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Archive - August, 2009

What Are We Teaching About Worship?

I’ve seen this video pop up on the Burnside Writers’ Blog and on the iMonk blog.

Now, I want to be careful here. I don’t want to bash the people in this video. I’m sure most of them were honestly trying to worship God. In the churches I grew up in, I remember going to gatherings which had elements like this (and I was uncomfortable then as well as now).

The question that still goes through my head when watching gatherings like this one is, “Why?”

Why do you think this is worship?
Why do you choose to worship in this way?
Why are you doing what you are doing?

My nine-year-old son was watching the video with me. I asked him, “What makes this different from what we do at camp, on Sundays?… We do actions to songs… Some of you dance around during the singing time…”

I love what he said. “I don’t get what they are saying. We sing songs about who God is and how much we love him, and we do actions and dance around not to get attention but for God. They look like they are just dancing around.”

Again, I’m not trying to pass judgement on the people in the video. There’s nothing wrong with dancing around and twirling your socks in the air. But I have a hard time seeing this as “worship.”

That begs the question, “Well, then, what is worship?”

The best definition I’ve found for worship comes from Teaching Kids Authentic Worship by Kathleen Chapman. She defines worship as “paying attention only to God.” She compares it to a boy playing a video game. The only thing he is paying attention to is that video game. He doesn’t hear anyone else, he doesn’t see anything else… his whole attention is focused on that game. In that instance, he is “worshipping” that game. The same goes for worshipping God. When we do something for God, paying attention to him while we do it, then we are doing that something as worship whether it’s singing, dancing, reading the Bible, taking out the trash… whatever. Worship is not about me, it’s about God. Worship doesn’t simply result in warm fuzzies, but results in action… in mission.

  • How would you define worship?
  • What do you teach kids worship is? How do you teach worship to them?

Why I Am In Children’s Ministry and NOT Student Ministry

Saw this over at Burnside Writer’s Blog and thought I’d share it with you. I am sooooo glad I’m a children’s pastor!

R U Listening?

(picture uploaded to Flickr by quinn.anya)

If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you know that I am pretty frustrated with having to send my computer BACK in for repairs. I had sent in my computer to have DVD drive replaced as well as my trackpad button. I also had been having problems which I chalked up to hard drive problems. I explained my hard drive issues to the tech who quickly dismissed my concerns over and over and over again. He assured me that there was nothing wrong with my hard drive. Apparently, unexplained crashes and having to reinstall the operating system have nothing to do with hard drive failure…

This past week at camp (the explanation for the absence of posts this past week), my hard drive failed. It’s gone… caput… bye bye…

After talking with the nice people in support at Apple, I now get to send my computer back to the service center to get the hard drive replaced!!! If only the tech had listened to me in the first place!

I know, I know… He probably talks to a lot of clueless people about their computer problems… people who think they know stuff about computers but really don’t… I’m not one of those! I knew there was a problem with the hard drive! I told him there was a problem with the hard drive! Now, he gets to spend more time fixing my computer…

What does all this ranting about this service technician have to do with Elemental Children’s Ministry? This is a blog, after all, that is about children’s ministry.

Well, here it is… a question:

Are you listening?

That’s it! That’s the question! “Are you listening?”

  • Are you listening to the kids you come in contact with?
  • Are you listening to the parents?
  • Are you listening to your volunteers?
  • Are you listening?

I know that sometimes I don’t listen. I don’t really hear what is being said. Sometimes I am so busy formulating an answer in my head that I don’t listen.

It is so easy for us to make snap judgements about kids, parents, volunteers, co-workers, leaders, etc. We assume that we know more about situations than we really do. We assume that those coming to us with suggestions, for help, etc. know less than they really do. We then spout off answers or reasons that are incomplete, ill-informed, and leave those coming to us wondering if we really care.

It’s easy to answer questions. It’s harder to listen to the questioner.

What About Theology?

(picture originally uploaded to Flickr by Joe Thorn)

I’ve been wondering, lately, whether we in church world (especially in children’s ministry) are overemphasizing a culture that is centered around leadership. There are countless books, articles, blogs (mine included), and conferences/workshops that focus on leadership issues. How can I be a better leader? How do I manage volunteers? How do I recruit volunteers? How do I lead up, down, all around, touch your toes, do the hokey pokey…?

