problems with parents and team members. “I’ll never
forget just being floored as one of my nursery volunteers got in my
face, screaming at me at the top of her lungs because we had a
mouse in the building,” says Paula.
Despite her love for the kids, years of full-time work at
part-time pay, critical parents, and a job that’s evolved into an
unmanageable beast have slowly worn her down.
And Paula admits she’s silently struggled with something else:
“When things are going well, I’m ‘the children’s director,’ ” she
says, “but when they aren’t, I’m ‘the pastor’s wife.’ ”
Paula says she’s demoralized and experiencing a personal crisis,
even though she still loves ministering to children. She’s
considering quitting, taking a lower-level position, or continuing
on while trying to work through the problems.