I just started reading Dreaming of More For the Next Generation by Michelle Anthony. One chapter in, I am already impressed with the biblical foundation she lays for a family ministry paradigm. The end of the first chapter she invites readers to “reflect,” “respond,” and “dream” about what how might want to awaken us to more in our lives personally and in ministry to children and their families.
Here are a few of my thoughts.
“No one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, ‘The old is better.’”
We are asked to describe our current wineskin. What a great question! From a family ministry perspective, I would describe our ministry to children and families as “Family Friendly.” The children and youth programs function independently but create opportunities for parents to get involved on some level. The discipleship of children is important and parents are viewed as having a crucial role but they must rely heavily on the programs provided. Little is done outside of the youth and children’s ministry to equip them to be more spiritually focused in their child-rearing.
In my six years working in children’s ministry this model has been a source of frustration at times. I think many times churches want to hire children’s ministers to oversee children’s programs and give a head-nod to the role of parents but are satisfied if mediocre content is taught by volunteers whose arms may have been twisted into plugging a hole on Sunday morning. This has not been the case in every classroom of my ministry career but in praxis has been the general result of the ministry as a whole when not everyone is on the same page regarding what successful children & family ministry looks like. The resulting fruit is families who are not only unequipped by their church family but even hindered in their ability because “spiritual formation is best left to the experts.” In the lives of children, fruit is measured in terms of ministry event attendance and levels of Bible knowledge and skill. We might even pat ourselves on the back if we feel that their Bible class attendance and knowledge of scripture affects the child’s behavior, though none of these provide an accurate measure of faith.
When we are faced with the choice to change the system, lay down our old wineskin in exchange for a new one, we panic or circle the wagons. We worry that without the old wineskins our children will not know the Bible. We become concerned that if children aren’t attending our program, they might not be spiritually formed anywhere. We place on a pedestal our old wineskin and claim that it worked for me when I was a kid without considering that the Spirit knew just what we needed at that time. Now, perhaps the Spirit is choosing for the growing generation a different vintage. The Spirit wants to pour out a new wine but our old wineskins can’t handle it. They will simply burst.
What if we were willing to create (or allow ourselves to be created into) a vessel worthy of the sweet wine the Spirit was ready to pour out? What would ministry to children and families look like that did this? Right now, I don’t know. But I do know that if the Spirit was being poured out and we had allowed ourselves to become a wineskin worthy of receiving him, we would be measuring success in terms of how well we cultivate an atmosphere where parents are primary.
What would your ministry look like if God were pouring out new wine on it?
This week I have been at the Orange Conference. A three-day event for ministry leaders who have as their primary interest a partnership between the church and the home. To be honest, I felt a little out-of-place. This past August my job as a full-time children’s minister ended and since then I have been taking up the responsibilities of a stay-at-home parent, homeschooling my kindergartener and chasing our 2 year old around the house! Attending the Orange Conference last year, I was focused on attending classes that would help me to equip the volunteers working under my leadership and networking with other ministry leaders from whom I had much to learn. I happened to bump into a few people I have met over the years who, through Facebook and twitter, know vague details about where me and my family are at. A brief exchange between me and another children’s ministry leader who I look up to a lot, left me feeling insulted for the first time about my “at-home” status.
He asked me what I was up to and if I was ministering anywhere. I replied, “Yeah, I am staying at home and homeschooling our daughter.” His first response was, “You need to get a job, buddy!” I don’t recall exactly what I said to him in response. I fumbled through a kind response, hoping to end the conversation quickly, hoping to communicate that I consider it a privilege to minister to my children at home. I always found it shocking when I would hear a report of people diminishing the importance of the role that stay-at-home moms have with phrases like, “So, you don’t work?” or “Don’t you miss having areal job?”
Stay-at-home moms, today I can honestly say, “I know how you feel.”
Still praying through this one. I know God is using my current situation to draw me closer to my daughters. In a world where the positive relationship between a father and his girls has such an invaluable impact, I cannot afford to let such comments deter me from giving my daughters my very best. They need to know that right now, raising them full-time isn’t something I am settling for. Every dad has a calling to disciple his children. Father’s of girls have the additional responsibility of showing them what it means to be loved like Christ loves the church. It’s impossible to estimate just how valuable the time I spend with my girls is during this season of life. Only God knows what it is worth and how much my life will be blessed by it.
Last week I posted Part 1 of the volunteer strategy I have begun to implement at 4th Avenue. Part 2 was mostly in place already but now with every volunteer position mapped out and role description created, the fun begins. Getting people invited into a position which will grow their strengths in ways that will both allow them to move into their next level of leadership as well as help children to follow Jesus. Part 2 has two steps. (Remember, I am trying to think small!) Step 1 – Apply, Step 2 – Get connected.
