Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Discipleship Making: Teaching and Mentoring

If you are a Sunday School teacher, children’s ministry leader or youth worker, you are teaching some of the most important concepts your students will ever learn. You are responsible for presenting the truths about God that will lead them to structure their lives around His moral code. You are sharing the words of life with them, for your words will cause them to accept or reject Him, to believe in Him or not, to accept His gift of eternal life or turn away from it. Does God care about your teaching? Of course He does! And He wants to be involved in helping you plan and teach His message. He is working in ways you don’t even know to connect your teaching to your students’ lives.

I shouldn’t be surprised when I see God working with me in my plans. But I never cease to be amazed. My last post told how God orchestrated my schedule over several weeks. This past week, He was faithful once again to be an integral part of my plans.

My junior church lesson was on Jesus’ calling of the twelve disciples. I flitted with the idea of skipping that lesson and doing a lesson on the Resurrection instead, since this was, after all, Easter Sunday. I decided to keep to the curriculum. On another front, the church was planning a “Sending Service” at the end of worship service to commission me and a man in our church who are leaving for a two week mission trip this week. As I worked though the lesson with my class, I realized that my lesson and the “Sending” was going to dovetail perfectly.

We learned about the disciples, their names, who they were, what occupations they left, that they were ordinary men Jesus called to do His work. We talked about who God calls today to spread the Good News, that it’s not just preachers God calls but everybody. Then I explained that in a few minutes, the class was going to go join the adults as I and Verl were set apart by the elders to go to Austria. One little boy, after five minutes said, “You really are going to Austria? You aren’t just using that as an example?” His answer came a few minutes later.

An elder escorted us upstairs. I asked him to find a place for the children to sit together since the auditorium was packed. I walked to the front. A soloist sang a song I had been warned would bring on the tears, called, “Here I Am.” Then the elders lay hands on us and prayed over us. I looked out over the congregation. There in the second row, sat a line of my seven students, staring right at me, learning what it means to be a modern day disciple. That’s the moment the tears came.

In that moment I moved beyond teaching to mentoring. I wasn’t just mouthing words about our need to follow Jesus. I was doing it in front of my students. I was showing them that Jesus calls ordinary people like their Junior Church teacher to go to far away places to share the Good News.

As you teach inside your classroom, how are you modeling what you teach? How are you displaying what it means to be a disciple of Jesus?

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I’ll be back with more thoughts on teaching children Inside The Classroom in three weeks. I ask for your prayers that God will grace our work and continue to lead us to do His will.

Youth Teaching: Partnering with God

In the Old Testament, the Israelites often inquired of God when they were about to enter into battle against their enemies. When they failed to seek God’s council, battles went badly. When they did seek God and followed through by doing what He said, they incurred great victories.

I’m learning to seek God’s guidance in everyday decisions: in my writing and in my teaching. Like the Israelites, I’m learning the benefits of asking God first.

About six weeks ago, my husband told me on a Friday that a guest speaker would give a missions presentation to the two adult Sunday School classes. Would I like to bring my high school class to the presentation?

“I already have my lesson prepared,” I whined. “You should have told me earlier.”

“I thought your kids were interested in missions,” he said, “So they would enjoy this.”

He was right. My class has had several great talks about short term mission trips. I looked ahead in my curriculum. If I saved my planned lesson to the next week, showed the movie I wanted to show another week, did the special activity I had planned for yet another week, I could stretch my curriculum out to end right before I left for my own mission trip for three Sundays. My substitute was going to do his own thing and I could start something new when I got back. Besides, the last lesson of the series was on the Resurrection which would then fall exactly on Easter. It sounded like a plan.

But, I stopped. Shouldn’t I pray? But hadn’t God given me the wisdom to plan ahead? Still I prayed and asked the Lord’s guidance. My lesson for that week, of all things, was on the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and how He guides us in our daily lives. As I prayed whether I should teach or join the adults, one word invaded my thoughts as if someone had spoken inside my brain. “Teach.” “But that doesn’t make sense,” I thought. “That would mess up my plan for the next five weeks.” The thought came again, “Teach!” Since my lesson was on the Holy Spirit, I thought I had better listen, even though it didn’t make sense.
That Sunday I realized that was indeed God’s direction. The presenter of the mission program had an equipment malfunction with his power point presentation. My rowdy class would not have had the patience of the adults who sat through the moments of scrambling and uncertainty that occurred. We, in turn, had a fantastic lesson and I felt like I connected well with the students.

