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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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?

 


Ashes: Finding My Way through Lent

February 17, 2010

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what my Lenten practice might be this year. In the past, for the six weeks before Easter, I’ve “given up” Pepsi, chocolate, TV. I’ve done a once-a-week Lenten fast. I’ve practiced “taking on” something, such as extra prayer time, a service project.

This year I’m going to do something different: I am going to commit to 30 minutes a day of complete silence [no books, no music, no TV, no computer, no phone, no visiting] … in order to read scripture and listen to what God is calling me to do in my community.

I am inspired to do this as a Lenten practice by a book by Laurie Beth Jones entitled Jesus, CEO: Using Ancient Wisdom for Visionary Leadership. In one of her devotionals, she writes about “the call to leadership coming from many directions and in many ways”. She shares that “the Old Testament indicates there three ways we are called: the burning heart, the burning bush, and the burning house”.

David had a burning heart, leading him to go and fight on behalf of his people. Moses experienced the burning bush which called him to lead God’s people to freedom. Esther was faced with a burning house —the Jewish nation which was certainly to be destroyed—and answering God’s call, she risked her life to save it.

Last spring after Easter services, our church burned the palm branches and saved the ashes in a jar for use in this year’s Ash Wednesday worship. The story of God’s people demonstrates that out of the most difficult situations, from the most ordinary people, come leaders who are inspired by their circumstances and who are equipped by God to do the task. When things were “burning”, David found his bravery, Moses found his inspiration, and Esther her courage. From the ashes came great leadership for meaningful missions.

This Lent, marked at the beginning by the ashes from the old palm branches, I make a new commitment to an old practice as I seek to serve God in my town.

What is God calling you to do?

For more information on discerning God’s call on your life, view The LOGOS Ministry’s webinar “Hey You!” available at http://www.logosresources.com/