Like water to a fish, affirmation is to volunteers. As children’s ministry leaders, we know that we need to say thank you to our staff often and in creative ways. A note here. A gift there. A word of praise.
If you’ve run out of out-of-the-box ways to affirm your volunteers, read on to find great ideas from six children’s
ministry leaders around the country. And to see the affirmation’s impact, keep reading to see how people were blessed and affirmed by the great affirmations.
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Larry Shallenberger, pastor of children’s ministry at Grace Baptist Church in Erie, Pennsylvania, remembers how he noticed that Bill Mason needed a great affirmation.
“While I was comparing notes with our youth minister Derek Sanford, we noticed one of our volunteers had spent an enormous amount of time in both the children’s and youth ministries over the course of a few months,” Larry says. “Bill Mason runs the children’s church program, leads the youth praise band, and took on leading the worship at both the children’s and youth retreats.”
Larry describes Bill as a high-capacity volunteer who creates the culture of their children’s and youth ministries by evoking laughter, inspiring prayer and worship, and instilling an awe of God. Bill also involves his teenage children in all ministry areas. And as we all know, when there’s a great married volunteer, there’s a great supportive spouse at home.
“We also recognized that Bill’s wife, Carrie, had made a great sacrifice in sharing her husband,” Larry says, “so we wanted to ‘give Bill back’ to his wife. That’s why we split the cost of a bed and breakfast getaway.”
“The affirmation was an un-looked-for blessing!” Bill exclaims. “When Larry and Derek told me they were going to do this, I did a double take and said, ‘Why?’ It never really sank in until I told my wife. She got very excited and was able to relive a dream she’d had for years about staying at the bed and breakfast in Westfield, New York.”
Bill adds, “And God gave us a peaceful and restful time together.”
Bill’s commitment, enthusiasm, and thankfulness are obvious as he explains, “My desire is to motivate kids of all ages to fall in love with Jesus and live their lives for him. I felt that this affirmation made all my efforts appreciated. But I must add that I couldn’t do all the things I do without the teams that support my efforts and ideas! And the kids of all ages seem to relate to the things that I do. Thankfully, God blesses it time after time. I’m always amazed at his grace.”
GOING TO DISNEYLAND
Cheryl Wong, director of children’s Christian education at Church of the Good Shepherd in Loveland, Colorado, has an administrative assistant who goes way beyond any other.
“Lori Stauffer goes the extra 110 percent in her job. She keeps me on my toes and thinks of so many details,” Cheryl says. “Lori blesses me so much in her details and thinking of the administrative end of things. She’s always willing to help out even when it goes beyond her job duties, and many times her family time will get interrupted. Lori truly desires to see that this ministry is operated in the best possible way.”
Cheryl recognized that Lori’s family was on a tight budget for a family vacation to California, so she bought tickets to Disneyland for the entire family from the KICKS (Kids In Christ’s Kingdom Service) program.
“I thought it would be great to bless her whole family when they went on vacation,” Cheryl says. Cheryl’s great affirmation was no small thing! “It was a total surprise,” Lori explains. “We were going on a trip with our family, and before we left Cheryl gave us those tickets. We really appreciated it…we really needed it! My family thought it was wonderful — especially my husband.”
Lori’s humility is evident as she discloses her feelings about Cheryl’s gift. “I felt…mmm…undeserving,” she says. “Surprised. Really blessed, though. I know Cheryl is a wonderful person, and this just affirmed that. It made me feel appreciated.”
SIGN ME UP
Larry Crane, the education pastor, at Cherry Hills Baptist Church in Springfield, Illinois, says, “We believe that volunteers who are willing to invest in the ministry to children need to be trained and treated well. We have a commitment to those who commit to the ministry.”
Larry’s church provides free travel, food, and convention expenses for key volunteers. Last year, Cherry Hills sent 15 of their leaders to a training workshop in Springfield.
“Invest in the training of your volunteers, and it will pay rewards many times over,” Larry encourages. “And don’t be afraid to invest in your teen leaders and take them to training as well.”
Nancy Walker, preschool teacher and director of Vacation Station, Cherry Hills’ midweek summer program for preschool through fifth-grade, is one of the teachers who’s received this great affirmation of the church investing in her.
“I’m excited about the direction we’re going,” Nancy says. “We’ve always had strong convictions about the people involved in children’s ministries, and now we’re taking it to the next level by building the people up from the inside out to serve joyfully and enthusiastically.”
Nancy outlines added benefits to sending staff and volunteers to ongoing training. “I’ve been able to attend workshops and conferences I’ve never been able to go to because money and transportation were a barrier. Since these are no longer a concern, I can find the training that’s useful and exciting for me. And that’s had an added benefit of friendships and fellowship with other children’s workers and volunteers. To share the ups and downs
that all children’s workers deal with and to lift each other up is priceless! It’s also great to get ideas and to brainstorm; the creative benefits spill over to the people we serve.”
It sounds like Larry is getting a return on his investment.
“The encouragement, fellowship, and investment make me feel worthwhile and on fire to serve,” Nancy says, “and I’ve found that there are many ways I can serve now. It helps me use my gifts in fulfilling and God-glorifying ways.
Showing this kind of care is a hands-on way to show God’s love and kindness to volunteers and workers.”
