Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Walking With Grandpa

It was a bright, sunny morning, not unusual for Tucson, Arizona. Ninety percent of the time, mornings were always clear and sunny. The inconvenience of bright and sunny mornings in Arizona is that bright sunny mornings turn into hot sunny days. If you want to do anything outdoors, from walking to watering your lawn, best to do it early.

Grandpa and I were out walking, not unusual for us either. I often took walks with my grandfather. Sometimes our walks had purpose, like walking up to a nearby store. Other times, like that day, we walked just to walk. Grandpa never said much on our walks. In fact, when Grandma shooed him out the door to take walks with the kids, he would often mutter under his breath. But I knew he enjoyed them. I could tell by the broad grin that spread across his face when he thought no one was looking, a smile accentuated by his weather wrinkled face.

We reached a four lane minor artery near the neighborhood park. In a childlike display of affection, I slipped my hand into his hand. When we reached the other side, he let go and I was embarrassed at my childlike action. He probably interpreted my gesture as nervousness over the busy highway and that I needed his hand as a security shield. At ten years old, I was too old to hold hands with my grandpa for such a simple reason as affection. Yet that is what I had meant it to be – a silent gesture that I loved walking with my grandpa. He always called me his little girl. I still regret telling him at one point I was a grown up girl and he needn’t call me that anymore. It took years for both of us to get over that. Now, when he calls me his little girl, I stow it away like a precious diamond nestled among the other treasures of my memory chest.

Walks with Grandpa became more numerous over the years. One day, we walked over five miles to his brother’s house, nestled against the mountains, just to see if we could do it. I was relieved when Uncle Eldon offered us a ride back into town. We walked with Grandma and Grandpa along the hiking trails that crisscrossed the mountain ranges surrounding Tucson. When they moved to Sedona, Arizona, we would walk several miles to eat lunch at a local restaurant. After such a strenuous walk, I wondered why Grandma still fussed at Grandpa’s food selections. In their late sixties, they walked with my sister and cousins down the Grand Canyon, a walk I regreted I would never have with them because they, like us, were growing older.

The walks became more symbolic as Grandpa journeyed with us through the important moments of our lives. Grandpa offered to drive both my sister and me at separate times to bible college, hundreds of miles away. Not yet a believer, Grandpa let us know in no uncertain terms, that he thought we were wasting our time. However, if that’s what we wanted to do, he would make sure we got there and got settled well. It seemed only natural that Grandpa would be the one who walked me down the aisle when I met my husband to be at the nuptial altar. I dare think he was as nervous as I was!

My last memory of my grandmother was seeing her and Grandpa turn from their goodbyes at our rented car to walk hand in hand along the sidewalk surrounding their retirement building. After age 80, it no longer mattered who saw you hold hands or kiss or say “I love you.” Another poignant moment came when Grandpa, age 85, walked anther aisle to take the minister’s hand and acknowledge his desire to make Jesus Lord of his life.

My grandfather is now taking another walk, a journey on which we cannot go with him but we will surely follow him someday. At 96, as he battles congestive heart failure, he is walking toward the end of his life and we all know, without saying much, that the end of that walk is drawing near when he will reach the throne of Almighty God and take his Savior’s hand.

Grandparents can have a powerful influence on their grandchildren. When the world is topsy-turvy with economic crisis, family disintegration and the fear of terrorism, a grandparent can be the security a child needs. Sometimes, all it takes is to be there and walk with your grandchildren – just as Grandpa walked with me. If you are a believer in Christ, you have a crucial opportunity to let your grandchild walk that faith journey with you. As you walk, you can demonstrate to them how to walk with the Savior.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Bible Christmas Quiz

Tomorrow is the Sunday before Christmas. Adult services might run long. Do you have an extra activity planned in case you have too much time and not enough lesson? What about your bible story for tomorrow? How do you tell a story that your students have heard many times in a fresh appealing way?

Maybe your students don’t know that Christmas story as well as they think they do! Here is a Christmas quiz you can give them, With thanks to
Standard Publishing, I’m borrowing a quiz from the VBS Anytime series, “The Incredible Race” which is a wonderful curriculum. Test your Christmas knowledge then see how well your students do.

1. True or False: Mary rode on the back of a donkey to get to Bethlehem.

2. True or False: May gave birth the same night she and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem.

3. True or False: An innkeeper offered them the only accommodations he had left.

4. True or False: Jesus was born in a stable.

5. True or False: Being a perfect baby, Jesus never cried.

6. True or False: Angels appeared to the shepherds, announcing Christ’s birth and singing praises to God.

7. True or False: There were angels present at the manger scene.

8. True or False: A drummer boy accompanied the wise men to the manger.

9. True or False: There were three wise men.

10. True or False: Jesus was born on December 25th.

How well do you think you did? Guess what? All of the questions are false. Most of these assumptions have sprung from tradition but the Bible is silent on these details so therefore, we cannot assume that they are true. We just don’t know! Just because there were three gifts does not necessarily mean there were three Wise men. Donkeys were often used for pack animals. Ladies, can you imagine trying to mount a donkey while nine months pregnant? Songs and pictures of the manger scene are not gospel truth. While there might have been angels at the manger scene, the Bible never says there were. The Drummer Boy is just a song.

I love the one about the manger! Who says a manger has to have been in a stable. It could have been out in a field to provide food for the animals there. We can’t even assume that the straw in the manger was clean!

We do know this. Jesus was born in the lowest of situations and had visitors from the lowest socioeconomic status. What humility! It was enough for the Lord to take human form yet He chose to enter at the world’s lowest level too!

Thank you! Thank you Lord Jesus, for entering our world, born in poverty, death as a criminal. You loved us that much. Thank you!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Children's Christmas Service Projects

Did you hear about the eight year old boy who, when his parents asked him what he wanted for Christmas, said he wanted to give toys to sick children? So he and his parents took a bunch of toys to give to patients at a Children’s Hospital.

Perhaps you are thinking, “I wish that was my child” or “I wish that child existed in my classroom.” My thoughts were, “I’d like to meet this child’s parents!” What kind of example did they set for this child to have such a giving spirit? Even if that generous spirit came from deep within, kudos to those parents who put legs on a little boy’s dream and made it happen!

For the rest of us, we often find ourselves despairing about our children’s greedy attitudes at Christmas. Yet, like anything, character traits don’t just happen. They have to be taught. We can help our children grow in generosity by doing service projects with them at Christmas time. Here are some ideas:

1. Take fruit baskets to elderly folks in your neighborhood or who attend your church. Greet them with caroling.

2. Go Christmas caroling at a local nursing home. Have one or two of the children bring a pet along. Make sure the pet is well behaved and loves people. A Labrador or Golden Retriever or a Welsh Corgi have great personalities for nursing home visits. Get approval from the home before you do this and have an adult keep a careful eye on the pet.

3. Take treats to a nursing home. One year, our church youth group dressed up in Halloween costumes at Halloween, went to a nursing home, and gave each resident a banana. This was a great idea because we didn’t have to worry about whether someone was diabetic and couldn’t eat candy or cookies.

4. Offer to decorate doors of rooms at a nursing home. Better yet, offer to help a nursing home or children’s hospital take down decorations after Christmas is over.

5. Make a care package for a recently unemployed family. Decorate a basket and fill it with cocoa mix, tea bags, a tub of cappuccino mix, some cookies, muffin mix, a small bottle of dish detergent, a small kitchen widget and a couple of candy canes.

6. Become involved in
Operation Christmas Child sponsored by Samaritan’s Purse. Participants fill shoeboxes with specified items, such as school supplies or personal care items and send it to Samaritan’s Purse to be distributed to needy children in other countires. One local church asked families to send $5 with their child to a youth meeting. The youth sponsors then took the children to the local dollar store and let the children purchase items they could put in the shoeboxes.

If you would rather help local families, your class or family could take the same basic idea of filling a shoebox for a needy child. I love the idea of letting the children shop for the items of their choice. This works on several levels. It allows the child to take ownership of the project. It also teaches some valuable lessons about money management.

The greatest way we can show thankfulness for the gift God gave us through Jesus Christ His Son is to give to others. The essence of giving at Christmas is not to give obligatory gifts to those who will give back to us or who have no need for what we give. Christ gave us what we needed most and what we were helpless to provide for ourselves – salvation. Let’s mirror the love of Christ by giving to others what they need most. Let’s involve our children so they too can learn the art of giving.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Classroom Christmas Crafts and Activities

Classroom Christmas Crafts

Christmas! What an exciting time in a children’s ministry classroom! Students may come to your classroom that have never darkened your door before. As a teacher, you have the privilege to tell the most precious story on earth – the story that God himself stuffed the divine presence of His Son into human form so the Son could lead the world back to God.

All right, so you’ve told the same story year after year. The kids could tell you the story. How can you drive home the magnitude of what God did for us on that Christmas night so long ago without your kids yawning, interrupting you to tell you about the latest toy they want or without your students bouncing off the walls from too many candy canes and too many shopping trips?

Make the story fresh. As St. Francis of Assisi once said, “Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.” What other ways can you tell the Christmas story? You can use skits, music, crafts, snacks, games; service projects; anything that reinforces the message of Christ coming to this earth.

