5 questions

     jana magruder is a triple threat. she is an excellent communicator, a brilliant author, and a passionate leader that not only gets kids ministry but has a vision for where it is going. she is a thoughtful networker and some of my favorite times with her are around a table with other kidmin leaders at the etch conference in nashville. she is energetic and extremely humble, but this gal brings some truth that will rattle your kidmin in the best way. when i heard her speak about her latest research findings, and basis for her book “nothing less” i couldn’t run to the conference bookstore fast enough to not only get a copy for my kids ministry team but also some of our senior staff.
    i love that she comes straight to lifeway from a church staff so as she leads nationally her heart is never far from the local church.  i am so thankful for the ways she has challenged and equipped me as a ministry leader and i am delighted to share her answers to these five important questions.

1 – what do you see kidmin and family ministry leaders doing right? 
   My team talks to ministry leaders from all over the country and world. When it comes to kidmin and family ministry leaders, there seems to be no lack of passion and heart for Jesus, His Church – and the “youngest of these.” We all seem to have this in common. Every time I’m in a room full of kids and family ministry leaders, I always like to say we are already best friends because we have these three things in common: we love Jesus, His Church, and Kids and families!
2 – what do you see as the greatest need in kidmin and family ministry right now? 
   Our kids and family ministry leaders need a seat at the leadership table. Yes, most of us go to “staff meeting”, but I think they need to lead up and really help the broader ministry team understand the absolute urgency of children’s ministry. We all know that by age 12, a child’s world view is pretty much formed. Therefore, the years spent in kids ministry are critical and the whole church family needs to rally around the vision of what it takes to make sure kids are being discipled and poured into by godly men and women of the church.
3 – if you could have coffee with every kidmin/fammin leader, what would you want to make sure you shared with them? 
   Don’t forget to sabbath – and I mean “sabbath” as a verb. We usually think of the Sabbath as Sunday, a day – a noun. But as a verb – sabbath means to rest and for those of us in kidmin, that is not on Sunday. So, make sure you are taking another day (or at least half a day) to replenish your soul. If you neglect it, burnout can come so quickly and the Enemy will steal your joy. Rest in the Lord, devour scripture, and do something life-giving to you. Errands and laundry are not life-giving!!
4 – what word of encouragement do you have for today’s kidmin/fammin leaders? 
    Remember your calling. If you have been doing this for any length of time, then you know this work is a worthy and holy calling. Allow me to fan the flame of your calling and encourage you to keep going. Persevere and endure – knowing that He would not have called you unless He planned to equip you. Rest in knowing this.
5 – why are you passionate about children’s and family ministry? 
    I believe God works through the heart of a child to change trajectories in families. Most ministry leaders at church want to funnel down through the parents (and hope it gets to their kids). I like to think of overflowing hearts of children whose joy for Jesus is contagious to the whole family. Honestly, it takes both efforts – funnel down and gusher up! That is the delight of family ministry. When we work as teams who truly get this and ditch ministry silos and swimlanes, our opportunity to truly influence the family gets exponentially easier and better. For His glory!


Jana Magruder serves as the Director of LifeWay Kids. She is a Baylor graduate and offers a wealth of experience and passion for kids ministry, education, and publishing. She is the author of Kids Ministry that Nourishes, Nothing Less and Life Verse Creative Journal, which she co-authored with her teenage daughter. She and her husband, Michael, along with their three children reside in Nashville.

     i have known jenny funderburke smith for years and the first thing that stands out to me about jenny is her smile and authenticity. she is the real deal, never sugar-coating her walk and journey, but leading in ministry and life from a refreshingly grounded faith.
     jenny is not only a kidmin pioneer and visionary, she is an in-the-trenches leader that is consistently putting Jesus first in the ministry God has before her. she blogs about kidmin and fammin at jennyfunderburke.com/blog/. one of the things i love most about her blog is that she doesn’t simply share lofty ideals of ministry, she offers up the practical steps to make events, programs, and Gospel-centered ministry happen.
     i am so excited to join my friends jenny, sam luce, and jonathan cliff to launch gospel at center – a kidmin communityy coming soon. jenny’s heartbeat for Jesus, kids and families, is such a driving force behind this new venture and i am glad to be along for the ride to glean wisdom from her. 🙂

