Thursday, July 13, 2006

What are you anyway, like Richard Baxter on Cool Aid? Defining the three primary roles of the Children’s Minister

Five years ago I didn’t believe in the vocation of Children’s Minister. I had never seen one, so they had to be imaginary. Right? If you are reading this you know that I’ve moved beyond that position. In fact, God has called me as Children’s Minister to serve his little ones. But I often get the question, “What does a children’s minister do?” I have wrestled with that same question. What follows is a selection from my working ministry model. In it I am attempting to define my roles through three dominant paradigms for vocational children’s ministry.

The Children’s Minister has many roles. One way to better understand these roles is to examine three identifiable ministry styles. These divisions are speculative. Each style will overlap at points. But by understanding the components one can better integrate them into a holistic ministry model. The three styles are the Shepherd, the Manager and the Visionary. The primary distinction of each is the core competencies that they emphasize. To maximize effectiveness one must integrate and balance all three within their ministry context.

The children’s minister can be a Shepherd. Such a person prefers the title “Children’s Pastor.” This is the spiritual dimension of the ministry. The Shepherd focuses on the Word and prayer. Personal knowledge of Christ is essential. As one Christian educator wrote, “Preparation for teaching includes also personal knowledge of Christ. It is not enough to know about him – we must know him. Teaching never can be effective which is only retelling of what some other one has said . . . We must be able to tell what we ourselves know. Personal friendship with Christ is a necessary qualification for one who would be a teacher in the school of Christ.” (Miller 1913, 29.) The shepherd begins each day asking, “What will God do in our church today?” This person cannot live without the mandate of God’s call. The style of minister has a deep concern for the welfare of children, parents, volunteers and the unreached. He/she teaches the Bible, shares the gospel and leads the children in worship. The Shepherd might ask a parent, “How is your child developing spiritually? How can I be praying for your family?” The Shepherd is devoted to prayer. As another Christian educator wrote, “A spirit of earnest prayer should be the living soul of all your conduct. While your eye is fixed upon the children, your heart should be lifted up to God. You should sit down between them and the fountain of life, and, while opening, by instruction, a channel to their hearts, seek to draw the living stream by prayer from heaven. Your closet should be the constant scene of their welfare.” (Angell 1834, 77.) The Shepherd is concerned that the children encounter God in worship. The authors of Children Matter write, “When the children of God are gathered together, awareness of God’s presence evokes the natural response of worship. Therefore thought the main emphasis of the Sunday-morning hour is to help children understand the biblical story, learning should not be separate from worship, just as worship cannot be completely separated from learning.” (May et al. 2005, 251.)

One danger in overemphasizing this role is to assume that God will supernaturally compensate for poor planning. The Shepherd might describe their ministry as, “Just loving people and teaching them the Word.” Conflict resolution is one situation that requires this pastoral heart. Loving the children is natural for the Shepherd. Without this role the ministry would lack depth and spiritual power. The Shepherd will be drawn to tasks such as home visits, Bible study and prayer.

The children’s minister can be a Manager. Such a person prefers the title “Director of Children’s Ministries.” The primary function of this role is administrative. In this capacity the minister plans, executes and evaluates the programs of the church. Organization is essential. The Manager begins each day by asking, “How can we stay on plan today?” This style of minister cannot live without a clear roadmap to achieve measurable goals. In this capacity he/she oversees facilities, staffing, supplies and schedules. This style minister strives for excellence and order in all things. The Manager might ask a parent, “Are you available to make snacks next Wednesday?”

One danger of overweighing this area is making the system more important than the people. “We get so busy running the ‘corporation’ and managing programs that children, relationships, and community get lost.” (May et al. 2005, 148.) In this role policies and safety concerns are addressed. Training and supervision of volunteers is natural for the Manager. Without this role the ministry would lack structure and effectiveness. The Manager will be drawn to tasks such as event planning, volunteer scheduling and record keeping.

The children’s minister can be a Visionary. Such a person thinks of himself as a leader/communicator. This role extends beyond the Children’s Ministry and affects the whole church. The Visionary influences others to fulfill God’s purposes. One such leader wrote, “As we see the world’s agenda for our children, we sense a tremendous urgency for parents and for the church to bring forth an even stronger agenda for God in the lives of our children. Our vision for children must be greater than the world’s vision. May it never be said that we stood by and watched while the world molded our children” (Bethlehem Baptist Church 2004, 6.) The Visionary becomes a catalyst for change as they spread their passion to others. This style of leader develops, empowers and encourages others. He/she begins each day by asking, “How can we spread this vision?” The Visionary cannot live without a compelling destination?” This style minister might ask a parent, “Are you mentoring anyone? How is God using your gifts and talents to build up the church?”

One danger in overemphasizing this aspect is neglecting those who cannot immediately contribute to the vision. In this role the minister will often be an advocate for the importance of children. The Visionary will say things like, “The church is fully the church—the people of God—only when the children are present.” (May et al. 2005, 143.) Networking and improving one’s skills is natural for this Visionary. Building teams and equipping others is essential for such a person. Without this role the ministry would lack urgency and direction. The Visionary will be drawn to tasks such as writing mission statements, writing notes of encouragement and recruiting new volunteers.

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