Friday, April 20, 2012

What Kind of Leader Are You?

Most teachers agree that some children can be a real challenge to work with. Yet they also agree these years are a critical time when it is important to help students get established in their faith, their church, and their lifestyle.

Some of your VBS students probably grew up in your church and are from Christian families. If they ever decide to leave the church or their Christian beliefs, many children's workers feel the seeds of departure and of rebellion will be sown during the junior high and middle school years. One Christian educator said, "Kids walk in the front door of the church when they are four, and out the back door when they are 14!"

How can you, their leader, catch those students before they get out the back door, or, better yet, how can you make the Christian life and fellowship in the church so meaningful and attractive to every student that they won't even head for the exits?

To some extent, you have already answered that by your willingness to serve as a leader—VBS, Sunday school, Bible club, or other type of group leader. Yet it is important to nurture and develop in yourself the qualities and skills you need to relate in a helpful way to children.

Here are ten questions to ask yourself:

1. Do I love students?

People who minister successfully—to people of any age level—appear to have few behavioral, physical, educational, or other kinds of characteristics in common. They are from many backgrounds and come in all shapes and sizes.

In face, you don't have to look young, own a sports car, or be the best at video games to communicate with young students. It's not necessary for you to like their music, their food, or to keep up with them physically. People who minister effectively to students are of every age and every personality, and the methods they use to achieve results are wide-ranging.

Yet they all have one thing in common: they love students. So ask yourself, do I love young students? If you're going to reach a young person for Christ, that's a necessity!

 2. Do I like students?

To some extent we can love someone and yet not like him. The Christian leader, however, must not only love the students he is trying to reach for Christ, but he needs to work hard at liking them too.

There might be students in your group who don't smell very good, don't talk very well, have bad habits, and do things you don't approve of—but you're going to have to like them if you're going to reach them—and keep them—for Jesus Christ.

In fact, friendship is one of the most important things you can do. Your young students will respond to your friendship long before they will respond to what you try to teach them.

3. Do I expect something good to happen?

Are you excited and optimistic about your work with students? Do you have vision? Are you determined to accomplish something for Christ with your students? Do you realize your results may take a long time to happen?

If you're after instant results, you'd better microwave some brownies or order a pizza; working with children requires a vision for the future and the willingness to trust God to bring about results in His timing.

4. Am I eager to take responsibility?

Being a leader requires willingness to take responsibility and get involved. Although they may never admit it, young students are looking to adults for leadership, guidance, and caring; they will respond when adults show they care and want to be involved in the lives of the students.

Even when the going is rough, a servant leader needs the ability to persevere and keep going. You can't fall apart when no one shows up for a party—or when twice as many come as were expected! Make the best of the situation. When you do, the Lord will use your willingness and service to make something good out of the circumstances.

As a VBS leader you are influencing students in many important ways, some of which you will never know. Don't count on everything happening immediately; realize that some seeds you are sowing in the lives of your students may not bring about visible results during your VBS—it may take years! 

5. Am I innovative and creative?

Creative ideas are valuable only when they are actually implemented. A creative children's leader must be able to dream up ideas as well as make those ideas happen. In addition, creative leaders must be able to take someone else's idea and make it a reality in their own group.

There are many ways to get good ideas. Most VBS programs are designed to provide you with simple, easy-to-use ideas. In addition, it is very important to listen. Listen to the students. Listen to the parents. Listen to other children's ministry workers. And from what you hear, you should be able to adapt the Bible Club materials to work with your group.

Always be open to new ideas or new ways of doing things. Just because you haven't seen something work, don't assume it won't work. Even if you tried something before and it didn't work, be willing to give it a second chance.

6. Am I happy with myself?

VBS leaders who have committed their lives to Christ and are reasonably happy with themselves won't be devastated when the first student acts up. And they won't give up the first time something doesn't go as planned. Furthermore, happy leaders won't manipulate students to achieve "manufactured" results; they will minister to the students for Jesus' sake.

7. Am I hungry for spiritual results?

The effective leader has a drive to accomplish and an urge to compete against the world for the attention of young students. You should have an insatiable hunger to see young people brought to a place of personal commitment to Jesus Christ. Develop a hunger for more spiritual growth in your own life as well as in the lives of those to whom you minister.

8. Do I use common sense?

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "Nothing astonishes men so much as common sense and plain dealing." Anyone who works with other people must realize that the key to success is not intelligence; the key to successful relationships is awareness of others, a willingness to learn, the ability to cope with the unexpected, and genuine interest and caring for others.

These attributes are vital to successful leadership of students. Use common sense. Be flexible. Learn to respond to the needs and moods of your students, as well as to the situations they face and the environments in which they live. Help them cope with the situations in their homes and show them how to deal with the mistakes they make. One of your most important responsibilities as a leader is to minister to the everyday needs of your young students.