Beware! It’s so easy to choose activities that celebrate Christmas in a general way, that fall into the trap of the secular symbols of Christmas. As a children’s ministry worker, you want to be different. You want your message to stand out in stark contrast to what the students are getting elsewhere. Choose crafts and other activities that present the biblical message in a strong and compelling way.

Recently, I’ve been looking for a craft that emphasizes the Nativity. I found some great possibilities on the Internet. Check out these websites for Nativity craft projects for kids.

www.daniellesplace.com (a great website for all kinds of bible crafts)
www.dltk-holidays.com (A wonderful felt board nativity set here. I think I will use this activity for my group.)
www.familyfun.com (This is a secular site but I often find ideas here that I can adapt for my bible lessons.)

Next week, I’ll share some service projects for kids to do at Christmas.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Sharing Your Salvation

Before reading his Communion meditation last Sunday, one of the elders in my congregation asked us to bow our heads and thank God for the people who brought us to Christ.

Initially, I thought of Mary Anderson, the preacher’s wife at our small congregation in Arizona. At church camp for the first time, I was miserably homesick and woke up several mornings with tummyaches. One morning, when she came to check on me, I talked to her about accepting Jesus and asked some final defining questions that clified what I needed to do. She led me through the next step and I accepted Christ and was baptized the Sunday after I returned home.

Looking back, I realized Mary was only one of many people who led me to the foot of the cross. She didn’t tell me that much that day. She was merely the last one in a long chain of wonderful people who taght and exemplified what the Christian life was all about. There was her husband, Carl, who preached solid Biblical sermons. There were my wonderful Sunday teachers, Mrs. Conner, Mrs. Keeling, Mary, Mrs. Hemphill. There was my mother who faithfully took to us to Sunday School and church in spite of the fact my step-father didn’t go. I watched her teach and lead and coordinate programs. I saw her reading her bible and other Christian books. I learned from all of these people, not merely what they taught but how they lived. So last Sunday, I bowed my head, and thanked God for the wonderful teachers I had had in my life who led me to saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Another insight hit me this week. How do we express our thanksgiving? Saying thank you is not enough. Throughout the Bible, men and women showed their appreciation for God’s gifts by giving a gift, by passing on the blessing. The unforgiving servant in Jesus’ parable was guilty not just for failing to forgive his fellow servant. He failed to forgive in light of being forgiven so much himself. He had received the gift of mercy. He was not willing to pass even a tiny portion of the gift to someone else.

I have so gloriously received the gift of salvation. How can I say thanks to my Heavenly Father for such a great gift? By passing on the gift to the next person. How can I say thank you to my Lord for providing such dedicated teachers who had such tremendous influence on me? To give the gift of Bible knowledge to the children I teach.

David, broken and repentant after his sin with Bathsheba, pled for God’s mercy in the poignant Psalm 51. After asking for God’s forgiveness, he promised, “Then I will teach transgressors your ways and sinners will turn back to you. – Psalm 51:13)

To whom can you pass the torch of God’s saving grace this Thanksgiving. You show your thankfulness to the Lord for your salvation by teaching the children you serve. This Sunday, let your teaching become your spiritual act of worship (Romans 12:1).

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Thanksgiving Activities For Children

We have so much to be thankful for! Look around you. Touch what is in front of you. Take a deep breath and smell the world around you. Everything you see, touch, hear, smell, the food you put to your mouth is a gift. Even that breath you took to breathe the scents around you is a gift of life from the Creator who loves you.

That’s just in the physical realm. Think of the spiritual blessings God has given you – new life, the hope of heaven, His constant Presence, His authority to rule the earth, His gifts of mercy and forgiveness.

Visualize the children you teach. Name them one by one. They are blessings too. God has given them to you to teach, to share the good news of Jesus’ love, to encourage them to be the best they can be and embolden them to be holy different from the world around them.

Need a thanksgiving activity to do with the children you reach? Play the alphabet game with them. Our family still loves to play this game whenever we are traveling. Someone names a category, such as “things we’ll see on our vacation” and each person in turn must name something that begins with a succeeding letter of the alphabet. On our last vacation to Pennsylvania, I would say “Appalachians” and my husband would say “battlefields.”

Start your kids out with the general category: “Things I am thankful for.” Then, you can choose more specific categories such as “Food I’m thankful for,” “People I’m thankful for,” even “Food I wish I was more thankful for.” For older kids, ask them to name spiritual blessings for which they are thankful.” Incorporate some of the ideas into a special prayer time. Have the children choose some of the ideas mentioned and make a place mat for Thanksgiving, drawing pictures or writing the words of the things for which they are most thankful.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Prayer and Children's Ministry

I admit it. I’m a worrier. I joke that I make excellent stew. I can sit and stew about matters for hours.

A prime time to make stew is Sunday morning. It’s amazing the petty things that will come into my mind in the moments between seven and nine in the morning that I need to worry about. All the church politics, all the gripes I have against my husband, all the concerns I harbor about my girls at college like to surface Sunday morning.

I did something different the last two Sundays. It’s nothing new. It’s something I’ve known for a long time. But I so easily forget. The last two Sundays I prayed.

I didn’t pray about my worries. I purposely, intentionally turned off the fire under my stew pot. Instead, I prayed for the worship service. I prayed about my lesson. As I curled my hair, I prayed for individual students. As I applied my makeup, I prayed over the points of my lesson and prayed that this Sunday, my students would “get it.” As I scrambled eggs, I prayed for the other church leaders. I prayed for families to have serene mornings so they would come ready to worship. I prayed that children would wake up refreshed and desiring to come to church.

The last six months have been difficult months in my children’s ministry. We’ve had ardly any younger children. My senior high Sunday School class has been bursting at the seems with young people who are, well, just very different from me and from what I’m used to. I think I can honestly say without exaggeration that the last two Sundays have been the best of any Sundays over the last six months.

What was different? I got through my material. Explaining biblical concepts flowed naturally. The students connected with me. They didn’t fool around as much. Today my high school class was into the topic more than I’ve ever seen them. We also started a different kind of program for junior church today and we had nine children attend!

I know to pray. I know things go better with God. It’s a wonder I forget. Yet the enemy would like nothing better.

“Be self controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, loking for someone to devout. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that you brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” – 1 Peter 5:8,9

“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” – Ephesians 6:18

Next Sunday, don’t let the devil tempt you or distract you. Let’s both spend our preparation time Sunday morning praying for our work Inside the Classroom.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Teaching Beyond the Classroom

This past week, my mother sent me a letter from an old friend dated thirty years ao. Grammy Jean was a family friend who attended our church while spending the winters in my hometown in Arizona.
Grammy Jean didn’t often write letters. When she did, it was a four page tome tha rambled on as if she were across the table having a cup of tea with you. She shared from her heart, weaving her past experiences, her present feelings and her motherly advice into one beautiful tapestry that made you feel as warm as if you had just finished that cup of tea.

Grammy Jean was a fixture in our family. Sometimes I felt like she could see right through me and knew my inner thoughts! She suffered from a variety of illness and was in constant pain. She never let me get away for a moment with feeling sorry for myself because I had a visual disability. She showed me how to handle the down days. The worse her pain was, the more she would focus on others. She would confide to us, that when she couldn’t sleep at night, she would pray. “If my pain was bad enough to keep me awake, I just figured there was someone who needed me to pray for them that night,” she told me.

I remember Grammy Jean best for the way she was so comfortable in talking about God. I had never met someone that treated God as a personal acquaintance, who talked about including God in her everyday life and decisions. She talked about God like I would talk about a friend. Her prayer life wasn’t just formal requests; she had conversations with God. She taught me to trust God with every part of my life; to stop relying on just myself and bring God into my life as my partner.

Reading over her letter reminded me of the way she blessed my life and helped me grow in my own relationship with Christ. I want to be like her. I want to pass on the blessings that she gave to me. I want to reach out to children and young people beyond the Classroom. I want to show them I care about them and I’m interested in them, I want to have the ability to see beyond the surface stuff to the real person down inside yet I want to show them I still accept them and love them for who they are. I want them to see Jesus in me, that He is my personal friend and I’m trusting Him with every part of my life. I want to move from being just a teacher to being a discipler.

What young person are you discipling? How can you show you care about them and you love them unconditionally? Can they tell that Jesus is a part of your daily life?

Monday, October 27, 2008

Teaching Children Critical Thinking

In both my teaching sessions yesterday, conversation was hot and heavy about the Presidential elections. One fifth grade boy was evangelistic in his support of Obama. “McCain’s going to bomb America,” he said, “Vote for Obama.” His other reasons for supporting Obama? Everyone but one child in his fifth grade class supports Obama. McCain is old and going to die. McCain is going to prosecute doctors. “What does that mean anyway?” he asked. When I tried to explain what prosecution meant, that it means bringing to justice people who have committed crimes, the boy was unphased. McCain was still a heel.

It’s not my place in this blog to give my personal opinion about a candidate. That’s not the focus of this column. What I am concerned about is that our children are not being taught to think. I have to wonder, what is going on inside the classroom of this young man? What are his teachers saying? Where is he getting his information? Does anyone have the guts to correct his wrong information?

