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!


“What Matters Now in Children’s Ministry?”

May 17, 2010

“What Matters Now in Children’s Ministry?”

That was the epic question before them. The team (Amy Dolan of Lemon Lime Kids, Henry Zonio of Elemental Children’s Ministry, and Matt Guevara of the

What Matters most?

Cory Center) have gathered 33 perspectives from a cross section of denominations and ministry contexts to answer this question.  Every contributor was asked to answer the question with only ONE word (a couple of contributors were given some grace and allowed two words).  After they honed the one-word answer, they were allowed to support their answer with another 300 words.  Not an easy task.

Our own Liz Perraud is one of the contributors for his project.  So I invite you to take a look at this  free ebook “What Matters Now in Children’s Ministry” which was published by IMAGO.  A printed version will be available sometime in June.


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.


Children in Today’s Church: Worshipping Together

March 24, 2010

Third in a series of three discussions

Many years ago, as I was beginning my career in ministry with children, I arrived at church early on my first Sunday morning to prepare for the day’s worship and education. I was excited—and a little nervous—but also very eager to meet the children that day. Looking back, I think that a lot of the parents in that congregation were looking forward to meeting me, too—and some were quite eager to express their POV to me about including children in the worship service.

One set of parents stopped me outside the sanctuary to let me know that they “hoped I wasn’t going to change the church’s practice of having children 11 years and younger leave right after the call to worship because after all, Sunday worship was their time and children are a distraction”, stunning me with their vehemence. Hoo boy! First week on the job and already in the thick of it!

What did I do? I’ll get to that in a minute….

As I read and research trends in today’s church, I see a movement towards having the whole family worship together. Any congregation that embraces this approach must then deal with how to make worship engaging for all who are present, regardless of their age—and having made this decision, must then convince/persuade all church staff and worshippers that it can be done without sacrificing relevance for anyone. Worship planning can be exciting when you think of all of the possibilities for creatively engaging all ages in the holy worship of God!

Back to my first Sunday dilemma: I thanked those parents for sharing their thoughts with me and moved on to worship. I prayed mightily for wisdom and guidance. I met the most wonderful children that day, children who loved God and who wanted to be with both their family and their church family as they experienced prayer and confession and forgiveness and music and offering and baptism and communion and hearing God’s Word and wondering about what it all meant for them—not much of which could be authentically replicated in a “children’s church” setting.

What did I do? Baby steps. From that day forward, I worked diligently to increase the time children sat with their families, made our time together a continuation of the adults’ worship, and lobbied for [and won!] the practice of bringing the children back into the sanctuary after the sermon. After a time, the only moments children were not in worship were the moments during a spoken sermon, giving them a chance to witness and experience all the richness of the tradition and ritual of worship in that church. After a time, no one could remember that it had been any other way.

Can families with children worship together in your church? Yes! It takes prayer, intentional worship planning, lots of creativity, patience, communication, and time, but your church can transform itself from a Sunday-morning-segregated group into the whole family of God at worship together.

What do you think?


Children in Today’s Church: At the Communion Table

March 17, 2010

Second in a series of three discussions

Several years ago, while leading a communion seminar for children and their families, a father came to me privately and expressed his concern that he would not be able to truly discern his children’s sincere repentance of the wrong things they had done, and therefore he could not allow them to take communion. He then proceeded to bring his children to worship and in full view of the other families, who had participated and graduated from the seminar, forbade his children to partake, passing the elements right over their heads.

How sad we all felt as we gazed at the bereft faces of those children!

One of the challenges in any congregation that wishes to be inclusive of children in worship is coming to an understanding or agreement about inviting children to the communion table. Every Christian congregation has its own set of understandings about when children should partake of the Lord’s Supper. Certainly denominational churches are governed by guidelines for worship; non-denominational churches usually develop their own policies.

Here are some thoughts:

“In the early church, baptism was the required admission to the Lord’s Table. This is still clear to us in the baptism of adults. But even to the early Christians, baptizing children and then refusing them communion would be like giving birth to a child and then withholding food until the child is old enough to ask for it and understand its significance.” [“A Theology of The Lord’s Supper” by Catherine Gunsalus Gonzalez]

“The balance is a delicate one: on one hand, parents want to be sure that their children understand and appreciate the Lord’s Supper before the children begin receiving communion; but on the other hand, participating in the Lord’s Supper is one of the ways we gain understanding of and appreciation for the sacrament.” [“God’s Family at the Table” by Thomas G. Long]

When are children ready?

