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.