1 – what do you see kidmin and family ministry leaders doing right? 
   I am excited to see the beginnings of renewed interest in making the gospel the primary focus of ministry and making sure kids truly know Scripture. I feel like more people are talking about this and seeking help and resources. I think this is a huge win for the kingdom! Let’s be fun and relevant, of course – but let’s make more of Jesus than all the “stuff”.
2 – what do you see as the greatest need in kidmin and family ministry right now? 
     We need a whole lot more conversation, content, and community (ha – I didn’t mean for those to all start with c’s) focused on how we center our ministries around Jesus while making what we do as Bible-based, effective, age-appropriate, and fun as we can.
3 – if you could have coffee with every kidmin/fammin leader, what would you want to make sure you shared with them? 
   You can’t do it all by yourself. If you are always in a classroom or always the only one making decisions or if significant parts of the ministry are solely dependent on you, you are in danger of building your kingdom, not God’s. Your job is to develop other leaders who can lead well. If you are doing it all yourself you are going to burn out and/or the ministry is going to be limited to your capacity. Ministry is more fun with friends anyway!
4 – what word of encouragement do you have for today’s kidmin/fammin leaders? 
   What you are doing is hard, but what you are doing matters so much. You may feel sometimes like you can see very little difference as a result of the hours and energy you pour in. But, the fruit of family ministry isn’t seen often seen until years and years later. You are laying a foundation of faith that really, truly matters. You are providing opportunities for kids to build relationships that can be life-changing.
5 – why are you passionate about children’s and family ministry? 
   We get the very best job in the world. We get to spend our time and energy sharing Jesus with the next generation. What is better than that? God gives us the opportunity to be some of the first influences in kids’ lives. We get to coach volunteers on how to make an eternal impact. We study how to best communicate the greatest message there is to smaller ears. The kids in our ministries have the potential to grow up and change the world. Years ago, Gina McClain asked a question in her blog that I could never get over. She asked, “What if this generation is the one that fulfills the Great Commission?” What if the kids in our ministries are the ones that reach the last unreached people groups? God is allowing us the opportunity to be a part of that by training, equipping, and loving them. How can you not be passionate about that?


jenny funderburke smithJenny Funderburke Smith is the Minister to Children at West Bradenton Baptist Church in Bradenton, Florida. She is married to Dan and has three crazy and awesome girls. Jenny is passionate about equipping volunteers to live out their calling as well as seeing families take next steps in their faith journey. She also really loves the beach, Tennessee football, and milkshakes. She blogs at jennyfunderburke.com/blog/  and she is a core team leader at Gospelatcenter.com.

     i first met brian when i began writing for the Gospel project. not only did i admire his heart for Gospel-centered ministry, i loved that he served weekly in his local churches kids ministry. i have so much respect for fellow in-the-trenches ministry leaders. then he authored the book “Gospel centered kids ministry.” i couldn’t get enough. i read it, had my staff read it, and gave a copy to each of our kids ministry investors (volunteers). this is a book i think should be in every kids ministry and family ministry leader’s library. then i got to read an advanced copy of his newest book, “cornerstones”. y’all i cannot wait for this book to come out and to hear there is a parent guide as well is a win/win. not only can we equip ourselves and our leaders with questions and answers to points kids to the truth, we can hand parents a resource i believe will be life-changing as the approach their role as primary faith trainers.
     so, of course, i couldn’t wait to hear brian’s response to these five questions. he didn’t disappoint. so if you want to be challenged and encouraged, be sure to soak in brian’s answers.

