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Reality Check

Jim Wideman

When you don't get a paycheck for ministry, you may need a reality check. Here's how to make the most of where God has placed you in the body of Christ

If only...

If only I had more time. If only I had more money. If only I had a title. If only I...

Maybe you can complete the sentence, because if you're a children's minister receiving a part-time (or no) salary, sometime in your life -- maybe last year, maybe last week, maybe this morning -- you've had a case of the "if onlies."

You may receive part-time pay, but the truth is: There's no such thing as a part-time children's minister. There are only full-time ministers who may have to depend on a source other than the ministry to make a living.

If you're not a full-time church staffer and you're struggling with a case of the "if onlies," take these eight points to heart.

1. Full time doesn't always give you more time for ministry. Many children's workers who work another job outside the church have more time to spend in actual children's ministry. Those of us who have full-time, salaried positions on the church staff have additional responsibilities that can keep us from our actual ministry.

You have to compare apples to apples. Or to avoid the cliche, you have to deal with reality to be truly content. Or to quote someone we all know and love: "You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free!" When you walk in the truth, you may just find out that you don't have things as rough as you think.

Before I was on staff full time, I thought, "If only I were full time; I could devote all my time to children." But that was far from true at my first full-time position. Yes, I got to work with children, but I also got to work with old people. I was put in charge of the shut-in visitation; I got to visit the hospitals and minister to all ages. On many occasions, I took care of the ministry of maintenance; I got to minister to the carpet! I got to cut the grass, clean the windows, clean out the storage buildings, mop up stopped-up toilets and drains, serve lunch to the kids at the daycare, and lock and unlock the buildings. When I added all those duties to what I wanted and needed to do to minister to children, I cried out: "I don't have enough time for ministry to children!"

2. You're not the first to be in this situation. Acts 18:1-3 tells us that even Paul, the great apostle, missionary, and writer of most of the New Testament, had to work at a trade to make a living. He was a tentmaker. This was not a setback or a hindrance to this great man of God, but something he was proud of and glad he could do so that he wasn't a hardship to anyone. Having to make tents didn't keep Paul from accomplishing great things in his partnership with God.

3. Faithfulness is rewarded. When I was a senior in Bible college, my pastor approached me about helping out at church. Our church was changing its departmental approach from nine Sunday school classes to 22. I had three months to design classrooms, find teachers and helpers for 13 new classes, and start a children's church while I was finishing up a degree, working at a job, and playing in a traveling Christian band.

My pastor didn't promise me a salary. He told me, "I'm going to give you a title and turn you loose. If you make yourself so valuable that we can't live without you, then I guess we can't live without you." That's all I needed. I didn't realize that he was acting on a spiritual principle that a person's use of God-given gifts gets results. As you're faithful where you are, you'll be given more responsibility -- even though that may not involve a salary.

4. Live by your priorities. The only way you can juggle a career and a ministry is to keep your priorities in proper order. And what should those priorities be?

First, before you can do something you must be something. Christian character comes from a personal, daily walk with God. You can never know God unless you're spending time with him. No matter how busy you are, you must put the Lord first.

Over the years, I've noticed that people in ministry are a lot like people with a checking account. Some make a deposit first and then write checks. Other folks write checks and then run to the bank to make a deposit to cover the checks they've just written. In ministry we must give from what we've first deposited. Get in the habit of ministering out of an overflow.

Your second priority is your family. If you reach every child in your city and your own children's needs are overlooked, you're a phony and a hypocrite. Your family comes before your ministry.

When your schedule is the busiest, you probably need to get away with just your family to reaffirm this priority. Have a date with your spouse and do something with just your children. Your children have to share you with the entire church, but they won't mind it as much if you make special times to be with them -- even if it's just a special lunch or dinner.

If you earn an income to help support your family, your paid job is your next priority. Two things all families have to do are eat and pay bills. God has provided your job so that you can provide for your family. Your ministry comes after that responsibility.

You may ask, "But how can my ministry advance if it's fourth?" Remember, it's not your ministry; it's the Lord's ministry. God is the one who causes it to advance. All he asks is that you're faithful with the time and the resources that he provides.

5. Time management is critical. Because your time is shared between many different areas, time management is essential if you're going to see maximum results from the time you have to give. There are three basic steps to effective time management.

  • Make a daily to-do list. Order the items, beginning with the most important to the least important. Do the top items first.
  • Mark off the things you've accomplished. All the things that don't get done today get moved to tomorrow's list. Determine each item's priority, and work from the top to the bottom again. You may discover that the things you thought were important never rise to the top of the list and eventually disappear.
  • Record how you spend your time. By reviewing how you spend your day, you can see where to make necessary adjustments to get the job done. When I started writing how long it took to get a task done, I saw what I was going to have to delegate. I also started to see whether I spent time wisely.

6. Communicate well. Because communication with your pastor or other staff members isn't an impromptu kind of thing, communicate through notes or memos. Put up mail boxes or files for your key leaders and coordinators. Many meetings can be replaced by a simple note. Written communication also reduces the chance of things being forgotten or left undone.

Keep your pastor informed. Turn in a periodic progress report to your pastor even if it's not required. Pass on information about your attendance, numerical growth, kids' faith decisions, and other things related to your ministry. In asking your pastor for help with a problem, always suggest possible solutions.

7. Delegate or die. Like it or not: You just can't do everything. Even if you were a full-time staffer, you'd have to delegate. The more people you get to help you carry a heavy object, the easier it is for each person.

Moses had the same dilemma. In Exodus 18:17-26, Jethro told Moses to "get a grip!" (That's a paraphrase.) Then Jethro advised Moses to appoint trustworthy, God-fearing men over the people. He also told Moses to recognize their abilities. Some could handle 10 people, some 50 people, and some many more. Jethro instructed Moses to spread out the load and not to try to carry it all himself. You must also learn to delegate and find help so that you can live by your priorities.

8. Choose contentment. The Apostle Paul knew what it was like to have plenty and to be in need. In Philippians 4:12-13, he tells us his secret to being content -- to know that God is your strength.

If you're not content doing what you're doing now with part-time or less pay, you won't be content as a full-time paid staff member either. Contentment is a way of life. It's a desire and heart attitude that says, "No matter what, God -- not my circumstance -- is the source of my strength."

A salary from a church doesn't make you a minister. You're called to serve as an overseer not because you must -- but because you're willing. The only thing that can make you a true minister is when you shepherd God's flock that's under your care, as 1 Peter 5:2-3 instructs.

It doesn't matter whether your church is spending money on you. What matters is the way you're spending your life on the things of God. When you grasp that principle, the "if onlies" will be a thing of the past.

Jim Wideman is the children's pastor at Church on the Move in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma.

Finding More Time

There's no such thing as having more time in a day, but you can stretch the time you do have with these time-management helps.

Daily planner -- If you use a time-management system notebook, go nowhere without it. Keep all your to-do lists, messages from people, and calendar pages together, so you don't have to waste time hunting for scrap pieces of paper you've written notes on. Synchronize your family's appointments and commitments on a central calendar so you don't have to scramble at the last minute to get Junior to the dentist.

Digital voice recorder -- This handheld wonder helps you capture information quickly. Simply speak into the recorder and later replay it. With less expensive models, you'll have to transcribe your recorded reminders. But with some models, your computer can automatically transfer your recorded voice into text.

Please keep in mind that phone numbers, addresses, and prices are subject to change.

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