Thursday, December 03, 2009

The Worth of a Visitor

When a relative or close friend passes away, I like to spend some time reflecting on the memories of special moments I enjoyed with that person. This helps me deal with closure, especially if I am far away and unable to attend the funeral. Experiencing two deaths in the last two weeks has made me nostalgic. One of those deaths, the passing of Aunt Mabel, my grandfather’s sister, brought back a wonderful memory about Sunday School.

When I was a child, I had a horrible time with homesickness, even into my teens. I suppose it came from not being able to see well, that I was suddenly thrust into unfamiliar surroundings where people didn’t understand my needs as well. My embarrassment at my lack of emotional control only made things worse. Several times I stayed at relatives’ homes only to beg to come home. Unfortunately, if I was out of town, coming home was not an option.

True to my character, I was miserable before the first day was over when, at the ripe old age of twelve, I visited my great-grandmother 120 miles away. Aunt Mabel, who checked on Grandma every day, picked up on my misery but, intent to give me dignity, said little. Instead, she tried to get me involved with projects to get my mind off my angst. Since Grandma was house bound, Aunt Mabel offered to take me with her and Uncle Bob to church that Sunday.

This caused more anxiety. Raised in an independent Christian church, I was asked to go to a Baptist church! Sacrilege!! It was a huge church too. More sacrilege! More angst! Yet, in spite of the large number of preteens filling the massive room, the teachers welcomed me kindly and guided me toward my small group of seventh grade girls.

The lesson that morning was on Josiah finding the book of the law. Are you surprised I remember the lesson? I’m not, because the way the teacher presented the lesson made it unforgettable. She told the story, then assigned parts. One person was Josiah, another was the secretary and the rest of us were a long line of workers that passed the word, first to “go clean up the Temple,” then “We found the Book of the Law!” I was chosen to be the worker who actually found the book. And I did my part with much exuberance to the giggles of the other girls. For that hour, I forgot my homesickness. For that hour, my feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness vanished.

Why have I never forgotten this story? First, it was a new way to present a Bible story. I grew up in the sixties where we were made to sit quietly while the teacher read the story out of the quarterly and we responded by filling out a worksheet. If we were lucky, the teacher used flannelgraph pictures which I could never see anyway. This was different! The teacher involved us in telling the story. That day, a seed was planted in my life that has grown and blossomed to create me into the teacher I am today. I believe that I am the proponent of interactive teaching that I am because I saw it work when I was just twelve years old. I saw how drama makes student live the story rather than just hear the story.

I learned another important lesson that day – the importance of involving your visitors. I would never darken the door of that classroom again, yet the teacher chose me, a visitor, to take an important role in our little drama. She probably was tempted to pass over me this sullen, shy, awkward teen. Without the foresight of how involving me would affect my life and teaching philosophy, she chose to do her job faithfully by showing kindness and preference to a one time visitor.

Each time we teach is a precious opportunity. We may never know this side of heaven the impact we will have on the lives we teach. The children who are inside our classroom today may never cross the threshold again. As teachers, we don’t know what baggage each child carries, how our attitude toward them can bolster or corrode their self-confidence.

Each child who walks through your classroom door has a story. Each child has a need to know the Savior’s love. You have this moment to teach, to influence.

That Sunday morning, Aunt Mabel could have decided not to bother with a sniffling, sulky preteen. Instead, she chose to take me to church, never realizing the impact one Sunday School session would have on my life and my future ministry.

Aunt Mabel, now that you are in heaven, I hope Jesus lets you know that I’m glad you took me to church that day And if that teacher from that Baptist church is up there too, would you let her know? Just tell her I said thank you.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Teaching Children Diversity

On a flight from Atlanta to Paris, a seatmate and I intermittently talked books for nine hours. I was woefully embarrassed by how illiterate I sounded, for time and again I had to answer “no” to her queries of “Have you read this?” Finally, determined to join the real literary world, I grabbed my notebook to record the titles she threw at me as fast as a batting machine. My face flushed with embarrassment when I shared the list with my daughters, “Oh I’ve heard of that one,” they repeated.

As I started to read books from my list, I curiously noted a recurring theme. The books the world currently considers as hot titles often deal with cross-cultural osmosis, tales of how Americans grew in their understanding and appreciation for other cultures and religions It made sense. For the last twenty years, my children have been inundated in public schools and universities with diversity training. Intellectuals seem eager for us to understand and accept each other so we can become tolerant of differences be they cultural, religious or lifestyle preferences. The flaw in their thinking, however, is that Christianity is the one world view which is not tolerated. The author of “Three Cups of Tea” seems to delight in showing how the son of Lutheran missionaries humbly asked a Muslim man to teach him how to pray to Allah. In the Introduction to “Eat, Pray, Love,” the author is quick to point out that the beads the yogis of India wear to pray over and seek balance morphed into the rosary beads used by Catholics. They are quiet little put downs of Christianity, but they are there. The subtle message is: other worldviews are better, older, wiser and you ought to come over to our side. The prejudice seems to stem from a mindset that Christians are narrow minded, bigoted, intolerant people themselves. What do you do with a group of people who hold to their teacher’s claim, “No one comes to the Father but by me (John 14:6).”

The craze for tolerance finally caught up with the world when a lone gunman took down almost fifty people at the Fort Hood Army post. The military had seen signs for months of the man’s radical Islamic tendencies yet nothing was done. Why? We need to be tolerant and politically correct, don’t we?

Is tolerance all bad? Shouldn’t we teach our children to be accepting of those different from us? How can Christians adhere to the truth of the Bible while still being accepting of others and their differences? Finally, how do I translate these big philosophical ideas into practical teaching for the children I lead?

