Friday, September 26, 2008

Cooking with Kids

I love to make homemade bread. I’ve been making bread since I was a teenager, enrolled in the 4-H program. I won multiple awards at country and state fairs and state demonstration days. Through that hobby, I developed my own recipes for whole wheat bread and homemade pizza and did experiments with making sourdough bread starter.

I have continued to make homemade bread and pizza which my family loves. But I never took time to actually teach my two girls how to make bread. My reason was that I didn’t want to push my interests on them. I wanted them to develop their own interests. That is, I didn’t teach them until this summer, the last summer before my youngest left home. I realized I had a skill that I had never passed down to the next generation, a skill that they could learn from books but would learn so much better from a person. They could take classes but they would learn it so much better right here at home as I watched them practice over and over again.

So, at the beginning of the summer, I timidly asked my younger daughter if she would like to make homemade bread with me. “YES!” she responded enthusiastically. “I have been wishing you would teach me!” We spent several precious days learning to make bread together. I was able to pass down my to her in one summer secrets that took me years to develop.

Each parent has hobbies and interests we love. We’re the best ones to teach these skills to our children. If we don’t pass on these hobbies, some of these handcraft skills may someday be lost forever Better than that, we have the thrill of doing something together with our children.

It’s our children’s choice whether they want to pursue the skill or hobby. As parents, we can’t push our likes on our kids. Yet it would be just as wrong to go to the other extreme and not share our talents at all.

Some parents treat religion like I treated my skills of bread baking. They want their children to discover faith on their own and decide for themselves. How can a child decide whether to follow Christianity without knowing about it? We need to teach them about our faith so when they do come to that age of accountability, they can make an informed choice on their own. If my daughters had never tried to make bread, they wouldn’t know whether they liked it or not.


2 1/4 cups warm water (105-115 degrees)
2 pkgs yeast
3 T sugar
4 tsp salt
1/3 c oil
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup dry milk powder
4 cups whole wheat flour
3 c all purpose flour (about)

Mix water and yeast. Add sugar, salt, oil, brown sugar and milk powder. Stir well. Add two cups all purpose flour; beat very well. Add whole wheat flour until you make a stiff dough. Turn out on a floured board (with all purpose flour). Knead until dough is smooth and sticks only slightly to your hand, adding more flour from the bottom as needed. Place in a greased bowl, cover with a tea towel and place in a cold oven along with a pan of steaming water. Let rise till double in bulk, about one hour. Divide in half, shape into loaves. Place in 2 greased 9x13 pans, turning to grease the top. Let rise till double, about 30-45 minutes. Bake in preheated 400 degrees for 25-30 minutes. Turn onto wire rack, Brush with shortening and cover with a towel until cool.

I use a Kitchen Aid Mixer for my mixing and kneading. I also divide my dough into fourths and place in 4 4x7 inch pans. I often give my bread away as gifts to sick people, new church attenders or as an encouragement gift. My children have learned the gift of caring for others through watching me give gifts of bread.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Teacher Burnout

“I’m not being fed.”

I’ve heard that sentiment several times in the past month from precious, dedicated, worn out teachers. One dear lady has taught the preschool class at our church for over thirty years. Never one to complain, she surprised all of us as we sat at a golden wedding anniversary party by saying, “I wish I could go to an adult Sunday School class. I need to learn too.” Her adult daughter, sitting across the table from us said, “That’s why I quit teaching. I wasn’t getting fed.”

I surprised myself with my own answer. I think I was trying to be compassionate but I realized the truth in my own words. I said to them, “I have to work hard at self feeding.”

If you are a Sunday School teacher, how do you maintain your own spiritual life when you are constantly teaching others to grow in their faith?

First, develop a quiet time apart from your study of your lesson. As a busy mother of small children, the only time I seemed to have for bible study was to read the commentary in my lesson book and to mull over the scriptures for the lesson all week. But after teaching for years, there’s only so much I can get out of the story of Jonah for the umpteenth time. Still, it’s all too easy to rely on this study as my only input and I found I wasn’t really getting into God’s word like I wanted to. In those busy days, my mother had a good idea for personal bible study. Set your goals much lower. She suggested that I commit myself to read a Psalm a day. That’s a short, accomplishable chunk of Scriptures that’s still providing me with a regular diet of God’s Word.