It’s easy to base our choices and reactions on one piece of information. I was guilty of it just this morning. I heard the statistic that “90% of babies found to have Down’s Syndrome are aborted." How frightening, I thought. I was ready to write a column about the evils and tragedy of abortion. First I checked my facts and found that I didn’t have the whole story. Okay, stop and think with me. 90% of inutero babies tested to have Down’s Syndrome are aborted. How many babies are born with Down’s Syndrome whose mothers have never received the testing? The percentage probably goes way down. As my friend, creationist John Clayon says, “Think, think, think!”

Now please don’t misunderstand me. I believe fully in the sanctity of life. I am a champion of the disabled. Weakness of any form does not calibrate the value of a human being. In my humble opinion, no baby should be aborted no matter what prenatal testing reveals about its health and well being. Aborting shows a lack of trust in God to provide for His creation. Yet, I, like any one else, need to be sure I substantiate my position with accuracy.

I love the quote from Ronald Regan, “Trust but verify.” We need to teach our children to be critical thinkers, to question what we hear, to decide with our brains as well as our hearts. We need to hold up the twisted truth we hear on the streets to the ramrod straight measuring stick of God’s word to see how it compares.

How will I think through my decision on November 4th? I’ll hold the issues up against God’s word. What does God’s word say about the sanctity of life, the sacredness of marriage, the importance of personal responsibility, the respect due those who differ from us, the defense of justice and the imperative to stand firm against evil? I’ll choose the candidate whose platform is the least crooked compared to the Bible. Then, as the Bible commands, I will pray fervently for that man that he might bring peace, justice and safety to our country.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Building Relationships With Your Students

At a recent conference, I became convicted of my need to build relationships with my students. Teaching Inside the Classroom is more than lecturing and pouring information into students’ heads. As teachers, we need to connect with our students, earn their trust, show we are interested in their lives and in them as people. How can they know that Jesus loves them if we aren’t willing to demonstrate that love to them?

I’m a great one for preparing my lessons. I study a lot beforehand. I spend hours on my unorthodox teaching activities and my interesting lesson presentations. My weak point has been the relational aspect. Usually, by Sunday, I’m so hurried and frazzled to get everything together, that who has time to stop and ask kids about their week? As I said, I became convicted that I have put the cart before the horse and this was an area I need to work on. So I started to work on my student/teacher relationships.

“Hi Blanton, how are you?”
“How was school this week?”
“What’s your favorite subject?”
“None of them.”

Okay, this was going nowhere fast. But I wasn’t going to give up. After all, I’m a firm believer in the adage, “God calls us to be faithful, not successful.” I was going to reach out to Blanton regardless of how monosyllabic his responses were. It took a couple months, but I noticed a gradual change in his responses.

“Hi Blanton, how are you?”
“Did you go swimming this week?”
“How was that?”

My heart soared the week he initiated conversation with me to tell me about somewhere he had gone. But last week was the clincher. I had had to correct him about taking bottled water from the church kitchen without asking and for assuming that it was his to take. While he needed the discipline, I felt badly. I so wanted to earn this boy’s trust. As he slunk out the door with his aunt, I called, “Hey Blanton, have a good week.”

He stopped and looked at me. Without the typical Eeyore inflection in his voice, he said, “Thank you! You have a good week too.”

Once again, the children Inside my Classroom are teaching me. Relationship building takes time. And persistence. Inside the Classroom is no place for personal insecurity. We keep loving our students no matter what their outward response might be. Someday, the love of Jesus we share just might shine through their cracking façade.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Economic Crisis: What It Can Teach Our Children: Part Two

Last week, I discussed lessons we can teach our children on how not to repeat the mistakes that have caused the conomic crisis our country has experienced in the last month. Here are some more ideas:

4. Overcome greed with gratitude. I am saddened to see so many Americans always wanting more, never being satisfied with what they have. Lead your children to be thankful for what God has given us. Even the simple practice of thanking God for a meal teaches your children to be thankful for everything, even if it’s not quite up to the standards we would prefer. Just because something is quite to our taste doesn’t mean that it does not come from God’s hand or that we can thankful for it. When we are grateful for what we have, we will be more disciplined in what we buy. Hebrews 13:5 tells us, “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have because God has said, “Never will I leave you. Never will I forsake you.” We need to teach our children to be more content. How do we do that? The first step is to show contentment ourselves.

5. Remember the tithe. Tithing teaches our children that God is more important than we are. Teaching children to start tithing when they are still young instills the habit of learning now to live on 9/10’s of their income. Malachi 3 is very clear that God will bless us richly if we remember to give him His portion. Give your child an allowance that can easily be divided by ten so they can tithe. Let them see you writing out your tithe check and placing it in the offering plate. Children learn from example as much as by instruction!

6. Trust God. It’s so easy to put our trust in a mortgage, the banking system, the stock market. It’s easy to turn our money over to the mutual funds and turn our minds to other matters, with the feeling that Wall Street is invincible. The events of the past few weeks showed us that our economy, the investment industry, even the government has serious cracks. The only One we can trust is God. He has promised to provide for us and He has never ever broken a promise. His securities are secure, you can bank on His banking system and you can trust that He will take care of you and never forsake you. You will always have what you need plus plenty to share if you keep trusting in Him. Seek first His kingdom, says Matthew 6:33, and all the things you need will be yours. Instead of focusing on how everyone has failed us, we need to turn our focus on God. Cry out to Him. Ask Him to provide. Teach your children to praise Him for what He can do.

Can I suggest several verses you can teach the children in your life this week? These verses will be a reminder that God alone can provide our every need.

Proverbs 3:5,6
Philippians 4:19
2 Corinthians 9:6,7
2 Corinthians 9:11
Matthew 6:33
Psalm 121:1,2

In this time of financial struggle, plaster these verses around your home and inside your classroom to remind your children – and you – that God is in control and He blesses those who trust Him enough to keep on being generous to those who have less.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Economic Crisis: What It Can Teach Our Children

My daughter has a paper due in her Philosophy class this week. The teacher won’t grade the first paper, yet my daughter was still nervous about her first college assignment. “I hope I don’t blow it,” she told me. “

This is a good one to fail on,” I told her. “If you go amiss, the teacher will most likely make comments and you’ll learn from your failure.”

In the past two weeks, America failed. We received a failing grade in our ability to handle our economy. Before we join the politicians in pointing fingers, let’s admit it. All of us have been guilty of spending more than we need to, of overreaching our ability to pay. All of us have been guilty at one time or another of the sin of coveting, of wanting more than what we have. So, like my daughter learning from her mistakes, what can we learn from our failure? More specifically, in light of the theme of this column, what can we learn to teach our children about financial security? I’ll cover a few ideas this week and save the rest for next week.

1. Grow in self-control. Teach your kids now how to control their impulses. The best thing you can do for your kids is to not let them have everything they want. If you do give into every childish whim, it will be all too easy for them as adults, to whip out that credit card so they can purchase whatever meets their fancy, whether they need it or not.

2. Replace self-indulgence with self-sacrifice. Teach your kids to think of others and their needs. Teach your kids to do without. Teach them to be flexible. Try doing without catsup on a hot dog one evening or eat toast with either jelly or margarine but not both. Teach them to share by having two children time split a soda instead of each having an entire 12 ounce can. Like Jo and her sisters in the classic, Little Women, have them share an important meal with someone who has none. Challenge them to say “no” once in awhile to offers of candy at school just so they can learn the power of saying “No.” Learning to say “no” will make your child stronger and enable them to endure when they do have to do without.

3. Avoid debt. Debt is a kind of bondage. Someone once said that debt enslaves your future income to your creditors. Debt allows us to have things before we have the money. Teach your child now to save their money for the big items instead of spending it on little things. Don’t bail them out if they don’t have enough. Repeat often: don’t buy something unless you have the money to pay for it. Help them set up a savings account and make it possible for them to get to the bank to put money in the bank so they can save up for the big item they want.

Come back next week for more ideas on teaching the next generation how to avoid economic crisis.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Cooking with Kids

I love to make homemade bread. I’ve been making bread since I was a teenager, enrolled in the 4-H program. I won multiple awards at country and state fairs and state demonstration days. Through that hobby, I developed my own recipes for whole wheat bread and homemade pizza and did experiments with making sourdough bread starter.

I have continued to make homemade bread and pizza which my family loves. But I never took time to actually teach my two girls how to make bread. My reason was that I didn’t want to push my interests on them. I wanted them to develop their own interests. That is, I didn’t teach them until this summer, the last summer before my youngest left home. I realized I had a skill that I had never passed down to the next generation, a skill that they could learn from books but would learn so much better from a person. They could take classes but they would learn it so much better right here at home as I watched them practice over and over again.

So, at the beginning of the summer, I timidly asked my younger daughter if she would like to make homemade bread with me. “YES!” she responded enthusiastically. “I have been wishing you would teach me!” We spent several precious days learning to make bread together. I was able to pass down my to her in one summer secrets that took me years to develop.

Each parent has hobbies and interests we love. We’re the best ones to teach these skills to our children. If we don’t pass on these hobbies, some of these handcraft skills may someday be lost forever Better than that, we have the thrill of doing something together with our children.

It’s our children’s choice whether they want to pursue the skill or hobby. As parents, we can’t push our likes on our kids. Yet it would be just as wrong to go to the other extreme and not share our talents at all.