Keeping volunteers and staff motivated and fueled-up is a key to the long-term success of children’s ministry. Gary Webb, the children’s ministry director at Northwoods Community Church in Peoria, Illinois, recognizes this fact when it comes to a key couple in his church.
“Steve and Peggy Kastelein volunteer primarily in two major ways,” explains Gary. “They oversee our midweek Awana ministry with about 200 kids per week, and they direct more than 60 leaders and helpers.”
But that’s not all. Gary goes on to expand the Kasteleins’ list of contributions. “Steve serves on the Discovery- land Leadership Team where he provides outstanding leadership skills. He maintains more than 30 computers with tons of computer issues. He’s often in our offices before work early in the morning or late at night providing a service most offices pay for. He and Peggy have huge hearts for the children and adults they serve. They provide numerous outside special events for families, children, and volunteers.”
To give back to the Kasteleins and help them recharge, Northwoods’ leadership team gave them one of several weekend packages. These packages had been donated to the church to be used for people who needed a getaway. Steve and Peggy’s names came up more than once in the process of deciding who to bless with the gifts.
When they got the special gift, they were surprised.
“We were very surprised and honored,” Steve says. “God doesn’t call us to ministry so that we can be recognized by others. However, there is an appropriate time when appreciation from leaders is encouraging and helps to refill the tanks. We’ve tried to remember this with our own ministry teams.”
“We thoroughly enjoyed our weekend away, and we want to thank the anonymous donor.” Steve adds. “People just need to know that their service is appreciated and is having an impact. Sometimes something more than the words ‘thank you’ is the best way to do that.”
TIME TO RETREAT
The Vineyard Church of Fort Collins, Colorado, believes that their volunteers are not only a vital part of their children’s ministry but that they’re also ministers of the gospel to children.
Debbie Wichman, assistant director of children’s ministry, says, “It’s our small group leaders who have the biggest impact on kids. They model and express the love of God in practical, everyday ways. They help kids struggle with how the Bible applies to their lives, and they pray with and for our kids. Although we only ask for a nine-month commitment, 75 percent of our volunteers return for many years. They’ve been faithful for the long haul.”
To affirm these ministers, Vineyard’s congregation paid for the volunteers to attend a team-building and training retreat at Little America in Cheyenne, Wyoming, as a kick-off event for the new school year.
Debbie fills in the background to this story. “This came at a time when God was doing awesome things in our children’s ministry,” she says. “In just a few months, nearly 100 children responded to the gospel message. Our pastor told the congregation about it, along with a wish list of about $10,000 worth of equipment and resources
to expand our ministry. The congregation responded with a special offering that was the biggest confirmation of our children’s ministry we’ve ever seen. As important as equipment and resources are, we realized we needed to invest in our most important resource-the volunteers who work directly with the children.”
The retreat allowed volunteers Peggy Colburn, Mark and Karol Dempsey, Julio Garcia, Tanis Roeder, and Libby Stoddard time together to affirm and encourage one another, pray together, and get to know each other better.
Julio explains the impact this retreat had on him. “The retreat was a time of fun, team-building, and honing our teaching and ministry skills,” he says. “I’ve never doubted that The Vineyard places great importance on our children’s ministries. This retreat confirmed it. The time we spent together was uplifting, and we also learned new tools from our fantastic, expert leaders.”
One of the things mentioned during the retreat was statistics about the impact of the team’s work-the number of children who gave their lives to Christ and the prayers that were answered.
“It was one of the most poignant examples of how a seemingly small impact by any one of us adds up to a significant change in our community,” Julio adds. “With this affirmation, the church continued to recognize the hard work of The Vineyard’s volunteers. I felt honored and appreciated.”
ADDING A PERSONAL TOUCH
“To show our director of our Performing Arts Kids Troupe how much we appreciate her efforts, I gave Sherry Woods a certificate for a full body massage and facial along with an additional cash gift,” explains Alice Bell-Gaines, children’s pastor at Faith Community Church in West Covina, California.
Sherry’s overall effort for Faith Comcommittee — and everything else from choosing the menu to coordinating 250 staff and volunteers and the program for 400 participants! She was also instrumental in all phases of the Kids Troupe production of Annie.
Alice says, “What’s great about working with Sherry is that she makes certain to understand how each activity ties into the overall vision of our children’s ministry, and her goal is to glorify Jesus through first-class events. She won’t settle for less! She has a strong gift in the area of public relations and the arts and shares her gift whenever possible. She’s helped to enhance the team spirit among our volunteers and encourages all members to use their gifts. Sherry is very much loved by the staff, parents, and children for the love she extends to others.”
Sherry explains what Alice’s thoughtful gifts have meant to her. “I feel that affirmations are from God,” she says. “It’s his way of telling us that we’re on track and that we did what was required with a servant’s heart He’s a rewarder of those who diligently seek him.”
“In performing this act of service and receiving an affirmation, I learned that God does see our work and labor of love in ministering to his children. I thank God for the people he uses. He used me to bring the programs into fruitation; he used the volunteers to make the efforts run smoothly; and he used my leader, Pastor Alice Bell-Gaines, to confirm that it was in line with the vision she has and the vision of Faith Community Church to minister to the people.
I’m always surprised and in awe that the Lord would bestow this type of honor on me or any of his people who do what we do in ministry. I’m called to be a servant. When God is pleased, I’m thrilled!”
Nancy Friscia is the Quality Assurance Editor for the Communications Division at Group Publishing in Loveland,