Make Ministry Simple, Not Easy

Simple

Today’s post is written by Jeffrey Kranz and sponsored by Disciplr, a new interactive curriculum platform for KidMin leaders. Check out their free ebook for Sunday school teachers!

It’s a blessing and a curse to be a leader in this day and age, isn’t it?

It’s a blessing because it seems like almost every area of life is getting easier. It’s a curse because you’re expected to make things exponentially easier for your volunteers, too!

That makes sense, though. Almost everything is getting easier.

  • I can’t remember the last time I had to ask for directions. (Thanks, Google!)
  • I can keep in contact with all my old friends and make new ones around the world. (Thanks, Twitter!)
  • I’m automatically reminded of my next appointment. (Thanks, Siri!)

 

But ministry? I don’t think ministry is getting easier—for leaders or volunteers.

It seems like no matter how advanced the technology gets for the local church, ministry is still tough work. (And this is coming for a guy who has worked for two software companies that specialize in ministry tools!)

But that begs the question: Should ministry be easy in the first place?

Ministry isn’t easy in the Bible

I suppose it makes sense that ministry isn’t necessarily easy. “Ministry” literally means “service,” and service usually involves some work!

Plus, when I look at what some of the characters in the Bible experienced while they did ministry, “easy” isn’t exactly the word that comes to mind.

  • Ministry wasn’t easy for the prophets. The Israelites planned to kill Moses a few times. Jeremiah was thrown in a pit. Daniel was thrown to the lions. Elijah was considered an enemy of the state.
  • Ministry wasn’t easy for the apostles, either. James was beheaded. John was exiled. Peter was crucified. Paul had quite the list of hardships (2 Corinthians 11:23–29).
  • Ministry definitely wasn’t easy for Jesus!
  • Paul doesn’t think ministry will be easy for the people he taught, either. He tells Timothy that “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12).

 

Ministry isn’t easy. It probably never will be.

So what can leaders do?

Your volunteers see everything getting easier around them, and they’re going to expect ministry to keep pace. How can you, as a leader, help them out—even though ministry will never be easy?

I can think of one huge way you can help them:

If you can’t make it easier, make it simpler.

 

Easy vs simple

“Easy” and “simple” are often thrown around as synonyms. However, when it comes to ministry, there’s a difference.

“Easy” means something takes less work.

“Simple” means something is less complex or convoluted.

You can make lots of things easier. But for the stuff that’s irreducibly hard work (like ministry!), you can always look for ways to make the process less complex.

For example: many people are afraid of public speaking—it’s been said that people are more afraid of public speaking than death and spiders! You won’t make that easier for the brave volunteers who agree to teach large group.

But you can make the process simpler for them. You can get them a script ahead of time. You can have all the props ready to go backstage (or onstage). You can do a mic check before the session begins. You can put a clock in the back of the room so they know how they’re doing on time!

You see the difference? You’re not making it easier for the volunteer to speak in public. But you are making the whole process surrounding the hard work a lot less complex. There’s less that the volunteer needs to think about—they’re free to focus on what they need to do.

It’s simpler.

You won’t make ministry easier. But you can definitely make it simple.

3 ways to simplify your children’s ministry

There are many ways you can start making your children’s ministry simpler. Here are a few to consider as you gear up for the beginning of the school year.

Consider fewer programs

Church consultant Tony Morgan recently warned churches not to launch too many programs this fall. Consider how many programs you have going on—and how your volunteers are spread across them. Is there a way for you to consolidate your programs? Can you cut some of the good programs to make the others great?

Make an internal communication strategy

Take an afternoon and plan out when you will send messages to your team. The more consistent you are in your messaging, the more consistent your volunteers can be in reading and responding to your messages! Some messages you will want to strategize may include:

  • Weekly reminder of Sunday morning’s agenda
  • Monthly lesson assignments
  • Encouraging notes for the team

Take an afternoon to determine when the best times might be to send these (and other) to your volunteers. By being consistent, you make the whole ministry experience simpler for your volunteers—they know when they’ll hear from you!

Consolidate your systems and services

It’s easier for volunteers to buy into one platform than many! While some of your volunteers will be quicker to pick up on digital tools than others, even the tech-savviest of them don’t want to get bogged down with too many platforms and services.

