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A woman volunteer is sitting outside with a preteen girl. They are sitting on a picnic table playing with VBS buddies as other kids run around.
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Risky Business: Four Types of Risks in Children’s Ministry

Every choice you make— large or small—is attached to a consequence and risk. These are the four risks that come along with working with children.


Curiosity killed the cat, but maybe that’s okay. After all, cats do have nine lives. They have eight shots at getting it right. Eight chances before fatal failure. Eight turns on a wild ride. Cats are independent, free-spirited adventurers. They’ll purr one moment and claw the next. They run on roofs and tightrope on tree limbs. They seem to like an adventure—it energizes them. And legend has it that cats always land on their feet, no matter how far they fall.

Dogs, on the other hand, are man’s best friend. They bark at unfriendlies, bury their bones, and can be led by a leash. An adventure usually finds them. It’s not like they avoid risk altogether. My black Lab used to eat aluminum cans. He once caught a bird in midflight for a snack. And he’s still famous for his midnight munch sessions in the family garbage can. He’s just more calculated in his risk-taking (especially if food is involved).

That’s the difference between cats and dogs when it comes to risk. One embodies it and the other tries to control it. Dogs are trainable. How many cats fetch newspapers, dance for their masters, or perform search and rescue? Dogs give up on chasing their tails far too soon. Cats can enjoy romping with a plaything for hours. And even when they risk and fail, cats teach us that it’s not the fall but the landing that matters.

In your approaches to risk in ministry, you probably resemble either a cat or a dog. You either relish risks and invite innovation, or you’re cautious about risk and gravitate to safer paths. Neither approach is wrong nor bad. But understanding why you do what you do is 90 percent of what it takes to be effective in ministry.

Four Types of Risk

Children’s ministry is rife with risks but no more than in any other aspect of life. Even those who avoid risks really take them daily. Every choice you make— large or small—is attached to a consequence and risk. In working with children, there are four ways to spell “risk.”

1. Relationship Risks

Children’s ministry, at its heart, is relational ministry. Every lesson, activity, or event produces the opportunity for relational risks. Somebody may get upset or offended, or might not like what you’re doing. It might be a child, a parent, a volunteer, another pastor, or the janitor. The more risk involved, the more trouble and consequences may result. Nevertheless, if you don’t risk yourself relationally, you’ll miss the chance to make a real difference.

Introverts struggle most with relational risks because people drain them. Extroverts are energized by and enjoy a crowd. One children’s minister angered several of his volunteers because he never looked them in the eye. He was an extreme introvert and overly shy, but those who risked getting to know him discovered a wonderful friend.

I often struggle with relationships, mostly due to my insecurities. If you’re like me, sometimes you go too far in relational risks. You want everyone to like you, accept you, want to be with you, or value your contributions. If you have difficulty with relational rejection, you’ll respond in one of two ways—you’ll reject before you’re rejected, or you’ll avoid people altogether. Naturally either is difficult in ministry. Ministry is people.

2. Integrity Risks

It’s rarely a good idea to take risks with your character and integrity. These golden assets are easily compromised. Abraham Lincoln once quipped, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” If you’re a leader in children’s ministry, you’ve been given power. And that means your integrity is right now on trial.

Integrity means “wholeness.” It’s easily shattered by poor judgment, mistakes, and character flaws. You can use some kind of temporary patch on the cracks in your character, but the cracks will show up again. And permanent fixes are very difficult.

Your integrity is crucial because parents have entrusted their children to your care. With highly publicized examples of church leaders who succumbed to moral and sexual failures, you’re working in a highly charged atmosphere. Integrity is about your speech, lifestyle, and commitment to excellence. An unprepared or poorly-planned lesson doesn’t seem alarming, but it hits at the heart of your priorities, values, and vows to do the work.

Many risks will and can cost you dearly. But nothing you lose costs more than your integrity. It’s the topic of conversation at your funeral.

3. Security Risks

The Apostle Peter has always captivated me. He was a “cat” type of guy, and his feline ways got him in trouble. But I think he experienced Jesus as no other disciple did. Peter risked his security to walk on water. He risked incarceration when he cut off a soldier’s ear. And he risked his life when he stood before the Sanhedrin as a low-class fisherman and called them murderers.

Peter burned through all his lives, and we honor him for it.