Some parents treat religion like I treated my skills of bread baking. They want their children to discover faith on their own and decide for themselves. How can a child decide whether to follow Christianity without knowing about it? We need to teach them about our faith so when they do come to that age of accountability, they can make an informed choice on their own. If my daughters had never tried to make bread, they wouldn’t know whether they liked it or not.


2 1/4 cups warm water (105-115 degrees)
2 pkgs yeast
3 T sugar
4 tsp salt
1/3 c oil
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup dry milk powder
4 cups whole wheat flour
3 c all purpose flour (about)

Mix water and yeast. Add sugar, salt, oil, brown sugar and milk powder. Stir well. Add two cups all purpose flour; beat very well. Add whole wheat flour until you make a stiff dough. Turn out on a floured board (with all purpose flour). Knead until dough is smooth and sticks only slightly to your hand, adding more flour from the bottom as needed. Place in a greased bowl, cover with a tea towel and place in a cold oven along with a pan of steaming water. Let rise till double in bulk, about one hour. Divide in half, shape into loaves. Place in 2 greased 9x13 pans, turning to grease the top. Let rise till double, about 30-45 minutes. Bake in preheated 400 degrees for 25-30 minutes. Turn onto wire rack, Brush with shortening and cover with a towel until cool.

I use a Kitchen Aid Mixer for my mixing and kneading. I also divide my dough into fourths and place in 4 4x7 inch pans. I often give my bread away as gifts to sick people, new church attenders or as an encouragement gift. My children have learned the gift of caring for others through watching me give gifts of bread.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Teacher Burnout

“I’m not being fed.”

I’ve heard that sentiment several times in the past month from precious, dedicated, worn out teachers. One dear lady has taught the preschool class at our church for over thirty years. Never one to complain, she surprised all of us as we sat at a golden wedding anniversary party by saying, “I wish I could go to an adult Sunday School class. I need to learn too.” Her adult daughter, sitting across the table from us said, “That’s why I quit teaching. I wasn’t getting fed.”

I surprised myself with my own answer. I think I was trying to be compassionate but I realized the truth in my own words. I said to them, “I have to work hard at self feeding.”

If you are a Sunday School teacher, how do you maintain your own spiritual life when you are constantly teaching others to grow in their faith?

First, develop a quiet time apart from your study of your lesson. As a busy mother of small children, the only time I seemed to have for bible study was to read the commentary in my lesson book and to mull over the scriptures for the lesson all week. But after teaching for years, there’s only so much I can get out of the story of Jonah for the umpteenth time. Still, it’s all too easy to rely on this study as my only input and I found I wasn’t really getting into God’s word like I wanted to. In those busy days, my mother had a good idea for personal bible study. Set your goals much lower. She suggested that I commit myself to read a Psalm a day. That’s a short, accomplishable chunk of Scriptures that’s still providing me with a regular diet of God’s Word.

Second, go deeper with your lesson in your personal Bible study. If you teach high school, work through the discussion questions for yourself. Use a study Bible to explore the lesson scripture. Check cross references. Use the goals in the application sections of your lesson to do your own self evaluation. If your lesson application is about obeying God when it’s hard, ask yourself, “When do I find it hard to obey God?” then use your answer as a point of prayer.

Seek other sources of learning besides Sunday School. Are you attending a mid week bible study or your church’s Sunday evening bible study? Do you take notes on the pastor’s sermon. In other words, are you doing all you can do to take advantage of the learning opportunities available to you?

Avoid resentment. Our culture thrives on a me mentality. I am so saddened when I see people approach their search for a church with the attitude of “What’s in it for me?” When teachers are tired and frustrated with students who won’t listen, it’s easy to feel sorry for ourselves and ask, “What am I getting out of this?” Jesus calls us not to be served but to serve as He did. Think of all the years you have already spent in studying the Bible, of learning God’s ways. What a blessing! You are rich in what you have already received. Consider your teaching then as a time to give to others, that God is using you to feed others so they will grow in your faith.

Analyze the real issue. Are you really wishing you could be fed? Or are you tired of squirrelly kids who won’t listen to you, curriculum that is irrelevant or clumsy in its approach, lesson preparations that you just don’t seem to have time to do, or persistent feelings of anxiety that you aren’t the one for this job? Do a self check. Be honest with yourself. If you need to, discuss the real issue with your pastor or children’s minister.

Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for time off. Church people joke that once you volunteer to teach, you’re in it for life. Church people can be quite uncompassionate when a teacher does want to quit. That is so unfair of churches to do that to volunteers! We need to respect our teachers a lot more. Everyone needs a break, to revamp, refresh and revive, Sunday School teachers included. Don’t reach the point where you want to quit forever or you have to leave the church in order to get away from teaching. If you teach every Sunday, ask for a month’s sabbatical or ask for a substitute to relieve you one Sunday a month. This will give you space to take a fresh look at your class and replenish your creative juices.

God is pleased with your teaching. He is honored that you are reaching His little ones with His Word. He will not ask you to do anything that He will not give you the resources to do including staying frim and healthy in your personal relationship with Him.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Children's Ministry New Testament Style

I belong to a church whose foundation is built on adhering to New Testament Christianity. That means we try to practice what Christians in the New Testament practiced. “Where the Bible speaks, we speak; where the Bible is silent, we are silent” is one of our great slogans. That gives a lot of latitude. The Bible allows for cultural differences in regard to method but there are certain principles and practices that are clearly defined in Scripture and that we try to emulate.

So what does this have to do with children’s ministry? As I conduct children’s ministry programs and write for other children’s ministry leaders, the main question I ask myself is, “How would the Apostle Paul organize a children’s ministry program in the local church? What issues would he see as important?” Now, before you tell me that children’s ministry is never mentioned in the New Testament, I think there are some overarching principles that we can consider:

1. The role of parents. The one command given directly to children is “Children, obey your parents (Eph. 6:1).” The New Testament assumes that the responsibility for spiritual nurture of a child lies with the parents so if a child obeys their parents, they’ll get that spiritual training at home. Some of you might immediately say, “But that’s not the world we live in today. So many of our children come from unchurched families or the parents themselves need teaching.” True. I’ll get to that next. But we have used that excuse for too long. There are parents who are faithful Christians, who do know the tenets of our faith who too often rely solely on the church for what their child learns about God. I like the guidelines in Deuternomy 6:4-9, that parents should weave the teaching of biblical principles into every part of their lives; at the beginning of the day, at the end, in the house, outside the house. Wherever you go, you are teaching your child about God. Your child cannot build a life of faith based on two hours of training Sunday morning.

Children’s programs do fit into this, for the parent is still in control and directing the religious education of their child. Parents should be actively involved in the children’s ministry by knowing what is being taught, supporting and encouraging the teachers, and standing up for the teachers to their children. It’s a parent’s responsibility to see that children attend, not to let the child make the decision or to sway the parent with grumbling as to whether they are going to go. The Bible says, “Let us not give up meeting together (Hebrews 10;25).” When we take our children to church, we are instilling within them the importance of gathering with other believers to keep our faith strong. I like what one friend said to her kids. “Sunday morning, we get up, we put on our socks, we go to church. That’s just what our family does.” I assure you, that family put on more than their socks in the morning, but her point is clear. Going to church is as much a part of what they did as putting on a pair of socks. “It’s just what we do.”

But what about those kids from unchurched families?

2. The role of the church. Paul does address the issue of children from unbelieving or divided families, more by example than command. Acts 16 tells about Timothy, the son of a Jewish mother and a Greek father. You can count on Timothy not getting any spiritual training from his dad! So what did Paul do? He took Timothy under wing. He became like a father to him. He helped Timothy become more accepted by the Jewish community by having him circumcised, something a Jewish father would have made sure was done for his son. He mentored Timothy and treated him like an apprentice, taking Timothy with him on his mission trips. He stayed in touch with Timothy through his two letters to him.

We need to build relationships with kids. Teaching them one hour a week is not enough. We need to be willing to enfold them into the church family. Become a spiritual parent to them. Sit with them in church. Ask them how their week is going. Listen to them. Make sure they are getting the proper training and are living the life God has called them to live. And like Paul with Timothy we need to keep in touch with them beyond their childhood years.

I came from a divided home like Timothy. Gene became my church dad. He built my confidence, gave me opportunities to serve God and encouraged me. I felt so ashamed the day he held me accountable for missing church for a March of Dimes walk-a-thon, then for being swayed by the March of Dimes organizers to lie about how many miles I had actually walked. He forced me to be honest, something a dad should do. But that failure on my part did not break his relationship with me. He took me to my first football game, invited me to family events and arranged for me to play the piano for a senior citizen’s apartment complex. All the time, I was observing how he and his family lived their faith, an example I needed to see. Years and miles later, I’m still in touch with him.

If a child doesn’t have a parent who will guide them in their faith, church members can become that parent to them, by teaching them, living the example of a Christian life before them and inviting them to walk with you through your faith journey, through service projects, mission trips and every day aspects of your life so that they can see Jesus in you, the hope of glory.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Small Church Children's Ministry

Our little church has hit crisis mode. Our elementary children’s department now has one regular attender. The preschool class is in the same shape. It’s become a vicious circle. Teachers are frustrated because there are no children and families with children don’t want to come because we have no program. To make us feel more despondent the experts tell us that children’s ministry is the heartbeat of any congregation. Without a children’s ministry, our church will die. Is there any hope for us?

