10 Things I Wish I'd Known My First Year in Children's Ministry

I was recently thinking back to my first year as a children's pastor.  It was in a church in Southern California over 28 years ago.  It was a church plant, so I wore other hats as well.

I was young, naive and inexperienced.  Some things you can only learn through making mistakes and from the teacher called time.

Here are 10 things I wish I'd known that first year.

Be confident...even when you are not.  I remember feeling overwhelmed with the task ahead and I informed volunteers and parents of this.  Not a good way to lead.  Over-confidence is being cocky.  Not being confident enough is being too cautious.

I wish I'd known more about walking in Godfidence.  A confidence that is based not on my own abilities, but with confidence in God's call on my life.  I needed to know that where God guides, He provides.  When God enlists you for a job, He equips you for that job.

People need a leader who walks in a confidence that is grounded in trusting God's ability to do an awesome work in spite of his or her lack of ability.

Effective leadership starts with relationship.   Surely people would follow me because I had a title.  Not.  Surely people would listen to what I said because I had a diploma on the wall.  Not.  Surely people would give me respect because I had an office in the church building.  Not. 

I wish I had known that people don't follow someone because of these things.  They follow someone they love and respect.  And that is something that is earned.  I had to first spend time investing in people, caring for people, listening to people and serving people.   Then and only then, would they open their heart to my leadership.

I can't save the world.  I had to save the world, right?  I mean, I was called to take the Gospel to every creature, right?  I should have a burden for the people of the city I was in, right?

Yes.  But, I also needed to know that it wasn't my job to save the world.  That job was already taken.  It was simply my job to share the Gospel with people.  It was simply my job to love the people God brought across my path.

When you think you've got to save the entire world, it becomes a burden that's way too heavy to carry...
especially when you shouldn't be trying to carry it in the first place.

You must balance work and home.   I worked and worked and worked.  I worked some nights when I should have been home.  I skipped some days off when I should have been resting.  I clocked some hours at the church that should have been spent at the park with my son.  There were times when I was on the phone with church members when I should have been talking with my wife.  There were vacation days that I didn't use, that I should have taken.

I wish I had been more balanced.  God.  Family.  Ministry.  That's the order that leads to long-term success in ministry.

People skills is one of the most important things you can learn.  I didn't know how to navigate conflict effectively.  I reacted instead of acting.  I was controlled by my emotions.  I needed to have more empathy.  I should have been more collaborative instead of needing to have things go my way.  I also needed to know how to relate to people who had a different personality than me.  I needed more patience with people.  I need to learn to be more flexible.  I needed to get better at reading people's body language.  

Slow down and celebrate.  I was so busy running to the next thing that I didn't slow down and celebrate the victories.

It's so important to pause and take time to thank God for what He's done and give people the opportunity to celebrate and rejoice.

Be more of an equipper than a doer.  I tried to do too much myself.  My insecurities caused me to keep doing things I should have given away.  I was so intent on things being done with excellence, that I hesitated to trust others with tasks.  Big time mistakes.

I should have looked closer at Ephesians 4 and saw that my primary job description is to equip.  The most effective leaders are empowering leaders.  They equip others and help them succeed.

Children (and adults) learn best by doing, rather than by listening.  When it was class time...I talked and talked and talked to the kids.  I thought the best method was for them to sit still and listen while I taught them the Word of God.  I tried to bribe them to sit still with candy, prizes, etc., but it usually ended with them squirming around in boredom.  It wasn't their fault.  It was my fault.

Eventually I learned that the most effective methods of teaching involve active, hands-on, participatory lessons that engage the senses, tap into kids' learning styles and has the kids talking as much, if not more, than the teacher.

Information without application falls flat.  I focused on teaching Bible facts, having kids memorize lots of verses and making sure they could say all of the books of the Bible in order.  That was a good thing...but I didn't move beyond the facts enough and teach kids how to live out the truth I was sharing with them.

My focus shifted when I discovered that Jesus spend a lot more time teaching application than He did information.  Information is important, but without application, there is no transformation.  In time, I arrived at the conclusion that I would rather a child memorize one verse and know what it means than memorize ten verses with no clue what the verses mean.

Criticism is a gift.  I looked at criticism as a personal attack.  When people questioned my leadership or my decisions, I became defensive and argumentative.  Rather than finding the truth in the criticism, even if it was minuscule, I pushed it away in anger.

One day I heard someone say that criticism is a gift that can help you get better.  It was an eye opener for me and totally changed the way I viewed criticism.  Wish I had grasped that my first year.  I would have learned so many great lessons that I missed.

Concluding thoughts...
If you are reading this and just starting out in ministry, I trust this will help you learn some of these lessons faster than I did.  The truth is, there will also be lessons to learn, now matter how long you are in ministry.  I still at times struggle in some of the areas I've mentioned.  You never arrive completely.  It's all part of the journey.

Your turn.  The floor is yours.

What are some things you wish you'd known when you first started out? 

What are some areas you want to get better at?

What advice would you give to someone who is early in ministry?  

Share your thoughts and insight with everyone in the comment section below.