Monday, February 25, 2008

Thanks, Dr. D.

Today I mailed a big package to my major professor in Christian Education from the Cincinnati Christian University, formerly the Cincinnati Christian Seminary. In the box were three manuals of curriculum I wrote for the Salvation Army. I wanted to share with her the work I had created.

It was more than merely a "See what I've done moment." As I composed my letter of introduction to her, telling her about the process of writing the curriculum, a host of fond memories flooded over me. There was so much of me embedded in the pages of that curriculum, but there was equally so much of her entertwined into the lessons. She taught me to know the children I taught, to consider the characteristics of their age level, to start where they are and lead them to where they need to be. She taught me the importance of balancing bible content with life application in my teaching. She taught me that everyone has different learning styles and that's important to include activities that will meet the various learning needs and styles of my learners.

So, as I sent her my box, my letter told her how grateful I was that she taught me well enough for me to be able to produce the curriculum contained in that box. She was fulfilling Paul's command to Timothy: "And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualfied to teach others (2 Timothy 2:2)."

Dr. D., thanks for entrusting to me the tools to teach other faithful ones. I hope as you open that box and peruse the pages of this curriculum, you will find me a reliable teacher.

Next time, I'll finish my discussion about selecting bibles for kids.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Bibles for Kids: Part 1

What Bible should you give a child? Walk into any Christian bookstore or check out Christian Book Distributors online and you can quickly become overwhelmed by all the options available to parents today.

There are many wonderful beginner Bibles available that tell the stories of the Bible in simple beginning reader words. These are great when your child is first learning to read or for you to read with your child, but my suggestion is to move quickly toward getting your child an actual bible by the time they are 6 or 7 years old.

Now, which version of the Bible? There are several excellent translations (or really paraphrases) for children. I have used the International Children’s Bible (New Century Version) and the New International Reader’s Version. Both Bibles use simple words at a beginning reader’s level. This is good because it gets the child actually reading and handling the Bible and they are able to actually read words they can understand. However, again, I would not leave my child too long at this level. In order to simplify the words, the big concepts are corrupted by the choice of easier to understand words which hamper your child’s ability to have a full understanding later of some of the meatier concepts of Scripture. Also, when your child starts to memorize Scripture, it’s good to memorize in the version he or she will be using into adulthood. I grew up in the 60’s when our only choice was King James or Revised Standard. The New International Version came out in the 70’s and that is now my preferred version. However, I still am quoting from the KJV and RSV and sometimes I quote from two versions in the same verse! (Does that make me Scripturally bilingual?!) This confuses me and my students!

Yes, I recommend the New International Version for children from third or fourth grade on. It uses simple words, it flows well and it is easy to memorize. It is also conceptually accurate. The only Bible more accurate in translation is the New American Standard Bible. It is so accurate that the translators even translated the word order according to the way it was written in Greek. This is uncomfortable to our English speaking ears so the NIV translates the Greek text grammatically as well as word for word.

Lewis Foster, one of my professors, at the Cincinnati Christian University was one of the NIV translators. He told us of the process they underwent to translate the Bible. It is an arduous process with much cross checking. Just hearing of the process they took to translate the Bible compared to other translations and paraphrases convinces me that the New International Bible is the best for our current English speaking generation.

The choice of Bible doesn’t end here! Bibles come in a broad array of styles and covers, appealing to different audiences with different reference helps. Is there anything such as a plain ole’ Bible anymore? How does a parent choose? We’ll talk about that next time.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Children's Ministry Volunteer Recruitment, Part 2

Last time, we discussed the need to assess children’s ministry volunteers to protect your children’s ministry from potentially harmful people. How do you evaluate a volunteer, especially in a small church?

1 Develop an application for service. Request background checks. Ask for references. Talk to people who know the person. Don’t be afraid or worried about what the volunteer might think if you don’t readily accept the offer to help. Background checks, applications, and requests for references are a common practice in schools, day care centers and large churches. Besides, it’s biblical. Your leaders should be held to a higher standard. Much is at stake – the lives, minds and eternal destiny of our young people.

