Long term ministry in a specific context ought to be the normative ideal for the majority of people who respond to God’s call on their lives. Yet it isn’t. Not even close. In our restless commuter culture–it probably would be better to use the plural for culture here, given that there are myriad cultures which comprise the broader USAmerican milieu–in the Western world, relocation has become the norm, even if it means moving to a different church within the same community.
The reasons for this are legion. They often collaborate to form a synthesis of compelling influences which argue for repetitive transitions before families even have a chance to establish ministry effectiveness in their current places of service. For example, people are restless, feeling as if they should move on after a brief time (1-5 years). Money considerations often come into play. As a corollary, the grass may seem greener elsewhere, and elsewhere yet again ad infinitum. The senior leader(s) seem(s) unreasonable in terms of expectations. Expectations fall short of promises. Disillusionment colors decision-making. Job satisfaction declines, precipitating a move. Marital and family dynamics necessitate a move.
I do not begrudge others their choice to move when God calls them to do so. I simply wish to raise the possibility that long-term commitment to a specific ministry context has merit, especially if the nature of the ministry is local church pastoral leadership or support. In both of the ministry situations I have enjoyed, the ministry initiatives I suggested and the leadership decisions I have made were (and are) developed out of a context of warm interpersonal relationships built on mutual respect. In seeking God’s direction together, the trust we developed formed a grid through which we could give honest feedback and maintain gracious accountability.
In my current situation, the fact that my fellow volunteers have invested their time and energy over the long-term inspires me to press on faithfully. The pastor has proven his support tangibly on numerous levels. The Deacon and Elder boards have provided thoughtful oversight, informed by direct participation. Many of the parents have begun to get involved, although there is room for more to be involved at some level (My goal is 100% participation of parents who are screened members of the church in the campus activities and 100% participation of all parents at home with their children. Yes, I know this is idealistic and likely unrealistic. But why aim low when our kids’ lives are at issue? More on this in another post).
So here is the point I am trying to make. Find a church. Stick with it. Don’t give up at the first sign of trouble. Make sure you leave a church on positive terms, not negative, insofar as it is within your power to determine the timing of your departure. Find a church which will allow you and your family to be yourselves and which has an ethos of participating in the process of ministry as a support to you.
More hints of fostering longevity:
- Don’t go to a church simply because they have the best salary package. There may be a very good reason they are offering so much money, but then again they may simply be looking for a professional hireling who will do the ministry for them. Ask them about the reasons why former Children’s Pastors have left with an ear toward the reasons behind the reasons, and that should help flesh out the situation.
- When you are interviewing for a position, whether salary or volunteer, ask the church about their budget. Financially, how are they supporting the children’s ministry? Will you need to do fund raisers?
- Also, ask them about their strategic ministry planning. Do they have a master plan? How fluid is this plan? Sometimes master plans can spell the death of a church or organization if they do not allow for fluid contextual decision-making as ministry demands change. Yet, you will want to know the vision and preferred direction of the church.
- Specifically ask the Senior leader his philosophy of children’s ministry. If he says something to the effect that that is your job and not his, then smile and keep looking for another situation. Why? It likely means that he does not want to be bothered with “childcare” concerns. He would rather focus on “real” ministry.
- Develop deep friendships throughout the church. Cross-pollinate your friendships. That is to say, don’t only hang with people who are directly involved in on-campus children’s ministry activities. Support other ministries as well. This will help minimize feelings of territorialism. Territorialism breeds contempt, burn-out and quick transitions out of the church.
- Don’t tolerate, nor participate in gossip. If you have something to say to a person, say it to them personally in a gracious way, preferably with a witness if it involves dealing with the opposite gender. If someone wants to tell tales to you, direct them to the person with whom they should be conversing. Gossip will find you out and hurt your credibility.
- Make time for your family. Your family is the priority. If the church demands that you cut into legitimate family time, then the church is more concerned with its need to conduct its campus business than your need to be a family. Ask those questions before signing the contract. If the church is family friendly, they will thank you for asking. If your family is neglected, you will not last for long in the church. But if it is given priority, you will become an example to a culture which is starving for positive family role models. As an added bonus, your kids will be less likely to become the proverbial troubled “PK’s.”
Hopefully this is helpful.