Rick Chromey, in his book, “Energizing Children’s Ministry in the Small Church” gives some answers that greatly assure me. Here’s what I’ve learned so far.

1. Small is good. Small churches who live in the shadow of mega-churches have often felt inferior, unimportant, and guilty. But, according to Chromey, small churches have some advantages. Teachers can relate to kids more because there aren’t so many children to keep track of. Small churches can be more innovative and sometimes impulsive. It’s easier to change a program if it isn’t working in a small church. The smaller church can get kids involved in leadership roles sooner, such as passing offering plates, playing an instrument in the praise band or taking attendance. So true! I got my start in music by playing the piano for junior church. I was playing for worship service by age fifteen. In our church, an awkward 17 year old boy, is the official attendance counter, a perfect job for him. Small can be good!

2. Small doesn’t mean traditional. There are many small churches out there that are dynamic, growing, ministering, caring for their community. Is your church small because it’s holding too tightly to traditions from the past? Or is it small because of community dynamics? A small church needs to change its way of thinking not because “that’s how mega-churches do things” but because our world is changing. If we’re going to reach our kids for Jesus, we need to present a program that is relevant to them, not stuck in the 1950’s.

3. It only takes a spark. Small churches often suffer from a defeatist syndrome. I’ve heard the rhetorical statement this week, “But what can we do?” Jesus turned the world upside down with 12 men. One Sunday School teacher had a tremendous impact on one student who led thousands to Christ – Dwight L. Moody. Jesus used the parable of the mustard seed to show the impact one little seed can have. Chromey uses the example of one spark from a car that can set dry underbrush ablaze and explode into a raging forest fire.

That’s what I’m trying to be right now. Just that one spark. God has given me a handful of teachers and a couple of students to whom I’m trying to be faithful in encouraging and teaching. One little spark. That’s all it takes.

What about you?

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Sunday School Teaching Methods: Let Them Become the Teachers

I tried something different in my high school Sunday School class today. Each week, the curriculum I’m using has a two page handout of questions from the text that I’m supposed to have the students answer in small groups. This hasn’t been working for my group of kids where I have everyone from slow learning eighth graders to college bound honor students.

The questions range from direct-from-the-Bible answers, to deep analytic questions about the Bible that require more knowledge than the text in front of them, to open ended questions anyone can answer. To handle the diversity, I’ve sometimes told the kids to pick five questions to answer in the next ten minutes, then we go over everything.

Today, I assigned each student one question each: Justin, you take number one, Robert, you’re number two, Jake, you and your first-time-here friend take number three. I gave the group five minutes to answer their own question. Then I told them, they were to read the question out loud and lead everyone in discovering the answer. Several good things happened from this approach:

1. Everyone participated, even if it was nothing more than reading a question.
2. If certain kids didn’t want to bother answering the question on their own, they still had to read the question aloud and get others to answer.
3. I got through the material a lot quicker. Surprise to me.
4. More students than usual talked and answered questions. Another surprise.
5. I’m mentoring students to become teachers. I’m teaching them how to teach, to lead.
6. Everyone went away feeling important because for one moment, they got to be in charge.

The downside? I talked too much. I had told the kids to draw out the question, to comment on the comments given, to lead the discussion, that if someone gave an incomplete answer to keep asking until they got a complete answer. I kept interrupting and making comments and taking over the discussion. One student caught me on it and told me I was doing her job. As my tag says at the top, as a teacher, I’m still learning too.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Building Your Children's Ministry from Ground Zero

“What can we do?” The question seemed filled with hopelessness. The congregation was caught in a vicious cycle. No kids caused church leadership to cancel Junior church for the summer. Because there was no junior church, what kids did attend stopped coming. The leadership knew the church needed families with children to make the church grow but what can a church do when there are no kids and there are no teachers.

If your church is at this point, don’t despair. God wants your church to grow. He cares deeply about the children you want to reach, even more than you do. Your situation is not hopeless. If your church is lacking in families of children, here are three things your church can do to get your children’s ministry up and running again.

1. PRAY: Churches who have experienced exponential growth and revival say the first step toward revival was a commitment to prayer. Pray humbly. Pray expectantly. Pray with each other. Pray for the children. Ask God what He would have each of you do. Prayer is the first step.

2. PREPARE: Once you pray, your doors are not going to burst open with zillions of kids. You aren’t ready yet. Your congregation will need to work together to get ready for the influx of children God is going to send you. Examine your facilities. How can you update and remodel the children’s area? How can you do it in such a way that it shouts to visitors, “Children are important to us!” Choose your curriculum carefully. Plan your programs. Determine your target audience. Reach out to the children in your community. Ask, ”How can we serve the children? “ Meet them on their turf and begin building relationships with them. Plan events that will draw children to you such as carnivals, bike inspections and maintenance or a Pumpkin Patch party in October.

3. PROTECT: If you are going to reach the children in your community, children’s ministry needs to become the number one focus of your congregation. It’s a congregational effort that needs to start from the top down. Everyone, the pastor, the elders, the church board, need to be enthusiastically willing to support the building of the children’s ministry. The church budget needs to reflect that commitment. The mi9nister’s sermons need to be laced with an emphasis on outreach to children. Teachers need to be trained and the congregation needs to be willing to pay for them to be trained. Teachers need to be encouraged, appreciated and supported; otherwise, they’ll burn out. A congregation needs to put a structure into the program that protects the children that come, protects them from harm, from bullying, from ridicule, from predators. Form a task force that will determine ways your church will become a sanctuary for children. Protect your program by not allowing nay Sayers to hold sway over public opinion. When the person in the pew criticizes certain programs or the money spent on the programs, the church leadership needs to have the courage to forge on ahead anyway, to gently say, “This is the path the leadership of the church has chosen to take.”

How big is your God? He owns a cattle on a thousand hills. He can make your children’s ministry program grow. Seek him. Seek his ways. Trust him. Be willing to do what He asks you to do. When you do, you will see your program grow. It won’t happen overnight. But it will happen. Stay faithful and you will find Him faithful as well.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Instant Bible Lessons: Are They a Good Trend?

A recent curriculum trend in children’s ministry has been an influx of the “quick” lesson, lessons or activities within lessons that take little preparation, few resources and are simple to carry out Inside the Classroom. I’m not sure, but I believe Standard Publishing started the trend with their trademarked Quick Step. Each section of a Sunday School or VBS lesson contains one of these simple glance-and-do activities. A teacher who had too busy of a Saturday or a substitute teacher called Sunday morning 45 minutes before start of Sunday school could grab the teacher’s guide from the superintendent, make necessary copies and be good to go.

Other companies have also produced the Instant Lesson format.
Rainbow Publishers has promoted several series in this genre: Instant Bible Lessons and Five Minute Sunday School Activities, for example. David C. Cook and GospelLight have also added to the easy-to-prepare venue.

Critics of this approach wonder if kids are really getting the gospel message. In our attempts to make life easy and teaching attractive to busy teachers, are we watering down the bible lesson? From the looks of the short, simple lessons, this would appear so on the surface. Like anything in our lives though, you can’t reach a generalized judgment. Evaluate each curriculum on its own merit rather than judging this paradigm shift as a whole. From what I see, some lessons are simplified in order to save time. There are certain situations where this is needed and important. Other material, like Standard’s Quick Step, sacrifice nothing in bible content, the Quick steps merely give alternative activities that meet the same goals.

I like the concept the promotion video on the
Kidmo site presents. This curriculum is a media driven ministry. Everything a teacher needs is provided in the video and require minimum prep time. Kidmo states the motivation of this approach– so teachers can spend more time relating to their students instead of spending excessive amounts of time in lesson preparation.

This concept of relational teaching has totally revolutionized my teaching style. I’ll have more to say about this in my next post. However, I have spent hours and I’ve seen others spend hours cutting out crafts, preparing activities, gathering resources, creating environments, spending so much time and energy that we begin to lose the purpose of why we are even teaching. Instant lessons and curriculum in a box teaching materials do allow teachers to focus on what is really important – connecting with the children Inside the Classroom so children will get to know the teacher personally and see Jesus through the teacher’s life.

So, don’t be skeptical of the Instant Lesson trend. As with any material, check it thoroughly for Biblical soundness and thoroughness, then breath a sigh of relief that you have some extra time to do even more important things for the Kingdom of God.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

VBS Leadership

The summer is almost over and so are most VBS programs. Now it’s time to evaluate. How did your week go? Do you feel you were effective in sharing the wonderful stories about Jesus with the children? Do you think you want to teach in VBS again next year?

Here’s a question you won’t find on your evaluation sheet. How was your relationship with your VBS director?

I hope your VBS director was wonderful – organized, warm, supportive, godly, open to new ideas but willing to make the tough decisions. I hope your VBS director had a firm grasp of what was important – sharing the gospel message with children your church hasn’t been able to otherwise reach. I hope your VBS director had a good balance of fun activities that were solidly linked to Bible based concepts.

Yet, let’s face it, VBS directors, like VBS workers, are human like the rest of us and have their foibles too. And sometimes, people are asked to be leaders who, shall we say, just aren’t quite ready for that leadership position. I know, we’re Christians, and we have a distinct distaste for sounding critical. The truth is, some of you out there may not have had the best of experiences with VBS this year. Because of an inept director. Perhaps your director was a procrastinator, who got your material to you virtually last minute and didn’t publicize the program until the day before. Maybe your director was bossy and closed minded to any ideas but his/her own. Maybe you disagreed with his choice of a mission or you thought there was too much emphasis on fun and games rather than the Bible message. Finally, maybe you squirmed with the content of the curriculum.

