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Archive - August, 2008

Make Us… Orange

Orange Wedge, originally uploaded by Malkav.

For the summer, my church has been doing a series called One Prayer that comes out of LifeChurch.tv. This Sunday it’s my turn to address “big church.”  The main thrust of this series is, “If you were to pray one prayer for the church at large, what would it be?” Because of my heart of children and families, I was assigned the topic of God making the church a place where families can grow.

As I’ve been thinking and preparing this message, I wasn’t sure how to approach it. I didn’t want to simply entitle it “Make Us… Family-Friendly” or “Make Us… Kid-Friendly.” Those just sounded too hokey and didn’t grab me. As I started thinking about my take on family ministry and my ideas on family-friendly vs. family-centric, my thoughts went to what Reggie Joiner and his group is up to with the Orange Conference and the Orange Leaders Movement. I’ve been cynical and hesitant to jump on the Orange bandwagon that seems to be gaining quite a bit of steam. While I think what ReThink has done is high quality and beneficial to some, I am not completely sold on how they “do” their principles. What they do works for them and a number of churches, but it is not THE way to do stuff. What impresses me the most is their philosophy behind the whole Orange concept: combining the influences at church with those at home to make a greater impact on the family rather than each of the influences working alone. Thus, they get Orange as the name of their movement: the two colours, red and yellow, are great colours individually, but combined they produce an even more vibrant colour… orange!

The main points of my message are:

  • we are all created for community and families (whatever they look like) play a big role in community so we are all responsible for helping families to grow and be “fully alive”
  • we have to work as a Church to make families feel welcome in everything from attitudes of greeters to how signage is done to making it easy for families to find what they need
  • realize that families need to be encouraged, equipped and empowered to grow together in a positive way; guilting parents DOESN’T help; set families up for success
  • we all can play a part in helping families grow whether we have children or not: involvement in student and children’s ministries, becoming surrogate cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents to families, etc.

Becoming a church where families can grow and be transformed taking part in impacting the world with the message and life of Jesus takes more than parenting classes or good curriculum. It takes realizing that we all play a part in building families.

Families cannot do it alone. It takes the Body of Christ to come alongside families and working together to build a community of Christ followers who go out making a difference in the world. It takes us being more orange in our thinking.

You can listen to the entire message here.

Children’s Ministry Leadership Nugget from an Olympic Swimmer

Dara Torres, originally uploaded by Vironevaeh.

Having been in competitive swimming in high school and university, I love watching the crown of all swim meets… the Olympics. This year has been AMAZING to watch with all the hype around Michael Phelps and all that he accomplished. Also, that 4x100m men’s freestyle race was phenomenal… how Jason Lezak caught up with Alain Bernard to not only win the race but clinch the fastest 100m split in history!

One story caught my eye. That was of 41-year-old Dara Torres. The 2008 Olympics is her fifth Olympics! Unheard of for a swimmer, and she is the oldest female Olympic swimmer in history. How did she accomplish this? She knew that at her age, she needed to approach the training needed to be Olympic caliber in a different way than has ever been done. She underwent a very unorthodox training regiment that included targeted stretching and massage work and unique strength building workouts to build key muscles. Those who watched her train weren’t too sure about it. But it all paid off. Torres made the Olympic team, won silver in the 4x100m women’s freestyle relay and has qualified to be a part of the 50m freestyle race on Friday.

Dara Torres didn’t do anything different in the pool. She still swam freestyle the way freestyle is supposed to be swum. What was different was how she got ready… what she did and why she did it.

I think we need to approach children’s ministry in much the same way that Dara Torres approached getting ready for the Olympics. Children’s Ministry, on the outside, doesn’t look too different from one place to the next: we have our singing, our age appropriate teaching, our activities, etc. Yes, stylistically, there are differences… but most of us fundamentally look similar on the outside.

What needs to really change about children’s ministry is the how we prepare and why we do what we do. Do we continue to do children’s ministry with our ultimate goal of having children who can recite the 66 books of the Bible in order and win sword drills or do we do children’s ministry with the focus on helping children to live outside of themselves changing the world around them by loving all people as God loves them. Do we simply focus on children praying the prayer of salvation so they can go to heaven or do we broaden a child’s understanding of Christ’s death on the cross to include us being a part of what God is doing in the world today and being a part of Kingdom work in reaching out to the marginalized people around them? Do we point kids towards heaven as the ultimate goal or do we point them towards a life changing God who wants to use them to help bring life change to their communities and the world?

