Monday, January 28, 2008

Purpose of Christian Education

Yesterday, two students in my high school class publicly confessed their faith in Christ and were baptized. What a happy moment! As I watched the baptism, I was filled with a quiet contentment. “This is what it’s all about,” I thought to myself.

Leading our students to Christ and training them to walk in His ways are our most important goals inside the Christian education classroom. Everything we do, every word we say, every activity we plan, every movie clip we show should somehow fit into the overall plan of introducing our young people to the LifeSaver who is the Only One capable of giving us the hope of life after death.

I’ve been teaching through the book of John. My last few lessons have hit pretty hard on the reality of Jesus as the divine son of God, his work on the cross to save us from our sins, and the hope he gives us. Yet, before my hand moved to my shoulder to pat myself on the back, I realized my two young people who accepted Jesus yesterday had not been real regular in their attendance in my class the last couple of months. What brought about their decision?

Most of the training in the Christian faith had happened outside the classroom. A man in our church had taken the boy under wing for the last couple of years. D is a fix it kind of guy. He does a lot of odd jobs for other people, sometimes for pay, sometimes as a service to others. Over the last two years, D has taken A everywhere: on job projects, on youth outings, to widow lady houses to do yard work, to VBS to build a backdrop for our Story Center. A became D’s shadow. All along, D modeled the Christian faith and slowly started talking to A about his relationship with Jesus. Soon, A started attending church and Sunday School. We knew A was becoming interested when he would show up even if D wasn’t there.

A week ago, A said he wanted to accept Christ. The pastor asked his girlfriend who was with him if she wanted to as well. No, she wasn’t ready, she said. But middle of the week, the girlfriend called and said she was ready. Even before he was baptized, A was leading someone else to Christ! The next day, A called and asked if he could start helping with the power point slides at church. He’s already jumping in to family life!

No, I really couldn’t take credit for the new faith of these two young people. Yet, in a way, I could. I was there. I was friendly to the two students. I included them whenever they came. I taught my class faithfully. Who knows what I or any of us said that might have been the trigger that led them to this decision? We all needed to be faithful in presenting Christ every chance we had so that the Holy Spirit could take our words and actions and use them to convince these two young people of the Truth. Leading someone to the point of acknowledging their faith in Christ is a partnership with the Holy Spirit, a team effort with a lot of other people. Our job is to be faithful to proclaim and to quietly rejoice that the Lord saw fit to allow us to have a part in the process.

The angels in heaven are rejoicing! So am I! Rejoice with us!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

What Is A Pharisee?

So many times, I look at an activity in a lesson book and say to myself, “My students would not resonate with this activity.” So many times, fewer than I’d like to admit, I do the activity anyway. And there are so many times my students surprise me, in turn, teaching me to look at the Bible in a fresh way. Last Sunday was one of those times.

We were studying John 9 in my combined junior high/high school class. I was to have the students read John 9;13-36. Then I was to read three paragraphs that described the three different groups of people in the story – the man born blind, the parents, and the Pharisees. Now, my group of kids are a little low on the Bible academic challenge scale. I wasn’t even sure they could pronounce the name “Pharisee” much less, know what one was.

I read the description for the parents. My high school senior daughter guessed that one correctly. Thank you, sweetheart, for giving the rest of the class the idea behind how we do this activity. Whatever am I going to do without you next year when you leave for college? The next description was that for the Pharisees. To me, the answer was obvious. Would it be to them?

An eighth grade girl raised her hand. “That’s the snotty people in the synagogue,” she answered. I think I actually took a step back. Her answer was brilliant. It was beautiful! It so aptly depicted who these guys were! A lot of times, kids in Sunday School parrot back the right answer without making head connect with heart. This little gal didn’t give the correct word, but she gave a fitting description of the Pharisees’ attitude in words with which she could connect.

Better yet, I was able to use her description in the end of the lesson. We talked about how the blind man could see better spiritually because he showed he understood his need for Jesus while the Pharisees didn’t. We talked about how if we are willing to humbly admit who we are before God, He will accept us as we are. I said, “Even if the ‘snotty people’ at school, at home or wherever you are don’t accept you, God will.”

My students discovered how to translate Pharisees into “snotty people in the synagogue.” In that moment, I understood far better than I had before what Jesus was explaining about spiritual blindness. And I also learned a new turn of phrase that has kept me smiling all week long! Teaching truly is a never ending learning process.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Students as Investments

When we buy certain items for our household, we realize that some items are investments rather than disposable expenditures. A programmable thermostat is a good example. While it may cost more than a thermostat, home owners often buy them even if they don’t need to replace their furnace thermostat. They do because they realize that, in time, they will actually save money on their gas bill, hopefully more money than the actual cost of the thermostat. When my husband and I purchased our new Honda Civic, we had sticker shock at the cost of a new car, a Honda to boot. Yet, even though it made our finances tight at the moment, we bought the car. Why? Gas prices had just escalated in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and we knew that with the excellent mileage and reliability of the Honda, we would actually save money in the long run. Our gas bill for 2007 has proved us right.

This past weekend, as I visited my family in Arizona, I spent precious time with people who had invested in my life. My grandfather, who drove me 2000 miles to attend graduate school and who flew out two years later so he could walk with me 30 feet down a church aisle to meet my future husband at the alter. My uncle, who spent countless Saturdays hiking in the desert with my family and constantly fell behind the others to help a visually impaired teenager maneuver around rocks and cacti. Two aunts who always treated me like an adult and took time to remember the special days in my life. A former elder in our church, who took me to my first football game, arranged for me to play the piano at the senior citizen’s home where he served as Director of Maintenance and took time out on Sunday mornings to talk to and encourage a lonely, insecure teenager. Two teachers who spent hours outside the classroom, taking personal interest in me and putting up with my wild, hare-brained, idealistic dreams. I owe who I am to these wonderful, giving people.

