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Prepackaged Goodness!

(picture taken from NakedPastor.com)

I don’t know about you, but I’m really not into Hamburger Helper. It’s just plain nasty! I’m sure there are many out there who can’t think of anything better then digging into all that prepackaged goodness… more power to ya! (and a good cardiologist)

Anyway, I came across this cartoon and it got me thinking… How many times do we do this in children’s ministry? I see so many tweets and blogs and Facebook statuses talking about being Biblical. It’s almost as if there’s a competition out there to be the most Biblical. “Our curriculum is more Biblical than yours!” OK, maybe that isn’t explicitly what is said, but it’s pretty easy to read between the lines of all the not-so-subtle digs at other curriculums. Who’s to say that what you use or create for children is more Biblical than what someone else is doing or creating? C’mon!

We can become so arrogant about our understanding of the Bible that we forget that God is WAY bigger than the boxes we try and package him in. I’m not saying that being Biblical isn’t important. What I am saying is that our idea of “Biblical” isn’t the end all.

I can already hear it, “Well, it’s easy. You just teach from the Bible! What’s more Biblical than that?” If it were that simple then I would challenge you that your idea of God and understanding of Biblical is too small. God is infinite. To think that we can corner the market on Biblical interpretation is arrogant at the least and dangerously unorthodox at it’s worst.

If we are honest with ourselves, we would admit that we pick and choose what we focus on in the Bible. Some of us put more emphasis on free will while others of us focus more on God’s sovereignty. Some of us thrive on more contemporary forms of worship while others of us connect more fully to God in the midst of creeds and ritual. The list can go on.

I’m not saying we throw out the Bible. What I am saying is that we give our kids space to encounter the Bible with the Holy Spirit guiding them. We shouldn’t be so quick to interpret everything for them and systematize how they are “supposed” to understand the Bible in order to fit within your denominational distinctives. We need to help children see the Bible as a comprehensive story of who God is, how much he loves us, how we can follow him to have the most amazing life ever and how we can be a part of the redemptive and transformative work God is doing in the world around us.

If you haven’t already read it, I suggest that you pick up Scot McKnight’s book the Blue Parakeet. It’s a great resource on how to read the Bible in light of it being a comprehensive story of God’s desire to restore creation to what he intended for it.

  • What are some ways that you are prepackaging God for kids? Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
  • What are some ways you help children discover God?
  • How can we become more like facilitators and cultivators of spiritual formation rather than simply being conduits of information?


Learning From Children

A little while back I blogged about an amazing 12-year-old girl named Adora Svitak who happened to be a TED speaker in February of 2010. At the time, her TED talk had not been published. Here it is:

All I can say is, “Wow!” While you may not agree with everything she said, she does make a great point: Adults can and need to learn from children!

In church-world, we get so caught up in making sure we are teaching children the right answers. We are quick to correct theological views and concepts that we deem as wrong or juvenile.

I like what Don and Brenda Ratcliff say in their new book Childfaith:

Affirm [children’s] comments, even if part of what they say lacks theological sophistication. Mistaken theology can be corrected later; the impor- tant thing is that the child under- stands that it’s wonderful for them to have had a meaningful spiritual encounter with God, nature, or people

What do you think? What has been your experience in learning from children?


Walk the Plank!

(Image taken from TechXav)

I don’t know about you, but I get really annoyed by DVDs when I can’t skip straight to the menu. I’m not really interested in all the trailers and commercials and FBI warnings and Interpol warnings and cutesy little animations for every single production company involved with the movie. What’s even worse, now, is that you can’t even fast forward through a lot of that stuff! You go to all the trouble of buying the DVD instead of downloading it, and you can’t just pop it in and watch the movie. Now, if I simply downloaded the movie, I could watch sans all the junk. Not that I’m legitimizing piracy… just want the FBI and Interpol to know that… because I’m not. :) But, seriously, those who are honest and legal and pay end up being the ones who are penalized.

I couldn’t help but think of how we define what it means to be a Christ-follower. How much of our definitions are simply non-essential annoyances that cause people to seek out a pirated version of God… something seemingly easier? Or even worse, are we giving children a bloated view of what it means to follow God? They accept what we give them because they are trusting and concrete and will believe just about anything we tell them. Then when they are challenged to critically evaluate their belief systems, they realize that there is a lot of unnecessary junk and they, too, go for the pirated versions of God.

I’m not saying that becoming a committed Christ-follower is obstacle free. There is a surrendering of the will that must happen. What I am saying is that we need to help people take steps of faith towards God rather than creating stifling systems that hinder them from encountering God.


Mani-Pedi and God

Dialog, originally uploaded by baboon™.

First of all, what in the world is a mani-pedi?

According to my wife, it is a manicure and a pedicure. That really clears it! For you guys who are still scratching your head, a manicure is when someone does your nails, and a pedicure is when someone does your toenails (YUCK!) I guess this is something woman enjoy.

What does all this have to do with God? Well, Christine Yount posted recently about a conversation she had while she was having her mani-pedi. I encourage you to hop on over and read it.

