Here’s why—and how—you senior pastor can become your strongest ministry supporter.
It was the holiest of holy times in the life of the church: snack time during vacation Bible school. I was making my usual rounds through the fellowship hall, stopping at each of the small groups to say hello, asking what they were learning about, and maybe scoring a cookie (or two). I was visiting with a table full of kindergarten boys when the adult leader at their table said, “Guys, do you know who this is?” They all gave her a blank look. And then one of them said, “Well, sure! It’s Silas and Harper’s mom!”
True. My kids, 5 and 7, know these boys well. And to their friends, I am first and foremost “Silas and Harper’s mom.” I’m also the senior pastor. Both of these are very good reasons for me to be highly engaged with my church’s children’s ministry.
Most senior pastors have 100 balls in the air at any given moment, and children’s ministry, frankly, may feel like the one part of the church they don’t have to worry about. If the ministry has a great staff, strong parent involvement, and wonderful volunteers, why does it need senior pastor involvement? When there are so many other things that need to be carried by the senior pastor, it feels good to have that one corner of ministry that can be self-sustaining. But the truth is, there are many important reasons for senior pastors to visibly support children’s ministry.
It’s good for the entire church to see the pastor engaged with kids.
Constantly keeping children’s ministry in front of the entire congregation reminds the church that ministry to children is their ministry. It’s not just this great, colorful program that happens “over there” somewhere. It’s the work of making disciples, and it’s the calling and responsibility of the entire body of Christ. When made visible to the church body, this vitally important ministry engages even more adult leaders, mentors, and volunteers in children’s lives. And many of these adults have great gifts for teaching and leading, but they might never think of themselves as children’s ministry “types” otherwise.
It’s good for children to see the pastor engaged in their programs.
Every time the senior pastor notices a child, calls him or her by name, and asks how soccer/dance/ football/band is going, it reminds children that they’re seen, heard, and valued. Even if right now the senior pastor is more familiar as a friend’s parent, someday kids will make the connection that that parent is also the pastor. It matters to kids when the pastor is involved in their lives. Creating a relationship with children and youth is also good pastoral care. If children are ever in some kind of crisis—an illness or injury or the loss of a loved one—your visit to the hospital or presence at a family funeral must not be the first time they see or converse with their senior pastor. Senior pastors can better care for children in tough situations if familiarity and trust already exist.
It’s good for the pastor to engage with children’s ministry.
Between budget meetings, worship planning, community outreach efforts, staff direction, leadership training, Bible studies, and the other hard work of connecting people to God and each other, it can be truly refreshing to visit the children’s ministry area, stop by a Sunday school class, or simply enjoy a game of after-church Freeze Tag. It’s often energizing and encouraging to just wander through the children’s area.
Additionally, those glimpses into children’s lives—and the lives of their families—helps keep preaching fresh and relevant. Pastors who’ve taken the time to engage with children’s ministry are often more challenged to keep worship engaging for people of all ages. They’re reminded of the big why behind much of the work of ministry—that sacred calling to be stewards of the gospel for generations to come. That enormous part of the pastor’s job can get lost in the day-to-day minutiae of running a church. But sometimes the senior pastor’s calling is much easier to remember when he or she has a chance to get elbow-deep in glitter, slime, or colored icing.
It’s good for the pastor to simply support children’s ministry.
Most pastors are profoundly grateful for the children’s ministry team who makes the program engaging, exciting, relevant, and efficient for kids. And most pastors know children’s ministries really don’t need them to jump in as Sunday school teachers or supply gatherers. Senior pastors may not have to worry about choosing a curriculum, scheduling events, running background checks, chaperoning lock-ins (thank goodness!), or even publishing the event and activity updates. The program end of things is in good hands with children’s ministry leaders. Even so, there are plenty of ways for pastors to be visible, present, and involved—without taking over things they don’t need to. Here are good (and mostly simple) practices senior pastors can adopt to support children’s ministry in your congregation.
1. Know kids—and their names.
This is the simplest and most obvious place to start. But as with most things, the simplest approach is often the most effective. Know names. Speak to kids on their level. Tell them you pray for them by name. Remember what they love, what they’re involved in, and ask them about those things whenever possible. If your children’s ministry is huge and this task is daunting—have kids (and everyone else) wear nametags. Study the photo directory. Have a ministry volunteer come with you and remind you of names when there are lots of kids around. Parents will remember that the pastor knew their child’s name. And newer members and guests will be impressed that the pastor took the time to get to know their family.
