Think you’ll never say those words in your ministry? It’s
possible! Lenny La Guardia has a waiting list for volunteers at his
church in Rockford, Illinois. Find out his passionate secrets to
Saturday night, you’re lying in bed staring at the ceiling because
you can’t sleep. You’re not counting sheep; instead you’re counting
the holes you have to fill in your children’s ministry! Sound
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Children’s Ministry Magazine recently caught up with a
well-rested children’s pastor in Rockford, Illinois. He has few
holes to fill because he has a plan that works and a system that
keeps volunteers in place for the long haul. To top it all off, he
even has a waiting list of people he can plug into a ministry
position. To learn his secret, we sent veteran children’s pastor
Keith Johnson to interview Lenny La Guardia, children’s pastor and
director of Sunday education at First Assembly of God in Rockford,
Lenny and Tracy La Guardia have been married for 21 years and have
four children. Lenny and Tracy have devoted their life call to
seeing children walk in pursuit of the living God. With passion and
heart, they desire to see that same passion in church leaders and
teachers everywhere, especially at their church in Rockford.
What have been your biggest challenges in recruiting
Getting the church congregation to embrace the vision we have for
kids. We want people with a minister’s heart. Here at First
Assembly of God, we’re not a volunteer organization. We’re
shepherds meeting the needs of children. I believe that I’m not the
only children’s pastor on a Sunday. Every volunteer has the
anointing, but I have to teach that. I realized early in my
ministry that if I don’t spell out my vision early, clearly, and
continuously, then other people will fill in the blanks. So I’ve
created a leadership development course that’s required of everyone
interested in pastoring children.
How was this course first received here at your church?
I came here three years ago from Crossroads Church in Denver.
Crossroads was the church where I first received Christ under Tom
Stipe’s ministry. I started with eight teachers and more than 850
kids. After five years we had more than 400 volunteers reaching
1,700 children weekly. I pioneered in Denver everything it took to
grow a very effective ministry. Here in Rockford, it’s very
different. I inherited a ministry in a church that’s 65 years old
and steeped in tradition. I’ve taught the leadership course every
six weeks when no one has shown up or when 30 have shown up. I
won’t let up in my passion for kids. I’m called to give kids an
adult who’s their pastor!
You sound passionate about this!
I am! We have a saying in our nursery, “Not just a diaper being
changed, but a life!” Now how can I promise that if I don’t have
volunteers who also believe it? Our Sunday school classes are
designed to “ensure Bible literacy among a generation of children
growing up in today’s world!” How can I say this to parents if I
don’t have qualified volunteers who are growing themselves? Our
children’s church has the task of helping kids “experience the
celebration of the Lord!” How can kids do this if they don’t have
Christlike leaders who also live a life of worship?
What caused you to become such an enthusiastic supporter of
I was on my way to pursue a music scholarship at Berkeley School
of Music in Boston when I became a Christian at a Benny Hester
concert. My wife and I began to attend Crossroads Church, and she
was teaching in the fourth-grade department. One day my wife said,
“I feel led to the nursery. Can you take my fourth-grade class?” I
said, “Sure,” and the leader handed me this big box of curriculum,
and I went at it. I had no idea what to do with the box. I began
teaching the best I could, but I had no clue if I was being
effective or not.
Then a little boy named Matt came up to me one day and said that
he had a “pain in his heart” when he heard the word “divorce” in
our class that day. Evidently his parents were fighting a lot and
they routinely used that word. In the back of my mind, I always
thought teachers didn’t get involved with their students’ personal
lives, but I felt drawn to this little child. The little boy and I
started to connect and I began listening and leading him. Then one
day, during one of his parents’ fights, Matt stopped his folks and
said that they needed Jesus to forgive them. Well they both got on
their knees that day and God healed their marriage through the
boldness of Matt! His boldness was a direct result of my
involvement in his life — not just the content of my lessons! I
saw the power of a teacher in a new light.
I couldn’t speak well, but my pastor saw the results of my
passion. He then asked me to lead what I call a misunderstood
ministry. I believe the biggest obstacle in a child’s life is the
church and religion — not Jesus. I want to pass on the Luke 18:15-17 baton of Jesus to kids.
Now you have this awesome passion and vision, how do you get the
First, I developed a relationship with my senior pastor. We must
serve that pastor’s vision. Children’s ministry is not a program of
the church; it’s part of the overall vision of the church. I asked
him, “Wherever you are going with the church, how can I help?” Tap
into that, get a “corporate connection” so the leadership isn’t the
enemy to the vision of children’s ministry. When I came here to
Rockford, it took me three months to develop my vision. I had to
articulate my vision through my entry point of training and
development. I also developed a Parent Resource Guide early on. My
pastor told me once, “If you don’t write your vision down and tell
people what you’re about, they’ll write it down for you.”
You talk a lot about your senior pastor! Are you just being
politically correct, or is he truly supportive of what you
My pastor is our biggest recruiter. I can honestly say that Tracy
and I love Sam and Jeanne Mayo! When I first came to Rockford,
people in the children’s ministry told me, “The youth ministry has
all the focus. They have a huge program and a huge budget.” Many
children’s pastors and workers have a huge problem with youth
When I arrived, I made it a point to build bridges to the youth
and let them know I support their success. Well my senior pastor
saw that and is now my biggest fan. He realized that I’m part of a
team in word and deed.
But I can’t stop there with my pastor. I have to constantly keep
him informed of my support and vision. Once my pastor had seen what
I developed, the training involved, and the vision for the
ministry, he trusted me with presenting the vision. If I were to
leave today, my staff would not follow me; I have nurtured them to
have a heart for the senior pastor.
How else do you get your message out?
Everywhere in our ministry area, I have posters that tell people
what our passion and vision are. I have glossy application forms
that are excellent in quality and highly informative. You know how
many churches have Youth Sunday where the high school youth group
leads the service? Well we have our fifth- and sixth-grade praise
and worship team (we call our fifth- and sixth-grade program Rocket
Church) lead all the adults in worship one day a year during Family
Sunday! It’s great visibility for our ministry, and it shows the
church as a whole the quality of what we do. We don’t want to rely
on the bulletin! My volunteer directors recruit for their own
ministries as well, but everyone must attend the leadership