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3 No-Brainer Tips for Breaking Into a Kids' Ministry Career

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    Kenny Conley
I’ve been overwhelmed by churches who are looking for children’s pastors. I think one of the best ways to secure a new ministry position is done through networking. Somebody knows somebody who’s looking to move and that person knows a church that’s looking for a new pastor. It’s great because it’s not a random resume or unknown church, but there are are people who can vouch for the church or the candidate. In the last 6 weeks, I’ve had no less than 6-7 emails, phone calls or personal contacts from churches asking me if I know anyone who’s looking. If I have a name or a resume of someone on hand, I’ll pass it along. But here’s the truth I’ve come to learn over the years: There are more incredible children’s ministry positions to fill than there are experienced and dynamic children’s pastors to fill them. No joke. It took me almost an entire year to fill my North Campus Children’s Pastor/Elementary Director position (I had the bar set VERY high). It took me even longer to fill my South Campus Children’s Pastor position. It was a much smaller position, but we were looking for a very particular candidate and quite honestly, there were precious few who made the cut to interview. I’m grateful for my staff who have filled these positions, but it was so painful to find them. I sorted through hundreds of resumes to find these two. One thing I know is this: If you’re creative, have great experience (there’s so many ways to get great experience), have strong leadership, as well as a few other key ministry traits, you’ll not have any problem securing a great Children’s Pastor position. I just wish there were more of us. Why aren’t there more? I certainly don’t want there to be too many where there are all these great Children’s Pastors who are out of work because there aren’t enough … but seriously, that’s not the case at all.

KidMin Has Bad PR

There are many great kidmin pastors and kidmin programs that are doing incredible and innovative things in ministry. However, that’s not the norm. When MOST people think of children’s ministry, they think of boring Sunday school classes, silly puppets and flannelgraph. It’s a stigma and it’s permeated through most churches around the world. Line up any church staff and 9 times out of 10, I can point out the children’s ministry staff. Why? Every play that game, “which of these don’t belong?” That’s usually the case for Kidmin. Oh, I can almost always point out the student ministry staff, but that’s usually because of the facial hair and trendy clothing. They stick out in a cool way. Kidmin usually sticks out in the “you need a makeover and new wardrobe” kind of way. So here’s the problem with this. The latest and greatest leaders emerging from the church are excited to lead, and when they look at the scope of where they can lead, they don’t relate to the children’s ministry. It looks a little boring, weird and uncomfortable. It’s that bad stigma that hasn’t gone away. Kidmin has bad PR and the stigma has to change. Not only is the children’s ministry one of the most strategic ministries in the church, but it can be really fun and innovative. It just often lacks leadership that can take it there. I do think that some of the best children’s pastors are successful junior high pastors who can bring their experience and relevancy to a different set of volunteers and leaders. They can bring a new and fresh perspective to working with kids. It’s not just screaming two-year olds and dirty diapers. It’s so much more! So if you’re thinking about ministry to kids as a career, I encourage you to see where this ministry needs to go. It needs strong leadership that will take it to new heights creatively to reach a Disney and Nickelodeon generation without totally cheesing off their parents. If you can bring that to the table, then welcome aboard!

