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Your Biggest Problems Solved

Ministry is full of peaks and valleys-and boy, do we love those peaks! The high points are what keep us coming back for more, knowing that our toil and effort make a real difference in kids' lives. Every now and then, though, we meander into one of those dreaded valleys, where problems seem to overshadow the joy of ministry. It can be easy to become lost. Ministry valleys are often where our toughest problems lurk-those conundrums that strain our brains and seem impossible to overcome. With God's help and strong support, though, we can find our way out of the valley.

Just about every children's minister has traveled into a valley or two. So we asked you to anonymously share some of the most vexing issues you face, and then we put our experts to work. The problems are tough, but our expert advice is stronger. Read on to find the roadmap out of the valley of common ministry problems!

Question:
I've tried everything I can think of to get my church to see the importance of children's ministry. We've made headway with our pastor, who's now onboard. But overall our ministry is pushed aside and overlooked, definitely considered a "minor" ministry with the lowest budget, no staff, and no visibility. We don't even get a credit in the bulletin-despite a team of dedicated volunteers, lots of grass-roots publicity, and a steady stream of kids. What can I do? I'm so frustrated and completely out of ideas.
-Frustrated in Fresno

Answer:
Here's the harsh reality: Many children's ministries are underfunded, understaffed, and overlooked. The recession crimped budgets and children's ministries often face cuts first. Still, the good news is your pastor is your fan.

Children's ministry involves planting seeds and tending seedlings; we rarely see the fruit of our labor. That's why situations like yours are gut-check moments for why we even do children's ministry. If it's for visibility or validation, we'll be disappointed. The reality is, adults tend to push children out of sight, down the hall, away. No one may care or notice what we do. The joy comes when children experience Jesus and laugh, learn, or love.

That said-I've experienced similar frustration when ministry isn't given its due. Other ministries garner more money, attention, and volunteers, so it can be easy to grow cynical and apathetic. I encourage you to persevere in patience (James 1:2-8).

You mentioned some important wins, including dedicated volunteers and attendance (with a positive buzz). Don't let the lack of bulletin promotion bother you because in the big picture, bulletins matter very little. Keep working on your grass-roots promotion-it's more effective anyway. And turn some focus to visibility within your congregation. If your pastor is open to it, why not dedicate a day per month to something children's ministry-related? Fifth Sundays are great days to spotlight and affirm volunteers, let kids tell their stories, and engage kids in worship. You can also organize tours of classes or deploy children as greeters, worship leaders, and ushers.

And by all means invite pastoral staff and other church leaders to serve in your children's ministry. Not for an hour or every week, but for a few minutes when possible. Leaders need to see what you're doing (because they often don't)-and when they see the fruit of your work, it usually means more funding and attention.

Rick Chromey (rickchromey.com) has 30 years in children's ministry leadership and is the author of Energizing Children's Ministry in the Smaller Church (Standard Publishing).

Question
: Our church is well-meaning, but "pits" the youth ministry against our children's ministry as if it's a friendly competition on everything from attendance numbers to events to numbers of faith commitments. This has long been the culture, and everyone else seems to think it's healthy and productive-but I view it as divisive and leading us to miss so many opportunities to work together and make our overall ministry to kids seamless. What do I do? Am I a wrong fit for this church?
-Divided in Des Moines

Answer: It appears you've been called to be a change agent; one who sees the potential dangers and successes within an organization and seeks to nudge it toward becoming a better version of itself. As you likely already know, people usually dread change and rarely celebrate it. And proprietors of change are often targeted at close range, so to speak.
So how can you get those around you to not feel threatened by your observations? Unfortunately, there are no easy answers or step-by-step guides to matters such as this. But there are practical guardrails that'll help you wisely traverse your journey.

  1. Know that nothing surprises God. This situation doesn't catch him unaware. He's made a way through for you that's in accordance with his perfect will. This fact takes the burden off you to fix the situation. God will show you the way; he promises that if we ask him for an answer, he'll respond. Pray sincerely and take refuge in that knowledge.
  2. Keep in mind that peace is priceless. The Bible says the peacemakers are blessed, and they'll be called children of God. The road to faithfulness is paved in actions of peace. Let every word you speak and every action you take on this issue be cradled in a spirit of peace and unity, for the sake of God and his church.
  3. Take to heart that the culture of every church has roots, history, memories, and feelings attached. You must handle these things lovingly and graciously because culture is emotional and personal. Even though you see this competition as a practice that can be resolved, it's still somebody's tradition. And ironically, whether people enjoy the tradition or not doesn't really matter. The minute you address it, it'll feel personal, like you're taking Grandpa's pew out of the church. While you can't be held captive nor remain stagnant in ministry because of others' emotional memories or feelings, you still have to handle people and their traditions with great care and gentleness.
  4. Finally, don't forget to check all your angles. As a photographer, I'm trained to look from every angle. By doing a 360-degree check around my subject, I can often minimize or eradicate flaws and distractions in my photo just by shooting from a different vantage point. God has given you insight, but you'll be well served to ask others on your team how they see the same issue-without inviting gossip. It's possible that by looking at the issue from others' vantage point, the situation may not seem as severe, or you may see a clearer solution. Whatever the outcome, by simply asking, you place yourself in the position of learner rather than accuser or unwelcome critic.

Go in peace. Proceed with grace. Allow God's gentleness to carry you through, and all will be well.

Jill Riley is a veteran children's and youth minister, and is currently the lead pastor at Navigate Church in Billings, Montana.

Question: Our volunteers serve selflessly, but I run into the same problems year after year. I recruit new people regularly and feel like I'm a pretty good volunteer leader. I strive to be organized, respectful, and appreciative. Yet without fail, we have a small core group who ends up doing most of the work and who is always reliable…and burned out. The rest are much less dedicated and fall away, usually after a period of six months to a year. They're the ones who call in sick or commit but then back out. What can I do to reverse this trend and help the committed-but very tired-core group so they don't end up leaving, too?
-Concerned in Columbus

Answer:
The 20/80 principle seems to be everywhere. That is, 20 percent of people do 80 percent of the work. You absolutely can change this trend. Use these tips in recruiting, developing, and retaining volunteers so they don't burn out.

Place your volunteers in the right ministry role. When I interview volunteers, we discuss their "SHAPE" (Spiritual Gifts, Heart, Abilities, Personality, and Experience). Not everyone can work with preschoolers just because you have a position there. Rather, take time to discover volunteers' SHAPE so you can place them where they'll shine and experience fulfillment and blessings. Well-placed volunteers look forward to serving because they're not wedged in an ill-fitting spot.

Provide clear job descriptions and clear expectations. We give volunteers a specific serving term and attendance requirement (we expect 80 percent attendance). If they can't meet that expectation, we redirect them to a role that's a better fit.

Pair one of your reliable core volunteers with a new volunteer so the veteran can pass the responsibility baton to the newbie. This is a great way to learn-and when you're new, it's more fun to work and learn as a team.

Follow up with volunteers often to see how they're doing. Our ministry DNA is relationships-we make it clear that people (including volunteers) come before programming. Thus, if someone is overwhelmed or has too much, we remove some of those responsibilities.

It's okay to simplify your ministry and even have unfilled roles. If you don't have enough volunteers to run an event, you may have to cancel the event for the year. Your congregation needs to see that it takes volunteers and time to put events together. In the meantime, pray with your existing team and with kids to ask God to send more volunteers who are excited to serve.

Gloria Lee is a veteran children and families pastor in Los Angeles, California, with more than 18 years of experience.

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