How to be a children’s minister whose own children love your ministry as much as you do
It’s a few minutes before 2 in the afternoon, and I’m scrambling to get everything together for the volunteer meeting I have later tonight. The sound of my pager interrupts my train of thought, and I find a phone to dial the number that has so rudely disrupted my working streak.
The words uttered by the voice on the other end send a shiver of guilt right into the pit of my stomach: “Mrs. Kamrath, this is Apache School. We have your son, Josh, in the office. Did you forget that today was early release?”
It was written in my day planner and on the kitchen calendar. We had a reminder note sent home the day before, and still I was so involved in what I was doing at church that I had forgotten my own child.
As children’s ministry staff, it’s our mission to reach children for Christ and cultivate their faith. We spend many hours, days, and sleepless nights wondering how we can be more effective in ministering to children and families. Experiencing the adrenaline rush of a great VBS program, the joy of praying with a child who for the first time has believed in Christ, or the pat on the back from a new family who wants to say “thanks” for making them feel welcome are all affirmations of ministry success. But does success at church come at the expense of ministering to our own children?
Any working parent understands the difficulties of balancing home, family, and career. While all working parents face similar challenges in this area, the church worker has the unique challenge of setting limits to home, family, career, and church. Church is the place where mom or dad go every day, but it’s also the place where your family worships and is nurtured.
Although church work is a calling and a ministry, it has worldly imperfections that create frustration and stress in the lives of those who deal with it day in and day out. And like other working parents, you need to be careful about what you bring home from the office.
In The Family-Friendly Church, Ben Freudenburg asks church workers to look at who is controlling your (more than likely) crazy schedule: you or the church? We’re all very good about preaching to the masses the importance of family time, but do we live it out in our daily lives? Does the schedule we keep and the attitude we have toward ministry breed anger and resentment toward the church in our children’s lives? If we’re doing our job, and doing it well, then our first priority will be to our own children, because ministry to them is not a position; it’s our lifetime commitment. How then can you help your own children benefit from your ministry to all children?
Build Relationships With Your Kids
One of the unique benefits of working at church is that, in most cases, your schedule can be flexible. Take advantage of it! Check your kids out of school over the lunch hour and take them on a picnic or to their favorite restaurant. Help in the classroom when a note comes home requesting volunteers (and we all know how much we value volunteers!). You will brighten a teacher’s day, too! When your kids have a day off from school, take a day off yourself and go to the zoo or on a hike to explore God’s creation. Many churches will let you bring your children to work with you if they have a day off. What a great way for them to experience what you do every day.
There are lots of ways to have fun just being with your kids and reminding them of how much you love them. It can be difficult for children when they observe you showering other kids with love and attention if they don’t experience the same from you at home. Give them regular reminders of how special they are: Leave notes in lunch boxes, bring balloon bouquets to school on their birthdays, or let them help you plan a special event at church. Letting them have input in what you’re doing in ministry not only helps them feel special and part of your ministry, it also gives a child’s perspective on something that’s typically planned by adults.
Watch What You Voice At Home
It happens sometimes: You had to argue for space at a staff meeting, you were told you needed to provide a kids’ option for an event that is two days away, and then, on your way out the door, you got chewed out by the maintenance director for all the modeling clay that got ground into the carpet over the weekend. Your head is throbbing and, as you walk through the front door, all three of your kids are speaking to you at warp speed.
Do you lash out at them for the rotten day you’ve had, retreat to your “cave” and immerse yourself in a computer game, or give them all a big hug and try to capture some of their joy and energy for yourself?
Chances are that you’ve chosen each of these options at one time or another. While you don’t want to be dishonest with your children, you do want to watch how you speak about the church when you’re feeling frustrated. Letting your children know that you had a tough day may be okay; verbally attacking the pastor for giving you a last-minute assignment isn’t in the best interest of your children—or you.
When I’ve had a rough day, I pull into my driveway and, before I get out of my car, I stop and thank God for giving me an incredible family and the best kids in the world. You see, nothing can be so bad when I remind myself of how blessed I am. Amazingly, the frustrations of the day are melted away by the hugs I get when I walk through the door.
Don’t Let Church Become Your Baby-Sitting Service
Just as you need time away to become refreshed and rejuvenated, so do your children. Church staff can easily take advantage of the child-care opportunities provided through programs, and soon your kids are as enmeshed in church work as you are. Sometimes your kids need a break. Hire a baby sitter or let them stay home with your spouse if you have to be at church for an event or program. Your children will stay appreciative of church opportunities if they don’t feel like they’re always forced to be there.
Worship, Learn, And Serve Together
It’s incredibly easy to become so involved in programming on Sunday mornings that worship comes and goes, and you were lucky to get there for the closing prayer. It’s important to set an example, for your children as well as the people you serve, that worship is an important family time and needs to be a priority. Pick a service for your family that’s less hectic for you, such as an evening worship opportunity. Worshiping with your own children not only helps them keep sight of your call to ministry, it also provides you insight as you observe how your children experience worship.
Setting aside time to learn about God’s Word together is important for families. Many times a church worker takes it for granted that his or her children are learning about God because, after all, you are the children’s ministry director! But the seeds that are planted in Sunday school need to be watered and nourished by parents. Find unique opportunities to talk about your faith and about God. Take walks, draw pictures of Bible stories together and then talk about them, or listen to music and discuss what it means. Adding excitement and fresh ideas to your family devotional time also provides you with new ideas to give to the families you serve.
One of the best things we do as a family is serve together. If your kids are old enough and can help in children’s ministries, great! Also look for opportunities outside your area of expertise where you can learn and experience new things together. Every Christmas we adopt a needy family and deliver gifts and a meal together. Experiencing service together leaves imprints on a child’s heart of what Christ has called us to do and opens up discussions about your call to ministry.
If you’re a parent, your greatest gift is waiting for you every day at home when you walk through your front door.
Finally, Admit When You Fail
The church isn’t perfect, and neither are you. It’s okay to say to your children that you were wrong when you snapped at them when you were really frustrated about something at church. Be an example of forgiveness by knowing when to ask for forgiveness and showing how to forgive.
Children’s ministry professionals are in the business of loving kids. You have a unique gift of reaching out to children in your church, the community, and the world. And though you’ve been blessed with the gift to touch the lives of kids and families, if you’re a parent, your greatest gift is waiting for you every day at home when you walk through your front door.
I haven’t forgotten my son at school since that guilt-ridden day. Although I’ll admit that there are many days when it takes a lot of reminders just so I don’t forget. This past summer my son went on a weekend trip with a friend and, when they returned, his friend’s grandma pulled me aside. She told me about the prayer Josh prayed at mealtime the evening before, how his words touched her heart, and how amazed she was that a boy his age could show such strong faith. Her words were an affirmation of why ministry to children is so rewarding and why ministry to my own children is the greatest reward.
Carmen Kamrath is the former associate editor for Children’s Ministry Magazine. She is a veteran children’s minister and author.
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