“Follow me, Daddy!”

Gear-article-main-pic-3Both of my children had recently outgrown their bicycles, so with the onset of spring and the beautiful weather that accompanies it, we got them each a new bicycle.  For my son, riding bikes is something that he could take or leave, really.  But for my daughter (8), riding a bicycle makes her feel alive. It’s truly a beautiful thing to watch:  hair blowing in the wind, little legs pumping the pedals as fast and hard as they can go, and a snaggle-toothed grin going from ear to ear beneath a couple of sun-kissed cheeks.  It gives me all the feels just thinking about it.

In addition to getting my kids a bike, I decided to get one for myself as well so that I could ride along with them (plus, getting a little exercise and shedding a pound or two couldn’t hurt me).  When I first began riding with my daughter, I would often hear her say “Wait for me, Daddy!” as she pedaled faster to try and keep pace with me  She wanted to make sure that everywhere I went she went, too, so as to not miss out on any of the pavement-pounding experience.  But the last time we rode together I heard her say something different. “Follow me, Daddy!” she exclaimed as she maneuvered her bike in front of mine with a giggle of excitement.  And you know what I did?  I followed her.  And she loved it.  Now she was in control.  If she turned right, I turned right.  If she hopped the curb, I hopped the curb.  Now it was me trying to keep up with her.

There’s something to be said for letting our kids take the lead sometimes–both as a parent AND a ministry leader.  When you let your kids take the lead, here’s what happens:

1. It instills their confidence. Start small.  Give your kids opportunities to take the lead on things you know they can accomplish.  Let them get a few notches of success in their belt.  This will set the stage for further leadership development.

2. It increases their capacity.  After your kids experience a few small-scale wins, they’ll want to challenge themselves by trying new things and taking on more difficult tasks.  Even if they happen to fail from time to time, their earlier successes will give them reason to continue to push forward and will give you a reference point from which to encourage them.

3. It impacts their character.  Once your kids begin to get comfortable in taking the lead, they will soon realize that others will begin to follow them.  As others begin to follow, the challenge for your child will then become being a person that is worth being followed.  And they won’t always get it right, but it will open the door for you to begin those conversations with them about what it means to be a leader worth following.

Here’s some simple ways to let your kids take the lead:

  • Let them pick the restaurant for dinner or choose their own outfit for the day
  • Let them pass out the take-home pages to other kids upon dismissal from kids church
  • Let them make their own breakfast (or better yet, let them make YOU breakfast)
  • Let them read the Bible passage during small group (or better yet, let them lead the small group)
  • Let them run sound/lights/media for kids church
  • Let them pray over the offering or pray over the meal
  • Let them lead worship in kids church (or even in “BIG” church)

The key to getting your kids to lead?  LET THEM.  By giving your kids opportunities to be involved and make decisions it will instill their confidence, increase their capacity and impact their character.

So how about you?  As a parent or ministry leader, what are some of the best ways you’ve discovered to let your kids take the lead?

Drinking from the Hydrant: How to Overcome the Post-Conference Blues

firehydrantI love attending ministry conferences.  There’s just something about getting outside of one’s own ministry context and learning from others who are doing it bigger/better/differently than you.  The change of pace is always refreshing and the exposure to new concepts and ideas inspiring.  But often, in the days following a conference, that inspiration and excitement can turn into an overwhelming burden.

If you’re anything like me, when you go to a conference you take copious notes in the breakout sessions, network with other leaders, and make pointed observations on everything from service flow to facilities.  I usually end up with a list of things a mile long of what I’d like to implement in my own ministry setting.  But then I get back home and start to wade through that list, along with the resources that I’ve gathered, and I begin to get bogged down in all the details.  I’m reminded that I don’t have the budget/personnel/talent/etc… to pull those things off.  And instead of doing anything, I end up doing NOTHING.

Maybe you’re a superhero and you manage to implement every new idea you learn at a conference within a couple weeks.  But that’s just not me.  If you find yourself in the same boat alongside me, here’s a couple things I’d suggest that might help:

  1. Go through your list of new ideas and pick the 4 or 5 things that could help you move the ball the furthest down the field in your current setting.  Yes, you are going to have to eliminate some really good stuff.  But the best leaders know how to say no to ‘good’ so that they can instead focus on what is ‘great’.  And just because those other ideas are being eliminated doesn’t mean they aren’t right, it just means they aren’t for right now.
  2. Take the 4 or 5 selections you kept from your list and organize them into short-term and long-term goals.  You need to identify the one or two things you can implement immediately (short-term)…and then do it.  Share the ideas with your team, cast the vision for how they will enhance your ministry and then move forward.  For the 2-3 ideas that are left over, make them long-term goals.  Set a reasonable implementation date on your calendar for the next 3-6 months or so, create a plan, and work toward fulfilling it.