The reasons behind God’s direction to me became more evident as time went on. Two weeks later, Ohio experienced the third heaviest snowfall in 24 hours in recorded history. Churches all over the state, including ours, canceled services. There went my extra week. The very next day, we received word that my husband’s aunt passed away. Jack flew to Georgia, spent a grueling, difficult week with his family, then was caught in the Atlanta airport that Saturday that storms and tornadoes raged around Atlanta. He got home at 2AM, and I got to sleep at 3AM. How very thankful I was that I was showing my planned movie the very next day!

On Easter Sunday, I taught my lesson about the Ressurection and closed my book of curriculum. If I had excused my class for the mission presentation, I would not have been able to finish my curriculum in time and I would not have had that movie to show which made for an easy lesson time which I needed after only three hours of sleep. Six weeks ago, God knew about the upcoming snow day and the tornadoes in Georgia, and how they would impact my teaching schedule. He who controls the winds and the waves kept the storms of life from disturbing the lessons taught Inside My Classroom. He know all along!

Matthew 11:29 says, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and will find rest for your souls.” A New Testament yoke was made for two oxen, not one. If one oxen leapt ahead or lagged behind, the yoke pulled them back into position. God is asking us to partner with Him in our teaching, to join with Him under the yoke and learn from Him. Part of that yoke bearing process is to ask Him for direction in your teaching. Seek Him. Listen to Him. Learn from Him. And watch Him do mighty things inside your classroom.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Children's Easter Lessons

As Easter Sunday (or Resurrection Sunday as a church elder from my childhood always called it) fast approaches, children’s workers are scrambling for last minute activities. Easter and Christmas can be hard on teachers. We teach these lessons every year so we wonder what fresh angle we could possibly give that old, old story this time. It’s tempting to just dismiss Jr. Church and let the kids go sit with their parents in adult worship so they can listen to the choir cantata as family.

Don’t give in! Think of the children and their parents who seldom come to church any other time. This is a prime opportunity to share the reason why we teach in the first place, that Jesus Christ came to save sinners and He rose from the dead to give us the gift of eternal life.

Be bold in your teaching this Sunday. Make sure you weave the gospel message into your lesson. Tell your kids in words they can understand that they can have the gifts of salvation and eternal life too. Tell them you are convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus came back to life and because He came back to life, that changes your perspective in everything you do. Don’t allow yourself to be distracted by the commercialism and traditionalism the world calls Easter. If you do Easter baskets, Easter egg hunts, or bunny crafts, tie it all back to the reason we’re here in the first place, that Jesus came to give us new life and He’s coming again to give us eternal life. Finally, pray for opportunities to show the love of Jesus to the kids you teach.

So what am I doing as a teacher this Sunday? In my high school class, we’re talking about modern day heroes who have made a comeback then talking about Jesus who made the greatest comeback of all. We’ll put together a melodrama about the Resurrection that gives proof for the Resurrection. (Check out Zondervan’s
Youth Specialties materials for great youth lessons.)

My junior church lesson is on the Twelve disciples this week but I’m also putting together an Easter Egg treasure hunt. Each plastic egg will hold a slip of paper giving an event from the crucifixion and resurrection stories. One egg will be empty. Why? The tomb was empty! I'll hide the eggs around my classroom then have the kids go on an easter egg hunt. After they find the eggs, they'll work together, using Matthew 27 and 28 for reference, to put the slips of paper in the correct order.


What are YOU doing this Sunday to promote and proclaim the resurrection of Jesus?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Easter Craft Activity: Ressurection Cookies

Do something different this year with the children in your life. Instead of surprise Easter baskets and Easter egg hunts, try this Easter cooking activity. If you are a Sunday School teacher, get on the phone and corral your kids to join you in your home or at the church to make this Easter surprise. If you are a parent, this will be a great way for you to involve your children in the Easter story. Thanks to my friend and faithful blog fan Rhonda for sharing this with me.

