To the Church in Crisis: Our Children are Watching

To the Church in crisis

As I’ve shared here and here and here, our church suffered a catastrophic fire early this week. Below is a message from me to the our church, but the overall message would apply to any church in any time of crisis.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

We are facing a greater trial as a Body of Christ than most of us ever anticipated.  The future is full of uncertainty.  Almost every plan we had in place for the coming months are on hold or even shelved permanently.  Things we held sacred may not make sense any more.  It is hard, my friends, so very hard.

In the midst of this season of questions, I want to remind you of something very dear to me: our children and youth are watching every bit of this crisisTheir faith is being shaped by the words we say, the decisions we make and the way we behave.  We have a great responsibility to the next generation of believers to do this well.

Several years ago, we spent five weeks repeating those words in worship and Vacation Bible School – No matter who you are- TRUST GOD!  No matter how you feel- TRUST GOD!  No matter what people do- TRUST GOD! No matter what happens- TRUST GOD! No matter where you are- TRUST GOD!  Are we prepared to live this out right now?  We have to be.  The stakes are too high.

As we move forward, there will be strong feelings and opinions.  By nature of being displaced, we will have to do church differently.  We have to trust that God is directing our decisions.  I am reminded of King Jehoshaphat’s prayer in facing three armies swarming around Judah, ready to attack in 2nd Chronicles 20.  In verse 12 the king prays “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are fixed on you.” Can we fix our eyes on God and trust him to lead the way?

Can we dig deep into the promises of Scripture that our God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble?  Do we trust that we are more than conquerors through Him who loves us and that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus?  These are words your children have memorized over the last several years.  Now is the time to show them that we believe them.

Every one of us will have times over the next several months when we aren’t completely on board with a decision being made by leaders within the church.  That will always be the case.  How we choose to express those feelings matters so much more now.  If we are full of love and grace for one another, trusting that we are all trying to follow God the best way we know how, our kids will see that.  They will see a body of Christ working hard to BE the body of Christ.

Ephesians 4:31-32 says “Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior.  Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.”  May we tattoo these words across our foreheads and inside our hearts as we move forward.  There is no wound quite so deep as a child hearing bitterness or ugliness about their parent from an adult church member.  As a leader with children who serves the children of our other leaders, this is so dear to me.  Be kind to one another…tenderhearted…forgiving one another as we have been forgiven.  This is a season where grace has to be the ultimate goal in all things.

I love this church and its people so much.  May we be knitted together in Christ’s love today and always.

In Christ’s Love,

Amanda

Mother’s Day

TheMother’s Day is complicated in my experience.  I think it’s a loaded holiday for all kinds of reasons.  There are people for whom this day is extremely painful- people who have lost their mothers, women who are struggling to get pregnant, mothers who have lost a child, mothers whose relationship with their children (or mothers…or mothers in law) are strained or non-existent, people who were hurt by or have difficult relationships with their mothers.  If one holiday causes that many people pain, it is very difficult for me to celebrate it in church.  This was always a struggle for our worship design team when I was a worship leader.  It remains a struggle for me in children’s ministry.

On one hand, I want to give kids an opportunity to honor their mothers.  I love mothers.  I am a mother.  It is hard, soul draining work.  I love the idea of honoring other mothers on a special day.  However, there may be children in my ministry who have no relationship with their mother. There may be children who were adopted and are just finding out, making the concept of family and mothers very complicated.  There may be children in my ministry who doesn’t have a mother.There may be a child whose mother is abusive or addicted or otherwise toxic. This child could work hard on a special project for that mother and have it rejected or ridiculed or worse.  How could I put a child in that position?

My solution over the last few years (and we do something similar for Father’s Day), is to talk about all of the awesome women in our lives.  We start with moms, but also add in teachers and aunts and friends’ moms and women in our church.  We sometimes make a big poster with all their names on it and pray for each of the women by name.  If we make a special project to take home, we tell children to make it for any woman who has loved them well.  Most kids are going to choose their mom (and if there’s a child choosing a teacher over their mom, we might gently suggest they make more than one project so Mom’s feelings don’t get hurt).

