How to Encourage Those You Lead: An Interview with Craig Sturm

I've known Pastor Craig Sturm for a couple of years now. In him, I've found a faithful man of God, willing to go where ever God calls him ... literally. When writing on anything children's, youth, or family ministry related, I've found Craig's experience and wisdom being of great value. Let me show you why:

Pat: Tell me a little about yourself and your ministry background.

Craig: I'm currently the Lead Pastor of Mercy Hill Church, a year and half old church plant in the West Chicago / Winfield area of the western suburbs of Chicago. In the past, I've done a little bit of everything. I spent 10 years with another church plant, spent a year and a half in the Philippines doing evangelism and church planting, and almost 5 years at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis as Pastor of Child and Youth Discipleship; where I oversaw the recruitment, training, and equipping of around 800 volunteers, over 3 campuses, ministering to 1200 students nursery through eighth grade. I often likened this position to that of large school principal.

Pat: In your opinion, why is it important to equip volunteer teachers?

Craig: Well lets back up and start with recruitment. The best way to recruit and maintain volunteers is to equip them. If they aren't equipped, they won't stick. We recruited with high expectations of an every week for a year position. We probably could have gotten away with less people, but our model called for a shared leadership role, where no one or two people were thrown to the wolves. We often had four to six adults in a room, even in the small classrooms. The benefit to having so many adults was a benefit because of this shared responsibility which produced a sense of camaraderie. In addition to all this I was constantly teaching other leader to equip thereby multiplying myself in others.

Children's ministry prayer huddle at The Journey - Tower Grove in St. Louis, MO. Photo by Jeff Hutchings.

Children's ministry prayer huddle at The Journey - Tower Grove in St. Louis, MO. Photo by Jeff Hutchings.

So, in recruiting and retaining volunteers I always tried to keep three things in the back of my mind.

  1. Recruit to a vision, not to fill a need. Within this, there is a showing of the vision through training and mentoring within the classroom.
  2. Equipping and resourcing teachers. Giving teachers everything they will need and making sure the classroom is ready. The goal here is have that teacher leave after teaching excited that they were just used by God.
  3. Appreciation. It's easy to feel unappreciated, so it up to leadership to find appropriate ways to show appreciation. There is an art to it.

Pat: What are some of the best ways to equip and encourage teachers?

Craig: First we have to be intentional, which is hard. In this day and age it's hard to get everyone together for a training session. To overcome this, secondly, use technology, put your training online. And finally, do it well.

Pat: How do we do this well?

Craig: In general, the church hasn't been intentional about equipping, having adopted more of "warm body" mentality when it comes to children's ministry. Some pastors don't seem to care what happens in the classroom as long as someone is there with the kids.

There's a problem when there is a disconnect between the pulpit and the classroom. Children's ministry is where the church is typically ok with the disparity between what the church values and what actually happens. This is probably due to churches feeling easily overwhelmed and give into the warm body mentality.

Pat: How can the church do this better?

Craig: Being a church planter this is really easy for me to say, but; if you can't do it well, don't do it. Let simplicity rule. If people won't take ownership, don't do it. Help people see the value of the vision. Which bring us back to having a compelling vision.

Pat: Any final thoughts?

Craig: Stay vision driven or it will drain your energy and drive you nuts. Maintain your commitment to equip the saints. Be patient, it takes time to take a church from where it is to where you want it to be.

Thanks Craig for your friendship and sharing your wisdom and experience. You've helped us think in categories most of us don't think we have time for.