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This week has been a busy week for me, both professionally and personally.

Professionally, this past Sunday was the launch of our new ministry year.  1300 kids and 700 volunteers made for a really exciting day!  I was excited about the number of new volunteers that we have in the Preteen Ministry. 

Personally, this Thursday is our little girls’ 1st birthday.  It doesn’t seem like Maggie should be a year old already, but we’re excited about celebrating that with family.  It’s been so much fun watching her grow and develop over this first year. 

As I think about the way that Maggie has developed over this first year of her life, I can’t help but notice the similarities between her development and the development of new volunteers in their first year of service.  For example…

1. Most of what our daughter learned was learned in the last 4 or 5 months.
Talking, crawling, walking (not there yet), following instructions, eating solid foods…all of these things were learned in the final months of her first year.  This is a good reminder to stay confident in new volunteers.  While they may not completely get it on the first week, they will grow and develop.  Give them time and keep encouraging.

2. Most of what our daughter learned was what we chose to teach her
My wife was intentional about teaching Maggie some sign language.  She consistently taught the signs over and over until our daughter understood and used them on her own.  New volunteers are going to learn what we chose to teach them.  What are we choosing to teach our volunteers? Even if the answer is “I don’t know”, we’re still teaching something and chances are it’s not good!

3. Some of what our daughter learned was through others’ example
Being around other kids has helped Maggie to learn new things.  This is especially true when she is around older kids. I love for Maggie to be around kids who can walk and talk because this models the behaviors that she is trying to develop and master.  It’s important that we give new volunteers the opportunity to rub shoulders with experienced volunteers.  Trust in your experienced volunteers to model the vision and strategy for the new volunteers.  Pretty soon the new volunteer is an experienced volunteer and ready to model for someone else.

4. Our daughter was motivated to learn new things because we rewarded her and celebrated her accomplishments
When Maggie says a new word or masters a new skill, we can’t help but love on her and praise her.  She gets the biggest smile on her face because she knows that she’s done something well.  New volunteers need the same type of encouragement.  As they develop and grow, they’re not sure if they’re doing everything correctly and they are searching for approval.  Spend time each week celebrating and rewarding new volunteers.  If the time comes when you need to correct a volunteer, it’s much easier to do so when you’ve also poured encouragement into their life.

5. Our daughter is not perfect and she has a lot of boo-boos
Part of growing up is making mistakes.  Maggie is learning to stand and walk, and it seems like she falls 100 times a day.  New volunteers will make mistakes.  I don’t know about you, but I definitely make my fair share of mistakes. There will be scenarios that you just can’t train them for.  It is the role of the leader to keep encouraging and helping them to learn through mistakes.

How do you nurture your new volunteers?

Maggie_and_me

As I write this, there is a lot of transition going on in my life.  My fingernails have been bitten down to the bone because so much is going on and it just doesn’t seem like there is enough time or energy to manage it all.  I’m taking on the full leadership of preteen ministry at Fellowship, which involves about 60 volunteers and 300 fifth and sixth graders.  I’m in and out of town all summer with children’s camps and other trips. Our daughter is now crawling, so nothing is in a safe distance from her grasp.  And my wife, Dana, and I just this morning bought a house that needs its share of TLC.  A lot is changing.  It is fun, but it is also daunting.

This has just further reminded me of the pains in transitioning preteens from elementary to middle school/jr. high.  This is such a taxing time emotionally, physically, and even spiritually.  For those of us in children’s ministry, this is one of the most critical parts of our job.  And yet, it is often overlooked. This takes some attention and planning to be successful.  It also takes a partnership between the children’s and student ministries.  If you haven’t done so already, let me encourage you to sit down with key leaders and staff from children’s ministry and student ministry at your church and ask these questions:

What is your strategy for helping a preteen to successfully manage the transition from elementary to Jr. High?
How do you prepare them for this transition to a new ministry before they reach this point?
What do you do to celebrate/commemorate this passage between stages of life?
How do you equip the parents to lead their kids during this process?
How do you evaluate the effectiveness of your strategy?

These questions are great to ask about every transition between life stages, such as between preschool and elementary or high school and college.

