Children’s Ministry Nightmares

gordon ramsey meme

One of my favorite shows right now is Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares…in fact…I may be slaughtered for this…but I love anything Gordon Ramsey! On my last two vacations I have visited Las Vegas and eaten at two of Gordon’s restaurants there…the Pub & Grill and Steak. BOTH the meals I had were incredible.

For those who don’t know, the premise of the show is that each episode Gordon tackles a failing restaurant and tries to work with the staff to turn it around. Without fail every week there are arguments and fall outs as Gordon Ramsey tells the owners and chefs just how bad the restaurant and food are!

And without fail EVERY episode either the owner or the Chef is in denial…they are often caught saying, ‘I would rate my food 9/10’ or ‘my restaurant is one of the best in the area.’ The truth is the owners of these businesses become BLINDED by their PRIDE.

In fact, although the general staff ALL knew how bad things were, the owners never heard their complaints. They were always deaf and blind to those close by them. Each week it took Gordon Ramsey, an expert from outside, like a bull in a china shop, to force changes and show the owners a better way!

Last year I invited a children’s pastor with tons of experience to visit my children’s ministry and give feedback on what he saw. We were looking at the best way to renovate our facilities and he had experience in this area. What I received was a ‘Gordon Ramsey’ style review of my children’s ministry that knocked me off my perch. In many ways it was like salt was being poured into my open wounds.

Although the critique was harsh and painful I learnt a lot from it and it gave me the kick in the teeth to get things moving!

So here are some things we can do to keep pride outside:-

 

  1. Always ASK questions
  • It is never the ‘learners’ who are full of pride
  1. Be your biggest critique
  • Remember nothing is perfect and changing is always necessary
  1. Remember where you were without God
  • Its hard to be prideful when your thankful.

 

What are some ways you safeguard yourself from Pride?

 

Summer Outreach Ideas

Children’s pastors today have more resources than ever before to reach children who live in the shadows of the steeple. However, based on the stories I hear children’s pastors tell about their summer outreach, I get the feeling we are missing the mark by only reaching kids who are already attending another church.

There are 22.7 million[1] elementary children within the US. Certainly there are more children to reach than those who are already churched.

Since there is no shortage of “outreach” resources available at the local Christian bookstore, what’s missing? I’m glad you asked… It’s strategy.

Even the best outreach resources will fail at truly reaching the lost if a few key strategic questions are not answered.

 

  1. WHO do you want to reach?

If you want to do outreach, you need to know who you want to reach. Different events will attract different people. For instance, if you’re interested in attracting the local Muslim population, you’re best not hosting a pig roast. Just saying!

We are located in a university town, which means a huge percentage of our parent population is drooling at the thought of their 5 year old child one day receiving a sports scholarship…so in the past we have hosted a sports camp VBS and saw 350 kids attend.

Figure out WHO in your community you want to reach and decide where exactly those people are located. The more specific you are about who you want to reach, the more effective you can be at reaching them!

Keep in mind, that sometimes to reach the WHO in your strategy may mean you need to go to them instead of trying to get them to come to you.

 

  1. What are their NEEDS?

Once you identify your target, you need to get to know your target. Learn their population makeup, their routine, their likes, dislikes, wants and most importantly their NEEDS.

The greatest outreach you can do is one that meets a need. This past summer our church began a summer long kids feeding program in an especially under privileged part of town. Why? It was birthed out of a need. The local school has an extremely high percentage of kids on the free lunch program, so when summer hit the parents of those kids didn’t buy more food for their kids to eat lunch at home. Through that summer we would feed up to 60 kids a day.

By getting to know the people you want to reach, you can decipher what you can do to reach them effectively.

 

  1. What is being MISSED?

A good question to ask yourself in prayer is “What are the needs of kids in my community who are most overlooked?” Consider crafting a special outreach just for them. Find creative ways to show them the love of Jesus and build a relationship.

Sometimes I get the feeling that churches are in a bubble & are blinded to what is around them! It is important to understand what is already being offered for families when strategizing your summer outreach.

VBS is the most commonly used summer activity. While there is nothing wrong with a church doing a VBS, we often fall into a rut of doing the same activity each year simply because it’s known and easy.

I would challenge you to think about where the children are who truly need Jesus this summer and find ways to go to them, throw a party in their honor, and let them see just how much Jesus loves them.

 

  1. What comes NEXT?

If your outreach has been a success and children have made a profession of faith in Christ you will need to be ready for the next step — integration into your church family.

Don’t forget to think about what the child/family’s first service experience will be like. Will their outreach leader be there to greet them at the door? Will they need a ride? Who will go out of their way to ensure each and every child continues to feel special? What if they do not have a Bible, or a friend?

 

I could of written a blog full of ideas for you and your ministry, BUT without a strategy you won’t find your niche and you will never be truly effective at reaching the people your church are called to reach.

 

Now it’s your turn…what do you think? What have I missed? What has worked for you?

