Your First Year in Ministry

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We asked six children’s ministers to share what they
wish they would’ve known in their first year of ministry. Their
answers may surprise you. However, their honest responses will
hopefully revive your spirit.

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Grow Up

by Gerri Baker

At the age of 22, I became the Christian education director for
a mid-sized church. I was a woman in an all-male environment, I was
young, and I had no idea what I was doing. It quickly became
necessary for me to grow in a few areas.

First, I needed to overcome my need for constant reassurance. In
many ways it became sink or swim that first year, and I definitely
felt I was the only one in the pool. Through some tough bumps, I
grew in my confidence in God and his call to me in ministry. I
learned not to expect praise from my male counterparts, which
wasn’t bestowed often, but to highly value it as a worthwhile, true
compliment when given.

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Second, I had to learn how to control my sensitive and emotional
qualities. I had to toughen up a bit and be able to take criticism
and confrontation from people within the church without
emotionalism. People aren’t always so nice and kind; they can say
and do hurtful things. This can blindside us, because we don’t
expect church to be like this. I learned that first year that often
these hurtful things aren’t about me but about how the people are
themselves hurting.

Third, I had to realize I’m not Superwoman. No matter how
endless my energy might seem, at some time there’s always a
stopping point. Out of all the things I wish someone had taught me,
at the top of my list is boundaries. This lesson alone would’ve
saved me years of struggling and workaholism.

Gerri Baker is the elementary minister at a church in
Indianapolis, Indiana. She has been a children’s minister for five
years.


Broaden Your Ministry

by Jennifer Dimbath

I wish someone would’ve told me early on that there’s more to
children’s ministry than children — that the adults who influence
them require a great deal of love and care from the children’s
minister.

Before I knew it, my days that had once been spent building
relationships with kids around their school lunch table and going
to ballgames and dance recitals were now consumed by administrative
tasks. Instead of teaching children’s church, I was recruiting and
equipping someone else to teach. Instead of going on outings, I was
putting the dates on the calendar and empowering someone else to
plan them and participate in them with the children. Suddenly, I
was ministering more to adults than to children. This was not what
I’d signed up for!

I struggled for months as the children’s ministry continued to
grow and I became more removed from the children. Is this really
what God wanted me to do? I thought I was going to minister to
children!

But as my time with the children decreased, I began to see
amazing things happen within the ministry…more children were
learning about Christ, and the team members were growing closer to
Christ themselves as a result of their ownership and participation
in ministry.

And as the children’s ministry team became more equipped, felt
more encouraged, and was empowered to do ministry, our children’s
spiritual lives benefited even more!

My #1 priority is still to influence the eternal lives of
children. Unfortunately, I had to learn the hard way that I’m least
effective when the majority of my time is spent with the children
(although it’s necessary) and most effective when my time is spent
empowering, equipping, and encouraging adults to reach, love, and
train children for Christ!

Jennifer Dimbath is the children’s ministry director at a
church in Peachtree, Georgia. She has been a children’s minister
for three years.


Leadership Growth

by Ed Barnes

I assumed that I needed to do it all and be the “go to” person.
That’s what I thought leadership was — being the guy in charge and
taking care of all needs at all times. My wife slowly drilled into
me the fact that other people can do things, too.
My two children began to ask the question, “Daddy, why are you
going to the office again?”

That was the kicker.

God had things worked out brilliantly, though. It was about that
same time that our church staff dug into leadership growth with the
help of a John Maxwell study course. My eyes were opened like they
had never been before. In short, I began to find joy in mentoring
more leaders and giving big decisions and projects and programs to
other “very capable” volunteers. They loved it, and it was awesome
to see them loving the chance to really make a difference in our
church. It was no longer them “helping Ed” do ministry; it was
their ministry. My feeling of success then came from helping the
church really be the church.

Advice? Study the process of how to “grow” other people for the
purposes of the church. Go to your local bookstore and stock up on
leadership books. Study leaders in the Bible — both good and
bad.

The second thing is to find a mentor. I’ve been blessed with a
number of people in my life whom I’ve learned from simply by
watching them and listening to them. I’ve watched their lifestyle
principles lived out. I’ve listened to how they talk. I’ve observed
how they treat others. After doing this, get ready to mentor your
volunteers. Find joy in being mentored and in mentoring others in
leadership and ministry.

Growing your ability to lead is part of your job. Take time each
day to pray for God to strengthen your leadership ability. The best
part of leadership is leaving a legacy that has the footprints of
God all over it.

Ed Barnes is a children’s and youth minister at a church in
Canton, Ohio. He has been a children’s minister for nine
years.


Stay Focused

by Diana Pendley

I love trying new things! I love doing things the way they
haven’t always been done; but in the beginning that got me in a
little trouble.

When I started in children’s ministry 15 years ago, I was very
fortunate to begin at a place that allowed us to color outside the
lines. My boss was always open to that. As long as something was in
good taste, scriptural, and helpful for us to reach boys and girls
for Jesus, we were allowed to try new avenues of ministry.

When I’d attend a conference, I’d come home with a legal pad of
new ideas and ministry plans that other churches were doing (that
always seemed better to me).

I remember not being able to sleep at night while attending a
conference because I was working on plans for different ministries
for our children’s ministry. It was so difficult for me to hear
about these great ideas and not want to do everything.

Now I realize — through a few hiccups along the way — that not
every good ministry program or plan or even awesome outreach tool
is meant to be at our church. If an idea doesn’t fit with our
vision statement and purposes for our church, then it probably
shouldn’t be done.