I posted a few weeks ago about the strategy that we used this year to help preteens navigate this transition.  You can read about that HERE.
If you have any questions about events that we do for preteens, you can contact me via TWITTER or EMAIL. 

Let me start by saying that I am no expert.  I fail more times than I succeed, in ministry and in life.  The only thing I can say for certain is that God has laid a great passion for preteens on my heart, and I’m doing my best to find ways to connect with them and share God’s Big Story with them.

I have learned from much wiser people that if you want to connect with preteens, you need to… 

1.  Be Authentic
Increases in technology and social networking means that preteens are “always on”.  They share everything that goes on in their lives—good and bad.  They value this sort of transparency in others.  In ministry, it’s important that we not try to hide our failures from this generation.  Rather, we should be teaching through those experiences and sharing how Scripture is leading us.  Sharing about experiences—good and bad—from a Biblical perspective is a great way to connect with preteens.
How do you share with preteens what God is doing in your personal life?
 

2.  Be Engaging
Let’s face it; if we try as the church to entertain preteens then we will fail miserably.  Technology is advancing at such a rate that even the top Fortune companies can’t stay relevant.  So if we can’t be entertaining, then what do we do?  We become engaging. Preteens want to be heard.  They want to share their thoughts and ask their questions.  To be engaging means that we will commit time to listen to them and relate to them.   This commitment furnishes us the credibility and opportunity to share what Scriptures says on the subject.  If we want to connect with preteens, we have to go to a deeper level and engage them in these types of conversations.
How do you engage preteens in Scripture-centered conversations?
 

3.  Be Productive
The scarcest of resources for everyone is TIME.  Preteens are no different.  They are as over-committed and over-involved as any generation in history.  The question for the church is: how do we package the message of the Gospel to be as important as we know it actually is?  I’m admittedly a “fly-by” kind of guy.  This has been a challenge for me.  The reality is that we need to have a strategy for every second we spend with preteens so that we can communicate the truth of Scripture.  If you’re planning an event for preteens or your weekly service for preteens—ask what makes it worth attending and be sure to communicate that to preteens.  The Gospel is powerful and effective, and the message doesn’t need to change.  However, our methods must always be changing to assure that the time we are asking preteens to give us is filled with life-changing dialogue.
What is your strategy to keep your ministry time as productive for preteens as possible?
 

4.  Be Available
But don’t smother.  One of the reasons that I sensed God pulling my heart towards this season of life is because of their awkward position of wanting space and needing guidance.  Up to this point, faith has been based mostly upon parental influence.  As a preschooler and even early elementary years, kids model and follow the faith of their parents.  For some reason and at some point, kids begin to question everything—including faith.  It is imperative that we establish lines of communication with preteens so that they can feel safe to ask these questions. It is also imperative that we provide opportunities for them to wonder and discover faith for themselves.  A great method is through service.  By serving, preteens develop an understanding of what it means to BE the church and not just go to church.  Will they make mistakes?  Will they think they have answers and be totally wrong?  Yes, probably.  That is why we need to be available to step in and provide guidance.  One of the greatest things we can do for preteens is to provide them with space to take ownership of their faith.
How are you encouraging preteens to take ownership of their faith?
 

5.  Be an Example
This just goes without saying.  Other than the early years of a child’s life (0-3 years), the preteen years are the most foundational years for personality and faith.  All of the other four points really boil down to this one.  Preteens need to see how Jesus Christ can change their lives.  The best way to communicate this is not with our words, but with our actions.  We need to model spiritual disciplines such as prayer, worship, Scripture study, and service.  Mark Matlock (@markmatlock) spoke at Orange ‘11 on this same subject and he shared a great line.  He said, “We summarize Scripture more than we read Scripture. And when kids tell us about an issue in their life, we tell them that we will pray for them instead of stopping right then and actually praying with them.”
In what ways are you providing opportunities for examples in your ministry environments?
 
I’d love to hear your feedback and experiences.  Leave comments or questions on the blog. You can also follow the RSS feed for this blog and/or follow me on twitter @Pastor_MattMo