When I asked my wife for her opinion on this column's title, she quickly responded: "Which one of yours will you write about?"
Last week, I spent several hours with a group of children's ministry leaders that represent a church denomination. We discussed a spectrum of topics, we brainstormed without barriers, we freely debated issues—because we drank coffee and enjoyed a good lunch; key ingredients for any productive meeting.
After several hours of conversation, countless stories I shared with varying levels of usefulness, and thick cookies with our late afternoon cups of joe, we began a session of questions/answers to address issues unaccounted for on the agenda.
Jon raised his hand and said he felt bothered by a specific concern and wanted advice on how to handle the situation. He went on to say, "I love working with the kids, and I love teaching lessons on weekends. Between teaching those lessons and other responsibilities, though, I'm frustrated that I never attend a church service. What should I do?"
Another colleague added, "When I do attend a service, I slip in the back for the last 25 minutes of the message. I admit, though, my mind is still back in my ministry area and I often times don't make it at all."
Around the now-very-quiet room, heads nodded.
At this point, anyone who has figured out how to lead in children's ministry and attend his or her church's weekend service will likely stop reading this column.
But if you share this same frustration, this column now has your full attention. This issue goes unspoken and unresolved in many children's ministries. Possibly most.
Should you accept the reality that weekend children's ministry work precludes you from attending your church? If not, then how do you overcome the obvious barrier that your ministry happens at the exact same time that big church takes place? Those seem to be the big questions, alright.
"What's your counsel?" someone asked me.
Thoughts raced through my mind like people rushing a Target store the day after Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, every response seemed predictable, hypocritical, and therefore, too deplorable for me to say. Here were a few of the cheap bargains you could pick up anywhere because they hold little practical value: Just make it a priority. Attend the midweek service. Listen to an audio recording. Read the biblical command to gather together. Ask someone to hold you accountable. Quit your whining; you obviously aren't committed to doing whatever it takes.
While that last one seems rather sensational, I admit I bought into its logic.
And I also admit that never successfully addressing this issue stands as one of my greatest children's ministry leadership failures.
That's right; I rarely attended a weekend church service during my years leading a children's ministry. Neither did the team I led, based on my great example. Or the folks who reported to them.
Sure, periodically we'd take time during a leadership team to bemoan the fact we didn't attend church. We tried establishing a rotation. We agreed to hold one another accountable. We fully realized work should not completely delete time for worship. We knew what the Bible says.
But then an issue would arise the following weekend during the service I planned to attend. I just had to take care of the situation. And you know the rest of the story.
The team tried, for sure. I never pursued the issue, though with the necessary relentless resolve. I fully own this failure.
Now that I'm in a different ministry setting that takes place Monday through Friday, I see this all-too-common problem in a different way. At the time, I saw commitment to the ministry operating well as justification to not attend a church service. I believed that my work was an act of worship. Now, though, I wonder if any tension on our ministry team (okay, every team has some tension) might have been affected from not attending church? My own stress levels? Burnout? Sin?
You know the answer.
And while your gander remains ruffled, please know that I likely gave every reason you're thinking of right now to rationalize my plight as "okay." Unfortunately, I always fell short of calling it a piece of my life that's "wrong." No excuses.
The question remains: What can you do?
Another person at the meeting reluctantly admitted that she attends one of her church's two services every weekend. "How?" we asked. She described the logistics, which everyone else (including me) had tried and failed. She slipped us a gem, though, when she mentioned her pastor's insistence. The action item this group agreed on: candid conversations with their senior pastors. Starting with an honest assessment of the issue—including calling it wrong.
A leader can be wrong, right?
After all, the pastor wants a spiritually strong leader. God wants a strong leader, too; especially one who stays connected with him. And honest. Teams need their leaders to get this right.
Everyone knows it's a good idea to learn from your mistakes, but it's a great idea to learn from someone else's. You've read about mine.
What will you do?
The children's ministry is a lofty charge for anyone to take on. Here you have the chance to lead young, curious minds into a deeper love for Jesus. At the same time, the risks seem to be everywhere. This resource can help anyone leading a children's ministry to understand and embrace their calling. Included are helpful tips for working with parents, staff, and volunteers, as well as critical guidance along safety issues.