Navigating the Pressure to Perform in Children’s Ministry

If we could sit down together to talk about the pressure to perform, I would guess most, if not all, of us could contribute a personal experience, past or present. Heads would nod in understanding, with weary sighs escaping lips. Sliding into the performance trap is so very easy and so very heavy.

We live in a culture that places a lot of emphasis and value on what we do and how busy we are. The pressure to perform can be a weighty burden to carry. In fact, the dictionary says it’s a burden of physical or mental distress. Pleasing those we minister to and the pastor we work for affects every area of our lives. Sometimes these pressures come from our own internal expectations. Other times pressure comes from external expectations others have of us. Either way, learning to navigate performance-based situations is vital in leading us to the rest and light burden Jesus describes in Matthew 11:28-30. 

One common source of the pressure to perform is the internal struggle with perfectionism and/or overachieving. Along the way, we pick up the message that the only correct outcome is a perfect one. We falsely believe excellence is the same thing as perfection when it’s really just doing our best. Often those who struggle with pressure in this area perceive the lack of impact or acknowledgment from others as an indicator of failure, which only makes the weight heavier.

Another source of performance pressure is the external expectations others place on us, especially leadership. Many senior pastors look at numbers to evaluate the health of the church attendance, first-time professions of faith, and baptisms. As a small chunk of the body overall, children’s ministry’s numbers look small in comparison to adults. When numbers aren’t what leadership wants to see, there are often ‘suggestions’ for getting them to go up. When leadership has no experience working with children, the things they ask can be unrealistic, and yet we feel the pressure to make it happen even if we don’t agree.

A third way external pressure to perform crops up is when we play the comparison game with other churches. Social media and ministry conferences are wonderful sources to connect with other leaders and find and share new resources. However, it can be discouraging to some to hear and see what others are doing. We can easily move forward with a bigger and better mentality. Trying to keep up with others rather than utilizing what’s realistic for us is draining.

Living under constant pressure to perform, from internal and external sources, paves a quick path to burnout. We feel discouraged and small in ourselves and in our ministry, and we either try harder and harder to do more, or we throw our hands in the air and give up. No one can carry that kind of weight indefinitely, nor were we created to do so.

Here are some ways you can begin climbing out of the ‘doing’ trap and resting in the peace and confidence the Lord intends:


  • Allow the Lord to point out areas where you struggle with the pressure to perform and ask Him to help you open up your hands and let those things go. Hearing His permission to pull back from unrealistic expectations is freeing.
  • Philippians 1:9-11 says, “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.” The Lord will give us insight and discernment to identify what’s best so we can let go of things that aren’t to focus on glorifying and praising Him.
  • Add the words “sometimes good enough is good enough” into your vocabulary. When we feel the pressure to perform, this can sound like an excuse not to get things done. However, there really are things we do every day that don’t need us to pour out all our time and energy. Save it up for the things that really matter.
  • Stop comparing yourself to others. Every children’s leader brings unique talents to the role, and every church body offers differing budgets and resources. Instead of comparing and falling short, we can look for ideas and ways we could put our own personal touches on them to best meet the needs of our community.
  • Take time for personal reflection. Often we do things to meet the expectations of others because we believe it will personally wound us if we don’t. Ask yourself who you’re expending all your energy for and what purpose it holds. A lot of times, we place expectations on ourselves to feel better when others notice. The work we do in our ministries should first please the Lord. If we’re doing that, we can let go of the expectations of others.
  • Rest and recharge! We cannot continually carry these kinds of pressures without also sacrificing our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health. We must do things that help fill us up and give us a break from expectations.
  • Make an appointment with a counselor. When we’re stuck in a continuing performance trap, whether internally or externally imposed, talking with a therapist can be a vital step in breaking out of the cycle. An outsider’s view can give us the perspective we need to take healthy steps.

Performance stressors are a part of life. It’s helpful to normalize our thinking and accept that pressure will come. At the same time, we don’t have to fall victim to the pressure and allow it to dictate our lives and how we feel about ourselves. As we learn to identify the source, evaluate the validity of expectations, and utilize tools to help us walk through these times, we will be better equipped to put the pressure to perform in its place.