Mailbag #83: Protecting the Sunday Gathering by Limiting Reasons to Be Out of Room . . . Caring for Over-Worked Children’s Ministry Workers

Mailbag
05.13.2019

To what extent should the church protect the Sunday morning gathering by limiting reasons for members to be “at church” but out of the room? »
What do you do to care for the spiritual health of your children’s ministry leaders? »

Dear 9Marks,

To what extent should the church protect the Sunday morning service time by limiting reasons for members to be out of the room? What a good reasons for a member to be “at church” but not assembled?

More specifically, we have a “boiler room” ministry were a few members will leave the morning service before the sermon, pray for the sermon continuously, and then return to the sanctuary once the sermon is complete. The boiler room participants are unable to hear the sermon during this time. Many members don’t want to participate because they don’t want to miss the sermon itself. We started this practice years ago under a previous pastor, but I’m struggling to find a defense for it in Scripture.

Another example: Four or five times a year, we’ll have some members leave or miss the service to setup for a noon lunch in our fellowship hall.

Other examples that don’t really concern me:

  • nursery workers
  • separate children’s ministry time during the sermon
  • security team members

—Cameron

Dear Cameron,

Your instinct to protect the Sunday morning service is on track. The most important ministry that a local church has is the main gathering of God’s people on the Lord’s Day. Churches are most fundamentally assemblies, and this means it is essential for your members to assemble as often as possible (Heb. 10:25). Many churches organize children’s ministry and nurseries during the service. Those ministries, along with security teams, will require some members to miss the worship service.

At my church, we try to keep a large rotation of volunteers so that members don’t have to miss the service that often. It’s vital to their spiritual health to regularly be a part of the gathering. For those who serve, we try to upload our sermon audio within an hour of our service ending, so that they can still listen to the sermon before the day is over.

As for members missing the service for other reasons, I would find a way to eliminate that. Praying for the sermon and the worship service is a wonderful practice that you should affirm and encourage. However, having those prayer times during the sermon—even if it has the pedigree of Charles Spurgeon’s Metropolitcan Tabernacle, where they did the same—doesn’t seem like the best decision. Those members need to be a part of the assembly and sit under the preaching of God’s Word with the rest of the body. Instead, have a group of people gather to pray before the service, after the service or, really, any time except during the service (though they can certainly pray silently from their seat!). Gathering to pray for the sermon is great, but there’s simply no reason to have that conflict with staying to listen to the sermon.

Those setting up for meals should do so outside of service times. While meals after church are a great way to fellowship, they shouldn’t pull people out of the main reason you come to church—to gather for worship! We must help our church members understand that the most important thing we do together is gather to worship on the Lord’s Day.

—Dave Russell

Dear 9Marks,

I was wondering about how you care for your children’s ministry leaders.

Our church is relatively small (~70 in attendance on Sunday) with a lot of young kids. It’s a bit distracting to have all the kids in service. However, some of our children’s ministry leaders are feeling spiritually drained and isolated from the broader church community because they aren’t able to regularly attend service with everyone else.

What do you do to care for the spiritual health of your children’s ministry leaders?

Chris

Dear Chris,

Great question. Our church, too, has about 70 or 80 adults in attendance, together with another 80 kids. Tackling this opportunity was one of the biggest agenda-items for the elders in the months leading up to our plant. Like you, we didn’t want to exhaust people working in volunteer positions. Instead, we want as many people as possible to be in the main service because we recognize how crucial that is for the life of the Christian. For that reason, we decided to limit the number of times a person serves in childcare. At the same time, having young ones in the service makes it difficult for the parents themselves to pay attention and benefit. For that reason, we wanted to make sure we provided as much as we could.

Keeping all this in mind, the leadership team (who became the elders once the church started) did several things:

  • We nominated three deaconesses of childcare. Having this many helped them divide up the work and do an excellent job.
  • We limited childcare to ages 0 to 5.
  • We made several suggestions to the deaconesses for possible curriculum for the 3 to 5 year olds (Praise Factory, Desiring God Children’s, Gospel Project, etc) and asked them to research the material and make a recommendation, which we chose.
  • We quickly adopted a child protection policy which specified who could and could not work in children’s ministry.
  • We did not want any adult serving in children’s ministry more than once a month. And so, together with the deaconesses, we worked to ensure that a sufficient number of adults (with buffer) were placed on the childcare rotation to meet that goal. We decided that it would not be appropriate to require all eligible adults to work in children’s ministry, but that we would strongly encourage all eligible adults to do so, including the elders. I don’t recall the exact percentage, but I think around 80 percent of eligible adults serve. Our goal is to move to a 5-week rotation instead of a 4-week rotation.

So far, so good. We’ve been going at it for about 15 months now (FYI, we meet in a school, and therefore cannot have any Sunday School beforehand). The deaconesses have done an amazing job keeping all this in motion, and I don’t think any of them are exhausted. Nor are the adult members exhausted from serving.

—Jonathan Leeman

By:
Dave Russell

Dave Russell is the Senior Pastor of Oakhurst Baptist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. You can follow him on Twitter at @DRussinQC.

Jonathan Leeman

Jonathan Leeman is the Editorial Director of 9Marks, and an elder at Cheverly Baptist Church in Cheverly, Maryland. You can find him on Twitter at @JonathanLeeman.