Childhood Ministry Leaders Gain Insights

By Marissa Postell, with reporting by Sheila Allen

December 15, 2022

Childhood ministry leaders (from left): Sarah Toles, Melanie Annes, Kendra Noble, Leigh Ann Stark, Sara Eves and Rebecca Oosterhout.

A handful of childhood ministry leaders from Northwest Baptist churches recently attended the national ETCH conference. For Leigh Ann Stark, the Northwest Baptist Convention’s childhood ministry specialist, the gathering was filled with inspiration, worship and continued education.


The Northwest contingent joined about 800 children and student ministry leaders from across the nation in Nashville in mid-October for reminders that their identities are found in the One who has called them by name and called them for a purpose.


Stark was once again reminded of numerous ways children were affected by the pandemic.


“Small motor and social skills are delayed, while more technology is available to kids, yet loneliness is epidemic,” Stark said. “Emotional and mental health issues are escalated. While anxiety affects 25 percent of kids and 33 percent of teens, 80 percent of those do not get help.”


Stark learned at the conference that during the pandemic, suicide attempts doubled and parents were not taught coping skills, so either overcompensate for or rescue their child. But resources such as the use of a ‘feeling chart,’ modeling coping skills for kids, a calm corner in a classroom and teaching problem solving skills are all positive ways to combat emotional issues.


Kevin Jones of Cedarville University challenged leaders to keep the gospel as the heartbeat of their ministries—the center of everything they do.


 “Where there is no heart, there is no life,” Jones said. “Where there is no gospel, there is no life.”


Jones sympathized with leaders, acknowledging that there are many distractions from ministry, but it is the leader’s responsibility to make sure every aspect of their ministries points their flocks to the gospel.


Gregg Matte of Houston encouraged leaders that God has a purpose during so-called desert seasons in ministry, God has a purpose. “The desert is a place of preparation and recalibration. Many of us want a great ministry without paying the price of going through a desert,” Matte said.


But Matte reminded participants they are not alone in the desert. He encouraged leaders who find themselves in those seasons to remember God has called them and set them apart.


Jana Magruder, strategic initiatives director of Lifeway Kids, hosted a conversation with author Katy Boatman and her niece, Shelby, about walking through worry and anxiety with kids. Boatman noticed the battle with worry and anxiety that adults face is also happening among young students, like Shelby.


Shelby emphasized to leaders that their presence was enough -- simply knowing someone is there who cares, listens and can carry their burdens with them is often the encouragement young students need.


Chuck Peters, director of Lifeway Kids, then called leaders to remember not only what they teach but also who teaches matters. Churches need leaders who are chasing after Jesus so they can invite kids and students to follow them as they follow Him. And that begins with leaders seeing every kid as made in the image of God—someone worth investing in.


“Every kid in your church needs a champion in your church,” Peters said.


Ben Trueblood, director of student ministry for Lifeway Christian Resources, challenged leaders to love well. He said in order to love someone well, leaders must “prioritize them ahead of their own agenda” and “seek to understand life from their perspective.” While acknowledging the difficulty of this, Trueblood said seeking to understand where someone else is coming from places value on them.


Chad Higgins, parent ministry specialist for Lifeway Students, spoke of the ministry of loving parents well by offering them a seat and taking the time to hear from them. He reminded leaders that parents are not the enemy, and ultimately, it should be the leader’s goal to consider what is best for the family, not the ministry.


Darren Whitehead, lead and founding pastor of Church of the City, closed the week with for leaders facing discouragement in ministry.


“There is an epidemic of discouragement among pastors and church leaders in America,” Whitehead said.


But God has not forgotten the discouraged pastor or ministry leader. God helps the discouraged rest, invites them into His presence and turns them into dreamers.

“The greatest antidote to discouragement is fresh vision from God,” Whitehead said. “God wants to give you fresh vision, fresh hope and fresh dreams.”