Never Stop Learning

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Children’s ministry is challenging. Rarely a week goes by that
my job doesn’t require of me some knowledge of conflict resolution,
staff management, labor laws, state day-care licensing regulations,
public relations, family dynamics counseling, child psychology,
public speaking, teacher training, Bible exposition, fund raising,
budgeting, small group leadership, management of paid and volunteer
staff, and human relations. Whew!

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At the end of a long day, it’s easy to feel spent. Dried up.
Poured out. I need someone to fill me up once in a while.

A great way for us children’s ministers to dip into refreshing
waters is to become a student. As we sit at the feet of others,
we’ll be renewed and enabled to keep giving to kids for a long
time.

“Go back to school!” you screech. “I’m too busy. I know
everything I need to know. I don’t have the money. I don’t know how
to start.” None of these reasons should keep you from expanding
your personal knowledge and expertise in ministering to children.
We need to be as good as we can be for our kids…and for our
God!

HOW TO KEEP LEARNING

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There are a variety of ways to receive further education.
Although formal study can be excellent, maybe something else will
better fit your needs.

Internships — For those who can afford an
extended period of time with little or no income, internships can’t
be beat. Or perhaps you’re blessed with a church that would offer
you a paid sabbatical to pursue an internship. The opportunity to
serve under a seasoned veteran in an established program provides
exposure to the breadth of skills needed and the demands placed on
a children’s pastor. There’s no better teacher than experience, but
some lessons might best be learned secondhand from someone else’s
scars!

To find internships, ask around. Denominational leaders,
publishers, and other children’s pastors know what’s going on and
where. Look for a children’s ministry that has a good reputation
and that excites you personally. Then be persistent in pursuing the
leader of that ministry, even if he or she has no money budgeted
for an internship.

Conferences, conventions, workshops — Many
churches that are large enough to hire a professional children’s
pastor also provide ongoing opportunities for pastors to attend
conferences and conventions. Pick these carefully, and balance them
from year to year.

In some years, plan to attend a specialized conference for
children’s leaders. Other years, look for general pastoral or
Christian education training to keep abreast of what’s happening
throughout the Christian education world and to allow you time to
brainstorm with other educators. See the “Shall We Confer?” article
below for excellent choices.

Don’t forget to schedule in networking conferences that allow
you to be encouraged and to brainstorm with other practitioners in
your field. I find it most helpful to check out who’ll be attending
these events before I commit to them. If there are two or three
people who have years of experience or training that’s different
from my own, I know it’ll be a profitable venture.

Semiformal education — Watch your newspaper
and bulletins put out by the child-care associations and community
colleges in your area. There are many free or low-cost classes
right in your town. These will be some of the most practical,
hands-on experiences led by practitioners. Ask the directors of the
better preschools in your town for direction in picking the best
topics and teachers for your needs.

Degree programs — Another option is to pursue
that “next” degree. Whatever your situation, going after a formal
degree can give you a disciplined approach to furthering your
knowledge. Deadlines enforced by others truly help a busy person
working toward a goal!

Most formal education is extremely expensive and time-consuming,
so take your time researching before you select a school and
specific degree program. Personally interview faculty, staff, and
current students. Just because a school has a good reputation, it
doesn’t mean it’ll meet your needs and expectations. Professional
consultants — For the novice and the old pro, carefully hired
consultants can be money well spent. Find someone who knows how to
do what you need done. Then pay for a few days of specific, focused
attention. Find consultants by reading articles, visiting other
churches, and asking around to discover someone who knows what you
need to know. Most consultants will negotiate their price to fit
your budget. (See the “Consultant List” for potential consultants
who could enrich your program.)

WHY LEARN MORE?

There are several benefits you’ll reap from continuing your
education.

Encouragement and revitalization — There’s
something about stepping onto a college campus, retreat center, or
hotel conference ground that emotionally “sweeps” you away from the
demands and pressures of ministry. Discussions with ministers
stimulate your thinking. Relationships built with “outsiders” who
put no demands on your performance rejuvenate your soul and spirit.
And new insights and knowledge bring a freshness to the way you
look at the problems and programs back home.

Plug holes — Currently, there’s a tremendous
shortage of trained, experienced children’s pastors. This may be
caused by the scarcity of Bible schools and seminaries that are
prepared to train children’s leaders. Because of this, most of us
come to our positions through a less-than-adequate training route.
Whether your background is an elementary education degree, a
seminary diploma, graduation from a Bible college, or just a lot of
experience with kids, all of us have areas of need in our
ministries because we’ve received little or no training. The wise
church board understands this and offers opportunities for
continued staff development and education.

Model a teachable heart — One of the most
difficult aspects of teacher training is to convince the
“old-timers” that they still need to attend! If I let volunteers
know about the latest conference I’ve attended or what I just
learned in a class, I’m showing my volunteers that we all need to
keep learning and growing. If I’m not setting the example as a
learner, I can’t expect my volunteers to be teachable either.

Save time — Careful selection of classes and
seminars can provide you with great material to present to your
staff or ideas that you’d never have come up with on your own.
After all, the teacher or workshop presenter takes a few hours of
your schedule to present what often amounts to years of study and
experience from his or her life. Through interaction with other
participants, you’ll also pick up on the latest cultural trends and
the hottest books and articles you need to know about but don’t
have time to discover on your own.

Raise your professionalism — I speak to many
children’s leaders around the country who are discouraged that
those of us who “just work with kids” aren’t given the same respect
as church staff peers. I think we need to admit that one reason is
that many of us simply don’t have the training and education that
other pastors or directors have. Continuing your education can be
helpful in raising the profile of your ministry and yourself.

Keep up with culture — In today’s complicated
world, it’s not enough to simply “love” kids. Demands on families,
cultural norms, values and morality, and basic religious beliefs
are all shifting so quickly in our country that we must keep up
with the issues that are impacting children. I know I need to sit
under the teaching of professional specialists in these areas to
even begin to understand all the trends.

As one children’s minister to another, I know you’re thirsty.
Let God water you as you sit at the feet of someone who’ll give to
you for a while. As you commit to quench the parched places, I’m
convinced that the river of living water will flow through you to
your children for many years to come.

Gordon West is President of KidZ At Heart, International in
Mesa, Arizona. To contact Gordon, email
gwest@kidzatheart.org..


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