Friday, February 22, 2013


Regular readers of this blog know that I'm not a big fan of rotating teachers (if you want to know why, here is a link to the introduction to that series). I'm sure there are circumstances in which rotation works well (and I'd be happy to examine each one), but overall, I believe the practice of making a schedule and having a different teacher each week for the main kid's worship time is actually counter-productive to effective children's ministries.

Aside from the inconsistencies in preparation, presentation, and participation, I think weekly rotations are actually a "distraction from the best." I know a very humble, very godly man who oversees children's ministries in his church. At least twice in the last year, he has expressed the need for "more volunteers." In fact, this last time, he has described it as a "dire need." The problem isn't that they have more kids than ever before. The problem is that children's ministry has been replaced with getting enough volunteers to fill the slots on the schedule. It has grown to the point that the focus is no longer what is best for the kids, but what is best for the volunteers.

Image courtesy of koratmember/
I imagine the process started with the innocent desire to make sure volunteers did not get too burdened with teaching week after week. So they created a schedule with Mrs. Jones teaching the first week, Mr. Smythe doing week two, Miss Looly on week three, and Mr. Grober on week four. That way, each teacher only has to teach once a month. But then Mr. Grober announces that he would rather teach every other month. So we either have to ask one of the other teachers to teach twice, or we need to get another teacher. Miss Looly is willing, but only temporarily until we find someone else. Meanwhile, Mrs. Jones calls on Saturday night to let us know that her family is going on vacation, so we ask Mr. Smythe if he can fill in. He can, but he doesn't really want to do two weeks in a row. We manage to plead and cajole and finally recruit enough volunteers so that nobody has to be stuck with the kids more than once every other month. All our slots are filled and all is well. Until we get a phone call from Mr. Grober....

A weekly rotation sounds like an ideal solution to "spread out the work," but it doesn't take much to derail the schedule. It requires us to recruit two or three times more volunteers than we actually need on a given Sunday, plus it does not guarantee freedom from burn-out. And before long, most of the energy is spent on getting warm bodies and figuring out how to schedule them. Soon, you have a volunteer or even the coordinator herself filling in for two, three, or more Sundays in a row and all they can think about is, "I'm tired of doing this every week. I haven't been in church for the last four weeks!"And, of course, there is the idea that Mr. Grober is here only because no one else wanted to do it that Sunday. That is the best we have to offer our children?

I have a testimony about my journey out of this cycle.  One day I will share it.  But for now, here are a few suggestions:

  • Recruit to vision, not to need. Iimagine if children's church was regarded as "real church." Imagine if there were dedicated, sold-out volunteers who look forward to bonding with the kids week after week. Figure out what your ministry is about, what it looks like, and find volunteers that will buy in to that vision.
  • Have a dedicated teacher.  Normally, that would be the Children's Pastor or Director, but in any event, find a consistent teacher whose "job" is to prepare and present to the kids each and every week.
  • Watch your language. The phrases used in our scenario above are actual quotes from volunteers and leaders: "don't want volunteers over burdened," "stuck with the kids," "haven't been in (real) church for a long time," etc. Don't talk about children's ministry as duty or obligation. "If nobody else comes forward, then (deep sigh) I guess I'll do it" (doesn't that just bless your heart?). Instead, tell the leadership, volunteers, the congregation, and yourself about this great adventure called "children's ministry."

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