Any Mother’s Day or Father’s Day projects that we make tend to center more on who the person is to the child than any stereotypical male or female gifts.  I am a woman highly allergic to flowers with the brownest thumb on the planet.  Every time my child comes home with a flower pot filled with plants I know I will kill by week’s end, I’m filled with guilt.  That’s not a gift that honors me.  So we might do a handprint picture with kids adding five things they love about mom/grandma/awesome woman.  I love anything that can be a remembrance of who the child is at this moment in time. That is a gift that honors all mothers/women.

Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are hard days for many in our church families.  Proceed with sensitivity and compassion to all you serve.  If you have ideas that have worked in your ministry setting, please share in the comments!

Helping Elementary Kids Cope With Disaster

God is With Us

 

As many of you know, there was a catastrophic fire at Christ United Methodist Church last night.  Our hearts are breaking, but we are trusting and leaning on God’s grace and mercy to carry us through.

I wanted to reach out to all elementary parents with some words and tools to help you explain to your preschooler what has happened.

  1. While the building is lost, Christ United Methodist Church and Agapeland are not. Pastor Ryan, Ms. Jaime and all Sunday School and Children’s Ministry staff are safe. (Younger elementary children may still think we live at the church)
  2. God will take care of us through this hard thing. We are amazed at the many ways other churches and members of the community are rallying behind us already.
  3. The church will go on and so will Agapeland. Leaders are making plans for our temporary church and preschool home and will be in touch soon.

Ways to help your child process grief or fear because of the fire

  1. Talk about what has happened as simply as possible. Fewer words are better.  There was a fire and the building is broken.  The church was never about the building, but about the people and the love of Jesus we all share.
  2. Art or journalling are great outlets for children to express their feelings about the crisis. Make art supplies and journals (even a composition notebook) available for your child.  Take time as a family to draw or write about your feelings together.
  3. I have created a YouTube play list of some of the songs we have been singing with the children over the last few years that have Scripture that I have found encouraging. Dust off those Seeds Family Worship CDs and play them in the car.  These songs are comforting and the Words are true.  The same is true of old VBS CDs and Bible Points.
  4. Keep as much of your normal routine as possible. Worship may be different, but everything else should stay as normal as possible.
  5. There will be hard questions and sad moments for all of our families. It is okay to say I don’t know and it is ok for your child to see your sadness.  As parents, we think we need to keep it all together for our kids and have all the answers.  We don’t have to.  God will give us what we need. It’s actually a good, faith building thing for a child to discover that we don’t have all the answers.
  6. If you feel your child needs to see the building, stay as far away as you can. Standing in the alley or in the parking lot as far from the building is safest.  The building is not structurally sound and there is much broken glass and debris that would be dangerous for children.

“The church is not a building, the church is not a steeple, the church is not a resting place, the church is a people!”

I will have some Scripture verses and devotional thoughts for this week soon.  Please know I love you all and am praying for us all in this crisis.

Helping Preschoolers Cope with Disaster


God is With UsAs many of you know, there was a catastrophic fire at Christ United Methodist Church last night.  Our hearts are breaking, but we are trusting and leaning on God’s grace and mercy to carry us through.

I wanted to reach out to all preschool parents with some words and tools to help you explain to your preschooler what has happened.  While these are specific to our crisis, most of these tips are valid for any crisis or traumatic event.

  • While the building is lost, Christ United Methodist Church and Agapeland are not. Pastor Ryan, Ms. Jaime, Ms. Michele, Ms. Amy, Ms. Wanda, Ms. Dawn, Ms. Isabel and all of the adults your child sees and loves at church and preschool are all safe.
  • God will take care of us through this hard thing. We are amazed at the many ways other churches and members of the community are rallying behind us.

