“We got tired of wasting our time,” Billie sighed as she tucked an errant wisp of auburn hair behind her ear. “Having our names in neon wasn’t important to us,” added her husband, Maury. “Developing a vibrant, dynamic, pedal-to-the-metal children’s ministries and raising the next generation of spiritual champions was.” Lean and lanky, Maury paused as his blue eyes snapped. “We were asked to step in and run children’s ministries when it was a disaster area. We assessed the situation, surveyed the damage and tried to do what church leadership said it wanted. But every time we tried anything fresh, innovative or different, the pastor and the board blocked us.”
“It was like they were talking out of both sides of their mouth,” nodded Billie. “We never knew which way to jump.”
After a few years, Maury and Billie stopped trying and chose to take their considerable gifts and talents elsewhere.
Ministry success – a threat?
“The senior pastor was a great guy,” Johnny, a former children’s pastor, observed. “I liked him personally. But every time kid min made some progress, started gaining traction and surging forward in terms of numbers, enthusiasm, energy, and responsiveness – he’d get intimidated.” The thirty-something seminary grad with more than a dozen years of children’s ministries leadership experience eventually resigned his position at a large suburban church. “It was like he saw my ministry success as a threat,” Johnny sighed. Johnny now teaches fourth and fifth graders at a Christian school. Kids, parents and administrators love Johnny – and he’s having a blast.
It wasn’t working
“What they’d been doing clearly wasn’t working” explained Carla, a seasoned children’s ministries leader. The data were abundant – and grim. Plummeting attendance. Apathy. Bickering. Departing families. Folding programs. The children ministries budget was a permanent basement dweller. Carla tried tactfully alerting a “blissfully oblivious” church leadership that unless something changed fast regarding their view of ministry to children and the church placed a higher priority on kids, it would likely close its doors in the next ten to fifteen years.
The round file
When asked to address the situation, Carla drafted a strategic plan that integrated children into every avenue of church life and placed them as a higher institutional priority. “The pastor tossed it in his round file.”
The main “issue” surrounded the strategic plan wasn’t whether or not it was on target, or even if it would “work.” It was the pastor’s ego. He took it as a personal affront that someone had the audacity to draft ideas or goals other than him. “The atmosphere was stifling and suffocating,” Carla explained. She left, too.
“Our committee would meet, set goals, work through an agenda, discuss, decide, and keep the appropriate people informed,” said Mike and Linda. “Then somewhere down the road the pastor and the board would cut us off at the knees, countermanding or changing everything we were working on. Not just occasionally, but all the time.”
The tail wagging the dog?
“It was like the tail wagging the dog,” Mike rocked back on his heels. Linda elaborated, “Children’s ministries was never considered ‘important enough’ to be invited to board meetings. So the board met without any representative from children’s ministries. They never asked for our input, never engaged the kids personally, never knew what was going on in kid min, but made unilateral decisions affecting kid min.”
Mike chuckled, shaking his head, “Decisions? Is that what they were? They always sounded like royal edicts to me.” Linda jabbed him with an elbow, grinning. “We were not only excluded from the decision-making process about our area of ministry responsibility, we weren’t even part of the discussion. Then they’d act surprised when we’d say, ‘Uh…. Excuse us? Why are we here?’”
“The board wanted to run the show in a vacuum,” Linda chimed in, “so we let ‘em.” Seasoned ministry veterans, this husband-wife team now serve as executive directors for a thriving national youth ministry.
The common thread in the above stories? Dedicated children’s ministry professionals who are stymied, stifled and suffocated out the door by overbearing, unsupportive, unresponsive or insecure church leadership.
What’s going on?
Sound familiar? What’s going on here?
Is a flourishing children’s ministry that “threatening”? How come some church leaders “get” kid min and others are clueless? How come some approach ministry holistically, as a team, while others are busy building (or protecting) their own personal fiefdoms? How do you tell the difference – before hitting that proverbial “brick wall”? When? Who? How? If you’re part of a ministry “team” that’s crumbling or dysfunctional – what are your options? Are there times when it’s best to call “the horse dead” and move on? When?