Monday, June 28, 2010

Teaching Children the Power of God

This past week, my daughter stood in Red Square. I mean, the famous Red Square of Moscow, Russia. Red Square, that sits at the foot of the Kremlin palace, former USSR seat of power. Red Square, the scene of May Day military parades that celebrated the rise of the Soviet Revolution in 1917. Red Square - the very words caused a feeling of foreboding in the hearts of American schoolchildren in the 1960's - at least it did in mine.

We were taught to fear the Soviets. Oh, not in so many words. I wasn't privy to hiding under my desk during air raid drills like some children. But I do remember being instructed as to where the nearest air raid shelters were. I remember the once a month testing of the air raid siren system. I remember being given the reason, "Just in case the Russians nuke us." I didn't know what that meant but it was enough to teach me that this was a country to fear, that this country was our enemy and their form of government was not to be trusted.

What a difference a few decades can make. The Communist system is broken. Red Square is no longer the seat of Soviet power. Today, my own child walks the streets of Moscow, studying at one of the city's international universities. If someone had told me when I was ten that my own child would travel to Red Square, I would have found that inconceivable.

I would find that so because what I was taught sounded like such a forever kind of thing. Now I wonder, what if my teachers had believed that someday, Russia would be liberated from the Soviet regime? How then would they have taught us? What would they have told us instead? Would they have painted the evils of the Russian Empire with such a broad brush? Would they have taught us to hope, to love our enemies, to do something that would actually encourage the downfall of an oppressive government system? If the American schoolteacher of the 60's and 70's had taught hope rather than fear, would Communism in the Soviet Block have loosened its vice grip a few years sooner?

We need to teach our children to hope, to persist, to believe that anything is possible, and nothing is forever. We need to teach them that God is more powerful than any evil and no nation is supreme. We need to remind them of Bible verses like Psalm 33:10, "The Lord foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples." We need to teach the stories, like Chuck Colson did in his book, "God and Government" how God has personally intervened in the affairs of government, such as in the downfall of Ceausescu, the dictator of Romania, in 1989. We need to teach them to believe that through the power of God, man can change and be better than he was. We need to teach them not to cower in fear, but to stand tall, willing to face the danger, knowing that, while they may be shot at, they can be a part of influencing wrong to turn into right. We have to believe that someday, their legacy may stand where evil and corruption reigns no more. We need to imagine that someday we - and our children - and our children's children - could stand in the Red Squares of our generation.

It depends on what we teach them.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Time to Leave the Classroom

My eyes brimmed with tears as the elders of my church laid their hands on my daughter in a sending ceremony before she left for Russia. What I dreaded most happened. As the minister’s wife, I didn’t want to cry in front of my husband’s congregation, yet as her mother, my full heart overflowed, leaking between my eyelids.

Yes, I was anxious about her leaving. Recent terrorist attacks in Moscow pushed my faith in God against a wall, interrogating me for days with one question—did I believe in God’s ability to keep her safe or didn’t I? I would miss her terribly. We are a close family, in contact with each other most every day. Yet, as I explained to her in whispered assurances before the commissioning, my potential tears didn’t mean I didn’t want her to leave. It was the expression of every mother, agonizing over the necessity of letting our children go.

She had wanted to be a missionary ever since the age of ten. For years, she had persistantly talked about the desire to travel overseas. As loving supportive parents, we wisely kept our concerns to ourselves of how this shy, thoughtful child could ever manage leaving home. Time and again she surprised us, going on a short term mission trip to inner city St. Louis, showing no fear in bungee jumping at the Cleveland science museum, and adapting with a quiet finesse to the huge Ohio State University campus. She showed an affinity for language by completing four years of Spanish and four years of French in her high school studies. Wanting a challenge, she decided to minor in Russian. When I first went on a mission trip to serve Eastern European church workers, her eyes glowed with interest, absorbing every detail of my trip.

I was deeply moved at the scene before me. It was as if I stood on holy ground before the Lord. My tears were of joy, of humble thanksgiving for what God had done with her life, with my older daughter’s life as well. Graduating with honors, she had moved only the week previously to another city to prepare to enter optometry school, a dream she also had long cherished. The moment had come for which my husband and I had labored for over twenty years. Like a mama eagle, we had nurtured them, taught them the art of flying, stirred the nest and pushed them out. Now we stood as if on a craggy cliff, watching our offspring soar to new heights. I knew in my heart that this summer was only a stepping stone to even greater possibilities that God had in store for them.

In children's ministry we’re in the business of teaching children to fly. We encourage them to look inside the deep recesses of their beings to discover their dreams, to put their small hands in the hand of the Dream-maker, then to have the faith to step away from the nest and fly. With equal faith, we let them go, knowing that if we cling too tightly to their hands, they won’t be as free to catch the hand of God.

In learning to let my children go, I soar to new heights as well. I discover that I am more of a worrier than I thought, and that I am less in control than I hoped. The words of Philippians 4:6,7, “Do not be anxious about anything but by prayer and supplication, let your request be made known to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” seem fresh and meaningful, as if the apostle Paul was looking over the shoulder of every fretful parent.

I hope I wear bare spots in my carpet this summer. I also hope I experience inside the classroom of my prayer closet a deeper appreciation for God’s brand of peace. Like my children, I hope to soar to new heights in my relationship with my God and in my ability to trust Him with every detail of my life. Perhaps then, I will be even better equipped to teach other children how to fly.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Promoting Growth in Your Children's Ministry Program

How do you attract kids to your children’s ministry program and keep them coming back? How do you build the excitement enough that they beg mom and dad to bring them to church week after week? Wouldn’t that be a dream fulfilled, music to every worker’s ears? “Mom, I don’t want to go to T-Ball practice! Puhhh-lease, can I go to youth group tonight instead?” How do you make it happen?

Is it by creating an engaging environment? Sounds exciting but not lasting. And we really don't want our program built on externals, do we? Is there something more?

What about exciting programming with the latest multi-media power points and sound bytes? Sounds appealing but you’ll need to always keep them pumped with the latest and greatest technology to keep up with the competition. Can you afford it?

Riveting dramatic bible stories? We’re getting there but I’m feeling rather exhausted by all the hype.

The best way to attract your kids to Jesus is simple, inexpensive, adaptable to any size program – and biblical . It’s found in Mark 12:30,31 “Love the Lord your God with all your heat and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no greater commandment than these.”

It’s that simple. Love Jesus. Let your students see that you love Jesus.

And love the children. Just love your children.


Show personal interest in each child. Be free with the one-arm hugs. Ask them about their lives, their families, their dogs. Pray for them and let them know you are praying for them. As far as specifics, before each session, ask the Lord, “How can I love my children today? Show me, Lord, who needs your love and how I can show it."

Find ways to help your children’s ministry team love each other. Encourage them to show love toward each other. You can express love by vocally encouraging your fellow workers, letting mishaps and misunderstanding go, praying for each other and caring for each other inside and outside the classroom. You think the kids don't notice when worker relationships are strained. Wrong! They do.

Help the children learn to love each other. Remind them that church is like a second family, that you take care of each other, show interest in each other and stand up for each other. Create opportunities for them to learn how to love each other and love those outside your classroom. Instead of competitive games, plan cooperative games. Plan service projects and mission collections such as gathering spare change for your local Pregnancy Support Center.

In a society that is self focused and self indulgent, our children are longing to be included and accepted. Your genuine compassion and kindness will stand out as different from the way they are treated in the other segments of their lives. The song really is true. “They will know we are Christians by our love.”