“But I have never taught children before!”
it’s probably the most common excuse I’ve heard. Building a children’s ministry team in a church where 50% of the members are first generation Christians is no small feat. Many of my volunteer team had never attended Sunday school as a child, let alone taught a class before. I knew it order to get new Christians volunteering in children’s ministry, I needed a game plan to make them feel confident that God could use them. It was my own childhood memories of picking blackberries with my father that gave me some inspirational keys to recruiting newbies on to my team.
When I was young, I loved to go blackberry picking with my Dad. He was an avid berry picker, driven by his appetite for an evening slice of pie. With an expert by my side, I was more than happy to venture out to the field behind our home, where the thorny bushes waited for us. Dad would select a large two-quart stainless steel bowl for himself and give his young volunteer a small pint size bowl for myself.
Dad would always lead the way, stomping down a path through the tall, summer grass. Arriving at the berry bush, He would survey the plant, choosing the best spot for me to reach the fruit.
Before long I would grow impatient with the lower berries. Pointing up at the plump juicy fruit that got good sunlight. I would call out “Daddy, can you help me get those berries?” Dad would stop picking berries, hunted down a discarded plank and strategically plopped it down for me. With a few hard stomps into the bush, He steadied the wobbly platform. Grabbing my hand he guided me up the rickety plank. As a new inexperienced picker, I mentally hummed to myself, “One for the bowl, one for me, one for the bowl and one for me!” A few minutes later, Dad would hear me call out again “Dad, I need a new spot” Without a hint of impatience, He would set his berry bowl down and walk over to reset the plank at another spot, ripe for picking. Who wouldn’t love to go blackberry picking with a dad like that!
When leading a team of volunteers that have little experience in church ministry, I thought of my Dad and how we berry picked together. The leadership qualities that he showed helped me to understand how to lead a young ministry team.
- Know your volunteer. Give thought to the age, experience, spiritual maturity and personality of your volunteer. Know what size ministry is the right challenge for them. My dad knew me and knew what size bowl was right for me.
- Know the Way. As much as possible know and understand the environment that you are putting your volunteers in. Think through each ministry responsibility and understand where the danger areas are within that ministry. For children’s ministry, you are going to be careful before putting your newbie volunteer in a conversation with an unhappy parent or working with a misbehaving child. My Dad had been to that field year after year. He knew which bush had the best fruit.
Smooth out the path for the team. Smoothing out a path for your team involves thinking through the barriers that bring discouragement. In church ministry barriers could be:
Weak team: Work hard at building a strong team that supports one another, so your volunteer never feels alone or trapped. When you have all your ministry slots filled, write up additional ministry descriptions, so that you are always recruiting, and always have a surplus of help. Every good team has some team members on the bench. Some of my volunteer opportunities were to be a substitute teacher, they knew they were on the bench, but ready to jump into the classroom with little notice.
Inadequate training: Provide a wide variety of training, not every volunteer can attend group trainings. Buy good books, subscribe to good magazines, send out links to video trainings and mentor, mentor, mentor!
“I can’t do that!”: This is a broad excuse that could be rooted in a variety of areas. When you hear this kind of a response, pull the person away and talk to them one on one. Pry a bit to see where this is rooted. Do they feel spiritually inadequate? Do they feel overwhelmed by the circumstances or is there just a need for good mentoring.
As a good team leader be intentional to make a smooth path to guide volunteers onto your team. Thinking through the barriers ahead of time will give the Holy Spirit a chance to give you solutions to offer the reluctant volunteer.
- Strategically choose a place for success. A good leader carefully places each volunteer and gradually moves them forward to more challenging ministries. As a children’s ministry director, I often had my newbies taking the offering, then moved them into teaching a memory verse or working a puppet, gradually developing them into a storyteller. When they want to reach for a more difficult ministry you take the time to prepare them so that they will be successful. You walk alongside them as they attempt a more challenging task.
- Give them the best fruit. Allow your volunteers to experience the most rewarding ministry. Prior to Easter, I would do a training on leading a child to Christ. When Easter came I made sure it was my volunteers praying with the children for salvation. Your volunteers will be so excited watching a life be transformed before their eyes. I don’t think there’s a better way to turn your volunteers into lifetime children’s ministers than allowing them to lead a child to Christ.
- People before Tasks. A good team leader realizes that it’s all about the people: The people that are being ministered to and the people that are doing the ministering. My Dad had an incredible amount of patience with his young volunteer, his goal was more than just collecting berries. He found great joy just having me on his team. Church members will notice that you give more than you take, making your ministry one of the most popular to serve.
Lead your ministry team with genuine care and they will love serving alongside you.