Involving Children in Mission

November 4, 2011

When we involve young people in mission, we help nurture them into discipleship by teaching them to care for others and by providing them with opportunities to serve. Congregations often find ways to do this with older youth, but how about our youngest brothers and sisters in Christ? What are we doing to further their heart for service to others?

There are (at least!) six good reasons to involve children in mission:

1. To affirm them as valuable children of God

2. To demonstrate that they are the church of today as well as tomorrow

3. To encourage their spiritual development as disciples of Jesus Christ

4. To ingrain discipleship as a response to God’s love for all people

5. To teach social and moral responsibility for others

6. Because they are capable and want to help

What is vital to creating a community that not only supports and encourages mission and service projects, but also understands that it is crucial for children to be involved?

  • The community affirms the emerging skills, gifts, and individuality of children in order to nurture emotionally, socially, and spiritually healthy children.

Children need to know that they are competent beings capable of worthwhile accomplishments. As adults, we can provide frequent opportunities for children to engage in helping activities. Even two-year-old children can pick-up toys or carry napkins to the table. Part of what it means to be made in the image of God is that God gifts each individual with unique abilities and personality. Encouraging children to use their gifts and choose behaviors that help build the community and serve others in a positive way helps develop the understanding of what it means to live together as children of God.

Encouraging a “mission attitude” in children also contributes to the cycle of relationship building. It is always easier and more efficient for adults to “do things themselves.” However, you “build the kingdom” by encouraging children and youth to take on tasks and explore their gifts, surrounded by a community of love and support.

  • The community encourages adults to actively support children’s emerging sense of empathy and compassion.

Compassion will continue to develop if it is actively encouraged by the significant adults in a child’s life. When a child shows compassion, adults should name and affirm the caring thing the child has done. Empathy is the ability to understand the feelings of others and, at least to some degree, feel what they feel and respond in helpful ways. Empathy is one of the foundational moral emotions. It is linked to moral action. It’s a feeling that compels people to act compassionately while reasoning alone might not.

  • The community equips parents, teachers and other adults to help children move from a simple understanding of fairness to one encompassing our response to God’s love for us by serving the local and the global community.

One of the most powerful ways to teach children empathy is to be empathetic yourself in your parenting and/or in your leadership. Adults teach empathy by expressing interest in the experiences of children and by listening carefully as children talk. As their own empathy grows because of adult modeling, children will be more able to relate deeply to others. They also will grow in their ability to act on empathetic feelings by learning to provide a listening ear, help others, and show generosity.

Here are several ideas involving children in mission from churches with a mid-week LOGOS ministry:

One church incorporated mission into their themed dinners by collecting socks on “Sock Hop Night” and donating them to a local children’s home. They also collected home goods (towels, gift cards, sheets…) for new Habitat for Humanity families on “Construction Night” and on “Pajama Night” they collected boxes of cereal for a local homeless shelter.

Another church made blankets for an organization called “Project Linus” during their Bible study time. Project Linus collects new blankets to give to children in hospitals or places away from home. Children made fleece blankets that involved cutting fringe and tying knots…nothing difficult. This project was part of a lesson on the man lowered through the roof by his friends to be healed by Jesus.

After presenting their annual children’s musical to the congregation, there is a church that takes it “on the road” to offer it again at an assisted living facility to the delight of the residents.

Children’s Storybooks Encouraging Mission and Service

Albert, Richard E. Alejandro’s Gift. Chronicle Books.

Barbour, Karen. Mr. Bow Tie. Harcourt Brace Javanovich.

Brumbeau, Jeff. The Quiltmaker’s Gift. Scholastic, 2001.

Demi. The Empty Pot. Henry Holt and Co.

DiSalvo-Ryan, Dyanne. Uncle Willie and the Soup Kitchen.

Fox, Mem. Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge. Kane/Miller.

Fox, Mem. Whoever You Are. Harcourt, Brace and Co.

Hamanaka, Sheila. All the Colors of the Earth. Morrow Junior Books.

Karusa. The Streets are Free. Annick Press.

Kissinger, Katie. All the Colors We Are. Redleaf Press.

