Imagine a ministry planning meeting with a different flavor. It’s not your run-of-the-mill gathering because it’s filled with some unusual characters. Look who’s here.
There’s the Little Red Hen, who—even if no one else wants to work—will get the job done! Jack (from the beanstalk) helps your ministry climb to new heights. And Alice takes you on adventures to discover the wonder of reaching children for Christ.
You know your planning meeting is going to soar with these folks!
And then in walks Goldilocks. Hard-to-please, never-satisfied Goldilocks. It’s too hot or it’s too cold. It’s too hard or it’s too soft. She’s rarely—if ever— happy. She has a chronic case of whining. And she’ll derail your ministry if she doesn’t get it cured.
You’re probably already thinking of people in your ministry who are like Goldilocks. These people always seem to focus on the negative. Maybe you’re even a Goldilocks. Whoever these folks are, you can help them change their whining ways to winning ways. Try these healthy life-giving prescriptions to cure the six most common whines known to children’s ministry.
Whine #1: “It’s impossible!”
In ministry, we often feel like we’re hitting a brick wall. On some days, nothing works, and there seems to be no way out of our problems.
The Cure: “Anything’s possible!”
Think about these words: “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). It’s time that we Christian leaders take a bold stand for God. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). Dream the impossible, and then ask God for it.
The Edmonton leadership team of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada calls itself “ExtremeDream Productions.” Their vision takes form in youth conferences where thousands of teenagers come together to fill stadiums and make commitments to God. Creativity, energy, and faith have opened the door for God to use the “dream team” to create children’s, youth, and adult outreach and training events…all of which are growing by leaps and bounds.
All things are possible! Only believe!
Whine #2: “We’ve never done it that way before!”
The sign at the fork in the dirt road reads, “Pick your rut carefully because you’ll be in it for the next 40 miles!” The church often gets stuck in ruts because humans, for some reason, hate change.
The Cure: “We have the opportunity to be the first!”
After Peter’s vision of the sheet being lowered with unclean animals and his visit to the home of the Gentile Cornelius, Peter was actually confronted by the church board! The early church had never done ministry this way before.
Peter responded by saying in Acts 11:16-17, “Then I remembered what the Lord had said… [and] who was I to think that I could oppose God?”
When God leads us to new ventures or creative alternatives, we need to step out with the confidence that we’re accomplishing his will. What an exciting adventure we can have when God asks us to take the road less traveled—or even more exhilarating, to blaze the trail for the first time!
Whine #3: “No one wants to do it!”
We once consulted with a children’s minister who repeatedly told us, “No one wants to help with children at our church!” It became painfully clear why this was true. The leader’s defeatist attitude would surely convince anyone that her ministry was an awful place to serve.
Defeatist attitudes lead to fatal public relations. For example, consider this common defeatist announcement from the pulpit: “No one wants to teach the third-grade boys! If no one comes forward by next week, we’ll be forced to close the class down!” Talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Any thinking adult will quickly decide that if “no one” wants to teach the third-grade boys…the third-grade boys must be pretty awful! If a leader isn’t enthusiastic about a ministry opportunity, why in the world would anyone else be?
The Cure: “I know the cure for cancer!”
You may not believe you have any ability as a salesperson, but if you discovered the cure for cancer, we bet your enthusiasm alone about the cure would make you millions.
In the same way, you need to passionately believe that being involved in volunteer ministry is the most essential tool for the health of a Christian’s spiritual life, for satisfaction with a church, and for passion about God. Anything that can do all that should be easy to “sell”!
Don’t convince people not to serve by being negative. Don’t apologize for asking them to get involved in ministry. Enthusiastically offer them the gift of service that you know will bless them.
Whine #4: “We’ve failed!”
We’re often evaluated by ourselves and others in ways that God doesn’t necessarily care about and that leave us looking “sick.” Whether your numbers are down, your budget is smaller than the church across town, or you just don’t feel like you’re getting the results you should, it’s easy to feel like a failure.
The Cure: “We were faithful!”
Evaluate your ministry by God’s standards—and God’s alone. Like the Apostle Paul, ask yourself, “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10).
God plans many experiences in our lives for our growth. At the end of a camp that seems like a failure or after a Sunday school lesson where no one responds, remember that God is working in your life and in the lives of children in ways that don’t always show immediately.
While we look for “success” in human terms, God is looking for faithfulness in spiritual terms. Long to hear your Master’s words, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”
Whine #5: “It’ll never work!”
One of the foundational rules in brainstorming or in any other creative activity is to never criticize even the most “unreasonable” suggestion. Comments or thoughts such as “It’ll never work” stop creativity and progress much like a red light stops traffic.
The Cure: “Let’s give it a try!”
In “green-light” thinking, even the craziest (maybe especially the craziest) ideas are valued for the possibilities they offer. While the idea may be unrealistic, any idea has the potential to “break the mold” and get you thinking outside the box. When we break conceptual gridlock, we’re much more likely to find the road that’ll lead to success.
Recently, the recreation director for our preteen youth group couldn’t make it to our Wednesday night club program. He suggested taking a bag of balls and Frisbee discs out to the ball field next to our church to let kids have time for free play. Gordon was very skeptical that this lack of structure would work, but he had no time to prepare another activity. Forced to “give it a try,” Gordon discovered that the director’s suggestion resulted in the best night of the year.