1 – what do you see kidmin and family ministry leaders doing right? 
     Two areas that stand out to me where I see the Church moving in the right direction are (1) wrestling with how to best integrate kids ministry, student ministry, and ministry to parents and (2) finding the proper balance of our ministry calendars. In the first, I am encouraged to see churches breaking down ministry silos between kids ministry and student ministry and then these church ministries and the role of parents in the home. This is so critical that we work to develop a comprehensive discipleship plan for our kids from the time they are born through when they graduate high school. We are tasked with stewarding for their spiritual care for that time, and to not have a strategy for this is not proper stewardship. So I am glad to see churches working on this. And at the same time, we know that parents are the primary disciplers, so I love seeing how more churches are working to equip parents and partner with them—in something as simple (yet critical) as using the parent resources in the Bible study curriculum being used.
     In the second, I see churches trying to find the right balance of what they offer kids, students, and families without overloading their calendars. Up until perhaps the last 10-15 years, I think most churches qualified the vibrancy of their ministries by the quantity of activities and events they scheduled. So a “good” ministry was a very busy one. The problem is that business is not a synonym for godliness or even effectiveness. We were wearing our leaders out, wearing our families out, and isolating ourselves from the culture we are here to reach. Some churches over-reacted (as we tend to do) and cut out almost all programming. That’s a huge mistake too. Each church needs to find the right balance for their context. I am glad to see churches striving to do that.
2 – what do you see as the greatest need in kidmin and family ministry right now? 
     Gospel-centeredness. I wrote “Gospel-Centered Kids Ministry” for this reason. It weighed on my heart when I would read a kids ministry facebook group post from a leader who had a great theme for VBS, or a retreat, and he or she would ask the other group members for a Bible verse to go with it. That’s backward. We start with the Bible—with the gospel—and go from there. A great theme matters, but that is not what will stick with our kids for the long-term. That is not what will carry them through challenging days when they are a preteen wrestling with their identity and peer pressure. That is not what gives life. But the gospel does—and that is what we need to give them. The gospel is what needs to drive our ministries and everything we do. It is the starting point, the ending point, and all the points in between.
     I think this is why we see moralism taught so much today. Many kids and student ministries don’t want to teach it, but it is the default in our hearts, so if we are not proactive to teach the gospel, moralism will come out of us. Designing a VBS or retreat around a theme is a clue that the gospel is not driving our thinking, and if that is the case, there is a good chance that the application of that event will be moralistic.
3 – if you could have coffee with every kidmin/fammin leader, what would you want to make sure you shared with them? 
     I would, of course, want to talk about gospel-centeredess. What that means and looks like.
     But I would also want to encourage them to stretch themselves and grow as followers of Christ. I believe that our kids, student, and family ministry leaders should be the greatest theologians in the church. (We often aren’t seen that way.) But think about it: Our task is to take some pretty intense doctrines and communicate them in a way a kid understands. Whenever I teach or preach—to any age—my goal is always to be true to the gospel and to be clear. A win for me is hearing someone say that I explained something well—not that I used a lot of big words and sounded smart. The sign of really mastering a concept is to be able to explain it to someone else simply, so they understand. And that is what kids, students, and family leaders are to do. So that is why I say we need to be great theologians. We need to grasp theology such that we can communicate it like this. And to be a great theologian we need to grow in our knowledge of theology, our love for God, and our practice of it.
     I would also want to hit on our need to partner with parents for this exact same reasoning. We are in this together with parents and they need to be great theologians as well. The problem is, they aren’t trained (most of them anyway) and feel so ill-equipped for the ministry God has called them to. So we need to look at our calendars, our ministry budgets, and our prayer life and see how much we are building into parents to partner with them in discipling their kids.
4 – what word of encouragement do you have for today’s kidmin/fammin leaders? 
     You are so much more important than your church might indicate. There are times when you might feel like you are sitting at the “kids table” at Thanksgiving, instead of sitting at the “adult table.” Your pay might indicate this. The way members of your church view you might indicate this. Even the way your pastor and other staff treat you might indicate this. But I want you to know that you play a critical role.
5 – why are you passionate about children’s and family ministry? 
     Because I am a father of three kids and I know how important my church partnering with me is. Because I have served in this ministry and know what it means to kids and students to have someone who loves them and is echoing the gospel to them alongside parents. Because I was a kid who was not taught the gospel and I know how it almost drove me away from the church. Because I am a follower of Christ and I see in Scripture God’s heart for children and how He established families as the primary building block of not just our culture, but our churches.

