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Archive for the ‘Awana’ Category

Yes, the following is an extreme example of what may be the future for Christians in the United States. Will it ever be this bad in the United States? Only the Lord knows for sure, but Revelation doesn’t paint a pretty picture anywhere in the world. A growing number of pastors seem to believe we’ll end up here. I’m no prophet, but I’d rather those appointed to my care are ready for such a situation and it not happen than the reserve.

I want you to travel with me in your mind’s eye to a time in the possibly near future. We are merely outside observers, much like Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. Before us are a small group of men and women. They look familiar, like we’ve seen them before. The marks of torture and imprisonment are upon them. We can hear the volume of the harsh words of their captors even before we see the strikes and physical beatings that this group of people are enduring.

Tuning in, we focus on the words. “Deny your Christ and this will all be over!” “Reject Jesus and you will be freed!” “Hold on to your fairy tale faith and you will die here!” These and far fouler words are shouted by the captors at this group of men and women. We now know these are Christians suffering persecution for their faith. The fact that we understand their words tells us that this isn’t happening in some far off country, but possibly right here in the United States of America. Thinking about it, and how things have changed over the last 50 or so years, it looks like the words preached from many a pulpit have been proven true. Persecution of Christians is now a reality.

Then we get a glimpse of one of the young men. His words strike us through the heart, “I will never reject my Savior!” It is the “I will never,” that catches our collective attention. We now know who he is. He is the troublemaker from our children’s ministry. The one we are always fighting with. The one who never sits still. The one who caused us headaches when he hit another kid. When he was asked to apologize he instead shouted, “I will never say I am sorry!”

As we look over each face, we start to recognize these are the boys and girls we work with, only they are grown up now. These are the ones we wonder about: are we making a difference in their lives? Are they getting it? Is our teaching sinking in? Now we see that it is. It just takes time. But in that time they will go from children unaware of what Scripture says to grown men and women unashamed of their faith.

Granted, this scene is just one possibility of the future. However, this is why we work in children’s and youth ministry: to raise up boys and girls to be men and women unashamed of their Savior and willing to stand for Him, whatever the cost. We may not see the results in our lifetime, but we will surely know them in Heaven. Every time you feel overwhelmed or underappreciated, remember this vision. We are called to a noble task in the holiest of endeavors. It could very well be this future we are preparing these boys and girls for. Yes, ministry to children and youth is hard. But the future they face may very well be harder. We are the ones who get the privilege of preparing them for it.

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My oldest son is 13 years-old and I know I don’t tell him enough how proud of him I am. He does a lot of great things and he’s a great kid. Like most parents, I probably harp on him too much for what he’s not doing right as opposed to taking more time to tell him when he’s doing well. That’s something I’m working on because if I don’t improve the balance, he could end up thinking that he’s never going to please me, when the truth of the matter is he does most of the time.

This morning I had just such a chance to tell him I was proud of him. Last night we wrapped up our Awana awards ceremony and like every year, my son finished his book. But this year was different and I wanted him to know that. This was my son’s first year in Trek and when you complete your first book in Trek you receive the Milestone Award. This is his fifth book between Truth & Training and Trek. So him completing the book is nothing new. What is new is how he did it.

At the beginning of the Awana year, we talked about our expectations. My kids know the expectations are high: complete your book and all the extra credit. The reason our expectations are high is because they’ve performed at this standard every year. So my oldest son knew what was expected of him. This was nothing new. But what was new was he figured out what it would take to get everything done, all on his own, and he took care of it, all on his own. There were no parental reminders to stay on target, there was no need to talk to him about falling behind and putting together a plan to catch up. None of that was needed because he put his plan together and he executed it, completing everything there was to finish in his book.

Keep in mind, this wasn’t without a couple of hiccups. We missed a couple of weeks due to illness, vacation, and going to visit Nanny that weren’t included in his original plan. That meant he knew there were several weeks that he would fall behind due to no fault of his own. No problem, he just prepared to catch up the following week and he always did. And he did it all on his own. Now if he needed help completing a section or needed some advice, we helped him. But all of those requests were initiated by my son. He would look over his material, determine he needed help, and then make it a point to ask for it in a timely manner.