Ways to help your preschooler process grief or fear because of the fire

  • Talk about what has happened as simply as possible. Fewer words are better.  There was a fire and the building is broken.  The church was never about the building, but about the people  and the love of Jesus we all share.
  •  Art is a wonderful way for preschoolers to express their feelings.  Give them paper and markers, paints or other supplies and let them create. They may not have words to express their fear or sadness.  Painting or drawing about it may help them express these feelings.
  • Do not be alarmed if your child pretends about the fire. This is a very healthy way for children to process a traumatic event.  Encourage this kind of play, even if it seems a little violent.  Children at this age sometimes need to “conquer” their scary things in pretend play to feel better.
  • Keep as much of your normal routine as possible. Preschool may be postponed and worship may be different, but everything else should stay as normal as possible.
  • If your child expresses worries that your house may burn down, talk about or even practice your family’s emergency plan.  This gives your child a sense of security and control over their surroundings that this fire may have upset.
  • If you feel your child needs to see the building, stay as far away as you can. Standing in the alley or in the parking lot as far from the building is safest.  The building is not structurally sound and there is much broken glass and debris that would be dangerous for children.

“The church is not a building, the church is not a steeple, the church is not a resting place, the church is a people!” Praying for all of us in this storm.  God is bigger and greater than even this.

Trial and Error…a story of a craft gone wrong

BIGWriting curriculum takes me down some pretty crazy paths these days. As I get closer to being ready to launch the curriculum, I though I’d give you a sneak peek at what goes into creating these lessons.

I have been working on a unit about friends of Jesus whose lives were changed because of the time they spent with him. The lesson we are piloting this week (each lesson in KidMin Solutions curriculum is test piloted at CUMC) is about Mary Magdalene. Kids will explore why Mary Magdalene loved Jesus, staying stuck like glue to him even when it was really hard. Our Big News will be Jesus loves us and sticks with us no matter what.

As I was thinking about how to tell this story to our K-2nd graders, I wanted lots of stickiness in our crafts, Bible story and other reinforcing activities. Not in a “sticky faith” sens (although that’s always my goal), but actual stickiness to engage the senses as we learned.  My first step was deciding to use a sticky play dough or slime to help tell the story.  Children will stretch and mold this sticky slime while engaging with the Bible story.

My first stop when looking for ideas for crafts is Pinterest, so I headed there to find the best sticky, slimy dough. As I perused Pinterest for slimy dough options, I found a really fun looking craft idea that perfectly fit my theme- make your own window clings. The lesson applications practically wrote itself, connecting both our memory verse for the month (Romans 8:38-39) and our Bible story. The kids could take home a tangible reminder that Jesus’ love sticks with them no matter what. Better yet, the blog I found called for things I had on hand- waxed paper, glue and food coloring. Score!

I mixed a few drops of food coloring into my glue, poured it into a squeeze bottle and free hand glued a heart shape on my waxed paper. It spread into a round blob.  No good.  I tried using a cookie cutter as a boundary. The glue still spread and I didn’t have nearly enough heart shaped cookie cutters to make that feasible and wasn’t about to buy more because I knew the average Sunday School teacher probably wouldn’t want to do that. I left the glue to dry overnight to see what would happen in the morning. If the clings worked, I could modify my shape or find something to thicken the glue.

The next morning, my glue shapes were all dry. I peeled them off the waxed paper and attempted to stick them to my window. No go. They were not even a little bit sticky. Back to Pinterest. Several other blogs suggested using page protectors to paint or  squirt the glue on and also added a little dish soap to the glue.  I added dish soap to the glue I’d already mixed up, but they still spread like crazy. So frustrating!

At that point, I could have scrapped the whole activity and gone in a different direction.  But I have a feeling our kids will love the idea of making something they can stick on their window or mirror.  So I continued experimenting, leaving the glue to thicken overnight before using it and adding a little gelatin to the mixture.  These experiments are drying on my counter right now.  I’m not certain they will work, but it looks promising.  So far, my hearts are still recognizable hearts.

My adventures in glue and slime are all about finding fun and unusual ways to help kids connect with Biblical truths. I have a ton of boys in our elementary classes. They are not interested in coloring. They are only marginally interested in crafts at all. So the more I find something messy (but not so messy that my teachers spend hours cleaning up or Susie’s pretty church dress gets ruined), something weird or something that engages more senses, the happier they are. A few weeks ago, we painted with jelly bean paint- they were thrilled It’s a balancing act between these crazy antics and getting the message across, but it’s one I’m willing to work on. Our kids are worth this crazy trial and error.  Even if my kitchen is overrun with glue bottles every now and then.

Are You a Builder or a Banker?

