From Whining to Winning Talk


Imagine a ministry planning meeting with a different flavor.
It’s not your run-of-the-mill gathering because it’s filled with
some unusual characters. Look who’s here.

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There’s the Little Red Hen, who — even if no one else wants to
work — will get the job done! Jack (from the beanstalk) helps your
ministry climb to new heights. And Alice takes you on adventures to
discover the wonder of reaching children for Christ.

You know your planning meeting is going to soar with these

And then in walks Goldilocks. Hard-to-please, never-satisfied
Goldilocks. It’s too hot. It’s too cold. It’s too hard. It’s too
soft. She’s rarely — if ever — happy. She has a chronic case of
whining. And she’ll derail your ministry if she doesn’t get it

Children's Ministry Local Training

You’re probably already thinking of people in your ministry who
are like Goldilocks. These people always seem to focus on the
negative. Maybe you’re even a Goldilocks. Whoever these folks are,
you can help them change their whining ways to winning ways. Try
these healthy life-giving prescriptions to cure the six most common
whines known to children’s ministry.

Whine #1: “It’s impossible!”

In ministry we often feel like we’re hitting a brick wall. On
some days, nothing works, and there seems to be no way out of our

The Cure: “Anything’s possible!”

Think about these words: “With man this is impossible, but with
God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). It’s time that we
Christian leaders take a bold stand for God. “If God is for us, who
can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). Dream the impossible, and then
ask God for it.

The Edmonton leadership team of the Pentecostal Assemblies of
Canada calls itself “ExtremeDream Productions.” Their vision takes
form in youth conferences where thousands of teenagers come
together to fill stadiums and make commitments to God. Creativity,
energy, and faith have opened the door for God to use the “dream
team” to create children’s, youth, and adult outreach and training
events…all of which are growing by leaps and bounds.

All things are possible! Only believe!

Whine #2: “We’ve never done it that way

The sign at the fork in the dirt road reads, “Pick your rut
carefully because you’ll be in it for the next 40 miles!” The
church often gets stuck in ruts because humans, for some reason,
hate change.

The Cure: “We have the opportunity to be the

After Peter’s vision of the sheet being lowered with unclean
animals and his visit to the home of the Gentile Cornelius, Peter
was actually confronted by the church board! The early church had
never done ministry this way before.

Peter responded by saying in Acts 11:16-17, “Then I remembered
what the Lord had said… [and]who was I to think that I could
oppose God?”

When God leads us to new ventures or creative alternatives, we
need to step out with the confidence that we’re accomplishing his
will. What an exciting adventure we can have when God asks us to
take the road less traveled — or even more exhilarating, to blaze
the trail for the first time!

Whine #3: “No one wants to do it!”

We once consulted with a children’s minister who repeatedly told
us, “No one wants to help with children at our church!” It became
painfully clear why this was true. The leader’s defeatist attitude
would surely convince anyone that her ministry was an awful place
to serve.

Recruiting for Successful Ministry

Defeatist attitudes lead to fatal public relations. For example,
consider this common defeatist announcement from the pulpit: “No
one wants to teach the third-grade boys! If no one comes forward by
next week, we’ll be forced to close the class down!” Talk about a
self-fulfilling prophecy.

Any thinking adult will quickly decide that if “no one” wants to
teach the third-grade boys…the third-grade boys must be pretty
awful! If a leader isn’t enthusiastic about a ministry opportunity,
why in the world would anyone else be?

The Cure: “I know the cure for cancer!”

You may not believe you have any ability as a salesperson, but
if you discovered the cure for cancer, we bet your enthusiasm alone
about the cure would make you millions.

In the same way, you need to passionately believe that being
involved in volunteer ministry is the most essential tool for the
health of a Christian’s spiritual life, for satisfaction with
church, and for passion about God. Anything that can do all that
should be easy to “sell”!

Don’t convince people not to serve by being negative. Don’t
apologize for asking them to get involved in ministry.
Enthusiastically offer them the gift of service that you know will
bless them.

Whine #4: “We’ve failed!”

We’re often evaluated by ourselves and others in ways that God
doesn’t necessarily care about and that leave us looking “sick.”
Whether your numbers are down, your budget is smaller than the
church across town, or you just don’t feel like you’re getting the
results you should, it’s easy to feel like a failure.

The Cure: “We were faithful!”

Evaluate your ministry by God’s standards — and God’s alone.
Like the Apostle Paul, ask yourself, “Am I now trying to win the
approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were
still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ”
(Galatians 1:10).

God plans many experiences in our lives for our growth. At the
end of a camp that seems like a failure or after a Sunday school
lesson where no one responds, remember that God is working in your
life and in the lives of children in ways that don’t always show

While we look for “success” in human terms, God is looking for
faithfulness in spiritual terms. Long to hear your Master’s words,
“Well done, good and faithful servant!”

Whine #5: “It’ll never work!”

One of the foundational rules in brainstorming or in any other
creative activity is to never criticize even the most
“unreasonable” suggestion. Comments or thoughts such as “It’ll
never work” stop creativity and progress much like a red light
stops traffic.

The Cure: “Let’s give it a try!”

In “green-light” thinking, even the craziest (maybe especially
the craziest) ideas are valued for the possibilities they offer.
While the idea may be unrealistic, any idea has the potential to
“break the mold” and get you thinking outside the box. When we
break conceptual gridlock, we’re much more likely to find the road
that’ll lead to success.

Recently, the recreation director for our preteen youth group
couldn’t make it to our Wednesday night club program. He suggested
taking a bag of balls and Frisbee discs out to the ball field next
to our church to let kids have time for free play. Gordon was very
skeptical that this lack of structure would work, but he had no
time to prepare another activity. Forced to “give it a try,” Gordon
discovered that the director’s suggestion resulted in the best
night of the year.