Ladwig, Tim. The Lord’s Prayer. Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.

McGovern, Ann. The Lady in the Box. Turtle Books.

Park, Linda Sue. A Single Shard. Clarion Books.

Say, Allen. Emma’s Rug. Houghton Mifflin Co.

What are ways that you can help the children in your church learn and practice empathy and compassion?

Portions of this article excerpted from “LOGOS Works” reference manual for the LOGOS system of Christian nurture.


Discipline: Love in Disguise

September 19, 2011

Hebrews 12:10-11 “Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

Discipline is a process, not an event (that’s punishment). And it’s likely that it’s going to be a long process where the results we expect to see may be very slow in coming. In the case of working with children in the church, we may never see the results of our efforts but we continue in loving discipline anyway. It’s our responsibility and our call as Christian adults.

The goal and purpose of discipline is self control which helps prepare our young people to not only survive but thrive in society—which is why it’s much more than just about classroom control. Discipline is a process of teaching how to think about, care about, and make decisions about others, through the eyes of God, the way Jesus taught us.

When behavior is observed that goes beyond the established boundaries for behavior in the community, family, or group, it becomes apparent that the persons involved need self-discipline. They need to be taught what the boundaries are and how to be responsible for controlling their actions to stay within those boundaries.

A person who has learned self-discipline has self-control, self-reliance, and self-esteem. Self-discipline is assuming responsibility for our actions, and making decisions about our behavior.

An effective discipline plan in the church and in the home, on the soccer field, or at the scout meeting has five essential parts.

1. Preventative: Stops something unwanted from happening. Specifically for our context means protecting against group chaos or unwanted behavior in children.

As the teacher or group leader I will make a commitment to….

Be present and ready before the first student arrives

Prepare the activity or lesson ahead of time

Arrange the meeting space to support learning and remove distractions

Resolve to be a calm, mature presence

Involve my students in setting up some group rules with some agreed upon consequences

Of prime importance will be to work to establish a relationship with each person in the group and to pray for each of the young people by name, regularly.

2. Supportive: Assists something to occur or increase. For us that means it’s something that encourages behaviors we want to see grow in young people.

As the adult leader I will…

Be ready to restructure plans or activities if they aren’t working

Will clearly request the good behavior needed (“We will all listen to Nancy as she reads”)

Will catch my students being good (“I appreciate the quiet reading”)

Will pray for special needs of students

Will let parents know about good behavior

How often do we call or write home about good behavior? Particularly for those parents who might not receive that news very often?

3. Corrective: Redirects undesirable behavior. We use a teachable moment to improve behavior in our group. We’ve done as well as we can to prevent discipline issues from coming up; we’ve been supportive of the students to encourage good behavior; and things still happen!

As the adult leader I will remind myself to…

Name the specific behavior I want changed and why (“I need you to stop tapping your pencil because it’s distracting to others”)

Allow the student to try again

Not be drawn into “side issues” with students

Use a quiet opportunity for behavior chats rather than calling the student out in front of the whole class

Intervene IMMEDIATELY to stop inappropriate behavior between two people

If my corrective methods are not enough to stop the behavior or the behavior is to the level that needs more than just correction, I will move to consequences.

4. Consequential: Something that follows as a result. This is when we allow the results of certain decisions to be fully felt by the child.

There are two kinds of consequences—natural and logical.

Natural consequences are the results that occur from a child’s behavior without the leader doing anything. For instance…if the child refuses to eat breakfast, she will be hungry before lunch. If he forgets to bring a permission slip, he won’t get to go on a special trip (assuming this was not the fault of the parent).

Logical consequences are those results a leader provides to teach students what logically follows when they violate class rules or the needs of a situation. This is where you invoke the agreed upon consequences that you established at the beginning of the year with your group.

5. Amending: Something done or given as a compensation for a wrong. That often means apologizing, offering or receiving forgiveness, making a plan for a repair or restoration, and giving mercy.

We need to help young people learn to right a wrong that they have done. Remember, we’re teaching them to thrive–not just correcting immediate behavior!