Filtering your list of ideas in this manner will help you to stay focused and not get overwhelmed or bogged down.  It will also help you to take steps toward accomplishing the things that are most important in your ministry right now.

So what about you?  What are some of the best ministry conferences that you’ve attended?  What are the best 1 or 2 ideas that you’ve recently gleaned and been able to use to enhance your ministry?

RISE Leadership Conference 2017: My Breakout Session Resources

This past weekend I was given the opportunity to speak to a number of KidMin leaders at the RISE Leadership Conference in Tampa, FL.  It was an awesome experience and I was honored to have been asked to lead one of the breakout sessions.Screen Shot 2017-05-03 at 3.06.05 PM

My session was entitled 5 Steps Toward Excellent Children’s Ministry where I outlined the importance of the following progression toward achieving excellence in KidMin:

  1. Discover Your Purpose
  2. Develop a Plan
  3. Determine Your Practice
  4. Depend on Partnerships
  5. Daily Stay Persistent

If this sounds like something that could benefit you in your ministry, let’s continue the conversation!  I’d love to flesh out these five steps with you and help you begin to apply them in your current setting.  Simply visit my CONTACT page to schedule a FREE consultation with me!

If you’re reading this and you attended my session at the conference, thanks for coming! It was incredible getting to connect with you.  I hope you found the content both helpful and challenging.  Below is a link to download my Keynote presentation slides for future reference should you need/want them.  Please feel free to share them with others you know that may find the information helpful as well.

Click here for my Keynote presentation slides.

Sushi and Sharing the Gospel

maxresdefaultMy family and I recently went to dinner at one of our new favorite sushi restaurants here in the St. Louis area.  While we were waiting on our food to arrive to the table, I observed an interaction between the restaurant host and a man wanting to place a to-go order.  It went something like this:

Host: Welcome to [restaurant name], how can I help you?

Man: I’d like to place an order for carryout, please. (Takes a menu, thumbs through it awkwardly). Young man, I seem to have left my glasses at home and am having trouble finding what I’m looking for.  Could you please help me?

Host: Of course! What exactly were you looking for?

Man: I’m interested in getting some ahi tuna and a spicy shrimp roll, but I can’t seem to find them on the menu.

Host: I’d be happy to help you with that.  (Awkwardly fumbles through the menu for 2-3 minutes as an increasingly perplexed look creeps across his face) I’m sorry, I can’t seem to find those things on our menu, either.

Man:  (Obviously frustrated at this point, mutters something under his breath) Well, thanks anyway. I guess I’ll try some other place. (Walks out of restaurant)

I’ll be honest, I was dumbfounded.  I could not believe that the host let that man walk out of the restaurant.  I also couldn’t believe that the host had no clue what was on the menu at the restaurant, either.  After all, he is the first person you come in contact with upon walking in the door–and he doesn’t know what’s on the menu?

His title said he represented the restaurant. His position said he represented the restaurant.  Even the logo on his shirt said he represented the restaurant.  But his knowledge claimed otherwise.  He had no clue, and he ended up representing the restaurant poorly and, ultimately, failed at his job.

What if we represented Jesus the same way that this host represented his restaurant?  There are going to be people who are spiritually blind to what they are truly looking for, and if we aren’t prepared to help them they will simply move on to the next place looking for answers.  You and I have to be ready to minister to others whenever we are given the opportunity, and we cannot afford to fail.  Here’s a few ways we can do that:

  1. Know what’s on the menu.  We have to stay in tune with God and his Word.   This requires that we spend time reading/studying the Bible everyday, spending regular time in prayer, and prioritizing both personal and corporate worship.
  2. Be ready to act.  You never know when God may open the door for you to minister.  Whenever that happens, take advantage and make the most of it.  This could be something as simple as being a listening ear for someone, buying a meal or a tank of gas, or helping a neighbor move some furniture.  Whatever the task, jump in, get involved and sow a seed of the gospel into someone’s life.
  3. Admit when you don’t know something, but don’t let it stop there.  It’s okay to admit that you don’t know something, but find someone who does know.  Don’t just leave someone else hanging–if at all possible, find a someone who can help answer their question or meet their need.

What would you add to the list?  Is there anything you can think of that will help prepare us to minister to others when given the opportunity?

What Cracker Barrel Taught Me About KidMin

crackerbarrel-editedRocking chairs. Old-fashioned candy. Checkers. Chicken and dumplings.  These are just some of the reasons I love Cracker Barrel.  In fact, it’s one of my favorite chain restaurants.  Typically, it serves as the go-to place for me whenever I can’t decide on a place to eat.  I’ve shared many a meal with my family gathered around those lantern-topped tables.  I’ve failed to leave just one tee on that triangular block of wood for 35 years and counting.  I even had a job interview at a Cracker Barrel once–and it was for a church position, not the restaurant. (I got the job, BTW). I can remember one time eating in a Cracker Barrel across the aisle from “Mr. Cracker Barrel” himself. While it was self-proclaimed I’m sure, he was mighty proud of the jacket, hat, belt buckle and car window decal he had promoting his title. Folks just seem to love that place.

