At my bridal shower a few years back the wisest lady gave me the greatest gift – a toolbox. It seemed so out of place among the plethora of pretty dishcloths and dainty dinnerware. I remember the ladies who were gathered around to watch me unwrap those little blessings exclaim, “Ah! That’s perfect! Good idea! You’re gonna need that, my dear!” It was only a few weeks later in the midst of flattened boxes, while hanging picture frames and building a Walmart book shelf that I finally understood. The pink tools in that pink toolbox were everything I needed to make our house – okay, our really tiny one bedroom basement apartment – a home.
When I started in children’s ministry, I was just as green as the day of my bridal shower but for entirely different reasons. It was not my first time serving children or the church but the first time that I was responsible for giving leadership and vision to children’s leaders and a ministry. I remember sitting to the massive wooden desk in my new office that first day thinking, “Oh dear… what do I do?” Since then it’s been four years and, while I don’t consider myself an expert or kidmin guru, I’ve learned a few things along the way that have helped me to grow as a leader to children, a process that is ongoing everyday.
One of the things I learned is that every leader needs a toolbox – maybe not a pink Craftsman one – but a storage of resources that inform, inspire and equip them for the challenges and opportunities they encounter.
Questions – I decided really early in my life that I would not be afraid to ask questions. Any time I’m unsure about anything, I ask. I’ve learned that there is always someone somewhere with an answer or a clue if I’m willing to ask. That first day in my office after an overwhelming moment of panic, I turned to the only tool I had at the time, a willingness to ask questions. I started to make phone calls; I popped across the office to my senior pastor; I chatted with my momma. I asked things like, “What curriculum is best and why? How do I recruit help? Do you send out ministry newsletters and what goes in them? Etc.” I gathered all the ideas from the dozens of questions I had asked and used them as building blocks for how to move forward.
My Peers – A lot of those questions of mine got directed to my peers in ministry. I found a copy of our denominational directory and our children’s ministry lead team on Facebook, and looked to the people who had already been doing this thing long before me. Our provincial director became a source of encouragement and guidance. A lead team member helped me narrow in on a curriculum that would work for our group. A university friend stocked me with ideas for games and outreach activities. And a newly found friend in ministry emailed me copies of their program schedule that helped me to shape our own for that first year. Whenever I face an opportunity or an obstacle now I never hesitate to look to those around me – new to the ministry or old hands.
Internet Resources – I know the internet is full of junk a lot of the time – I get that – but it’s also an overflowing treasure trove of free ideas, inspiration and encouragement. I’ve been using it like it’s going out of style these days and tucking away all the goodies for a time when I might need them. A few of my favorite places to explore online are:
Lots of stuff for purchase but I love the free resources!
I love the content I’ve gleaned from these guys!
Everything and anything for all areas of the ministry!
Pay for a subscription to these worship bulletins for children.
The Past – I’m not a proponent of living in the past but I’m a huge fan of learning from it! One of my greatest tools has been a willingness to learn from the past and experiment with old ideas for a new generation. I’ve gleaned inspiration from…
My own experiences and memories as a child growing up in children’s ministry (like ten foot banana splits, decorating with beach finds for a sea theme, puppet ministry). PS my mom was my children’s leader and she was – and still is – a genius in kidmin).
Retired and active kidmin volunteers in the church who share their experiences of serving in the ministry (Like my rediscovery of flannel graph. Even in a world of tablets and screen time I found that kids love the tangible stuff like seeing a story unfold on flannel and being a part of telling it together.
The Church Resource Room – Seriously. That place is a gold mine! It’s stocked with leftover supplies, games, curriculum, decor and more from previous seasons of ministry that with a little love and creativity can be reused and freshened up for a new crew of kids! Like when we pulled out the music DVDs in our old VBS kits for our weekly program or when we used the leftover knick knack craft supplies to build seek and find bottles. Go exploring! You never know what you’ll find!
My Mistakes – My favourite character from one of my favourite television shows will often say this classic line, “I’ve made a huge mistake.” He tends to say it mid-disaster and I have to admit I’ve been there myself. In the middle of the sanctuary with 90+ kids, shaving cream and cheesies – I’ve made a huge mistake. Dance music, lights out and 90+ kids throwing glow sticks in the sanctuary – I’ve made a huge mistake. (Note how these things always happen in the sanctuary!!!) That super boring lesson that solicited yawns from the kids – I’ve made a huge mistake. I wasn’t in kids ministry very long before I started making mistakes… Okay, it started on the first night and I’ve been doing it ever since. The great thing is I’ve learned from them. I debrief at the end of each night and consider why an idea didn’t work and how I would do things differently another time. I never waste a good mistake!
The Holy Spirit – None of the tools above or any others that you might have accumulated in your years of serving children even comes remotely close to the work of the Holy Spirit in the whole process. We really can’t do anything without Him! He is the true source of all inspiration and creativity. He can equip even the most unlikely to do His work in the world. He has all the information we could ever need. I’ve said from the start of my ministry that children’s ministry is the field of ministry which most naturally lends itself to relying upon one’s personal strength and skill. It’s so easy to become so lost in perfecting the details, the flow, and the excitement of a program, missing the very reality that this is still ministry. We need the Holy Spirit to show up, to work in hearts, to lead our gathering, to transform lives by His power. We can’t do that – no matter how stacked our toolboxes.
You won’t get it right every time in kids ministry. Sorry. You’ll face some days when you’re not sure how in the world to overcome an obstacle or fully embrace an opportunity. BUT with a toolbox stocked with these tools – and a few of your own – you’ll be just fine. I pinky promise.