I was so excited as I read about how she was able to relate to and respect the views of this woman. In so doing, she earned the right to share her own beliefs and share some Truth with that manicurist.

Christine sums up her thoughts with this paragraph:

“It was an amazing evangelistic dialogue that wasn’t about ‘arguing’ her into the kingdom of God. It was about respect and listening and sharing. So I shared this with friends at work and one of them asked, ‘What does that mean for the way we teach kids?’”

That is a great question and one I’ve tried to address in some way here and here.

In becoming more of a facilitator of conversation rather than a teacher or expert, I’ve been able to hear from kids about where they are on their spiritual journey as well as gauge their understanding of different things like who God is, what Jesus did by dying on the cross, etc. I’ve also been able to build trust with the kids I interact with because I’ve respected the journey they are on rather than correct them and pump them full of information so they can be “good Christians.”

  • What are your thoughts?
  • Do we move more towards a mode of helping children discover and encounter God? Or do we continue using our educational models in which children are to simply learn from teachers, experts, parents, etc.?

Mark Batterson’s Evangelism Experiment

(photo originally uploaded to Flickr by Sherlock77 (James))

Quick! What picture do you conjure up in your mind when you hear the word “evangelism?” Quick! Don’t think about it too much. Just describe the picture. Did it?

Here’s what I picture most of the time: walking up and down the streets of an urban area, approaching people who seem to not be doing anything, getting into a conversation with them and steering that conversation into questions about God and heaven and Jesus and asking them if they would like to pray a prayer with me. (Thank you, EE!)

For those of us who’ve been in traditional evangelical churches for a while, I’m sure your pictures are similar to mine.

A little while back I posted my reflections on Michael Spencer’s reaction to evangelism as a potential form of child abuse. You can go back and read the post if you missed it or want to relive the experience. The gist of my post was this:

“The key, though, is to help connect children and families to Christ and allowing the Holy Spirit to do the work of conversion. It’s more than just praying a prayer, raising a hand or coming to the altar. It’s about life transformation, and that is something that can’t be manufactured or manipulated into existence.”

A couple of days ago, I ran into this post from Mark Batterson. He had his congregation pray this prayer with him at their weekend services:

“Lord, I pray for an opportunity to share my faith with someone in some way. It’s not up to me to decide who or when or where. But I know why. Because you love them and want a relationship with them. So Lord, surprise me with opportunities to share my faith.

Forgive me for trying to do your job for you. You are the one who convicts of sin. You are the one who draws to Christ. But help me do my part as salt and light. Help me see those opportunities to react compassionately or listen patiently or speak kindly. Through word and deed, help me plant seeds of love in the lives of others. Give me boldness when it’s time to speak. Give me restraint when it’s time to listen. Give me words to say. But more importantly, give me ears to hear.

Lord, help me be sensitive to the prompting of your Holy Spirit so I can see the divine appointments you send my way. Help me not to be afraid of questions I cannot answer. Help me not to be afraid of people’s reactions or rejections.

Lord, help me preach the gospel every day, when necessary, with words.

In Jesus name, amen!”

What an awesome prayer for each of us to pray. Evangelism isn’t about what we do or say. It’s more about living our lives as Christ followers 24/7 and allowing the Holy Spirit to guide what we say and do. If that means we tell someone about Jesus, then so be it. If it means we keep our mouth shut, then so be it. If it means we simply listen and be a friend to someone who needs one, then so be it. It is not our job to do the converting. It’s the Holy Spirit’s job. We need to learn to work with him. For some of us that means taking a step back. For more and more of us, it means getting over our fears and hangups and taking a step forward.


Intellect and Experience?

(picture originally uploaded to Flickr by Stuck in Customs)

A few days ago, I began a conversation about how sometimes we love the experiencing of God more than loving God himself and referenced a post by Scot McKnight in the Out of Ur blog.

A couple of days later, I ran across this post on Jim Palmer’s blog, which serves as a contrast to McKnight’s post. Jim “thinks out loud” concerning the pursuit to know and comprehend God.

“What would it look like to let go of the need to understand and comprehend God, and instead to simply be present in the experience of God’s kingdom with no further need to comprehend or explain it? Like, what if that was enough and that was the way it was meant to be? No need to formulate concepts about it, no need to locate some place within a coherent belief system to authenticate or justify it, no need to judge it, understand it, or analyze it.”

How do we balance the pursuit to know God and how to best follow God with experience his love for us as well as being a part of his redemptive work in the world?

Is that even the right question to ask? Is it a matter of balancing? Or is it more an issue of managing seemingly polar opposites? Is it possible to experience God AND pursue a better understanding of who God is?

How do we teach kids to do both?


In Love with Being in Love with God

(picture originally uploaded to Flickr by susan_d_p)

My first years as a children’s pastor, I was part of a denomination that put a high value on emotional experiences with God. It was the same denomination I grew up in. I remember going to camps and retreats and knowing that “God moved” if there were a lot of people at the altar crying. When I became the one in charge of our district camp, I toned down the emotionality of things and even dared to have a different perspective on certain denominational distinctives. From some reactions I got, you’d think I was denying the deity of Christ.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think emotional experiences are wrong. I think they have their place. In fact, I think that some emotional experiences with God are a part of a vital and dynamic relationship with God. I take issue when the “experience” of God trumps an ongoing relational awareness of God regardless of experiences.

