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Archive for the ‘children’s ministry’ 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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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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This week focuses on the core message of Awana, being a worker approved by God. Awana is actually an acronym which means:

Approved
Workmen
Are
Not
Ashamed


Game Time:

For this game time, the recommendation is to play a Bible trivial game. You can go out and buy one of the various ones out there, you can grab flash cards of Bible trivia from your local Christian store, or, if you’re like me, you have a stock of questions. Over the years of children’s and youth ministry, I’ve collected good questions that help teach Scripture in a catechism type of format (question and answer).  I also intermix trick and intentionally false questions to keep players and actively thinking instead of just answering as a reaction. Some of my favorites:

Q: How many of each type of animal did Moses take on the ark?
A: None. Noah took animals on to the ark, not Moses.

Q: After what book of the Bible is the book of Hezekiah found?
A: None. Hezekiah was a king in the Bible, who ruled during the time of Isaiah. However, there is no book of Hezekiah.

In our case we split into teams. The first team was team boys consisting of my 12 and 11 year-old sons. The second team was team girls consisting of my wife and my 5 year-old daughter. The boys used to be in Children’s Church at a previous church where I served, Southeast Community Church. We would frequently have Bible Trivia Championship competitions as the game to end Children’s Church. We even went so far as to buy one of the wrestling championship belts and re-title it. Whoever won the last competition would find me before Sunday School and they carried that belt around until it was time for Children’s Church. All the adults knew what the belt meant and congratulated the current champion. This kind of recognition was amazing at spurring on the kids to want to learn and do well. Even the four and five year-olds were ready and willing to compete with the fifth and sixth graders.

But back to this game, the girls pulled it out by one at the end. It was a good introduction into the Bible Time.

Bible Time:

Because we had just come from a game that emphasized Bible knowledge so much, we went immediately into Bible Time. The episode for this week is A Worker Approved when one of the youth is shocked and dismayed at the fact that someone who has been a Christian a far shorter time is farther along in her Bible knowledge. The reality was the second youth was putting time into studying and was actively asking questions and reading and studying to find the answers. This caused the first youth to finally come to an understanding that such a practice was necessary in her own life.

The fact of the matter is that when tempted by Satan in the desert, Christ repeatedly responded to the temptations with Scripture. This is what we should arm ourselves with, too. This is where the discussion leads to after the episode: Scripture isn’t just “homework,” but our guidance and our protection. As a result, it is important for us to study it, learn it, and memorize it, so that we can use it and have it available to us when we are challenged by life.

Handbook Time:

The recommendation this week isn’t just to learn the Bible verses, but to turn them into prayers, too. This is an effective way to study Scripture. When we read a promise, we can turn it back around and thank God for the promise. When we read a correction, we can repent and then turn around and ask forgiveness according to that correction and then thank God for redeeming us from that sin. It’s something that not only helps us learn the Scripture, but it also helps children (and adults) better learn how to actively pray to the Lord.

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Week 07’s lesson is  a reminder that everyone is a sinner. However, just because everyone sins, that doesn’t give us the license to do it. This is a central theme during Bible Time for this week.

Game Time:

The game recommended is a kids’ version of Trivial Pursuit. I looked for it at various stores and on-line, but couldn’t find the children’s version available any longer, except as a used (and now treated as a collectible) copy. There are some copies that refer back to “classic times” for us adults, but that’s not the same thing as an easier version for the younger children. What we did find is that Hasbro has made a Trivial Pursuit Family Edition version of the game. It’s great because there are two sets of questions. The harder ones are obviously for the adults. The easier ones are for the children. Some of the questions were easy enough that our five year-old was also able to play. However, even the children’s questions weren’t all so easy that the older kids sweep right through. So we found the game perfect, especially considering the idea of a quiz show being used as the central theme for the Bible time. For us, it was a hard fought game with the eleven year-old prevailing in the quick version of the game. He deserved it. We tested him with every question on the last card and he knew the answers to all of them.

Handbook Time:

The recommendation was to combine handbook time with game time. Before a piece was able to successfully be moved, the child or parent would have to recite one of the memory verses to be tested on this week. While this was a good idea, we are pretty comfortable with how our children are learning their verses and completing their sections. So we just set aside a bit of time for everyone to work on their handbooks.

Bible Time:

This episode of Adventures in Odyssey deal with Dwayne getting on to a game show. He’s fed the questions and answers ahead of time so he can do well. He at first accepts the questions/answers, but eventually the knowledge of what is right convinces him to come clean and explain that he had the answers beforehand. The follow-on questions deal with the fact that Dwayne was told be an adult it was okay for him to have the answers. This, of course, is not true. It’s good to have an episode that deals on this subject because it gave us a chance to remind our children that we can be wrong and that we will be wrong from time-to-time. It’s always proper to go back and check what God’s Word has to say if you aren’t sure than it is to assume the adult is right and therefore do something which God says not to.

A second story concerns Liz telling everyone a secret about her friend Jared because she thought Jared had shared one of her secrets. That, of course, wasn’t the case and the situation blew up in her face. This opens the door to talk about how to respond when someone has done something wrong against us. The absolute incorrect thing is to respond in kind. A friend of mine back in junior high school lived by a philosophy, “I don’t get even. I don’t get mad. I get ahead.” That sounds good, except when you consider what life is like if we’re always trying to stay one-up on everyone with how we hurt them or embarrass them. No wonder Christ asked us to forgive!

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Week 06 picks up where week 05 ended: looking at Saul. These two weeks together are a good set of lessons on how God can change us from the people we are to the people He wants us to be.

