4 Paths Which Began in Kid Ministry 25 Years Ago
by Dave Miller
Here’s my conversation executive pastors Bryan Carter of Crossroads Cincinnati, Greg Gilmore of Owensboro Christian Church, Chris Hahn of Southland in Lexington, KY and Bart Stone of Momentum Church in Atlanta. All went to college together, all began in kids ministry (I didn’t actually even know that until this conversation), and all have sustain ministry for the better part of 25 years.
Wanna be in ministry?
1. Run towards a great leader
2. Run towards a great church
3. Start in kids ministry!
Dynamic church leadership doesn’t only happen on the big stage. When looking for the first place on your pathway to plug in and lead, don’t overlook one of the most thriving, essential areas of any dynamic church – its children’s and student ministries.
Here at Leadership Pathway, one of our values in the first 90 days of a residency is to help the resident “feel the weight” of ministry as quickly as possible. We know from experience that one of the best ways to do this is in kids’ ministry. Engaging kids’ ministries need leaders with a variety of gifts, not just those who are “good with kids.” And brand-new leaders need a safe place to fly, fall and fail.
I met with four long-time ministry leaders who got their start in children’s ministries, and whose ministry longevity has lasted for the better part of 25 years: Senior Pastor Bart Stone at Momentum; and Executive Pastors Greg Gilmore at Owensboro Christian, Chris Hahn at Southland and Bryan Carter at Crossroads. Each of these church leaders would agree that if you want to preach and plant a church someday, kids’ ministries is a sound place to begin.
As these men found out years ago, it really is about leadership first, and then about preaching someday. And unlike many areas of ministry, children’s and student ministries often hire younger leaders. It’s an area of great leadership need, and one that a 23-year-old fresh out of school can often fill.
“Small” starts have big impact.
Greg Gilmore, now Executive Pastor at Owensboro Christian, got his first taste of children’s ministry through an internship when he was still in college earning his business degree. “One of the first events I remember going to, they had rented a wrestling rink, and we were pretending to be wrestlers. It totally rocked what I thought children’s ministry should be. This was actually fun! That’s when I realized this could be a pathway for me, just to have fun. I just realized it was what I wanted to do.”
Crossroads Executive Pastor Bryan Carter says he felt the church was on the verge of something big, and he wanted in on it. “It was a tough kind of thing in the beginning. There really wasn’t a model for male-led children’s ministry…but Charlie Macmahan (spelling??) had a reputation as a good leader. He was a legend in my mind. And the church was really doing something that I hadn’t seen.”
Momentum’s Senior Pastor Bart Stone reflects: “Children’s ministry wasn’t on my mind, but my dad put in my mind early that I seemed to have a heart and an affinity with children. I definitely had the desire to teach and preach at some point, and I did get those opportunities at times (in children’s). The main draw as a great church, and I thought something was gonna happen there. I saw a church I thought would push me.”
Chris Hahn simply had a God moment. “ I never thought of children’s ministry at all. I really fought it, felt it was not my thing. But one Sunday morning, I went into the chapel and 150 elementary kids were worshipping. And God said, ‘this is what you’re supposed to do.’ It was a real powerful moment.”
Learning how to lead.
A common thread with all four pastors was how much they learned about leadership from their kids’ ministry roots. Says Hahn: “The biggest thing I learned? Sunday’s always coming! You need volunteers. You can’t just ‘wing it’ in children’s ministry. You have to have good qualified people who are leading. It makes you a leader of leaders.”
Gilmore found a penchant for perseverance: “How to speak vision into people, how to get the system around you to work. How to organize, and understand I can’t do it by myself.”
Carter notes, “You really learn long-term discipleship. Find one person out there who can do what you do, and develop them.” Stone agrees. “I learned to surround myself with key leaders who were better than I was. That’s something I hope I still do.”
Leading in children’s ministry allows you to try on your leadership wings, while there are still people “above” you to tackle the heavier lifting of ministry. It’s a place to explore your creativity and leadership styles, and to safely try on different preaching methods. Hahn says “We got to flex our organizational muscles, our creative muscles, be silly with kids. It was always fresh, and we had lots of freedom to do things out of the box.”
Digging in, leading out.
All four of these leaders agree that there should be a continued push toward dynamic leadership in children’s ministries, especially by men. Says Gilmore, “We’ve got to ask people, ‘would you want to do this? You need to do this!’ and remind them that it can really impact the kingdom. There’s been an absence of people who are really speaking vision into how impactful children’s ministry can be. And (down the line) it’s a huge asset to have leaders on the leadership team who are big advocates for children’s ministries.”
Hahn says that the majority of their most equipped leaders have come through either children’s or student ministries. Their church’s goal is to get people as much experience as possible. “We encourage students to serve in children’s, give them experience in leading. Five staff members came into our staff through volunteering in children’s. Volunteers become part-time staff members, who become full-time leaders.”
Some children’s leaders move on, as their shoulders are tapped for other ministries. Some get hooked and stay. Either way, the benefits to both the young leader and the ministry are undeniable. Leaders get to “practice” leading, learn perseverance and how to engage volunteers, and realize that you can’t do any kind of ministry alone. The ministry itself gains strong role models and dynamic young leadership, as well as creating church leaders who have a passion for children’s ministries, and therefore support it, resource it, and give it life.
Stone still looks back on those days with fondness. “We lived in the glory day of children’s ministry. I was in a great ride of a church. It was so good. I got challenged, I got pushed. But that was good. I look back on those days and have incredible memories.”
And as Gilmore says, “As you move on, there are elements you miss. You long for some of those days…”
If you’re navigating the first steps of your leadership pathway, you might consider starting in children’s ministries. It can have a strong and lasting impact on you personally, on the church, and on the kingdom.