5 questions with brian dembowcyyk

Brian Dembowczyk is the Managing Editor of LifeWay’s The Gospel Project and was previously Team Leader for The Gospel Project for Kids. He has seventeen years of pastoral ministry experience in churches in Florida, Kentucky, and Maryland and is the author of “Gospel-Centered Kids Ministry,” “Cornerstones: 200 Questions and Answers to Learn Truth,” and “Cornerstones: 200 Questions and Answers to Teach Truth (Parent Guide).” Brian and his wife, Tara, have three children and live in Murfreesboro, TN.

while geography makes our conversations less frequent than i would like, i have never left a conversation with sam luce without be challenged to be more intentional about the Gospel and ministry. to put it simply, sam gets it and he doesn’t waste much time on the things that don’t matter. sam brings with his ministry role a mix of passion and humility that inspires you to be a better leader for the sake of the kids, their families, and most importantly the Gospel. not only does sam inspire you in person, he is the author of one of my favorite ministry blogs – samluce.com. if you are in need of the “why” in ministry, ideas, or current data you will want to make sure to check out samluce.com. 

1 – what do you see kidmin and family ministry leaders doing right? 
I see almost all of them asking how can we engage with moms and dads. How can we encourage and equip parents to spiritually lead their kids. That is super encouraging. One of the marks of the Great Awakening was the intentionality and widespread nature of family worship.
2 – what do you see as the greatest need in kidmin and family ministry right now? 
Men leading at home and at church.
3 – if you could have coffee with every kidmin/fammin leader, what would you want to make sure you shared with them? 
1. The importance of communicating and transmitting to kids a love and reverence for God’s word over relevance and fun.
2. The need for a greater awareness of the supremacy of Christ in all things.
3. Remember Jesus builds the church.
4 – what word of encouragement do you have for today’s kidmin/fammin leaders? 
I would encourage Family ministry leaders to live lives of Active-Passivity. We work as hard as we can and trust as much as we can never forgetting that Jesus not only builds the church but loves the church and gave his life for her. What a privilege and responsibility to represent her to the world and to the next generation. Do it well with the strength God supplies not the strength that you muster.
5 – why are you passionate about children’s and family ministry? 
Because children are who Christ says we are to be like and Marriage and family is his idea to demonstrate to a watching world what his love is like.

5 question with sam luce

My name is Sam Luce and I have been a pastor at Redeemer Church in Utica NY for the past 18 years. 14 of those years serving as children’s pastor. Currently, I am serving as the Utica Campus Children’s Pastor and the Global Pastor to Families. This is my personal blog it is focused on Leadership, Family Ministry, and Theology.

I write about things I am passionate about, the power of the gospel, becoming a better leader, ministering to kids, technology, humorous anything, and being the best dad and husband I can be.

Through each blog post, it is my goal to be to each of you what I wish I had when I was starting out in ministry. I desire to help you grow as a leader and avoid some of the bone-headed mistakes I learned am still learning along the way.

You can expect around 2 to 3 blog posts a week. If you would like to subscribe to my RSS feed or via email I would appreciate it. Thank you for your time feel free to jump in and leave a comment on any of my posts. I would love to hear from you.


i first got to hear sissy and david at the etch family ministry conference in nashville and as a ministry leader and new parent, there was not enough paper for me to record my notes. not only are they wiser than i could ever be, they have a heart for Jesus that permeates their approach. they are authors and counselors, and their website has a blog full of practical information for every parent and ministry leader. we recently hosted them for a parenting conference for the second time at dawson and the response was overwhelming. my favorite part was when the ministerial staff got to sit with them as ask questions about the kids and families we minister to each week. they are the same people in a small group as they are on a stage – authentic and passionate. you can learn more about them and their ministry here – raising boys and girls

