First Church’s search committee had visited the prospective
children’s minister’s church, checked her references thoroughly,
and even interviewed her three different times. The committee was
convinced that this candidate was the best person to hire as their
church’s new children’s pastor.
Eighteen months after the new children’s pastor came to the
church, the senior pastor fired her. In her wake, she left a trail
of divisiveness and woundedness. As hard as the committee had tried
to know this woman’s skills and character, there was just no
substitute for the knowledge that comes from working side by side
with a person.
The search began again.
A Checkmate Strategy
A solid children’s ministry growth and development plan must
include a strategy for moving highly committed, Spirit-led, capable
volunteers toward paid ministry staff positions. Here’s why:
Seminary and Bible school graduates don’t always have the basic
knowledge it takes to operate, lead, or sustain a recruit-oriented
ministry. They have much to learn “on the job.” Those treasured
children’s ministers who’ve learned from the school of hard — and
soft — knocks by working on a church staff aren’t easily released
by their churches to move to other church positions.
So the most natural place to reproduce children’s ministry staff
and leadership is in the place where they currently serve and among
people with whom they’re most familiar. The top six reasons for
hiring church staff from your existing volunteer team:
- They know you; you know them. No scary surprises!
- Roles and expectations are understood through a relationship
over time. Because of that, you already know whether you work well
with the person or not.
- The volunteer has already bought into your children’s
ministry’s philosophy. A person headed in the same direction will
help you reach your goals a lot faster than a newcomer with a
different agenda might.
- There’s a proven track record of service and attitude. No scary
- Familiarity breeds content. Knowing the person’s inner circle
of friends and family gives you great insight into someone.
- You understand the person’s strengths and limitations. No scary
Making The Move
The beginning of your growth and development strategy in adding
paid children’s ministry staff begins with the very first stages of
volunteer recruiting. The best game plan includes locating possible
candidates, training them, helping them catch the vision, and
moving them toward deeper commitment to Christ. I always approach
recruiting in children’s ministry with this thought: “Maybe the
next person I meet will be the one who’ll take our children’s
ministry to the next level.” This perspective instills a spark of
hope inside me that motivates me to never give up and to envision
the recruiting seeds sprouting into something wonderful for our
It’s a continuous cycle. If your volunteer pool is shallow, in
addition to developing and disciplining, you must keep on
recruiting. The person you’re looking for may not be on your team
yet. My biggest mistakes in hiring children’s ministry staff have
come from hiring out of desperation or from hiring people I didn’t
know or who weren’t connected to our ministry. Pulling the trigger
to hire too quickly can backfire.
Pray as you recruit and God will make it clear who to call onto
your staff. The important thing is not to lose heart or become
desperate. Remember that seemingly hopeless situation in the
cemetery when Jesus, Mary, and Martha stood before Lazarus’ tomb?
Out of the lamenting cries of death and grief Jesus yelled,
“Lazarus come forth!” And he did. As you recruit volunteers, ask
God to “call forth” your needed staff person. He will do it.
How can you tell when a volunteer may be ready to transition to
paid staff? Here are eight telltale signs.
- Pending career change or between jobs — God may be working in
the volunteer’s life to position him for a move.
- Financial stability — A person who can manage her own
household well is someone who can manage your ministry well.
- Kingdom choices — A compelling desire to do ministry affects a
person’s daily decision-making processes. Are the person’s choices
focused on giving or getting?
- Extreme faithfulness — Does he demonstrate an unusual degree
of faithfulness and commitment — in comparison to others? It’s
biblical: “He who is faithful in a little thing is faithful also in
- Complementary training — Has she completed educational or
training goals in a parallel field, such as in elementary or early
childhood education? Although this isn’t required, it could be
evidence of a lifelong passion for children.
- Recognized leadership — How do other volunteers treat this
person? Do they have a high level of respect for the person
- The church’s blessing — Because of her ministry, do the people
on your church staff or in leadership positions affirm the call of
God on the volunteer’s life?
- Marital unity — If the volunteer is married, the active
support and encouragement from his or her spouse is a critical
signal that it might be time for making the move.
The second step is an appraisal process that can actually
identify qualifying elements of candidates for your paid children’s
ministry staff. There are four elements to the appraisal process I
use; each element occupies a quadrant on the “Staff-Hiring
Appraisal Grid.” This grid will enable you to determine a
volunteer’s readiness and any areas that need development. The four
appraisal areas are Time, Family, Attitude, and
Look at the grid below. (See printed version of this issue.) The
concentric circles indicate the level of proficiency the candidate
may have in each of the respective quadrants. The closer the
candidate is to the center of the grid in each quadrant, the more
proficiency. Hopefully, this tool will help you objectively
identify whether the candidate is ready for the transition of
moving onto paid staff.
Identifying a potential volunteer as a paid ministry staff
person is a combination of art and science. Most characteristics
can be taught through example. However, the most important
characteristics are in the heart — characteristics such as
servanthood, generosity, kindness, holiness, love for one’s
neighbor, and wisdom.
I liken the process of moving a volunteer to a paid staff
position to baking a cake. All the ingredients have to be mixed
well in the pan. Then the cake has to be cooked in the oven. That
takes time. You have volunteers in your ministry who have all the
ingredients to be great children’s ministry staff or children’s
pastors. It just takes time for those ingredients to bake and for
God to help you and them know when it’s time to be removed from the
With each “yes” answer to a question, move toward the center of the
grid. Mark the point that you stop at after you’ve answered all the
Any “no” answer to a question could point out an area that needs
to be addressed with the volunteer before transitioning them to
- Does the person show up on time and stay late to clean up?
- Has the person ever taken vacation time or days off from work
to help with ministry tasks?
