October 31, 2017, I celebrated the fact that 18 years ago my wife, Cherith, and I came to Arkansas to be the Kids Pastors at First NLR. What a ride it has been! We have been blessed to serve under two incredible pastors, Dr. Alton Garrison (the first 18 months) and Rod Loy (the past 16.5 years). To serve on such an incredible team (many of whom have been along for MOST of the ride as well) is more of a blessing than I could describe.
There's something to be said about longevity in ministry - especially longevity in ONE place. It's so incredible to look around at every Staff Meeting and see FOUR kids who grew up in my Kids Ministry and are now Kids Pastors, Student Pastors, Online Pastors on our team (and other campuses). It's such a joy to be able to be able to teach and hold the children OF the children I taught in SLAM long ago (I call them my GrandSLAMs and I am their "SLAMpa" haha). I am so thankful to have been able to remain in one place for this long. Sadly, this is not the norm.
Probably all of us in ministry have heard the stats, and they are troubling. The average Children/Youth Minister only stays at his current church for about 18 - 24 months. Some studies have stated that it may be more like 3 years, and others I have seen say it’s more like 9-11 months. But suffice it to say, the tenure of the average Children/Youth Minister is way too short.
When you move on too quickly, you miss out on the incredible benefits of longevity in ministry:
- Improved Perspective - the longer you stay in one place, the greater perspective you have. You know the history of the ministry - what worked and what didn't work. You know the struggles and victories of the people in your ministry. You are able to minister from an increased awareness of their needs.
- Deeper Relationships - it takes time to get "beyond the surface" in relationships. The longer you stay, the more highs and lows you experience with people. The longer you stay, the more they trust you to "stick it out" and be there for the long haul. When they trust you, relationships go deeper.
- Increased Wisdom - the longer you stay, the more mistakes you will make. Hopefully, you will learn from those mistakes and grow. Then, you will gain wisdom and not make those same mistakes again. In addition, it seems that around the 6th or 7th year of being at a place, suddenly people begin to see you as smarter. You may not be that much smarter, but their perception of you begins to become more of a wise mentor than a "new pastor on staff."
- Sharper Skills - many people claim to have "ten years of Children's Ministry experience" when in actuality they have "2 years of Children's Ministry experience in five different churches." Too many leave a church and move to the next one once they have run out of ideas. Then, they move to the next church and put the same two years worth of ideas into that church - and so on. When you commit to be at the same spot for the long haul, it FORCES you to develop your skills beyond your comfort zone. Your communication skills, leadership skills, and relational skills are stretched when you choose to stay beyond the "itch" for something new. Don't go looking for that "something new" elsewhere, develop that "something new" right where you are!
- Unparalleled Fulfillment - there is nothing that compares to being able to watch the children you minister to grow up and become strong leaders in the church. I now have had the privilege to perform marriages of kids who grew up in my Kids Ministry. Our lead Kids Pastor here at First NLR was a 3rd Grader when I came to the church. There is nothing more fulfilling than seeing your ministry come full-circle.
Longevity in ministry may be rare, but I believe that is slowly changing. As Kids Ministry Leaders begin to recognize the benefits of longevity, this will begin to become the norm instead of the exception. I am so thankful to God that I have had the opportunity to serve First NLR for the past 18 years, and I pray that I have another 18 (or more) left in me!