1. Children between birth and 3 years old can begin to learn about the Lord’s Supper while communion is being served. Parents can talk about what is happening with simple words such as “when we eat and drink we remember the special meal Jesus had with his friends.”

2. Children 3-5 years old are often quite curious about communion elements. Parents can share that “God’s people share a meal together as God’s family.”

3. Children aged 6-8 years old are reading and are often able to think both historically and symbolically so parents can talk about how we remember Jesus when we share communion. Engaging them in baking bread for communion, or helping to clean up afterwards, appeals to children of this age and helps them to feel included if they are not receiving communion in their church.

4. Children aged 9-12 years old are more skilled at abstract and symbolic thinking as they grow. They are gaining understanding of the presence of Jesus in the sacrament and that as we participate, we are receiving God’s love and forgiveness and saying thank you.

Learning about the Lord’s Supper is a life-long process. The most effective way we learn about anything in life is by doing it. It is the same for the Lord’s Supper. We do not really understand it until we participate in it.

In “Welcoming Children to the Lord’s Table”, David Ng says, “We now understand better that children, because of who they are, bring special gifts to the community of faith. Child-like faith is simple, direct, and trusting. It is not faith that is earned or learned, but faith that is a gift from God…. Indeed, Jesus used the faith of children to remind his disciples of the nature of faith.”

When we combine what we know about the Lord’s Supper with what we know about children, we find that children can participate with wonder and meaning, and can increasingly contribute to the entire community’s celebration.

What do you think?


Children in Today’s Church: Goals for Growing Spiritually

March 10, 2010

First in a series of three discussions

Over the years I have been asked many times by parents and church teachers about how to tell if a child is growing spiritually. Can we know if all the time spent in worship, Sunday school, midweek ministry programs, Vacation Bible school, and service projects is actually having a positive effect on the spiritual development of our children?

In my opinion, the answer is yes. While the growth of our faith is part of a life-long journey and certainly a unique personal experience, there are some measurable ways that we can use to test the general effectiveness of our ministry with children:

1. Children will increase in their understanding of God’s promise to always love us, to always forgive us and to always be with us. (Birth – 7 years)

2. Children will grow in their ability to pray. (Ages 1 – 7 years)

3. Children will participate in age appropriate worship experiences. (Ages 3 –7 years)

4. Children will increase in their knowledge of the stories of the people of God. (Ages 2 – 7 years)

5. Children will develop the ability to express kindness and to demonstrate generosity. (Ages 2 – 7 years)

6. Children will develop the ability to extend forgiveness and to make amends. (Ages 3- 7 years)

In his book “Talking to Your Child about God” David Heller says that like sexual or cognitive development, spiritual development is a natural process which unfolds spontaneously if a child is supported and encouraged. When development is suppressed or inhibited, however, a child is neither adequately equipped to confront religious questions healthily, nor sufficiently secure to get the most out of life.

How is your children’s ministry doing?

For a more evaluative and detailed tool to measure the effectiveness of your church’s ministry with children, use the free Children’s Ministry Effectiveness Model available at www.thelogosministry.org.


A Visit from Santa

December 24, 2009

A Christmas tale just perfect for today:
Late one Christmas Eve, I sank back, tired but content, into my easy chair. The kids were in bed, the gifts were wrapped, the milk and cookies waited by the fireplace for Santa. As I sat back admiring the tree with its decorations, I couldn’t help feeling that something important was missing. It wasn’t long before the tiny twinkling tree lights lulled me to sleep.

I don’t know how long I slept, but all of a sudden I knew that I wasn’t alone. I opened my eyes, and you can imagine my surprise when I saw Santa Claus himself standing next to my Christmas tree. He was dressed all in fur from his head to his foot just as the poem described him, but he was not the “jolly old elf” of Christmas legend. The man who stood before me looked sad and disappointed, and there were tears in his eyes.