Game Time:

The game time was for the children to have a race to completely change outfits every time a parent says go. We tried this a couple of times and what we found was that both boys were able to complete change clothes in less than a minute. “Hmmm,” we thought. That led us to remind the boys that now we knew how fast they could get dressed when they wanted to, so they had no more excuses. Overall it was a good game. We gave a slight handicap to our five year-old, because her brothers were older, and it was a reasonable competition. This is a game you definitely want to do, because it leads well into the Bible titme.

Handbook Time:

The recommendation for this week was to try and use hand motions to remember verses. With my children, they aren’t super expressive with their hands, so we allowed them to use their normal techniques for memorizing their sections. However, if you have a child who is a kinesthetic learner, this may be a good approach for anything like memorization. It allows them to move in a way that is not considered detrimental or distracting and it helps them learn what it is they need to learn. If you aren’t familiar with the way your child learns best, check out the book The Way They Learn by Cynthia Tobias. It is an excellent and easy read to help you work with your child better in a way that they can process the information quicker and easier. After reading it, it changed the way I worked with children and youth. In addition, whenever I begin a new Sunday school year with the junior high youth group, I very briefly cover the way folks tend to learn so they can understand and look for what works best for them.

Bible Time:

This week’s episode from Adventures in Odyssey is Saint Paul: Set Apart by God. As I mentioned earlier, it is a follow-on to last week. What is revealed in this episode is how different Paul, formerly Saul, became from how he was previously. Where before he was hunting Christians, after meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus, he became a great missionary and evangelist for the Gospel. He truly learned how he must suffer for Christ’s sake, as promised by Jesus in that first encounter.

Of course, this is where a conversation about what happened last week and about the game from this week applied to the lesson. Paul had effectively shed his old clothes, the old Saul, and put on new clothes and become the new Paul. This was done by the power of the Holy Spirit, for He guided Paul through that change. This is a great time to ask questions about how we can change and the lesson material leads into that.

 

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The book Raising a Modern Day Joseph was hyped a couple of years ago by Awana and I was intrigued by some of the things they said went into it, so I bought it, setting it aside to read later. So it sat on one of my bookshelves until about a week ago, when I pulled it down, realized I had meant to read it much earlier, and dove in. After finishing the book, I wished I had read it when I first purchased it. As a Christian and a parent of growing children, it gave me a lot to think about and a lot of things to revise in my plan for my children and put into action.

Written by Larry Fowler, an executive at Awana, it begins with Larry talking about the prayer of Awana, which is for all children in the youth to come to know, love, and serve the Lord Jesus Christ and how those three are inter-related. So how do you ensure that your child, your son or daughter, comes to do that? Well, the book is blunt. Sometimes you can do everything right and the child will reject everything, like one case where Larry talks about two brothers who both earned the Citation award (link goes to an Adobe Acrobat Reader checklist of the requirements), the highest award you can earn in Awana. One stayed true to his faith, while the other walked away from it. His parents had tried to raise them both to respect and fear God, to walk in His ways, and to love Him first and foremost, but one of the boys chose a different path. And yes, there are some, despite their roots, who come to faith and become followers of Jesus Christ. I know that’s certainly true of me. But if I’m a Christian parent, I have a responsibility to teach my children the tenets of my faith:

“Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. – Deuteronomy 6:4-7, NASB

And that’s where Larry goes with this book. How exactly should we teach our children? What should be shooting for? What’s our benchmark? Larry’s choice is Joseph and he has very good reasons for doing so. Joseph would have been sold by his brothers in his late teen years, about the time we have to start releasing our hold on our children and they start making their own way in the world. He was thrust into a world which was very alien to the beliefs he had been brought up with and contrary to the faith of his father. He had been dealt some breaks and hardships which showed life was anything bug fair, including situations where doing the right thing caused him more trouble. Yet Joseph stayed true to the faith he had learned from Jacob/Israel and was used by God not only to save Egypt, but his family besides. Joseph is a great example of one who can forgive the wrongs done to him by others, as evidenced by how he took care of his brothers and their families, and how he explained to them, after the death of their father, when they thought he would harm them, that he understood that what they intended for evil, God intended for good. Joseph is a great benchmark to strive for.

Larry then contrasts Joseph with another son, the Prodigal Son, of Jesus’ parable in the New Testament. From those two examples, threads which we need to weave into our children’s lives were identified and explained. Larry goes a step further and explains when each of these threads should be emphasized. All of them are important throughout the life of a child, but there are certain times when they will make a bigger impact and should be focused on more. For instance, for middle-schoolers, the thread of Destiny, that each of us is created by God for a purpose, that we are not just another face in a landscape of nameless people, is what should be focused on, because that’s when a child/youth begins to explore the question of, “What will my life be like?”

And all of this is brought home to the idea of a plan. What is my plan to help my children grow in their faith? Not only should my goal be to have them be similar to Joseph when they are adults, in other words, thinking of things more than just education and career, but what are my steps to get them there? Most Christian parents don’t have any sort of plan. This goes back to that old maxim, “Fail to plan, plan to fail.” I have a plan, but I need to really re-think some aspects of it. And when Larry says plan, he doesn’t mean a comprehensive 3,000 page tome of do this and that each and every day, because a lot of working with children is about seizing opportunities, about looking for times to share, and constantly showering them with love. So he also gives some advice as to what to look to do, though admittedly this book isn’t the practical guide on how to put all this into action (there’s a follow-on book by another author which does that, but I haven’t read it yet). It’s more the call to start thinking in this direction.

So if you’re a Christian parent or a Christian looking to be a parent one day, you definitely want to read this book. You may not agree with all of it, but it will get you thinking about what kind of plan you have for your children. If you aren’t a Christian, there’s food for thought in what you want to one day be able to truthfully say about your children and how to start putting into practice ideas that will hopefully bring that about.

 

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