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 and we can explore those topics together.