First, we can look to Jesus. As the only Way, Truth and Life, Jesus chose to associate with all kinds of people. He touched lepers. He dined with tax collectors. He let loose women kiss his feet in love and repentance. He walked outside his cultural norms to heal demon-crazed men and children of Gentile women. Jesus did not isolate himself with his convenient, comfortable group. He mingled with the masses and was willing to soil Himself with their dirt. Yet, He never let go of His purpose and of the Truth. He was willing to die for the fact that man needed to reestablish his relationship with God and there was only one way to get the job done.

Also, we need to realize that the world wants to pull Christianity down so they paint this picture of intolerant, judgmental, Pharisaical critics. Instead of buying into the picture they’ve painted of us, let’s hold our heads high and show the world what we are really like. Yes, we need to cross cultural and lifestyle barriers but our goals and motives are different than those promoted by the secular intelligencia. Our goal is to change hearts, not culture. Our goal is to give the hope of heaven, not to make people’s lives a hell on earth. Our motive is love, not selfishness, greed or power. Our method is one hundred acts of kindness that spell acceptance and promote a higher, better way to live.

So how do we teach diversity and tolerance from a Christian world view to our children?

Teach the truth. Help your students establish a sound moral compass, that they know intuitively what is right and what is wrong.

Teach children the character trait of kindness. Lead them in service projects that help them rub shoulders with all kinds of people.

Talk often of the hope you have in heaven, in God’s power to save, protect and provide. Build your student’s confidence not just in their own abilities but confidence in a God who can do anything and who delights to use them as messengers of His memorandum of love and forgiveness.

Teach by example. Love your kids. Show interest in them. Let them know you love them in spite of what they do. Have zero tolerance for bad behavior, but stand firm on one hundred percent tolerance for the individual. In other words, “hate the sin; love the sinner.”

I think of the grandmother who recently took her pregnant granddaughter and the boyfriend into her home. She’s just loving them, providing for their needs. She could shake her finger in their faces, telling them what a mess they’ve made of their lives, but she didn’t need to do that – they’ve already heard it from other relatives. Behind her bedroom door, she prays for them. She looks for open doors to share her faith with them. Her church group is providing Christmas gifts for them. And slowly the doors of change are opening. One day the boyfriend asked her to pray for him and she assured that she prays for him on a regular basis. This grandmother is showing tolerance but her goal is, through love and kindness, to bring about change and to present two more lives at Heaven’s gates.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Children's Ministry and Thanksgiving

A friend sent me a cute email this week. It told the story of a man who visited heaven. The angel guide took him first to a large room. “This is the receiving room where prayer requests are received.” Volumes of paper and a large group of scurrying angels worked hard to process all those prayer requests. Then the angel took him to another large room, called the “Packaging and Delivery Room.” In this room, all the blessings people asked for were packaged up for delivery.

The angel took the man down the hall to a final room. Maybe you are already anticipating the end of the story. Yes, this room was quite small. It was the “Acknowledgement Room.” Why so small? Because very few people acknowledged the blessings they had received.

My recent visit with bible students from Central Asia made me aware of how many blessings I have as a Christian educator that I didn’t even ask for, yet God has graciously given them to me. As we approach the Thanksgiving season, I’d like to challenge you. What are you thankful for in your children’s ministry? What can you tell God “thank you” for regarding your church?

Here is my list.
1. Freedom to teach, sing and pray aloud without fear of harassment or arrest.
2. Support of the church leadership.
3. Three fantastic, dedicated women who share the work of Junior Church with me.
4. A cabinet full of supplies – more than just crayons and paper, too.
5. Children who want to learn about God.
6. Children who can read! That makes my job simpler in teaching bible verses. Many children in the world cannot read.
7. A nice big room that serves as our classroom.
8. Wonderful, bible based curriculum.
9. My own good health that allows me to be able to teach.
10. Children who come to church with full tummies, warm clothes and good health.
11. Children, who in spite of all the choices our modern society has to offer that would distract them, have chosen to come to church to learn about Jesus.
12. The stack of Bibles in my room from which children can read for themselves about Jesus’ love and sacrifice for them.
13. The training I’ve had to be able to teach these children.
14. A loving supportive family who smiles at my crazy teaching ideas and takes me shopping to get the supplies I need to carry them off.
15. Two children who have come to a saving faith in Jesus Christ in the last six months.

There’s so much more I could add. Now it’s your turn. Leave a comment, telling us what you are thankful in your children’s ministry.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Creative Bible Teaching

Breaking News: Minister’s wife caught leaving church carting a suitcase and clutching a teddy bear. Speculations as to her motive are running rampant in her tiny community. (You know how news flies in small communities – who needs a newspaper?) Yesterday’s event was only the last of a series of bizarre behaviors. Several Sundays ago she asked her congregation for a donation of metal coffee cans. (Is she out of touch? Doesn’t she know coffee cans are now made of plastic?) Another Sunday, she looked like Mother Goose toting to wicker baskets on her arm.
As to yesterday’s behavior, was she:

a) Running away from home?
b) Running away to join the circus?
c) Needed a suitcase to hold all her teaching supplies?
d) An example of creative bible teaching at its best?

Kids love visual images. They want lessons that are relevant to their lives. Creative bible teaching meets them where they are at and takes them where God wants them to be. It doesn’t take much to accomplish that. A simple prop like a basket or a suitcase instantly draw them in, making them wonder, “What’s with the suitcase?”

How did I use that suitcase yesterday? I told the kids I was going on a trip so I started to pack my suitcase. I put in a pair of jeans, toothpaste, a teddy bear, my Bible, made a point that I had forgotten my toothbrush but oh well, there’s always Walmart. I asked the kids what they liked to take with them on trips and where they have gone on vacation. Then I told them the man in our story went on a trip too. His name was Paul and God sent him to be a missionary.

Visual object lessons accomplish several things:
1) They grab your students’ attention.
2) They help your students connect every day life to God’s word.
3) They entice the kids to keep coming because each week, your lesson is new and different. (What is she gonna do this week??)
4) As you cart in your supplies, you send a loud message to the rest of the congregation, “Good stuff is happening in our children’s department.