But of all the risks we take in ministry, security risks may be the most difficult to allow. Our culture revolves around safety and security. Michael Yaconelli countered this notion in his book Dangerous Wonder (NavPress): “I’m ready for a Christianity that ‘ruins’ my life, that captures my heart, and makes me uncomfortable. I want to be filled with astonishment which is so captivating that I am considered wild and unpredictable and…well…dangerous.”

In children’s ministry, we rarely debate the pros and cons of security. It’s important to appropriately touch a child, but sometimes you might have to risk a full hug. Recently I was coaching my son’s baseball team when our star player had an emotional breakdown right on the field. I’d earned the boy’s trust over several practices, and when I reached him (crying uncontrollably), he started to hug me. I took the risk and hugged him back for several seconds. I was in full view of the crowd. The boy needed me to hold him.

Some of our policies designed to ensure security are putting the squeeze on the kind of passionate, risk-taking ministry kids really need. If you’re not already debating the pros and cons of risk in this area, it’s time to start.

4. Knowledge Risks

Knowledge is power, and it’s certainly risky. Learning translates to change, and most of us resist change. So how willing are you to keep learning and growing in your ministry skills?

French philosopher Joseph Joubert said, “To teach is to learn, twice.” One of the greatest issues in the church today is biblical illiteracy and susceptibility to theological heresies. As a Christian educator, I’m deeply distressed at the shallowness—spiritually and intellectually—of many Sunday school teachers(no matter the age they teach). The church is quick to point fingers at the failures in the public school system, but the church would largely be shut down if the same standards were applied to itself.

When was the last time you read a ministry book? discovered a different way of interpreting Scripture? researched a doctrine? attended a conference, convention, or seminar? Once a new idea stretches your mind, your brain will never return to the same shape.

Risky Business

Children’s ministry is a risky business —do you handle those risks more like a dog or a cat would? There are consequences to both styles. Sometimes it’s better to be a cat and risk to the point of danger, even death. Sometimes it’s better to doggedly determine to avoid trouble and trial. Wisdom is knowing the difference.

I have a favorite poem on my wall at work titled “Dare to Risk,” penned by an unknown author.

To laugh is to risk appearing the fool,
to weep is to risk appearing sentimental,
to reach for another is to risk involvement,
t
o expose your ideas, your dreams before a crowd is to risk their loss.
to love is to risk not being loved in return,
t
o live is to risk dying, to believe is to risk failure.
But risks must be taken because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing.
The people who risk nothing, do nothing, have nothing, are nothing.
They may avoid suffering and sorrow, but they cannot learn, feel, change, grow, love, live.
Chained by their attitudes, they are slaves; they have forfeited their freedom.
Only a person who risks is free.

It’s a cat-and-dog world. Each day we embrace the unknown to help children realize they need Jesus. And that’s a risk worth taking. Why? Because someone either did (or didn’t) risk for you.

Feline or Fido?

Take this survey to determine your affinity for “risky business.” Circle the answers that best describe you.

1. When I face opposition from others, I prefer to forge ahead despite their criticisms.
Never      Rarely     Sometimes     Often     Always

2. I don’t care what others may think of my children’s ministry or me.
Never      Rarely     Sometimes     Often     Always

3. I am always challenging the “status quo” in my work with children, even though I’m also successful.
Never      Rarely     Sometimes     Often     Always

4. Someone on my team, staff, or in the church has challenged new things I do.
Never      Rarely     Sometimes     Often     Always

5. I love children and will do anything possible (including extreme methods) to show them Jesus in and through my ministry.
Never      Rarely     Sometimes     Often     Always

6. I read books and listen to speakers who challenge my thinking and personal ministry assumptions.
Never      Rarely     Sometimes     Often     Always

7. I have wondered to myself “if I’ve gone too far this time.”
Never      Rarely     Sometimes     Often     Always

Scoring

Give each statement a numerical value
(Never=1, Rarely=2, Sometimes=3, Often=4, Always=5). Add your score.

28-35: You’re a wild cat. You love to risk. Just don’t burn every life you’ve got.

14-27: Catdog lives! You enjoy risk, occasionally, if it’s a sure thing. Not a bad place to be in children’s work.

7-13: Ruff! You’re a committed and calculated canine. Permission granted to chase a car every now and then.

 

Rick Chromey is an educator, trainer, and youth worker for edPower! in Florissant, Missouri. 

For more great articles like this, subscribe to Children’s Ministry Magazine today!

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