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Heart Matters

Dick Gruber

I know a young college student, who happens to be related to me, who's serving in a church as the children's pastor. Her church pays her a modest salary to take charge of certain children's ministry opportunities. She spends 20-plus hours each week organizing, planning, creating visuals, and ministering to volunteers and parents.

Recently she went on a tour with her college choir. Being a conscientious children's pastor, she spent extra time organizing, planning, and ensuring that the children's ministry was handled well the week she was gone. She basically worked double time the week prior to going on tour.

Does this sound familiar?

Returning to her home and church, excited about what God had done during the tour week, she was surprised to discover that the church had docked her pay for being absent.

Now as a father and a formerly abused children's pastor, I was mad. I wanted to go down there to that church and shake a few board members upside down. Suppressing these primitive emotions, I instead prayed that my daughter would love her people, serve her church well, and become a better Christian worker as a result of this episode.

It occurred to me during all of this that I and many others have gone through a similar adventure. During my first year as a children's pastor, Darlene and I had served well and faithfully. Just weeks prior to Christmas, the elders met to determine pay raises for the next calendar year. They determined that with the $50 a week salary and the parsonage they provided us, I was making too much money.

My church leaders declared that I must now pay utilities on the parsonage. Darlene and I affectionately refer to this episode as the Christmas Raise of '79. We made a decision that we wouldn't get bitter; we'd get better. We chose to work harder.

I must say now after years of experience and hearing countless stories with a similar plot, that churches don't always understand the important role of the children's minister. Church board members don't always know about the countless hours spent preparing a single story. They don't wake in the middle of the night praying for the abused child. They don't receive the phone call informing them that a 9-year-old child has just been killed. They don't experience the blessing when an ADHD child participates constructively in class.

Whose fault is it that they don't understand? It could be anyone's fault. But the only person I can change is me.

I can do my best to serve God and the children. I can tell parents what's happening with their children in church. I can give kids action steps each Sunday so they live their faith all through the week. I can invite board members to attend programs. I can talk about the good things that are happening in the children's department so elders begin to see the value of what I'm doing. I can quit complaining about the lack of help and equipment. I can thank God for what I do have.

Is a laborer worthy of his or her hire? Certainly! Does church leadership always understand and act upon that? Certainly not! If you and I determine that we're doing this for Jesus, then it's Jesus who'll provide for our needs.

When leaving the first church where I was children's pastor, our treasurer quizzed me. He wanted to know if the way the church board had treated me financially had anything to do with my leaving. I told him then what I still believe today: "God is my source. There have been times when the board chose not to be the vehicle God used to care for me and my family. During those times others rose to the challenge and we've never been in want."

Remember that God is your source. He does own the cattle on a thousand hills and occasionally he doesn't mind taking some to market on your behalf.

Dick Gruber is a children's minister in Bloomington, Minnesota.

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