Second, go deeper with your lesson in your personal Bible study. If you teach high school, work through the discussion questions for yourself. Use a study Bible to explore the lesson scripture. Check cross references. Use the goals in the application sections of your lesson to do your own self evaluation. If your lesson application is about obeying God when it’s hard, ask yourself, “When do I find it hard to obey God?” then use your answer as a point of prayer.

Seek other sources of learning besides Sunday School. Are you attending a mid week bible study or your church’s Sunday evening bible study? Do you take notes on the pastor’s sermon. In other words, are you doing all you can do to take advantage of the learning opportunities available to you?

Avoid resentment. Our culture thrives on a me mentality. I am so saddened when I see people approach their search for a church with the attitude of “What’s in it for me?” When teachers are tired and frustrated with students who won’t listen, it’s easy to feel sorry for ourselves and ask, “What am I getting out of this?” Jesus calls us not to be served but to serve as He did. Think of all the years you have already spent in studying the Bible, of learning God’s ways. What a blessing! You are rich in what you have already received. Consider your teaching then as a time to give to others, that God is using you to feed others so they will grow in your faith.

Analyze the real issue. Are you really wishing you could be fed? Or are you tired of squirrelly kids who won’t listen to you, curriculum that is irrelevant or clumsy in its approach, lesson preparations that you just don’t seem to have time to do, or persistent feelings of anxiety that you aren’t the one for this job? Do a self check. Be honest with yourself. If you need to, discuss the real issue with your pastor or children’s minister.

Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for time off. Church people joke that once you volunteer to teach, you’re in it for life. Church people can be quite uncompassionate when a teacher does want to quit. That is so unfair of churches to do that to volunteers! We need to respect our teachers a lot more. Everyone needs a break, to revamp, refresh and revive, Sunday School teachers included. Don’t reach the point where you want to quit forever or you have to leave the church in order to get away from teaching. If you teach every Sunday, ask for a month’s sabbatical or ask for a substitute to relieve you one Sunday a month. This will give you space to take a fresh look at your class and replenish your creative juices.

God is pleased with your teaching. He is honored that you are reaching His little ones with His Word. He will not ask you to do anything that He will not give you the resources to do including staying frim and healthy in your personal relationship with Him.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Children's Ministry New Testament Style

I belong to a church whose foundation is built on adhering to New Testament Christianity. That means we try to practice what Christians in the New Testament practiced. “Where the Bible speaks, we speak; where the Bible is silent, we are silent” is one of our great slogans. That gives a lot of latitude. The Bible allows for cultural differences in regard to method but there are certain principles and practices that are clearly defined in Scripture and that we try to emulate.

So what does this have to do with children’s ministry? As I conduct children’s ministry programs and write for other children’s ministry leaders, the main question I ask myself is, “How would the Apostle Paul organize a children’s ministry program in the local church? What issues would he see as important?” Now, before you tell me that children’s ministry is never mentioned in the New Testament, I think there are some overarching principles that we can consider:

1. The role of parents. The one command given directly to children is “Children, obey your parents (Eph. 6:1).” The New Testament assumes that the responsibility for spiritual nurture of a child lies with the parents so if a child obeys their parents, they’ll get that spiritual training at home. Some of you might immediately say, “But that’s not the world we live in today. So many of our children come from unchurched families or the parents themselves need teaching.” True. I’ll get to that next. But we have used that excuse for too long. There are parents who are faithful Christians, who do know the tenets of our faith who too often rely solely on the church for what their child learns about God. I like the guidelines in Deuternomy 6:4-9, that parents should weave the teaching of biblical principles into every part of their lives; at the beginning of the day, at the end, in the house, outside the house. Wherever you go, you are teaching your child about God. Your child cannot build a life of faith based on two hours of training Sunday morning.

Children’s programs do fit into this, for the parent is still in control and directing the religious education of their child. Parents should be actively involved in the children’s ministry by knowing what is being taught, supporting and encouraging the teachers, and standing up for the teachers to their children. It’s a parent’s responsibility to see that children attend, not to let the child make the decision or to sway the parent with grumbling as to whether they are going to go. The Bible says, “Let us not give up meeting together (Hebrews 10;25).” When we take our children to church, we are instilling within them the importance of gathering with other believers to keep our faith strong. I like what one friend said to her kids. “Sunday morning, we get up, we put on our socks, we go to church. That’s just what our family does.” I assure you, that family put on more than their socks in the morning, but her point is clear. Going to church is as much a part of what they did as putting on a pair of socks. “It’s just what we do.”