I think Scot McKnight states it rather well in this Out of Ur post a couple of weeks ago. It is entitled “Spritual Eroticism.” Here is a quote from the post:

“Friends of mine today worry about consumerization or commoditization in the church. I offer a slightly different analysis of what might be the same thing: for many, Sunday services have become the experience of courtly love. Some folks love church, and what they mean by ‘loving church’ is that they love the experience they get when they go to church. They prefer to attend churches that foster the titillation of courtly-love worship and courtly-love fellowship and courtly-love feelings.”

McKnight goes on to say that some people are more in love with experiencing God than they are God himself.

So what do we do when we introduce kids and families (and anyone else for that matter) to God? Do we completely strip experience out? I don’t think so. How do we, then, teach and show by example a healthy view of expereince? Again, I think McKnight says it well,

“Those who know the Beloved and desire nothing but the glory of that Beloved may well know the experience, but they are so enthralled with the Face of the Beloved they forget where they are and dwell in the presence of God with but one thought: God deserves praise, God is worthy of praise.”

One thing that we do with the kids at church is remind them that worshipping God is simply “paying attention only to God.” (I took that definition from Teaching Kids Authentic Worship by Kathleen Chapman.) We try and focus everything back on God. When we worship, it’s about focusing on God. When we pray, it’s about talking to God. When we sing, it’s about singing to God. We try and help kids to realize that in order to best follow God, there is one thing we need to know “love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength” and “love your neighbour as yourself.”

How do you teach kids in your family and church how to love God more than the experience?

If you are from a more experiential church, how do you help kids realize that a relationship with God is not dependent on the experiences?


Redefining Literacy

(picture originally uploaded to Flickr by SlipStreamJC)

What’s are some of the first things that come to mind when you think of the word “literacy?” Most of us probably think of reading a writing.

What do you think of when you think of “Christian spiritual literacy?” You probably think of things like Bible knowledge, sound theology, following God’s commandments, etc.

Yesterday I read a post on the Grown Up Digital blog about an expanded definition of literacy that the Ontario Public School Board’s Association recently released as part of a larger study entitled What If? Technology in the 21st Century Classroom. Here’s the definition:

“Literacy involves the development of a continuum of skills, knowledge and attitudes that prepare all of our learners for life in a changing world community. It begins with the fundamental acquisition of skills in reading, writing, listening, speaking, viewing, representing and responding. It becomes the ability to understand, think, apply and communicate effectively in all subject and program areas in a variety of ways for a variety of purposes.”

I like this definition. I like it a lot (you have to read that sentence with a “valley girl” accent). It starts with the basics but doesn’t stop there. The purpose of literacy is to equip students to be able to continue learning and adapting as culture and technology changes and know how to do all of that in multiple academic cultures.

The Grown Up Digital post went on to summarize that if schools do not adapt their definitions of literacy they are at danger of making school irrelevant to students because school ceases to equip them to interact with the real world around them.

I couldn’t help but think about spiritual formation and the models and paradigms we use to impart spiritual literacy to the kids and families we minister to.

What are we doing to help children and families engage a culture that see Christianity as toxic and hostile? What are we doing to help children and families understand and navigate a digital world where there is no distinction between virtual and physical? What are we doing to help children and families work hand-in-hand with people they don’t see eye-to-eye with?

We all see and hear the stats about 20-somethings leaving the church and less and less people with young families coming back to church. I believe one reason for that is we have too narrow a definition of Christian spiritual literacy. We tell kids and families that all they need to do it read the Bible more, memorize more verses, know God more, follow his commands better, and make sure you tell people about Jesus. As long as we were able to remain in our contextualized cultural bubbles, that approach worked.

The world is smaller now. Information is immediately accessible. Cultures and lifestyles and belief systems are no longer restricted by geography.

We need to rethink how we approach Christian spiritual literacy. It needs to go beyond a paradigm of the acquisition of knowledge. We need a new paradigm which is transformational, grace-filled, and liquid. We need a spiritual literacy that brings about the kind of attitude Paul had when he wrote 1 Corinthians 9:19-23:

“Even though I am a free man with no master, I have become a slave to all people to bring many to Christ. When I was with the Jews, I lived like a Jew to bring the Jews to Christ. When I was with those who follow the Jewish law, I too lived under that law. Even though I am not subject to the law, I did this so I could bring to Christ those who are under the law. When I am with the Gentiles who do not follow the Jewish law,s I too live apart from that law so I can bring them to Christ. But I do not ignore the law of God; I obey the law of Christ.

When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some. I do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings.”

Do you agree that there needs to be a redefinition of Christian spritual literacy? What does that look like? Is there room for more than one new paradigm?

How do you define Christian spiritual literacy? What does it look like in your context?

If you want to be a part of the conversation in articulating what children’s ministry might look like within a missional paradigm, here is an explanation of the conversation and there is more conversation here, here, here, and here.


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