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.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Continuing Education: Learning Never Ends

Rick Cromey, author of Energizing Children’s Ministry in the Smaller Church, said on his Facebook status this week, “A person never becomes more ignorant than the moment they believe they know it all. Learning is fueled by driving doubt and wild eyed wonder.”

Over the last few weeks I have struggled to achieve the goal of publishing a book. One agent turned me down with the gentle reminder, “The publishing world belongs to those who are persistent, who grow their craft, and who do the extraordinarily hard work of getting established in the business.” His phrase, “grow their craft” especially caught my eye. If I want to become a published writer, even after I become a published author, I still need to keep learning. I will never fully “arrive.”

I’ve also struggled over the last few weeks over the need to be productive. Shouldn’t my writing, my music, my teaching always be for someone else’s benefit? Isn’t it selfish to study only for myself, to play the piano only for myself, to write computer screens of ideas and ruminations only for myself? The thought came to my mind, You cannot share what you do not have. The practicing, the writing, the music for the Audience of two – me and my Lord – is part of the learning process.

As teachers, we’ve never arrived at the gates of “know-it-all” land. In order to be effective teachers, we need to have the humility to admit that we are still learning ourselves. In fact, our students will be most inspired when they see us continuing to learn and grow ourselves.

Perhaps that is why our children’s Sunday School rooms are so empty. Parents may feel they don’t need Sunday School any more, that it’s just for kids. They’ve become too busy to take time to keep being learners of God’s Word. I strongly believe that if parents made the commitment to learning from God’s Word each Sunday, our children’s classrooms would be full to overflowing. If we can get the adults to commit, the children will be there. Parents send a powerful message to their children when they say, “We’re making Sunday School and church a priority in our family because I need to learn about Jesus.”

So how do you grow your church adult education program? Check out last week’s
Building Church Leaders’ website for ideas on enhancing your church’s adult education program. Keep building your children’s program – but don’t forget to have compelling classes for the adults. If the adults come, the kids will be there.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Children's Ministry Outreach

It’s the classic small church dilemma. Kids won’t come to your church if you don’t have an organized and exciting program, but you cant’ have an organized, exciting program without kids/

As a friend and I bemoaned the lack of children in our mutual congregations, she told me the district superintendent of her Methodist area reassured the congregation, “It’s not you. It’s everywhere.” Children’s ministry programs in churches across our country are facing the challenge of puny attendance . Yet, I believe to the bottom of my toes that children’s ministry is important, that it’s the church’s responsibility to ground the youngest generation in the principles and content of the Bible. So what is a church to do?

A church has several options:

1. Shame the kids into coming. This is the old works mentality that so many young people resisted in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s. Churches made you feel guilty if you weren’t there every time the doors were open. We were actively taught that church attendance was more important than ball games, vacations or anything else. I still remember being chewed out by a church elder because I went on a rescheduled March of Dimes Walk-a-thon on a Sunday morning instead of going to church. I made it for Sunday School but I should have been there for church too.

We recoil at this approach, but now that I’m on the other side of the generation gap, I can appreciate my elder’s frustration. How do we get our kidsand their parentsto choose God above the activities of our culture? I look back and realize that kids in my generation were far better grounded in our knowledge of Bible content and our memorization of Scripture. I know my Bible as well as I do because I was there practically every Sunday. Is there a softer approach instead of the wagging finger?

2. Make it fun. This is the other extreme of the shame game. Many children’s ministry workers believe we need to compete with our media driven society in order to make children’s ministry attractive. Otherwise, we will appear boring and lost in the 20th century. So we provide fast paced DVD programs, environment driven VBS programs, sensational outings, exciting games, bible related snacks and not-too-heavy content.

As a curriculum writer, I love the games and activities. I know that not every child learns through print media. So many kids struggle with reading skills that expecting them to read from the Bible becomes a futile activity. Yet I see something happening I’ve mentioned in this blog before. So much of the available curriculum is watered down in favor of the fun approach. The material I’m currently using does little to teach bible content and the application is shallow at best. How am I going to teach my kids character skills and heart changes? We need to go beyond “Jesus loves you.” We need to teach kids to love Jesus in return and what it means to love Jesus. We need to help them hide the word of God in their hearts while their brains are supple and can easily retain information.

Yet how many youth workers have you heard complain that they only seem to get a big crowd when there is food or fun? We’ve created our own monster. Then, we experience what happened to our youth intern last Sunday. She spent hours putting together a cool outdoor activity. Only three kids came; and two of those left after an hour to go to a graduation party of someone the kids hardly knew. So . . . .

3. If they won’t come to you, go to them. This is the approach the Salvation Army has taken in their Sonday’sCool program. Instead of using the traditional Sunday School model, they provide programs in people’s homes, after school outreach in day care centers and supper clubs to tired families with working parents. Remember the old Backyard Bible Clubs? Why not go to a playground with a card table and sack of supplies under your arm and set up an instant children’s ministry hour? Okay, I know there’s all kinds of fear and trepidation. Should you ask the parents’ permission? Will people think you are a predator trying to entice the children? Don’t dismiss this idea just because of the drawbacks. Work through them and find solutions. Remember, our goal is to teach children about Jesus, not have a consistent number on our attendance board at the church building.