Some people are critical of such aids. Our kids live in an entertainment society and we have to wow them in order to get their attention. Such critics say we’re caving to the culture. I don’t agree. Kids have always been visual. Creative lessons have always been more effective. Jesus knew this too. Look at his parables. The stories dealt with common everyday things. Why, I can just imagine him pointing to a nearby plowed field as he told the story of the sower and his four kinds of soil.

Our kids are used to the fast action special effects of modern technology. We can use this to our advantage. Our simple object lessons are different enough from the virtual reality in which today’s youth live that a simple thing like a suitcase and a teddy bear or an archaic coffee can will get their attention because it is out of the ordinary for them.

Look at your lesson for next week. Look at the introduction. How does your lesson guide encourage you to start the lesson? Don’t skip it – consider it. Will it work for you? Are you willing to give it a try? How can you adapt it to fit your situation? If the lesson doesn’t suggest a visual object lesson at the beginning of the bible story, what can you do to bridge into the story?

Yes, you might look strange. You will definitely feel uncomfortable. Get used to it! That is part of being a children’s ministry teacher. Long ago, I gave up my persona of normalcy. If I can catch the children’s attention and draw them closer to Jesus, I’m willing to look strange. It reminds me of the memory verse I taught the children yesterday: “I am not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God for salvation to all who believe (Romans 1:16).”

So, don’t be embarrassed. Just do it. You might bring a child to kneel at the foot of the cross. And that is what creative bible teaching is all about.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Noah's Ark Revisited

As a children’s ministry worker, I tend to think of the Bible in terms of the bible stories I teach my students. Years of writing curriculum has taught me to look for the application of the story to daily life. This drives my husband nuts because sometimes bible stories are recorded in God’s word not necessarily for us to apply a lesson but to show the working of God among His people. Sometimes, I hate to admit it, children’s curriculum writers, so eager to make the story relevant, will focus on an application that misses the point of the story.

Perhaps you’ve seen the following in a forwarded email. It’s cute. It’s fun. It’s lighthearted. And the points are true. But, let’s face it. It does miss the point of the story of Noah. With that in mind, smile as you read on, and remember the most important lesson of all – don’t invite the woodpeckers onto your ark.

The story of Noah can teach us:
1. Don’t miss the boat.
2. Remember that we are all in the same boat.
3. Plan ahead. It wasn't raining when Noah built the Ark.
4. Stay fit. When you're 600 years old, someone may ask you to do something really big.
5. Don't listen to critics; just get on with the job that needs to be done.
6. Build your future on high ground.
7. For safety sake, travel in pairs.
8. Speed isn't always an advantage. The snails were on board with the cheetahs.
9. When you're stressed, float a while.
10. Remember, the Ark was built by amateurs; the Titanic by professionals.
11.No matter the storm, when you are with God, there's always a rainbow waiting.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Customizing Your Curriculum

One day, several years ago, the beginning activity of my weekly lesson suggested I prepare a blind taste test. I was to put several foods, both desirable and undesirable, like peanut butter, lemon juice, and icing in small dishes, blindfold the kids and lead them one by one to taste the foods. I particularly remember one of the suggested foods was horseradish.

Now I have never tasted horseradish in my life. From descriptions, it does not sound like something I want to taste. I wouldn’t know where to find it in the store and even if I could, I didn’t want to buy an entire container for one little spoonful. So, I asked various people in my church to donate some of our supplies, including the horseradish. One lady gave me a jar that she said was a couple of years old. If it had gone bad or if horseradish can go bad, I wouldn’t know it because I have never eaten horseradish.

So I set up our little taste test. Wouldn’t you know it? That was the Sunday we had two visitors! The horseradish was a big hit. Everyone appropriately hated it and it was a great jumping off point to drive home the lesson application, whatever it was.

But my two visitors never returned. Ever since that day, I have felt badly. Was I responsible for driving two children away from church because I made them eat horseradish? In retrospect, following my curriculum guide to the letter that day was not a wise idea. I never should have insisted that everyone participate.

Your curriculum is just that – ONLY a guide! It is not meant to be followed to the letter. A wise teacher will read the suggested activities and think, “Will this work? How can this best apply to my group?” If the activity bombs, a humble teacher will ask, “Why didn’t this activity work? Was I prepared? Was it age appropriate? Were the children ready to learn? What would I do differently next time?

How do you know beforehand whether an activity will work? You don’t. Sometimes you have to customize your planned activity as soon as you walk in the door and see who you have to work with that day. Even then, only experience will ultimately teach you what works and what doesn’t. However, until you arrive (and none of us have), use these guidelines in choosing appropriate activities for your lesson:

1. Consider the audience. If you have a group of shy, non-competitive children, an active, competitive relay is not going to work for them. In the case of the horseradish, many children do not like trying unusual foods. I should have chosen familiar foods.

2. Try the activity yourself if possible. If it’s something you wouldn’t do, don’t pull it on your students. It’s the basic Golden Rule. I would not like to be blindfolded and ordered to eat something I had never tasted especially knowing it might be unpleasant, so perhaps that is a red flag of caution that I may not want to do that to my class.

3. Be extra considerate of visitors. I should have immediately excused those two girls from participating. Everything is new to visitors! Let them set the pace. Gently encourage them to be involved but don’t force it.

4. Don’t totally discount the activity. If you aren’t sure the activity will work, ask yourself, what will work instead that will still get the point across. In the case of the horseradish, my solution would have been simple. Ask for volunteers. The older boys in my group loved it. The rest of the students would have been content watching their reactions! The taste test was a great activity and the application was strong. My point of failure was in the logistics.

