Lessons from another ‘Little Guy with a Lunch’
In this Connections Q&A, Tim Gerber shares what he’s learned from leading children’s ministry for 25 years at Triad Baptist Church, and why children’s ministry still inspires him today.
Q: When and how did you know God called you to children’s ministry?
When I graduated from college, my degree was in secondary education. My first job was teaching middle school and high school students. At the same time, I was serving voluntarily over the children’s ministry. During those two years, God created a passion in my heart to minister to children.
Q: Over the years, I’m sure people have sometimes asked when you would move on from children’s ministry to a pastorate or other position. Why have you stayed at it all these years?
I love the excitement and energy around working with children. Children are forthright, transparent, and usually follow easily as long as there’s a plan. I’ve always operated from this principle: ‘If I don’t have a plan for them they’re going to have one for me.’
By nature, children are very moldable. They make friends easily, and are very open in their learning ability. This combination presents a unique challenge that you really get nowhere else in ministry.
Q: When you get discouraged, how do you stay on track and remember why you became a children’s pastor in the first place?
I have a file folder few people know where I keep that I call my treasure chest — handwritten notes, emails, and other messages I’ve received that each reflect on some aspect of the ministry and its impact in a personal way. On tough days, I’ll open it up and read some of the messages inside. They remind me yet again of the eternal investments we’re making and what God is doing through Kids Street Children’s Ministry.
Q: What role does family play in your walk of faith and ministry?
As important as general ministry to children is, nothing ever supersedes family. God has blessed me with a wonderful wife and great kids and now a precious grandson and one more on the way. Through the years, I have learned that family indeed is the most important unit that God created. Having a family that supports what I do and shares my burden and passion for reaching children is incredibly important and appreciated.
Q: Everyone needs someone they can trust and to bear their burdens. Who do you look to for support in ministry?
In addition to my wife and family, I know I have like-minded colleagues to serve with on church staff — including a lead pastor like Pastor Rob (Decker) — all pulling together for the same reason and committed to the same purpose: To bring honor and glory to God. It is wonderful to know that some of your best friends are the ones that you get to serve with day in and day out. I am also blessed to have so many wonderful volunteers helping me carry the load of children’s ministry. I count myself fortunate to be able to serve alongside them.
Q: How has children’s ministry changed over the years and, especially for new people coming into the ministry, what’s your advice for keeping up with the times but in a way that’s faithful to God's word?
Like other industries in the secular world, children’s ministry continues to grow and expand. There are technological advances, and more ways to connect and learn, and it's critical to stay ahead of the curve on all and remain relevant in the lives of children. But just as important is to never lose the true focus of the gospel, and to continue to consistently and constantly communicate Biblical truth.
Q: What lessons from your childhood are reflected in your approach to children’s ministry?
Faithfulness, consistency, and obedience to whatever God calls you and equips you to do are among the most important lessons I’ve learned and carried forward. I was so privileged to have godly Christian parents that continue to influence everyone they come in contact with. In addition to being my parents, my mom and dad are also my heroes in the faith. Only heaven will reveal their true eternal investments, both in my life and in the lives of so many others.
Q: You’ve mentored several children’s pastors over the years. If you were on a search committee looking for a new one, what would you look for?
Spiritual character and commitment are qualities that cannot be overstated in working with children. Kids learn who you are, and watch your every step. Passion is another key ingredient to success in children’s ministry — an energy children pick up on and accept and that is very important. Another element is organization. Being able to plan and lead other people is important for all ministries, but especially children.
Q: If there are some common misconceptions about children’s ministry, what are they, and why?
The biggest is probably that it is out of control or the ultimate in frustration. I find that many times these views come from someone who really has never been a part of children’s ministry or from someone who perhaps has not been a part of one that is fulfilling and exciting.
Q: Volunteers are the heartbeat of every ministry. What have you found an effective way to develop and grow leaders?
One of the keys to developing effective volunteer leadership and meeting ministry needs is to get to know people before simply placing them into the existing needs you have. When you get to know someone and their talents and abilities, there’s a much better likelihood that you’ll place them where they can be successful and contribute to the ministry in a positive way.
When I ask people to consider moving up to a more senior leadership role, I’ll say, ‘Don’t even think about what they are doing now. That will be taken care of, and I won’t be asking you to do two positions.’ By doing this, I’m putting people with experience in senior roles and continually bringing new people into the ministry to begin the cycle all over again.
