Typically, children's ministry leaders focus most of their attention on kids, parents, volunteers, and staff. Many don't consider their senior pastor on the list of those they lead. Or at least whom they lead well.
But Bill Hybels offers a different perspective. Bill, the senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois and author of Courageous Leadership, often speaks to church leaders on the critical role they play in their local church. In a candid conversation about effective leadership in children's ministry, Bill provides specific examples and practical approaches you can use to work well with your senior pastor. (Promiseland is Willow Creek's children's ministry.)
In the early days of your church, you were not a big proponent of children's ministry. Today you are a very vocal supporter. What caused you, as a senior pastor, to make such a big change?
I admit I was a late-arriver to see the value children's ministry could bring to Willow Creek. It started when, occasionally, a mother or father would share excitement over how much their kids learned in Promiseland. Parents noticed that their kids were changing, and that grabbed my attention. Then I would run into volunteers fired up about working with children. I never really looked at children's ministry as a place where scores or even hundreds of volunteers could find their most meaningful place of service in the church. I always thought most people would find that adult ministry was the place to use their gifts. But a picture was developing of kids' lives changing—and a place where significant numbers of volunteers were using their spiritual gifts.
Then came a real turning point. Promiseland began to align all their horsepower with the overall objectives of the church. Sue Miller (Promiseland's executive director) began to vision cast and challenge non-member volunteers to join the church. Then she transitioned to a small group structure designed to intentionally shepherd all kids and volunteers. And to help our church's efforts to care for the poor, I learned that Promiseland kids, with adult supervision, had begun to serve meals to homeless people at our church—building compassion into their young hearts. When I saw all of the ways that our children's ministry was in stride with the goals and priorities of the entire church, I said, "This is genius." All of a sudden I realized we were all playing on the same team, going in the same direction.
What is important for children's ministry directors to understand about their senior pastor?
I have never seen a day where it is harder to be a senior pastor than this day, and I have never seen senior pastors under higher levels of stress. And that is for good reason. The world is changing, ministry is harder, preaching is harder, team building is harder and fundraising is harder. Capturing the attention of lost people is more difficult and people are more broken. So there is a lot going on in a senior pastor's mind.
And despite appearances, we're not as dumb as we look! Pastors know if life change is happening. So when we don't see some indication from parents or kids to that effect, if there is no sign of passionate volunteers in children's ministry, if we can't find obvious evidence of a ministry's alignment with the rest of the church, we will turn our attention to areas that will show that kind of impact.