Take a look at your bookshelf. I’m assuming you have one. How many books there are “leadership” books?

OK… how many are in the “how to do ministry” category?

Done? Alright, now how many books on your shelf deal with theological issues?

More than likely, you’ve got a boatload of leadership books and how-to books and not so much, if any, in the theological realm. I have to admit that until the past few years my collection of theological books was limited to my Bible dictionary and the systematic theology textbook I had in university. I think I had a couple more, but I never looked in those. I didn’t have time. I was too busy trying to be a better leader and find out better ways to do children’s ministry. I grew up in church, I read the Bible, I taught from the Bible… why would I need to bother myself with boring theology books?

I know you’ve thought the same thing! You probably still do. So what? What’s the big deal with theology anyway? All you have to do is read the Bible and then teach what it says, right? Theology just gets in the way of the Spirit moving, right?

Before I continue, let me just get on the record saying that, no, I don’t think you have to go to seminary or have extensive theological training or knowledge to be a good children’s minister. What I am saying, though, is that a continual growing knowledge of theology can make you a great children’s minister.

Yes, leadership and how-to’s are important, but I think we short-change the children and families we minister to when we remain ignorant of the theology behind what and why we teach.

Whether you want to admit it or not, we all have filters we use when we read and interpret the Bible. We don’t have to be aware of them. They are there. When we prepare a lesson, it isn’t simply a matter of reading the Bible and then teaching what it says because we all interpret what is being said differently.

Here’s another way of putting it:

  1. You pick up the Bible and read it.
  2. What you read goes to your brain.
  3. What you read goes through an interpretation filter that has been formed by what was taught to you, what you’ve grown up with, and what you’ve read.
  4. That interpretation filter colours your understanding of what you read in the Bible.
  5. You teach out of that understanding and contribute to the formation of interpretation filters in children.

Too many of us are unaware of our filters (or lenses) that we use to interpret Scripture. Gaining a better understanding of theology helps us to discover those filters and help us to find newer, more refined filters. Theology helps us to make sure that the filters we do have are within orthodoxy. Theology also helps us understand that there are many ways to read and understand Scripture. (Take for example looking at scripture through the lenses of a new perspective on Paul theological understanding as opposed to the “older” perspective.)

While building and developing leaders is important and while learning the how-to’s of ministry is important, far more important is a better understanding of theology.

I’m not necessarily advocating everyone go out and start reading N. T. Wright, Scot McKnight, J. I. Packer, and others (it wouldn’t hurt). I do think, though, that much more time and effort needs to go into helping those on the frontlines of children’s ministry have an elementary understanding of why they teach what they do or why their faith community may have a slightly different understanding of things than the church down the road.

So, please put down that book on the 15 unchangeable truths of a micro-manager. Please stop reading that article on the perfect volunteer appreciation mug. Please step away from the curriculum for a while. You can get back to all of those in a bit. Spend some time learning the difference between Reformed theology and Wesleyan-Armenean theology and how that affects your presentation of grace. Spend some time learning the different views on atonement and the implications each has for how you present salvation to a child.

If we truly believe we are called to disciple children and families, then we better put a higher emphasis on understanding more of what we want to disciple them in… Because right now, it looks like we know how to better disciple people to become better leaders than we do better followers of Christ.

Is It Time to Sound the Death Knell?

(picture originally uploaded to Flickr by eye2eye)

A month ago, ChurchRelevance.com had a post that quoted this article about a book recently put out by Ken Ham from Answers in Genesis. Then a few weeks later Anthony Prince tweeted this in relation to the ChurchRelevance.com post:

Then, most recently Scot McKnight posted his brief observations on the declining numbers of churches doing Sunday School.

I’ve been meaning to post my thoughts about the original article that ChurchRelevance.com references for a while. So, a month later, here it is!

I’m always skeptical when I hear about the downfall of the church or how major sections of the church are failing or that we are losing a whole generation. I’m not skeptical of the information. I know that the numbers show less people going to church, less people opting to follow Christ, less people seeing the importance of giving control of one’s life to God. What I am skeptical of are the “solutions” to this phenomenon as well as the interpretations of the data. (Yes, I know that saying that makes me sound like I am smarter than those people who do the polling thing for a living… I’m not… I simply am trying to look at the data from a different lens.)