9. Am I tactful?

Effective Christian leadership calls for tact, persuasiveness, and humor. You'll need these attributes to overcome resistance to change and because you'll work with many different people. Some leaders become so wrapped up in their "mission" that they become tactless, abrasive and disruptive, to the point they simply run over people in a rough-shod, uncaring manner. Your true goal and mission must be to respond to the needs of each individual student in kind, loving, tactful ways.

When you take the time to tactfully sell your ideas, to laugh a little (even at yourself, if necessary) and show you care, you will be more fun to be around, your students will notice, and you will be able to accomplish a great deal for the kingdom of God.

10. Do I have courage?

Any role of leadership demands courage. To succeed as a leader, you have to take risks. Probably some of your meetings won't be great successes. You might face some touchy situations you wish you hadn't gotten into. It will take courage to go to a parent regarding his or her child. It will take courage to help your students deal with difficult issues they might face.

Molding a child's life is truly an awesome responsibility, but Jesus provided powerful encouragement when He said, "It is not the will of your Father...that one of these little ones should perish." (Matthew 18:14) Although some of your students may not be so little anymore, this promise proves that the person who is committed to nurturing the spiritual life of a child or teenager is working in cooperation with the will of God! You can be assured then, the Lord will direct you and guide you as you seek to guide children to love and serve Him.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

What Are the Responsibilities of Children's Ministry Leaders?

How Vacation Bible School, Sunday School, or Bible Club leaders interact with their students has been compared to the job of a counselor, adviser, peer, and coach. But the best description of a leader in Children's Ministry is as an architect.

An architect designs buildings, planning for physical stress, making them as functional as possible, and creating them to be pleasing to others. But once the design is finished, the architect's role is done. He has to let other people lay the brick and pound the nails. He has to let other people live and work in the buildings. An architect may work on a project for months or even years, so his job requires patience and endurance. Yet the architect is simply a planner; others will actually create the buildings and use them.

In many ways, the job of a leader in Children's Ministry is similar to the role of an architect. It takes patience and endurance. A leader can only influence the students with whom he or she works; the students will be the ones who decide how they will respond to the "plan" the leader has presented to them.

Whether you are a leader in a one-week VBS or a weekly Sunday School or Bible Club, think of yourself as an "architect" in helping develop the lives of your students. Your responsibilities as a leader in ministry can include the following activities:
  • Lead weekly meetings.
  • Plan and help lead parties and special activities.
  • Work closely with the students (and parents) in creating meetings and events that interest them and help to meet their needs.
  • Get to know each child in your group by name. Invite them to your house or to the church for a special activity or party.
  • Develop a solid relationship with each child. Be sure all children are nurtured - not just a few.
  • Have periodic prayer and sharing sessions with the pastoral staff of your church. Communicate victories and needs to them for their prayer and assistance.
  • Personally, pray regularly for each student individually and for your Children's Ministry in general.
  • Faithfully attend the services of your church, not only because you need the spiritual nourishment, but also because you are an example to the children who are watching you.
  • Live an exemplary, Christ-honoring life before your students.
"Developing caring, Christian relationships" best sums up the role and results of effective children's ministry. The leader who establishes and nurtures Christian relationships with students and their parents, while growing in his or her own relationship with Jesus Christ, will experience great joy and effectiveness as a leader-servant.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Becoming a Servant Leader, Part 2

Last week we began with Part 1 of Becoming a Servant Leader. If you missed it, you may read that post here.

What are the qualities we should try to develop in ourselves, as leaders, as we seek to become servant leaders like Jesus?
  • Servant leadership recognizes that everything is the Lord's word - your career, your family, weekend trips, washing the dishes, watching your child's basketball game, and even baking cookies for a VBS party.
  • Leadership builds the confidence of those you lead; good leaders instill hope in those they lead. Servant leadership trusts the work to God and allows Him to bring the results without our manipulation.
  • Jesus-style leadership produces excellence - both in yourself and in those you lead.
  • Good leaders honor the time of others. They are responsible and plan ahead. They have respect for those in authority over them.

Applying servant leadership to ministry does not mean you should do everything for the child.It does mean you do the servant tasks that make it possible for your children to be a group. You seek out the tasks and give the encouragement that makes it possible for children to express their own leadership. Your VBS group is not a showcase to display your programming and promotional skills - it should be a training ground where students develop their own skills and personalities under the guidance of a caring, loving leader.

When you are able to fully understand your role as a Vacation Bible School leader, you will be freed from the terrible strain of constantly trying to have a perfectly executed program for other adults to admire. That is not your primary responsibility. Your role is to allow the students to do things for themselves and help them, when they experience failures and disappointments, to do so without feeling they are failures themselves.

Some VBS leaders feel they must run a tight ship and have polished performances and slick promotion to be successful. To make this happen, usually the leader has to do things himself; that is not a truly successful leader. The successful leader is committed to being a servant who helps children develop their own leadership, even though the results aren't as tidy and impressive to the outside world.

The real key to leadership is to follow Jesus' example in leadership - follow God's will, be filled with God's Spirit, and be servant to all.