(This is one of the reasons we made Disciplr. It’s a single platform that handles all the shopping for Sunday school lessons, managing volunteers, and even your shopping lists for classroom materials. Plus, the lessons are cloud-based, so your volunteers don’t need to think about hunting down attachments in their inboxes.)

If you consolidate the tools you use, your volunteers will have less of a hassle learning the ropes—and you won’t find it as difficult to retain them! Again, this doesn’t make the ministry itself easier, but it sure does make it simpler!

Conclusion

Volunteers want to serve. And though you can’t make ministry easy, there are plenty of ways you can make it simpler for them!

And if you’re interested in getting some more tips for growing as a KidMin leader, I recommend you check out Greg Baird’s free guide: 8 Qualities of a Great Sunday School Teacher.

8-Qualities-Cover

How Do You Know If You Are Called To Full-Time Ministry?

God-calling

Several weeks ago I received an email from a fellow Kids Ministry leader.  He asked, “Can you help me as far as my calling?  How did you know you were called?  How can I affirm my calling?”  Such great questions – and I have to admit, I was a little intimidated.  I wanted so hard to give the “right” answers to his questions – so I kept thinking and thinking (and putting off writing about it).

I finally realized that there really isn’t a “right” answer.  However, I can share from my experience and the experiences of others to share with you some key factors that are definitely in the equation.  Here goes:

1)  The Desires Of Your Heart

From the time I became a Christian on February 26, 1989 I began sensing in my heart that God wanted me to become a full-time pastor one day.  Every time I prayed I sensed this.  However, I continued to talk myself out of it.  I told myself, “God hasn’t called you.  You just WANT to become a pastor because you love God and you love your own pastor.  This is all in your head.  This isn’t God.”  Somehow, I had convinced myself that God wouldn’t call me to do something that I WANTED to do.  I believed that God only calls people to do things that they would never want to do (like go to Africa).  That was the true test of obedience, right?  Wrong!

“Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you your heart’s desires. – Psalm 37:4

If you focus your heart and your attention on God, seeking His will, He will form and mold your heart’s desires into conformity to His will.  The reason I wanted to become a pastor was because I was seeking God with all my heart, and He was leading me in that direction.  Still, I struggled as to whether this “was just me” or if this was God.

2)  The “Call” Of God

After two years of struggling with whether or not I was supposed to pursue the path to become a full-time pastor, I went to Youth Camp with the expressed purpose of gaining clarity on this issue.  I told God, “Every other year, I came to Youth Camp for the girls and the fun.  This year, I just want to hear from You.  I need to hear from You.  I need to know whether or not this is your will for me to be a pastor.”  I prayed all week and never really felt a peace about the situation.

Finally, on the final night of Camp I knelt at the altar and said, “God, I am not leaving until I hear from You.”  And, I didn’t.  It got to the point that EVERY person had left the Sanctuary and gone outside for the festivities, but I was still praying.  Finally, after nearly an hour and a half of prayer – I distinctly heard God’s voice.  It wasn’t audible, but it was clear.  God showed me that it was most definitely His desire for me to pursue full-time ministry as a pastor and that He would equip me to do what He was calling me to do.”  I was so relieved and energized.

God speaks in many different ways.  It is rarely audible.  He sometimes speaks through gentle whispers in prayer, through His Word, or through circumstances.  But, if you feel like you are called to be in ministry full-time, you had better know that you know you have been called by God to do so.  Ministry is tough.  Often, it is stressful and unrewarding.  There will be moments when the only thing that keeps you going is that knowing deep down that God CALLED you to do this.

Don’t pursue full-time ministry merely because your parent or mentor wants you to, because it sounds interesting, or simply because you care about people. There is something that must be more powerful and purposeful within you as you are moved by the Spirit to teach the Word of God, to defend the truth, and to shepherd the people of God.  Ministry is not a profession, or a job. It is a calling of God.

And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.”Ephesians 4:11,12

Understand, ALL Christians (saints) are called to do “the work of the ministry.”  We are all called to spread the love of God and share the gospel with the dying world around us.  But, there is a definite calling that MUST come from God to pursue one of the five roles mentioned in this passage.

My pastor, Rod Loy, often says, “If you can imagine doing anything else, you need to do it.”  If you are called, ministry is not AN option, it is THE mandate.  Even on the difficult days, when ministry isn’t fun or rewarding, you have a sense of rightness and purpose – doing what you are supposed to.  If you find yourself daydreaming on a regular basis about being a finance manager, you should probably be doing that.

