It’s A Dog-Eat-Cat World

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Curiosity killed the cat, but maybe that’s okay. After all, cats
do have nine lives. They have eight shots at getting it right.
Eight chances before fatal failure. Eight turns on a wild ride.
Cats are independent, free-spirited adventurers. They’ll purr one
moment and claw the next. They run on roofs and tightrope on tree
limbs. They seem to like adventure — it energizes them. And legend
has it that cats always land on their feet, no matter how far they
fall.

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Dogs, on the other hand, are man’s best friend. They bark at
unfriendlies, bury their bones, and can be led by a leash.
Adventure usually finds them. It’s not that they avoid risk
altogether. My black Lab used to eat aluminum cans. He once caught
a bird in midflight for a snack. And he’s still famous for his
midnight munch sessions in the family garbage can. He’s just more
calculated in his risk-taking (especially if food is involved).

That’s the difference between cats and dogs when it comes to
risk. One embodies it and the other tries to control it. Dogs are
trainable. How many cats fetch newspapers, dance for their masters,
or perform search and rescue? Dogs give up on chasing their tails
far too soon. Cats can enjoy romping with a plaything for hours.
And even when they risk and fail, cats teach us that it’s not the
fall but the landing that matters.

In your approaches to risk in ministry, you probably resemble
either a cat or a dog. You either relish risks and invite
innovation, or you’re cautious about risk and gravitate to safer
paths. Neither approach is wrong nor bad. But understanding why you
do what you do is 90 percent of what it takes to be effective in
ministry.

FOUR TYPES OF RISK

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Children’s ministry is rife with risks, but no more than in any
other aspect of life. Even those who avoid risks really take them
daily. Every choice you make — large or small — is attached to a
consequence and risk. In working with children, there are four ways
to spell “risk.”

1. Relationship Risks — Children’s ministry,
at its heart, is relational ministry. Every lesson, activity, or
event produces the opportunity for relational risks. Somebody may
get upset or offended, or might not like what you’re doing. It
might be a child, a parent, a volunteer, another pastor, or the
janitor. The more risk involved, the more trouble and consequence
may result. Nevertheless, if you don’t risk yourself relationally,
you’ll miss the chance to make a real difference.

Introverts struggle most with relational risks because people
drain them. Extroverts are energized by and enjoy a crowd. One
children’s minister angered several of his volunteers because he
never looked them in the eye. He was an extreme introvert and
overly shy, but those who risked getting to know him discovered a
wonderful friend.

I often struggle with relationships, mostly due to my
insecurities. If you’re like me, sometimes you go too far in
relational risks. You want everyone to like you, accept you, want
to be with you, or value your contributions. If you have difficulty
with relational rejection, you’ll respond in one of two ways —
you’ll reject before you’re rejected, or you’ll avoid people
altogether. Naturally either is difficult in ministry. Ministry is
people.

2. Integrity Risks — It’s rarely a good idea
to take risks with your character and integrity. These golden
assets are easily compromised. Abraham Lincoln once quipped,
“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a
man’s character, give him power.” If you’re a leader in children’s
ministry, you’ve been given power. And that means your integrity is
right now on trial.

Integrity means “wholeness.” It’s easily shattered by poor
judgment, mistakes, and character flaws. You can use some kind of
temporary patch on the cracks in your character, but the cracks
will show up again. And permanent fixes are very difficult.

Your integrity is crucial because parents have entrusted their
children to your care. With highly publicized examples of church
leaders who succumbed to moral and sexual failures, you’re working
in a highly charged atmosphere. Integrity is about your speech,
lifestyle, and commitment to excellence. An unprepared or poorly
planned lesson doesn’t seem alarming, but it hits at the heart of
your priorities, values, and vows to do the work.

Many risks will and can cost you dearly. But nothing you lose
costs more than your integrity. It’s the topic of conversation at
your funeral.

3. Security Risks — The Apostle Peter has
always captivated me. He was a “cat” type of guy, and his feline
ways got him in trouble more than once. But I think he experienced
Jesus like no other disciple did. Peter risked his security to walk
on water. He risked incarceration when he cut off a soldier’s ear
(lousy aim, large passion). And he risked his life when he stood
before the Sanhedrin as a low-class fisherman and called them
murderers.

Peter burned through all his lives, and we honor him for it.

