The Biggest Mistake a Children’s Ministry Leader Can Make

The Biggest Mistake a Children’s Ministry Leader Can Make

In children’s ministry, many leaders make a crucial mistake. A mistake that, if not corrected, can lead to ineffectiveness and burnout for the leader and their team.

Here it is:

Children’s ministry leaders see themselves primarily as managers, not leaders, of others.

Leadership exists to inspire, motivate and influence others, while management exists to plan, coordinate and execute the systems that make vision a reality. Management is important, but it’s far from leadership.

Here are three signs you might be too caught up in management to lead effectively:

1. Managers Have a Hand in Everything

Managers have a tendency to be involved in every aspect of their children’s ministry. One day, they’re planning long-term strategic goals, and the next, they’re making copies of the weekly curriculum. But, wait, why stop there? Managers also make sure to follow up on every task they’ve assigned to a volunteer (for accuracy, of course!), and they’ll also want to make sure they’re available whenever someone just “needs to chat.”

You get the picture.

Good leaders recognize when their plate is already too full, and they equip and empower others to fulfill the task at hand. Leaders also have a critical understanding that ministry managers often miss: They’re not always the best person for the job. Instead of relying on themselves, good leaders use their influence to bring others onboard who can simply do a better job than they can.

2. Managers Own Every Failure

When leaders adopt the role of having a hand in everything that’s going on, they also tend to assume control and ownership of everything that’s going on, too. Managers often attribute every success to themselves, not their team, and they do the same for the failures in their ministry.

This leads ministry managers to face two critical problems:

1. Abundance of personal guilt

2. Lack of interpersonal accountability

Failure is serious stuff for the ministry manager. When they’ve done everything humanly possible to be in control of every situation, yet it still goes wrong, they draw the inescapable conclusion: It’s their fault. The results of this guilt are myriad, and can be devastating for the ministry and for the individual.

Not only does this individual ownership of failure result in turmoil for the ministry manager, but it also creates a cultural identity for the ministry team that lacks accountability. Stripped of purpose (see “hands in everything”) and now accountability, team members being managed in this way often become apathetic toward the vision and mission of the ministry, and some may even quit altogether.

3. Managers Look Inward

Managers rely heavily on systems and structures within their ministry. The status quo of these systems and structures becomes the manager’s primary goal, and the team will feel it. Team members in this environment often hear the phrase “That’s not the way we do it here.” The manager is most content when the status quo is maintained and is often resistant to any change, even when change is desperately needed.

Managers exert control as their primary form of relating to their team. This makes sense, of course. If your goal is to preserve the status quo, then limiting the variables (like your team) is a logical choice. People, though, are not systems, and this approach often results in a stifling environment in which creativity is dampened.

Leading a Ministry

In contrast to these three potential pitfalls, good leaders limit their direct interaction, cultivate a team approach to failure and constantly dream big.

Limiting direct interaction is critical for leaders, especially in larger ministries. Managing 100+ people by a direct approach is difficult, but leading 100+ people directly is impossible. Good leaders recognize that their ability to influence and inspire their immediate circles is crucial to the outward motion of leadership that’s needed.

Cultivating a team approach to both successes and failures creates accountability for everyone on the team (it is not the leader’s responsibility to shoulder alone) and motivates team members to see their pivotal role in what is happening in the ministry.

Dreaming big and searching out new horizons is what will drive the ministry forward, and it’s the leader’s job to pursue it wholeheartedly. Allowing the status quo to be challenged and even equipping people to do it is a necessary part of leading a healthy ministry.

Stop managing; start leading.

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Dave Gwynne
Dave is a born and bred Scotsman. Now living in the suburbs of Chicago, he’s happily outnumbered at home by his wife, Erin, and two daughters, Genevieve and Eloise. Dave has been in children’s ministry since the age of 15 and has served in churches and para-church organizations across Scotland and in the United States. Dave currently serves as the Children’s Midweek & Summer Programs Pastor at Christ Community Church in St. Charles, Illinois. His role includes overseeing a weekly Awana program and a 10-week summer day camp. Dave’s interests include reading, writing, and binge-watching on Netflix.