And the work of amending is not complete until forgiveness is given.  Everyone gets a fresh start each time they come back to the group…the team…the class…the choir.

Christ died for sinners.  The grace of God is unearned, undeserved, and unmerited.  God never quits giving righteousness—God never quits on us.  We must never quit on each other…and especially our young people.  This may be something unusual for many of the children and youth we are ministering to!  But it does no good to skip to forgiveness without the other steps first.  Otherwise, we are not teaching self-control and discipline.

When you have a discipline plan that works, you give yourself the best opportunity to support the growth of a special kind of community–the Kingdom of God we all yearn to live in–where people care for each other, encourage one another, solve problems together, resolve differences, and experience forgiveness. As the leader in a classroom, a teacher in the church, we are called to model courage, loyalty, justice, respect, honesty, hope, love, forgiveness and mercy. And in all that, we seek to model the love and respect that Jesus showed all people. There isn’t a more powerful way to invite people into a relationship with God!


Equipping Your Ministry Team

August 17, 2011

Large or small churches (or somewhere in between!) can all benefit from the team approach to ministry. Jesus didn’t call just one helper—but a group of twelve. If you serve in a staff position as a Christian Educator or Family and Youth Minister or whether you’re a church member who has answered a call to lead a committee or ministry team, listen up! In fact, one of your most critical tasks may be the leadership of your team—empowering others to share the responsibility of the ministry. Sharing the work benefits the leader (lowers the risk of burn out) but also invites others into Kingdom building.

Step one is identifying the people for the ministry team—and involving God in that process. You can read more here (http://www.buildfaith.org/2011/06/30/need-church-volunteers/#comments) about an intentional process of calling people to serve—matching their gifts and interests to the needs of the community.

Next comes equipping and supporting your team. I’d like to lift up four specific areas: In-house training and support, outside training, community building, and faith deepening. They are in no particular order and some may be occurring simultaneously. But all are crucial.

In-house training and support: Schedule specific training events for your ministry team (core leadership group and all teachers). This is more than an orientation of the coming program year but a time to go deeper into equipping people for ministry. Topics could include effective discipline, using the multiple intelligences approach, building relationships with students, or incorporating play into the classroom. Be sure to get the word out in plenty of time and build fun into the event. Utilize either someone from your congregation to lead this training or bring in an outside “voice.” On-going support is also critical throughout the year— providing curriculum, additional resources, costumes, classroom supplies, and always a listening ear!

Outside training: Look outside your own church walls for opportunities to take your team to a workshop. Check out your denominational gatherings or other broad ministry organizations. Consider going someplace where you’ll have to drive a few hours and stay overnight. The journey builds in more of a retreat experience and provides for relationship building among your team. Which leads us to….

Community building: Another way to equip and support your team is to take time for community building.  Your ministry team will work best if everyone is in healthy relationship with each other.  Find time to include some, or all, of the following activities throughout your program year…

-       Enjoy meals together

-       Make time for fun together (in your meetings or in addition to)

-       Schedule a planning retreat before the year starts

-       Have regular get-to-know each other activities at each meeting

-       Celebrate special occasions

-       Find ways to reveal yourselves to each other and build commitment and trust

Faith deepening: Always provide faith deepening time. Christ-centered leaders will be most effective in ministry—this isn’t the PTA or the boosters club for the soccer team!

-       Study a devotional book

-       Engage in Bible study together

-       Share faith stories and struggles

-       Encourage your leaders to take advantage of other opportunities of faith development such as small groups, Bible study, Sunday school, worship, seminars, or workshops.

Keep in mind…your Christian education team will work best if you treat it as a small group to build relationships and deepen faith together.

And of course you’ll need to spend time in your own faith development in order to most effectively lead others in spiritual growth.General Eisenhower would demonstrate the art of leadership with a piece of string. He’d put it on a table and say: ‘PULL it and it will follow wherever you wish. PUSH it and it will go nowhere at all. It’s just that way when it comes to leading people. They need to follow a person who is leading by example.’

Where have you seen evidence of a ministry team that works well together affecting the ministry as a whole?

 


Need Church Volunteers?