5. Keep the main point, the main point. You know what is really sad about my horseradish experiment? I don’t even remember the point of the lesson! I suspect every child attending that day will only remember, “Miss Karen made us eat horseradish.” I love zany, off the edge activities that get my student’s attention and get them interacting with the lesson material. However, I’ve seen so many fun activities in curriculum books where the activity was so long, complex or energetic, the students would not have been able to connect the fun activity with any Bible application. Remember always, your main purpose, your prime directive, is to teach the word of God, not to entertain the troops. You can have fun teaching the Word of God but if the fun overshadows the lesson, you’ve lost your audience and the opportunity to proclaim Jesus as Lord – which is why we teach in the first place.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Operation Christmas Child

After years of praying for an opening to reach the children in his country with the message of Jesus Christ’s offer of salvation, a Child Evangelism worker from Macedonia was invited into the public schools where he was allowed to distribute over 80,000 shoeboxes filled with clothes, toys and school supplies. What an open door to ministry!

I heard this amazing story from one of the students attending TCMI’s training program while I served at Haus Edelweiss in Austria. For several years, I’ve heard of the Operation Christmas Child work done by Franklin Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse Ministry. I’m enthusiastic about this wonderful service project opportunity that reaches world wide to needy children.

As I browsed the website of Operation Christmas Child, two facts impressed me. First, the items to be collected are easy things. This is a tailor made project for kids, families, or youth groups. Second, this is a program that doesn’t just provide material items for needy children. According to the website, follow up in the form of discipleship programs is done with the children who have received the boxes.

You can mail your shoeboxes or there are drop-off points throughout the United States. Samaritan’s Purse asks that donors include a check inside each shoebox to pay for international shipping; however, this can also be done online. When you opt for the E-Z Give method, they’ll email you a bar code where you can track the destination of your particular shoebox. If this is a project you want to do this Christmas, be aware that the National Collection Week is November 16-23.

Operation Christmas Child would be a great family service project. I challenge you however to think big. Remember the 80,000 boxes delivered to Macedonian public schools. If your entire church did this project, just visualize the multiple effect you could have. Imagine this. Ask your older adult class to take up an offering to buy the supplies needed for each shoebox. Ask another class to donate the shoeboxes. Then pair up each child in your youth program with an adult. Take everyone to your local dollar or discount store. Give each pair five or ten dollars, a shoebox and a list of suggested items (free materials on putting together a Shoebox are on the website). The adult helps the child “spend” the money to fill the shoebox. Have another group get the boxes ready for mailing or drop-off, following the instructions from the Operation Christmas Child website.
You could customize this program by doing it for local families or homeless shelters. But I challenge you. As big as needs may seem in the States, conditions in the rest of the world are exponentially worse. Here, even those who don’t attend church have ready access to the Gospel; this is not so in other countries. When you reach beyond your own boundaries with a shoebox full of kindness, you are opening a door for the Gospel to enter the heart and mind of a child and his or her family. We like to stay close because we want to see the results; however, the very essence of faith is reaching beyond what is seen (Hebrews 11:1, 2 Corinthians 4:18).

How many shoeboxes can your children’s ministry fill? For some of you, ten shoeboxes may be a stretch of faith; for others, 1,000 might seem like as easy goal. Pray about it.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Facing Obstacles in Ministry

I’ve just returned from my second short term mission trip to a bible training center near Vienna, Austria. While there, I was asked to share my testimony of a way God has worked in my life. I shared how, as a visually impaired person, I learned certain lessons that God would use later to help me endure a difficult season in my ministry. My vision loss strengthened my faith in God’s unlimited power to provide. It taught me perseverance (well, it started as stubbornness but the Lord transformed that into perseverance based on hope and faith in Him), and to give God the credit for my accomplishments rather than myself.

Then I shared the struggle of the past two years in the Children’s ministry program at my local church. Of all people, I should have had the solution to any problems our Children’s Ministry team faced. I have three education degrees, have taught in Children’s Ministry for 30 years and have written curriculum for over twenty years. Yet, in spite of my efforts and leadership, our children’s church reached an all time low. If you have continuously read this column, you may remember that there have been many a Sunday when we had only one student. Teachers drifted away for various reasons. Church members criticized our program. The two teachers left were discouraged and ready to give up.

We decided to make some crucial changes in our program. Still the numbers were meager. For nine months, we kept plugging away. Then, this past summer, suddenly, several children began attending regularly. Two have now accepted Christ. The mother of another new student was also baptized. We now have two new teachers and possibly more in the wings.

It was my faith in God’s power and my persistence to keep going that got me through this rough time. I don’t deny that it wasn’t easy! Yet, why did it take so long? To remind me and others that it was God’s doing, not our own efforts. He brings the increase.

The crowning glory of this struggle was that I was able to share this message of hope and encouragement to over 50 people from a variety of Eastern European nations. While many countries are from the former Soviet block, they still face discouragement, economic restrictions and sometimes danger in their efforts to share the gospel particularly with children

God allows us to struggle in our ministry to give us the opportunity to persevere. He tests our faith by seeing if we can stick to it during the tough times. Our struggles allow us to see and acknowledge that growth comes from Him, not through our efforts. Finally, God allows us to struggle not just so that we will grow in our faith but so that we might use the struggle to proclaim His glory and encourage fellow believers. As someone said during my time in Austria, “God comforts us not to make us comfortable but to make us comforters.”

How does God want you to use the conflicts you face in Children’s Ministry to honor Him?

Monday, September 07, 2009

Watch Me Worship

Our children’s church ministry made the decision to take the children into adult worship one Sunday per month. Our church has a balcony so we arranged we would sit in the front row upstairs. We told the minister of our plan and warned him there might be extra wiggles and whispers.

I arranged for the children to meet with me before we headed upstairs yesterday. “Do we have to be quiet all the time?” one boy asked. I suddenly realized, this young man had never set foot in an adult worship service before. Our routines and traditions were foreign to him. He had no clue of what was expected of him nor could I assume he would naturally know what he should do.

