by Dawn Gentry
Serving in children’s ministry was a paradox of joy and chaos, a never-ending cycle of new challenges, mind-blowing fun, and deep connection. Every day brought something new, whether coaching a volunteer, praying with a family who lost a baby, or making sure the preschool room was lice free. From the day I began in 2001 to the day I stepped down in 2012, every week was filled with such variety I couldn’t describe a “normal day” in children’s ministry if my life depended on it.
It was exceptionally uncommon, unusually remarkable. And yet, any singular day was filled with ordinary moments.
Pour a cup of coffee. Check Sunday’s attendance records. Send thank you notes. Count out supplies for the craft. Call a potential volunteer. Clean up a spill in the nursery. Pour another cup of coffee. On and on, a seemingly limitless list of tasks per day that all had to be accomplished before the approaching train (next Sunday’s program) barreled down the tracks. And for a children’s minister in the early 2000s, email was a daily part of those ordinary tasks.
During one such ordinary moment, I opened an email with the subject line “women in ministry” and found an invitation to a spring conference. That seemed pretty ordinary, all things considered—during the previous 7 years I had regularly attended the Children’s Pastors Conference as well as the Orange Conference. I assumed the organizers from one of those two events had sent the invitation to hundreds of women in my position, and I gave it a quick glance.
Much of my conference allowance had been committed to seminary classes, so I wasn’t sure I could afford the airfare to California. The conference timing was horrible, right before the kids’ spring choir performance. The invitation itself was—underwhelming. It wasn’t clear who the sponsoring group was, and it featured no slick ads or color photos. It was just a simple invitation to join some other women in ministry for equipping and encouragement.
That ordinary email led to relationships and conversations that were anything BUT ordinary.
Yet its simplicity was compelling. The featured speaker was an admired author I’d just included in a research paper. I didn’t want to miss a chance to listen to her speak and possibly meet her. So I figured out a way to make the travel dates work, scheduling my return flight 6 hours before the conference ended so I could be back in Indianapolis just in time for the kids’ choir performance.
I am so glad I did.
That ordinary moment reading an email led me to an energizing conference, but not like any I’d attended before. It was a wonderful two days of learning, praying, and getting to know other women in ministry, including that favorite author who spent one entire day coaching the rest of us—only 34 attendees!—hosted in the home of Johanna Townsend, a longtime children’s ministry advocate and California native.
I remembered this ordinary moment last month when I heard about Johanna’s death following a battle with cancer. Surely she had many such ordinary moments in her own life, yet this particular one collided with my own. That ordinary email led to relationships and conversations that were anything BUT ordinary.
They changed the trajectory of my life.
Another ordinary moment I recall was also related to a training event. In our area network of children’s ministers, one church was about to host a nationally known speaker, a person I’d heard several times at other conferences. The training day was primarily for their own church’s volunteer team, but this ministry friend invited others to participate, and I was thrilled to attend. Craig Jutila was a compelling speaker, and I took copious notes. He was sharing on the topic of his latest book, Hectic to Healthy: The Journey to a Balanced Life.
I was in a season of overwork and exhaustion at my ministry job, often feeling pulled in several directions to meet the demands of supervisor, volunteers, and family. While my supervisor spoke of taking a Sabbath and using time well, he did not always model the behavior and sometimes criticized how we set limits on ministry time. I stayed behind after the training presentation and spoke with Craig for several minutes. It wasn’t too deep, and the conversation didn’t go more than 15 minutes. We were just two ministry leaders debriefing after a session.
Those ordinary moments opened me up to new ways of looking at time and health and ministry.
However, those ordinary moments opened me up to new ways of looking at time and health and ministry, and it shaped how I chose to manage my schedule in the years that followed.
I became much more intentional about making time for relationships with both family and friends, practicing self-care, and limiting how often I checked email or texts outside of the office. It was so encouraging to hear Craig speak of putting on the brakes and slowing his pace, even though he’d been serving at a much larger church with far more stress and responsibility than I’d ever known.
That experience with Craig was particularly noteworthy because he’d already written several books and gained some fame in church circles, yet he was as down-to-earth and open to answering questions as anyone I ever met. His ordinary moment of taking time to encourage another children’s minister had an impact on me.
Not long after I heard about Johanna’s death from cancer, I received notification that Craig had passed away suddenly while skiing with his family over Christmas break. So many tributes poured in to bless his family and express remorse over the loss. But we also celebrated dozens of ordinary moments as we recalled how Craig’s life had intersected with our own.
Someone Else’s Extraordinary
Both of these well-known children’s ministry leaders impacted hundreds of church leaders and parents with their ordinary moments. Those church leaders and parents, in turn, have significant influence in the lives of hundreds of other volunteers and kids.
Isn’t it amazing to think that what may seem ordinary and mundane in our lives might actually be an extraordinary moment for someone else?
Let’s stay present and be intentional with how we invest our ordinary moments. When we do that, it connects us to God’s greater purpose—the small stories in which we get to play a part are actually part of God’s grander story.
posted on February 28, 2019
Meet the Author:
Dawn Gentry’s passion is equipping people for ministry. She earned her Master of Divinity degree from Emmanuel Christian Seminary. She has 11 years’ experience on a pastoral staff in Indianapolis, having responsibility for over 200 volunteers in children’s, first impressions, and involvement ministries. She currently serves as Assistant Professor of Bible and Children's Ministry at Nebraska Christian College. Speaking engagements have also taken her to Indiana, Tennessee, Ohio, Illinois, Oklahoma, Colorado, and Maryland. Prior to her call to ministry, she owned her own sales and recruiting business.
Dawn and her husband Harold have two grown children, Michael and Elizabeth. Michael and his wife, Autumn, live in Wisconsin and they have two beautiful kids. Elizabeth and her husband, Ian, live in Chicago. Dawn enjoys singing, reading, writing, hiking, theater, and playing with preschoolers.
You can find her on Twitter @dgentry1905 and she blogs at dawngentry.com.
Other Rivulet Collective articles by Dawn Gentry:
Where Past Present and Future Collide
Photo by David Iskander on Unsplash