It was 3:30am when I unlocked the door to my condo, stepped inside and thought, Do I want to get a couple hours of sleep before getting ready for church, or should I just stay up since it’s almost morning anyway?
I had just finished decorating the children’s church area and I was quite pleased. Everything was exactly how I imagined it. The kids are going to be so thrilled, I thought.
Sounds like a great Kids Church accomplishment, right?
While the end product was what I wanted, what I didn’t highlight was that I had spent my entire Saturday at the church. I spent from about 10:00am until 3:30am (that’s right—17.5 hours) making and setting up the décor. Alone. Nobody was there to help me and, frankly, I was content with that. After all, if I did it all myself then I knew it would be exactly what I wanted.
I didn’t realize that what I saw as success was ultimately failure.
Fast forward a few years to my current church. I had a small group of friends who volunteered to help me decorate one of the classrooms. I was glad for the help and excited for the new set. We were turning the classroom into a 50’s diner and I had a lot of ideas. We had worked several hours and things were coming along nicely until we got stuck on the design for one wall. I found a template for some Coke bottles online and asked one of the volunteers to print out some of them and put them on the wall. He did what I asked—he copied three Coke bottles onto a piece of paper, printed it out, and then proceeded to tape the entire piece of paper that contained the cutouts to the wall.
Now, I’m being vulnerable here, but it is an understatement to say that I got irritated. I was tired. I was ready to be done. And I was in disbelief that he really thought I meant to just tape up a piece of paper that had cutouts on it. I vocally expressed my irritation, and truthfully, I was anything but a good teacher at that moment. I asked him to forgive me, explained what I had in mind, and acknowledged that I was letting my perfectionism ruin the night. Another success turned failure.
Over time, I learned that what I was doing was killing my influence and my ministry.
I recently taught a workshop on how to use décor and props to make the Bible come alive for kids. I was going to use a specific piece of décor—a large Monopoly property piece redesigned with a scripture to represent a way to decorate while enforcing the Bible. I didn’t have any leftover examples from when I used this prop in my own class so I went to the store and bought supplies to re-create it.
I do not have a gift for drawing so I asked my husband to freehand the water faucet on the “Water Works” piece. After he drew the picture (and did a great job on it) I went to put the text on the board. I ended up messing it up. The text was shifted too far to the right, the letters weren’t all the same size, and what’s worse, I used a Sharpie. There was no undoing this one.
I was about to ask my husband to re-draw the picture onto another board when I thought, There’s no way I can ask him to do this all over just because I messed up. So I decided to go with it and just explain what happened at the conference. Surely those teachers would be forgiving, right? Hopefully more forgiving than I used to be toward the other volunteers when they made mistakes.
As I was rehearsing my lesson the next morning before the conference, I realized that prop had more to teach from it than just being a great décor piece. It was a symbol of a lesson that I learned the hard way. Kids don’t care if things are perfect. If I had hung that property piece up in my classroom as part of a set, not a single child would have said, “The writing on that piece is too far to the right.” They would all come in and say, like they did when I used the actual set in my classroom, “Hey! Cool! It’s a life-size Monopoly board!”
I took this mistake to be a great opportunity for a teaching moment: as children’s ministers we are not called to be artists, perfectionists, or over-bearing dictators. We’re supposed to minister to people.
What good is racing around on Sunday morning trying to find a copier that works to make copies of your coloring page when there’s a child in the hallway just wanting your attention—and you brushed him off because you were too busy setting up?
What good is it to have ample volunteers, perfect ratios, and care so much about a perfect program that we fail to see the weariness in a volunteer’s eyes because they were up all night taking care of an elderly parent?
And we fail to take the time to pray for them and understand their need for grace and flexibility?
What good is it if we come up with the perfect Father’s Day craft (after hours of Pinterest surfing) but fail to help the children know their Heavenly Father?
This was the hardest lesson for me—learning that ministry is not in the perfect programs, the perfect sets, or the perfect volunteers. Ministry is about ministering. May we not let our pride, our personal agendas, or our unrealistic expectations replace the most important part of our callings: leading people to Jesus and salvation through Him.
“I don’t mean to say I am perfect. I haven’t learned all I should even yet, but I keep working toward that day when I will finally be all that Christ saved me for and wants me to be.” -Philippians 3:12 (TLB)
“And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” -I Corinthians 12:9 (KJV)