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.