2. Put yourself into the children’s sermon rotation.
If part of your weekly worship service is a prayer, blessing, or meditation for children, take a turn leading that occasion- ally. Maybe on a Sunday when another staff member is preaching or on a day the sermon lends itself to a child-friendly message, be the person who sits on the floor with kids, prays with them, touches their heads, and brings the gospel to their level.
3. Show up.
Another simple but important practice. Make appearances at your fall festival, vacation Bible school, or Sunday school kickoff. Anytime kids show up in quantity, go and be a presence.
4. Promote from the pulpit.
This one is big. Whenever possible, lift up your children’s ministry in prayer or even reference it from the pulpit. Let the congregation know what kids are learning in your children’s ministry about following Jesus. Talk about how the ministry makes the message engaging for kids. Tell why your church has the kinds of programs it does.
Every summer, we have an entire Sunday devoted to celebrating VBS. The sermon is an adult-friendly but kid-centric recap of what the children learned throughout the week—complete with colorful decorations in the sanctuary, kids leading songs, and maybe even an appearance by a certain puppet friend the children got to know during the week. We also frequently reference children’s worship themes in the adult sermon. Over time, this creates a culture and common language within the congregation—for families to talk about faith at home, for cross-generational ministry, and for children to feel included in the larger life of the church beyond their little corner.
5. Support staff and volunteers.
We’re endlessly thankful for staff, parents, and others who put so much heart and energy into sharing faith with our children. Tell them so! Recognize volunteers in worship on a regular basis; send handwritten thank-you notes after program kickoffs or special events, and post public words of gratitude in bulletins and newsletters. Make sure children’s ministry staff and other leaders have the training and resources they need to do their best ministry work. Host appreciation dinners (with child care provided!) at church—or maybe even at your home. Give those hardworking teachers and leaders a chance to relax and, more importantly, connect with each other and build a community of caring and shared interest.
6. Show them the money.
While the senior pastor may not have to manage much of the children’s program directly, he or she probably does have a great deal of input into the church’s budgeting process. Well-meaning church leaders often see children’s ministry as a good place to cut corners when it comes time to allocate resources (because how much can crayons and animal crackers cost, really?), but these reductions can dramatically reduce the quality— and quantity—of programming. The senior pastor can be a strong advocate for funding important children’s ministry—which is both practical and symbolic support of the program. And it’s biblical.
7. Set an example.
Maybe the children’s ministry team needs volunteers to bring food for a lock-in, chaperone a trip to the zoo, or help with a service project. Make that announcement for the ministry, and encourage the congregation to jump in. Then tell how you’re going to contribute, and challenge your church to do the same.
How Far Would You Go?
While simple engagement and authenticity works best, here are additional ways pastors can go a little outside the box—and have some fun—to support children’s ministry.
Go all out for Fall Fest.
Kids don’t exactly come to these things expecting to see their senior pastor dressed as Captain America or their favorite pop star. Surprise them with more than a BOO!
Take a pie to the face.
Or take a turn in the dunking booth. If the kids meet an attendance or fundraising goal, give them a big return on their commitment. It’ll make a great photo op for your website and an even better memory.
Do the dance.
Even if you don’t dance, learn the choreography to that VBS theme song or that great “energizer” they brought home from church camp and do it with them… maybe even in big church.
Get in character.
Many of us have mixed feelings on the monologue sermon, which involves a costume and is spoken in first person as some- one from the Bible. At worst, it can be really cheesy. But at best, it can be highly engaging! Consider going a little less literal and dress as a modern-day interpretation of the person. This storytelling approach can go a long way to reach kids, especially if there is some kind of prop or costume involved.
Any time senior pastors spend engaged with children—and those who minister to them—is a great investment that’ll yield returns for years to come. At first it may seem like a great demand on an already-packed schedule. But ultimately, any visit to VBS, kids’ church, or the nursery can be a moment of retreat in an otherwise hectic day. Kids’ joy is contagious. Their welcome is genuine. Their faith is big and wildly imaginative. And they’re more than willing to share their cookies. Children minister to all those who are blessed enough to serve them with open hearts and eager spirits. And couldn’t we all do with a little more of that in our lives? Thanks be to God!
Erin Wathen is the senior pastor of Saint Andrew Christian Church in Olathe, Kansas.
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