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.