The Need for Training in Both Church & Para-Church Children's Ministry: An Interview with Pat Thayer, Part 1

Pat Thayer is the Area Children's Coordinator for Bible Study Fellowship of Missouri. I had the opportunity to correspond with her this past week and interview her about training children's ministry leaders--both in a local church context and a para-church context. 

This first part of our conversation focuses on the need for training:

Jeff : Would you mind to share a little about yourself and tell how God has called you to use your gifts?

Pat: I grew up as a non-believer. In my early 30's, I was introduced to Jesus and the local church by my husband before we were married. I actually made my profession of faith at age 35. I grew in my knowledge of God through my very traditional church, but really felt like God put me on a fast track of learning when I joined Bible Study Fellowship (BSF). It was like God was telling me to "catch-up" quickly. After several years of Bible Study Fellowship, I was leaving class one night when God told me that He was preparing me for something. I was asked into BSF leadership several weeks later. I began as a Children's Leader then became a Children's Supervisor of a class, and now for the last 9 years have been an Area Children's Coordinator, coaching 12 Children's Supervisors in both preschool and school age (elementary and high school) programs. God has used my experiences of teaching in a traditional Sunday School setting, my BSF training and experience, plus my skills that He developed in my secular profession of healthcare to equip me for my current role at BSF.  Plus, God has allowed me to lead in the children's ministry of a young church that he called my husband and me to about 9 years ago. God has given me a passion for training and developing leaders who will serve Him.

Jeff : Your work for Bible Study Fellowship training people to teach kids the gospel and you use your gifts at the local church to help train up leaders. What are the similarities and differences between training leaders in BSF and at the church?

Pat: Similarities revolve around the need for training no matter what the level of experience, the effectiveness of training in layers or small bits of knowledge at regular intervals, and the fact that training equips leaders to serve more confidently and more effectively. Training is necessary as it allows us to serve God better! 

Differences are reflected by the different target audiences - the type of leaders in each setting. In BSF, each leader has been revealed by God to the leader of each class, interviewed, prays to verify the calling of God, then goes through 3 sessions of training and observations before they are given the task of teaching. Training continues through weekly 35 minute training sessions that are built into the basic structure of BSF. Training leaders for service in the local church is a significant part of the BSF Aims and Core Beliefs! As a parachurch organization, BSF desires to support the local churches through the training that the leaders receive at BSF. The initial call of God to the role of teaching children, plus the layer of training each week, sustains the BSF leader as they grow in skill and dependance on God.

In the local church, people are drawn to children's ministry for various reasons - called by God, feeling the need to serve and choosing the children's ministry  because it looks fun, or even perhaps, as an obligation as a parent of a child who attends the children's ministry.  Some have no experience and some have experience from other churches. Many times, training is a process of observing someone who is currently leading in a classroom.  Inexperienced and experienced leaders need to be brought into one common vision, with basic procedures being consistent. Gathering people for training at times other than when they are serving can be difficult.  Leaders may also feel unconnected to the bigger vision and the community of the children's program if they do not serve frequently. Churches need to be creative to find times to train and constantly create the vision of the importance of what we do in children's ministry.