July 2, 2011

Having trouble getting people to “step up to the plate” to serve in the church? Let’s get something really clear….they rarely do! So we need to find another way to engage people in ministry. God didn’t wait for people to come (or even make general pulpit announcements)…God called people to come. By name. Moses, Mary, Gideon, Samuel, Noah, Jonah, Isaiah, Esther, Paul, the disciples. For each one God said, “Come…follow me.” Burning bushes, Jesus Christ, still small voices in the night, angels, and through other people. Other people? Yes! We can play that role today in the church for all those folks just waiting to hear “Come…follow me” (whether they realize it or not) to help those in need or greet newcomers to the faith or visit the shut-ins or teach the fourth graders.

It helps to have an intentional way or process of inviting people to serve. At The LOGOS Ministry, we’ve developed one that we teach church leaders to use. And it works. Here are the basics:

  • Help people recognize that God calls people to very broad roles (to be a “covenant people” and to be faithful followers of Christ) as well as a call to use specific gifts in a specific way.
  • Find ways for those in your church to discover and understand their specific gifts.
  • Establish a team that will go through intentional steps to implement this process of call (Call Team).
  • Call Team spends time in prayer and study of scripture to invite God into the process.
  • Call Team creates a description for each position that needs to be filled (tasks and expectations, term of service, spiritual gifts needed, personality fit, support and resources provided) and then prays over it.
  • Call Team spends time on their own considering names for specific position descriptions and continues praying (but not asking yet!).
  • Call Team meets again to consider names for each position (how well each person matches the gifts and talents needed, how will the church benefit and be blessed by each individual serving in this role, how will each person benefit and be blessed by serving in this role) and through prayer and discernment seeks one name.
  • Someone on the Call Team extends the invitation…face to face…not through an email or passing in the hallway at church on a busy Sunday morning…and gives the person time to talk to and listen to God (and other people) about the call.
  • Someone on the Call Team follows up 3-5 days later to hear the answer and accepts and celebrates a “no” as readily as a “yes” assuming time has been spent in discernment.

That’s a brief summary of the call process and must always be followed by a commitment to equip our volunteers once they have answered the call to serve. LOGOS offers an entire workshop on the process of call for those interested in learning more. Please contact Liz Perraud at lizperraud@thelogosministry.org

Is there a difference between inviting individual people to serve God in ministry and recruiting anyone to fill a slot? What has been your experience in the church?


Acts 2:42 Retreats

May 25, 2011

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (Acts 2:42)

The early church knew how to gather together! We can learn from their format of learning/study, fellowship, shared meals, and time of prayer and worship when planning a retreat—whether it’s multigenerational, women or men only, families, youth, confirmation class, or governing boards!

Teaching: Study the Word! Use a passage as the core theme of the retreat. Consider the ancient spiritual practice of Lectio Divina (“sacred reading”) as a way to read and pray Scripture. The process usually involves someone reading a short biblical passage aloud three times, participants then listen for a word or phrase that stands out to them, prayers are then spoken for God’s guidance for understanding, and then a time of contemplation to listen to the application for one’s life. And then those who would like to share what they’ve heard or sensed do.

Fellowship: Plan in fun! Relationships develop and strengthen when we play together. You can do anything from cooperative crafts, to trust and team building games to a rousing game of “Spoons” to “Hide and Go Seek” or “Sardines.” How can church officers not build up trust of one another after that kind of activity? Whatever you do, plan for intentional fellowship!

Breaking of Bread: Share meals! And really share the meals—no buffet lines. Set the table(s) and use a centerpiece. When we walk through a buffet line we are only serving ourselves. Practice the art of servant hood by pouring drinks for one another and passing the salad and rolls. And then do the dishes together!

Prayer: Spend time in worship! Build in praise to God through prayers and song. Light candles to signify Christ’s presence. Ask participants to bring musical instruments to share during this time. Use a responsive or group reading to open or close your gathering.

Additionally…how can your retreat that will be spiritually uplifting for your gathered group, also be outwardly focused? How can mission or service to others be woven into it?  Can you do a service project on the site? How can you leave your retreat location (the actual building or the community) different (more blessed) than when you arrived?