Q: No doubt you’ve seen some high highs and some low lows in ministry, including the early years when a former pastor left, membership declined, and the church could only pay the interest on its mortgage. What did God teach you in the struggles that continues to guide your life and ministry today?
Ministry can never be totally fulfilling or successful without the focus remaining on the real reason why we do it: to advance the cause of Jesus Christ. It’s about Him, not us. One’s personal walk with Christ has to be paramount no matter what your ministry’s status is. Through the dark times of ministry, knowing God was and is always there to carry me or support me has given me confidence to keep serving, keep moving forward, and keep trusting God with the results.
Q: You have ministered to hundreds of children over the years as well as your three children and grandson. What do you hope all children see and learn about God through you?
My primary purpose is to live in such a way where people don’t see me but see God through me.
Q: What is the best way you’ve learned to handle the inevitable conflicts and issues that arise in children’s ministry?
Anytime people are involved there will be issues. That’s a given since we’re all flawed and fallen. Those include misunderstandings, conflicts, and more. Communicating clearly and caring genuinely have been ways that God has shown me how to handle many issues.
Q: If a church wants to build a strong children’s ministry, where should they start?
Like any project, building a strong children’s ministry starts small but can grow over time if it’s built on people of like vision who want to work on a team toward a clear goal. Every large ministry started small with growth fueled most often by prayer, passion, effective planning, clear communication, and effective recruiting.
Q: What role does (or should) prayer play in children’s ministry?
Prayer should be the constant thread that flows through all ministry. Without God’s guidance and direction, and our constant dependence upon him, all our efforts cannot really produce the spiritual fruit that is possible when He (not us) is leading.
Q: Why do you love to worship with children each Sunday, and what do you love about their worship?
In all honesty, if I had to choose I would rather worship with a group of kids then with adults. No offense here, but children are more easily excitable, aren’t as apt to hold grudges, are usually more eager to participate, and in Matthew 10:42 it’s stated specifically that even those who give something as simple as a cup of cold water to a child cannot lose their reward.
Additionally, in Matthew 18:5 it says that when we receive a child in Jesus’ name we receive Him. To me, that is a powerful statement that reiterates the vast importance of ministering directly to children.
Q: How do you know when a child really understands the gospel and their salvation is real and personal?
Just as with an adult, we never really know what is going on within a child’s heart and in their spiritual relationship with God. Yes, we can see fruit, but our job throughout scripture is to plant and water the seeds of the gospel to all we come in contact with. It’s not our job to yield the increase. That’s the Holy Spirit’s. It’s He who does that and creates spiritual life.
I tell parents often when they’re wondering about a child’s spiritual status this: Our job as parents is to continually teach and model the Christian walk to them until the day they do understand and reach the age of accountability. At that point, the Holy Spirit creates conviction, and then true spiritual life starts.
Q: What are some of the tips you share with parents that have also impacted your life?
We face spiritual warfare daily, and it can be so easy to get beaten down and feel defeated. When parents come to me about some of the very tough problems and issues they’re facing, I encourage them to follow Jesus’ example in the wilderness: Fight those negative feelings and thoughts and life experiences and find comfort and peace in the midst of them through scripture.
In Ephesians 6:10-18, Paul lists all the elements of the armor for fighting spiritual warfare God’s way. He knows we need to be equipped for the battle every day since we face a very real and powerful enemy, Satan, who knows God’s word better than we do.
Interestingly, the armor of God has only one offensive weapon: the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” When Satan tempted Jesus over and over in the wilderness, Jesus turned to the word and this was the weapon he successfully used against Satan time and time again.
Struggling or weighted down with something? Get alone and in a quiet place and read God’s word. Parents who I’ve told to do this have come back and told me the same thing I’ve experienced myself afterward: The things pressing in move more into the background. You become more at peace.
Q: You sign every email with “Just a little kid with a lunch.” How are you like the kid whose five loaves and two fish Jesus used to feed 5,000 people?
In the gospel story (John 6:1-14), when the disciples saw the crowd needed to be fed, they asked Jesus what to do and he said, ‘YOU feed them,’ but they only saw the problem and forgot to trust in the solution — Jesus — who was standing right there with them.
Jesus took a little boy and used his lunch to demonstrate His power and feed everyone.
On my own, I have no power. I’m just another little guy with a lunch. But I know through God, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13), and so can you.
That is why Kids Street Children’s Ministry has grown and continues to “help friends find faith” and why, 25 years later, I’m blessed to be a part of what God is doing and so excited about what lies ahead.