1 – what do you see kidmin and family ministry leaders doing right? 
 Making kids feel seen and delighted in and loved… I talk to so many kids who don’t feel that way at home, but have someone who they can point to in their church leadership who has made them feel believed in more than anyone else in their lives. – Sissy Goff
2 – what do you see as the greatest need in kidmin and family ministry right now? 
To speak the truth to kids in love. Parents seem to want so badly to be fun and relatable to their kids…for the kids themselves to be “happy”…to help them through and even rescue them from any pain, that it often seems that these kids don’t have anyone to look to for stability. Kids need desperately for an adult in their life to be bigger than they are…to feel strong and steady…and to point them toward Christ and his strength and steadfastness. Parents can end up valuing their happiness over their character and over the Gospel. We want kids to know that pain is a part of living in a fallen world and that the answer and our security AND hope is found in Christ. Seems like we’re talking around and at them so much about the issues and culture and feelings and technology that we miss the simple truth that Jesus is enough. And that so are we under His love. You all do an amazing job of teaching that. – Sissy Goff
3 – if you could have coffee with every kidmin/fammin leader, what would you want to make sure you shared with them? 
First and most of all, I’d want to thank them for investing in the lives of kids and families. I don’t think there’s ever been a time in history where families need more support. I don’t think it has ever been a harder time to be a kid or adolescent. Therefore, I don’t think it has ever been a harder time to be a parent. There have been 3 school shootings in the last 4 weeks in our country. Two of those happened in a neighboring state, and I had countless conversations this week with kids who spent multiple school days running safety drills in their classrooms. I didn’t spend a moment of my growing up in public schools wondering if someone would enter the building and open fire on me. It has triggered so much fear and anxiety for kids and adolescents. And that’s but one of many issues facing today’s kids in a unique way. I’d remind leaders that never has the world needed a message of hope more than right now.
I’d remind them of how important their voices are, particularly those working with middle and high school students. That’s a moment developmentally where kids are more interested in other voices. They so desperately need other trusted voices in their lives speaking truth to them, listening to them, and supporting them. – David Thomas
4 – what word of encouragement do you have for today’s kidmin/fammin leaders? 
I commonly say to parents that I’m not only saying similar things to what they are saying, but often identical things. Kids can sometimes hear it more clearly from adult voices around them they trust and respect. Your words have such power and impact. I also believe you have that unique place in the lives of students where you get to be a champion and a cheerleader. You can call out who they are becoming, and celebrate the growth and movement you see happening (minus the heavy lifting parents have to do).  – David Thomas
5 – why are you passionate about children’s and family ministry? 
I believe we are doing similar work as counselors and children’s ministers. It’s hard work, that’s for sure, but it’s such meaningful and life-giving work. Every day, we are about the work of shaping and molding young lives. I’ve officially been doing the work long enough to now have parents come in for parent consultations, who I saw as children themselves. It’s such a gift to see them as intentional, passionate, loving parents who are pouring into their children’s emotional and spiritual development. It’s also a gift to have a front row seat to so much redemption – to have seen kids who walked out hard and painful chapters in their own story, become remarkable adults and parents themselves. What rewarding work we’ve been called to do! – David Thomas

SISSY GOFF, M.Ed., LPC-MHSP spends most of her days talking with girls and their families, with the help of her counseling assistant/pet therapist, Lucy the Havanese.  She has worked as the Director of Child and Adolescent Counseling at Daystar Counseling Ministries in Nashville, Tennessee since 1993, with a Master’s degree from Vanderbilt University.  Sissy speaks to parents and children’s ministers across the country, and is the author of nine books including her newest, Are My Kids on Track? The 12 Emotional, Social & Spiritual Milestones Your Child Needs to Reach, as well as Raising Girls. Sissy is a regular contributor to various podcasts and publications and is currently working on a soon-to-be released podcast with David and Melissa based on their book, Are My Kids on Track.


DAVID THOMAS, LMSW is the Director of Family Counseling at Daystar Counseling (daystarcounseling.com) in Nashville, TN, the co-author of eight books, including the best-selling Wild Things: The Art of Nurturing Boys (Tyndale House Publishers), a frequent guest on national television and podcasts, has been featured in publications like USA Today, and speaks across the country.  He recently completed Are My Kids on Track? The 12 Emotional, Social & Spiritual Milestones Your Child Needs to Reach. He and his wife, Connie, have a daughter, twin sons and a feisty yellow lab named Owen.

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