[1] http://www.childstats.gov/americaschildren/tables/pop1.asp

The Art of Simplicity

This Saturday our Church rocked an incredible outreach block party in the roughest area of our neighborhood. It was our third year doing this and by far our best year, especially as far as our kid’s activities!

The outreach was a huge success reaching at least a 1000 people in the neighborhood. We handed out 300 backpacks with school supplies and we had hotdogs, chips and drinks for everyone. However, my favorite part was seeing the CROWDS of people hoarding around the kids activities. Everything we did was a HUGE success and it was all incredibly SIMPLE.

So here is a list of what we did:-

  • Face Painting (ONLY small & simple cheek designs though!)
  • Colored hairspray
  • Removable Tattoos
  • Balloon twisting
  • Old kids Craft – DUCT tape art – Decorating composition notebooks
  • Younger kids craft: chalk & black paper, bubbles & play dough
  • Obstacle races
  • Free play (hula hoops, ropes, balls)
  • Kids fun run

As you can see there was NOTHING groundbreaking! Everything I needed fit into a car and really once you have a base of supplies the cost of maintenance is pretty minimal.

With just a 10 volunteers we were able to bring TONS of smiles to kids faces! I’m learning more and more that Children’s ministry isn’t rocket science and that simplicity carried out with a high standard is often the key to success.

I believe without the free meals or the free backpacks I could still go out with gazeboes, tables and all these activities to any local busy park and draw a crowd!

After all what parent would deny their child free face painting or a free balloon animal?

 

So what simple things do you do to reach out to your neighborhood?

 

Check out our awesome recap video from our days events!

Lessons from my first year in Full-time ministry…

As I approach the last few days of my first year in full-time ministry I wanted to reflect upon a few of my experiences and the lessons I have learnt from them.

It was a year ago this month that I left my family in England and I jumped on a plane with all my possessions in one suitcase to start a new life in America as a Children’s Pastor in Urbana, IL at Stone Creek Church. I had just finished Bible College, was turning 22 years old and yet I was somehow favored with an incredible opportunity to run the Children’s ministry of a large church with a monthly attendance of around 250 kids!

This has definitely been a crazy year, a rollercoaster of ups and downs. I have had some great wins and yet made some big mistakes too. There have been times I have loved my job and times when I wondered if I was really even called to ministry!  Through it all I have learned a few things; but working along side some seasoned Veterans…I am constantly reminded I have a long way to go and lot more to learn!

Here are my thoughts….

1.    God Equips who he calls!

As you can imagine when I came to America I was taking on quite a role…I definitely don’t think I could be accused of dipping my toes into full time ministry. I was entering a different culture, taking on a lot of responsibility…and entering a Church where I would be the youngest pastor taking on the least healthy and most important ministry in the church. It was a mess and quite frankly I was out of my depth….It was in this mess that I soon realized that God’s grace was made perfect in my weaknesses…I began to see that through my first few months God was equipping me for the task he had called me. He didn’t just call me and leave me high and dry!

2.    Find a Rhythm…doesn’t take 20 years to get burned out!

In Bible College we were often warned of the difficulties of full time ministry…especially the dreaded ‘burn out’.

I always thought it would take years to reach such a place; but in hindsight a year in ministry has been hard enough and there have been a number of times when I couldn’t have even imagined the possibility of lasting 1 more year…let alone another 19!

When I came to America I came with many ideas, plans and strategies…and as a single guy…I had plenty of time on my hands to implement them! I worked long hours 7 days a week and I didn’t bother taking my weekly days off because I was excited and ready to go! My work schedule led to choosing fast food over cooking and relaxing over exercising in my spare time. Although I soon felt the effects in both my effectiveness and my fatigue! Balance and a work rhythm are the key to success!

Slow and Steady might not win you the race…but it will ensure you finish it!

3.    Don’t forget to Love people…

In my first few weeks at Stone Creek we had our annual ‘trunk or treat’ kids event which I helped partially organize…that event over two locations was a huge success drawing around 1700 people…throughout the year we have had some great events and made some great strides forward with the children’s ministry services…but the biggest wins for my ministry have been the relationship I have with my families and my ministry to the kids.

Events are great and improving systems is important…but my primary role is to be a minister to kids.

Some of my greatest moments have been praying for my sick kids in the hospital, talking to my kids whose parents are going through divorce or visiting my kid’s sports games or schools. In essence those are the things I am called to do…in order that my kids will know God’s love…the rest is just a bonus!

4.    Ministry is more than just Loving people…

With all that being said…Ministry isn’t all about loving people…in fact most of your week isn’t spent around people at all…unless your one of the lucky ones!