I’ve eaten at so many different Cracker Barrels I’ve lost count.  From Florida, to Georgia, on into the Carolinas, to the Tennessee hills and the Kentucky bluegrass, you pick a Cracker Barrel and, chances are, I’ve been there once or twice in my travels across the great southeastern United States. I can attest that Uncle Herschel’s breakfast tastes just the same in Jacksonville, FL as it does in Chattanooga, TN.  The fried okra and macaroni and cheese in Canton, GA is just as delicious and comforting as it is in Lexington, KY.  And that’s really the reason I love it so much.  With Cracker Barrel, there’s no surprises.  If you’ve been to one, you’ve been to them all.  And it’s the consistency that makes it so great.

In fact, those of us who serve in KidMin could learn a thing or two from Cracker Barrel when it comes to consistency. It’s been my experience that children thrive upon ritual and routine. For that reason, I believe consistency is one of the key factors when it comes to success in KidMin, but it’s also often one of the most elusive of accomplishments. If you’re anything like me, you manage multiple teams of volunteers serving in different services at different times or on different weeks.  These volunteers, each bringing a different personality and skill set to the table, are as unique as the individuals comprising the groups of children that they serve.  And therein lies the difficulty: how can you take all of those differences and still provide a similar experience for each child in different services across the board and perpetuate it from week to week?

While I certainly don’t have all the answers on this subject, here are a few of the things that have given me success in this area in the past:

  1. Clearly communicate your expectations.  When you clearly and specifically communicate exactly what you are looking for from a volunteer, it becomes easier for them to understand the vision and helps them to achieve the desired result.  I’ve found that it’s difficult to over-communicate, and the majority of your volunteers will appreciate being given clear direction from their leader.
  2. Model your expectations.  It’s one thing to tell a volunteer what to do; it’s an entirely different thing to show them.  Don’t hesitate to set the standard for a volunteer by modeling in front of them the specific behavior or approach you are looking for.  Follow this model for maximum results: You do it while they watch, you do it with them, they do it while you watch, they do it and you move on.
  3. Evaluate and adjust.  You should constantly measure what is happening in your ministry against the expectations that have been communicated.  If something isn’t going according to what’s been communicated, perhaps it hasn’t been communicated clearly enough.  When you evaluate, it gives you the opportunity to make adjustments in how or what you are communicating and opens the door for you to provide “on-the-job” training to help your volunteers do what they do even better.  And when our evaluations reveal that your volunteers are getting it right, CELEBRATE IT!  What gets celebrated gets replicated, so never miss an opportunity to positively reinforce your volunteers when they succeed.
  4. Get everyone in the right seat on the bus.  If one of your volunteers continues to fall short of your clearly communicated expectations, it’s possible that they may need to be moved to a different seat on the bus.  Perhaps their personality and skill set doesn’t align with the task or role that you’ve given them.  This is where the aforementioned evaluation process comes in handy.  If you can align your volunteers with tasks and roles that match up with their skill set and personality, the ceiling is the roof sky will be the limit for both that volunteer and that particular area of your ministry. The more you can connect different volunteers with a role that has them operating in their sweet spot, the healthier and more successful your team and ministry will be.
  5. Remember that these things take time. Cracker Barrel was established in 1969, so they’ve been at it for a while.  I’d dare to venture that things have changed a bit over the years, which is what has made them so successful.  You won’t accomplish these things in your ministry overnight–in some cases it may take years.  So be encouraged and trust that your consistency in the above areas will pay off in the long run.  It sure did for Cracker Barrel.

So how about you? For those of you that lead in some capacity, what are some of the things you’ve had success with in bringing about consistency in your ministry?

The Most Important Thing You Can Say to a Volunteer

Hint: It’s just two words.the-most-important-social-media-webinar-i-ve-ever-presented-is-prF58a-clipart

Recently our church held a community outreach event where we had enlisted a number of volunteers to serve from all different areas of ministry within our body.  Even though we had such a diverse cross-section of our volunteers involved, the event was sponsored by our children’s ministry department and I ultimately served as the point person for the event.

Prior to the beginning of the event, I met with the entire volunteer team to cast vision and encouragement for the event, hand out assignments for the day and pray for the success of the event and all those involved.  Following that meeting, each of the volunteers stationed themselves at their area of service for the day and prepared for the event to begin.

