An Excerpt from Kids Ministry That Nourishes
Sunday mornings for me always began at 5:30 am. I’d roll out of bed, get dressed, make a quick to-go coffee, and head out—leaving sleeping family behind. My “set-up” team would be arriving at 7:00 a.m., but I always liked to sweep and clean up as much as possible before they got there. After all, our church met at a public middle school in our neighborhood and while the facilities met our needs, it still didn’t change the fact that thousands of middle-schoolers cycled through there everyday, and it wasn’t the cleanest place to put kids (much less babies and toddlers).
Therefore, as soon as I arrived I checked the bathrooms to make sure all toilets were flushed and decent (relatively speaking) and then grabbed a broom and started sweeping—lots of dirt, the occasional roach, and a ton of dead crickets. Why dead crickets? I don’t really know—some kind of insect epidemic. All I do know is that they were gross and they were everywhere, but especially in the choir room where our large group worship time was held. You know the kind of school choir room where there are tiered levels for standing in formation. However, when our kids weren’t standing and singing, they were sitting—on the floor. The cricket-ridden floor.
So, I swept and swept this very large choir room every Sunday and prayed over the space as I gazed upon the rock bands Green Day and No Doubt posters (clearly this choir teacher was ‘90s music fan). I was careful to keep her sheet music and notes intact on her music stand and memorize exactly where to push the piano back in place. I prayed for her too—and all the middle school students who would come through this space. It was the quiet before the “storm of Sunday Morning” would joyfully begin. It was my time to serve quietly in a menial, yet necessary task, of sweeping the crickets while praying for the morning.
Afterward, it would be time to meet the set-up team, unlock our pod in the parking lot, and start rolling out the enormous carts filled with all of our Sunday supplies, hoping that no rodents had found their way to the Goldfish! Classrooms would be photographed on phones as to put back in place perfectly for the teacher whose room we rented on Sundays. Little tables and mini chairs would be brought in for the preschoolers, huge carpets and toys for the toddlers, and quilts and portable, folding rocking chairs for the babies. The elementary kids would have plenty of crafts and games awaiting them, a class set of Bibles, and CD players with worship songs playing as they arrived. Diaper changing supplies, play pens for naps, cleaning wipes for sterilizing toys, pagers, and electronic check-in systems, the list goes on and on. All of these things were stored in dozens of boxes that were hauled in from the pod and lovingly set-up every Sunday to hold church in a school. And after it was over, we tore it all down, packed it all up, and put everything back in place. Every now and then a projector screen had to be replaced if a preschooler got a hold of a marker, but for the most part—it was like we were never there.
Needless to say, it was a very labor-intensive job and sometimes I resented that. The Enemy’s voice in my head would make me feel like I wasn’t appreciated—I mean does this church body even know what I have to do to host their children every week? Do my volunteers understand that I swept crickets an hour before they arrived? Does the rest of the staff know that I threw my back out lifting huge boxes out of a storage unit? I had my little fits, but the Lord got hold of my heart and taught me that leadership is not only building teams, training volunteers, and developing content. Those are part of leadership, but so is the part that goes unseen by others. The tasks that feel like someone else should be doing them.
In his book Spiritual Leadership, J. Oswald Sanders describes how spiritual leadership and servant leadership go together. He states, “Those who aspire to leadership seek an honorable task. The church needs more leaders, not less, but the kind of leaders we need are “authoritative, spiritual, and sacrificial.” Kingdom-minded leadership involves sacrifice—even suffering at times for the sake of the gospel.
I don’t know what those tasks are for you—they are different for all of us. Some of you may be in charge of sorting hundreds of craft supplies, for pouring snacks in Dixie cups, for reconfiguring shared space, or for making endless copies. For me, it was sweeping crickets and lifting boxes. But, let me challenge you as I did myself—don’t grumble about these things lest you be robbed the joy of serving the youngest of these. Don’t miss the delight of praying over spaces that could be the very place a child hears God’s voice for the first time.
Leadership in your ministry often happens when no one is looking and this is precisely the servant leadership that must be modeled in order to implement a Kingdom-Expanding ministry. It is essential. It is a nutrient that can’t be fabricated and therefore you need this in the DNA of everything you do—even quietly when no one sees. Conducting a Kids Ministry That Nourishes means making sure even the most basic needs are met before children and their families ever enter the building.
For you were called to be free, brothers: only don’t use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but serve one another through love. Galatians 5:13
Jana Magruder serves as the Director of LifeWay Kids. She is a Baylor graduate and offers a wealth of experience and passion for kids ministry, education, and publishing. She is the author of Kids Ministry that Nourishes and Life Verse Creative Journal, which she co-authored with her teenage daughter. She and her husband, Michael, along with their three children reside in Nashville.