So this morning I took the time to put my hand on his shoulder, and tell him how proud of him I was. I listed the specifics and why they impressed me (like adjusting his schedule to handle the unexpected misses). I told him I understood how hard he worked to stay on top of things and how I couldn’t remember a single time when his mother or I had to get on him about his work. I told him what I had seen over this past Awana year: he understood what needed to be done, put a plan together, executed on that plan, adjusted the plan as he needed to, and completed everything.  It was good to see him smiling as it finally sunk in how much he had accomplished on his own. I don’t think until I told him quite plainly what he had done that he realized it himself. I’m really proud of my boy.

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Shepherd Study: Psalm 23

Awana Commander College is a great 2.5 days of training. However, it’s not over when the weekend is over. There is also homework, like the Like a Shepherd study that’s in the participant workbook. The first week study is on Psalm 23. The idea is to look at the verses and see how the role of a shepherd is described. Here is Psalm 23 (English Standard Version) with my thoughts in-line:

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

The Great Shepherd provides for my needs. As a shepherd, I must provide for the needs of my flock. That means I must know the needs of my flock. For Awana, this only can happen with me taking the time to get the know the children and youth in my club. I cannot stand back and delegate as Awana commander (I never have, as working with the children and youth is an enormous joy and blessing, but it’s a good reminder).

He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.

This goes with meeting the needs. Thinking about the region of the Negev where David hid out. That area is a desert. Finding green pastures and abundant water would have been challenging. The same is true of the Judean Desert. Some parts of Israel were lush and fertile, but much of it was not. Sometimes the needs of my clubbers will be difficult to meet. However, this doesn’t remove my obligation to meet them. As a shepherd, it means relying more on faith and not giving up to get the job done.

He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.

Now does a shepherd tend the sheep for the sake of the sheep? Think about that for a second. No. We typically use sheep today for wool and meat. But you still have to take care of the sheep. You still have to make sure they’re healthy and in good shape. A shepherd does this for the flock. In my case, I must remember that my duty as a shepherd isn’t to prepare them for me, but for the one who owns them. That would be God. But I must tend to them well, to ensure He is satisfied with the results. As an Awana commander I must remember that I ultimately serve in this ministry at the call of God and for the glory of God. As such, I must interact with my clubbers in a way that does bring Him glory. I must seek to prepare my children and youth to know Him and to love Him. That fits with the prayer of Awana: “That all children and youth throughout the world will come to know, love and serve the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

As a shepherd, I’m the protector of my sheep. I’m to watch over them. I’m to guard them. It doesn’t matter what I’m up against. David fought the lion and the bear as a boy. If he can do that, what is too big for me to face, especially knowing that my Lord is right there with me? But it’s not just about protection. It’s also about comfort and a sense of safety. As a shepherd, part of my responsibility is to help my sheep feel safe. This is most conducive for the lessons we are trying to teach them through this ministry.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.

I never looked at this verse in depth until I read A Table in the Presence by Chaplain Carey Cash. He describes this as a table literally surrounded by enemies. My clubbers need to see Awana as a safe haven from the world around us. Though enemies may be present even just outside the doors of the church, once they come into Awana, they are safe. That’s the environment we need to foster and it’s a reinforcement of the previous verse.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
forever.

Why will goodness and mercy follow the sheep? Is it because of the sheep? No, it is because of the shepherd. So as a shepherd, my responsibility is to put the children and youth in a situation where they experience goodness and mercy. That last one is key. It’s hard to show mercy to a kid perceived as a troublemaker. But if they don’t receive mercy from us, can we expect them to receive it anywhere else? We were troublemakers, too, enemies of God (Romans 5:8), and through His love He still died on the Cross for us.

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For those who don’t know George Barna, he’s a Christian researcher that studies trends in the church. I’m sitting in Awana Commander College and they are quoting his statistics heavily, statistics you’ll find in Barna’s books like Transforming Children into Spiritual Champions. These statistics basically say we get ’em while they are kids or we likely don’t get them. Barna makes comments that make sense. Comments like children’s ministry is the most strategic ministry of a church. Absolutely, because strategic = long term. It determines a lot of your tactical decisions. But while it is the most strategic ministry in a church (this is a given… children have more years to live, as a group, than any other group in the church), it isn’t the only strategic ministry of the church.

Also, tactics trump strategy. One of the things you learn in the game of chess is that while strategy is important, tactics can completely derail strategy. For instance, I may have a plan to go after your King. But if you’re threatening to take my Queen with a nice tactic, I had better deal with it right now or my strategy fails. Likewise, if a child gets no spiritual support at home, that’s a huge tactical issue. Barna has basically said in his books, because of these numbers, that we need to be pouring the bulk of our effort into children’s ministry. I disagree.

