With tears in her eyes, Janelle moaned: “I can’t do it anymore.”
In her mid-30s and married with two kiddos of her own, Janelle has been working as the children’s ministry director of a midsized church in the Midwest. She was supposed to be part-time, but because there was so much to do, it was closer to full-time work many weeks. On most days, she loved her job, but the last year had been rough.
Like a battle-fatigued soldier, Janelle didn’t have anything left to give. Here’s what added up to her downfall:
- She was consistently short of volunteers. She was desperate for help and didn’t feel the congregation was supportive enough. They didn’t “get” how much need there was in children’s ministry.
- If something went wrong on a Sunday, like a volunteer got sick at the last minute, she stayed as a last-minute backup. She felt as if she was constantly plugging holes in an ever-leaking dam.
- She didn’t have anyone helping her oversee the children’s ministry on Sundays. It was pretty much the Janelle show. She called the shots, organized the volunteers, set up things in advance, and cleaned things afterward.
- All this added up to her rarely making it to church services to hear the sermon. She couldn’t remember the last time she was able to sit through the entire church service uninterrupted.
- The pastoral leadership rarely paid attention to children’s ministry or her work.
- She rarely took a vacation or a break. She was present and working 50 or 51 weeks per year.
- Her church involvement was reduced to just children’s ministry. While she was good at her work, that was all she did when it came to her interactions with the church. She was not a part of a small group. She didn’t join a reading group when offered. She rarely met up with other Christian women for fellowship or accountability.
She was overworked and underappreciated. How long could she last without any encouragement? She was a walking time bomb, ready to implode at any moment. If this kept up, she’d be another in the long list of casualties in children’s ministry.
Have you noticed high turnover in the children’s ministry director (CMD) position in your church? What kind of love, training, and support would make the Janelles of this world stick around for decades? Let me offer six suggestions for how to save your children’s ministry director from crashing and burning.
1. The children’s ministry director must be generous in giving responsibility to the members.
If your CMD does everything, tell him or her to stop. It should never be the Janelle show. She should hand over as much responsibility as possible to the members. It takes an entire community of believers to raise these children.
Encourage the CMD to give away enough responsibility to the members so that her role shifts to more of an NFL commissioner. She’s coordinating and overseeing different “coaches” and “teams” rather than being the sole person running the entire show. She’s not shy, but she’s aggressive in giving out opportunities to the members to take charge of children’s ministry.
2. Build a competent and talented team around your CMD.
A more formal leadership team for children ministry can stabilize it over the long haul. For some churches, it might be hiring one or two part-time paid positions. In other churches, it means adding key volunteer roles into your system, like a nursery coordinator or teacher trainer for your Sunday school teachers. Build a team of competent people around the CMD who take ownership of the ministry.
You might think in terms of a sheriff who deputizes one or two people in his community to assist in fighting crime—he formally gives them the responsibility to work alongside him. He sticks stars on their shirts, hands over guns for their holsters, and takes them along on the next crime investigation.
3. Shepherd the CMD’s soul, not just their job.
Though a CMD needs to get her job done, the most vital thing about her life is not her job, it’s her soul. If the CMD’s job performance is an A+, but her soul is a D-, then you’re failing her. You can and must do better. You must care more about her relationship with Christ than her job performance. Who she is in Christ matters far more than what she does for him. Jesus cares about whether Janelle loves him. You should care enough to ask Janelle regularly, “How is your relationship with Christ?” or, “How are you growing in your love for Jesus?” Asking such things shows that her spiritual life really does matter.
4. Make sure your CMD is an active and healthy member of her church.
Make sure Janelle’s spiritual life doesn’t exclusively revolve her job as the children’s ministry director. That’s a quick way to suffocate her spiritually.
If Janelle spends all of her time on the children’s ministry floors, but never makes it into the main worship services, she’ll never hear the sermon, she’ll never get to sing with the congregation, or pray along with the corporate prayers. God has established a weekly rhythm for Janelle’s life; attending a weekly worship service resets Janelle and prepares her to face the trials and tribulations of the coming week. So, make sure your CMD can regularly attend the church’s worship services.
Janelle needs friendship with other believers who know her life, keep her accountable, challenge her to confess her sin, to dig deep into the Word, and to trust her Savior when things get hard. But she can’t do that if her life revolves only around her job. So, make sure your CMD is growing in his or her relationship with other believers in the church.
5. Lavish an abundance of encouragement on the CMD.
Give constant encouragement. Be especially clear when Janelle does things well—give her affirmation for a job well done. But also find big and small ways to offer encouragement.
My daughters discovered that our CMD, Gio, loves apple cinnamon flavored fig bars. The next time we were at a grocery store, they said, “Daddy, look!” They were pointing to pack of apple cinnamon fig bars. We bought a box, and once every other week, the girls stop by to give Gio a little two pack of fig bars. It’s not earth shattering, but it’s a small gesture of kindness, a simple way to say to her, “We love and appreciate you.”
6. Make sure your CMD takes a break.
Having no breaks, and all work, is not good for anyone’s soul, let alone a CMD. Do everything you can to make sure your CMD takes a break from the normal pressures of his or her job. Get your CMD to slow down on Mondays (since Sunday is such a busy workday). Encourage your CMD to also use up all of his or her vacation days.
A healthy CMD makes for a better children’s ministry
While I don’t have a fool-proof answer for how to solve every church’s problems, the recipe for a healthy CMD is not that hard to figure out. Keep him or her grounded in Christ. Be sure to feed them spiritually. Build a solid team of people around them. Get him or her to give responsibility to the members. Then encourage, encourage, and encourage (yet again!) in whatever he or she is doing.
To God be the glory. As you care well for your CMD, you serve the whole church, not just Janelle.