It’s your first day on staff as children’s pastor at a new church. The senior pastor has introduced you to the staff, donuts from your first day welcome party have been reduced to crumbs in the bottom of an empty box, and you’re sitting alone in your office. Now what? How you handle the next few months will have a tremendous impact on the remainder of your ministry. Let’s make sure you get off on the right foot. By the way, this advice applies whether you’re launching a ministry from scratch or you’re the new children’s pastor at a church of 2,000-plus.
1. First, do nothing.
Spend a few months not changing anything that’s currently in place. Use the time to find out what’s been done in the past. Ask lots of questions. Observe carefully. You need to understand exactly how the pastor, parents, kids and current volunteers define a “great” children’s ministry. It’s likely that their definition won’t be in complete agreement, but everyone will assume your definition of “great” matches his or her own.
2. Now fix something—but something small.
Find one small problem and fix it. Don’t tackle anything big yet; nobody knows you well enough to trust you, and you may create a bigger problem than you solve. Find something—anything—that makes life a little better for your kids, teachers or kids’ families. You want people to realize that you’re actually good for the organization and worth listening to.
3. Connect with your leader.
When you go into a church to serve as children’s pastor, decide you’ll be committed to and support your senior pastor. I believe every church staff member should give the senior pastor what the leader wants. We need to all be working toward the same goal. When you come into a church, ask yourself, “What can God teach me through this pastor?” Your teachable attitude will allow you to do significant ministry and also grow spiritually.
4. Figure out where you are.
Once you understand the pastor’s vision for the children ministry, see if you have the resources you need to meet it. Is the correct leadership in place? Do you have the right tools—the curriculum, furniture and rooms? Summarize on paper how you view your current ministry situation. Summarize where you think the ministry should go, too, and share what you’ve written with your senior pastor. This is your pastor’s chance to fine-tune your direction before you set out and make changes.
5. Join the team.
Go to lunch with other people on your church staff, one at a time. Ask what’s important to them. Hear their heartbeat for ministry. Remember that even if the youth group consistently leaves the room you share in chaos, you and the youth pastor are on the same ministry team. Next year you’ll be releasing some of your children into the care of that youth pastor. Esteem that pastor and offer your support. If we want others to respect us, we need to respect them. That means respecting everyone on your team. Don’t fall into the “Us versus Them” trap. “We’re all on the same team.”
6. Determine where you’re going.
Set goal areas of your children’s ministry. What do the kids in the nursery need? The preschoolers? Be specific. Here’s a great exercise to help you develop goals: Ask yourself what you want children to do when they’re adults. Make a list. You want them to know Jesus? Write it down. Want them to have a servant’s heart? Write it down. Want them to be givers? Put it on the list. Now you become those things, and put people who do those things in front of children. Teach children what God’s word says about those things, and model what living it looks like. Let your ministry be a place where children see what God wants them to become and where they can practice serving, giving and being faithful. People follow people with a plan. If you haven’t developed a plan in your first three months to get from where you are to where you’re going, people aren’t going to follow you.
7. Communicate with the right people.
Most children’s pastors spend 90 percent of their time working on communicating with kids. That’s great, but you need to communicate with other audiences, too. Create a newsletter that tells parents what you’re teaching and what’s on the schedule. Since you can’t assume that “take-home papers make it home, you have to communicate by snail mail, email or even a worker webpage. Look for ways to keep information flowing to your team also remember to communicate upward.
8. Update job descriptions.
Everyone needs a job description. I like to give every volunteer his or her job description, plus everyone else’s job description. When volunteers know where they fit, everyone does better. Write your own job description first, and submit it to the senior pastor for tweaking. Then write everyone else’s description. When your job description aligns with the pastor’s vision, and the other job descriptions align with yours, you’re all on the same page.
9. Build a team.
We say team building is important. We even believe it. So why don’t we do it? If you don’t allow others to learn by doing—coaching and encouraging them as they go—there’s no way you’ll build a team. See yourself as a coach and a mentor whether you have a team of 200 or a volunteer staff of two. Delegation is good: It’s letting someone represent you in accomplishing tasks and duties. You need that. But even better than delegation is duplication: creating an exact copy of an original. When you instill your heart and passion in another children’s worker, you’ve gone beyond just delegation and actually duplicated yourself.