So I gave the children the same ground rules I gave my own two children when they were little.
1. Stand when everyone stands to sing and try to follow along.
2. You may read or draw during the sermon. Try to follow the minister’s outline if you can. Our minister leaves blanks for people to fill in. My experience has been older kids love to guess what word the minister is going to say before he gets to a particular point.
3. There are only two times I expect you to be absolutely quiet: during prayer, because it shows respect to God and it keeps you from distracting others, and during Communion which is a time where everyone should be thinking about Jesus.

I also told them that if they had any questions about what was happening, they were free to ask me as long as they did so quietly. So we headed upstairs, drawing paper in hand. Two boys sat beside me. I became aware they were watching me, watching how I worshipped, watching whether I was singing, whether I sitting quietly during the prayer, whether I used the outline in the bulletin.

During the sermon, I quietly suggested some of their drawings could portray what the sermon was talking about. One boy told me, “I’m already doing that!” The new boy asked if he could go to the bathroom. I said, "No." He asked “Why?” I told him that, in an adult group, leaving while a speaker was talking was disrespectful. He accepted my answer. He just needed someone to tell him why.

As we came down the stairs afterwards, I asked, “What was one thing you learned about who Jesus is (the topic of the sermon based on Colossians 1)?” Each of them gave me a correct answer! As we went through the line, I had them tell the minister what they had learned as well. He beamed.

Kids don’t naturally know how to worship God. They are taught through watching how adults worship and through concentrated, planned teaching. It wasn’t a day off for me; I was as much a teacher that morning as I would have been had we stayed downstairs. Jesus told his disciples in Matthew 28:19,20 to “Go and make disciples . . . teaching them to obey all I have commanded you.” The Greek translation of the word “go” should be “As you go.” As you go! Everywhere you go, keep teaching those you are helping to become followers of Jesus. I went to worship – and I kept on teaching. Teaching as I go, in word and in deed.

I’m glad we’re taking the children upstairs once in awhile. They may not understand all what is happening or all that is said. But they are learning how to worship. If we don’t give them the opportunity, they won’t learn how. They aren’t ready intellectually or spiritually for a steady diet of adult worship. But at least, when the time comes, they will know how to worship and the adult worship service will no longer be a foreign culture to them.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Continuing Education: Filling Up Empty Cisterns

My latest read is the book, “To Sir With Love.” You might remember the 1967 movie version starring Sydney Poitier. While a bit earthy, especially for a book of 1959 vintage, “To Sir With Love” provide great inspiration for teachers.

Rick Braithewaite, after being repeatedly rejected by potential employers because he is black, finds a job as a high school teacher in an East London slum. He struggles with how to teach the children self-respect and courtesy for others and how to inspire them to better themselves through education. He finally comes up with a strategy on how to manage his class – treat the children as the adults they will soon become and demand they treat him and each other in the same way. As he discusses his plans with the elderly couple who have offered him room and board, the man he has come to call Dad gives him this bit of advice:

“Teaching is like having a bank account. You can happily draw on it while it is well supplied with new funds; otherwise you’re in difficulties. Every teacher should have a ready fund of information on which to draw; he should keep that fund supplied regularly with new experiences, new thoughts and discoveries, by reading and moving around among people from whom he can acquire such things.”

That is sage advice for any teacher, particularly the children’s ministry worker. We teach children far more than content. We teach them values, wisdom, how to cope with life. My aunt told me once that college teaches you how to make a living; bible college taught you how to live. That’s what we are doing in Sunday School, youth groups, children’s church, VBS and backyard bible clubs; we’re teaching children how to live. You can’t teach them how to live if you don’t know how to live yourself.

Reflect for a moment. What are you doing to grow in your faith and walk with Christ? How are you serving the Lord other than in your teaching capacity? What challenges do you face in learning to do what is right and honorable before the Lord? What temptations do you face and how are you overcoming them? How are you worshiping God and what are you learning from your worship experiences? What new books are you reading and what are you learning from them? What are you learning from observing the lives of the people around you about life, life choices, and consequences from those choices?

You can’t share the Living Water with your students if your own cistern is empty. In order to give to your students, you have to have something to give. When you combine Bible content with life experiences, your message will be more credible and powerful because you will be able to say with confidence, “Hey, I know this works. I know God is real. I know it’s tough to be a Christian but I know that God is reliable and worth the effort.”

Where do you start? Look at your lesson for this next week. How can you apply the principles you will be teaching to your own life? What don’t you understand? What questions do you have? Where can you find answers to those questions?

Keep growing – and your students will grow with you.

Monday, August 24, 2009

One Of My Favorite Things About Children's Ministry

One of my greatest joys in ministry is watching people come to a saving knowledge of Jesus /Christ. While I do not espouse to any Calvinistic theology, watching the stories unfold of how people come to Christ remind me that God does have a definite hand in brining people back to Himself. As I sat in our small church’s balcony, watching the baptism of a mother and a nine year boy, I felt awe at how God had once again shown how He was at work among us.

For years, a brother and sister have been hit and miss in their attendance at our small church. Soon the sister began bringing a friend. The brother who hardly ever came, started attending regularly. One week, he brought a friend we’ll call Dennis. Our youth intern invited him to the next week’s VBS program. He was there every day.

Often, churches will have some kind of closing program or, at least, have the kids sing some of the VBS songs at the worship service the following Sunday. As music director, I had decided not to do this because, in my experience, the kids want to, but the parents have other plans. No one comes except the faithful few who already come to church. And you can’t even count on them because everybody is so tired after VBS and church attendance slips too. So, when some kids asked me in the middle of VBS if we were going to sing for our parents on Sunday. I said, probably not. They persisted. I told them bluntly, I’d love to do it but we never get enough kids to sing. “Oh, we’ll come,” they said.