Gather a team together to plan and implement your retreat, drawing on the gifts needed for developing the teaching, fellowship, shared meals, and worship.

Do you need a resource for incorporating the aspects of the early church into your gathering? Consider the “Family Round the Table” iphone app from LOGOS (156 sessions which can be searched by holiday, season, Bible passage, activity, or menu).

http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/id347229773?mt=8

Here’s a sample using a theme of TREES

Teaching: Read and study Jeremiah 17:5-8 (“…But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream…”)

Fellowship: Take a walk in the woods or neighborhood looking for interesting bark patterns…use light colored paper and dark crayons to make rubbings. When you return to the retreat site, create one large imaginary tree made up of all the different designs.

Breaking of Bread: Create a menu for at least one meal with anything that grows on trees: apples, bananas, pears, oranges, walnuts, coconut. Use centerpieces with branches, leaves or acorns.

Blessing: Almighty God, Maker of heaven and earth and everything in it, bless us as we share the bounty of your creation and enjoy eating things that grew on trees. In the name of Christ we pray, Amen.

Prayer: Light a worship candle and place the open Bible next to it. Choose a song such as the spiritual “I Shall Not Be Moved.” Invite everyone to share their prayer concerns and their joys and create a prayer around them. Using the words of Psalm 1 (from The Message), close the worship time by praying responsively:

Leader: How well God must like you—you don’t hang out at Sin Saloon, you  don’t slink along Dead-End Road, you don’t go to Smart-Mouth College.

All: Instead you thrill to God’s Word, you chew on Scripture day and night.

Leader: You’re a tree replanted in Eden, bearing fresh fruit every month, Never dropping a leaf, always in blossom.

All: You’re not at all like the wicked, who are mere windblown dust—Without defense in court, unfit company for innocent people.

Leader: God charts the road you take. The road they take is Skid Row.

Mission or Service: Bring some small saplings and seek permission to plant some at the site of your retreat.


Feedback from the Flock

April 21, 2011

Are you asking for feedback on your ministry with children or youth and then sorry you did? Or do you just ignore this step altogether?

Every ministry area in the church experiences constant evaluation by those involved in leadership and implementation and by those observing it. This evaluation is usually informal, highly personal, and is often subjective.

Ministry leaders need to be objective and constructive in the way they continually evaluate programs of Christian nurture. Mature leaders take the comments of people seriously and listen carefully to both the positive and negative words. The temptation to ignore or pass off comments from unhappy people because “they did not understand what we were trying to do” needs to be resisted. Making changes to please everyone however is also not healthy or effective.

When deciding how to respond when concerns are raised, your ministry team must be guided by your shared understanding of ministry goals and theological foundations—that which provides the structure to what you do each week. And always remembering that relationships are everything.

Whenever we consider making changes based on feedback, the following questions must be asked:

  • Will making the change impact the basic structure that will lead to a less effective ministry?
  • Will making the change strengthen the ministry?
  • Has the unhappiness or criticism been expressed by a number of people or a few?
  • What is behind an expression of unhappiness or dissatisfaction?
  • Have people had an opportunity to express their opinions in the right places and at the appropriate times?
  • How are personal relationships involved and how will they be affected by change?

The day-to-day, informal evaluation and problem solving that occurs throughout the year can keep your programs find-tuned and running smoothly. Relationships are strengthened as people work together to solve problems. Often it is not a case of changing something but of doing a better job of interpretation and education.

The end of program year evaluation often has a more formal process and focus. The purpose is to measure what we did during the year in order to see if we have reached our goals. It is important to focus on the good things that have happened and not only on the negative. When you have a ministry that involves many volunteers it is critical to know how well you (as a ministry leader or team) have communicated with and supported your leaders and workers. You will discover areas needing improvement or clarification, better ways of dividing ministry tasks, and whether or not you need to improve ways to express appreciation. Many times a minor adjustment can correct a major difficulty.