I researched a number of different volunteer applications before arriving at a revised version of Jim Wideman’s. I decided that if we were going to go through the trouble of asking volunteers to take the time to do this, it ought to be thorough. The application includes, personal contact information, desired ministry involvement, personal history (more on this below), church history, reference forms, background check, and a section for them to describe their spiritual journey. We have met some resistance from individuals as to why this is all necessary. I decided to write Volunteer Approval Letter that would be handed out to anyone who applied. I plan to revise a copy of it to serve as an explanation for those who have doubts in hopes that it will alleviate their concern.
The “personal history” section invites the applicant to go into detail about a lot of personal details including history of psychotic disorder, drug/alcohol abuse, criminal history, etc. In the form we provide a place for the applicant to indicate if they would prefer to discuss the sensitive responses in person as well as to describe the measures they have taken to limit the negative impact of their past in their daily life (counseling, etc.). We feel knowing these things is important because a history that has not been addressed adequately could put a child at risk.
Since the form is somewhat lengthy, we use a web service called Formsite. When volunteers enter application web address, they are encouraged to create a username/password so if they leave the form they can return with their data saved. As they complete the sections mentioned above, their information is stored on the website’s secure server. Once they click “submit” I am emailed a copy of the completed form. I create a file for each volunteer and store their information. Since they have completed within the form a section on references, each reference they have listed (name, relationship, and email address) is automatically sent a link via email to another form I have created specifically for references. The reference completes the short form, clicks submit and the form is automatically emailed to me. The background check information is sent to our administrative assistant to enters it into our background check service and she gives me a copy of the results.
I feel it is a very smooth process and have not experienced any kinks in it as of yet. Step 2 of the process will need to include some sort of spiritual giftedness or strengths finder tool for all our volunteers. I am thinking this may be something that will need to be implemented later but I may do some beta testing on my leadership group.
Today I completed a major piece of the puzzle for the Kid Ministry strategy at 4th Avenue. Every children’s minister I have ever talked to has lamented over the volunteer situation. Occasionally you will hear an incredibly enthusiastic speaker at a conference who seems to have it all together with no volunteer recruiting issues at all. I often will sit back and wonder how do I get from where I am at now to where they are calling me? My typical response is to grieve for a while then try to formulate some grandiose idea that will revolutionize the volunteer work force at my church. This is usually short-lived as I soon realize I have bit off more than I can chew.
My biggest personal hindrance as a minister is that I have a hard time thinking in steps. I try to swallow the elephant in one giant chomp, instead of little bites at a time. This is why I feel like I have accomplished something major in the last week or so.
For the first time since I arrived at 4th Avenue, I have a Volunteer Chart that identifies EVERY volunteer position in the children’s ministry along with the vacancies AND an accompanying “Volunteer Catalog” that clearly articulates our vision for the children’s ministry and a job description for every role. The goal, of course, is to be able to look at a glance at how we are staffed with volunteers to accomplish our vision to
“Grow kids who LEARN, LOVE, & LIVE to follow Jesus.”
We had a strategy for how to reach the children, now we have a volunteer map that identifies who is needed to accomplish it.
As I have shared this project with some of my kid minister peers, most of them have asked if I have a policies and procedures manual. My response has been that it does not make any sense for me to have something like that if I do not know the scope of people that will be relying on it. The volunteer catalog and chart are pieces that will help to comprise the manual. Thinking in steps. The next big piece is helping the volunteers we invite into the ministry to align themselves with the vision and complete our application process. Another huge step.
Thinking today about just how blessed I am as a children’s minister. I have many reasons to feel this way. I am part of a team of people that are genuinely invested in my success. We have a 70+ year old prayer minister that desires to pour into me each week. A senior leadership that will praise what is happening in the children’s ministry in front of other people. A youth minister that views my role as an integral part of his ministry strategy. A team of shepherds that desire spiritual growth so they can better serve the needs of our congregation. Yup, I have plenty of reasons to feel blessed as a children’s minister.
But today I have been focusing on another reason. My wife.
I have a hard time thinking of another reason I am so blessed as a children’s minister than that I have Krista as my wife. I pass by people at church all the time and get stopped just so they can tell me what a rockstar she is. Seriously. This happened twice in one week last month. And they both used the word “Rockstar.”
This past weekend we had out of town guests staying with us. Lots of them. We actually had two families that didn’t know each other end up spending the weekend with us. Between us and them, here were seven kids under the age of 6 and five of them were still in diapers. When I went to work yesterday, the office staff asked me how Krista was handling all the guests and I got another opportunity to brag on her. She lived up to her reputation as rockstar mom as she was both hospitable and entertaining for our friends.
Her ability to deal with people with grace and gentility is something I admire and I know that as a children’s minister she is my biggest fan, my strongest advocate, my gentlest critic, and my sweet respite.
Yup, I have plenty of reasons to feel blessed as a children’s minister.