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In Ministry: An Interview with Hillsong’s David Wakerley

by Amanda Brady

Children’s Pastor, Amanda Brady is a guest writer for INCM.   

Most people would consider me well educated. I have a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in Christian education. My education has proven very valuable in writing curriculum and planning activities in ministry. I know developmentally what a first grader can and cannot comprehend. I know the historical background and theological meaning of a biblical text. However, there were several things in ministry for which my education did not prepare me.

Trying to lead a small group of rowdy boys talking about videos games and using words that I had no clue what they meant.
My first encounter with an angry parent who didn’t like the way the church was doing things.
Conversations with leadership who wanted to go a different direction than I with the ministry.

Fresh out of Bible college, many children’s ministers enter their first ministry position ready to take on the world, but often they quickly realize there are many things for which they are not prepared. How can children’s ministers be ready for these things in ministry that they didn’t learn in school?

David Wakerley, the children’s pastor at Hillsong Church in Sydney, Australia, sat down with me at CPC 2013 in San Diego and shared his insights on a few areas that children’s ministers often ask about.

Be the church. When asked to identify the key to making a difference in the lives of kids today, David was quick to point to Jesus. We need to be the church to kids. Distinguish those things that we are called to do as the church. We can’t do everything, but it is essential to determine how we are going to be the church to kids and do those things well. He warns about getting caught in the trap of trying to do everything. Often we can dilute the church with programs and activities that take away time and energy from what we should be focusing on.

Represent Jesus. Many children’s pastors have a hard time feeling relevant to kids. Fads come and go. The latest and greatest video games change faster than ever before. As such, it is essential that we keep our focus on representing Jesus. David points out that if we are not sharing Jesus and being the church, nothing else is going to matter. It is the only constant.

Our relevancy doesn’t come through culture but through Jesus. We can use culture to explain the life of a Christian. Culture can show the positives and the negatives. David explains that when we use culture to engage and get the attention of children in our ministry, it is important that we look for and use examples that all kids can understand and relate to. For example, in America we could include culture in a lesson by talking about the Super Bowl. Even if all kids aren’t into football, they can still get the connection. Children’s ministers need to identify what David calls “global cultural concepts” to use. We can get the attention of kids by using these global concepts because kids make a connection with them. One is school. All kids understand school. They have to go to school, so they connect because it is going to be something that is important so they need to listen.

David suggests another way children’s ministers can be relevant is to identify and use leaders that are different than us and that kids can relate to (or they can relate to what is being taught). He gives an example of a man who had been in jail, came to Bible college at Hillsong, and then began to serve in Hillsong’s children’s ministry.  The man was able to use his experience in jail to understand and share what the early church people probably felt when they were in prison for their faith.  It is important that these leaders are willing to be honest and open about their experiences and things they have learned. When we incorporate these kinds of leaders in our ministries, we are able to connect with children who have different experiences than we do.

One of the biggest challenges of children’s ministers, both new and seasoned, is learning how to negotiate church life. Sometimes leadership will make what may seem like crazy decisions. Those decisions may sometimes hurt people. Children’s ministers must keep their hearts right and determine to keep in the ministry for the long run. David points out that it wasn’t until he had been in his role for five years that he felt like he was really getting somewhere and could do something. At the ten-year mark, says he reached a level of respect that came with longevity.

It can be hard to get to that point and it takes a long time, especially if you are in a tough position and you do not agree with the decisions being made by leadership regarding your area of ministry. When you find yourself in a tough situation where you need to negotiate with your leadership, David recommends seeking specific help and insight from others who have been in your shoes. Most important, always keep your focus on who you are trying to reach—the kids. You can minister in any situation. David also encourages leaders to remember what the big idea is and hold everything else lightly. Programs and styles can all change, but the big idea, sharing Jesus, does not.

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