Here are some questions to ask in a formal evaluation as a check point for how you are supporting your volunteers:

  • Have you felt adequately informed about (Sunday school . . . Mid-week program . . . Vacation Bible School . . . Youth Group) this year?
  • At the beginning of the year, you agreed to offer your gifts and time in service to the church. Have you felt supported in, and appreciated for, the service you have given?
  • Did you get enough guidance/training for your position? If not, what could be done differently?
  • List topics you would like explored at future volunteer training sessions.
  • List anything you would like the (ministry team/staff) to discuss when planning for next year.

And then some more questions to get feedback on what volunteers and/or parents see as the value of the program or ministry:

  • How do you see (Sunday school . . . Vacation Bible School . . . Midweek Program . . . Youth Group) contributing to the Christian education and nurture of our young people?
  • How has (program) been helpful to your participation as part of the church family?
  • Is there a family that you’d like to see participate next year and make sure that we add them to our summer communication?

When conducting evaluations, the primary response should not be, “How can we change what we’re doing so these parents/volunteers are happy?” The primary concern should be, “How can we minister to these parents/volunteers and maintain the integrity of the program or ministry?”


Review of “Read and Share Bible”

March 21, 2011

Gwen Ellis has created a retelling of “more than 200 best-loved Bible stories” called the “Read and Share Bible.” Thomas Nelson Publishers sent me a copy to review and they describe the book this way:

The Read and Share Bible is perfect for sharing the amazing joy and wonder of God’s Word with little ones in a whole new way. Some of the Bible features include:

  • More than 200 beloved Bible stories in short-form, which is ideal for the attention span of younger children
  • Bold, bright illustrations
  • Discussion starter with each story
  • Stories adapted from the International Children’s Bible
  • Ideal for guided learning

I decided that the best way to review a children’s book was through the eyes of a child and so I took the “Read and Share Bible” with me when recently staying with a LOGOS colleague’s family which included their six-year old daughter. She almost didn’t let me leave their house with the Bible in my suitcase!

I asked her what she thought of the pictures first—could she figure out what might be going on in the story from what she saw in the illustrations? Not only did she say she could, but she also described perceptions of “surprise,” “happy,” “anger,” “scared.” And she was right. This is critical for connecting the stories with an early or non reader. The people in Steve Smallman’s illustrations have interesting noses—almost puppet-like but their expressions are spot on.

The stories seemed a little short for a six year old but they certainly kept her attention and she insisted on “one more” again and again. I suppose there could be some things worse than a child asking for more of the Bible! I was particularly interested to see how she answered the “discussion starters” at the end of each story. A few questions test knowledge (“God wants us to believe His Word. Of the 12 men who explored the new land, who were the two that trusted God?” Numbers 13:1-14:35). But they are more often “wondering” questions (“Do you think the man noticed how kind the woman was?” Genesis 24:15-20) or “tell what you think happened next” questions (“Elisha was not doing these miracles in his own power. God was helping him. What miracles do you think happened next?” 2 Kings 4:42-22) or even life application questions (“We should always remember to say thank you for what God has done for us. What has God done for you?” Luke 17:11-19).

The discussion starters are not only questions. Sometimes they are statements (“God always has a plan. He has a plan for you too.” Genesis 44:3-45:28) or lessons (“The father in this story is like God. God sees us make bad choices, and He is sad. But He is always waiting for us to come back to Him.” Luke 15:20-32). She was fully engaged and willing to discuss with me before going on to the next one.

The “Read and Share Bible” seemed a bit Old Testament heavy (a quick count was 144 Old Testament stories to 65 from the New Testament) and I wondered if that ratio was typical of Bible story books. So I pulled out my own childhood “Bedtime Bible Stories” (yellowed pages and a copyright in Roman numerals!) and counted 13 Old Testament stories and 24 from the New Testament. My now grown son’s “Precious Moments Stories from the Bible” (1991 was the most recent printing) was more difficult to count because these stories were arranged by category (“Acts of Hate,” “Deeds of Love,” “Acts of Unbelief,” “Deeds of Faith” for instance) and not in order from the Bible.

I liked the “Read and Share Bible” and would recommend it for either very young children or as an introduction to stories of the faith for older children (still needing a deeper exploration by the teacher or parent). And I think I’ll mail my review copy to my little helper!


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