But of all the risks we take in ministry, security risks may be
the most difficult to allow. Our culture revolves around safety and
security. Since September 11, we live our lives by terror alerts
and security screenings. In the church, we’ve
gravitated toward safety. Michael Yaconelli countered this notion
in his book Dangerous Wonder (NavPress): “I’m ready for a
Christianity that ‘ruins’ my life, that captures my heart, and
makes me uncomfortable. I want to be filled with astonishment which
is so captivating that I am considered wild and unpredictable
and…well…dangerous.”

In children’s ministry, we rarely debate the pros and cons of
security. It’s important to appropriately touch a child, but
sometimes you might have to risk a full hug. Recently I was
coaching my son’s baseball team when our star player had an
emotional breakdown right on the field. His dad, another coach,
couldn’t say anything to placate him. I’d earned the boy’s trust
over several practices, and when I reached him (crying
uncontrollably), he started to hug me. I took the risk and hugged
him back for several seconds. I was in full view of the crowd. The
boy needed me to hold him.

Some of our policies designed to ensure security are putting the
squeeze on the kind of passionate, risk-taking ministry kids really
need. If you’re not already debating the pros and cons of risk in
this area, it’s time to start.

4. Knowledge Risks — Knowledge is power, and
it’s certainly risky. Learning translates to change, and most of us
resist change. So how willing are you to keep learning and growing
in your ministry skills?

French philosopher Joseph Joubert said, “To teach is to learn,
twice.” One of the greatest issues in the church today is biblical
illiteracy and susceptibility to theological heresies. As a
Christian educator, I’m deeply distressed at the shallowness —
spiritually and intellectually — of many Sunday school teachers
(no matter the age they teach). The church is quick to point
fingers at the failures in the public school system, but the church
would largely be shut down if the same standards were applied to
itself.

When was the last time you read a ministry book? discovered a
different way of interpreting a Scripture? researched a doctrine?
attended a conference, convention, or seminar? Once a new idea
stretches your mind, your brain will never return to the same
shape.

RISKY BUSINESS

Children’s ministry is risky business — do you handle those
risks more like a dog or a cat would? There are consequences to
both styles. Sometimes it’s better to be a cat and risk to the
point of danger, even death. Sometimes it’s better to doggedly
determine to avoid trouble and trial. Wisdom is knowing the
difference.

I have a favorite poem on my wall at work titled “Dare to Risk,”
penned by an unknown author.

“To laugh is to risk appearing the fool.
To weep is to risk appearing sentimental.
To reach for another is to risk involvement.
To expose your ideas, your dreams, before a crowd is to risk their
loss.
To love is to risk not being loved in return.
To live is to risk dying.
To believe is to risk failure.
But risks must be taken because the greatest hazard in life is to
risk nothing.
The people who risk nothing, do nothing, have nothing, are
nothing.
They may avoid suffering and sorrow, but they cannot learn, feel,
change, grow, love, live.
Chained by their attitudes, they are slaves; they have forfeited
their freedom.
Only a person who risks is free.”

It’s a cat-and-dog world. Each day we embrace the unknown to help
children realize they need Jesus. And that’s a risk worth taking.
Why? Because someone either did (or didn’t) risk for you.

FELINE OR FIDO?

Take this survey to determine your affinity for “risky
business.” Circle the answers that best describe you.

1. When I face opposition from others, I prefer to forge ahead
despite their criticisms.
Never Rarely Sometimes Often Always

2. I don’t care what others may think of my children’s ministry or
me.
Never Rarely Sometimes Often Always

3. I am always challenging the “status quo” in my work with
children, even though I’m also successful.
Never Rarely Sometimes Often Always

4. Someone on my team, staff, or in the church has challenged new
things I do.
Never Rarely Sometimes Often Always

5. I love children and will do anything possible (including
extreme methods) to show them Jesus in and through my
ministry.
Never Rarely Sometimes Often Always

6. I read books and listen to speakers who challenge my thinking
and personal ministry assumptions.
Never Rarely Sometimes Often Always

7. I have wondered to myself “if I’ve gone too far this
time.”
Never Rarely Sometimes Often Always


SCORING: Give each statement a numerical value
(Never=1, Rarely=2, Sometimes=3, Often=4, Always=5). Add your
score.

28-35: You’re a wild cat. You love to risk. Just don’t burn every
life you’ve got.

14-27: Catdog lives! You enjoy risk, occasionally, if it’s a sure
thing. Not a bad place to be in children’s work.

7-13: Ruff! You’re a committed and calculated canine. Permission
granted to chase a car every now and then.


Rick Chromey is an educator, trainer, and youth worker for
edPower! in Florissant, Missouri. Please keep in mind that phone
numbers, addresses, and prices are subject to change.

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