If you have a lot of children busy with other activities, go to those activities. Attend their softball games. Go to their school plays. Pray before you go and ask God to give you divine opportunities to slip in words about Him. Moreover . . .

4. Go where God is leading you and do what you can with what you have. This is a principle I’ve learned from Henry Blackaby’s book, Experiencing God. We need to see where God is working and move in that direction. Yes, I think our church needs a thriving children’s ministry. Yes, I’m doing all I can to make it happen. But it’s not growing. So, each day I ask the Lord to direct me where He wants me to go, even if it doesn’t make sense to me, then I do what He calls me to do. Right now, God has called me to organize meals for a medically needy family once a week. I have no clue what heavenly value this obedience will have. But there are two teenagers in the house and only God knows the impact our church’s weekly meals will have on the memories of those two young people. Also . . .

5. Reach the parents. If the parents are convinced that church is where they need to be, the kids will be there. This is is the long term approach that might take years. You need to start by building friendships, being there for the parents when they have crises, holding bible studies or supper clubs in your home, taking time to talk over the fence, letting your light shine for Jesus and living in such a godly way that parents will want what you have. When they come, their children will come too. Finally . . .

5. Pray. Some of us plant, others water, but only God brings the growth. Ask the Lord of the harvest to send workers into the harvest fields. Ask the Lord to bring children into your life that you can influence for Him. And ask Him to give you courage to step in the direction He invites you to take no matter how uncomfortable or strange that direction might feel.

May the Lord add the little ones to His Kingdom!

Thursday, June 04, 2009

One Nation Under God

Have you received one of those emails that quote 2 Chronicles 7:14 at the top of the post? I don’t have one in front of me because, after reading it the first time, I quickly deleted any duplicate copies. Besides, these emails distress me. The originator of the email meant well and is on the right path. Citizens of the United States do need to pray for our nation. Yet using this Scripture as a proof text for praying for our nation’s success is misleading and short-sighted, I believe. Here’s why:

Posts like the current one that is circulating insinuate that the United States of America is a privileged, blessed people. “If my people who are called by my name” refers to the Old Testament nation of Israel. Today, it refers to Christians, no matter what nationality. I remember the beautiful feeling I had when I sat in a circle in Vienna Austria with believers from all over the world. The comment was made that we were not citizens of the United States, Bulgaria, Poland and so forth. We were citizens of one kingdom, the Kingdom of God and thus, equal in the sight of God. 2 Chronicles 7:14 is addressed to God-believers no matter what nation, no matter what foundation of faith their nation has been built upon. The United States of America does not have the corner market on faith in Jesus Christ, nor does God view us as any better than believers in any other country.

These posts also emphasize one part and maybe two of God’s conditions. We jump to the phrase “pray.” We take a passing glance at the phrase “humble themselves” since praying does take a certain amount of humility. Asking God for His help and blessing admits that I cannot do it on my own, that I need God to succeed. That is a good thing. Prayer and humility go hand in hand.

Yet, we stop there. We ignore the next two phrases, “seek My Face” and “turn from their wicked ways.” “Seek My face” means more than just “getting to know you” as Debra Carr sings in “The King and I.” The phrase, “seek My face” biblically means to earnestly look for ways to please God. This definition is confirmed by the next phrase in 2 Chronicles 7:14, “turn from their wicked ways.”

Our nation will not be blessed by God until we individually and corporately seek the face of God and turn from our wicked ways. I’m not even going to get into finger pointing and discussing how our government and culture has strayed far from the ways of God. I’m concerned about individual Christians. Remember who “my people” are! Too many American Christians are like the Israelites in the prophet Elijah’s time. We’ve got one foot on God’s side and the other foot kneeling toward the Baals of our culture. We need to make a choice. Who will we serve, wholeheartedly, unswervingly? We need to ask God to search our hearts to see if there is any wicked way in us and seek His guidance toward the way everlasting (Psalm 139:23,24).

If we do this, our culture will change. If we are willing to stand up for our faith, in all facets of our lives, the world will sit up and take notice. At first, we may suffer the slings and arrows of an outraged media. But soon, if we live consistently, we will begin to have impact on our culture and corporately, our nation will turn and start the uphill climb back toward God. I truly believe that many Christians are ridiculed because they say one thing about Jesus and do another.

The change will start with our children They’ll learn from our example of what is important to us. They’ll learn to make wise choices, to seek God, to turn away from wickedness. They’ll put God first above ball games, relationships, Nintendo, and addictions because they see Mom, Dad and Teacher living what they believe.

“Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord (Psalm 33:12)” is printed on a t-shirt I recently bought. Let each one of us do our part to show our children and the rest of our culture that God comes first in our lives – above all else. Then our nation will be blessed.