3)  Affirmation By Spiritual Leaders

Once you feel that you are called by God to pursue full-time ministry, set up a time to talk with your pastor, mentor, spiritual leaders.  Ask them their thoughts about you pursuing a life dedicated to full-time ministry.  Those who work closest with you will no doubt sense God’s hand on your life and can affirm the calling you feel you’ve received.  If your pastor or spiritual leaders do not feel this is a path you should pursue, spend more time in prayer.  It very well may be that you are called to minister to children (or youth or adults, etc.), but just not as your life’s sole purpose.  There are many volunteer (meaning, unpaid) pastors, evangelists, teachers who are just as much called, but they don’t necessarily “make a living” from ministry work.  The Apostle Paul is a great example:

“…and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them.”Acts 18:3

If you feel called to full-time ministry, then you should be presently serving in ministry in the local church.  Ministry flows out of who you are.  If you have the heart of a servant, you will begin serving God’s church in whatever capacity you are able.  Don’t wait to go to Bible College, receive a diploma or credentials, and then start ministering.  Ministry is not a destination.  Ministry is a calling.  Flesh that calling out every day in every way.  Remember…

“So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor.” – 1 Peter 5:6

The Most Rewarding Ministry Program I Have Ever Started

CIA 2001

I was looking through some old photos this weekend and came across the picture above.  It’s a shot from thirteen years ago that features our 2001 C.I.A. team.  C.I.A. stands for “Christians In Action.”  C.I.A. is our Summer Discipleship/Leadership Program for 4th & 5th graders.  As I looked at it, I realized that two of the eight members of that team are on our Pastoral Staff here at First NLR.

C.I.A. has been one of the most effective programs I have ever started in my 23 years of Kids Ministry!  We just celebrated our 15th graduating class.  The graduates of CIA go on to be some of the TOP leaders in the Youth Ministry. In fact, we have THREE pastors on our staff currently who are graduates of our CIA program.  We also just launched a full-time Missionary to East Africa who was a graduate of our very FIRST C.I.A. class at my current church.

“So, what does the C.I.A. program consist of?”  It’s a hand-chosen team of 4th & 5th graders who have shown an aptitude for leadership.  There is a stringent application process.  They meet every Thursday for 6 weeks during the Summer.   They commit to spending time with God in prayer and Bible study EVERY DAY for the six weeks.  They fast something each week (candy, desserts, cokes, video games, secular music, etc.)  On the Thursday meeting days, they pray for one hour, study/memorize God’s Word for one hour (tested on 2 memorized scriptures per week), learn a leadership lesson from one of our pastoral staff, and then spend the afternoon doing “ministry projects.”  These projects vary from working with the homeless, stuffing the church bulletins, cleaning the church vehicles, visiting and praying with shut-ins and Nursing Homes, etc.

It is a powerful ministry experience and leadership training! It has been THE most strategic and beneficial ministry I have ever started in Children’s Ministry.

What about you?  Do you have a Discipleship Ministry like C.I.A.?  Are you raising up the next generation of leaders?  Share some of your ideas in the comments section!

The Unmistakable Benefits Of Longevity In Ministry

Brian 1999

Me and my daughter, Ashton, in my office at church circa April 2000

Today is October 31, 2014.  It was exactly 15 years ago that my wife, Cherith, and I came to Arkansas to be the Kids Pastors at First NLR.  What a ride it has been!  We have been blessed to serve under two incredible pastors, Dr. Alton Garrison (the first 18 months) and Rod Loy (the past 13.5 years).  To serve on such an incredible team (many of whom have been along for MOST of the ride as well) is more of a blessing than I could describe.

There’s something to be said about longevity in ministry – especially longevity in ONE place.  I am so thankful to have been able to remain in one place for this long.  Sadly, this is not the norm.

Probably all of us in ministry have heard the stats, and they are troubling.  The average Children/Youth Minister only stays at his current church for about 18 – 24 months.  Some studies have stated that it may be more like 3 years, and others I have seen say it’s more like 9-11 months.  But suffice it to say, the tenure of the average Children/Youth Minister is way too short.

