If you’ve been in Kid Min for any length of time, you’ve probably seen it: “dead wood.” I’m not referring to downed spruce trees or bundles of dry branches, but to the “pesky few” who routinely “trip up” your mission, objective, and effectiveness in reaching and teaching kids for Christ. They’re routinely ineffective, poorly prepared, marginally relevant, refuse to change, shift, adjust or update, and emit all the warmth of a polar bear convention stuck in an igloo during an Arctic blizzard.
Take Mildred. She’s been teaching third and fourth grade SS since just after the discovery of fire. She’s not about to give up up her Mayflower-vintage “teaching” techniques, curricula, attitudes or approaches for some new-fangled paradigm or “radical” modern stuff, no siree, Bob! “But we’ve always done it this way” is her favorite refrain, and the bored-out-of-their-gourds kids in her class aren’t exactly tapping their toes in time.
Joe rushes into his class well after the kids arrive each week, dropping papers and splashing coffee on the table. His idea of “lesson prep” is reviewing the weekly lesson five minutes before class starts instead of three. Joe looks like an unmade bed and couldn’t “teach” his way out of a paper bag if the instructions were printed on the reverse side. When you suggest he might consider “other avenues and opportunities that may be better suited to your special gifts and skills,” and offer additional training and helps, Joe shrugs it off, claiming teaching kids “is my ministry” and that “the Holy Spirit is my guide” and therefore he doesn’t need any help.
Your fifth grade children’s church teacher, Penny, “has other plans” half the time and calls in as “unavailable” because “something came up” most of the rest. The kids see subs more often than they see the “teacher” who’s on the schedule. You’ve asked if Penny would like a break, maybe she’s burnt out or over-committed? She doesn’t return phone calls, reply to email or attend your monthly teacher meetings. But she adamantly refuses your offer to replace her.
You don’t want to offend anyone. You certainly don’t want to create a “tempest in a teapot.” You could ignore the issues, hoping they just magically disappear or take care of themselves. But that’s unlikely. And children’s ministries is suffering in the meantime. So, what do you do?
Tip #1: Tread lightly.
Tip #2: Bathe everything and everyone in prayer. Also consider:
It’s probably safe to say that most Children’s Pastors strive to ensure individual and team success in kid min. However, when someone is unable or unwilling to meet the obligations related to their commitment, you need a Policy for Unmet Expectations, and everyone needs to be aware of it up-front. Whether you come up with your policy yourself, in conjunction with a ministry committee, input from other seasoned kid min veterans, your leadership team or whatever, the goal of such a “policy” is to be specific and firm, but gracious. It should be based on the Matthew 18 model. Here are some suggestions:
- Pray before doing or saying anything.
- Treat people with respect and sensitivity. They are your most valuable assets.
- If problems arises, use a verbal reminder regarding expectations. State the problem clearly. Solicit honest feedback.
- Inquire about latent causes of an inability to meet expectations (illness, injury, work schedule, family issues, overslept, etc.). Don’t assume. Don’t jump to conclusions. Get the full story directly from the source. ASK. Then listen.
- If problems persist and do not involve a safety issue, send two written reminders regarding expectations and whatever else is appropriate, two weeks apart, usually by email. (If a safety issue involved, IMMEDIATE action is required.)
- Offer support. Ask: “What do you need to be successful in this area? How can I help? What can I pray about?”
- If a ministry worker is repeatedly unresponsive, suggest they “step aside” for a season, such as taking the summer off.
- If the worker does not step aside voluntarily, you plus a deacon or other designee (1 + witness) urge stepping aside. This should be done face-to-face, and in a spirit of gentleness.
- If the problem persists, determine the necessity of worker removal with your leadership for a reasonable amount of time (two weeks – one month or longer as deemed appropriate and necessary).
- Worker permitted to resume commitment if problem is adequately addressed. (This requires effective follow-up.) If the problem/issue persists, remove the worker for the rest of the teaching term. They may return to service at your discretion the following term if sufficient amelioration is evident and progress is being made.
The goal of this process should be to improve, enhance and support, not to browbeat or “power-trip.” Be sure to maintain appropriate documentation, and trust God to work in you and your worker to turn “dead wood” into something new, fresh, and vibrant!