My First Five Years…

Nakisha DeJongWhat Every Leader Needs to Know

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The words “God doesn’t call the equipped, but equips the called” hold a special significance in my life. Growing up in the church, I was exposed to the drama and conflict  that often come with helping in ministry, so I told God I never wanted to work for the church.  As I got older, I also told God that I’d rather not work with kids because I felt led to work with teenagers. And it seemed that my wishes were coming true.  Right out of college I landed what I thought was my dream job using my new degree.

Nine months later, though, I  found myself suddenly unemployed by choice. In order to appease my mother, I applied for the open position at our church in Children’s Ministries. To make a long story short, I turned down the offer twice before I finally gave in to God’s calling and accepted the position as Children’s Ministries Director. I found myself with a job I didn’t really want, wasn’t trained to do, and at a church that didn’t provide much support. Thankfully God was in control as I floundered through my first few years of ministry. I learned very quickly and want to share some nuggets of truth and wisdom:

  1. Educate yourself: I found myself in a position that did not match the college degree I had received and had no idea where to start learning the ins/outs of children’s ministry. I started with the basics, like reading the junk mail that came across my desk! Over time I realized that it was very important to schedule my routine so that I could read and research like crazy. Even if I didn’t finish a book or blog post, I was able to glean nuggets of wisdom about trends, new curriculum, and issues facing families in the church. All these things, along with attending several conferences, helped me navigate my first few years in ministry.
  2. Ask for help, a lot: When you are new, you want to do whatever you can to make a great first impression, sometimes to the point of sacrificing personal health in order to get the job done. Most of the time, however, you can accomplish more if you focus on a few things and find key individuals to help with tasks like making name tags or stuffing envelopes. As a leader it’s important to lead and show by example that it’s healthy to have boundaries.
  3. Learn how to recruit. Being the new person in town or in a church often means you don’t know many people—and that makes recruiting volunteers tough. It’s important to remember a few key things about recruitment: First, recruiting is about relationships. Be sure to focus on truly getting to know people and their gifts so you can ask them to serve in a position that fits them well. Second, use people who have been around longer to help you generate a list of potential volunteers. Third, don’t take “no” personally. You will hear “no” a lot, so take the opportunity to ask those who are declining for names of others who might be interested in helping. Finally, remember that God will stir the hearts of those meant to serve—so be patient and trust that timing.
  4. Have a vision: Chances are high that your ministry has already created a vision statement or at least a generic idea of what they want their ministry to look like. While it is important to start operating from this place, it is equally important to carve out time to make sure that God isn’t calling you to take the ministry in a different direction. Examine your heart and the calling God has placed on your life to see how it fits in with the greater vision for your ministry. People prefer to follow a leader who knows where they are going!
  5. Remember that change is good: When first starting out in a position, it is important to observe and ask questions. As an outsider the best way to understand the culture of ministry is to let people share their hearts and watch how things work. However, the danger comes in observing for too long. As an outsider you also have a fresh perspective and are able to notice places where changes need to be made. Don’t be afraid to make the tough call and challenge the status quo! Be sure to share your heart and vision for change as you work through the process, especially knowing that some people may be very resistant to change. At the end of the day, you were hired to do your job, and you need to make sure that you do it well.
  6. Find a network of people doing what you do: I had no idea what I was getting myself into with my new position, but was blessed to be connected with a veteran Children’s Director as a mentor. She was able to answer questions and be an encourager. Together we gathered a network of other people in ministry to meet together, share ideas, pray, and genuinely remind each other that we weren’t alone in ministry. This group was vital to my success the first few years of ministry.

Remember who you really serve: As a newcomer it is easy to get caught up in the feedback people will share. Often this feedback stems from a place of frustration with how things had been done previously. I often found myself feeling stuck between contradictory opinions. I ultimately had to remind myself who I was really serving in my position–it wasn’t my boss, the parents, or even their kids. I was in my position to serve God. Once I reminded myself whose approval I needed, I was able to run all the feedback through a proper filter and focus on the pieces of ministry that really mattered. This process created a thriving ministry that gave glory to God!

Nakisha DeJong lives in Zeeland, Michigan, with her husband and two daughters. She holds a Masters Degree in Social Work and spent eight years in ministry before becoming a work-from-home-mom. Nakisha enjoys doing freelance writing, working as a Tastefully Simple Independent Consultant, and working with churches as a Children’s Ministries Consultant.