- Does the person keep an organized day planner?
- If you’re in a ministry crunch, will this person make time to
help even at a moment’s notice?
- Does this person help guard your time by not making unnecessary
ministry demands or setting unrealistic expectations on you as a
ministry leader and friend?
- Does this person have a gracious, servant attitude when in
stressful ministry situations?
- Does this person uphold, value, and respect other ministries in
- Is this person cheerful and pleasant to be around?
- Does this person promote a “can do” spirit when the going gets
- Is this person known as an encourager to others?
- If the person is married, is his or her spouse supportive of
this person’s involvement in children’s ministry?
- If this person has children, are the children respectful of
their parent’s authority and well behaved?
- Does this person place family needs above ministry
- If married, does this person have a healthy, happy
- Does this person show stability and balance in family
- Can this person function as a leader in familiar situations
without being told what to do?
- Can this person take the pieces of a task and organize them
into a ministry program?
- Can this person communicate with children and adults clearly,
concisely, and with enthusiasm?
- Can this person recruit, train, develop, and motivate
- Does this person have a positive track record of experience in
ministry with children?
Love The Church You’re With
There were 25 people, with half of them children, in Tami
Verville’s Kensington Community Church in Troy, Michigan, six years
ago. Tami and the senior pastor’s wife worked with the children. A
year later, the church hired its first Christian education
Three years ago, the CE director left and Tami was hired in her
place. “It was a gradual process from volunteer to paid staffer,”
Tami says. “First I worked on writing curriculum, then I found
volunteers to teach, then I was the creative director, and now I’m
Tami’s church is intentional about developing people. “Everyone
on our team has an apprentice who knows what that person does and
attends the same meetings. The idea is to ‘work yourself out of a
Transitioning from volunteer to paid staffer, according to Tami,
was “God growing and stretching me, my family, and the team I
The most difficult challenge for Tami in transitioning from
volunteer to paid staff has been managing adults and valuing their
differences as well as seeing their special gifts.
“If people are used correctly, they’ll enjoy what they’re
doing,” Tami says. “It’s more than just having a body to fill in a
place. If people are in conflict with one another, I ask them if
they’re not happy with what they’re doing. It’s often the case that
they need to be doing something else that’s a closer match with
their fits and talents.”
Tami’s advice before you make the move: “Find a church where you
love working and would love to be for the next 10 years — paid or
unpaid. Sooner or later you’ll become a paid staffer. Those people
who are excited and passionate about what they’re doing will be
identified. So often when we bring people in from the outside who
don’t have a good grasp of our vision or mission, they just don’t
get it. But the people who’ve been working with us and who are
excited about what they’re doing are easy to pick out. If people
work where they love to work, they’ll be an encourager and they’ll
draw others in. That’s the best place to be.”
Feeling At Home
Karen Anderle, mother of five, volunteered with the church’s
preschool and music ministry at Grace Church Roseville in
Roseville, Minnesota before the Christian education director ever
asked her to be her assistant. Now she serves as the director of
“I’d been an at-home mom for 18 years, and I began to wonder how
this would all fall into place,” Karen says. “I had taught before
becoming a mother, but I never thought I’d be back in the work
place. I thought there’s no way I’m qualified to do this, but I
can’t think of anything I’d like to do more.”
Karen says the key to an easier transition has been a great
prayer team that supports her and the entire program. She is
learning how great God is and how “precious the kids are to
The toughest obstacle for Karen has been keeping up at home. “My
husband has graciously taken on the laundry, and changes in his job
now allow him to have a home office so if I’m not home when the
kids come home from school, he is,” Karen says. “Actually, my
entire family has been supportive of this decision, and I need all
of their support to make this work.”
Karen’s advice before you make the move: “I never would have
even dreamed that I’d be doing this. I love children and I love
what I’m doing. I’ve learned not to limit God — to be available
where God wants me to be. God is so much more creative than we are.
Let God make the match for you with a position or a job. Don’t be
afraid to start something new, but don’t be afraid to say no.
Someone else may be more qualified than you are, and that’s
Grow With God
When Dana Zoch saw a notice in Houston’s Gloria Dei Lutheran
Church bulletin about a children’s ministry opening, she says “I
got everything but the lightning bolt! I turned to my husband and
said, ‘I want that job!’ ”
Dana had taught theater for 10 years in the public school
system. She had no background in administrative work or a
theological education, but the committee saw in Dana exactly what
they wanted. She was hired! And she’s been the director of
children’s ministry for two and a half years.
“The toughest thing about making this transition was that the
previous person was much more educated,” says Dana, “but I feel
more confident as time goes on.”
Sunday morning services have changed for Dana too. For her
husband, it was difficult to give up worshiping with his wife
because she was always “on duty.” Sunday mornings suddenly lost
their family orientation.
As a people person, Dana has always enjoyed recruiting, but the
administrative aspects of the job are more of a challenge. “I build
relationships with people before I recruit them for a long-term
project. The problem, though is planning for the long-term
“My faith has certainly grown as I’ve been forced to get into
the Word and trust God with what I’m doing,” says Dana. She’s
learning to trust God to help her grow in challenging ministry
Dana’s advice before you make the move: “If you’re a volunteer
with a church that has no director of children’s ministry, check
out what other churches in your area are doing. Go to a major
workshop or conference to see if this is something you’re really
interested in and to talk with others.
“Find out if it’s feasible for you to make this move. Look at
your finances, your family situation, and the specific duties and
roles of other children’s ministry directors in your area before
you say yes.”
Darrell Fraley is the children’s pastor at New Hope
Community Church in Portland, Oregon. Please keep in mind that
phone numbers, addresses, and prices are subject to