5 Core Truths of KidMin Sunday School

5 Core Truths of KidMin Sunday SchoolWe are getting very close to launching the product lines of KidMin Solutions! I’m deep in editing and tech mode right now and hoping that by the end of the week (Yikes!) we will have the Christmas Play Collection and KidMin Sunday School curriculum available for purchase.  I will be posting a few sneak peeks in the next few days, but I wanted to start by sharing the 5 Core Truths of KidMin Sunday School. Each lesson I write and share with you is built around these core truths.

God Made You

By reminding kids who made them on a regular basis, we impress on their hearts their great worth. The more we explore this topic by talking about how God Made Us, the more we add to the picture kids hold in their heads of who they might grow to be.  I’m currently writing a unit about Kids in the Bible (available in November after we’ve tested it and edited it). The four week study has 4 Big Truths: God Made Me to Know Him, God Made Me to Listen for His Voice, God Made Me to Be Brave and God Made Me to Use My Gifts. We take the core truth that we are all God’s masterpiece, created for a purpose and explain and explore that to widen all of our understanding of who we are in Christ.

God Loves You

We all need the constant reminder of how much God loves us. We tell kids over and over in every imaginable way that God loves them- No Matter What.  No matter what we do, God loves us. We can’t earn that love. We don’t even deserve that love, but it is as true and as sure as our next breath. Kids need to know that. Parents need to know that. If we only succeed in getting this truth into the hearts and minds of the kids and families we serve, we are doing pretty well.

 God Forgives You

I have come across so many people who for one reason or another have drifted away from God and feel like they can’t possibly come back to church until they clean up their act. How would these people’s story be different if they had the simple and bombastic truth that God Forgives Us written in their hearts. God’s forgiveness doesn’t end, it doesn’t come with strings attached- fix this and be good for this amount of time and we’ll see kind of manipulations. God forgives when we come to him and freely confess and turn away from our sin. Even when we mess up and sin again the same way the next day…we come back and do it all over again and God Still Forgives Us.  It’s mind boggling. It’s life shaking. Let’s do all we can to help kids and their families understand this deep down to their very soul.

God is With You

We all feel alone sometimes. But we are never alone. No matter how solitary and painful the walk may be, God is with us. God is holding us together, giving us strength, working within us. Kids need to know that even when it feels like there is nowhere for them to fit in, they always fit with God. God never runs away or turns his back. He is always with us.

 God Calls Us

Kids need to see that they were created for a purpose. For the kid who never gets picked in gym class or sits alone at lunch, they need to know there is a reason they are so different. They have a calling that goes beyond the moment and into forever. But they also have a calling as a follower of Jesus to love others the best way they can. We talk about our calling being an every day kind of thing. If we’re paying attention, God is calling us to do all kinds of things- take care of his earth, smile at the new kid, say I’m sorry when we are wrong. Giving kids an idea of how they can serve God in their actual real lives makes it much clearer for them to follow God.

We need all five of these truths to create a full picture of who God is and our relationship to him. While our core truths are all God-centered, they are also Trinity centered. The Holy Spirit Calls Us…Jesus Calls Us…God Calls Us. All are true and important. As children grow, we get deeper into these truths, giving them a solid foundation of faith for them to grow into and own for themselves.

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.

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.

Resourcing Parents- 31 Days of KidMin Solutions

Resourcing Parents
Another of my favorite 31 KidMin Solutions for Children’s Ministries of all shapes, sizes and budgets series brings us to the greatest faith influence in the lives of any child- the adults they live with.  For many children this is mom or dad, but it can be an aunt or uncle or grandparents or eve foster parents.  Each of these situations is complicated, but being a faith influencer doesn’t have to be.  We just need to know how.

Below are resources I like to share with parents (or grandparents, aunts and uncles etc) to help them feel confident in their role as a faith influencer for their child.  There are a variety of options- books, online devotions, and online family magazines.  Some of these I have only recently discovered, so haven’t had a chance to share them yet.