Unfortunately, I don’t have scientific studies which back up while I feel Barna is wrong. I wish I did. I have empirical evidence. For instance, my conversion happened at age 20. I know several others who gave their lives to Christ as adults. I know we’re in the minority. But you can’t derive scientific results from scattered empirical evidence. So why do I so strongly disagree? Because I’ve read Scripture. I look at who Jesus ministered to. I also look at who His followers ministered to. They worked mainly with adults. There are a couple of cases where Jesus dealt with children. But mostly the children were reached through their parents.

I’m an Awana commander, which is a ministry program for children and youth. I’m also a junior high youth pastor. And I’ve served previously as a children’s minister. The bulk of my ministry work (almost 15 years now) has been in children’s and youth ministry. And let me tell you, Barna’s numbers are convincing. But they don’t match up with the example and the results we see in Scripture. So why not?

Let me ask a few pointed questions. How well are we doing ministry compared to early Church times? How similar, how close, are we? What about our attitudes? What about our priorities? Here are some of the things where we are different:

  • They relied more on faith for provision and effect – Matthew 10:8-14
  • They were more willing to suffer for their faith – Acts 4:13-21
  • They were selfless towards each other – Acts 4:32-36
  • They were willing to answer His call even in the midst of inconvenience – Acts 8:26-40
  • They were more knowledgeable about the Gospel, even though they weren’t seminarians – Acts 4:13
  • They ensured nothing came between them and the preaching of the Word of God – Acts 6:4
  • They ensured nothing came between them and their prayer life – Acts 6:4
  • They shared their testimonies about their experiences, especially their persecution – Acts 4:23-26

Children’s ministry is important. Youth ministry is important. ALL ministry is important. But no ministry should be arbitrarily selected over another. Some churches will be called to minister more to children. Some will be called to minister more to adults. Where a church should focus its efforts should be by the leading of the Holy Spirit, not based on a study, no matter how compelling. Especially when the results being evaluated are probably more a testament to how we’re not doing what the early Church did than it is the reachability of particular age groups.

By the way, the argument works in reverse, too. Maybe a church is primarily young adults. Just because a church is composed primarily of an age group does not mean that’s where the bulk of the ministry should be put. To conclude that cuts out the Holy Spirit. It says, “We know more than you, God.” Perhaps that young adult church is called to minister primarily in nursing homes and assisted living centers. If they look at the fact they are primarily young adults, they will miss their calling. And that will be ineffective, too. This only makes sense. It has to be God’s way. Everything else, by rule, will be ineffective.

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I was surprised to learn today from a Christian brother that an Awana missionary recommended against the youth group programs that Awana has to offer. There’s basically a transition for Awana from elementary school to secondary school (middle school/junior high and senior high) and with that transition there’s a new name to the overall program: 24-7 Ministries. The name comes from the principle that we live the Christian life 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Within the 24-7 Ministries umbrella, there are two curricula:

  • Trek – Middle School / Junior High School
  • Journey – Senior High School

I’ll speak more to Trek because in addition to being an Awana commander, I’m also the Trek Director. Trek is built around three foundational concepts with respect to the ministry and how the students respond:

  • Come See – Students come and see what Trek is about. There should be scheduled Trek meetings which serve to invite youth in to see if they want to be a part of the group. Pizza parties, game nights, etc.
  • Come Follow – Students who decide to stick around start to learn how to apply the Bible to life. They are becoming followers of Jesus Christ. Trek has a curriculum that include Bible memorization, spiritual exercises, and Bible study.
  • Come Serve – God expects us to serve (He has prepared our work beforehand – Ephesians 2:10). Trekkers should be engaged in ministry opportunities around the church and community. For instance, one of the areas my church’s Trekkers are responsible for is the puppet skits for the Cubbies, which kick off their lessons each week.

The Journey program takes application of the Bible to a deeper level. Also, the study of Biblical doctrine is more pronounced, which is expected as senior high should be better prepared to deal with those types of questions and topics. Both Trek and Journey, used properly, are excellent curricula for youth ministry.

If that wasn’t good enough, if a youth goes through T&T, Trek, and Journey, and completes the books for each year, they are eligible for scholarships to participating Christian colleges. The first award level can be completed by going through 4 books, which you could do in T&T. But the higher award levels require time in Trek and/or Journey. More information can be found here:

College scholarships for Awana awards

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