Ministry is actually more to do with leadership than anything else. One of our main roles as ministers is to recruit and equip people to do the work of Christ. Full time ministry has been just as much about managing a team of volunteers as it has been about ministering to children….this is especially true for Children’s ministry! You will organize events, clean up messes, move furniture, organize teaching, arrange volunteers and much more…Pastoring people is important…but to be successful in ministry you have to do a little more than love people…

5.    An open door in difficult times doesn’t equate to God’s will…

My first year in full time ministry has definitely been a rollercoaster. There have been some incredible moments…and some moments I would rather forget. However naturally it has only been in the difficult times when I have questioned if I was really meant to be where I am.

The funny thing is that opportunities only seemed to arrive in the difficult times and never in the successful times. It is easy to think that an open door should be walked through…but its immature to believe every available opportunity is a God opportunity…and its worse to think that just because things are difficult God is moving you on!

I’ve often found that great favor comes when we are faithful to God and his purpose for your life!

Life’s a Happy Song?

It pains me to think how easy my life is and just how smoothly I live through it. I have bumps in my own life, but rarely do they stop me or send me off course. As I drive around and I live my life I see people’s needs but they rarely unsettle me either. But as I think about the World I am slowly exposed to its harsh realities; to the suffering and struggles of people every day. When I contemplate the vast extent of the need in this World; I realize I  should be shaken and it should be difficult for me to live as I do.

I am learning more and more that there is OBVIOUS need and INDISCREET need.

Obvious = We see it & can’t escape it. It slaps us in the face as we live our life; we soon become Numb to it!

Indiscreet = What you can’t see; can’t hurt you! Hidden, rarely thought of and hardly ever considered.

In many ways our role as the Church should be to make the INDISCREET —> OBVIOUS! In the poorest area of our town we are acting to do this; first through our Thanksgiving Big Give and now through ‘Project Angel Tree’. We have identified 30 families (around 66 kids), in one area of the City, where at least one parent is incarcerated and we are seeking to make their life that little bit easier at such a commercial and expensive time of the year!

We are throwing them a Christmas Party; providing them with groceries, Christmas decorations and a gift for each Child. As I rang around and spoke to Parents I began to realize the difference this will make. It’s eye opening to realize that not all people approach Christmas with excitement and not all people expect anything special!

As I asked Parents what their Children would need/want I was shocked when a number asked for ‘sleeping bags’ or ‘diapers’ instead of shiny toys or video games. We rarely appreciate the NEED around us. We are blind and ignorant to what people go through! But we must learn to SEE NEED; not just blind ourselves to it. And we must learn to see the NEED as the CALL.

‘Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed.

Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows.’  (Isaiah 1:17)

We must seek to make the NEEDS of this World Famous and we should Fight to do something about them!

Open to Anyone

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Last week I spent a week helping lead the kids ministry for a Christian camp. Such a ministry can often require a sizeable team and we therefore had to look further a field for volunteers who would be willing to take the week off work. Two of the recruits were a young non-Christian couple; one of whom had grown up in the Church. Both excelled throughout the week, showed a real love for the kids and by the end of the week had given their lives to Jesus.

 

How amazing is that!? It was a great week…but one thing caused me sadness. Before the week had even begun I separately spoke to two mature Christians who were both unhappy that the Church leadership would allow non-Christians on the team. Their concerns were understandable and they weren’t out to hurt anyone; but I was struck with the thought that at times the Church is so hesitant to allow people to belong that we end up hindering people from experiencing God’s love.

 

The Church community cannot afford to be a closed community with a member’s only lounge that others can’t access! We must allow people to get up close to see our lives and experience his love. When we allow people to belong before they believe or behave; we simply model grace. Jesus’ perfectly modelled it with Judas. A man who has robbing him and who he knew would betray him… yet a man he allowed in his life from dawn til dusk, for 3 life changing years. Jesus withheld nothing from him, treated him like the others, sending him out to heal (Mark 6), embracing him instead of rejecting him…he even washed his feet.

 

The challenge is to make a way for people to belong in your life and your Church. What people experience through belonging will soon break what they believe and bring their behaviour into line. Lives will change when they are allowed to get close enough to experience God’s Love.

Down and Dirty

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After a week on a youth camp in Wales I have possible just had one of the messiest times of my life. A side from the sweat that comes with grafting at such events; I have giant scratches from a water slip n slide and the smell of fish trapped in my clothing from fish-gut infested water we dunked the kids heads in! I saw teenagers hurl up their entire weeks food in front of me due to the games we played and others just constantly caked in mud from rolling down hills. Yet not everyone got messy; some people held back  as they were afraid to get their hair wet or their clothes ruined.

It all got me thinking though that as Christians we are called to get messy! We are called to lead messy lives! But some of us don’t…we count the cost & decide its not worth it! You see the truth is that people are messy; their lives don’t fit in the box that we would put them in.

For the non-Christian that if fine because they can care about number 1 and number 1 only! But as Christians we are purposed and called to enter the mess of other peoples lives to bring life and peace! We are called to get down and dirty! The cost may be great but the rewards are worth it! When we choose to get involved; we choose to make an impact in the lives of others! We get messy to bring hope to the hopeless!