It’s not necessarily about changing the mechanics of children’s ministry. It’s about changing how we get ready to do children’s minsitry and why we do children’s ministry.

Oh, the McGroovy Things You Can Do With Cardboard!

While perusing Kidology, I came across a post in the thread for the Elevate curriculum that comes from Fellowship Church in Grapevine, TX.

Someone was trying to find out how to best build a cardboard ship, and Kidology member Super Dave posted a website for Mr. McGroovy’s Box Rivets.

When I went to the site, the first word out of my mouth was, “Cool!” This company makes plastic rivets to connect cardboard boxes easily to make many different items. They have kits to make a castle and a pirate ship that come with all the rivets you need and a box cutter. All you need is the cardboard boxes! The site also has tips on how to get boxes for free as well as tips on how to paint cardboard. There are also plans on how to build other items as well as a photo gallery of what customers have built.

If you want to make some fun, easy and inexpensive props, this is definitely one way to do it. Check out Mr. McGroovy’s Box Rivets and then come back and tell me what you think.

It’s More Than Just About The Kids

It’s Lichen too…, originally uploaded by HBT.

I’ve been in children’s ministry for 17 years, 8 of those most recent years as a full time children’s pastor at two different churches in two different countries.

When I first started out in CM, it was all about the kids. I remember being a large group communicator when I was 15 for a group of 200+ kids at the church I was at. My focus was the children and teaching them about who God was, how much God loved them, how God wanted them to live and how they could change the world around them. At 17, I was put in charge of the preschool version of kids church… 80 preschoolers! fun! Again, it was all about the kids. While in college, I was in charge of the elementary Kid’s Church at the church I was at… again, all about the kids. It continued to be all about the kids in the various churches I volunteered at and even when I first came on staff as a children’s pastor.

I read articles, go to workshops and conferences, and talk with many other people in children’s ministry. Most everything is all about the kids. Even when we talk about parents and volunteers… it’s always in relation to the kids.

What is wrong with children’s ministry being just about the kids? Isn’t that why it’s called children’s ministry? Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do?

Children’s ministry does have a target… a focus… and that is children. Children’s ministry exists so that there are people championing children withing the church and making sure children are a part of the spiritual community: learning, growing, and participating. Children’s ministry wouldn’t exist without children. I guess you could say that ministering to children is what fuels children’s ministry.

But ministering to children isn’t the support structure… framework… skeleton… that children’s ministry is built on.

Which brings me to lichen… I’m obsessed with lichen. Ever since learning about it in my biology class at university, I’ve always pointed it out on hikes and walks and wherever I see it. My wife just rolls her eyes and placates me by listening to my explanation of what lichen is (she’s a great wife). My friends think I’m weird about it. And my kids… well, they are young enough to still think I’m cool and all-knowing. Lichen is actually two organisms that live together in a symbiotic relationship. The two organisms mutually help each other without harming the other. It is made of a fungus and algae. The fungus provides the skeleton for lichen and the algae lives on the fungus and makes food via photosynthesis for both the fungus and itself. A perfect relationship. Lichen exists only because both the fungus and the algae exist.

What does that have to do with children’s ministry? There are two components to children’s ministry, and those two components must benefit each other. We know that ministry to children is one of those components. The other component is ministry to adults. Now, I’m not talking about volunteer training or even leadership training. I’m talking about spiritual development of adults for the sake of them growing as an image-bearer of God regardless of whether they are in children’s ministry or not.

I think too many times ministry to children becomes a parasite on the lives of the volunteers who work in our children’s ministries as well as on the lives of the parents of the children who are in our ministries. We spend so much time focusing on the children and making CM all about the kids that our volunteers and parents get sucked dry.

As leaders in children’s ministries, we need to be ministering to the adults who intersect with children’s ministry. It’s not just up to the senior pastor or adult ministries leader. We need to be pouring into them so they can grow and mature spiritually. It can’t just be all about the kids and how they can improve in how they do children’s ministry. Yes, they need training… but they also need spiritual growth.

If we can learn how to minister to adults effectively, then we will have a stronger structure, foundation, skeleton to build the ministry of children onto and have a healthier and thriving children’s ministry.

What does this look like? It can be as simple as “checking in” with your volunteers about their journey with God and encouraging and praying with them. Why not have a spiritual growth theme for your volunteers for the year? Set up adult small groups for those involved in children’s ministry. Provide free copies of sermon messages that your volunteers miss. Making yourself available to pray with parents and volunteers.

