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.