Many of the solutions say something like this:

We have a problem! People are leaving church or questioning God or not following Christ!

We are supposed to be creating disciples!

We’ve become lax in how we create disciples! We’ve let too much slide in our programming/Sunday School/etc.

We need to go back and do what we did but even better! That will solve the problem!

OK, I’ve oversimplified the thought process but it still comes out the same in the end: We need to go back to how it was in the past when people loved going to church and didn’t walk away from God and do that better. Or another variation would be: We need to find out what we did right then and update/spruce it up/make it more relevant and that will fix our problem.

It doesn’t matter how you mix it up… you are still doing more of the same and expecting a different result than what we currently have.

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. -Albert Einstein

I know there are those out there trying to pave a new road to how discipleship is done and what that means. When I say that I don’t mean we shape scripture to fit the current culture. What I am saying, though, is that how we communicate scripture and how we foster an urgency in people to become disciples of Christ–those who “hear the music of God” (a la Larry Crabb) and help others to hear it as well–needs to change so that our current culture can hear and understand us.

What would happen if, instead of telling children what to believe, we help them discover God’s truths as we explore God’s redemptive love story throughout all of Scripture?
What would happen if we helped children to see that we were created to live in grace-filled community realizing that we all are imperfect/broken images of God in need of the Spirit to continually work on us?
What would happen if we helped children realize that being a Christ follower didn’t mean you turn a blind eye to all that is wrong in the world because “it’s all going to burn anyway” but means you can bring tastes of eternity… tastes of God’s Kingdom… to earth now by being an agent of positive change?
What if we allowed children to be participants in faith formation rather than passive consumers sitting in their seats?

We need to look at the sobering statistics facing the church today and see them not as the end of an age but an opportunity for the dawning of a new one. We don’t need more of the same… only better. We need something different, we need something new… yes, informed by our past but something new nonetheless.

Book Review: Real Church by Larry Crabb

“…God is a party happening… I’m invited to the party… church was designed by God to be the dance studio…”

For 155+ pages, Larry Crabb unpacks the idea that church should help usher us into the perichoretic (ooo, big word! thanks for that one Scot McKnight!) dance enjoyed by the Trinity where we gain a better view of grace and God’s joyous love for us and give that same grace and love to the world around us. Each chapter is an honest and vulnerable (on the part of Larry Crabb) exploration of questions Crabb poses about why he doesn’t like church, why some people do like going, what would make a church one Crabb would wholeheartedly attend, and what attitudes we should have when evaluating “real church.”

As I read through this book, I found myself resonating with much of what Crabb was questioning. At times, I wondered if Crabb were simply nitpicking at certain aspects of some churches (especially in his critique of emerging missional churches), but I found Crabb was quick to admit his perceived pettiness outright and give some straight answers.

Real Church is a relatively easy read with short chapters that bring you along Crabb’s thought processes in an easy to digest progression. Whether you agree with Crabb or not by the time you finish the book, you cannot deny the legitimacy of Crabb’s journey. I highly recommend this book, if not just to gain a better understanding of why previously committed church attenders are more and more tiring of “going to church.”

Larry Shallenberger on Innoculating Kids to the Great Commission

(photo originally uploaded to Flickr by twenty questions)

Larry Shallenberger wrote a great post over on the Burnside Writers’ Blog about how we tend to shield children from being “influenced” by the world. I encourage you to hop on over there and read it.

It’s been interesting to see this train of thought develop from an interaction he had at a breakout at the 2009 Conspire Conference and his further thoughts about that interaction.

I look forward to reading the article he is writing for Children’s Ministry Magazine.

NT Wright’s Response on Episcopal Church Support of Homosexual Clergy

(photo originally uploaded to Flickr by …Rachel J…)

Here is an article in the London Times by N. T. Wright, an Anglican Bishop, on the support of US Episcopalians for homosexual clergy. It is worth a read.

I think Wright did a great job of stating both Biblical and non-Biblical reasons for not ordaining homosexual clergy and at the same time not come off as gay bashing. This response is a great example of the tone we should be taking as well as the the thought we should be putting into how we respond to a growing acceptance of an active homosexual lifestyle.

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