How Trivia Crack Has Changed My Teaching Strategies

Over Christmas, our entire family got into Trivia Crack.  When I say entire, I’m not just talking about my husband, kids and I…my sister and her husband and even my dad were playing.  My mother was the only one not playing (which irritated her to no end, believe me).  If you don’t know what Trivia Crack is, it is a trivia game for your phone or personal devices or facebook where you can challenge friends or strangers to a trivia battle. It’s crazy addictive to a family that is big on trivia anyway (my husband has a regular trivia team that competed last year at a national tavern trivia event..so we’re a little serious about this trivia stuff).

While I’ve had fun playing, what has been most informative for me is watching my 11 and 13 year old play.  While my husband and I are content to play the game, my kids are intent on being part of the making of the game.  They spend as much time on the app editing and rating other people’s questions and writing their own as they do actually playing the game.  Their friends seem to be doing the same.  What a revelation about this generation!  They are not content to participate from the outsides of something.  They want to be inside it, driving it and making it better.

So how does that shape my teaching strategies?  Knowing that my 3rd-5th graders are probably wired very similarly, I need to think about ways that they can drive their own learning and experiencing the Bible.  I know that we can’t talk at kids and expect them to do anything more that smile and nod (or more often zone out and cause destruction).  But entertaining them with skits and gadgets doesn’t get them any more involved in their earning.  We have to go deeper with kids to get them to engage.

What does that look like?  Each lesson is different.  A lot of the time, it’s about asking questions to help them find the answers rather than telling them.  They don’t always want to do that work. But their learning goes deeper when they find the answers (not to mention teaching them critical thinking skills which will help them academically).

Sunday, we learned about what Jesus says about love versus what we think about love.  I used conversation hearts and a video of a “Diamonds are Forever” ad as representations of culture’s idea of love and contrasted them with Jesus teaching about loving our enemies in Luke 6, about laying down our lives for our friends in John 15 and Paul’s summation of God’s love for us in Romans 5:8 “God demonstrated his great love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” The lesson also included an experiment adding food coloring to hot and cold water, a water color prayer activity and  writing in their prayer journals.  I try to find as many ways as possible to give my students a place to grab the basic truth that God loves them no matter what.

This is more than Bible story, review game, word search, craft and dismiss.  That doesn’t cut it with this generation (one could make the argument that it never worked, but that’s another post).  We need to engage them and push them a little bit to own their own faith journey-even in third grade. Believe it or not, kids are hungry for ownership of their own faith.  Let’s give it to them.

Know Your Mandate in Ministry

SALEEarlier this week, one of my favorite parenting bloggers Shannan Younger of Chicago Now’s Tween Us posted a fabulous blog about Knowing Your Mandate.  If you are a parent, stop reading this and go read Shannon’s post.  Seriously.  It’s so simple, but put words to something I’ve been feeling lately both as a parent and as a KidMin leader.

Shannon quotes Lou Holtz’ motivational speeches saying “know your mandate”.  As a word nerd, of course I had to look up mandate on dictionary.com. I discovered that a mandate is essentially an authoritative command or order from a higher authority.  Obviously, as Christians, our higher authority is God.  So what is our mandate?

There are a few Scripture that are often cited as mandates for Christians.  Matthew 28:18-19, Jesus’ final words to His Disciples is often cited as our mandate:
18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations,baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Parents often turn to Deuteronomy 6:4-9 for their mandate
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.[a] Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gate
Another often cited verse for our marching orders as followers of Christ is Micah 6:8
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God.
I’m not about to argue with Scripture.  If we are God people, His Word is our ultimate guiding light.  What I would argue is our own interpretation and application of these verses as mandates in life and ministry.
There is much hand wringing and gnashing of teeth about the 4-14 age group, the critical ages between which studies show that life long faith grows.  These studies (like this Barna study) have certainly some times of deep reflection for me.  I actually preached a sermon about growing kids faith focusing on findings of this study, encouraging parents and our whole congregation to invest in teaching kids about God and the Bible.  We did a summer Bible challenge with prizes and points.  I was seeking a surefire way to ensure my three children will grow up with a faith.
Are you seeing the problem here?  Somehow in our (or my) zealousness to teach my kids and the kids I lead about our loving God, I put myself in God’s shoes.  I started thinking if I just followed the right formula, taught the right lessons, used the most innovative teaching methods to keep kids engaged I could singlehandedly convert every child who came into my church.  That’s not following God or making disciples…it’s pride.  It’s sin.  And it took me years to recognize that sin in myself.
No matter how good our curriculum, how engaging our teaching styles, how deeply our group leaders connect with the children they serve, it is ultimately not up to us to make disciples.  That is something that happens through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Trying to claim otherwise I believe is taking credit for work that only God can do.
Instead, we are called to do our best to plant the seeds of God’s Word in the children we serve.  We are called to love these kids the best way we know how.  We are called to do what we can to show them the never failing, never giving up love of God that follows them wherever they go.  We will fail our kids, our teams, our people.  God won’t.
So what’s our mandate?  I try to fall back on this reminder from Reggie Joiner, one of my kidmin heroes, who said at Orange Tour that he repeats these words to himself every week “I am not God, I am not the Holy Spirit.  I cannot save any child, but I can love a few.”  This week as you go into your churches to serve, I pray that all of us can have that mandate:  to love our kids well and to love our God best.  That is all we can do.  The rest is up to God.