Hope When the World Hurts

HopeIt is not surprising that in a week where I am overwhelmed by bad news and sadness of our very broken world, I am called to write a lesson for children about hope. Because that’s how God works. We feel our brokenness a little more deeply and he gives us his Word to heal it.

I have a lot of conflicting thoughts and feelings about things happening in the world. And I’m unsettled in a really painful way by what I read and see and hear. Most of it, I don’t understand. As someone who does everything possible to avoid conflict whenever that is an option, just seeing the hurt and ugliness happening in Ferguson, MO makes me physically ill. I think it’s probably a good thing.

I think God wants me to be unsettled…to be upset and confused by reading conflicting stories and so much hate and anger and hurt. Because anything that hurts his people, breaks our Creator’s heart. So all of this situation breaks God’s heart- the death of Michael Brown, the officer involved, the family left behind, the community in upheaval-all of it breaks God’s heart. Anything that breaks the heart of God should break my heart. And it all does.

I’m heartbroken for all sides involved and trying to understand why all of this is happening. So I’m reading and listening and trying to understand. And in all of this listening and reading, I was feeling my own brokenness so keenly the world seemed very bleak.

And then I set aside my reading and listening and got to work. What is my work? To teach children about the love of God. This Sunday is the first Sunday in Advent, when in our tradition, we focus on the hope of the Israelites in the coming Messiah. So my task today is to finish a lesson about hope. God is kind of awesome that way. Right when I was feeling rather hopeless about the world, he reminded me of Hope.

Hope tells me that this world is broken, but one day it will not be. Hope tells me that every knee will bow before the one and only God. Hope also tells me that the worst thing is never the last thing for Jesus has overcome the sin and ugliness of this world. Take heart, I have overcome the world Jesus says in John 16:33, the verse we have been singing every week with the kids in our Sunday School.

So I lift my eyes to heaven and pray more fervently that the hope that I know in Jesus can be spread everywhere. That I might use what God has given me to share that hope with the kids of my community and all over our nation through this little site. May we as people who minister to children plant hope deep in the souls of the children we serve so that when life gets messy and hard, they find the same hope I experienced today.

Prayer Stations

prayer stationsYesterday was our congregation’s celebration of All Saints Day.  Our pastor does a beautiful job of sharing about the saints who we are honoring as part of his sermon, making lessons from their lives relevant to our lives.  It had been a while since we’d done a prayer station day and so it seemed like a great opportunity to teach kids about All Saints Day as well.

I began planning the way I always do with prayer stations- I searched Pinterest.  I’ve started a Prayer Station board at KidMin Solutions with a few of my favorite ideas. Because I was planning to include all ages in our prayer stations, I needed to use activities that required minimal reading/writing skills.  This was the first time my preschoolers (and new kindergarteners) had participated in prayer stations, so I needed stations that would be simple to try.

Yesterday’s prayer stations had a dual theme.  One theme was honoring the living saints among us (people who share God’s love and mercy with us now) and those we have lost.  We included pets because for many children, pets are the first experience children have with death.  We talked about how dogs, cats, fish and even (eek!) snakes can teach us about God if we’re paying attention before I sent the children to start their stations.  The second theme was breaking down the phrases of our memory verse- John 16:33 I have told you these things, so that in me, you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.  This verse applies to our lives, but we also talked about the idea that our Saints know/knew this truth and it brought peace and encouragement to them.

We had a total of nine stations set up.  Ideally, there would be no more than three children per station, but this didn’t always work out.  After I gave an overview of each station, we sent the preschool children with their teacher (we have a very small preschool class this year, which is the only reason we can do this) to one station and then allowed the elementary children to rotate between the stations as they chose to do so.  We encourage the children to rotate through all the stations, but they don’t have to do so.  We encourage them to not dominate station for too long so that others can have a chance.

As teachers, we try to set the tone.  One of my helpers circulated through each station herself as a way of modeling how to prayerfully participate.  I took small groups of children to a special stained glass display in our church with the names of the founders of our congregation on it and led them in thanking God for these people’s sacrifice and leadership as well as asking God’s direction for us to lead this generation and the ones to come.  My other teachers floated among the stations to help keep kids focused on the purpose of a prayer station day- to connect with God.

Later this week, I’ll share some of the stations we used this week and a craft idea that works well as a prayer station.  If you haven’t used prayer stations in your children’s ministry, give it a try.  It adds another opportunity for children to connect with God and build a deeper relationship with him.

Managing the Button Pusher

ManagingWe love all the kids we serve in our Children’s Ministry programs…of course we do.  We are honored to serve them and teach them about Jesus.  It is my great joy to share God’s love with all kids who come through our doors, no matter their individual quirks, But there are some kids that present challenges.

Today, we’re looking at a child who for whatever reason, pushes all of your buttons and irritates you. Each of us as adults has certain behaviors that drive us up the wall- it may
be kids who use potty humor, know it all kids or day dreamers.  These annoying little behaviors are not a big deal, unless it happens to be the thing that pushes you over the edge.  When your button pusher starts pushing your buttons, it can be hard to see beyond this behavior.  But as the people called to love children and share Jesus with them, we must.

So what do we do?  In my experience, managing the button pusher begins long before they arrive in my classroom.  I make a pointed effort to get to know the button pusher and their family so that I can pray for them regularly.  I pray for the children in my ministry of course, but for those kids that are difficult for me, In a perfect world, I would be disciplined enough to pray daily, but this doesn’t happen.  When I’m praying for these children, I don’t pray about the annoying behaviors.  Most of all I pray that God would help me push past these things to see him in the child.

In the classroom, I have two habits for managing my button pushers.  First, I look for every opportunity to recognize and praise the good in that child.  Often, those kids that push our buttons are seeking attention in any way they can, even if it is negative attention.  If I can see the good in my button pusher, finding a few moments to connect with them, their negative behaviors are likely to fade.

My second classroom technique is to keep asking myself “Does this really matter?”  Often those annoying behaviors kids have- being a know it all or making potty jokes are relatively harmless.  If I can strike a balance between allowing the behavior in small doses this will do more to preserve a relationship with that child than correcting their behavior.  All ministry is more about relationships than any one lesson or activity.  This is especially true of children’s ministry.  If we can ignore or look past the small, annoying behaviors, and instead see the child underneath the annoyance, we will always do better both for the child and ourselves.

If a child’s behavior is not something you can look past, be gentle in your approach.  Still keep digging below the surface of the behavior for the child’s heart below.  We had a VBS child this summer who was very disruptive to his crew and aggressive towards adults/youth leaders.  We could not allow his behavior to continue both for the other children in his crew and the safety of our leaders.  After praying about this child (a rising 1st grader), I decided to join his crew as his buddy to help re-direct his behavior and hopefully avoid any issues.  By giving him one on one attention and a gentler tone (because he was my only charge), this child was much more able to participate in VBS.  For his crew leader (one of our more experienced leaders who is fantastic), this child was a frustration that took away from the other children’s VBS experience.  For me, he was a child who had a hard time focusing and in desperate need of love and positive attention.