2. Eliminate the practice of asking for volunteers unless you specifically state that volunteers must go through an application process. A far better recruiting approach is to pray, consider people in your congregation, then approach them about serving. If your church isn’t ready for a formal application process including background checks, consider this approach. If anyone volunteers on their own, don’t accept their offer immediately. Establish a process where they must meet with you, understand the job description, meet with other workers, agree to training, or be willing to serve as an apprentice.

3. Test your worker. 1 Timothy 3:10 says, “Let them first be tested and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons.” Have a policy stating that workers must have been church members for a certain length of time. Don’t dump a brand new Christian or even a new member from another church into a teaching position. Once the person starts to teach or help, set a probationary period of three to six months and make sure the person agrees with the time frame. This will give both the leaders and the volunteer a way out if their service isn’t working out.

4 Go on your gut instincts. If something doesn’t smell right, it’s probably rotten.

5. Assign the volunteer to work with a veteran teacher. The team approach is a biblical concept and protects the church from liability.

6. Have a plan of action now even though you don’t think you need it. Then, if you do have a questionable person come into your congregation who volunteers to work with the children’s or youth ministry, you don’t have to scramble to create an application and job description that hasn’t been used for anyone else. Small churches don’t usually have this level of organization, yet this is what makes them so vulnerable. You will be protecting yourselves and your children by having a plan in place now.

8. Pray for wisdom. Ask the Lord of the harvest to send the workers.(Luke 10;2). Rely on the Lord for your workers, not on yourself. Pray for discernment. Pray specifically that God send you godly leaders.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Children's Ministry Volunteer Recruitment: Part 1

A children’s worker once stated in a teacher’s meeting that she didn’t like teaching the Old Testament, she had issues with the Bible character David and she would much rather make up her own material than using the prescribed curriculum. Another volunteer refused to cooperate with other workers and regularly lost his temper when those workers didn’t meet his demands. Yet another worker, seen as a friendly man who loved children, was discovered to have sexually abused many of the teenaged girls. All these events happened in small churches.

More and more, large churches are adapting the practice of using applications and background checks for their workers. When people join the church, a staff can’t know their backgrounds and their motivations for joining the church. With such large numbers of children and volunteers, large churches have to adapt a structure to keep track of children and keep their workers accountable.

It’s time small churches adapt these practices as well. Yet small churches often don’t see the need for accountability until something drastic like the above situations happen. Small churches have the advantage of everyone knowing everyone in the congregation. This lulls them into a na├»ve trust. Small churches also often have the misfortune of being short on volunteers. Perhaps desperate is a more suitable word. And so, there’s an unwritten code that churches are foolish to turn down volunteers. If you have warm blood coursing through your veins and you want to help, why roll up your sleeves and get busy!

Sadly, I’ve learned lately that Inside the Classroom, this cannot be our strategy. Our children’s safety should be one of our highest priorities and we must be circumspect about who leads and influences the minds and hearts of our young people. We cannot afford to blithely accept any new person who volunteers to work with our children. Large churches require applications and background checks for children’s ministry workers. It is time small churches adapt those practices as well.

I’ve learned through experience what the Bible taught long ago. Take a look at Paul’s list of qualifications for deacons in 1 Timothy 3:8-13 (Also see 2 Timothy 2:24). While deacons are often an elected position, the Bible often uses the term deacon to denote any servant or worker in the church. That definitely includes teachers and other youth workers. With this list of qualifications, we can’t accept any person who walks in the door and raises their hand to volunteer. We need not feel compelled to accept anyone who volunteers; in fact, it’s completely permissible and mandatory that we evaluate those who want to serve.

How do you evaluate a volunteer? How can a church do it on a small budget without intimidating the new worker? In my next post, I’ll give a list of guidelines on how the small church can evaluate new workers.