Monday, August 23, 2010

Bible Lesson Application

A professor in seminary once described the book of John as a book a child could wade in the shallow end of its simplicity yet a book that theologians could spend a lifetime exploring its depths. As I teach the children that enter my classroom, I discover that so much of biblical truth is just that - simple enough that I can explain its truths to my class yet deep enough that I will mull over the application for days after my lesson.

Yesterday, in junior church, we talked about goodness, one of the fruits of the Spirit. "Good" is such a simple word. Kids know what's good and what's bad, yet still struggle with God's meaning of the word "good." So often I've heard kids tell me the way to obey God is to "be good." One boy I was trying to win to the Lord told me he couldn't accept Jesus' salvation because he wasn't "good enough."

As I pondered my lesson, I had to ask myself if I understood the concept of goodness. Goodness is more than obeying a long list of "don'ts." According to the Greek meaning, goodness is going beyond a duty bound obedience to the rules. Goodness strives for excellence. Goodness seeks to benefit others. Goodness works at making the world a better place, at influencing others to be their best.

Our lesson looked at how Saul showed goodness before Samuel anointed him as king (1 Samuel 9, 10). He obeyed his father without question. He didn't give up the search for the missing donkeys easily. He stopped to think about the concerns of his father. He didn't take advantage of the good graces of the prophet Samuel; instead, he wanted to give Samuel a gift before asking him for a special favor. Most importantly, he was humble in his acceptance of the kingship of Israel.

Recently, as expressed in this blog, I've been feeling unproductive and at loose ends. I just turned 50, I'm moving my two daughters into their own apartment in three weeks, and I've seen my church's children's ministry fizzle. "What do you want me to do with the rest of my life?" I've cried to the Lord. I thought he would answer me with a roomful of children the next Sunday or a book contract - it didn't even have to be lucrative - just a book contract would do.

Instead, through this lesson, I'm reminded of Paul's admonition to women my age. God wants me to be known for my good deeds. I've raised my children; now it's time to "show hospitality, wash the feet of the saints, help those in trouble and devote [myself] to all kinds of good deeds (1 Timothy 5:10)."

As this verse indicates, doing good is more than just providing a meal to a sick widow. I must remember that goodness is doing what will benefit others. Showing goodness might mean playing ping pong with my eleven year old student while listening to him tell me how he is fighting less with his sister. It might mean refusing to point out to my husband that he is being extra irritable. Would it benefit him or me if I mentioned it? If goodness is going beyond what is my duty, it will mean that when I go with my husband to visit a sick church member in the hospital, I will take an active part in the visit, showing compassion for the heartaches of her past and participating in a loving expression of prayer for her healing.

The fruit of the Spirit result from a joint effort between God and me. I need to work on these character traits but He is the one who enables me to grow them into my life. He gives me opportunities to show them. He uses my efforts for His glory. So, with that in mind, my prayer this week is that the Lord will give me opportunity to do good to others. I think I had better ask Him to open my eyes to what good things I can do! When I see His hand guiding me, I can't take sole credit for my acts of goodness, for I know it is through His guidance that I am able to do good to others.

I think I'm out of breath! All that from a simple Sunday School lesson that I taught to three students! As always Inside the Classroom, the teacher is most likely learning more that students.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Disabled Children in the Church

Recently I heard the following story: A family with two children started attending a church close to their home. The son was deaf, partially blind and had a rare blood disease. Even though the boy was very sick, he was also energetic, creative (read into that what you will!) and fun loving. While they were the only family attending with small children, they thought they were loved and accepted by the other church members. Then one day, a representative of the church came to them and asked them to find another church. "We'll help you out financially any way you need it," the church told the family, "But because your son is so noisy and disruptive, we would appreciate it if you went somewhere else.'

"What's the rest of the story?" my husband asked when I shared this with him.

That IS the story.

Granted, some children are disruptive. Whether physical handicaps, emotional trauma, socio-economic restrictions or more energy than a roadrunner on steroids, some children face tremendous odds that will challenge the comfort levels of a small church, Is motioning the family toward the door an option?

Not according to Jesus! In Mark 10:14, Jesus told his disciples, "Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these." He goes on to tell his disciples that anyone who will not receive the Kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.

Jesus gives two good reasons for children in the church. Children need the Kingdom of God. How else will they receive the Kingdom if not through the vehicle God has provided called the Church?. Second, the Church needs children. We need children to teach us how to receive the Kingdom. How will we understand what Jesus meant unless we surround ourselves with children and observe what it is about them that makes them so special to Jesus?

"You don't understand," pew-sitters might moan. "They are SO disruptive. Our little church just can't handle them. You want us to change we do worship just to accommodate them?" A church overwhelmed with a special needs child might stop to think of what it must be like for the parents who deal with the child day in and day out. Are we saying they need to trust the Lord for daily strength and courage to cope with their child's needs when a congregation isn't willing to put up with it for one hour a week?

Think instead of the tremendous blessing a small congregation can be in lifting up a family, encouraging them, carrying part of the load, as Galatians 6;2 tells us to do. Think of other fringe and community people who are watching how the church interacts with someone who is different, watching to see if the church is as loving and accepting as they say they are. If the church enfolded that child and his family to themselves, think of the message of love that would shout to the community.

