Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Praying for your Children's Ministry Class

It's seven o'clock Sunday morning. As I check my stack of supplies for my Children's Ministry class, I succumb to my well worn temptation to second guess myself. Have I prepared adequately? Have I selected age-appropriate activities? Who will attend my class today? Will it be mostly younger children who need extra time to cut and glue? Will it be the group of older boys who need energy siphoning games before they will settle down to hear the Bible message? How will I meet the challenge of children who have not been taught to respectfully listen to the teacher or who don't have the discipline to follow simple directions? In spite of my preparations, am I ready to answer the convoluted questions of a searching sixth grader or alert enough to pick up on the emotional needs of a new child seeking a haven from home, a respite from the ravages of a dysfunctional family?

Unlike a public school teacher who faces the same group of children each day, I can only begin to predict the crazy quilt patchwork pattern my class will assume this week. The activities that might work for one collection of children might be totally off base for another group of kids. I tense, knowing I will need to adjust and fine tune on the fly, making mental readjustments as I mark my attendance book.

Thus is the journey of any small church teacher. Larger churches have the luxury of age specific classes or at least enough children to even out the difference. If you are a teacher of five or less students per week, you have experienced the changing dynamics of the small class. So what do you do? How do you begin to be prepared.

1. Plan: Have several lesson plan scenarios in your head. Two weeks ago, my class consisted of two first graders. Last week, I had one sixth grader. I taught the same lesson, but I skipped the cutsie cutouts about friends and had my sole student read the Scripture about the friendship of Jonathon and David for himself, covering my white board with the biblical principles he discovered about friends.

2. Pray: You don't know who will be in your class - but God does. You don't know what baggage your children will bring or how much sleep they got the night before or which kids heard their parents fight before church or who is struggling with his need to make your faith his own - but God does. Before you get out of bed Sunday morning, admit to God that you need His help. Say, "Lord, I don't know what will happen today, but You do." Ask Him to help you be ready for whatever comes. Ask Him to fill your head with the activities that will best suit your students' needs. Ask Him for divine opportunities to share His love with those who need an extra expression of it that day. Ask Him to help you cope with the unguarded moments, the surprises, the obstacles.

Try it, just try it. Watch what happens. I think you will be amazed.

Let me know! Let the readers of this column rejoice with you that God does indeed have the power and authority to work through His workers to draw the children closer to Him.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Teaching Our Children About Hope

I, along with 1.2 billion people sat transfixed. Each time the small capsule rose out of the narrow hole drilled through hundreds of rocky feet to the dark cavern entrapping thirty-three Chilean miners for 69 days, tears filled my eyes and a smile lined my face. The world watched thirty three miracles rise from what should have been certain, slow, agonizing death. Even after all the kudos for the NASA technology, the hard work ofAmerican engineers, the wisdom and leadership of one Chilean miner and the grit of Sebastian Pinera, the Chilean president who would not give up, the flawless rescue of the miners still seemed incredible.

Why did this story touch our hearts so deeply? Why did so many of us hover close to our televisions with tears in our eyes, cheers on our lips and hope in our hearts? I like what Peter Johnson said on Fox and Friends on October 14th, 2010, "As we agitated, it gave us hope that someone would come for us if we were in the depths."

Let's admit it. Each of us has privately wondered, if I were lost in the mountains, would someone come looking for me? If I lay unconscious on the side of the road, would someone stop or even bother to call 911? If I lost everything through fire or foreclosure, would anyone even care to help me out of my hole?

Our children search for hope as well. They ask, "If I'm failing at school, will someone notice? If I'm constantly falling off the educational ladder entrenched in the shifting sands of public school bureaucracy, will someone be there to catch me? If I'm bullied, molested or fall through the cracks of parental neglect, will someone come to my rescue? If I'm trapped in a dysfunctional family among violent adults who wallow in their own self-imposed tombs of addiction where there seems no way out, will someone pull me through a tunnel of hope to the light of success?"

