Larry Shallenberger: The Kids Ministry Exit Interview

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A few years back I stumbled across a blog called “Children’s Ministry and Culture.” It covered the important news and cultural trends that influence children’s ministry. The main writer behind that effort was Larry Shallenberger. I’ve never met him, but I expect I will one day.
A few weeks back, Larry announced his ministry role was transitioning away from children’s ministry. This was a shocker because so many people consider him an expert in the field. I though this would be an ideal time to grab him for an exit interview. He let me ask him some questions via email and that’s what you’re about to read.

Larry Shallenberger is a pastor and author in Erie, PA where he serves on the pastoral team at Grace Church. Larry is married and is fathering three sons. You can find him on twitter @lshallenberger. He blogs at www.larryshallenberger.com. His book “Lead the Way God Made You” has been helpful for many other people serving in children’s ministry.

What’s the story with your transition out of children’s ministry?
My church (whoisgrace.com) is going through a major re-organization. Our executive pastor is moving into the Sr. Pastor role at the same time we’re getting ready to launch our first multi-site. A few of us have been asked to move into different roles to get us ready for this transition. Multi-siting has a challenge: How do you maintain a constant culture across multiple campuses. One of the ways to do that is to create consistent learning experiences for all the campuses. So I’ll be developing Adult Learning Experiences for Sunday Mornings (Think “Sunday School” but with brain based learning strategies), small group curriculum, leadership development materials. I’ll also be creating our family ministry strategy.
When I went to college to become a pastor I never envisioned working with children. But now, 20-years-later, I stopped imagining working with any other population. I’m grateful that family ministry will keep me somewhat close to children and youth ministries.
What do you see as some big obvious leadership mistakes being made in kidmin?
I think it’s taking on more ministry than you are able to team out. That’s been my biggest challenge. For the past five years I’ve been assigned oversight of youth ministry, college ministry, family ministry, and adult education. Those were good and necessary assignments; Our church was growing rapidly. The challenge was that I found myself spinning plates instead of growing teams. That’s an okay place to be temporarily, but over time, it’s really damaging to both the minister and the ministry. It’s an even worse place to me when you wrote a book on team leadership.
So I’m not sure I want to assess children’s ministries in general. But that’s been my leadership challenge.
What would you say are the biggest cultural forces that pull families away from God’s best?
I’m going to define “God’s best” as “imperfect and messy families being caught up in God’s story.” That’s probably as good as things get in this life. Anybody making bigger claims is probably trying to sell us something.
The cultural forces that challenge families? I’d go with:
1) The crisis of fatherlessness in America: There’s an epidemic children being raise without dads. When this happens, moms tend to be overworked and chronically exhausted; boys tend to get caught up in violence and crime; and educational performance goes down in boys and girls. The family lowers it’s goals to survival and connection with God drops off the radar. Every children and youth pastor in America should read two books– Fatherless Generation by Dr. John Sowers and Father Fiction by Donald Miller.
2) Consumerism: My greatest fear about family ministry is we package them as commodities that will fix families and make them happier, more virtuous, and godlier. Those are all fantastic goals. However, I don’t see those families in scripture. What I see, particularly in the book of Genesis, is that God collects a large train-wreck of a family, and, by his mercy, enfolds them into his plan for redemption. God isn’t a product to fix families.
What kind of story do you hope your sons will one day tell about this season in your life?
That I embraced starting over. There’s something unsettling about this transition. I feel estranged from my writing platform. Do former children’s pastors get asked to speak at children’s ministry conferences or write books about children’s ministry leadership? I’m not holding my breath.
On the other hand, I get to hit the reset button, both professionally and personally. I’m attending a conference in Portland at the end of September that has the theme of editing your story. This came at a perfect time.
So I want my sons to be able to say that their dad embraced a big change, re-loaded, re-invented himself, and then attacked it.


If you enjoyed this interview, you should read our conversation with Phil Vischer or read what Ken Ham said to us last year.

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