The success of your ministry to children is, more than anything else, dependent upon you — the teacher or helper. As you serve the Lord in children’s ministry, you will make the difference in the lives of the children you touch. For most people, leadership does not come naturally; it must be learned, developed and nurtured. The secular world is full of books, CDs, and DVDs to help people become successful — at least according to the standards of the world. However, as Christians, we are called to be leaders of a different kind; we are called to be servant leaders.
Learn from biblical servant leaders
The Bible gives many guidelines for effective leadership; as Christian leaders we should put these into practice in our lives and in our ministries to students.
Jesus, the Greatest Leader of all, gives us the first guideline to follow. He said, “Whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:43-45) As Christian leaders, we are called upon to serve others as Jesus did — by ministering to them and by meeting their needs. To help us do this, we can look at the characteristics of Jesus’ leadership while He was on earth.
In Isaiah 42, in referring to the coming Messiah, the prophet says, “Behold My Servant, Who I uphold; Mine elect, in Whom My Soul delighteth; I have put My Spirit upon Him.” (Isaiah 42:1) Just as Jesus was God’s chosen servant and God placed His Spirit on Him, if God has called you to be a teacher or helper, you are God’s chosen servant and He has promised to place His Spirit on you as you serve Him.
Isaiah goes on to say, that God’s chosen servant “will not shout or cry out or raise His voice... A bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering wick He will not snuff out.” (Isaiah 42:2-3 NIV) Jesus was a gentle, kind, and loving leader; One Who cared for the weak and struggling people around Him; One Who treated everyone fairly and with equity. This should be the standard that you try to follow as you lead or assist in your children’s ministry. Are you fair? Do you care about each of your students equally — even the underachievers, the rebels, the quiet ones; do you treat each one with love and compassion?
According to the world’s guidelines, leadership depends on cleverness, wit, humor, and talent. But Jesus’ leadership was different, and ours should be too. Jesus was available and He was vulnerable. He cared for each individual person and He showed it in the supreme way — He died the most painful and humiliating death and rose from the dead so all people may be forgiven. In so doing, the Bible says He “made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men.” (Philippians 2:7) Jesus was no arrogant, glamorous leader, He came “not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)
Apply servant leadership to your ministry
What are the qualities we should try to develop in ourselves, as leaders, as we seek to become servant leaders like Jesus?
• Servant leadership recognizes that everything is the Lord’s work — your career, your family, weekend trips, washing the dishes, mowing the lawn, watching your child’s basketball game, and even baking cookies for a Sunday school party.
• Leadership builds the confidence of those you lead; good leaders instill hope in those they lead and in those they minister alongside.
• Servant leadership trusts the work to God and allows Him to bring the results without our manipulation.
• Jesus-style leadership produces excellence — both in yourself and in those you lead.
• Good leaders honor the time of others. They are responsible and plan ahead. They have respect for those in authority over them.
Applying servant leadership to ministry does not mean you should do everything for the child. It does mean you do the servant tasks that make it possible for your children to be a group. You seek out the tasks and give the encouragement that makes it possible for children to express their own leadership. Your Sunday school or Bible club class is not a showcase to display your programming and promotional skills — it should be a training ground where students develop their own skills and personalities under the guidance of a caring, loving leader.
When you are able to fully understand your role as a teacher, you will be freed from the terrible strain of constantly trying to have a perfectly executed program for other adults to admire. That is not your primary responsibility. Your role is to allow the students to do things for themselves and help them, when they experience failures and disappointments, to do so without feeling they are failures themselves.
Some teachers feel they must run a tight ship and have polished performances and slick promotion to be successful. To make this happen, usually the leader has to do things himself; that is not a truly successful leader. The successful leader is committed to being a servant who helps children develop their own leadership, even though the results aren’t as tidy and impressive to the outside world.
The real key to leadership is to follow Jesus’ example in leadership — follow God’s will, be filled with God’s Spirit and be a servant to all.