Landing a Job in KidMin

I understand that I might be speaking to two different audiences here. You might be thinking about going into full-time ministry either as a young person fresh out of school or someone who is looking to make a career shift into full-time ministry. You might be currently in ministry, but you want to make a shift. Your values don’t line up with the values of your church or your denomination. You’re looking to make a radical shift to a different kind of church. I’m going to do the best I can to address both. First of all, I feel I need to say this. Everyone truly can serve in a church they would chose to attend if they weren’t on staff. Secondly, everyone should serve in a church they would attend if they weren’t on staff. If your presence at a church is simply a job, how far you’re able to go will always be limited. Find that church with the DNA you love and make that the place you serve. I’ll be honest, though. I have served at a church I don’t think I would have attended if it hadn’t been for the job. It wasn’t a bad experience by any means. I got tons of experience while still in college, and the church I served at got a strong children’s pastor for more than 4 years. I don’t have any regrets, but if I knew then what I knew now, I probably would have made a different decision. I’ll have to talk about that in another post. So before you begin your search, you really need to search your heart. Who are you? What kind of ministry do you want to lead? What kind of team do you want to serve with? Decide those things before you begin your search. If you see yourself in this fight to revolutionize kidmin, then look for the kind of church that will allow you to be that kind of children’s pastor. Does that make sense? You may think, “But finding a church like that is really hard!” Yup. It is. You may say, “But there aren’t many churches like that.” You’re right, they are the minority. However, I’d rather wait 6 months to a year to find the church perfect for me than take a great job at a church I can only tolerate. I’d rather make some significant sacrifices to get to where I need to be. Okay, I’ve written too much already. Seriously consider these questions. Who are you? What kind of children’s pastor do you want to be? When you know the answers to these, the next step will be a lot more clear. You’ve got to decide those things before you start sending your resume out to every church looking to hire someone. Trust me, as you’re being interviewed, you’re going to sound a lot more attractive as a candidate as you clearly describe who you are and what God’s called you to be. There’s something powerful in that. Some of the more successful interviews I’ve been in where where I described God’s call on my life, the plan he has for me and how I could apply it in this particular church. Pastors love a candidate with a specific plan. So what are your options? Maybe you know who you want to be, but you don’t have any real experience. You’re pretty sure that the kind of church you want to serve at isn’t going to be interested in your vision alone, they’re going to want to see some experience on that resume. The other option is that you have loads of experience, but it’s in a totally different kind of church than the kind you have experience in. I’ve met people who have been on staff in pretty conservative churches and they want to make a change to a very contemporary church, but the contemporary churches aren’t willing to take the risk. This is a problem, but it’s not an impossible problem to get around. You need some good experience in the type of church you want to end up in. Here are two options to consider. 1. Find a church plant. There are so many churches getting started it’s not even funny. In addition, a lot of these church plants are unique and most church planters I’ve talked to understand the importance of a strong children’s ministry and are looking for someone with great vision for children’s ministry. It’s a great opportunity to get in on the ground floor. You can build something from the bottom up. Children’s ministry in a church plant is hard, but it’s great experience as you get to lead at so many different levels and as the church grows, you get to overcome the challenges of leading a growing ministry. Do your research. Many church plants are connected to organizations that fund our help them. See if there are plants in your area or if there is one somewhere you’d be excited to relocate for. Take your time to get to know the pastor and his vision for the church. Be sure he’s someone you can love doing ministry with because you’re going to be working very closely with him. One of the downsides is that many church plants can’t afford to pay a children’s pastor and if they can, it isn’t much. This may just require some bi-vocational ministry time. It’s not ideal or convenient, but it may be what it takes to get the experience you need. Consider it your education. 2. Volunteer at an existing church. When I say volunteer at an existing church, I’m not talking about getting on their volunteer rotation of serving every other week. I’m talking about scheduling a meeting with their children’s pastor and telling him or her your plans of a ministry career. Tell him or her that you want to learn everything there is about children’s ministry, and tell them that you want to be his or her “star” volunteer. You’ll be willing to do anything and everything to learn everything you can. Again, this is one of those times you’ll need to be bi-vocational, but the stuff you’ll learn is insurmountable. I honestly wish I had done this at some point. I had to learn a lot of things the hard way because I did ministry alone. You may find a church around you that is knocking it out of the park. That might be your option. If you’re really serious about learning from the best, consider relocating to work with the best. I can think of 4-5 churches that I’d do this with. Again, it does mean sacrifice, but it’s a little sacrifice in the context of a life-long career in ministry. 3. Networking in children’s ministry. How does that statement go? “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know." When it comes to landing a job in children’s ministry, nothing is more powerful than the network. Over and over and over again you’re going to hear me talk about how you need to network, learn from others, blog, tweet, comment on blogs and connect with others doing what you do. I think it will add so much to your life. However, when it comes time to find a new place to serve (or first place to serve), being well connected will help you in so many ways. On a regular basis (probably monthly), I have pastors looking for a children’s pastor call me or email me asking me if I know anyone. Many of these churches aren’t advertising on the big church job websites. They’re looking to fill the position from within or through someone they know. Often times, these are the churches where cool and exciting things are happening. You’ll never get this opportunity unless you’re plugged into the network. Does that make sense? To some degree, my network helped me get where I am right now. I was very new into networking when I wandered into unemployment land over two years ago. I had a few connections, not nearly as many as I have now. I connected with Shepherds Staff, a ministry search firm that first connected me with Gateway. However, as Shepherd Staff was getting to know me, I knew people that they knew which gave me come credibility. My small network that interconnected with their network provided some built in references. Just a few weeks before my first phone interview with Gateway, I had dinner with Jim Wideman. I told him about my opportunity with Gateway, and he knew Gateway. He had consulted with them and knew the man who would become my boss. Jim spoke very highly of Gateway and I’m not sure what all he did, but I think he gave a good word for me as well. Again, that’s the power of the network. So you may not be searching for a job right now, but one day you will. Start building your network. Even if you’re currently a college student or barely into ministry, get out there and connect. Everyone has something to offer. Share! Everyone has questions. Ask! I’m even amazed by the number of volunteers out there who are massively networked. I’ve mistaken several as children’s pastors only to discover they’re volunteers in their churches. I’m also going to encourage you to break out of your molds and diversify your network.There are dozens of blogs and communities following the blogs. Some of these mini-networks connect; many don’t. Expand your web of connection as far as you can, even if you only dedicate an hour or so a week to it.