I discussed it with my husband the minister and my daughter the youth intern, sharing my reservations. “Yes, let’s do it,” they both said. Okay, but I can’t guarantee this is going to work, my doubting Thomas mindset objected. If less than five children come, we’re not singing, I told them. We sent letters home with the VBS kids. We told the kids. We practiced songs. Everyone was enthusiastic.

On Sunday morning, four church kids came. And Dennis. Dennis had brought his parents. That made five kids. We performed. The minister told Dennis’ parents he hoped they would come back. “Oh, we will!” they said. Yeah, right, you hear that a lot in the ministry. But they came back. The minister and youth intern visited them in their home and gave them brochures about the church, salvation, baptism, you know, the regular stuff preachers hand out.

The following Monday, Dennis’ mother calls the minister. “I read all the brochures you gave me,” she said. “I want to be baptized.” Her husband had been a member of our church years ago but had strayed away. His dad and stepmom still attended regularly.
Making the moment even more sweet, one of my junior church boys, whose family has only been attending for about a year, was baptized as well. He made his decision just two weeks earlier when I was explaining to my junior church kids that baptized believers in Christ take Communion and what it means to be baptized.

I have a hunch this is not the last baptism we’ll see for awhile. I have a hunch Dennis isn’t far behind. In fact, I won’t be a bit surprised if that brother and sister who first invited Dennis will soon raise their hands and say those sweet words Children’s ministry workers Inside the Classroom love to hear,

As a Children’s ministry worker, you work hard each week. You get discouraged, wondering if you are doing any good, if anyone is listening. Then, suddenly, someone new shows up because someone else invited him and you grab on to Jesus so you can hang on for the ride. It doesn’t get much sweeter than that.

Monday, August 10, 2009

New Source for Teaching Resources

Education comes in all shapes and sizes. Classrooms don’t always stuff neatly into the confines of four walls. I love Moses’ words to Israelite parents in Deuteronomy 6:6,7: “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. (NIV)” Learning happens everywhere!

Learning resources don’t always come wrapped in a neat box either. Some of my best teaching ideas have come from snatches of conversations, tips in magazines, staring at the craft aisle at Walmart, or trial and error experimentation.

The Internet has exploded over the last fifteen years as a viable source for teaching ideas and information. The Internet is redefining how we obtain teaching materials and curriculum. The computer age has made publication so much easier for the small business, the church office and the homeschooling support group. That’s why I’m so excited about the forward thinking of the people at Churchmouse Publications. They have constructed a syndicate where you can purchase all kinds of material to then print in your church newsletters, print out as teaching materials or use in church programs. Once you pay a small fee, it is yours to publish without fear of breaking copyright law.

Have you seen a column at Inside the Classroom you would like to print out to share with others or publish in a newsletter you produce? For a small price, you can purchase one of my columns at Churchmouse Publications so you can legally share these teaching insights with other people. Lots of other teaching resources are also available through Churchmouse such as devotions, puzzles, cartoons and drama scripts.

Thank you for supporting my teaching and writing ministry by reading my columns and passing these concepts on to others. Remember, the ultimate goal we share is to teach the children so they will know how best to “Love the Lord” with all their heart, mind, soul and strength (Deut. 6:5)

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

What Makes A Successful VBS Program?

I love VBS! A colleague told me several years ago that the children’s ministry program, Vacation Bible School, was an outdated, antiquated program which the right kind of churches weren’t doing any more. I disagree.

It’s all in how you measure success. Do you measure success by the number of children who attend? By the number of children who accept Christ? By the size of your volunteer force? Or by what is learned by both children and adults?

As I see beautiful moments happen at a VBS, I think, “This is the best VBS ever. This is why we had VBS this year.” Then something will happen the next day: a worker will share a precious moment about a child’s “ah ha” moment or a volunteer will relate a new insight, and I’ll think again, “This is why we have VBS.” This year is no exception. Only two days of VBS at our rural church have passed, and I’m already telling friends on Facebook that our VBS is wildly successful. Here’s why.

Our theme this year is a game show theme. It ties in beautifully with the message found in Joshua 1:9, that God is with us wherever we go. The skit at the end of each night’s program reviews the daily bible story by having two quirky and clueless adults pitted against one of the students in a game show trivia contest. Monday night, the director chose S. to be the student contestant. S. has attended VBS at our church for several years. I would describe her as a “needy” child, one of those children who always vies for the teacher’s attention, often in childish, inappropriate ways. Her behavior tells me this is a child who isn’t getting enough love from the right sources and she’s craving love and affirmation. Honey, you came to the right place. Only Jesus can satisfy. We are Jesus’ hands and feet. The church in the flesh can show her just how much we love her.

The script is set up so the student wins. The child would have to have been out of the room to miss the answers to the Bible story. Still, the director and I wondered if S. could handle it. She did! It was electric! After every right answer, the room of kids just exploded with cheers and applause. The last question was a little tough. The room was deafeningly silent, punctuated with a few comments such as “You can do it,” “Think.” She did it and the audience was on their feet. And the beaming smile on her face made me cry. I doubt that she will ever forget that one time in her life, an entire room of people cheered for her. If we accomplish nothing more than to affirm the self worth of a lonely little girl, I thought, we’ve been successful.

But we did.

This summer, our congregation hired my daughter to serve as a youth intern. Part of her job description was to serve as VBS director. She has done an excellent job at recruiting, organizing and dealing with a thousand details and a few cranky workers. Last night, she shared with her dad and me what she has learned about leadership. She shared that she learned that leadership is not all about being in the limelight, that a major part of it is a willingness to do the jobs no one else wants to do or sees that need doing, that part of being a leader is setting a program in motion, then stepping back into a support role, to help facilitate workers’ efforts.

Wow! It takes some adults years to learn those lessons of leadership. If we accomplish nothing more than to enable a 21-year-old to grasp the concept of servant-leadership well enough to carry it throughout her adult life, we’ve been successful.

