When I was a new children’s minister, I had visions of teaching from the Bible, filling my calendar with counseling sessions, spending time in prayer, and planning exciting family ministry events. A few years into my ministry, though, reality set in and I started to get discouraged. While I was doing those things occasionally, I spent the majority of my time maintaining a calendar and budget, cleaning classrooms, restocking supplies, overseeing the details of various ministry areas, and scheduling that ever-revolving door of volunteers. I questioned what my job description was. I began to feel more like a children’s ministry manager than a children’s minister.
In the midst of my frustration, I attended a children’s ministry conference. I took a workshop on the reality of being a children’s minister, hoping it would give me answers, but by the end I felt even more discouraged. I thought, I’m already doing everything the speaker said, but I’m still running ragged managing details. It’s obvious that a big part of my job was managing the ministry, but it was so all-encompassing that I hardly had time to even interact with kids.
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When the floor opened for questions, I asked this: “If you’re already doing all these things, how do you still have time to minister to the children? How do you not get totally derailed by all the administration?”
The speaker responded with two words that got my attention: “Duplicate yourself.”
I let these words roll around in my head for some time. Duplicate yourself? I thought I’d already done that. I’d attempted multiple times to find people to mentor or someone to help lighten the load. Each time the effort had started strong but eventually faded. As I talked with other children’s ministers and evaluated my own journey, I discovered where I was going wrong.
You Times Two
To duplicate is to create an exact representation of something. So while duplicating yourself is an important idea, if you’re not careful it’s where you can get stuck. I was getting stuck because I was looking for a carbon copy of myself—someone with my background, my passion, and my talents. What I finally realized was that instead, I needed to reproduce myself.
When parents reproduce, their children have their DNA; however, each child is a unique individual. He or she may have similar interests or values, but the child is not an exact copy of either parent.
As leaders, we reproduce ourselves in ministry by passing down our values and vision, but also by allowing people to minister using their unique gifts and walking in their individual calling. I understood I had to stop looking for another me. I had to instead start looking for someone “other” than me.
This required me to get to know my volunteers more personally and to try to uncover a clearer picture of how God had uniquely called each one to children’s ministry. Here’s what I learned along the way.
5 Powerful Ways to Ministry Growth
1. Look for passion and personal investment.
For years I tried to find someone who’d shadow me and eventually become the next children’s ministry leader. What I discovered was instead of looking for one person to take over the ministry as a whole, I was better off to find multiple people with a passion for specific areas of ministry. So I began seeking one exceptional volunteer who might rise as a leader in each of ministry area, such as nursery, preschool, and elementary.
I began to pay more attention to the people who were invested: they came early or stayed late, they showed up for meetings, they clearly had initiative, and their genuine love for children was evident. After I’d observed a person for a while, engaged in conversation and sometimes mentoring, and I was confident in his or her calling to that area, I asked the person to move into leadership of that ministry area.
The team of duplicate “me’s” I’ve gathered are my eyes and ears over their ministry areas. They manage and communicate with their volunteers and oversee the needs of that ministry area. Now, instead of having one additional me, I have five additional parts of me. The children’s ministry as a whole has become more manageable and each area gets more individualized attention. Best of all, this structure positions us for health and growth.
2. Think hard before you disqualify people.
Nancy had tried volunteering in multiple church ministries without much luck. She had a reputation for being difficult and for not getting along with other volunteers. When she applied to teach in the children’s ministry, the children’s minister was hesitant but decided not to let past experiences stop Nancy from volunteering. Instead, he looked at Nancy’s weaknesses as strengths. Nancy needed to be in a position where she felt in charge. As a Sunday school teacher, she had control of her class and the freedom to plan her own lessons. Feeling empowered, she excelled, got along with the team, and over time became a strong leader in the children’s ministry. It would’ve been so easy to write her off, but by really assessing her strengths, weaknesses, and passions, the children’s minister was able to turn a nightmare volunteer into a reliable, committed, and gifted leader.
As leaders, we have insight into people’s private lives. We know their weaknesses, their failures, and their shortcomings. While this can be helpful, it can also be a hindrance. At times, we end up relying on this information as a reason to disqualify them. And it’s true that some people have issues and character traits that mean they’re not suited to ministry at all. But often people can surprise us when we’ve thoughtfully considered who they are and placed them in a position that’s ripe for success.
3. Don’t assume the answer is no.
When my long-time nursery ministry leader stepped down, I was worried I’d never find someone to fill her shoes. She’d gone above and beyond anything I asked. I assumed no one would want to continue at her level of work or take on that degree of leadership. So I decided to divide that role and find three people, one serving in a lesser role during each service. But after months of seeking potential leaders, I’d only found one who really had a passion for the ministry.