Do the adults in your ministry see you as one of their pastors?

The Dark Knight

Last night, Erin and I went with some friends to go see The Dark Knight. I have heard a lot of rave reviews about it, but I tried not to have any expectations of the movie going into it.

Wow! I think it’s one of the best movies to come out this year. Definitely not a kid flick! But a well-done movie. Heath Ledger did an amazing job as The Joker. I can’t imagine the preparation that went into immersing oneself in a character like that.

There were many interesting themes that were explored in the movie such as the true nature of a hero, the capacity of evil and good within human nature, and what does integrity look like in a fallen world. This is definitely a movie that I will be watching more than once.

One of my favourite parts of the movie is at the end when Commissioner Gordon’s son asks Gordon why they are chasing Batman, the hero. Gordon says, “Because he’s the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now…and so we’ll hunt him, because he can take it. Because he’s not a hero. He’s a silent guardian, a watchful protector…a dark knight.”

If you haven’t seen the movie, I’d recommend it. Again, though… not a kid movie.

Talking To Kids About Eternity

eternity, originally uploaded by desiretofire : music is the shape of silence.

Why is it that we are so stuck that when we talk about eternity, especially with kids, we equate it with heaven?

For our day camp a few weeks ago, we adapted a VBS curriculum for the first half of the day. During the opening large group session, there was a recurring character who showed up each morning. One of the days was talking about eternity. The character had found a way to live forever, and the host corrected the character’s understanding of what God says about living forever by telling him that the gift of eternal life was about heaven.

I’m sure many of you are wondering, “Well, yeah… Isn’t that what it means? Living forever means you get to go to heaven.” Yes… and no.

Yes, by committing your life to following Christ you receive the gift of eternal life. But heaven is not the definition of that. Heaven is only a part of that. I ended up revising the VBS script.

We do children a disservice by telling them, “When you ask Jesus to be your forever friend, you get to go to heaven. That’s what it means to have eternal life or live forever.” The gift of eternal life is so much more than that, and it doesn’t just begin after we die here on earth. We are made new creatures upon submitting our lives to Christ, which means that we begin our “forever life” now. Yes, there will be a time when time will end and we will be physically transformed as well as spiritually, but I believe that the gift of eternal life… the power to live forever… is here for us now. We become a part of the atoning work that God is doing all around us: in the lives of others, in communities and in creation. Don’t get me wrong. We aren’t the ones who do the atoning… that is all God’s work. We just become a part of what he is doing. We get to take part in changing the world around us. We get to take part in “thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven.”

By telling children that heaven is THE goal, we shortchange them and miss the opportunity to invite them to something bigger and more powerful. We need to be letting children know that their “forever life” can begin now, and they can be agents of change in the world around them… and oh, by the way… bonus… there’s heaven, too.

Motivating Children To Share God With Their Friends

Sharing, originally uploaded by Andy Woo.

Well, I am back from summer camp! It was an amazing time. It was great to have a group of amazing volunteers who made it happen and created a safe, loving, and dynamic atmosphere for kids to encounter God.

I had the privilege, this year, of having a volunteer who directed the camp instead of me. My responsibility was to be the chapel speaker. The last chapel I did was talk about the power God gives us to tell others about who he is. i shared the story of Pentecost.

As I was getting the material ready, I got to the part about why the kids might not talk about God to their friends. I was going to default and talk about how scary it can be for a kids and how other kids might make fun of him or her. Something stopped me… I started thinking about my kids and all of the kids I know. NONE of them have fear as their motivation to not talk to their friends about God. In fact, they would do it if they thought about it… That’s when it hit me: kids don’t tell their friends about God not because they are scared of being made fun of, but because they just don’t think of doing it. Telling their friends about God isn’t near the top of their priority list.

I, then, realized that all these years I’ve been pointing to the wrong reasons for kids not telling their friends about God. So, this time I stressed how important God thinks it is for humans to tell other humans about God. He gives us his amazing power… the same power used to create the universe out of nothing, the same power that can change us for the better, the same power that beat death… to tell people about who he is. And that is illustrated in the story of Pentecost.

Rather than call the kids scaredy cats and expect them to see the errors of their ways and start telling friends left and right about God, I invited them to be a part of something more powerful and more exciting.

What do you think? Where do you tend to default to what you hear in evangelical culture rather than thinking through long-held assumptions?