Tonight’s theme is on telling others about Jesus. My husband is going to tell the kids of children who, after coming to Christ, told an adult who then came to Christ and brought others . . . . If one child catches the excitement of Jack’s message, comes to Christ, then tells a family member who comes to Christ . . . . if we don’t accomplish anything else, we will have been successful.

How do you measure success of a children’s ministry program? One precious story at a time.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Themed Parties For Your Children's Ministry Program

I love new recipes. New recipes promise adventure, change from the routine, and excited anticipation of pleasures to come.

Here’s a children’s ministry recipe for you. Prepare one large room with plenty of space and tables. Gather the following ingredients: one ten-pound bag of potatoes, the children in your children’s ministry program, leftover art supplies, and tasty snacks or main dishes that include – potatoes. Stir them together with several cups of creativity and what do you get? One active, low budget, resourceful children’s ministry event that will have your entire church talking. It’s a Potato Party!

Our congregation sponsored a potato party for our children’s group recently. The price of admission was one potato. Different church members donated food such as Potato Chip cookies and tater tot casserole. The kids used chenille wire and googly eyes to make their own personal Mr. Potato Head and played games such as Hide and Seek with a potato. The final event of the evening was to watch a Veggie Tales movie. We didn’t get to the movie because they were having so much fun hiding and locating their potatoes!

What? No Bible lesson or devotion? Well . . . no. But, while the children worked on the craft, volunteers casually reviewed memory verses learned in Children’s church. The kids got lots of praise and personal attention. They enjoyed strengthening their friendships with kids they don’t see otherwise. And they learned that church can be a fun, creative place where they are loved.

Parties can be an important part of your church curriculum. Parties are a safe place to bring friends. They give kids a chance to build friendships in the church, something that is very important to elementary age children. Events, like a potato party, are easier on the church budget than skating parties or laser tag outings

Now it’s your turn. Create your own party. Pick a topic such as bananas, the color green, a F.R.O.G. (Fully Rely On God) theme, or choose a country like Mexico. Select foods, games, and crafts that fit your theme. Check the Internet for ideas. My favorite site is Family Fun, a great family resource for food, games and crafts. Ask the children to bring something that will pique their curiosity. Viola! You have yourself an inexpensive, fun, easy-to-plan children’s event.

It’s as easy as pie.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Teaching Children Not To Steal

Recently, my husband and I noticed a nostalgic magnetic sign on our daughter’s car bumper was missing. When we asked where it was, she told us someone had stolen it from the college parking lot. A few days later, our younger daughter left her USB drive in the slot of a computer at her college library; when she returned just a few minutes later, it was already gone.

We acted shocked but the girls seemed nonplussed. “It happens all the time,” one girl told us. “Someone sees something left, they just take it.” While I call it stealing, I realized this taking of things is part of a mentality that permeates our society. It’s the idea that I ought to have whatever I see. Perhaps the takers don’t stop to think that the item they are taking belongs to someone else.

Our society is perpetuating this attitude. Recently the federal government has instigated a “cash for clunkers” program. If you trade in a car for one that gets better gas mileage, the federal government will reimburse you up to $4500. What a deal! How ‘bout that? I could get money for my car! Yet do we stop to ask where that $4500 per vehicle is coming from? I asked that question on Facebook and one answer sent shivers down my spine. “From the two percent of the rich in America to whom the former President gave tax cuts.” Does that insinuate that it is my right to have what someone else has, especially if they are rich, that I ought to have the money they have worked for without working for it myself?

The Internet has made the possession of what I want easy as well. Downloads are as quick as a click of my mouse. Which of us even stop to think of the work that article or that song entailed, that any worker is due a fair wage? It’s not free. It may be free to us but it cost someone something and they deserve to reap the harvest of their labor.

I’m as guilty as the next person when it comes to taking advantage of the free stuff. I’m the queen of restaurant coupons and fuel perks. Prices are too high anyway and God wants me to be a good manager of my money, right? But my enjoyment of a half priced lunch is still costing someone something. Restaurant owners need to earn enough to live on, too.

We start teaching this attitude to children at an early age. One afternoon, I stopped to allow two children to pet my dog. One boy was hogging the dog and I said, “Let’s take turns.” He replied. “It’s my turn right now.” I’ve seen tired mothers at Walmart checkout lines placate the tantrums of their children, buying the candy or toy the child demands. Standing their ground and saying ‘no” would teach a life long valuable lessonyou don’t get everything you want.

Where do we start in teaching children they don’t have to have everything they see? Teaching children, “Thou shalt not steal” is a good starting point. Next, we need to teach the definition of stealing, taking what doesn’t belong to me. But we also need to teach children the why behind the command. We need to teach them God’s view of possessions:

1. Possessions are merely a tool, not an end to themselves. Relationships are far more important than what we own.

2. Even if it’s my right, I don’t have to have it. “Finders, keepers; losers, weepers” does not match the mercy of God. If I find an abandoned USB drive, it still belongs to someone. Have a heart. Try to return it. On another front, just because someone provides something free does not mean I have to have it. I don’t have to clog my own computer with Internet downloads. I don’t have to spend other taxpayers’ dollars just because it’s a free government program. “Just Say No” works for ownership of possessions as well as for drugs.

3. My personhood is not defined by what I own. Of course not, you say. Yet every time we brag or “share” with others about a purchase or gift, isn’t that we are communicating?

4. I should work for what I get; and if I didn’t work for it, I need to value what it cost the giver. Everything we have cost someone something. Even our salvation was not free. It came at a high price, the price of a life, a very special life.

5. Everything belongs to God. Psalm 24:1 says, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it; the world and all who live in it.” None of it belongs to me in the first place, so it’s not mine to take.