As I praised God for these special people who have invested in my life, the question came to me, “Who am I investing in?” I was ashamed of my own behavior this weekend. We joined my sister and her daughter for lunch one day and so caught up in visiting with everyone else, I didn’t take the time to visit personally with my niece. I didn’t invest in her like all these wonderful people had invested in me. My youngest daughter turned eighteen this week, and I wistfully look back at the past eighteen years, regretting that I didn’t stop and enjoy the journey more with her.

Inside the Classroom, the time we have with our students is even shorter than the eighteen years we have with our own children. Investing in our students’ lives means we’ll step beyond the curriculum, get our nose outside of the book, and look beyond the bulletin board. Investments always have a cost. You may think that you don’t have the time to do any more than what you already are doing. Yet, even though you may never see a bottom line return like you would on a blue chip statement, your investment in the lives of your students will yield a profitable and lasting return.

Sunday’s coming. Who will you invest in this week?

Sunday, January 06, 2008

"What Is A Mission Trip?"

I had a powerful Sunday School lesson this morning for my high school class on the atoning sacrifice of Christ from John 6. At least, the potential to be very powerful. It was an interactive lesson. My 17 year old daughter called it reactive – meaning you had to react to it. It was full of object lessons and visual imagery. I was prepared. I was ready. I even told my husband it might be one of the most memorable lessons I had ever taught that class.

My class walked away from my classroom inspired and pumped, ready to do God’s calling. Yet it wasn’t because of anything I said during my planned lesson. My wonderfully awesome lesson ended early and I told my group of teenagers I wouldn’t be there the next Sunday, because I’m going to Arizona to visit my dying grandfather. Instead, the substitute teacher will speak about his recent mission trip to Honduras.

“What is a mission trip?” asked the student who takes the role of the class clown.

We spent the rest of the hour, talking about mission trips: what they are, what they cost, how God will provide, what you do during a mission trip, where we could go, the dangers Christians face in other countries and what we, as a group would need to do to prepare ourselves to go. When I asked who would be interested in going on a mission trip as a team, almost every hand shot up.

It was a divine opportunity, a moment engineered by the Spirit of God. The only thing I did was recognize the moment for what it was. Planning is still important. Well crafted lessons will still inspire, motivate and move. Only God knows what those kids are doing with the information on Christ’s death that I presented this morning. Yet, as teachers Inside The Classroom, we also need to be ready for that unexpected question, that turning of subjects. It’s easy to brush those questions off or ignore those unexected moments because “they aren’t part of my lesson plan.” Instead, we need to consider that maybe, just maybe, God knows far better than we do what our students are ready to hear and we need to follow His leading.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Classroom Decorations

Several pages of your 2008 calendar have already turned over. By now, you have removed the Christmas decorations out of your classroom (or should have – don’t ask me if mine are down yet!). Does your room look a little bare and gloomy after the festive decorations of Christmas? Why can’t classrooms have bright decorations all year long, at other times besides Christmas and VBS?

You can! In fact, it’s a good idea. It’s a great idea. Remember, children of today are visual learners. You have four walls of empty space ready and available to reinforce the lessons you teach your children.

So what decorations can we put up for the month of January? It’s too soon for Valentine’s Day, way too soon for spring flowers. Snowflakes and winter scenes aren’t very colorful and may not even fit your location. (I grew up in Arizona. As a child, I always thought snowflake decorations were so dumb!) So what kinds of bulletin boards or door and wall decorations can you use?

Look no further than your current curriculum! Remember my guiding principle of children’s ministry: Everything you do should fit your focus. That includes any activity, game, songs, even your snack if you can. It also includes classroom decorations. We have so little time to minister and teach these children; we need to use every available moment and resource to proclaim the message of Jesus Christ to them. What you hang on your walls can be a powerful reinforcement to your lesson. If you have children whose eyes are wandering during your lesson, their eyes will fall on what you have portrayed – that is still teaching them what you want to teach them.

Usually lessons are grouped together in units. Look at your unit theme. Look not only at the Bible stories. What is the major application or theme? Is it courage? Is it worship? Is it obedience? How can you portray those themes? What are the memory verses for that unit? How can you display those verses attractively and prominently?

If you aren’t the artistic type, what do you do? I can relate. I’m not the artistic type either. But I know it’s important to other people. If creating decorations is not your favorite way to spend a Saturday afternoon, consider these ideas:

1. Ask a member of your church who does like that stuff to help you.

2. Devise activities for the children that create wall decorations. This is especially a good idea if you can add to the project each week.

3. Look for what has already been made. Don’t reinvent the wheel! If moeny is a concern, some supplies may be cheaper than you think and if you recycle, you will save money over the long run. Check local teaching supply stores. Most of them have a section for Christian education. Check for posters, letter templates, borders and bulletin board paper. Your Christian bookstore may have wall hangings or books of bulletin board ideas. Do a search on the Internet for bible themed bulletin boards.

4. Use computer generated projects. Programs such as MS Publisher and PrintMaster can help you create some beautiful memory verse posters on card stock. (Hey, even I can do this!) Feel computer clumsy? Get a teenager to help you.

Finally, remember to change your decorations at the beginning of the new unit or the new season. Children, or anyone for that matter, will start to tune out what they see if it is there for more than three weeks. If you change your decorations frequently, you'll keep your students coming back week after week to see what's new Inside The Classroom.