What will it cost you to impact a generation of children’s faith in Jesus for a lifetime? It may not be pretty, and it’ll definitely leave the marks of giving life to others. But it’s worth it!
In my social circle of women, we’re of an age where any new stretch marks come from eating too much Haagen-Dazs ice cream. My years of childbearing stretch marks are behind me. And it’s an unspoken rule among my girlfriends that this topic is off the tea table ’cause it just ain’t pretty.
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We all know that physical stretch marks happen when one’s body exceeds the size its skin is fitted for. Without getting too graphic, these unsightly marks or scars appear when we push our skin beyond its “comfort zone.” Women notoriously get stretch marks during pregnancy, when God works the miracle of giving life to his children. But stretch marks are equal-opportunity offenders: Men tend to get them when they pretend they’re eating for two along with their wives. Or when they build bigger muscles.
Faith stretch marks are a little different. They exist on the inside of our hearts and minds, invisible to the casual observer. They spring forth in those moments when we’re pulled and stretched like Spandex fabric, from many sides. They’re etched in the constant strain of demand–when everyone at church (teachers, the board, parents, pastors, custodians, fifth-grade boys) wants or needs something. They arise during the times when you question your abilities, your effectiveness, even your faithfulness. You long to nurture a growing children’s ministry…but you’re not sure you’ll survive the long gestation period.
I’ll give you a great example of a stretch mark from my ministry world just today: I “volun-told” my youth small group to sponsor a “Kids Movie Night/Parent’s Night Out” for my children’s team and their kids. Three of my teenagers canceled on me two hours before the event. I knew I could either panic or let my faith take over. I chose faith. And God had it covered; I had plenty of other teenagers and adults for the night, and it turned out just fine. Children and teenagers were all snuggled in with blankets, pillows, and popcorn watching a Disney fan favorite.
This ministry mayhem moment is only a tiny example of what I’m really talking about here. As your ministry years go by, your faith-stretching moments will be big and small, short and long.
5 Beautiful Stretch Marks Caused By Growing Faith
1. Marks of Labor
Your stretch marks usually begin unnoticed at first, when you’re new to children’s ministry. As you give birth to an exciting time for God, there’ll be contractions and they’ll be painful. We all make similar beginner’s mistakes–forgetting to sign in kids or not having enough snacks, forgetting an allergy (you only make that mistake once).
You aren’t alone. We’ve all been through aching confrontations with a parent who feels her child isn’t receiving enough attention or is receiving too much attention-–of the discipline kind. We’ve all spent that endlessly long day at church to finally arrive home…only to have a spouse hand you the phone with a ticked-off parent on the other end. One principle I learned early on is that most parents measure your ministry success based solely on their child’s experience. That’s a tough measuring stick when you have scores of families looking through the same tiny lens.
2. Marks of Sacrifice
The birth of your ministry is really only the start of the marks you’ll acquire. As you labor on through your journey, you’ll feel the pain of sacrifice. The time consumption alone is huge. Time is already such a precious commodity, especially when you have your own family to love. But the sad truth is that not every child in your ministry gets that same love and attention at home. For some, you’re the only person who spends quality time with them. All too often, you’re the best (and maybe only) example of how Christians treat the children around them. So it’s a necessary sacrifice.
Then there’s the sacrifice of heart. We pour ourselves into sharing Jesus with children who drift in our doors one day and too quickly drift away again. I worry about who’ll pick up where our ministry leaves off. Vacation Bible school is a bittersweet time for me, and a prime example of this particular stretch mark. Kids who were delighted and delightful leave after VBS week, and we don’t see many of them again. What happens to them? This is one of the most painful marks upon my heart.
3. Marks of Failure
Thirty years of ministry to youth and children have blessed me with lots of moments outside my comfort zone. One uncomfortable stretch mark that hasn’t come easily–but that’s always resulted in making me better–is flat-out failure. It’s happened to you too, hasn’t it? You tried something new but it just didn’t measure up to your standards or vision.
If you think epic failure isn’t good for a ministry, then you’re not looking at it right. Even the people around Jesus blew it, but most grew from their mistakes. Peter’s a prime example. He failed miserably in the early stages of his ministry, had his literal “come-to-Jesus” moment, and got back on the right road. Look how that turned out. He was the spiritual father of the baby Jerusalem church. I’m thinking he had some heart stretch marks from that whole saga.
4. Marks of Goodbyes
Let’s talk about one more painful stretch mark on the children’s minister’s heart: when people leave. Maybe a parent doesn’t like what your ministry is doing or not doing, or the new curriculum, or the rooms–whatever the myriad of reasons people have, I’ve heard them. I don’t know about you, but my heart hurts when someone leaves a ministry I’m involved in. I take it a little personally. It grieves me to think I may’ve done something wrong, offended them somehow, misguided their child, or whatever other disservice I can imagine.
But let me share my comfort with you: Even those rough times and farewells have made me better in my ministry ability. Romans 8:28 promises, “God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” So when I’ve made mistakes, I admit them and commit to becoming better in ministry because of the lessons I’ve learned. On the flip side, my faith in God shows me when not to take on the weight of something that’s someone else’s issue. I know that God can do a good work within that person just like he does with me.
5. Marks of Love
So what’s the cost of impacting a generation to love Jesus? Immeasurable amounts of time, multiple meetings, people who just don’t get it and don’t volunteer for it, late pick-ups, early drop-offs, 8,468 personally purchased Crayola washable markers, hurt feelings, heartaches, maybe even a lost friend or a change in churches.
But the payoff for those marks you bear? Kids who know and love Jesus, teenagers who move up knowing they’re loved at this place we call “church,” families who are blessed because you poured yourself into their child, churches that grow because moms and dads saw you faithfully at the door of your ministry each week.
As the mother of seven grown children, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for the impact you’ve had on my children and grandchildren. Maybe you don’t know which kids were mine, but you will one day. Now that’s a beautiful faith stretch mark!
Stephanie Caro has been involved in children’s, youth, and adult ministry since…a long time. She’s the author of Thriving Youth Ministry in Smaller Churches (Group/Simply Youth Ministry). She’s also a contributing author to several ministry resources.
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