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.

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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!


Sustainable Faith

November 15, 2010

What makes the difference between a teenager staying connected to the church or straying from it? If we can identify what the church can do—or do differently, can we stem the tide of those who give up or drift away from the Christian faith, and more specifically the church community? I recently heard David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, address the concept of sustainable faith—something that Barna has been researching.  The organization is still in the midst of the study but he did share several key observations at the LOGOS Live Conference in San Antonio, Texas in October.

First, he believes three things define what makes this next generation different:

The long shadow of the 60s–skepticism is greater, there is less trust, and more social change particularly in the family make up.

The digital world–kids are digital “natives” and information consumption has moved from passive to interactive.

The post Christian environment–increased cultural criticism of Christianity.

These three factors help explain why this generation is more alienated (from institutions, public schools, manufacturers), has more access (to information and the world), and has new questions about authority.

This isn’t all bad news!  It means that for this generation, relationships count (because institutions don’t), they learn how they want and when they want, they are willing to take risks and take action, and they are interested in the “common good.”  Are we “back to the future” with the early church? Sounds like it, doesn’t it? The issue for us as “the church” becomes what changes do we need to make as a community to be more inclusive of and inviting to this generation? David also observed that the central challenge to this next generation is being “in the world” but not “of the world.” He believes that challenge will be critical to how we work with this age group.

He was emphatic that church leaders need to pay attention to the reasons why even those 18-29 year olds who have grown up in the church may not be calling themselves “Christian.” Kinnaman identifies some of the things being said about the church from the surveys–noting it’s not as simple as we would hope.

Doubtless: The church doesn’t deal with doubt.

Anti-Science: The church is perceived to be this.

Shallow: Church is boring, God is not experienced in church.

Too safe:  All talk, no action.

Meaningless: Faith is not relevant to real life.

Too institutional: The church ignores the problems of the real world.

Talking heads: The church talks at rather than with youth.

Uncreative: Not interested in the ideas of young people.

Ouch!

David did offer up some hope for the church if we pay attention and make some change. Two of the areas he suggested that need addressing are:

“Age buckets”–stop segregating all we do by age group

Ministry to parents—a need to step this up

At The LOGOS Ministry, we teach an approach that allows for all generations to be in ministry together—with a focus on building up young disciples of Jesus Christ. Parents partner with other parents as well as older (and younger) adults in the church to minister to children and youth. We’re not the only organization helping churches move in this direction and we believe that when churches do it well there might be a better chance of stopping the loss of what Barna calls “spiritual engagement” of the next generation. What are the roadblocks that your church is experiencing? What makes getting past some of these barriers so difficult?


Ministry for adults and children

November 8, 2010

A great description of how one church finds common ground between children and adults through LOGOS. Excerpt from Rapid City Journal:

“I like the intergenerational feeling of it. Family is not just mom, dad and kids. People who go to church here are a sort of family, too,” she said.

“Because the parents of LOGOS ministry members are asked to contribute from time to time — teaching Bible classes, preparing the family-time meal, leading recreation activities — a flourishing LOGOS ministry seeds the church with active adults,” Sherman-Conroy said.

“When kids make friends in the church, parents get involved. When parents get involved, families get involved. When families get involved, the church is a vigorous actor in the community, sharing the love of God, generating excitement and growing. It can transform a congregation.”

The LOGOS ministry builds on itself. Westminster is able to offer not only classes for children and youth, but also for parents and adults.

“The church is for all people and all ages. While kids learn and grow in their way, adults can be encouraged and equipped for their lives, too,” said Jacobs.

An adult small-group study class that is reading “Boundaries,” a book on setting healthy boundaries, includes many people who aren’t members at Westminster.

Sherman-Conroy and Jacobs regularly eat lunch at West Middle School, across the street from the church, and invite kids to attend LOGOS.

“Kids like feeling like they’re part of something,” she said. Weekly attendance in the LOGOS youth group ranges from 16 to 20, a good turnout for a church of its size, Sherman-Conroy said.

Read the rest of the article here.