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4 Difficult Situations—Handled by Children’s Ministry Experts

Do you recognize any of these four difficult ministry situations? Our KidMin experts get real when it comes to tough times in ministry.

Have you ever found yourself facing a ministry problem you simply weren’t equipped to handle? Leaders must grapple with tough issues that can impact their ministry, volunteer teams, and even their personal faith—and often feel they have no one to talk to for guidance and support.

Four ministry leaders shared the most frustrating situations they’ve dealt with in ministry—read on as our experts guide them through seriously troubled waters with heart-to-heart advice may help you through a similar situation.

No Kids, No Service

I’m a single children’s ministry leader with no children. I’ve been told by parents, colleagues, and even my pastor that I just “don’t understand certain things” because I’m not a parent or married. At first, I thought this was because I was young and just starting out, but I’ve been in ministry for 10 years now…and I hear this at least every 3 to 6 months.

I get that I don’t have 100% of insights into parenting, but I work really hard to understand what families are dealing with today. I’m a professional, but I’m treated like an uninformed kid because of my marital and parental status.

—Childless and Spouseless

Dear Childless,

I’ve been a kids’ pastor for 23 years. I’m single. I have no children. About 12 years into ministry, I had a group of parents tell me that my only job was to teach children—because I had no right to minister to parents. I had written my resignation because I started to believe them. However, my lead pastor shared how I had been a key support in raising his own children. He also shared that he believes I had a big part in his own son making the most important decision in his life: to follow Jesus. My friends also reminded me that while parents only typically know their own children, I’ve known and interacted with hundreds of children. And I have the unique perspective of knowing how to deal with many different personalities of children, and I have the ability to be objective.

Text reading “Your leaders need to have your back, and they need to stand up for what you do in the church."What did I learn from that experience?

First, if your lead or supervising pastor doesn’t have confidence in your role, you’re probably not in the right place.

Your leaders need to have your back, and they need to stand up for what you do in the church. I would encourage you to have a conversation with your pastor about this issue and how he or she can support you.

Second, you need to have confidence in your own calling and abilities.

Although I’d been working with kids in the church since I was 14 and I have masters in Christian education, my confidence was shaken. Most people don’t see children’s ministry as a vocation or profession. Most of these people wouldn’t question single pediatricians or childless teachers, so help them understand your calling and how you’re continuing to refine your role: through education, network with other kids ministry leaders, and experiences.

Finally, admit that as a non-parent, you have limitations in your experience.

However, above all, you know how to love unconditionally and point kids to Jesus.

Gloria Lee has served in vocational ministry for children, students, and families for over 20 years. She’s a contributor to Children’s Ministry Magazine, International Sports Ministry curriculum, blogs, and a few ministry books. She’s currently on staff at Menlo Church in Northern California.

Undermined at Every Turn

I know I’m not perfect, but I am a professional. I’ve gone through tons of training, I lead my ministry in a professional manner, and I work at good communication. I have an open-door policy with parents, my volunteers, and everyone in the church.

But I’m at my wit’s end.

Anytime we have an event, a programming change, or any other remotely out-of-the-ordinary situation, I hear through the grapevine how I’ve messed up. I never hear directly from the people (usually parents, the pastor’s wife, or a handful of vocal critics) who are so put off by my efforts. Instead, I get passive-aggressive behavior in the form of anonymous notes to me and complaints to my leader. I’ve even been told by people outside our church that I shouldn’t have done this or that. My pastor supports me, but these complaints feel personal and meant to undermine me. Yet to my face, these same people are usually sweet and supportive.

—Drowning in Discouragement 

Dear Drowning,

I wish I could write you a prescription to alleviate the pain you’re experiencing in your ministry relationships these days. In your leadership shoes, I’d feel angry, sad, and a bit hopeless given all that’s swirling around. Good job for raising your hand for help; you’re not alone in this. Leading well through relational storms takes wisdom, discernment, and courage, as well as humility and support. Putting the following principles into practice can help you diffuse the drama and deal with what’s discouraging you.

First, only God can see what’s really going on.

It’s impossible for us to read situations and motives perfectly. We may want to be right and respected, but our site is skewed by the emotions in our gut. Consistently resist jumping to conclusions about why this or that person did or said something.

Second, the truth is somewhere between facts and feelings.

My friend often reminds me, “You don’t have to be wrong to not be completely right.” So, when I’m feeling attacked on all sides, I revisit Psalm 139 to take a reflective look inside before addressing people-related problems. The Holy Spirit regularly reveals a nugget of truth in whatever criticism I’m receiving as a leader.

Third, “The Story I’m Telling Myself” approach works relational wonders.

You don’t have to run away, freeze up, or fight to the death when it comes to uncomfortable relationships. And when relationships become painful, the best remedy is to slow down, agree on a fact together about what happened, and share how you feel. Then say, “The story I’m telling myself is…[fill in emotions or ideas you’re experiencing].” In your case, you might say: “The story I’m telling myself is that I’m doing a bad job,” or “that you don’t respect me as a leader,” or “that I’m not worth speaking with directly.” Eliminate the finger pointing that comes with “you” statements (“You make me feel like I’m doing a bad job”), and others will clarify, apologize, and treat you differently in the future.

