by Carla Bregani
Some of us have a tendency to do things a little backwards—like falling in love with Caribbean culture before ever living in or visiting the region, earning multiple degrees in other fields before being called to children’s ministry, or using Orange curriculum as a volunteer for more than a year before realizing the “big picture” of Orange Strategy. I can plead guilty to all three.
And now here I am: a hockey-loving Canadian girl serving on staff as minister to children alongside a wonderful multicultural church family full of Caymanians and ex-patriots in the Cayman Islands, and thirstily absorbing the wisdom of Orange Strategy as I go.
I love that God has called me to a task that is so far over my head, it forces me to rely on Him in my inadequacy each day. But I have managed to glean a few wise principles from Orange Strategy that I do my best to apply as I muddle through the adventure of serving families cross-culturally and being used by God for His Glory.
- Involve families from the start. There is no “us vs. them.” We are all on the same team; make sure families know this. Parents are the experts on their children. When we support parents as they grow spiritually, everyone wins.
- Involve the whole church. Children’s ministry isn’t just for kids and their parents; children are part of the entire church family. This is a challenge for us because the kids’ programs are hosted in a separate building, but we have created opportunities for the children to help lead worship so the children and the wider church family are frequently reminded of one another’s existence!
- Value your volunteers. I can’t shepherd 200+ children; it’s impossible. But I can disciple and gather input from my five volunteer directors, and they can lead their respective program volunteers. And when those volunteers feel supported and empowered, they can develop healthy relationships with our kids. That’s good leadership and healthy volunteer development in any culture!
- Grow as a leader. There is no better way to honor your children and volunteers than by leading them well. Don’t become stagnant.
- Avoid burnout. If you’re at the end of your rope, no one wins. I have a Sabbath half-day scheduled once per month; I guard it with my life. It’s the highlight of my month, and I’m grateful that my pastor is highly supportive of it!
- Stay unsure. This is the place where God can use you—and amaze you with His power!
- Facilitate authenticity. “Real” is better than the “Sunday school answer,” especially where cultural Christianity is the norm. Create a safe place where kids know that you don’t have all the answers and you’ve had tough experiences too, but that God is faithful. Let them see that a relationship with Him is a journey, not a destination.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate! With volunteers, kids, families, your pastor, and your church family. When I worked in communications, we used to say: “Communication is like an escalator; it’s important to say the same thing over and over because different people are always riding by.” Over-communicating beats under-communicating hands-down.
- Never stop helping match church family members with opportunities to serve God using their gifts (AKA “recruiting,” but the other description sounds better, doesn’t it?!). A face-to-face conversation or phone call is worth 100 bulletin announcements!
- Love your pastor. Let them know what you’re doing and why, ask for input so you’re aligned with the vision of the church family, and give them opportunities to connect with the children. Our primary-aged kids don’t go to the main church service, so once a month our Pastor comes to Children’s Church for a 10-minute “Ask a Pastor” session (kids ask questions about God, the church, faith, and how old he is!). This helps him know where they’re at spiritually, and helps them feel comfortable with him during future baptisms, family counseling, crisis situations, etc.
- Prioritize child safety, no matter how “safe” or small your community seems. Our church is less than 10 years old so we are growing from “everybody knows everybody” into a mid-sized church family. Police clearances, photo waivers, allergy lists, first aid training, emergency evacuation procedures, volunteer-child ratio policies, parent pick-up cards for little ones, and other security features will minimize the chances of an incident and will ensure that newcomers know their child’s safety is your first priority. Implement these initiatives with love and grace and lots of communication so long-standing volunteers don’t have reason to feel offended, but obtain the support of church leadership and be firm on procedures after an appropriate “implementation period.”
- Cultural currency is important; make sure you take advice from those who understand it locally. Don’t make quick assumptions about how your behavior is received or the motivation behind the behavior of others. In my background, visiting someone in the hospital would be reserved only for extremely close friends and family; in the culture where I serve, there is a higher expectation of hospital visits from community and church members. These kinds of cultural currency are important to know, to build good relationships and avoid unintentional insults.
- Respect and learn the culture. Just because you’ve seen it done differently elsewhere doesn’t mean that’s the only way it can be done. Be slow to make changes, quick to ask the “why” behind the way things are done, happy to gather input from many stakeholders, and full of grace and wisdom with every step.
- Pray. We keep prayer central by praying with our ministry teams and by having a specific “Children’s Ministry Prayer Team” that receives weekly updates and supports us in prayer. I thank God every day for calling and equipping me for this immense task. I don’t always understand it, but I will rely on Him to use me for His purposes and in His timing. He is faithful!
Serving cross-culturally has its challenges (even little things like greeting with cheek-kisses can be a big stretch for us reserved Canadians!), and I don’t pretend to fully understand the cultures I serve (or my own culture!), but I do know that God made each of our children in His image and His greatest desire is for them to know His love intimately. May His love permeate our words and actions as we serve Him!
Carla Bregani is the minister to children at Cayman Islands Baptist Church in Grand Cayman. You can connect with Carla on Twitter.