When you move on too quickly, you miss out on the incredible benefits of longevity in ministry:

  • Improved Perspective – the longer you stay in one place, the greater perspective you have.  You know the history of the ministry – what worked and what didn’t work.  You know the struggles and victories of the people in your ministry.  You are able to minister from an increased awareness of their needs.
  • Deeper Relationships – it takes time to get “beyond the surface” in relationships.  The longer you stay, the more highs and lows you experience with people.  The longer you stay, the more they trust you to “stick it out” and be there for the long haul.  When they trust you, relationships go deeper.
  • Increased Wisdom – the longer you stay, the more mistakes you will make.  Hopefully, you will learn from those mistakes and grow.  Then, you will gain wisdom and not make those same mistakes again.  In addition, it seems that around the 6th or 7th year of being at a place, suddenly people begin to see you as smarter.  You may not be that much smarter, but their perception of you begins to become more of a wise mentor than a “new pastor on staff.”
  • Sharper Skills – many people claim to have “ten years of Children’s Ministry experience” when in actuality they have “2 years of Children’s Ministry experience in five different churches.”  Too many leave a church and move to the next one once they have run out of ideas.  Then, they move to the next church and put the same two years worth of ideas into that church – and so on.  When you commit to be at the same spot for the long haul, it FORCES you to develop your skills beyond your comfort zone.  Your communication skills, leadership skills, and relational skills are stretched when you choose to stay beyond the “itch” for something new.  Don’t go looking for that “something new” elsewhere, develop that “something new” right where you are!
  • Unparalleled Fulfillment – there is nothing that compares to being able to watch the children you minister to grow up and become strong leaders in the church.  I now have had the privilege to perform marriages of kids who grew up in my Kids Ministry.  My right-hand man, our other Kids Pastor here at First NLR, was a 3rd Grader when I came to the church.  In fact, three members of our Pastoral Staff were once kids in my Kids Ministry.  There is nothing more fulfilling than seeing your ministry come full-circle.

Longevity in ministry may be rare, but I believe that is slowly changing.  As Kids Ministry Leaders begin to recognize the benefits of longevity, this will begin to become the norm instead of the exception.  I am so thankful to God that I have had the opportunity to serve First NLR for the past 15 years, and I pray that I have another 15 (or more) left in me!

What about you?  What are some benefits to longevity that I may have missed?

5 Things Every Ministry Leader Should Be Doing With Their Family

Family

This week I got an email from a fellow Kids Pastor.  It said, How hard do you push your children? On those days when someone from the church has been extremely rude, or when a party took place on a Saturday night and Sunday morning my kids show up and have to clean before worship service can even begin, or when they are just plain TIRED. Everyone gets frustrated from time to time because we are dealing with humans.  How do I, as a mother, know when I’m pushing them too hard.  The LAST thing I want is for them to look back one day and resent the time and energy that the Children’s Ministry takes.”

I totally understand the difficulty of this delicate balance.  My wife and both of my kids (12 and 14) are VERY involved in our Kids Ministry.  They LOVE it!  But, I don’t ever want to take that for granted.  I want to be proactively working to preserve that spirit and excitement for God, the church, and the ministry.  Here are 5 things I do to help make that happen.  Perhaps you can apply these to your family situation…

1)  Always talk positively about the church, the leadership, and the ministry.

I don’t mean wear rose-colored glasses and act like there are never any challenges.  I think if you act like nothing is ever wrong or difficult, then your kids are not fooled and they start to see you as “fake.”  Acknowledge the difficulties (cleaning up after a party when you didn’t plan on it, having to get up early to set up, etc.), but remind them that God has called your family to do an incredible task – lead kids to Christ.  Remind them what a privilege it is – and always make sure your tone and verbage communicate that YOU count it as a privilege.

2)  Guard them from “church drama.”

I know too many pastors and church leaders that come home speaking negatively and “dissing” the pastor and other leadership when there is a disagreement at church.  They do this to their spouse and in front of their kids.  Listen – your kids pick up on that.  When they see you hurting because of what church leaders or other pastors have done and said, it clouds their emotions and it is difficult for them to let go.  Don’t bring your “offense” home to your family.  They may end up carrying that bitterness LONG after you have already “made up” with the person you were feuding with.  Most of the time you don’t go back and tell your kids about the restoration of that relationship.  They are left feeling the effects of the bitterness that you ended up seeding in them (however unwittingly).

