It’s isolating work.
That’s a surprising fact for those of us who see children’s ministry workers constantly connecting with the most energetic and open members of our churches. But many in those roles regularly describe it that way—isolating.
Ten years ago, while working as Children and Families Pastor at Hillcrest Chapel, Julie McKinnon joined a ‘cluster’ meeting for other Waikato-based children’s ministry leaders set up by Karen Warner, who was leading the Baptist Union’s Children and Youth Ministries at the time. “The group was a God-send,” says Julie, “I found support and connection”.
The cluster operates as a regional meeting for people in similar ministry roles—to meet for support, friendship, and collaboration.
Ten years later, now as CCCNZ’s Children and Family Ministries Enabler, Julie credits the connections made through those quarterly gatherings with expanding her view of children’s ministry and giving her practical guidance.
That same Waikato group now plays a key role in connecting Children and Family leaders across CCCNZ churches in Waikato.
They meet just six times a year and for a couple of hours—often enough to build relationships, but not so frequently that attendance is a burden. A typical gathering would be 6 or 7 people from across the Waikato and it has been growing.
Rach Dixon is the current Children and Families Pastor at Hillcrest Chapel. The former teacher and mum of two joined Julie at the cluster when she began the role. Rach is used to working with children, but the ministry role has had its own learning curve.
“Support and encouragement in the role is pretty important,” she says. “It’s also quite challenging, in a good way, hearing what other people are doing and thinking, ‘I could do that better,’ or sharing new ideas and ways of doing things. And it’s good to pray together and get to know one another”.
Through last year’s lockdowns, Julie hosted a weekly Zoom chat for children and family ministries leaders nationwide. This now continues on a monthly basis, allowing those in the Waikato cluster to talk and pray with colleagues from CCCNZ churches across Aotearoa, New Zealand.
“At Ministry Summit in May 2021, it was so good because we finally got to meet people in person who we’d been chatting to online for ages”, Rach says. “You feel like you know them; meeting in person was a real highlight”.
JonJon Ruakere, the Children’s Pastor at Agora Church in Hamilton (formerly called City Bible Church), is also a regular at the Zoom sessions and cluster meetings. It’s really good to be with likeminded people,” he says. Support and prayer are key reasons he attends as well.
Discussions cover everything from how to recruit and train volunteers, using specific resources, or how to encourage parental involvement. The challenges children and families workers face are as varied as the people they minister to.
How could others replicate the Waikato cluster, whether they have children’s ministry or some other leadership role in common? Julie’s one word of advice is to have a focus for the meeting, with someone taking the initiative to ensure there’s helpful content and the time doesn’t focus only on the hard parts of ministry. The Waikato group spends some time sharing together and some time in teaching and discussion—”But that’s just how ours works,” Julie says. ‘It doesn’t mean that’s how they have to work”.
The main benefit highlighted by people who regularly meet in regional groups is peer support and encouragement. For many, these groups are a reminder that they are not alone in gospel ministry or the feeling of being isolated. Connecting with others in similar roles provides people with a place to share ideas, pray, and face the challenges of ministry together.
If you’re interested in setting up a regional group in your area and would like some support to start, our staff team would love to help you.