At one point in my ministry, I had heard stories about this dad who had started coming to our church 6 months ago. I knew he and his wife had walked away from the Lord, but they were back. And they were doing their best to raise their little girls in church.
I watched from afar and saw that he was quick to laugh, expressive, and (underneath a tough exterior) seemed to be searching for purpose. I gathered my courage and approached him and his wife to ask them about serving in our children’s ministry.
When I first became a children’s pastor, I’ll be honest, I thought it meant I was going to be a pastor to kids. Little did I know that the role of children’s pastor would reach far beyond kids into their homes and into the lives of those serving them.
I learned quickly that one of my most important jobs as a children’s pastor would be pastoring the hearts of my volunteers who worked with our kids. That fostering faith formation in my volunteers would be vital to a thriving children’s ministry.
And in this season, it could mean managing both in-person and virtual volunteers.
A Shepherd’s Heart
If you’re called to lead children’s ministry, I believe you are called to have the heart of a shepherd. Regardless of what your actual title is, you are called to be a shepherd. You are called to pastor the people God puts in your realm of influence.
For most of us, that means pastoring the hearts of our volunteers. It means looking for and encouraging spiritual growth in church volunteers.
Look at the ministry of Jesus. He was put on earth to save the world. While He cared deeply about the whole world, He specifically invested in His twelve disciples. He knew that they would be used by Him to help accomplish His mission.
In Matthew 28 19-20 Jesus sends His disciples out with The Great Commission saying, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
He releases them to the work He’s called them to. Jesus understood the importance of investing in the leaders around Him.
Our reality is this: if we want to see spiritually mature kids who love Jesus deep in their beings come out of our children’s ministries, we have to be investing in the leaders who are serving them.
We have to care deeply about the faith formation of our volunteers. It trickles down through the whole church and directly affects families.
Spiritually mature volunteers are better able to come alongside and equip parents.
I believe, as leaders, we can only take people as far as we ourselves have been. If my walk with God is shallow, I will only be able to teach a shallow walk with God.
With that in mind, some of the very first work we should be doing is investing in the faith formation of our volunteers. This type of work should be happening whether you are face-to-face, using Zoom, or socially distanced in a big room.
This kind of work takes longer but produces long lasting fruit. Start by thinking about who you need to recruit.
Recruit these kinds of volunteers:
- Recruit volunteers who are growing in their faith. This does not mean they have it all figured out, but it does mean they’re hungry, and they are actively growing in their faith.
- Recruit volunteers who are teachable. This means they want feedback, and they want to learn. Teachability goes much further in my book than ability does.
- Recruit volunteers who love the church. This means they love the body and they love how God uses the body to accomplish His work.
- Recruit volunteers who are excited about what Jesus has done for them. I always remind myself that if I’m not excited about what Jesus has done for me, how am I going to excite anyone else?
Require this from your volunteers:
- Participation in a small group. This can be an option that your church has or you might create a small group(s) with your volunteers. Whether it’s done over video or in a Facebook group during this season, this is a beautiful way to create shared experiences and an open forum to grow together. If you recruit volunteers who are growing, be sure to create space for them to continue to grow.
- Time in “big church”. I meet far too many children’s ministry volunteers who use their volunteering in children’s ministry as a place to hide from the conviction and community of big church and big people. Require and create structure for your volunteers to spend time in big church. Remember, this will help foster faith formation in your church volunteers.
Support your volunteers by:
- Sharing personally about your own spiritual growth. Share regularly about what God has been teaching you and growing in you. Fostering faith formation in our volunteers means being honest about our own faith formation. Especially in these challenging times, our volunteers need to see that we struggle and wonder and continue to fall back on Jesus. This helps promote growth in them too.
- Creating a safe place for them to serve and grow. No volunteer is perfect. At some point they are going to miss the mark or need assistance. How you respond to those situations can be a wonderful opportunity for growth. Call out what needs to be called out and then cheer them on as they try again.
- Letting them know that the person they are is far more valuable than the position they hold. Care about them. Check in on them. Notice them. Shepherding faith formation in your volunteers means you see them before you see the spots you need filled in your ministry. Appreciate them.
- Promoting a “team” mentality. We are all in this together and you are a vital part of our team. Everyone wants to be a part of something that matters, and children’s ministry is the best hard work there is. Allow your volunteers to be a part of the team.
Back to Shepherding
That husband and wife said yes—with a lot of trepidation—to serving in our children’s ministry. I eased them into it. Then, I called out the gifting I saw in them, and I nurtured it. I partnered with them and helped lead them.
They were open and growing and so excited about Jesus.
Little by little as they grew in their faith, I put them into more leadership roles. They were a part of our small group and pretty soon they were helping run the children’s ministry.
That was 15 years ago.
Today they still serve in ministry. They are strong believers and credit much of their growth to those early years serving in children’s ministry.
They had a place to grow, and try, and belong; and it formed their faith and changed their lives and their children’s lives forever.