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History Behind the Hymn: “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”

The great hymn, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” depicts a rich understanding of God forged through times of loss and loneliness. The hymn’s lyricist was a native of Dublin, Ireland, a man named Joseph Scriven (1820-1886). This is part of his story.

After graduating from Trinity College, he greatly anticipated the day that he and his long-time love would be married. She was his childhood sweetheart, and all of the wedding preparations were made. The day before the wedding, however, tragedy struck. While riding to meet him, the young woman’s horse was startled by something, throwing the her into the river nearby. The impact knocked her unconscious and she drowned shortly before Joseph arrived to meet her.

After this tragic loss, Joseph was troubled by the sight of his home in Ireland, and soon left for Ontario, Canada where he spent the rest of his days in Port Hope. He devoted himself to good works and to caring for others in the village, being known as someone that never turned away those in need that could not repay him.

Eventually, he began tutoring the children of a man in town, and in the process, fell in love with the man’s niece, Eliza. The two planned to be married in 1854, but shortly before, Eliza fell sick with pneumonia, passing away at the age of 23. Once again tragedy invaded Joseph Scriven’s life, as the hoped-for marriage day never came.

Throughout the struggles and loss of his life, Scriven continued to find solace in the nearness of God, whom he described as his closest friend. It is unclear as to when the lyrics he penned were put to music, as he initially sent them in a letter to his mother, intending that they be seen only by her.

His words remind us that though life is challenging and often painful, we have someone with us that is a dearer friend than any human ever could be, sustaining us and remaining close to us through it all.

Remembering his story can give us and the children in our lives faith to persevere and to serve others in need in every season.


What a friend we have in Jesus,

All our sins and griefs to bear!

What a privilege to carry

Everything to God in prayer!

Oh, what peace we often forfeit,

Oh, what needless pain we bear,

All because we do not carry

Everything to God in prayer.


What a Friend We Have in Jesus



Guest Post: Setting Your Volunteers Up For Fall Success

children in the fall with leavesFall is a great time of year. School is in session in the US. Children and their families are finishing their summer travels. New people are moving to your area. It is a time of growth for your church, but it can also be a pinch for children’s ministry leaders. More people attending means the need for more volunteers.

When faced with a need for more volunteers, the first thought is to recruit. Before you put effort into recruiting, take a look at how you can expand the volunteer base you have. It may surprise you at the opportunities you find.


Revisit the Frequency Your Volunteers Are Serving

If a volunteer only serves once a month, ask them to serve twice a month. If they serve

twice a month, could they serve weekly? An increase of 50% goes a long way.


Expand the Roles Of Current Volunteers

Look for complementary volunteer roles that one volunteer could fill. Example: Have parents drop kids off in their small group or class area. This way teachers can greet parents or greeters can serve as security during the service.


Create Opportunities For Leaders To Help

Create leadership positions in your ministry. Give seasoned volunteers new roles. Have them recruit, train, and minister to the new volunteers. Allow your leadership to help you can expand the volunteer base in a more organic way.


Ask For Temporary Season of Dedicated Ministry

Ask infrequent volunteers to dedicate a season (3-9 months) of consistent service. Having a definite end point will be encouraging to volunteers. Most like it so much they continue to serve even when the season is over.


How do you do this?

By connecting with these volunteers and asking them. Nothing fancy. You get to know the volunteer and ask why they serve in the pattern they serve. Many will have good reasons. Their spouse serves in another ministry who kept a similar schedule. Or they travel a lot and can only commit to that much. But many would say this is how they always served. No one asked them to do more. Of people serving in 2014, 41% did so because someone in the organization asked them.

Volunteers who already understand your vision will welcome another chance to serve. Sometimes all they need is for you to give them the opportunity.


In the Ministry Accelerator community, we discuss ministry design, best practices, digital tools and volunteers. Join us today. Email [email protected] and put “I want to join” in the subject line.

How to Communicate to Attract Ministry Volunteers

Communicating intentionally is a simple way that any ministry can work to expand their volunteer base. How we talk about things makes a difference, so here are a few things to keep in mind as you talk to individuals/couples/families about your search for fabulous ministry volunteers.

Set the expectations up front

Consider what the other person hears if you ask, “Do you want to help in the kids’ ministry?” When asked this vague question, individuals are left to fill in the blanks of what exactly you mean in terms of their role, time commitment, and other expectations.  In light of the fact that many families in churches would consider themselves to live at a “busy” pace, ambiguity is likely to lead to a polite but quick “no”.