RESSURECTION COOKIES
(To be made the evening before Easter)

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup whole pecans
1 tsp. vinegar
3 egg whites
Pinch of salt
1 cup sugar
Ziplock bag
Wooden spoon
Mixing bowl
Electric mixer
Wax paper
Cookie sheet
Tape
Bible
Your children

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place pecans in the Ziploc bag and let children beat them with a wooden spoon to break into small pieces. Explain that after Jesus was arrested, He was beaten by the Roman soldiers. (Read John 19:1-3)

Let each child smell the vinegar. Put 1 tsp. of vinegar in the mixing bowl. Explain that when Jesus was thirsty on the cross, He was given vinegar to drink. (Read John 19:28-30)

Add egg whites to the vinegar. Eggs represent life. Explain that Jesus gave His life to give us life. (Read John 10:10-11)

Sprinkle a little salt into each child’s hand. Let them taste it and brush the rest into the bowl. Explain that this represents the salty tears shed by Jesus’ followers, and the bitterness of our own sin. (Read Luke 23:27)

So far the ingredients are not very appetizing. Add 1 cup sugar. Explain that the sweetness part of the story is that Jesus died because He loves us. He wants us to know and belong to Him. (Read Psalm 34:8 and John 3:16)

Beat with a mixer on high speed for 12-15 minutes until stiff peaks are formed. Explain that the color white represents the purity in God’s eyes of those whose sins have been cleansed by Jesus. (Read Isaiah 1:18 and John 3:13)

Fold in broken nuts. Drop by teaspoon onto wax paper-covered cookie sheet. Explain that each mound represents the rocky tomb where Jesus’ body was laid. (Read Matthew 27:57-60)

Put the cookie sheet into the oven, close the door and turn the oven OFF. Give each child a piece of tape and seal the oven door. Explain that Jesus’ tomb was sealed. (Read Matthew 27:65-66)

GO TO BED! Explain that they may feel sad to leave the cookies in the oven overnight. Jesus’ followers were in despair when the tomb was sealed. (Read John 16:20 & 22)

On Easter morning, open the oven and give everyone a cookie. Notice the cracked surface and take a bite. The cookies are hollow. Explain that on the first Easter Jesus’ followers were amazed to find that the tomb was open and empty. (Read Matthew 28:1-9)

Whatever you do with your children, be bold in sharing the Easter message with them. After all, Jesus’ resurrection is the greatest thing that has ever happened.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Easter Craft

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” I think the writer of the Christmas song got it wrong. In my humble opinion, Easter is the most wonderful time of the year. It’s not because Easter is the herald of spring, although after Ohio got blanketed with a historic one to two feet of snow over the weekend, it is tempting to believe that! Easter is the most wonderful time of the year for Christians because we celebrate the pivotal weekend of all history, the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The historical events of Easter and the reasons behind the events are hard for children to grasp. They barely have a concept of death much less comprehend that something dead can come back to life. The thought of the atoning death of Jesus is so abstract and steeped in Old Testament symbolism that it’s hard for even adults to comprehend. If children grow up in the church, they take the events for granted and accept it as truth. “Of course Jesus rose from the dead.” They’ve heard it all their lives.

As a teacher of children, how can you help your kids get past the passive head knowledge acceptance of the truths of the Crucifixion and Resurrection? Remember, children are concrete thinkers and kids of today are visually oriented. In explaining what Jesus did, use visual images and object lessons of things with which they are familiar. Here is one craft activity you can do to help them understand the work of Christ at the cross.

Give each child a blank white sheet of paper. Ask them to think of something they have done wrong, a rule they have broken, a nasty thought they have thought. They don’t need to tell you what it is. Ask them to make a black dot in the middle of their paper with the pencil. Ask them to think of other things they’ve done wrong and to mark a dot for each wrongdoing. Ask them if they do something wrong once a week, once a day. If they are older, have them do the math. If they sin once a day, multiply their age by the number of days in a year. How many dots would they have on their paper? Demonstrate that you can try to erase the dots, but even the best of erasers leave a smudge. In order for God to accept us, we must have a clean sheet of paper.