Seeing my frustration, my husband finally asked me, “Why is Alexis only leading one service? Didn’t she want the nursery leadership role?”
I had to then answer, “I don’t know. I never offered it to her.”
The next day I offered Alexis the role, and she gladly accepted.
Too many times, we say no for someone before we even ask the person. While this tendency may spring from good intentions, when we assume someone’s answer will be no, we take away an opportunity for God to work through that person. In a way, it’s robbing the person of a blessing. Our team members are the experts on their lives; we can’t make decisions for them. It’s our responsibility to vet the person, offer the opportunity, and set up that person for success.
4. Mentor before you set expectations.
As leaders, our ministries are a reflection of us, so it can be frustrating when someone doesn’t meet our standards. It creates an urge to jump in and do things the way we’d do them. However, to effectively raise up leaders, there are times we’ll have to be more flexible with our expectations as they learn. As your duplicate leaders grow, then you can begin to elevate expectations. Consider which tasks require more attention and which aren’t as vital. Which tasks are more front-facing, and which are support efforts or behind-the-scenes? Begin by handing off the tasks that aren’t as critical. As your leader grows and proves himself, begin to give him more responsibility and more visible tasks.
A word of caution: It may seem easier to just do a task yourself, rather than leave it in the inexperienced hands of someone else. But that’s a long-term recipe for burnout and a great way to undercut your duplication efforts. If you take time to teach your leader how to do a task well, then it’ll be easier in the future and you’ll have spurred growth in your leader. Look at this experience as a time to invest in your ministry and in your people.
5. Lead Like Jesus
The Pyramid of Learning Retention explains that people remember only 5% of what they hear, 30% of what they see demonstrated, 75% of what they practice doing, and 90% of what they teach. In the medical field, there’s a theory of learning called “see one, do one, teach one.” Many businesses modeled their training efforts after this theory. How we facilitate learning among our children is something we can also apply to our volunteers and leaders. And when you give volunteers opportunities to lead and feel empowered, they’ll grow even more.
Jesus is the ultimate example of how to reproduce yourself in others using this same model, but with a ministry spin. Simply put: It’s the discipleship process.
Jesus chose 12 men to be his disciples. They left everything to follow him and were witnesses to his mission and power. Jesus modeled what he expected of his disciples. They witnessed him heal the sick, raise the dead, show compassion, and live out a life of obedience to the Father. After many of these experiences, Jesus explained the reason for his actions. Your volunteers and leaders need to see how you do different tasks, but also hear your heart. As you work, explain how to do something and why you do it in that manner. Clear policies and procedures help communicate your expectations, but your modeling of those same things is more important than something printed in a manual.
After demonstrating his mission to the disciples, Jesus then put them to work as part of the mission. Mark 6:7-13 says, “And he called his 12 disciples together and began sending them out two by two, giving them authority to cast out evil spirits… So the disciples went out, telling everyone they met to repent of their sins and turn to God. And they cast out many demons and healed many sick people, anointing them with olive oil.”
Before sending them out, Jesus prepared the disciples. He gave clear, step-by-step instructions of where they were to go and what they were to do and prepared them for how they’d be received. Jesus also prepared them by giving them authority. As the head of the ministry, you are the face of children’s ministry in your church. Everyone knows you, which means everyone comes to you. Continue to give authority to your leaders. If someone calls or emails you with a problem, redirect that person to contact the leader of the ministry area. Highlight your leaders in your parent newsletters or emails. Empower your leaders by allowing them to solve problems and make decisions.
In Matthew 28, Jesus empowers his disciples to, “Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” It was Jesus’ followers’ turn to go into the world and make disciples—to continue the task Jesus had begun.
Once our leaders are in place and “doing the job,” we then train them to reproduce themselves in others. Encourage them to find another volunteer to mentor. Not only are they learning while teaching, they’re raising up more leaders and contributing to the health and growth of the ministry.
There’s an exponential benefit to the reach of our ministry when we reproduce ourselves. If I’m the only leader in my ministry, then it can only grow as large as my hands can hold. But if I can hand part of the ministry to another leader, then my ministry has potential to grow. My personal reach can only go so far, but every time I reproduce myself, I’ve multiplied my impact. Learning how to reproduce yourself will lighten the load, allowing for more time for ministry. You’ll decrease your stress, improve your relationships at home and work, and strengthen the commitment of your team. You may also find time to explore new ways in which God wants you to grow.
Emily Snider (radicalobedienceblog.wordpress.com/) is a veteran children’s minister, speaker, and writer.
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