Instead of asking church members to “help in the kids’ ministry”, consider asking more specific questions that can fit within a variety of time commitments and giftings, such as:

  • “Would you like to help set up the kids area for 30 minutes before church for a few Sundays?”
  • “We are currently on the search for summer Sunday school teachers for 4th grade. They commit to teaching the kids a pre-prepared lesson during the first service with a co-leader and also attend once-a-month meetings for an hour. What would you think about trying it out for the summer?”
  • “What would your thoughts be regarding leading the kids in worship time once a month for the fall?”

Each of these questions/statements have clear expectations of the time commitment and also an end-date, giving people flexibility should they want to try it out for a set period of time. And as they try something simple, such as setting up chairs, they will be exposed to other roles that they may want to explore later on.

Focus on opportunity and growth, not on need

Consider the following two questions:

  • “We really need people to work in the children’s ministry, so can you help?”
  • “The children’s ministry is growing so much as we’ve increased our neighborhood outreach! Would you be open to hearing about the opportunities we have to be a part of what’s happening?”

The first question places pressure on the listener, as the ministry seems like it is falling apart, or is at the least stretched thin, and it seems that if they agree, they may be stretched thin, too. The second question, however, demonstrates that the ministry is outgrowing the current number of volunteers (a great problem!) because it is effective and thriving. And people want to be apart of things that work, where they know they will be helping build something meaningful that can outlast them.

Even if you feel desperate for help, using that desperation as a selling point in recruiting volunteers doesn’t set an expectation of thriving for their time moving forward. Focus on what they will have the opportunity to invest in, not on how they will be depended upon to meet a certain need.

Know and communicate that you can hire and fire (with kindness)

When you ask people to invest in children’s ministry, you are advocating for the development of your church’s next generation. You are not wasting anyone’s time, nor are people doing you a favor when they volunteer.  Because of these things, you have the ability to recruit volunteers and also to “fire” them, if they are not contributing to the building of the ministry.

Sometimes people make mistakes, and it is important to be willing to coach people as they grow.  However, the issue is when individuals are being divisive or view their volunteer work in the ministry as a major favor.  Perhaps when you observe this behavior, you can help these individuals to find a ministry that will challenge and engage them at a deeper level. The kids are valuable, and when people volunteer to disciple them, those people are the ones that are laying the foundation for what the kids believe about who God is and who they are in light of him. That’s important enough to be choosy about who teaches them week-in and week-out.

Communicate the big picture & progress indicators

Working hard at a job that doesn’t seem necessary can be an automatic turn-off for volunteers. It is hard to donate time and effort that doesn’t really seem to make a difference to anyone.  Consider the difference between these two scenarios:

  • You teach Sunday school each week with the ministry’s vision in mind of training up young men and women in your neighborhood who are 1)sensitive to the Spirit and 2) love following Jesus and his Word. You know what you’re working toward and the part you play in the church because the other leaders talk about the goal and provide feedback to one another about what works as they move forward.
  • You teach Sunday school each week and have somewhat of an idea of how you fit into the “Big C Church” picture, discipling kids, but tend to teach your class and leave. You talk to the other teachers, but there is not a particular ministry “vision” you’re working toward, no beginning or end to seasons, no measures to evaluate whether you are being effective or growing.

Which ministry would you rather be a part of?
When individuals volunteer, it is important that they know the role they play not just in their particular setting, but in the ministry’s big picture. Why does their work matter? What concrete difference does it make? And how can they maximize their work and gifts to be even more effective? Or summed up, how can volunteers grow as they help the children grow?

Communicating specific effectiveness indicators in the ministry can build unity as kids’ ministry leaders work together toward a specific goal and can observe progress along the way.  These indicators could be how often kids tell stories of praying for people during the week or times they knew Jesus spoke to them, memory verses learned, observations of how kids interact with each other in class or with their parents, etc. They don’t necessarily have to be numeric. They just need to be a few different areas in which leaders can observe and discuss progress together.

Last thoughts

Church members are saturated with messages about how they can spend their time. When you solely talk about need, you can’t expect people to see golden opportunity. The truth is, how you talk about the ministry will shape how people view it and whether or not they want to be involved. It is wonderful to pray for more volunteers, but it is also critical to lead the way in creating the kind of environment people want to be a part of. And sometimes, creating that environment that will attract solid volunteers simply begins with a few changes in your own communication.


How do people talk about the children’s ministry at your church? How do you talk about it? How is this affecting your volunteer base?