Ask students to then color their entire page with a red crayon, or, if you don’t mind the mess, a layer of red tempura paint. What happened to the dots? They are gone. In the same way, Jesus’ blood covers our sins. Jesus lost all of his blood when he died. He chose to die to take the punishment we deserve for the wrong things we have done. That’s why we say his blood covers our sins.

What is a way you as a teacher or parent communicate Jesus’ atoning death on the cross to the children in your life? I invite you to put your idea in the comments link below or
email me at kwingate@neo.rr.com if your idea gets a bit long. Let’s work together to share the Good News of Jesus’ death to the children we love. Next time, we’ll talk about activities for the resurrection.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Bibles for Kids: Part 2

Adventure Bible. Faithgirlz Bible. Boys Bible. Big Red Bible Revised. Hello? Revised? How does the Bible get revised?

Those are only four of the 177 options I found on the website of
Christian Book Distributors, an online/mail order Christian bookstore, when I clicked on the link, “Children’s Bibles.” Granted, these represent several translations and paraphrases, but even within one translation, a parent will find a many splendored array of every kind of Bible, designed and packaged to meet every niche of the consumer market. “I just want a Bible for my kid,” some parents might be moaning. “How do I begin to choose?”

Here are some guidelines you can consider when purchasing a Bible for your own children or for the children inside your classroom.

1. Look beyond the cover. I grew up in an era where Bibles said what they were on the front – Holy Bible. We thought it extravagant to have a choice of covers. Now covers are designed to catch the consumer eye, to be more appealing, hopefully so the seeker won’t be threatened by the simple words “Holy Bible.” I appreciate publishers’ desire to attract more readers to the Bible but, don’t let an attractive cover be your only criteria. Open up the Bible and see what is on the inside.

2. Look at the print and layout. Is the Bible easy for your children to read? The vision of early elementary aged children is still developing. The print in a Bible should be larger and dark, making it easy to read. Does the Bible have an easy to find Table of Contents? As children are learning how to find references in a Bible, this is a key help that they will need to refer to often. It should be easy to find at the front of the Bible and easy to find the corresponding page numbers. Both page numbers and beginning and ending references for each set of pages should be prominent at the top of each page.

3. Look at the helps. Many Bibles now come with an array of helps, devotions, activities, and commentaries. Does the Bible under consideration have enough but not too much? Are they located at the back of the Bible or sprinkled throughout the pages? Are there so many helps that they overwhelm the actual text so that it is hard for a child to know where to read? I suggest that helps should either be at the back, before each book, or in textboxes or somehow clearly designated on the page, so that there is no confusion to a child as to what is and is not text.

Here are the helps I would consider important to have in a child’s bible:
Dictionary
Maps
Topical index: This is more pertinent to a child than a concordance. Concordances are confusing to children until they reach middle school.
Lists of Bible events such as Jesus’ miracles and parables, or a list of kings of Israel and Judah,

The helps I consider nice but not necessary:
Suggested memory verses
Suggested activities
Introductions to each book, giving background information and outline

The helps I would stay away from:
Commentary and explanation about passages, unless it is predominantly historical and cultural background. These can be misleading to anyone especially the young fertile mind of a child. Commentaries can often reflect the doctrine of the commentary writer, thus misinterpreting the Scripture. Na├»ve beginners accept the commentary as truth, not being able to delineate between a man’s opinion and the actual Word of God.
Devotions: You want your children to actually be reading the Bible, not to be distracted by comments about the Bible.

What is my final recommendation? I think you would best spend your money by buying a simple, inexpensive Bible from
International Bible Society, then spending the rest of your money on a good Bible handbook for kids. As with Bible helps, choose one that is long on reference helps and short on opinions and interpretations .However, some kids would never touch the handbook so for some kids, it’s nice to have the helps readily available within the pages of the Bible. If you want a Bible with an attractive cover and a good assortment of helps, I would recommend the Adventure Bible. My girls both had The Adventure Bbile, NIV and loved it. When they grew older, one girl wanted a Life Application Bible and the other wanted just a plain Bible with minimum helps.

Most importantly, before you log on to the Internet or head out to your favorite Christian bookstore, stop and pray. Ask God to lead you to the best option that meets the unique needs of your child or students, and that helps you be the best steward of the money He has given you.