Peter Johnson said, "Hope brings resolve and resolve brings success." As youth workers, we offer hope, we encourage resolve and we can give a blueprint for success. All it takes is believing that our students can be better than they are and pointing them to the One who is the Miracle Worker, Jesus Christ. "For in Him, we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28)." He is our Hope. Through Him, we and our students can climb out of tombs of despair to changed lives and life beyond.

Thank you, Lord, for using thirty-three miners to remind us that You are worth our hope, that all things are possible through You. Or, as the Chilean miners proclaimed on the t-shirts they wore when they made re-entry, "Gracias, Senor.'

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Problem of Bullying Revisited: Finding Positive Solutions

I find it interesting that in spite of several decades of schools' and colleges' emphasis on tolerance and diversity that the problem of bullying is compounding. Why does bullying continue in spite of supposed zero tolerance policies?

Parents, teachers and children’s ministry workers have the power to stop bullying by not only teaching children that bullying is wrong, but by showing children positive alternatives in how to treat others. Here’s how:

First, teaching respect for others must start in the home. When I hear parents belittle their children in public, I cringe. Don’t those parents realize the lessons they are teaching their children – that they (the children) are worthless and you put down people’s characters when you disagree with their behaviors? Children are great imitators. They will parrot what they are taught. Even secular teachers and administrators agree that bullies are made, not born. Bullies usually have been bullied or mistreated themselves, more likely than not right at home. Hurting people hurt others.

That's a good first step. Other than using this blog to encourage my readers who are parents to respect their children, I can't snap my fingers and make dysfunctional families go away. Only God is in the transformation business and there's gotta be some wanna on the part of individuals who make the choice to continue the dysfunctional cycle within the home. As a teacher and youth worker, what can I do to protect children from hurting each other?

Jesus taught us to love God and love others as ourselves (Mark 12:30,31). As a Sunday School teacher, I’m committed to teaching my students first to love God. Jesus said if we love him, we will obey His commands (John 15:14). Biblical commands include keeping sexual interaction within the marriage relationship as defined by one man and one woman.

I’m also going to teach my students what Jesus meant by loving others as ourselves. That word love is the Greek word, agape, which means looking out for the best interest of others. If I’m looking out for what is best for my neighbor, I’m not going to pick on him, I’m not going to harass him, I’m not going to show disrespect. Instead, I’m going to protect him, hope for the best for him, speak well of him and never give up on him (1 Corinthians 13:7). Each person, no matter who they are, what clothes they wear, what ethnicity they embrace, or what lifestyle they have chosen is important to God - important enough that His Son, Jesus Christ, gave up His life to save them and offer each individual the hope of heaven.

Whether a parent, public school teacher or children’s ministry worker, we all need to be concerned about the epidemic of bullying within our public schools. We need to remember, as C.S. Lewis once pointed out, that the person standing next to us is the closest we will get to God himself, for each human being bears the image of God. Each of us can help the children in our lives learn to be respectful and considerate of the person next to them, to truly love them as God loves – no matter who they are or what they believe.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Problem of Bullying Revisited

Recently Fox News printed an article about anti-gay bullying and national public school efforts to confront this increasing phenomenon. “Gay rights supports insist that any effective anti-bullying program must include specific componants addressing harassment of gay youth,” the article says.

This concerns me on three fronts.

First, anyone who dares to voice their personal opinion against homosexuality could be so easily labeled as a bully. Today I learned that the law considers bullying a felony. Drawn to its logical conclusion, a Christian or anyone who disagrees with the homosexual agenda could be hauled into court and shackled for life with a felonious charge. Just for believing that homosexuality is a sin or destructive behavior could keep an otherwise outstanding young person from getting federal loans, getting a job or buying a car. This would be a direct violation of our freedom of speech and freedom of religion rights as stated in the Bill of Rights. Even now, high school and college students have to keep their mouths tightly closed about their opinions or find something however obscure that they can agree upon about the homosexual agenda so they won’t be labeled as intolerant.

