by Amanda Brady
Children’s Pastor, Amanda Brady is a guest writer for INCM.
I have had the unique experience of serving in children’s ministry on both ends of the spectrum. I served for eight years at a mega church that had a couple thousand kids each weekend spread over three services. I am currently at a church plant that has about twenty kids. Each of these situations has brought different challenges as a children’s minister; however, one area that seems to be universal is the struggle to find enough volunteers to serve in children’s ministry.
Children’s ministers who are entering their first position may find themselves in a couple of different situations. They may be entering into an environment where a children’s ministry is already functioning. They inherit programs and volunteers who have been there much longer than they have. Others may be entering a position where they are expected to grow and build a children’s ministry for the church. As a new leader, how do you cast vision, recruit, and care for volunteers? Sam Luce, INCM board member, shares insights and wisdom regarding volunteers that he has learned over the past fourteen years as a children’s pastor.
Cast Your Vision
Casting vision for our ministry is extremely important. It sets the tone for how volunteers will respond, to not only programs but also to us as leaders. Sam points out that often leaders begin by talking about the how and what of the ministry. However, this is not where we need to begin. Before we talk about our processes and procedures, we must talk about the why. We have to sell our volunteers on it from the very start. Processes and procedures are only helpful to the point that our volunteers know why they are helpful. Otherwise, they become an obstacle.
Next, we need to share the why with our volunteers in an ongoing way, thereby helping them to recapture the vision so that it becomes their own. Sam states that the best way to do this is through telling stories. When we tell stories of the why being implemented, it makes an emotional connection. He also states that sharing stories is transferable. It is much easier to connect and personalize the why through a story rather than through a big mission statement. Stories are also not forgettable, as mission statements are.
Wait on Changes
Regarding making changes in the ministry, Sam advises new leaders not to make changes until they have taken time to observe and have a clear understanding. He uses the example of not tearing down a fence until you understand why the fence was built. If you tear down too soon, you look foolish and lose credibility when you have to rebuild what you tore down. He also encourages new leaders to listen—a lot. Listen to the pastor, volunteers, key decision makers, and others. After you have heard what they are saying, begin by making small changes that everyone agrees upon. This helps you gain the confidence of others to make bigger changes later.
Sam also talks about building relational capital. Share with others things that concern you. When you have a history of making good choices, you build trust and people are willing to follow your lead. If you get a lot of pushback, you probably haven’t built enough relational capital with your people.
Volunteer recruiting should be a never-ending process for children’s ministers. With respect to recruiting, Sam warns leaders never to sound desperate when they recruit. A desperate plea sounds like it is coming from a sinking ship. No one wants to be part of something that is sinking. Two key things leaders should do as far as recruiting:
Ask God for help.
Ask people personally. Leaders wait to be asked. They don’t sign up on a clipboard on a table.
When we get volunteers from the beginning who are passionate and gifted in their area of service, then we as leaders can spend our time doing what is important: training and equipping those who have staying power. Have a pulse on your volunteers, and make sure their trust is in Christ and they are not trying to do it on their own. If we don’t do this and in desperation are willing to accept anyone, then we spend too much time trying to fix what seems to be wrong.
Sam points out that often as children’s ministers we understand why we need volunteers, but we don’t understand why volunteers need us. Volunteers need their leaders to lead them spiritually, know them relationally, and thank them incessantly. He warns us not to get so caught up in getting things done that we aren’t doing these things that need to be done for our volunteers. When we focus on doing these things that need to be done, we create a ship that won’t sink because those we are leading will step in and fill holes.
Sam ends by saying that it is essential that the why of what we do is connected to the right who. We must be connected to and model Christ for our volunteers. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him to come and die.” We are to die to our own wishes and ambitions in ministry. But, this death is not an end. Rather, through it we encourage our volunteers that we all are to die together so Christ is glorified.
Sam Luce is the children’s pastor at Redeemer Church in Utica, New York. He and his wife, Sabrina, recently welcomed their fourth child into their family.