For Myself?

There is no doubt, if I could have done it over again, I’d do it the same. Why? I believe that God ordained my steps each and every step along the way. I believed I was following God in the steps I took. Looking back, I see that was true. However, would I recommend someone do exactly what I did? I’m not sure, maybe not. Not unless they felt God was opening up that door. Here’s my story. I did a one year internship after high school with a missions organization. That year was dedicated to refining my call in ministry. I knew God had called me to children’s ministry, but in that year, God gave me specific marching orders. I left that internship with a five year plan that had been bathed in prayer and inspired by God. Part of that plan was to be a children’s pastor while getting my degree in college. I really hadn’t thought about how difficult it would be to become a children’s pastor as a 19-year-old in a town that wasn’t home, but I felt that it was the plan God gave me. I was attending Church on the Move at the time, which I LOVED! I wanted to get more involved there, but I didn’t have a car at the time and it was a good 20-25 minute drive from campus. It wasn’t really a viable option, so I just started serving in a children’s ministry outreach to inner-city kids through my school’s community outreach program. After a few weeks, I was leading that ministry. Four months later, I was directing all of “Friendship/Adoption” ministries at my school. By January (6 months after getting to school, I found out about a small church that was looking for a children’s pastor through my director within Community Outreach. A few weeks later, I was a 19-year-old children’s pastor to 10 kids. God gave me marching orders and as I moved in the direction he set for me and the doors he opened along the way, things fell into place. However, if I didn’t have that clear of a plan, but I felt God was calling me to ministry and I had a chance to talk to the 2014 version of children’s ministry, I think I’d give myself different advice. I’d say, go to Church on the Move. Become the best volunteer they’ve ever had. you’ve got four years to learn from Jim Wideman, Willie George and some of the best ministry leaders in the world. Figure something out with the car situation. Make it work. Certainly there is someone on campus who goes to the early service and certainly there is someone on campus who goes to the late service. Arrange your rides and stay there all day. Milk that opportunity for all its worth. You’ll be glad you did. It will set you on a path well beyond any other opportunity. It’s interesting to think of where I’d be now if I’d done things differently. I don’t have any regrets. The experiences I’ve had the relationships I’ve made over the years have shaped me significantly. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. However, I might push someone else toward a direction knowing what I know now.