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?


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: 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.


Helping Children Wait for Easter

February 24, 2010

A child prayingIt occurs to me that most Christian adults navigate Lent through some pretty serious spiritual practices by reevaluating their lives, rededicating themselves to God, and engaging in often tough disciplines such as daily prayers, personal deprivations, special service projects, and fasting. But can we help children find meaning in such Lenten practices?

Already in stores we see signs of “Easter”…plastic eggs and baskets, stuffed bunnies, candy—all items that can derail a parent’s commitment to making Lent a spiritual journey for everyone in the family. How can we include children in the Lenten preparations for Easter?

In Gateways to Worship, Carolyn C. Brown suggests that we teach children that, “Lent is a time to wait for Easter by finding ways to be closer to God. Purple is the color for both Advent and Lent because in both seasons we wait for the coming of the King. Unlike Advent, Lent includes no special songs, stories or rituals that are obvious to children. Therefore our goals are simply that children recognize Lent as the time we wait for Easter and know its color to be purple. Children are already familiar with a variety of prayers we use in congregational worship and they should be grasping the concept that we can worship and pray at any time and in any place.”

A good prayer focus for your children during Lent is learning the Lord’s Prayer. Read Matthew 6:9-14 and tell the story of the time when Jesus’ friends asked him to teach them how to pray. Each week of Lent you can focus on one line of the prayer. Ask children what they think the words of the prayer mean. Make placemats for your dinner table and write the Lord’s Prayer on it; use the prayer for your mealtime thanks and grace.

Faith at Home advises that “In addition to the typical Lenten activities, which young children will probably not understand fully, enrich your family life during Lent in other ways. Choose activities, stories, and play that highlight things coming to life, or the sparseness and simplicity of the season, or themes of Easter to come. A twig’s green wood underneath a scraped-away outer layer. Budding and blooming plants. A simplified home décor. Quiet evenings enjoying each others’ company without the television. Delicious, simple meals of good soup and bread. Finally, begin to look ahead, in your storytelling, playtime, books, and more, to the great stories of Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and Easter.”

Keep Lent simple and focused: get close to God and stay close to God…through prayer and simple family activities.

Amen.


A Valentine for Children

February 10, 2010
Red Grammer

Image courtesy of RedGrammer.com

I love Red Grammer. He writes and sings songs for children. I like that he loves and respects children and that his songs are about oneness, character, conflict resolution, and community. One of my favorites is “I Think You’re Wonderful” and it goes like this:

If we practice this phrase in the most honest way
And find something special in someone each day
We’ll lift up the world one heart at a time
It all starts by saying this one simple line…

I think you’re wonderful
When somebody says that to me
I feel wonderful, as wonderful can be
It makes me wanta to say the same thing to somebody new
And by the way I’ve been meaning to say
I think you’re wonderful, too

When each one of us feels important inside
Loving and giving and glad we’re alive
Oh what a difference we’ll make in each day
And all because someone decided to say…

I think you’re wonderful
When somebody says that to me
I feel wonderful, as wonderful can be
It makes me wanta to say the same thing to somebody new
And by the way I’ve been meaning to say
I think you’re wonderful, too

Teaching Peace © 1986 Smilin’ Atcha Music, Inc.

Recently as I listened to this lovely song, I wondered: how many of us love others conditionally? Most parents know and understand the value of affirming cooperation and positive behavior in children. We seek to find accomplished tasks to applaud and conduct to praise on the road to building obedient, productive, responsible children. Good job, Tommy! Nice picture, Billy! Thanks for taking out the trash, Greg!

Does God love us because we just are or because of what we do?

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! (1 John 3:1 New International Version)

God is love. If we keep on loving others, we will stay one in our hearts with God, and he will stay one with us. (1 John 4:16 Contemporary English Version)

It doesn’t matter if you are a Greek or a Jew, or if you are circumcised or not. You may even be a barbarian or a Scythian, and you may be a slave or a free person. Yet Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us. God loves you and has chosen you as his own special people. So be gentle, kind, humble, meek, and patient. (Colossians 3:11-12 Contemporary English Version)

I could keep listing scripture, but you get my drift: nothing in these passages about being loved because of good work or taking out the trash. What we read is a reassurance that God has always loved us, goes on loving us no matter what, and wants us to actively love others just as God does.

I know, I know. Valentine’s Day is basically a Hallmark holiday…regarded as a romantic time for couples. But hey, how about joining me in expanding the usual Valentine message about love? This Valentine’s Day, reflect the unconditional love God has lavished on you onto those around you, especially your children. Take a moment to lift a child’s heart by saying “I think you’re wonderful”… period.

Amen.

Learn more about the importance of healthy, Christian relationships by viewing “God & You & Me” a new webinar from The LOGOS Ministry. Go to http://www.logosresources.com for more description and price.