1. Sticky Faith and the Sticky Faith Guide for Families

These two books have done more to shape my approach to parenting my own children than any other parenting book I have read.  Based on a longitudinal study done by Fuller Youth Institute on what practices help develop faith that sticks (hence the title Sticky Faith) after students leave home and go to college, this series gives parents, children and youth ministry leaders and church leaders proven ideas for helping kids develop faith that lasts a lifetime.  Our prayer partner ministry was born out of reading this book.  Rather than load on the guilt about how we’ve failed a generation, Kara Powell and her co-author Chap Clark present hope to parents.  Their ideas are simple and easily applicable to any family.  They suggest trying only a few ideas at a time rather than trying to completely starting from scratch- this is do-able for any parent.  As of today’s writing, Sticky Faith is currently on a Kindle sale for $2.99- get it now!

2. Confident Parenting by Jim Burns

There is a DVD study that goes along with this book, but I have not participated in it.  I have used this book as the basis for a small group with parents in need of support.  Each time I return to Jim’s philosophy of Affection, Warmth and Encouragement being the basis of a healthy home, my soul exhales.  Again, this isn’t impossible, upset the apple cart work, but instead, gentle re-tooling and re-focusing on how our homes can reflect the love of our Creator.  Jim Burns and Doug Field’s online ministry to families HomeWord contains great parenting resources and devotions for the whole family.

3. Parenting Beyond Our Capacity by Reggie Joiner and Carey Nieuwhof

Reggie Joiner’s Orange philosophy of uniting church and home to create something more powerful in the lives of kids than either apart can do is fundamental to how I approach children’s ministry.  This parenting book was so encouraging, shaping and important to me as a parent, but also in how I encourage the parents of my congregation.  The Parent Cue is an online Orange resource for parents that is also a favorite of mine with blogs, podcasts, videos and more to help parents share Jesus with their kids.

4. What’s in the Bible website and video series and Jelly Telly

Phil Vischer, the creator of Veggie Tales, has completed a fun, engaging look at the entire Bible for elementary age children.  I learn things about the Bible every time I watch an episode!  These are both deep and entertaining at the same time with puppet characters such as Sunday School Lady, Chuck Wagon, Pirate Pete and Buck Denver, a newscaster to help explain and share stories of the Bible.  While I have appreciated the content of the What’s in the Bible website, I strongly encourage you to avoid the comments section.  Somehow the comments seem to be a cesspool of ugliness and judgement.

Jellytelly.com is Phil’s online subscription service that has all of What’s in the Bible as well as lots of other video and game content for a very reasonable fee.

 Phil Vischer’s podcast is excellent for adults as well, tackling the news of today from a thinking Christian perspective.  I love to hear Phil and his co-hosts Skye Jethani and Christian Taylor’s conversation about deep subjects because it is all rooted in love and glorifying God above all.

4. HomeFront Magazine

This free online magazine (also available as an app and a print subscription) has so many great articles each month for parents.  The app includes videos, music and even recipes for family dinner ideas.

5. Kevin Leman‘s Books and Resources

When my children were small, Dr. Leman’s books were a gigantic help to my husband and I.  He has written on parenting, marriage and even business and personal growth.  While I’m not a fan of the “Have a New Kid/Husband/You” titles, the strategies presented are fantastic and effective and full of grace and encouragement.

How do I share these resources with parents?  I try to share quotes and blogs that are interesting and helpful on facebook.  I will occasionally share information via the church newsletter or my weekly take home resource as well. Pinterest is also a great way to share resources on specific parenting challenges.

 

Disclaimer:  This post includes affiliate links.  Purchases made through these links help to support this ministry.  Thank you!

The Orange Tour 2013- Lancaster: Kids Need Time

Link

A few of my nearest and dearest ministry friends and I had the opportunity to attend the one day Orange Tour in Lancaster, PA (at the Worship Center) earlier this week.  I’ll be sharing what I learned over several days.  Reggie Joiner and his team shared the six things kids need from us as KidMin leaders and Student Ministry leaders.  They might seem obvious, but put together they are so valuable.

Time

hourglass

Kids need our time.  We can get caught up in the day to day stuff of life and completely lose sight of how time is slipping away.  We have around 1,000 weeks with our children before they head off to adulthood.  That number seems big until you look at your twelve year old and realize the countdown is now at 288.  What Reggie reminded us was that when you know how much time you have, you get more serious about what matters most.  Orange has a Legacy Countdown app https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/legacy-countdown/id635713919?mt=8 that shows you how many weeks, days, hours, minutes and seconds you have left til your child graduates.  This makes it real to me when I think about my own children.  But it also reminds me that I have a limited amount of time with each of the children we serve in our ministry.  How can I make it count for something greater than just a few fun games and cool songs?  How do I make it stick beyond Sunday morning?