Also, bullying works both ways. What about gays or those who support the homosexual agenda who bully those who hold other opinions? Will teachers turn their heads when young people attack those who are “straight?” You think I’m being extreme? Even thirty years ago, this was occurring on a different issue. A substitute teacher once decided to lay aside the teacher’s lesson plans and involved his class in a values clarification exercise. He drew a line on the floor and asked students to stand on the line based on their opinion about abortion. Most students chose the middle and a few leaned toward the pro-abortion side. No comment was made by teacher or student. When the teacher called on me, I strode to the far right side, for I believed then as I do now that abortion is wrong in any circumstances unless in the case of an obvious tubal pregnancy. Don’t get sidetracked – that is just my opinion. The class, joined by the teacher, erupted in jeers. That should have never happened - no matter what I believed. Will school administrations be willing to protect students from this kind of harassment over the homosexual issue?

Finally, I fear the anti-gay bullying movement will focus more on the issue and less on the behavior. I readily agree that bullying is a growing problem in our schools. As stated above, bullying in any form is wrong, wrong, wrong. Our kids don’t know and are not being taught at home how to be nice and respectful of each other. If kids truly are being unkind and jeering over a student’s sexual orientation, I agree. The school administration should have a no-tolerance stance. Other kids should stand up for the victim, letting their peers know that such disrespect of any human’s appearance, beliefs, or lifestyle choices is unacceptable. If school administrator’s focused on the behavior of bullying in general instead of on the cause, articles targeting specific groups would not even need to be written.

Let’s not lose sight of the main focus. Disrespect is the core issue, not values and opinions.

How parents and teachers can find positive solutions to the problem of bullying will be the focus of my next blog.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Qualifications for a Children's Ministry Worker: What Does It Take To Be A Teacher?

Did you know that . . . .

A duck's quack doesn't echo?

Butterflies taste with their feet?

In ten minutes, a hurricane releases more energy than all the world's nuclear weapons combined?

On average, 100 people choke to death on ball-point pens every year?

On average, people fear spiders more than they do death?

Ninety percent of all New York City cabbies are recently arrived immigrants?

Elephants are the only animals that don't jump?

Only one person in two billion will live to be 116 or older?

A snail can sleep for three years?

The Main Library at Indiana University sinks one inch every year because, when it was built, engineers failed to take into account the weight of the books that would occupy the building?

And finally,

The electric chair was invented by a dentist?

How many of these did you know? Not many? Oh my! Maybe you shouldn't be a teacher of children if you didn't know some of these important facts.

I'm being highly facetious. Yet so many people, when approached about teaching in children's ministry, make the excuse that they don't know enough. The above quiz should prove that we will never know everything. It isn't how much we know that is important in teaching; it's how much we are willing to learn alongside our students.

As part of my degree program for my first college degree in Home Economics Extension Education, I served a six-week internship in a Cooperative Extension Service Office. One of my jobs was to answer phone questions about food, nutrition, and other home issues. One day, I put the phone on mute, panicked that I didn't know the answer. My supervisor told me these important words: "You don't have to know all the answers; you just have to know where to find the answers."

Yes, you may see others around you who know more than you, who have more experience with children, who seem more gifted in teaching. Yet ability and experience are not the only qualifications in becoming a children's ministry worker; in fact, those job qualifications are far down on God's list. God cares not so much about our ability but about our availability. He looks at the inner heart (1 Samuel 16:7.) He looks at our passion and our relationship with Jesus.

After all, Peter was an uneducated fisherman, yet Jesus chose him to become a key leader in the church.

Teach what you know and be willing to learn what you don't know. Remember, the Holy Spirit is there to be your guide and give you the words you need. Just like God told Moses, "Now therefore go and I will be with thy mouth and teach thee what thou shalt say (Exodus 4:12)."