Dan Lovaglia is the author of Relational Children’s Ministry: Turning Kid-Influences into Lifelong Disciple Makers and a staffing coaching associate at Slingshot Group for children’s and family ministries.

Too Good To Be True

I recently recruited a volunteer who seemed fantastic—dedicated, inspired, and enthusiastic. She came to me wanting to join the team, and I was surprised and glad to have her.

The problem is that this volunteer is becoming my worst nightmare. She criticizes and then takes over everything and talks down to me. She is very authoritative and condescending, and has now begun “rallying the troops” (i.e., my other volunteers) behind my back. I’m beginning to see that she never intended to serve in the ministry, but intends to run it. I’ve learned that she’s met with my pastor a couple times privately, and I believe in my heart that she’s trying to take my job. I’ve never experienced anything like this. What do I do?

—A Pushover Against My Will

Dear Against My Will,

What a challenge! It’s one few leaders want to face, yet is full of growth opportunity for you. It looks like you have two critical conversations to pursue: one with your pastor and one with the volunteer.

First, meet with your pastor.

You hold a perception that her meetings with your pastor are divisive. It’s important to confirm that perception with fact. Never fail alone. Find time with your pastor to compare the story in your head with reality. Let your pastor know what you see and experience with this volunteer. Ensure your heart, mind, and words are clear of malice or frustration. Your driving emotion must be a concern for this volunteer’s heart. Hear what your pastor has to say, then commit to following up after your conversation with the volunteer.

Next, sit down with your volunteer.

Define reality and share how her actions make you feel and your perception of her motivations. Then, listen. Just listen. Close your mouth and open your ears and heart. Listen for ownership on her part, awareness (or lack thereof) of how her actions impact others, her desires, and hopes for ministry. When she’s done, acknowledge what you heard. Make sure she knows you hear her.

Finally, make a plan for how to move forward.

You have two options. Move forward together or apart. Both options require you agree to publicly support and privately confront. Both require you to forgive and release this volunteer from these actions. Even if she never owns them. Her ownership has nothing to do with your choice to forgive her.

If you choose to move forward together, then what can that look like? She has a desire and gift to lead. How can she exercise that under your leadership? Better still, how can her leadership grow under yours?

Leading strong, aggressive personalities will stretch anyone. But learning to bring these leaders on your side sets you up to leverage their influence for greater gain.

Gina McClain is the children’s pastor at Faith Promise Church, a multi-site church in Knoxville, Tennessee. A recovering parental opinion-aholic, she and her husband, Kyle, are enjoying the ups and downs of raising teenagers.

In The Dark

I’m so frustrated and heart-broken.

I served as children’s minister at my church for more than five years. Everything was great at first. Then I had some health issues, and I had to step away from the ministry for a couple of months. A volunteer in the ministry stepped up and helped out tremendously. But when I returned, my senior pastor called me into his office and said he wasn’t happy with my performance. He then said I had to resign or be fired. I refused because I had no idea what I’d done wrong, and he fired me—without any full reasoning.

I went to other leaders to find out what I’d done, and they had no answers. Parents of the kids I’ve loved on and served all these years avoid me. I’ve had a few reach out and express sympathy, but for the most part, I’m invisible. I still attend the church, but my heart is not in it. I feel embarrassed and ashamed and I don’t even know why. The worst part is, I still don’t have any idea why I was fired so abruptly. My heart is bitter, if I’m honest. I did talk with one person who was formerly in ministry at the church years ago, and he said, “That’s the way they are. One day you’re in; the next you’re out.” Help me. I’m afraid this situation is killing my faith.

—Losing Faith

Dear Losing Faith,

Oh friend, what a tough and painful situation you are facing. My heart is broken for you.

I want to first commend you for desiring to be in community at your current church despite the pain you’ve felt. Even though the circumstances aren’t ideal, one of the greatest blessings in our spiritual journey is the relationships we have with other followers of Jesus.

Text reading, "You can trust the plans God has for your life--all of the plans."

With that said, it doesn’t sound like this a healthy church environment for you.

No church is perfect but some of the practices that they’ve exhibited go against how brothers and sisters in Christ treat each other. Many congregants follow the lead of their senior leadership, so this may explain the responses you’ve received from fellow leaders and parents.

What concerns me the most is that you feel this situation is killing your faith. This is not what our loving Heavenly Father desires for his children. He wants all of us to use the gifts and talents he’s given us to build his Kingdom. He desires for us to grow in our faith in a local church.

I believe your future moving forward will require faith like never before.

I’d suggest asking God for wisdom and discernment about whether you should continue being part of this congregation. It’s difficult to leave what is familiar to us, but God may be ending your season there. As hard as that might be, you can trust the plans he has for your life—all of the plans.

If you feel God telling you to stay where you are, work toward peace and reconciliation with those who’ve hurt you. Then, continue to move forward to what God has called you to. If you feel God telling you to leave there, view it as the next season instead of a loss. See it as a way God is shaping and growing you as a person and a leader. Either way, God loves you deeply and holds you close to his heart.

Kathie Phillips currently serves as the director of children’s ministry at a church in Baltimore, Maryland. She’s a wife, mom of two young adults, conference speaker, ministry coach, author, and blogger.

Want more articles for children’s ministry leaders? Check these out.

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