I understand. I’ve been there. And it’s tough. VBS is exhausting enough without the struggle of working under less than ideal circumstances. How can you do your best when you feel like the program is in shambles around you?

Life is always like that, though. We’ll never have perfect conditions in which we work. We’ll always need to do our best under the current circumstances. So how can you do your best when the rest is not the best?

1. Focus on your job. My job for the week of VBS was to be the storyteller. My job was not the missions or the games or anything else. I could have wasted a lot of energy thinking about the rest of the program. Instead I channeled my energy into being the best story teller I could be.

2. Focus on the children. VBS is about relationships. Kids won’t remember the stories you told but they’ll remember you. This was a stretch for me because I’m not good at small talk and I’m terrible at remembering names. But each day, I arrived at VBS early and hung around the kids, talking to them. I think it paid off. Ever since VBS, kids will see me in the store or on the street and greet me. Last night I had a group of five children surrounding me, talking to me and petting my dog. God was giving me more opportunities to reach out to these kids.

3. Focus on what is right. Your primary job is to teach the Word of God. You may need to buck the system if it runs counter to the gospel message. I was told to serve snack while I told the Bible stories. I value the Word of God too much to relegate it to a movie theatre mentality. So I told my story first, then served snack. Later in the week, I overheard the director telling a teacher that that was my practice. She was supporting me in my decision.

4. Focus on gentleness: Pray for the director. Greet her warmly each day. Ask how her day is going. Ask how you can help. Be encouraging and tell her about the parts that are going well. Speak well of him to others. Directing is a tough job. There may be extenuating circumstances for a lack of disorganization. A bossy attitude may be a cover up for a lot of insecurities. Your director is learning to direct just as you are learning to be a better VBS worker. Give ‘em some slack.

5. Focus on the bigger picture: If there truly is a problem with the director, take your concerns to the right people. Do not gossip about it with other workers. Don’t decide “I just won’t help next year.” Have the courage to take the issues to your church leadership such as the Christian education director, elders or pastor. If they do nothing, then continue to be supportive and to work hard, doing your job. Keep praying. God knows the situation and He will resolve it in His timeframe.

I think of the faithful people in the Bible who lived and worked under inept leadership. Remember Obadiah, the servant of King Ahab? Ahab was as bad a leader as they get, but Obadiah remained faithful to the Lord, even hiding the prophets of God from Ahab’s wrath (I Kings 18). I hope a church program is never that bad for you but the message from Obadiah is clear. Don’t give up. Just because one leader does not serve well does not give you an escape clause. You keep being faithful. You keep praying. You keep doing the job God has given you to do.

“”Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord because you know labor in the Lord is not in vain (I Corinthians 15:58).”

Monday, August 04, 2008

All Church Curriculum: Everyone on The Same Page, Part 2

Should all ages at your church study the same lesson every week? In my last post (scroll down to read more), I discussed the drawbacks to writing your own curriculum so everyone studies the same thing. I alluded to the idea that for short term topics, this approach might actually work very well. Let’s look at three possibilities.

VBS: Most VBS materials include material for teens and adults as well as for children. Once a year, your church can envelop itself in a common theme. Many of the VBS curricula lend themselves well to a decorating theme so imagine your entire church being cocooned in a theme of service, friendship or a close examination of the life of Joseph. Having everyone study the same lessons can bring a spirit of closeness, unity and enthusiasm to your entire church. Standard’s Big Backyard theme this year lent itself so well to this concept. Can you imagine your entire church involved in a service project at the end of VBS? Grandmas working next to grandchildren on a common goal? It could be so exciting!

Not possible, you are thinking. We need our adults and teens to help in VBS. We can’t spare them to go to a class of their own. Consider this. Last year, I taught the five lessons of VBS to my high school Sunday School class for the five weeks previous to VBS. It helped prepare the teens involved to serve and to know what was going to be taught. I encourage those not involved to pray for the others; in fact, the final week, we held a prayer circle for the teen workers. Your pastor or an elder could teach a class of the senior adults while VBS is in session. You could even give them a break to scatter and help with snacks, crafts or to go watch the games so they are involved and are seen by the kids.

40 Days of Prayer: A church in Cincinnati Oh, involved his entire church in an emphasis on prayer. Sermons were on prayer. Sunday School classes were on prayer. The church unified to pray on certain topics. Everybody for six weeks was immersed in the topic of prayer. The pastor told me that for some, this revolutionized their prayer life. So prayer and service are two great topics that would appeal to everyone in your congregation. I can think of another one.

Outreach: Dave Ping, executive director of Equipping Ministries has written an all church curriculum called Outflow, published by Group. The material includes packets for sermons, small groups, children’s ministry and youth ministry. There’s also a church wide campaign kit. I find this program so exciting. While I have not yet used it, I think it would be totally cool to involve everyone in outreach at the same time. That’s something families could take home and work together on. Enthusiasm would be contagious as the different age groups watch each other reach out. Can you imagine what a boost this could be to help your church grow? I love the focus of this material: outward focused living in a self focused world.

So, studying specific topics together can unify a church and build enthusiasm and cooperation. Just make sure the materials are age appropriate, that everyone is getting fed, and that it’s a limited time program.

What are other topics churches could study together? Let me know at karenawingate@gmail.com and we can explore those topics together.

Friday, July 25, 2008

All-Church Curriculum: Everyone On The Same Page

The church, the body of Christ gathers together for worship Sunday morning. The children goes to age appropriate classes while the adults gather in the worship center. The sermon, Sunday School lessons and music are all coordinated so everyone throughout the building is studying the same bible passage at the same time. On the way home from church, the family can talk together about what they’ve learned and the parents can supplement what the children have learned by what they themselves have learned in their session.

Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? Sounds idyllic? Sounds . . . nice to a certain extent. What’s the problem with this picture?

Creating curriculum for your church so that everyone – children, teens and adults - re all studying the same bible story sounds good in theory. For some topics, it’s a fantastic way to build enthusiasm and unity so that everyone can share in the same project. I’ll talk later about several programs I know about that work great on this kind of model. However, there are a limited number of topics that people of all ages will relate to. It may work for short term projects but I wouldn’t recommend coordinating material for the long term.

The reasons are basic ones. First, children have different learning needs than adults. Children are concrete thinkers up until the age of eleven or twelve. They really do need to learn the concrete, imagery oriented stories of the bible. They are not ready to handle the more abstract concepts of grace, atonement, sacrifice, forgiveness that adults needs to hear unless there is a lot of groundwork laid beforehand.

Children also need to learn the basics about God’s love, obeying God and serving others while adults are ready to move on the bigger topics. Children need repetition. The same lesson needs to be taught four different ways. That’s why children’s curriculum is often built on theme units. Each week, something is layered on top of the theme of the last lesson. Adults would get bored real fast with this approach.

If you try to coordinate your material for all ages, you’ll either water down the material you present to your adults or you’ll move too fast for your kids without laying down that foundation of basic Bible knowledge they need to have. Yes, parents could fill in that knowledge through the week. But we are talking about a perfect world where both parents attend church and are committed to continue biblical teaching outside the classroom. Sadly, families that attend church together are few and far between. Children really do need their own curriculum – for the most part.

In my next post, I’ll talk about the exceptions. In the meantime, I’d like to hear from you. Have you seen your church do a temporary program where everyone studies the same topic together? What curriculum have you seen that presents an “all-in-one” package? Email me at
karenawingate@gmail.com. Let’s see what’s out there.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Writing Your Own Children's Curriculum

Several years ago, I heard a church member say to another in my presence, “Karen writes Sunday School curriculum. We ought to have her write our curriculum for us. It would save us a lot of money!”

Sometime later, my mother told me her church had hired a new children’s minister. “He wants to write his own curriculum for the children’s department,” she told me. He wasn’t happy with the material currently available on the market and wanted to write material that would better suit the needs of that particular congregation. Other churches write their own curriculum so everyone can be studying the same thing at the same time.

While each of these reasons sound solid and have their place, there are drawbacks to writing your own curriculum. Curriculum is not written by one individual. When I receive an assignment, a team of people have already decided the overall scope of the curriculum, the chronology of the lessons, the individual stories and applications, the bible passages, the memory verses, and the goals of what the student will achieve. I am only one link in a long chain of people who are expert in their chosen field. After I write the material, artists and layout directors take my roughed out ideas for activities and create beautiful worksheets. Computer technology allows us to do a lot more than we could at the home or church level, but we still can’t quite do the activity pages and visual aids that a company can produce.

Cost is a factor and my heart goes out to churches who don’t have the resources needed to buy curriculum. However, before you decide to have someone write the material, consider other ways to save money. A writer spends many hours writing that curriculum and is paid for their work. The Bible says that a worker is worthy of his hire (1 Timothy 5:17,18). If someone could be paid for the work they do, the church should not expect them to do that same work for free for the church. If you need to save money, consider reusing material, doing without the visual aids or cutting other corners so you have money for curriculum.

