Interview with John Murchison

In the month of April I had the wonderful privilege to interview John Murchison who was the first Children’s Pastor at the Austin Stone, and is currently the Executive Director of Children’s Ministry. During my time with John we discussed leadership development, special considerations when working with children and youth, and lessons learned along the way. 

Q: Can you walk me through the leadership process from the point someone serves in KIDS for the first time to that person becoming a Coach?

A: I hear two questions being asked here. There is on one hand what we do with someone who is serving for the first time, and on the other what we do with someone we think should be developed as a leader. Those are two different tracks but start the same way.

When it comes to serving and leading in KIDS you always start by looking for faithfulness. For most people the track they go down after demonstrating faithfulness is to play a key role within the KIDS team, but not to lead. They may become vital to a specific classroom, take ownership of a specific ministry area, or be the glue that helps bring a team together. For those people we want to cultivate community, develop them to master their area of responsibility, and regularly show them we love and appreciate them.

When it comes to developing leaders generally, faithfulness will get you plugged in with the person who has that “X” factor. 

What is the “X” factor?

The ‘X” factor is the gift of leadership. It’s the person who naturally takes the role of the leader, and is someone who can get stuff done. 

The first step into the Coach track after demonstrated faithfulness is a sit-down conversation. This is where the KIDS Director will cast a vision for this potential leader to be developed in order to lead volunteers, pastor parents, and make disciples of children. 

Once the potential leader/coach catches the vision the development stages look like:

  • Faithfulness in serving
  • Observing a leader and teacher
  • Starting to teach
  • Starting to lead
  • Making new leaders

Q:What are special precautions you have to consider when working with children? (Curriculum, theology, safety, etc.)

A:There’s a lot of good curricula. Take a survey of what’s out there, identify what you like and modify. 

A lot of curriculum strays theologically in that it de-emphasizes our sin and focuses on Jesus “loves you and came to die for you!” A great test is how they present the story of Noah. Why does God bring the flood? If they leave out God’s judgment they’ve swung into neglecting our sin.

The opposite is moralism over the gospel. How is David and Goliath taught? Is it David is so brave, you be brave, or is it God saves his people? Although David was brave the main point is not David’s faith, but God’s faithfulness to His people. 

A key question you want to ask is “does the curricula fit our church culture?” For example at the Austin Stone our church culture is more discussion based than lecture based.Our adult culture on Sunday is more event based than liturgical, our kids Sunday is discussion not lecture based. 

When you do age appropriate curriculum you need to stand on the shoulders of people who know how to write age appropriate content. 

Safety: The greatest mistake leaders make is being too quick to fill spots so the ministry can take off. Chances are high that an entire church can tank because of one safety incident involving a child. 

A better first step is to set policies that are realistic and that people are accountable to. 

Most important safety tips:

1. Background screen (low hanging fruit)

2. You need a one on one interview. 

3. Sex offender awareness training

4. Policy that everyone reads, agrees with, and is held accountable to. 

Never grandfather anybody in. When change is made everyone has to walk through the process.

Q:What has been the hardest lesson(s) you’ve learned in your time in children’s ministry?

A: I’ll give you a general lesson and a KIDS specific esson.

1. General: It’s really hard to switch from being a faithful Christian to being a faithful Church employee. 

2. KIDS Ministry: The biggest lesson has been in answering the question, “How do I stay out of the weeds enough to pastor people?” It’s really easy to say people are getting in the way of your ministry when so many things need to get done. People come before tasks. 

Always remember people come before tasks.

Q: If you could start a new children’s ministry what are core values and practices you would start with?

A: I would say you need two core values that will determine your practices.

1. Sound doctrine

2. Fun and exciting

With regard to sound doctrine we covered that already in the curriculum piece. You want to make sure you are teaching the gospel and pointing children to Jesus.

The value of being fun and exciting is dealing predominately with contextualization. You always want to contextualize the gospel to the people you are reaching. Children culture is fun, so the way we speak their language is to have fun. The goal is for children to leave with a smile on their face asking to come back the following week. Relationship gives the opportunity for the gospel to be declared and heard.

Q: Final question, what’s been the biggest “win” for you personally in Children’s Ministry?

A: Biggest win is seeing God move. Whether that is a volunteer who meets Jesus through serving, hearing a mom talk about her child meeting Jesus, or seeing the kids you invested in grown up and walking in the truth of the gospel. “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.”  3 John 1:4

I don’t want to build Chuck E Cheese to have a Chuck E Cheese. I want to build a Chuck E Cheese to see God move. 

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