When's the last time something stressful happened on a Sunday morning in your children's ministry? You don't have to be in children's ministry very long to discover things can go wrong quickly on a Sunday morning. No matter how well prepared you are, things beyond your control can happen. Some Sundays, everything seems to go wrong at once! The check-in system fails, the worship music is wrong, the props are missing, volunteers call off at the last minute, a parent is upset. I've had my share of Sunday mornings where I wanted to either run and hide, cry, or yell in frustration. Stressful and unexpected things will always happen, but the best children's ministry leaders are those who can remain calm, unflappable, and confident even in the midst of stressful situations. When a child vomits on the stage, a volunteer doesn't show up, or an emergency occurs, an outdoor event gets rained out, the technology completely fails you - how you respond during those times will make you stronger and strengthen your influence or break you down as a leader.
l'll be the first to admit I've had many times where I did not handle my stress well, where I got flustered, frazzled, or frustrated, and everyone knew it. A good leader can learn and grow from their weaknesses.
Being a leader who is unflappable, calm, and positive during stressful Sunday mornings is something that comes naturally to some, but to others (like me!), it's a skill to intentionally practice until it becomes second nature.
Here are some things I've learned about how to deal with stressful Sunday mornings.
1. Pray first. Before you ever get to church, pray over the service, the kids, the parents, the volunteers, even the technology! Cover the ministry with God's power and anointing. Stay connected to God throughout the day. If anything goes wrong, you'll handle it with more grace, strength, and confidence when you're connected with God.
2. Rest and eat. For some people, this may not be a trigger, but for myself, I am much more prone to handling stress poorly on days when I'm tired or hungry. If I show up to church on Sunday morning running on 3 hours of sleep and no breakfast, I'm going to be easily irritable and stressed out. I'm more likely to break down emotionally or lash out at others. Be aware of your own triggers, and take care of yourself before you arrive at church.
3. Be prepared. You can't prepare for every single scenario that could possibly happen on a Sunday morning, but the more prepared you are, the better your Sundays will go. Get as much done as possible ahead of time, and schedule extra time for troubleshooting. Have a backup plan for things that could commonly fail. Prepare a backup check-in system, a back-up children's ministry lesson that doesn't involve technology or props, a backup system for volunteers who don't show up, a backup idea for any activity that's dependent on weather.
4. Make decisions with confidence. When you make a last-minute change or decision about something, speak with confidence and positivity. Even if you're nervous, when you speak with confidence and give people a plan, people will trust and follow you.
5. Don't complain or vent. Even if nothing is going right, resist the urge to let everyone know about it. Don't tell all the parents the volunteers are late. Don't tell all the volunteers the technology is demon-possessed. Don't broadcast to the entire staff about an upset parent. When something stressful happens or goes wrong, make it your goal (as much as possible) to make sure nobody can tell. This doesn't mean you have to be fake, you can let others know you're struggling, but it's not ok to vent or complain to parents, kids, or volunteers on Sunday mornings.
6. Take a break. If you can, take a moment to step away and collect yourself. Get alone. Take a deep breath. If you can't get alone; pause. If something catches you off guard or someone approaches you angrily, take a moment to pause before you respond or speak.
7. Smile. Studies show that even when you don't feel happy or confident, there's something about smiling anyway that makes your emotions follow your body. You can literally make yourself happier just by forcing a smile. It might feel like you're being "fake" by smiling when you don't feel like it, but you're actually tricking your body into actually feeling it. Try it next time you're stressed.
8. Focus on the big picture. Remind yourself of the positives and the reason you're serving. Did another volunteer really step up in a time of need? Was a child engaged through an impromptu game you added when the music stopped? Was everyone safe, even though things didn't work out as planned? Remind yourself to actively focus on the big picture and the positives, and show gratitude.
9. Take charge of your emotions. Instead of letting your emotions get out of control, remember you control your emotions. Reject lies and negative thinking, and ask God to help you take every thought captive in obedience to Christ. Don't allow circumstances beyond your control to steal your peace.
10. Give grace. Even when people mess up or systems fail, you can be an example of God’s grace and love. You can show people an example of how God gives us grace even when we make mistakes or fall short.
We can all probably think of people we know who are poised, grace-filled, calm, and confident even during difficult circumstances. And we can probably think of other people who are frazzled, flustered, frustrated, or stressed at times, and when they are, everyone knows it! The difference between those two is not that everything always works out perfectly for the former, and things only go wrong for the latter. The difference is the first type of leader has learned not to not lose their cool. They've become self-aware, and have practiced these things until they become natural.
How do you keep your cool in stressful situations? Have you had anything really stressful happen on a Sunday morning in children's ministry?
If you ask anyone who grew up as a pastor's kid, or "PK" as they used to be called, they'll probably tell you it wasn't always easy. Kids of pastors have unique experiences growing up in church that other kids don't experience, because they deal with unrealistic expectations, extreme scrutiny (the fishbowl), exposure to negative aspects of church life and church politics, and their parents can be pulled away from the family for the needs of the church. They may even see their parents serving and caring for other families instead of their own. They're often at church longer than anyone else, and expected to be at all the church functions or get dragged into helping with something they're not interested in. If we're not intentional, there's a chance they'll grow up to resent the church or even walk away from their faith.
When I was a pastor and my son spent sometimes 12-13 hours at church on Sunday as an infant and toddler, it meant a lot to me as a mother to know he was being loved and cared for by other amazing ministry leaders. I prayed he would grow up loving the church and feeling loved BY the church.
Some people think we shouldn't show favoritism or special treatment to pastors' kids, and while I do think we need to be careful to not show favoritism or special treatment in front of other kids, I do think there are several ways we can show extra love and care in children's ministry for kids who often get the short end of the stick from the church where their parents work.
1. Don't Put Expectations on Them
Don't expect them to be perfect, know all the answers, follow every rule, or have the strongest faith. Don't expect them to volunteer for every role or leadership opportunity or step into positions they aren't comfortable with. Also, don't expect them to be rebellious or troublemakers. Remember they're normal kids, who need love and grace. Don't allow labels to be put on them, such as "PK."
2. Care for Them Well and Make Church Fun
When I was serving in a megachurch with multiple services all day long on Sunday, and had to have my infant son with me the whole day, I was thankful for nursery leaders who kept my son in between services (when I was busiest), even though the children's ministry didn't allow parents to leave their babies in the nursery between services. They went above and beyond to help our family and love him and make sure he was well cared for, so I could focus on leading my part of the ministry. I knew we were on the same team, and they never made me feel like it was inconvenient if my son had to tag along with the nursery leader while I dealt with a situation in my ministry area after the service. They showed incredible grace and love to our family and my son.
3. Love on Them Outside of Church
One thing I used to love to do as a children's pastor was take our pastors' kids out for ice cream, spend time with them outside of church, and encourage them as much as possible. Many children's and youth pastors show LESS attention to pastors' kids, assuming they're getting spiritual leadership at home and don't need someone else in their lives loving on them and pointing them to Christ, but all kids need another adult (besides their parents) speaking into their lives, caring for their spiritual lives, praying for them, and encouraging them.
4. Protect Them and Pray for Them
Be an advocate for the kids of your pastors as much as you can. Don't allow others to treat them unfairly, make judgements, criticize their parents, or try to get them involved in church drama or politics.
If you're a pastor's kid, what's one thing you enjoyed about growing up as a PK, or one negative thing you experienced? What do you wish your church had done differently?
Children are a Gift
kidmin leader, mother, and servant of the Lord.
These are the views of Lynne Howard, and are not necessarily the views and opinions of any church.