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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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?


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?”


Teachable Moments

January 24, 2011

I was in our local grocery store around lunch time recently and witnessed someone shoplifting. There was no doubt about it. Two young men were in the candy aisle and one lifted a bag of chocolate of some kind and then I thought I saw him tuck it into his sweatshirt but I couldn’t be sure. I watched as they walked away and at that point I knew, because there was no shopping cart and neither had anything in their hands. So I just watched them.  And the friend glanced back several times to see me watching them and he looked very nervous.

I literally froze trying to figure out what to do. I’ll honestly say that one of the options that went through my mind was to do nothing. But that sure didn’t feel right. If I had had even a shred of doubt about what I had seen I think I could have talked myself into that option. But no doubt — he had taken it off the shelf, shoved it into his sweatshirt and zipped it up. And now they were bolting…slowly and calmly but definitely not continuing to “shop.”

If I confronted them, what would I say? They were young — early high school perhaps and didn’t look the least bit dangerous or threatening. I was given the opportunity for a teachable moment and I wasn’t sure how to proceed. I wish I could say I prayed about it but I didn’t. However, I think it was one of those instances where God knew what I needed before I even asked. So I truly believe that what I did was a total God-thing.

I needed to find them first. I darted down the candy aisle, turned left in the direction they had headed and looked. No boys. Flew across the back of the store looking up each aisle. Pet food aisle — no boys.  Paper goods aisle — no boys. Bottled water aisle — no boys.  On to the frozen foods!  Aha!  I saw them just starting to go up the very last aisle in the store (ice cream aisle!) and so I pushed my cart up the parallel aisle to head them off at the pass. And it worked!

The alleged perpetrator rounded the corner and I approached him full on, looked him in the eye and asked very genuinely, “Can I help you pay for that candy you have in your sweatshirt?”

Life is filled with teachable moments. They often don’t come in the classroom or the sanctuary. We have to be alert to them and grab them when we can. Besides my “do nothing” option, my other initial thought was to haul them before the store manager and turn them in. But in this situation, that just didn’t feel right either. So I’m thankful that God placed a third option on my heart and in my mouth.

Are you wondering how he answered? He would not look me in the eye and just said, “I’ll put it back.” I said, “No, really! If you want it and you need money to pay for it, I’ll help you.” He seemed mortified! Then his friend came around the corner and I was a little more pointed asking him if HE had anything. He said he didn’t. I gave him a raised eyebrow and he asked if I wanted to check his backpack.  Then I told him I believed him and let it go.

I don’t know if the young man actually did put it back because I didn’t follow him to watch. I decided to give him the space to “make amends” privately. I’m pretty hopeful that he did return it.  He looked quite remorseful after our conversation.  I’m also hopeful that they both remember what happened — and the gift they were given by GOD — and then make a better decision the next time the temptation arises.

Have you ever experienced a teachable moment?  In your home? In the church classroom? In the neighborhood? Were you on the teaching or taught end of it?

 


Sustainable Faith II

December 8, 2010

What makes the difference between a teenager staying connected to the church or straying from it? A previous article here shares several key observations by David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group on the topic. His organization has been researching what makes for sustainable faith and while the organization is still in the midst of the study, he did share several key observations at the LOGOS Live Conference in San Antonio, Texas in October. This article continues the discussion.

What about those of the “next generation” who do leave the church?  Do they share any common characteristics?  And if so, does that give church leaders clues as to how we can keep our young people engaged and connected to the faith?

David described three types of young people who leave…Prodigals, Nomads, and Exiles.

Prodigals: These are the ones who have walked away from their faith. They’ve made an intentional break.  Presumably they’ve had a negative experience with the church or with Christians.  They’re feeling angry or annoyed with Christians in general now.

Nomads: These are the spiritual wanderers who have gradually disengaged.  Church is just not as important to them as it used to be.  They don’t feel that they “fit in” to church anymore and they don’t see that church matters.  This is the most common group who leave the church.

Exiles: These are the young people who now find themselves in a culture or environment that is very different than what their “growing up in” church understands or accepts. Because of their occupation or where they live or how they live, they have a need to navigate new territory and don’t see the church as being helpful or supportive.

I’m wondering if many of our nomads started as exiles as they entered college.  Unless they were very intentional in connecting with a Christian community it would be all too easy to move deeper and deeper into a place that separates them from what they experienced in their home-church environment—no matter how beloved at the time. And then that separation just becomes the norm and there’s little recognition of the importance of a church community or for practicing their faith.

What do you do to maintain the connection with the post-high school (and particularly college attending) youth from your church?  Is it important to keep them connected not only to their home church leaders but also to their home church peers?

What are some ideas to reconnect with them on a regular basis and when they come home for their natural seasonal breaks? Do you plan mission trips or on-line Bible studies?  Fellowship gatherings?  Please share your ideas and thoughts.


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?