Sam Rainer serves as lead pastor of West Bradenton Baptist Church. He is also the president of Rainer Research, and he is the co-founder/co-owner of Rainer Publishing. His desire is to provide answers for better church health. Sam is author of the book, Obstacles in the Established Church, and the co-author of the book, Essential Church. Sam is married to Erin and they have four awesome kids in their home.
The brief bits of wisdom contained in this post took me far too long to learn. After serving a few churches as a pastor and consultant, I’m beginning to understand the impact lead pastors have on children’s ministry and student ministry. Quite frankly, it’s easy as a lead pastor to neglect the NextGen ministry. I know, I should have figured this problem out sooner.
As long as volunteers are in place for the nursery and teachers are in the classrooms for children, we lead pastors tend not to dedicate much time to this area of the church. As long as the students are not causing ripples with the adults, then everything must be going smoothly, right? The next generation of the church deserves more from you. Your NextGen staff deserves more from you. Your NextGen volunteers deserve more from you.
Typically, middle school students and high school students account for ten percent of the congregation. Babies, preschoolers, and children can account for about twenty percent of the congregation. Lead pastors are called to shepherd the entire congregation, not just the adults. Neglecting NextGen ministry means you are neglecting about a third of your congregation. Whether you shepherd a smaller congregation in which NextGen ministry is led by volunteers, or whether you shepherd a large church with multiple staff people in these areas, you can lead by showing your support.
Listen more, assume less. Most lead pastors have limited experience with student ministry and even less experience with children’s ministry. Don’t assume all is great simply because you haven’t noticed any drama for a few months. Don’t assume chaos simply because three parents approached you with complaints. Take the time to listen, especially to your staff who lead NextGen. Lead pastors tend to jump to conclusions more quickly with NextGen ministry than with any other area of the church. Listen more and assume less.
Offer praise from the platform. Worship pastors get a lot of props because they are on the stage every week. Mission endeavors are highlighted during worship services. Lead pastors control the power of the pulpit. However, NextGen ministry is often forgotten in worship. The children’s pastor and student pastor do not often have the opportunity to speak about their ministries to the entire congregation. Give them platform time in worship services. Be intentional about encouraging them in worship services.
Push for a better budget. Churches take pride in giving a lot to missions. They should. Worship pastors are particularly adept at negotiating large increases to their budgets. I cannot blame them. However, children and students tend lose during the budget process. Why? Simple—children and students do not have a voice at budget meetings. When have you ever brought in a child or a student into these meetings? Likely never. Sure, the student pastor and children’s pastor are there. But it’s not the same as hearing from those directly impacted by the ministry. Lead pastors can serve NextGen ministry by being an advocate during the budget process.
Nurture a culture of safety not secrecy. Your children’s pastor and student pastor cannot alone create this culture. They need your help. Take the lead and make it a policy to report all allegations of abuse. Don’t wash your hands concerning issues of safety. And you certainly should not encourage NextGen ministry areas to keep matters of abuse quiet. One of the main responsibilities of a lead pastor is to nurture the culture of a church. Your church will never have a culture of safety without your direct involvement.
Encourage multi-generational opportunities. Lead pastors should work with the NextGen ministry on creating opportunities for every generation to serve together and fellowship together. If every mission trip is age segmented, if every fellowship is categorized by life stage, then the church is creating a hole in the discipleship process.
Create systems and structures that break down silos. Clean handoffs between preschool, children, and students should exist. Families should not feel like their fourth grader and ninth grader are in completely different ministry paradigms. Rarely do student pastors and children’s pastors naturally work together to break down ministry silos. More typically, they cut deals with volunteers and budgets. Like a pick-up game of basketball, the children’s pastor and student pastor will go back-and-forth selecting the most capable servants. Usually, the lead pastor has to encourage (or force) systems and structures that open discipleship pathways. Without a comprehensive system for the entire church, likely the student ministry and children’s ministry will remain in silos.
Lead pastor involvement in NextGen ministry is more important than ever. One hundred years ago, the life expectancy of an infant was about 50 years. Only two generations existed in congregations, with a handful of grandparents. Today, people are living longer, and many churches have five generations to bridge. Every lead pastor should find ways to support NextGen ministry. Nobody wants to be micromanaged, but I imagine most NextGen servants would welcome the encouragement.