But what about those kids from unchurched families?

2. The role of the church. Paul does address the issue of children from unbelieving or divided families, more by example than command. Acts 16 tells about Timothy, the son of a Jewish mother and a Greek father. You can count on Timothy not getting any spiritual training from his dad! So what did Paul do? He took Timothy under wing. He became like a father to him. He helped Timothy become more accepted by the Jewish community by having him circumcised, something a Jewish father would have made sure was done for his son. He mentored Timothy and treated him like an apprentice, taking Timothy with him on his mission trips. He stayed in touch with Timothy through his two letters to him.

We need to build relationships with kids. Teaching them one hour a week is not enough. We need to be willing to enfold them into the church family. Become a spiritual parent to them. Sit with them in church. Ask them how their week is going. Listen to them. Make sure they are getting the proper training and are living the life God has called them to live. And like Paul with Timothy we need to keep in touch with them beyond their childhood years.

I came from a divided home like Timothy. Gene became my church dad. He built my confidence, gave me opportunities to serve God and encouraged me. I felt so ashamed the day he held me accountable for missing church for a March of Dimes walk-a-thon, then for being swayed by the March of Dimes organizers to lie about how many miles I had actually walked. He forced me to be honest, something a dad should do. But that failure on my part did not break his relationship with me. He took me to my first football game, invited me to family events and arranged for me to play the piano for a senior citizen’s apartment complex. All the time, I was observing how he and his family lived their faith, an example I needed to see. Years and miles later, I’m still in touch with him.

If a child doesn’t have a parent who will guide them in their faith, church members can become that parent to them, by teaching them, living the example of a Christian life before them and inviting them to walk with you through your faith journey, through service projects, mission trips and every day aspects of your life so that they can see Jesus in you, the hope of glory.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Small Church Children's Ministry

Our little church has hit crisis mode. Our elementary children’s department now has one regular attender. The preschool class is in the same shape. It’s become a vicious circle. Teachers are frustrated because there are no children and families with children don’t want to come because we have no program. To make us feel more despondent the experts tell us that children’s ministry is the heartbeat of any congregation. Without a children’s ministry, our church will die. Is there any hope for us?

Rick Chromey, in his book, “Energizing Children’s Ministry in the Small Church” gives some answers that greatly assure me. Here’s what I’ve learned so far.

1. Small is good. Small churches who live in the shadow of mega-churches have often felt inferior, unimportant, and guilty. But, according to Chromey, small churches have some advantages. Teachers can relate to kids more because there aren’t so many children to keep track of. Small churches can be more innovative and sometimes impulsive. It’s easier to change a program if it isn’t working in a small church. The smaller church can get kids involved in leadership roles sooner, such as passing offering plates, playing an instrument in the praise band or taking attendance. So true! I got my start in music by playing the piano for junior church. I was playing for worship service by age fifteen. In our church, an awkward 17 year old boy, is the official attendance counter, a perfect job for him. Small can be good!

2. Small doesn’t mean traditional. There are many small churches out there that are dynamic, growing, ministering, caring for their community. Is your church small because it’s holding too tightly to traditions from the past? Or is it small because of community dynamics? A small church needs to change its way of thinking not because “that’s how mega-churches do things” but because our world is changing. If we’re going to reach our kids for Jesus, we need to present a program that is relevant to them, not stuck in the 1950’s.

3. It only takes a spark. Small churches often suffer from a defeatist syndrome. I’ve heard the rhetorical statement this week, “But what can we do?” Jesus turned the world upside down with 12 men. One Sunday School teacher had a tremendous impact on one student who led thousands to Christ – Dwight L. Moody. Jesus used the parable of the mustard seed to show the impact one little seed can have. Chromey uses the example of one spark from a car that can set dry underbrush ablaze and explode into a raging forest fire.

That’s what I’m trying to be right now. Just that one spark. God has given me a handful of teachers and a couple of students to whom I’m trying to be faithful in encouraging and teaching. One little spark. That’s all it takes.

What about you?