In his discussion of this, Reggie Joiner reminded us to tell ourselves over and over “I’m not God, I’m not the Holy Spirit, I cannot change a kid, but I can love a few.”  That resonated with me as I considered how fleeting the time is with the kids I’ve been loving and serving in my ministry.  I can’t do anything to insure a child will know Jesus personally, but I can do all that I can to provide an environment where that can happen and trust God to do the rest.  If it pains me to consider one of my church kids walking away from the love of God, how much more must it break God’s heart to see this.  I have to trust that God is in control, not me.

The final point of wisdom regarding time that Reggie shared was that we must value what happens over time.  What we do in our ministries this week matters, but  it can’t all be done in a week.  We can’t do a quick run through of all the good news of Jesus in one week and call our work done.  It is the consistent repetition of the core truths that God loves us, that he sent Jesus to die for us so we could be forgiven, that everyone matters to God, that will make an eternal impact on the hearts of children.  It is our words that consistently speak love and worth to the child who doesn’t hear these words anywhere else that makes them believe them.  Invest in what you cannot see- over the years you do what you can do and God WILL do what he promises.

Elementary Tip #2

NECC 2009 Sunday Day 1 - 26Asking Questions

When I was taking education courses, a special education professor told our whole class that the most important teaching technique we needed to be successful was the art of asking questions.  The statistics and acronyms I learned in that class are a jumble in my mind, but mastering this technique has been a real game changer in my teaching and leadership.  Asking questions is what can take your lesson from being a nice story to something the children in your class (even kindergartners) wrestle with and learn to apply in their lives.

The Right Questions

Truly transforming questions are not asking about facts.  Asking a kindergarten student “How many days were Noah and the animals on the ark?” might draw many children to answer.  However, asking questions like “How do you think Noah felt being on the ark for so long?” is going to spur more conversation and draw the children in your class deeper into the lesson than factual questioning ever could.

The right questions are questions that make a child stop and think a moment before responding.  If you are teaching about Noah and the flood, asking how Noah felt or how they would feel when they saw the rainbow in the sky could launch a whole discussion about God’s promises vs. human promises- How do you feel when someone makes a promise to you?  Do people sometimes fail to keep their promises?  Does God?  What makes you think that?  Susie, what do you think of what Jason just shared?

Keeping the Tone Safe

What is a safe tone?  It is a feeling in the classroom that the children can share their thoughts and not be ridiculed or interrogated.  If they respond to a question in a way that you feel is biblically inaccurate or off track, you gently correct or re-direct them.  Saying things like “I can understand why you might think that way, but the Bible teaches that…” allows children to feel safe to share their thoughts.  If you ask a child a follow up question (to get more understanding about what they shared), you ask in a gentle, non threatening tone, telling the child you are truly interested in what they have to say.

Keeping the Discussion Moving

No matter how engaging the question, if you spend twenty minutes letting every child answer a question, you will lose the rest of the class.  Kids are just not wired for listening that long.  Two or three responses per question is plenty, particularly if you have a chatty student.  The key is to not keep calling on the same kids.  This might mean asking a child who hasn’t responded yet a question directly.  Be careful with this as some children with learning challenges may freeze when they are asked a question.  I try to make sure the direct questions I ask are a little softer- “Jason, Sally just said that she thinks God always keeps his promises, do you agree with her?”

Application Questions

This is my favorite part of teaching Sunday School.  These are the questions that take the story out of the lesson and place it squarely in the real world.  It is asking questions like “When is it hard for you to be honest?  What can you do to follow the model of [insert Bible character]?”  Sometimes these application questions work as a class discussion.  Sometimes, I ask the kids (particularly older kids) to write or draw about a question in their prayer journals.  This allows them time and space to really consider the question and bring it to God in a form of prayer.

Asking good questions can be the difference between a nice lesson the children forget the moment they leave your classroom space and something that draws the children in our midst closer to God.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/krossbow/3718266912/”>krossbow</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>cc</a>

 

 

Elementary Tips: #1 Don’t let the theme be the purpose

Just as Tuesday, we’re all about Preschool, on Wednesday, it’s the elementary classes turn to shine. My #1 tip for elementary kids is:  Don’t let the theme be the purpose

I have seen so many Sunday School lessons, VBS sessions and special events lately that have had an incredibly creative theme that would really draw children in, but the actual Bible content is incredibly weak.  Sometimes the Bible content is there and is strong, but it is so overshadowed by the bells and whistles of the introduction that all the kids talk about at home was the pudding fight that happened before Ms. Amanda taught about David and Goliath.  A theme should be a tool, not a purpose.