Finally, with a group of faithful core leaders, lots of prayer,
searching the Scriptures, knowing the heart of our pastor and
ministry staff, and knowing the mission and heartbeat of our
church, we came up with our children’s ministry mission and six
purposes that are the measuring stick of everything we do. Now when
there’s a potentially new program idea, I only have to go back to
what I know of our purposes and mission. Does it fit? If yes, then
great! Let’s pray about it and try it. If no, then we don’t have to
waste time checking our budget and calendar or praying about it. We
already know the answer!

Diana Pendley is the minister of children at a church in
Plano, Texas. She has been a children’s minister for 15
years.


MY TOP 10 LIST

by Vincent Hart

  1. Devotional time builds thick skin. Doing God’s work is hard.
    Doing it alone never works. Telling kids about God’s love without
    loving God and receiving God’s love in a daily way leaves you
    vulnerable.
  2. All adults are little kids in big people’s bodies. Think about
    what the motivation is behind something and you’ll be able to
    respond with grace that’ll restore instead of reacting to someone
    in unhealthy conflict. Allowing people to be people, and handling
    occasional childishness with grace will build bridges.
  3. Champion the kids. Be their cheerleader. At staff meeting, it
    isn’t reasonable to expect everyone else to stick up for what’s in
    the kids’ best interests. That’s your job. Learn to lead up,
    sideways, and down in order to build a healthy and balanced church
    that has reasonable expectations and plenty of resources for
    children’s ministry.
  4. Build your team. Never do ministry alone. Jesus didn’t, and
    neither should you. Replicate yourself in others and you’ll more
    than double your ministry potential to the community. Every adult
    you personally recruit to minister to kids doubles the number of
    kids you can reach.
  5. Beware of the change trap. Don’t make changes. Let your team
    make changes that you cast the vision for. If you’re working toward
    a common vision, and if the team believes in it to the point that
    they’ll sell it to others, you won’t fall into the pit of
    oops-I-changed-it-without-bringing-anyone-else-along. It’s a bummer
    of a place to dig out of.
  6. Do what you say and say what you do. When you lead, be verbose
    in the communication department. If you tell folks you’re going to
    paint the parking lot purple at 2 a.m., then you better be at the
    parking lot at 1:50 a.m. with a bucket of purple paint. If not,
    then you won’t have as many on the next painting trip and when you
    try to tell them what’s next, not as many will listen.
  7. Cast vision constantly. This isn’t baby-sitting; it’s life
    change! And God rewards those who get it. If people are constantly
    reconnected to the purpose of ministry, then they won’t get lost in
    the details. Tell them over and over and over and over.
  8. Invest in cards, calls, and sweat equity. Ministry is all about
    relationships. People need to feel God’s love. It can’t be faked or
    ignored. If you love on them, they come and serve.
  9. Make time for people. The people are the ministry, not the
    things, plans, or programs. Don’t ever let the task be more
    important than people. If you start to hear “I’m sorry to bother
    you, but…” or “If you aren’t too busy…” from your folks, you’re
    in a trap.
  10. Keep perspective. If you find yourself getting stressed,
    heading toward burnout, or losing your head because of “all the
    things you have to do,” then stop. Building the church of Jesus
    Christ is more about being than doing. Be only what God called you
    to be and then let God do the rest. It’s Christ’s church; let him
    build it through you as you enjoy his company.

Vincent Hart is the children’s pastor at a church in Round
Rock, Texas. He has been a children’s minister for 11
years.


Surprised By Joy

by Patty Anderson

I began my ministry much like David, called to serve God, but
not very equipped. But when you’re clearly called, you answer.

During my first year in ministry, I learned a lot. First and
foremost, it’s very important that a leader keeps her priorities:
God, family, and then ministry. In the beginning, I worked
incessantly to prepare and lead a perfect program. In doing so, I
missed out on crucial quiet time with God and fun time with family.
I became so focused on my work that I forgot what’s really
important. If I’m obedient to God first, shepherd my family second,
then, and only then, the program is God-honoring. Sure, a
successful program requires adequate preparation — but not to the
point of obsession.

I also learned to delegate, delegate, and delegate in that year.
Andy Stanley, in his book The Next Generation Leader, advises a
leader “to focus on the three things she does best and do only
that.” And that’s what I did. I focused on leading the large group,
teaching the shepherds, and planning curriculum. No more and no
less. In doing so, I allowed others to use their gifts and
passions.

I learned to place people in areas of service based on their
spiritual gifts. Assign task-oriented people responsibilities that
include preparing lesson materials, shopping for supplies, and
sorting materials. Ask your people people to serve as greeters and
shepherds. Allow them to do what they do best.

Another lesson I had was to survey my target market. Each
quarter I take a bunch of kids out for pizza or ice cream and we
just talk. We talk about what’s hot, what’s not, and what’s
happening with them. I use this information to plan the curriculum
– to make it radical, real, and relevant to the children who
attend.

During that outing, we usually stop at the Christian bookstore.
I allow pairs of kids to peruse the music section and pick out one
CD to purchase. On the way back to the church, we sample the CDs in
the car. The kids help me select the songs we’ll use. Because
they’ve chosen the music, the kids are eager to help the other
children learn the songs. Often, these same kids will choreograph
the songs, too.

My last lesson is to remember that in the end, after the
teaching, the cutting, the crafts, the snacks, and the sorting, the
thing that matters is what God does in the lives of children. All
the glory goes to God.


Patty Anderson is the minister of children and families at a
church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. She has been a children’s
minister for three years. Please keep in mind that phone numbers,
addresses, and prices are subject to change.

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