How do I start to break the me mentality about possessions? How can I teach my children to be less self focused about ownership? It starts with an attitude of thanks. I Thessalonians 5:18 tells us, “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Teaching our children to be thankful for everything they receivewhether it’s a piece of candy from Walmart, or craft supplies during a Sunday School lesson will go a long way in shaping a more balanced attitude toward what they acquire.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Rick Chromey on Building a Positive and Powerful Children's Ministry

This week, I’m pleased to have Dr. Rick Chromey serve as a guest columnist for Inside The Classroom. Dr. Chromey is a leadership imagineer and cultural explorer. He’s also the preteen columnist for Children’s Ministry magazine and author of Energizing Children’s Ministry in the Smaller Church (Standard, 2008). Rick is available to speak for your conference, convention or leadership summit on emergent culture, smaller church, leadership, creative teaching, parenting, positive learning and motivation. Be sure to check out his website at

By Dr. Rick Chromey

Are you looking for the secret to unlock learning, positive behavior and motivation in kids? It’s easier than you think. The answer is always rooted in feeding the inner needs of children. When a child’s soul is hungry, their spirit GROWLS: “Feed Me!” How (and what) you feed will define the results!

Every child desires unconditional love and children’s ministries draw kids through a “conspiracy of grace” and pardon. Grace forgives, fortifies and foretells the future. Kids make mistakes and messes, so mop up and move on. Grace encourages and edifies children. Childhood is a minefield of bombs wired to dismember and disable body, soul and mind. Sometimes our words of affirmation are the only things that defuse potential destruction. Grace helps children look forward. Build dreams in their hearts. Carve visions for their souls. Hammer opportunities to discover gifts.

Everyone seeks to connect and commune. The key to relationships is personal attention and affection to promote acceptance and affirmation. Deep personal relationships draw children into a group and the inner conviction for friends to find faith motivates evangelism. As outsiders discover rich relationships, they also connect to a community.

Purpose is a primary need of children. Every child hungers for the power to change, control and contribute. A key? Avoid treating kids as second-class citizens. Give them opportunity to contribute or even change their circumstance. Ownership empowers children to lead and serve. Every child needs to find a place. I believe the reason teens quit coming to church is because, as children, they never sensed ownership. When was the last time a child helped plan? Or lead a service project? Or worship? The message: every child has a job. Turn them loose.

If power emerges in ownership, then purpose rises from a thirst for worthiness. Children desperately seek purpose. In a nutshell, children seek productive contribution. They need to feel good about doing something. Singing. Playing baseball. Math. Whatever. A children’s ministry must continually satisfy this craving. Most children act up and out for recognition. The gross jokes? Showing off? Seeking your attention and attendance? Disruptions? These are growls to be fed. Ignore them and they will worsen. Humiliate them and you’ll lose respect. Continually affirm your kids’ contributions. Eventually, these form purpose and identity.

It’s funny. Everybody wants to have fun and every soul struggles to smile. To laugh is to love. A child understands this need better than anyone. Show me a children’s ministry where the kids laugh and I’ll show you a bunch of kids geared to change the world. Ministry requires a smirk and smile. Most memories are marked by mirth. You’ll be the butt of some jokes. Enjoy it (and smile). Some children will spout funny stuff. Pause for the laughter. Occasionally a mistake will humor the kids. Chuckle and move on. If you’re going to do serious children’s ministry, start with a smile. Otherwise the joke’s on you.

The last need lays a foundation for the others. Below the surface, there’s a need for protection and provision. The children’s world is wrought with hazards of the heart. For many children, finding an emotionally safe harbor is a sinking feeling. Most kids are punctured by disillusionment, pricked by discouragement and popped by disappointment. Some are even physically beaten and emotionally abused, by bullies and by parents. Emotional protection is a priority. The church should be the last place to be persecuted. Unfortunately, for many kids, their congregation harbors more hurt than help. These misfit children learn to walk with emotional limps. “I’m no good.” “I’m ugly.” “No one likes me.” Safety issues also concern physical provisions. Heating or cooling. Lighting. Nutritious snacks. Are there places where children can be physically hurt?

Some will argue there’s a lot of work (and even expense) to this type of motivation. No doubt. But you get what you grow. If you really want children to grow into a faith that is committed to discipleship and dialogue, respect and revival, then nourish the need. Live grace. Foster relationships. Encourage ownership. Affirm worth. Celebrate laughter. And supply safety. What you win them with is what you’ll keep them with. Guaranteed.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Children's Ministry Payoff

There are good days and there are bad days in the work of ministry. As I overheard the minister’s wife at the church of my childhood once say, “In the ministry, there are high spots and there are low spots. The high moments make it worth it all.” Today made it worth it all.

A six year old girl came bounding into my junior church classroom this morning. Before I could connect with what she was even saying, she reeled off the memory verse from 1 John 3:1. If you look up the verse, this is no “Jesus wept” short verse. She didn’t even stumble over the word “lavish.” When our youth intern entered the room, she repeated the performance. My second student, a fourth grader, rose to the challenge and, after cocking his head to retrospect, he also repeated the verse flawlessly. It gives me goose bumps to hear children repeat from memory the Word of God!

Both children missed last Sunday’s session. They were remembering the verse from two weeks ago. Moreover, the little girl’s mom told me she had not worked with her daughter on the verse at home; in fact, the only time she heard her practice it was when the child repeated it for a visitor. (I love i! ‘A little child shall lead them.’)

The best was yet to come. The girl’s family has been haphazard in their attendance over the last six months. I’ve noticed the little girl coming more often, however, whether or not big sister comes with her. The mom told me this morning that the girl bounced out of bed, got dressed and said to her, “Come on Mom. Today’s church. We gotta go.”

Music to a children’s ministry worker’s ear!


I’ll be gone all this next week to our church’s teaching/preaching convention, the NACC, in Louisville, Kentucky. I’m excited because I love learning new ideas from other ministry workers and workshops alike. I look forward to sharing more resources with you Inside The Classroom in the coming weeks.