Remember, other people have ideas, experiences, and gifts that lead them to different conclusions. And given a try, those ideas just might work.
Whine #6: “Nobody cares!”
Perhaps no one knows the highs and lows of ministry better than we who lead children’s programs. We conquer the mountain known as vacation Bible school, yet people wonder how we spend the 51 weeks leading up to it! We recruit a team of workers only to have someone transfer out of town. Often after a major ministry victory, we wind up feeling depressed, discouraged and deserted.
Elijah felt this kind of discouragement. After God’s victory on Mount Carmel, Elijah was spent. His physical and emotional exhaustion following the spiritual battle left him down in the dumps. ” ‘I have had enough, Lord,’ he said. ‘Take my life…I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too’ ” (1 Kings 19:4, 10).
The Cure: “God cares!”
Stop talking, and listen for the gentle whisper of God. God reminded his discouraged servant Elijah that 7,000 of the faithful were still in Israel and still following the Lord.
Fatigue often makes us think in ways that are unhealthy and untrue. Prepare for the stressful seasons of your year in prayer; schedule times away immediately following major events; surround yourself with friends who’ll speak the truth in love; and most importantly, be still, and know that he is God.
The bad times are never really as bad as they seem. People do care. And God is with you in every step.
These prescriptions can’t be used as bandages for your mouth and ministry. A misguided lecturer on character development was fond of saying that the most important thing in life is sincerity, so if you don’t have it…fake it!
Children’s ministers can’t “slap on” the right words to create positive environments. Attitude is everything.
Be genuinely enthusiastic as you focus on the positive. The root meaning of “enthusiasm” is to be “within God.” When we live “within God,” we have the peace of God, the worldview of God, and the love of God…all of which show up in our enthusiastic speech. Remember that whatever problem comes your way—no matter how difficult— God is in control.
Even the slightest injury creates scar tissue. But the scar is tougher than the original tissue and serves the purpose of toughening the body. Whenever we have struggles, we’re given opportunities to grow, to rise to the challenge, to learn new skills, to involve new people, and ultimately, to trust God.
So “consider it pure joy…whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4).
When we have God’s view on life and ministry, we can’t help but pass on a contagious enthusiasm. And that kind of infection doesn’t require a cure!
Gordon and Becki West are actively involved in children’s ministry and are authors of popular books, including The Discipline Guide for Children’s Ministry (Group Publishing, Inc.).
Here’s a self-evaluation to see whether your language is whining or winning. First take the test yourself, and then ask a trusted co-worker, friend, or spouse to give you an honest appraisal with the same questions. In each of the following pairs, circle the one subject you spend more time talking about:
The problems you’ve encountered lately…or the exciting opportunities you see coming;
- Ways your co-workers have disappointed you lately…or little successes you’ve seen around you;
- What’s behind…or what’s ahead; What is going wrong…or what is going right;
- What’s broken…or what’s working;
- How things are…or what they could become.
Obviously, if your answers are primarily on the left-hand side, you need to cure your whining ways. Take a positive pill immediately! Ask God to transform your negative thoughts to positive thoughts so you can move toward winner talk.
With Jesus I Can
As I shared coffee and bagels one morning with a local children’s director, I listened with much excitement as she shared her church’s plan to launch an off-site worship service complete with children’s ministry programs and a nursery. My heart raced as I thought about the incredible possibilities and the amazing adventure God has in store for her church.
However, by the middle of our conversation, my excitement turned to sadness as I listened to a long list of We Can’ts:
We can’t get enough volunteers. We can’t get anyone from our main church to make a commitment to move to this location, and we can’t get enough space.
Finally, I just had to ask, “What is one thing you can do?” My friend replied, “What do you mean?”
As we continued to talk, we brainstormed Cans.
Can you get some of the lead volunteers from the main church to make a six-week commitment to launch this new ministry instead of asking them to move permanently? Yes. Can you have these volunteers invite just one additional person to assist them over these six weeks? Yes.
As we continued, my friend left with a list of Cans. It may’ve been a short list, but it was a starting point that has launched a successful and vital ministry.
Jesus’ “We Can” Attitude
The disciples also faced the same overwhelming feeling associated with the We Can’t syndrome. They were tired and faced with the seemingly impossible task of feeding 5,000 men (plus women and children). The disciples knew they didn’t have enough to feed all the people, so they asked Jesus to send the people away. Not enough food, not enough volunteers, not enough space, not enough…Jesus replied, “You give them something to eat.” Just imagine their dialogue!
I’m certain something similar has taken place within your church. You want me to staff a nursery for how many? We need to have how many classes? Each time I face this feeling, I can hear the words of Jesus echoing in my heart: “You feed them.”
When the disciples felt like they didn’t have enough, Jesus asked, “What do you have?” Well, I have five youth helpers and two volunteers. Listen as you hear Jesus say, “Bring them to me.”
Jesus takes what we offer, blesses it, and multiplies it beyond our imagination. However, he calls us to take the first step and offer what we have…what we can do.
Create an inventory of what you can do and what you have. Then place it in God’s hands. Be ready to experience a miracle as you move from an “I can’t” to a “with Jesus I can” ministry.
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