Ministry so often feels like a hamster wheel - it can feel like a never-ending cycle of sessions and planning and tidying up and team meetings, and never quite feeling accomplished or done.
We can feel like we are dragging the ministry behind us. Through sheer force of effort and will, we will help these kids meet and know God. We will make sure they know they are loved, and we will finally get that midweek group launched, no matter what!
But I would like us to pause for a moment and ask one question. What is God doing?
Following the active God
I was recently reading the book of John, and I was struck again by what Jesus said in 5 :19: “…the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” Jesus had utter confidence in the truth that God was doing something. He knew the Father was active in the world, accomplishing plans and reaching and ministering to people. Jesus first saw what Father God was doing, then did it with him.
We, on the other hand, tend to take a different approach. We take the “I’ll plan the thing, and then you show up, God” technique. It is so easy to slip into thinking we are the ones with the power and willingness to help children meet and know God, forgetting that God is more committed than we are to making that happen.
How often do we plan a session and ask for God’s help or blessing on it, rather than saying: “OK, God, what are you doing and how can I jump on board?” Do we really believe that, completely without us, Father God is the main minister to the group of children or young people we see each week? Do we really believe he is at work in their lives, not only in the sessions we run, but more so in the everyday: in their homes, at school and as they sleep, eat, laugh and live?
Training our eyes
In ministry, it is easy for our eyes to get trained on our to-do lists and calendars. If God wants to change what we’re doing he needs to appear in bodily form and fling himself onto our desks to get our attention. But what if we started our days by asking: “God, what are you doing? Who are you talking to? What can I do to join you in with what you are doing?” What if we began training our eyes to always be tuned in to where God actively is and then follow him? If we are to do this, we need to be ready for two things:
We must be ready to change focus
One group of children I led seemed to only want to talk and play with each other. I was knackered trying to wrestle this group into focus. I’m quite a confident leader, comfortable with appropriate discipline strategies, but this felt like herding cats! As I prepped for the next session I asked God: “What are you doing?” and I felt as though he highlighted to me how isolated the children felt.
In adult church we get home groups, friendships, activities and social events. The children in this group were usually left out of all that. In their own way they were craving the relational side of church, and God was stirring that in them. Rather than fight it, I threw out my session plan and spent a morning playing with them and leading them in discussions with each other about worship, God, fear and whatever else popped up in their minds.
They grew deeper in friendships with each other through praying for each other, laughing together and planning a curriculum together. They became the teachers and worked in teams to deliver parts of the programme over the following weeks. When I got on board with what God was doing we began to see huge growth in the children’s spiritual connection to him and each other. All it took was a willingness to change the focus of the group and respond to what God was growing.
We must go with the ones going
As leaders, we can often hold back until we have enough leaders, parents and supporting adults to accomplish something. One thing I have learned in this area is that you have to go with the ones who are going. If God is stirring something exciting, jump on board with what he is raising up.
More than 12 years ago, I felt that God was stirring parents to invest in the spiritual lives of their kids. They were asking questions and sharing with me how uncomfortable they felt talking about God with their kids, and something inside me recognised that God was at work. I decided to create a parenting for faith course to resource the parents in my sphere, but only three families signed up. I was so disappointed. I thought I had got it wrong and considered cancelling, but then I thought: “Why not? Let’s go with the ones that are going.”
Within three years, most of the parents in the church had worked through the programme and the change in their children was remarkable. To date, hundreds of these courses have been run all over the world. If I had waited for more to be interested I don’t think we ever would have started. When you see God doing something, go with the ones who are going. See what God is doing and respond. You will not be sorry.
We will be so much more effective if we remember to take a breath and look for the God who has spent all week actively involved in the lives of the children, young people and communities we serve. So what is he doing where you are?
RACHEL TURNER is the Parenting for Faith pioneer at Bible Reading Fellowship. Her book Parenting Children for a Life of Confidence and other resources can be found at parentingforfaith.org