Curriculum, no matter how good it is will never perfectly fit your group of children. And it is so hard as a teacher to predict what will or will not work. I’ve done the same activity for two different groups of children. One will respond enthusiastically and the other group stares at me. One week my high school class will love a drama activity, a few weeks later, they’ll look at me like I just arrived from Mars. One complaint I’ve often heard is that material is geared for large churches. Look though your material more carefully. Often the writer will give alternatives for smaller groups.

When I was in Austria, I spoke with a man from Bulgaria. He told me how his church translates material produced in America. “Our culture is so different,” I said, “Don’t you have a problem with activities that are obviously for American children?” He immediately told me what I had forgotten; any teacher should adapt the material to fit the unique needs of his or her class. It doesn’t mean the material is bad. It doesn’t mean you have a difficult group of kids. Any good teacher is going to ask, “How can I best teach this material to this group of students?”

Having everyone in the church study the same passage sounds like a neat idea. Is it? I’ll talk about that in my next post.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Building Sunday School Attendance

I’d love to tell you that we had a mob of visitors at our church yesterday, that our Children’s department was overflowing with children. The truth is, our attendance was zero. There were no children in the preschool class. There were no children in the elementary age class. There were no children for Wee Worship or Junior Worship either.

We could account for most of the missing children. One child spends the summer with his dad in Florida. Another three were at a family reunion. Other children on the roster are infrequent at best and this just wasn’t their Sunday to be there. Yet I was discouraged and I saw discouragement etched on my teachers’ faces.

Yet two events came out of this that encouraged me. As our wee worship teacher told me of the lack of kids, I said to her, “We need to pray more fervently that the Lord will send children to us.” Her face brightened and she responded with a heartfelt, “Oh yes, exactly.” I was encouraged by her enthusiastic response to my suggestion. I want to follow up on that. I want to gather my teachers together for a prayer meeting where we will pray for the children in our congregation. If we had had children, I wouldn’t have thought of this idea – something that we need to be doing more anyway.

Second, a ten-year-old girl did come with her mother yesterday to church. She came because the mother was meeting with our elders to ask for benevolence. The elders asked me and my eighteen-year-old daughter to stay with the ten-year-old while they met with the mother. We had a fantastic visit with her. No we didn’t have an impromptu bible lesson. I didn’t read a bible story to her. We talked sudoku puzzles with her. We asked her about her. We built relationship with her and her mother. There’s a good chance the two of them will come back to church. There’s one student.

It reminded me that teaching happens outside as well as inside the classroom. It also reminded me that teaching is living the example of Jesus as much as it is talking about Jesus. We were teaching this girl that God cares about her family, that God’s spirit has been placed in people so they are able to be kind and generous like Jesus. We taught her that she is valuable and other people think she has unique gifts that God has given her.

I realized that I need to be ready to teach at any moment. I could have been in a bad mood all morning because we had no kids. Instead, the Lord taught me to look for the opportunities He has planned that may or may not be Inside the Classroom. I hope I did all that He called me to do and I pray He takes what I did do and magnifies it bring this girl and her mom closer to Himself.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Freedom In Education

Happy Independence Day! I hope you had a wonderful weekend. We have so much to celebrate! We have so many freedoms we don’t even begin to take advantage of. That’s true for those of us who teach Inside the Classroom as well.

Don’t let anyone deceive you. Our country was founded on Christian principles by men who staunchly believed in the God of the Bible. If you look carefully at the Declaration of Independence, you’ll find Thomas Jefferson liberally sprinkled his theology in this expression of desire to break from the Brittish. He acknowledged that he and the othe signers believed in a God who was the ultimate Judge, the Sovereign Ruler, our Protector and our Creater.

While the First Amendment does limit us from establishing our form of relgion inside the classroom, we still have the freedom to freely exercise our faith. As a teacher, you can pray, you can read your Bible, you can even have your Bible at your desk if it is not disruptive to your students. Some high schools even teach the Bible as literature. You can hold prayer meetings and bible studies with other teachers and quietly support student led efforts.

If you live in a more restrictive country than the United States, you still have many freedoms as a teacher. You can pray. You can act kindly to others. You can live a blameless and upright life. In many countries, if students ask you about your faith, you can answer.

These freedoms are inside the secular classroom. If you are a teacher of children in a church, you have even more freedom to proclaim the Gospel of Christ. Are you taking advantage of the freedom that you have? Are you thanking God every day that you have this liberty to live your faith and worship your God?

For more information about a Christian teacher’s rights and freedoms in the secular classroom, visit the Christian Educators Association International.

Some of the information above comes from a workshop I attended this past weekat the North American Christian Convention, a preaching/teaching convention sponsored by the Christian Churches/Churches of Christ. I’ve come home refreshed and renewed and full of ideas for this site. Come back often over the next few weeks as we continue to explore connecting with the children you teach.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Youth Ministry Social Events

Summer is half over. As a children’s ministry leader, you are well into summer programming and starting to think about what you’ll do with your students in the fall. Let’s think about one more activity that you can plan for your group before they trek back to school. This activity is outside the classroom.

What can you do this summer that’s something fun for you and your kids? Swimming party? Backyard BBQ with volleyball or badminton? A night at a movie that has a redemptive message?

“Whoa, wait a minute, “ you may be thinking. “What does this have to do with God? I’m already so busy. So are my students. If we’re going to do something outside the classroom, perhaps we’d better plan a service project . At least we need to have a devotion during this fun stuff time.’

Maybe. Maybe not. Casual social events give you as the teacher a chance to intermingle with your kids. As you power hit that volleyball, let the kids think they are dunking you in the pool or let a high school football player go in front of you when there’s only three hamburgers left, you have the chance to do some one-to-one discipling that you don’t have the time to do in the classroom. This is the chance for your students to see you model your Christianity, not just teach it. Besides, social events give your kids a chance to invite those kids who won’t darken the door of the church otherwise. What a great way to show them that while some of you may be weird, you aren’t totally unapproachable.

When I served on the kitchen staff at the bible institute in Austria, it was the custom for the professors to work with a rotation of bible students to dry the dishes each evening. These students from eastern European countries were shocked that their respected teachers would lower themselves to stand beside the students and dry dishes. Yet it give the professors a chance to have one-on-one conversations, to show the students they were normal people and to model Jesus’ commission to serve each other. Plus, they had a lot of fun! I have pictures to prove the nightly dishtowel pitch games into the washing machine from ten feet away. Or was that four meters?

So what am I doing? Three students in my high school Sunday School class are leaving for college in August. We’ll have a backyard BBQ at my house and I’ll demonstrate to my students what great potato salad I can make and just how bad I am at badminton. And we’ll have a great time.

What are you doing? Share with me your ideas. I’ll make a list and post it in a later blog. Let’s be creative about things we can do with our students outside the classroom.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Telling VBS Bible Stories

You’ve been asked to teach a VBS class. Or, perhaps you have agreed to host the Bible story center at your local VBS. Ok, so far. Then your VBS director hands you the teaching guide. Uh oh! You didn’t KNOW so much was involved in just telling a Bible story! Is it really necessary to do all this decoration stuff? Aren’t you tampering with the word of God to tell the story in verse? Maybe you’re thinking, “I’m not going to act like an idiot in front of all those kids!!”

As to the last concern, rest assured! I’ve been acting idiotic in telling dramatic bible stories for years and my reputation is still intact. If it isn’t, nobody has dared to tell me otherwise!

Consider this. You have one week to make an impression on these children for the sake of Jesus Christ. The Bible story and the life application is THE MOST IMPORTANT PART of the VBS experience. You want to tell a story that they will not soon forget. And you can do this and still be true to the Scriptural content. Here’s some suggestions on how to make your stories come alive for your students.

1. Create an environment. Put down a blue tarp for the Sea of Galilee. Set cushions around a low table for the story of Jesus washing the disciple’s feet. Bring in a fake tree for the story of Zaccheus. VBS curriculum today has all kinds of awesome ideas of how to turn a church classroom into a storybook paradise. Two warnings: first, if decorations aren’t your “thing,” don’t push it. You do what you are good at. I’m not the decorating type so I go for simple or involve other people who are good at it. Second, don’t spend so much time and energy on the environment that you have nothing left to invest in the story. The environment should enhance the story, not overwhelm it.

2. Use props. One of my most effective stories was the retelling of the widow’s mite. I stood, holding a penny over an offering plate, debating back and forth whether I should give that penny. I dramatically held the penny over the plate, paused, then let the penny drop. The only sound you could hear in the room was the drop of that penny and the kids got the point about the cost of commitment.

3. Get the kids involved. Have them hold up signs, hold props, help you pretend to row the boat caught in that bad storm on the sea of Galilee, repeat sentences after you., make sound effects. This is great for the kids who have difficulty sitting still. When you involve them, you are assured you have their attention.

4. Be dramatic. Vary your voice. Treat your storytelling like a musical symphony. Use loud and soft dynamics. Pause dramatically. Pretend you are the conductor of this symphony by using hand gestures to accentuate your story. Just the way you tell your story makes an average story become an exciting adventure.

5. Loose your inhibition. These are kids! They’ll love it when you act silly! For them, I lose my identity as “Miss Karen” and become “the Bible story lady.” Even the adults won’t think you are whacko – they’ll respect you and wish they could do it too.