It can be done as another congregation proved. One Sunday, a pastor noticed a new family in the congregation, a father and two sons. The next Sunday, the mother showed up with the two boys. This pattern alternated for several weeks. One Sunday the pastor asked why they didn't all come together as a family. The parent explained that they had an autistic son at home who hated crowds and was scared of the loud music from the organ.

The pastor said, "Bring him anyway. We'll do what we can to make him comfortable." The family sat in the balcony and left church a few minutes before dismissal. And wouldn't you know it? For some strange reason, the organ didn't work for several Sundays in spite of being tested and working okay mid-week! Soon, the autistic child was taking piano lessons from, guess who? The organist! Last time the resource for this story heard, the boy was starting to play the organ.

If your church is small, children will demand change. A church might have to let loose of some of their sacred cows for the sake of a child. It's worth the sacrifice, for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these. A child's faith is more rich when it is shaped by adults. If we are going to shape the faith of children in our communities, we need to be willing to give up our time schedules, get down on our creaky, arthritic knees to their level, touch their grimy hands and love them to Jesus.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

What I Learned In Sunday School Today: Building Attendance in Your Children' s Ministry

I had two students in my Junior Church class today. One was a regular attender, a very active, bright young man nearing eleven years old. The other was a middle aged woman with a middle age spread and middle aged gray hair peeking through the deceptive blond tresses - in other words, me.

My teaching partner and I decided to coast awhile before starting our next round of curriculum so that kids can get vacations and summer fun out of the way before school begins. When kids are settling into a routine, we'll start our new curriculum, "Growth Signs," a study of the Fruit of the Spirit, published by the Salvation Army (Click on Other Products on the right side of the webpage).

Meanwhile, I decided to piggy back on the lessons learned from VBS where we used Gospel Light's Son Quest Rainforest material. With my eleven year old student, I could go deeper into the meaning behind one of the parables. My in-depth approach showed me I had some math catch-up to do..

The seed the sower spread fell on four different types of soil. Three out of the four soils showed immediate results but only one out of the four demonstrated any long term effect. According to Jesus' explanation of the parable, as Christian teachers who sow the seed of God's word in the hearts of the children we teach, we're going to have only a twenty-five percent return on our investment. That is both discouraging and reassuring. Discouraging because, as I look at the students who come, I realize that only one in four will carry the Gospel message forward. Reassuring, because if I have a low return, I am not alone. Jesus warned his followers that not everyone will listen to us. In fact, only a third of those will actually replicate themselves. Only one in seven students will turn around and lead someone else to Christ.

My math was wrong. Think of a cantaloupe. One cantaloupe seed - if everything goes well, might produce three or four cantaloupe. It might produce only one cantaloupe. But think of what is inside that one cantaloupe. Seeds!! Lots of seeds. Maybe thirty seeds, maybe sixty, maybe one hundred seeds. And if that one seed produces more than one cantaloupe, there are seeds in each of those cantaloupes too.

If I lead one child to Christ who becomes an active, solid, faithful Christian who dedicates his or her life to winning others to Jesus, through that one child, more people will come to know the Lord than if all the children in my class became Christians but didn't pass on the message. My results aren't 25%! They are thirty-fold, sixty-fold, one hundred-fold. That means 3000%, 6000% or 10,0000%. No wonder Paul said that God is the one responsible for the growth of the seed (1 Corinthians 3:6). Think of it this way. If I have a class of twelve students and three of the twelve become strong Christians (one in four), then one of the three brings 30 people to Christ, another brings 60 to Christ and another brings 100, that means my teaching has produced not twelve Christians but 193 Christians!

Are you following me? We may never see the results of our teaching, not until the judgment at the end of time when God reveals the ripple effect of our commitment, of how many people have come to saving faith in Christ through our influence.

So how will that impact our teaching to children?

First, we won't get discouraged with that one faithful child. Instead of giving up and letting the child sit in Big Church or play in the nursery, we'll pour our heart and soul into that one child because this one child who has faithfully come to church could be The One who will ultimately lead 30, 60 or 100 others to Christ.

Second, we won't aim for numbers. We will especially avoid the temptation to water down or sugar coat our teaching just so that we can increase our attendance. We'll be willing to go deep, to teach the solid truths of Scripture, to be lovingly confrontational if that's what we need to do, knowing from the Scripture, that there will be some initial falling away as people shy away from persecution or are lured by the world's distractions. After all, Jesus' attendance figures went way down in John 6:66. But a few faithful men stayed to listen and ended up turning the world upside down for the Kingdom (John 6:68).

Third, we will look for the fertile soil. We won't waste our time trying to lure those who aren't interested. We'll put our energy into teaching those who will listen. This is tough for small churches. We so want to beg and plead backsliders to please come back. The message I get from Scripture is let them go, don't take it personally, move on to someone else.

Finally, instead of sweating over measurements of success, we'll pray, then leave the results up to God. We'll keep being faithful, no matter what, because we know we will never know the full extent of our influence.

Keep planting seeds. Don't dawdle, watching and waiting for growth. Instead, keep planting. Move on and keep planting the Word of God in the fertile hearts of the children God gives you.