“Santa, what’s wrong?” I asked, “Why are you crying?”

“It’s the children,” Santa replied sadly.

“But Santa, the children love you,” I said.

“Oh, I know they love me, and they love the gifts I bring them,” Santa said, “but the children of today seem to have somehow missed out on the true spirit of Christmas. It’s not their fault. It’s just that the adults, many of them not having been taught themselves, have forgotten to teach the children.”

“Teach them what?” I asked.

Santa’s kind old face became soft, more gentle. His eyes began to shine with something more than tears. He spoke softly, “Teach the children the true meaning of Christmas. Teach them that the part of Christmas we can see, hear, and touch is much more than meets the eye. Teach them the symbolism behind the customs and traditions of Christmas which we now observe. Teach them what it is they truly represent.”

Santa reached into his bag and pulled out a tiny Christmas tree and set it on my mantle. “Teach them about the Christmas tree. Green is the second color of Christmas. The stately evergreen, with its unchanging color, represents the hope of eternal life in Jesus. Its needles point heavenward as a reminder that mankind’s thoughts should turn heavenward as well.”

Santa reached into his bag again and pulled out a shiny star and placed it at the top of the small tree. “The star was the heavenly sign of promise. God promised a Savior for the world and the star was the sign of the fulfillment of that promise on the night that Jesus Christ was born. Teach the children that God always fulfills His promises, and that wise men still seek Him.”

“Red,” said Santa, “is the first color of Christmas.” “He pulled forth a red ornament for the tiny tree. Red is deep, intense, vivid. It is the color of the life-giving blood that flows through our veins. It is the symbol of God’s greatest gift. Teach the children that Christ gave his life and shed his blood for them that they might have eternal life. When they see the color red, it should remind them of that most wonderful gift.”

Santa found a silver bell in his pack and placed it on the tree. “Just as lost sheep are guided to safety by the sound of the bell, it continues to ring today for all to be guided to the fold. Teach the children to follow the true Shepherd, who gave His life for the sheep.”

Santa placed a candle on the mantle and lit it. The soft glow from its one tiny flame brightened the room. “The glow of the candle represents how people can show their thanks for the gift of God’s son that Christmas Eve long ago. Teach the children to follow in Christ’s foot steps…to go about doing good. Teach them to let their light so shine before people that all may see it and glorify God. This is what is symbolized when the twinkle lights shine on the tree like hundreds of bright, shining candles, each of them representing one of God’s precious children, their light shining for all to see.”

Again Santa reached into his bag and this time he brought forth a tiny red and white striped cane. As he hung it on the tree he spoke softly. “The candy cane is a stick of hard white candy. White to symbolize the virgin birth and sinless nature of Jesus, and hard to symbolize the Solid Rock the foundation of the church, and the firmness of God’s promises. The candy cane is in the form of a “J” to represent the precious name of Jesus, who came to earth. It also represents the Good Shepherd’s crook, which He uses to reach down into the ditches of the world to lift out the fallen lambs who like all sheep, have gone astray. The original candy cane had three small red stripes, which are the stripes of the scourging Jesus received by which we are healed, and a large red stripe that represents the shed blood of Jesus, so that we can have the promise of eternal life.

“Teach these things to the children.”

Santa brought out a beautiful wreath made of fresh, fragrant greenery tied with a bright red bow. “The bow reminds us of the bond of perfection, which is love. The wreath embodies all the good things about Christmas for those with eyes to see and hearts to understand. It contains the colors of red and green and the heaven-turned needles of the evergreen. The bow tells the story of good will towards all and its color reminds us of Christ’s sacrifice. Even its very shape is symbolic, representing eternity and the eternal nature of Christ’s love. It is a circle, without beginning and without end. These are the things you must teach the children.”

I asked, “But where does that leave you, Santa?”

The tears gone now from his eyes, a smile broke over Santa’s face. “Why bless you, my dear,” he laughed, “I’m only a symbol myself. I represent the spirit of family fun and the joy of giving and receiving. If the children are taught these other things, there is no danger that I’ll ever be forgotten.”

“I think I’m beginning to understand.”

“That’s why I came,” said Santa. “You’re an adult. If you don’t teach the children these things, then who will?”

—Author Unknown