If you are writing your own lessons, or creating a children’s ministry event, and a great idea for a theme comes to mind- maybe you want to do a messy day and have lots of messy crafts and games because you know the kids would have fun.  That’s a great launching point, but what’s the Biblical point you want the kids to take home and live with after they attend? If the messy theme receives all your focus and the Bible teaching is weak or nonexistent, the children might as well have attended an event at the local YMCA or library.

As you plan your messy event, pray about what Biblical teaching could be included.  Perhaps you want to have a different messy or gross story (like Namaan being healed, or Jesus using mud to heal the blind man’s eyes) that you share at each station and have a messy craft or game to reinforce the story.  As long as the connection is clear, strong and  repeated over and over again you have the makings of a really fun children’s ministry event

With any lesson, event or activity, continually ask yourself- what is the Biblical lesson I’m trying to impress on these children?  Has my theme become my purpose or is the theme helping to drive home the purpose?

 

Vacation Bible School Planning Part One

Vacation Bible School Planning

Vacation Bible School is one of the cornerstones of children’s ministry.  For many, planning VBS begins almost as soon as the Christmas decorations are packed away.  Others start planning in May for a program in July.  For our first blog series at KidMin Solutions, I’ll be looking at the very early planning and decision making stages of VBS to help you work smarter and grow deeper in your ministry goals.

Step One:  Assemble a team.

The wisest decision our church made in regards to children’s ministry was to assemble a VBS leadership team.  In the beginnings of this team, we worked in support of what the director of lay ministries did to prepare for VBS.  That first year, we made a big leap in what we offered in our VBS and needed a team of organized, child centered, deeply committed Christians to help think through every detail of VBS.

Who should be on my team?  How many people should be on my team?

There is no hard and fast rule about numbers for a good VBS team.  I would highly recommend involving your pastor in at least the very early planning phases.  This may mean he/she is part of the team, but it may also mean that just keep them in the loop through email or personal meetings.  If your church has a staff member who coordinates ministry (perhaps a director of lay ministries or ministry coordinator), that person should be on your team if they are willing to serve this way.  Our director of lay ministries had been the driving force of our VBS for many years and still serves on our team to help shape the vision for VBS.

My situation may not be yours.  Your pastor may not be very interested in children’s ministry and would prefer just to know it happens each year.  You may have a church staff that includes the pastor and the secretary.  Whatever the church staffing situation you have, it is wise to keep someone on staff aware of the early planning decisions whether they choose to be part of your leadership team or not.

Next, consider the members of your previous VBS staff or those who have been involved in children’s ministry throughout the year.  You want people on your team who are passionate about reaching children’s hearts for Jesus.  It is also important to have people on your team who balance out your strengths.  If you are a big picture person, you need at least one detail person on your team to make sure the registration table is staffed and the first aid kits are stocked.  It is also crucial to have people who really understand children and child development.  Having an elementary or preschool teacher on your team can be a huge asset as they have a wealth of tricks of the trade to share with the entire VBS staff.  As with most steering committees or planning teams, a group of five to seven people seems to be ideal.

What am I going to do with this team?

Our VBS leadership team has evolved over the years from being a brainstorming group to being equally invested members with responsibilities of their own to manage and share with the team.  We begin with the big picture kind of dreaming that works best in teams- what are our hopes and dreams for this ministry this year?  We re-commit or re-establish our mission in hosting a VBS at our church.  If you do not have dates established for your VBS, the team makes that decision as well.  The team helps make some of the big decisions in the planning process easier-everything from where your stations will be held to what time your program should run.  As VBS gets closer this group of people can help spread the excitement about VBS when you are ready to start recruiting help and registering children.

Whether you have directed VBS for years or this is your first year leading VBS, I strongly recommend you establish a leadership team.  You will be much stronger for it.

Do you plan VBS with a team?  What challenges you or encourages you about trying?

Stay tuned tomorrow for tip 2:  Determine your purpose.