Recruiting Gen Xers

Remember, other people have ideas, experiences, and gifts that
lead them to different conclusions. And given a try, those ideas
just might work.

Whine #6: “Nobody cares!”

Perhaps no one knows the highs and lows of ministry better than
we who lead children’s programs. We conquer the mountain known as
vacation Bible school, yet people wonder how we spend the 51 weeks
leading up to it! We recruit a team of workers only to have someone
transfer out of town. Often after a major ministry victory, we wind
up feeling depressed, discouraged, and deserted.

Elijah felt this kind of discouragement. After God’s victory on
Mount Carmel, Elijah was spent. His physical and emotional
exhaustion following the spiritual battle left him down in the
dumps. ” ‘I have had enough, Lord,’ he said. ‘Take my life…I am
the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too’ ” (1
Kings 19:4, 10).

The Cure: “God cares!”

Stop talking, and listen for the gentle whisper of God. God
reminded his discouraged servant Elijah that 7,000 of the faithful
were still in Israel and still following the Lord.

Fatigue often makes us think in ways that are unhealthy and
untrue. Prepare for the stressful seasons of your year in prayer;
schedule times away immediately following major events; surround
yourself with friends who’ll speak the truth in love; and most
importantly, be still, and know that he is God.

The bad times are never really as bad as they seem. People do
care. And God is with you in every step.


These prescriptions can’t be used as bandages for your mouth and
ministry. A misguided lecturer on character development was fond of
saying that the most important thing in life is sincerity, so if
you don’t have it…fake it!

Children’s ministers can’t “slap on” the right words to create
positive environments. Attitude is everything.

Be genuinely enthusiastic as you focus on the positive. The root
meaning of “enthusiasm” is to be “within God.” When we live “within
God,” we have the peace of God, the worldview of God, and the love
of God…all of which show up in our enthusiastic speech. Remember
that whatever problem comes your way — no matter how difficult —
God is in control.

Even the slightest injury creates scar tissue. But the scar is
tougher than the original tissue and serves the purpose of
toughening the body. Whenever we have struggles, we’re given
opportunities to grow, to rise to the challenge, to learn new
skills, to involve new people, and ultimately, to trust God.

So “consider it pure joy…whenever you face trials of many
kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops
perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be
mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4).

When we have God’s view on life and ministry, we can’t help but
pass on a contagious enthusiasm. And that kind of infection doesn’t
require a cure!

Gordon and Becki West are actively involved in children’s
ministry and are authors of popular books, including The Discipline
Guide for Children’s Ministry (Group Publishing, Inc.).


Here’s a self-evaluation to see whether your language is whining
or winning. First take the test yourself, and then ask a trusted
co-worker, friend, or spouse to give you an honest appraisal with
the same questions. In each of the following pairs, circle the one
subject you spend more time talking about:

  • The problems you’ve encountered lately…or the exciting
    opportunities you see coming;
  • Ways your co-workers have disappointed you lately…or little
    successes you’ve seen around you;
  • What’s behind…or what’s ahead;
  • What’s wrong…or what’s right;
  • What’s broken…or what’s working;
  • How things are…or what they could become.
How to Make Your Nursery Safe and Sound

Obviously, if your answers are primarily on the left-hand side,
you need to cure your whining ways. Take a positive pill
immediately! Ask God to transform your negative thoughts to
positive thoughts so you can move toward winner talk.

With Jesus I Can

As I shared coffee and bagels one morning with a local
children’s director, I listened with much excitement as she shared
her church’s plan to launch an off-site worship service complete
with children’s ministry programs and a nursery. My heart raced as
I thought about the incredible possibilities and the amazing
adventure God has in store for her church.

However, by the middle of our conversation, my excitement turned
to sadness as I listened to a long list of We Can’ts: We can’t get
enough volunteers. We can’t get anyone from our main church to make
a commitment to move to this location. We can’t get enough space.
We can’t. We can’t.

Finally, I just had to ask, “What is one thing you can do?” My
friend replied, “What do you mean?”

As we continued to talk, we brainstormed Cans. Can you get some
of the lead volunteers from the main church to make a six-week
commitment to launch this new ministry instead of asking them to
move permanently? Yes. Can you have these volunteers invite just
one additional person to assist them over these six weeks? Yes.

As we continued, my friend left with a list of Cans. It may’ve
been a short list, but it was a starting point that has launched a
successful and vital ministry.

The disciples also faced the same overwhelming feeling
associated with the We Can’t syndrome. They were tired and faced
with the seemingly impossible task of feeding 5,000 men (plus women
and children). The disciples knew they didn’t have enough to feed
all the people, so they asked Jesus to send the people away. Not
enough food, not enough volunteers, not enough space, not
enough…Jesus replied, “You give them something to eat.” Just
imagine their dialogue!

I’m certain something similar has taken place within your
church. You want me to staff a nursery for how many? We need to
have how many classes? Each time I face this feeling, I can hear
the words of Jesus echoing in my heart: “You feed them.”

When the disciples felt like they didn’t have enough, Jesus
asked, “What do you have?” Well, I have five youth helpers and two
volunteers. Listen as you hear Jesus say, “Bring them to me.”

Jesus takes what we offer, blesses it, and multiplies it beyond
our imagination. However, he calls us to take the first step and
offer what we have…what we can do.

Create an inventory of what you can do and what you have. Then
place it in God’s hands. Be ready to experience a miracle as you
move from an “I can’t” to a “with Jesus I can” ministry.

Debi Nixon
Leawood, Kansas

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Children's Ministry Magazine

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