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!

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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.


Seeking Peace in the Sunday School Classroom – Podcast

November 1, 2010

From bwcumc.org – website of The Baltimore-Washington Conference:

Listen to a discussion about peace in the Sunday School classroom with Liz Perraud, a Regional Advisor for the LOGOS Ministry. Liz supports and coaches churches and serves as a training leader on topics related to effective ministry – particularly with children.  Here, she talks with BWC webmaster Lesley Carter about building positive relationships between teachers and students and accommodating multiple learning styles.Hear the discussion here. Want to save this file to your computer? Simply right-click on the link and save it.


Sending an Orphan Back to Russia

April 12, 2010

This is a blog post from my friend Pastor John Smith. He is the Senior Pastor at Grace UMC.

I have been coaching them this year in the start up of their LOGOS Ministry and Inter-generational Family Worship service.  Pastor John has considerable experience with ministry in Russia and is passionate about children.  He shares some wise words that I think will interest all of us in Children’s Ministry.

Please read it here.