6. Don’t forget the punch line! Like overdoing the decorations, it’s easy to get so caught up in the drama of the story, that you forget the life application. What’s the point of your story? What do you want the kids to learn ? What’s the central truth you want them to not forget? Does your story communicate that clearly? If it does, your story will be a winner, all the way around.

How do you become a good storyteller? I’m not a drama major and by nature, I’m a rather serious person. I’ve learned by watching other storytellers, following good curriculum, practicing in front of the mirror and my dog, and being willing to experiment. Stephen James has written an excellent resource I wish I had when I first started teaching. The book is “The Creative Storytelling Guide” and I highly recommend it.

Monday, June 16, 2008

VBS Staff Recruitment

VBS season is in full swing. If your church hasn’t yet heldVBS, most likely your plans are well underway. If your VBS dates are on the church calendar but you haven’t started planning the details yet, grab a piece of paper and the phone and get busy!

No matter whether you’ve completed your VBS program, holding it this week or planning it for later in the summer, one of your top concerns is staffing yourVBS program. It’s a good idea to reflect on the staff you chose, praying over each choice. There’s much to consider in choosing your volunteers:

- Competency. Are the people you’ve chosen skilled for the task you want them to do? Are they doing what they are gifted to do? If they are gifted but not skilled, will the postion you give them help develop their skills and boost their confidence?

-Maturity: Do your recruits have the spiritual maturity to represent Jesus faithfully to the children you serve?

-Love: Do your recruits have a love for children, a passion to meet the children’s needs and a vision to help them become all that they can be in Christ Jesus?

-Compatibility: Have/Will the recruits work well with the other volunteers in their department?

I’d like to talk about compatibility for a few minutes. Over twenty years of VBS experience, I’ve learned how important this aspect of volunteer recruitment is. Pairing certain people together can make or break a VBS program. It’s almost better to put two lesser skilled people together who do work well together than with a highly skilled person who doesn’t work well with others.

There are two groups of people: leaders and followers. Be very careful in pairing two leaders together. Their leadership qualities need to be tempered by their love for the children, their maturity in the faith and the development of the fruit of the Spirit of kindness and gentleness in their lives before they will work well together. Otherwise, they will compete with each other, each trying to insist on their own way. Or the stronger of the two will dominate and the other, trying to be gracious, will step aside and let the more dominant take over.

I’m thinking of two examples where I saw compatibility work. One year, as VBS director, I chose a woman to be my assistant who I wanted to disciple. She refused at first. “I’m not a leader. I don’t like telling people what to do. I make a much better follower,” she told me. I told her I still wanted her as my assistant, that I respected her ideas and her creativity. She proved herself invaluable. She had great ideas and I had the leadership skills to coordinate people and make the ideas happen. All during the week of VBS, she was at my elbow, anticipating my needs, brining me things, playing “go-pher,” asking what else she could do. She respected that I was in charge and that her role was to help me “make VBS happen.” It took someone with a follower mentality and a servant hearted attitude to make an ideal assistant. If my assistant had been someone who had her own ideas and who argued with me on each decision, VBS definitely would not have run as smoothly.

The other time was last year. My daughter was asked to be the craft director. She loves crafts, has developing leadership skills but lacks experience. She asked a retired art teacher to be her assistant. This lady is very creative, has worked for years with children, yet was a naturally kind person and had the maturity and graciousness to let the leader lead. Even though she was three times the age of my daughter, she made suggestions without being pushy and allowed my daughter to be the one who made the final decisions, always showing respect for her in front of the children. My daughter respected her expertise and was willing to ask for her advice.

When you choose teams of workers, you don’t want to pair two very strong and combative personalities. Nor do you want to choose two people who are naturally “followers” or who are timid in leading others. Examine each person’s strengths and weaknesses then pair up people so one person is strong where the other is weak.

Next year, as you select your teams, consider scheduling a meeting where you administer a personality test. Check out this test: Also check out Florence Littaur’s book, Personality Plus. If you don’t have time for this, ask each volunteer what their birth order was. You’ll understand a lot about your volunteers just by knowing where they fall in the birth order of their families. An excellent resource on this concept is The Birth Order Book by Kevin Leman.

I say again, pray about your recruitment choices. You may not have all the information you need to pair the right people together, but God knows the hearts of man and He in His wisdom can and will guide your decisions.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

My Time To Give

I wonder if there is such a thing as deja vu in reverse. Déjà vu is the eerie feeling that you’ve been in a certain place or experienced something before, that a moment in time is caught in a time loop. Déjà vu in reverse would be when you’ve experienced something before but suddenly the roles are reversed. It’s the feeling expressed by an adult women who was driving her elderly mother to the doctor. She had to hit the brakes suddenly and instinctively threw her arm out over her mother just like she would a small child. It hit her that that was the same motion her mother made for her years ago.

I experienced this role reversal this month. My great aunt and uncle, now in their eighties, came to visit us for my daughter’s graduation. It was such a thrill to have these precious people in my home, people who meant the world to me when I was growing up. Both are suffering from age related illnesses. My uncle has lost most of his vision due to macular degeneration and my aunt has never fully recovered from shoulder surgery.

As I led them from the car to the house, I suddenly realized my uncle would have difficulty navigating the unfamiliar steps. Instinctively, I took his hand, asking casually, “There’s some steps coming up. Think you might need some help over them?” With his typical humor, he replied, “I don’t think so, but it’s sure nice to hold your hand!”

That déjà vu moment hit. So many times, when I was a teen, Uncle Eldon would offer me a hand, an arm, a gentle guiding over a step. He never made a big deal over it,; instead, just stayed close by, anticipating potential hazards and “being there” if I needed him. Now it was my turn to guide him. Now it was my turn to offer a hand to the man who had given me so much.

For ten days, I hovered close to be a sighted guide, to find a missing cap, to remind him to get his cane, to warn him of a coming step. Helping him, offering him aid with dignity never became a chore. It was my time to give. I was deeply moved by the privilege.

I thought of my teaching. How many times I approach my teaching with resentment or boredom, as one more week that I have to go teach those kids. Yet I think of the many teachers who gave up their time, their energy and their level of patience to put up with me, I have received so much from so many wonderful teachers. The best way I can honor them is to turn and pass on the blessing, to give to other children what was so frelly given to me.

If you are feeling discouraged this week about your teaching, think of a teacher who gave to you, who treated you with respect, who offered you a hand up the knowledge and confidence ladder. Think of a way you can pass on the blessing to someone else. Give as you have been given.

It’s your time to give.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The Introverted Child

The last few weeks have been a flurry of activity as my youngest daughter graduated from high school on May 24th. We’ve attended awards assemblies and band banquets, shopped for napkins in school colors, made Sam’s Club a bit richer, made multiple trips to the airport to pick up and return visiting relatives, and learned to pinch hit when the lady who was making her graduation cake ended up in the hospital.

My high point was the area churches’ co-sponsored Baccalaureate service. My graduating daughter played in the school’s jazz band. My eldest daughter, now a junior at college was the keynote speaker. As proud as I am, neither of those were the pinnacle moment for me. The highlight was the testimony the school valedictorian gave. This young man is in my high school Sunday school class. He’s always been one of those kids who is never a problem, but never has anything to say either. It’s not my boring class or not enough sleep Saturday night that causes him to stare at me for forty five minutes. That’s just him.

In a moving revelation, J. told how he has always struggled with shyness. He is the kid who always sat in the back of the classroom, scared to death a teacher might call on him. He is the kid who never wanted to be involved in activities because he was so shy. He told how, each year, he came out of his shell a little more, getting involved in the band, widening his social circle, moving up a little farther toward the front of the classroom.

His point? In each situation, he told us, “I knew God was there.” When he was scared to respond in class, “God was there.” When he ventured into more social situations, “God was there.” When he prepared his remarks for Baccalaureate, “God was there.” And when he goes off to college and faces new challenges, “God will be there.”

I learned several lessons from J. that day.
1. There are shy kids in the world. They aren’t defective. It’s not my job as a teacher to draw them out. I need to accept them as they are and let them blossom at their own pace. I need to structure my teaching to maximize their strengths instead of forcing them into the box of my expectations.

J.’s admission has caused me to do a lot of thinking as a teacher. Is something wrong with our educational system that we reward class participation and students who take extroverted initiative? Should we not instead teach kids how to do projects by themselves as much as we insist they work on group projects? My two children are mildly introverted. They have always felt uncomfortable with school group projects and social settings. Was I wrong to urge them to “get over it” and be bolder in their approach? I haven’t come up with any decisive answers yet. Except this one. We need to affirm and restructure our teaching methods a lot more for the introverted child. If you have any specific ideas, please comment on my comment page!

2. Kids are learning even though they are not responding. Shame on me. I wondered about J’s commitment to God. After his testimony, I have no doubt! Even though he wasn’t saying much, he was internalizing what I and other Sunday School teachers were teaching him. If he has learned the lesson that “God is there” no matter what he is facing in his life, he has come a lot farther than many other, older Christians.

3. God accepts us as we are and builds us into what we can be. Paul says in Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Paul could have easily added “introvert nor extrovert” in that list but he probably figured we got the idea. No matter who we are, no matter our personality type or background, no matter how we are growing as we each reach for Christ and His best for us; in J’s words, “God is there.” As God accepts us, we need to accept each other as we are as well.

I teach children. And they teach me. Constantly.