As the point person, I could have chosen to use those last few minutes before the start of the event in scramble mode, running around being sure that everything was in place and ready to go.  In fact, I fought the urge to do so.  But instead, I chose to walk around to each volunteer that was serving that day, look them in the eye and say, “Thank you.”

Yep, you guessed it.  Those are the two words I alluded to previously–thank you.  And to you and me, saying thank you may not seem like all that big of a deal, but I believe it is the most important thing we could ever tell a volunteer.  In fact, I was quite shocked at the response of many of the volunteers that day.  I wish you could have seen their faces light up as one by one, I went to each of them and just said, “Thanks for serving today.”  For some, it seemed as if nobody had ever thought to say thank you before, and my simple gesture was a much needed breath of fresh air to their spirit.

Now don’t get me wrong, casting vision is important.  Setting goals and communicating expectations is important.  Training and equipping is important.  But all of these pale in comparison to the importance of saying “thank you.”  When you tell your volunteers how thankful you are for them, it opens the door for you to cast vision, set goals, communicate expectations and train and equip them.  But unfortunately, a lot of the time we get so caught up in trying to do all those other things that we fail to thank the people who serve alongside us.

Here’s what I’ve come to realize, though: every major success that I have had in ministry has been built on the backs and shoulders of faithful volunteers who have chosen to align themselves with me.  These people aren’t doing it for the money (’cause there ain’t none).  They’re not doing it because they have to (because they don’t).  They are doing it because they love Jesus and they believe in the mission of the church–it’s as simple as that.  But the funny thing is, they may not even realize themselves that that’s why they are doing it.  For many volunteers, they are just doing it because that’s what they do.  But when you thank them for their efforts, it gives you an opportunity to connect the dots between the “why” and the “what” for them. It allows you to show them how the things they are doing (no matter how menial the task may be) are making a Kingdom impact.  It provides occasion for you to celebrate their efforts, and what gets celebrated gets replicated.

And the best thing about saying thank you is that, for you as the leader, it’s easy to do!  Look in the mirror right now and say it: “Thank you.”  See how it just rolls off the tongue?    Not much of a talker?  No big deal.  Write a card (with an actual pen) and hand it/mail it to a volunteer.  Not much of a writer?  I got you.  Text them. Tweet them. Send a Facebook message.  Find that one crafty mom at your church–you know the one that has adorably themed birthday parties for all six of her impeccably well-behaved and well-dressed kids where all the party favors are hand made out of burlap and ribbon and it makes you feel like a terrible parent because you have none of that–and get her to make you some “Thank You” wrappers for Hershey bars and hand one out to each of your volunteers.  Simply put, whatever it takes, say thank you to your volunteers–and mean it.

If you’ve read this far in this post, thank you.  Chances are you may even be one of the volunteers that have served alongside me in ministry at some point.  If so, thanks so much for everything you do/did to help me build the Kingdom.  I really mean it and I could never say it enough.  And to volunteers everywhere, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU.  Guys like me wouldn’t be where we are today without folks like you.  YOU make all the difference.

So I gotta know–if you’re a volunteer, what’s the best/most meaningful way you’ve ever been thanked for your service?  If you’re a leader of volunteers, what methods do you use to say “thank you”?

How to Be a Great Volunteer Part 5: Go to Church

daniel-tseng-155730.jpgSo you just read the title of this post and probably thought “well duh…I’m at church all the time. I serve in kids church every Sunday and Wednesday, lead a small group on Fridays and attend the monthly men’s pancake breakfast.” But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’ve noticed that there are a lot of folks involved in children’s ministry (volunteer and paid staff alike) that never sit in a regular church service. Like, ever. And they try to justify it with things like “my church only has one service” or “I’ll listen to the message on podcast” or “if I’m not there the children’s ministry will implode.” First off, if your children’s ministry falls apart because you weren’t there for 1 week, you had way bigger problems than the fact that you weren’t there. And secondly, there just isn’t an adequate replacement for being at YOUR church in YOUR auditorium listening to YOUR pastor preach the Word of God while you sit with YOUR family.

Here’s the deal: you cannot pour water out of an empty bucket. It’s simply impossible. One of your responsibilities is to keep your spiritual bucket full so that you can pour into those to whom you minister. But in order to do that, you’ve got to keep going back to the well to keep your bucket full. And while podcasts and videos and books and the like are all great resources, they should be treated as supplements–not substitutes.

So how do you do it? If your church offers multiple services then serve at one and attend another. If your church only has one service, find someone who isn’t serving, teach them to do what you do and then let them be you one or two Sundays a month while you go to church. And if you’re the leader, by all means let your people lead while you go and get full–besides, you might just be surprised at what happens when you release others into ministry.

Whatever it takes, make a plan right now with your leader regarding how and when you are going to go to church AND THEN DO IT. You’ll be better, the ministry in which you serve will be better, and those whom you lead will be better because of it.