3)  Treat your kids just like everyone else.

 Although obviously they have to get up earlier than most and also tag along with me at times – other than that, I treat my kids just like any other worker on my team.  I expect the same out of them (not more, not less) than anyone else on the team.  I NEVER say to them, “You are my kid, so I expect you to do more than the rest of the team.”  Instead, I say, “Remember, you are a leader on this team – others are watching your example.  Let’s set the best example possible and lead people in the right direction.”  When you apply additional pressure to them simply because they are your kid, they will soon begin to resent the reason for that pressure.

4)  Pray as a family – for your pastor, your church, and the ministry.

It is very difficult to pray for someone or something regularly and be angry or discontented with them.  My family and I pray for my pastor and his family regularly.  We pray God’s blessings on him, the leadership, and the church as a whole.  This endears my pastor and the church to my kids.  Rather than driving them further from the church, it does the opposite.  There’s an old saying, “If you talk about someone to others, you will grow to hate them.  But, if you talk about someone to God, you grow to love them.”

5)  Serve with joy.

Let them see you smile as you pick up after the party from the night before.  Let them hear you rejoice about the opportunities to serve the Kids Ministry.  Talk about it as a FAMILY ministry.  Don’t let them feel like they are just “helping Mom” or “helping Dad.”  Instead, talk about the difference WE are making.  Include them in the joy that comes from serving God and His church.

It’s a blessing to have your family serving with you in the work of the ministry.  But, never leave the health of your family to chance.  Be PROACTIVE and PURPOSEFUL in planting the seeds of a healthy spirit of gratitude and love for God and the ministry.  It won’t happen by accident!

So, how about you?  What are some of the things YOU do to help your family stay healthy in their spirit and their attitude toward the ministry?  Share your thoughts in the comments section of this post!

5 Things That Will Destroy Ministry Momentum

 

momentum

We all love those moments in ministry when everything seems to be clicking.  The team is rocking, the place is growing, the numbers are climbing, and the morale is as high as its every been.  It’s what many leaders call “The Big MO” – a.k.a. MOMENTUM!

Momentum in ministry should NEVER be taken for granted.  You never know how long it will last.  You want to make the most of it and capitalize on it.  If you aren’t careful, you might lose it.  Here’s a quick hit list of some of the biggest MOMENTUM KILLERS.

1)  PRIDE – There is nothing worse than you starting to believe that the reason for the momentum is YOU.  Although it’s true great momentum can happen when a team is being led by a strong leader, there is not a single leader alive who can bring about momentum for an organization ALONE!  Give God the praise!  Give your team the credit!

2)  CONFLICT AMONG TEAM MEMBERS – With momentum comes growth.  When an organization grows, it’s systems can become stressed and strained as they are pushed to new limits.  This tension can sometimes lead to conflict.  Remember to keep the finger on the pulse of your leaders.  When you sense tension or conflict, remember to resolve it biblically (Matthew 18:15-17).  Do not allow feelings to fester.

3)  LAZINESS – Things come easier when you have momentum.  It’s easy to lay back and let the momentum do the work.  We all have a tendency when things are going great to spend a little less time in planning, vision casting, and organization.  Don’t let it happen!  It will bust your momentum!

4)  SIN IN THE CAMP – Momentum brings growth.  Growth brings more work.  Things get busy and it is easy for our personal prayer and spiritual time to fall to the wayside.  When you allow that to happen, you open the door for temptation.  Nothing will kill momentum like sin in the lives of the leadership team.  Don’t wait until you notice the problem – prevent it.  Make prayer and The Word a #1 non-negotiable priority in your life.

5)  TOO SLOW TO CHANGE/ADAPT – The world around us is changing – rapidly!  Children’s Ministry today doesn’t look much like it did ten years ago.  Organizations that don’t consistently look ahead and anticipate change (especially in today’s rapid culture) will be left behind!  If the culture changes LONG before you do, then momentum isn’t the only thing you will lose.

Momentum is a wonderful thing.  It is a precious gift from God.  Don’t squander it.  Be aware of these momentum busters – and guard it safely!

What about you?  Are you aware of other MOMENTUM KILLERS that I didn’t list?  Please share those in the comments section so that the other readers can benefit!