Create aYears ago, at the Global Leadership Summit (Willow Creek Association’s amazing leadership training event), I heard TD Jakes share message that in part talked about two different kinds of leaders- builders and bankers.  This analogy has stuck with me long after many other teachings I have experienced.

A builder is someone who starts things.  They come up with a vision and begin new things.  They are fantastic at getting things off the ground…but not at maintaining that new thing. Builders can build an inferno with nothing.

A banker excels at keeping a ministry going after it’s begun.  They keep the fire the builder got blazing aflame. They have dedication and fortitude to keep things humming along, maintaining systems put in place (often by a builder).  They aren’t necessarily people who will easily start something new.

I think there’s a little of both in each of us.  I am primarily a builder, but by nature of being a ministry leader, I must also be a banker.  One of my closest friends is more of a banker, but she is currently building amazing things in lay ministry.  We can do both, but for most of us, without a Holy Spirit nudge and a lot of boldness, we will stick with what comes most naturally to us. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s part of how God made us.  However, we must safeguard against our weakness if we’re going to continue to thrive as ministry leaders.

Builders cannot upset the apple cart every six months, starting new things, particularly in Children’s Ministry.  If I tried to implement every new idea I have for the children’s ministry at our church without working to sustain what is currently working well, I’d burn that ministry to the ground.  My team would burn out   Parents would be confused about what our ministry is all about.  Most concerning, the kids in my ministry would never be sure what was going on and feel less secure coming each week.  I have to maintain certain core items to our ministry- this could be events or the structure of our weekly program or elements of the program- to keep the ministry working well.  This doesn’t mean I can’t ever start something new, it just means I need to be wise about it, praying and consulting with my team of bankers to make sure we can maintain what I would like to start.

Likewise, a leader with banker tendencies cannot sustain a ministry so well that it grows stale.  We need to create new elements or tweak existing programs to bring new life to them.  We also cannot be afraid of letting go of some things just because we like them.  What’s the use of sustaining a VBS program that is no longer drawing children?

Having members of your ministry team that have the opposite tendencies of yours is extremely helpful.  I have some fantastic bankers on both my Sunday School and VBS Leadership Teams.  They help me keep the systems in place that work for us in these ministries.  They catch the nit picky details that I tend to gloss over.  They are my logistics brain that say things like “it would be super cool to have VBS worship at the outdoor worship center, but who will be in charge of bringing the offering plates?  And what if it rains?”  I need these people on my team and in my ear, even when I don’t want to hear their critiques all the time.

Are you a builder or banker?  How can you step outside of your natural tendency to keep your ministry growing?

Highlights from Session 8 with Bishop T.D. Jakes (with introduction and conclusion by Bill Hybels) Global Leadership Summit 2010

Calling All Men! Sunday School Takeover by Men’s Group

Dads in Kids Ministry- Powerful  Message (1)A few months ago, during a Sunday School staff meeting, as we were talking about teacher schedules, one of my teachers came up with a fantastic idea- why not have Monday Night Men (a men’s group many of my Sunday School dads belong to) teach once in a while.  We have so many boys in our Sunday School program right now that I knew this would be fantastic for everyone.

I knew I needed a plan before I approached the Men, so I decided to ask them to lead every fifth Sunday, making those dates station days to allow as many of the men available to lead as possible without putting a heavy load of preparation on the men.  When I proposed this to the leaders of Monday Night Men, I had hardly finished the question before they said yes.  I cannot stress enough how amazing these men are and how supportive they have all been to children’s ministry, many of them help with VBS and special events.

Yesterday was our very first fifth Sunday.  It was a rousing success!  We had six men (I had asked for 4-5) come down and lead Palm Sundays.  The kids loved having dads leading them and the men seemed to have a good time.  They even tolerated my crazy messy craft stations (which I hadn’t planned to have them staff, but I needed to lead a different service station, so they ended up jumping in to help.)  They absolutely jumped in completely, even getting really messy to help finish a service project the kids didn’t have time to complete.  They even cleaned up and organized without me asking.

Often, children’s ministry teams are made up of moms.  There’s nothing wrong with this, but it is great to have dads and the men of the church as part of the team.  It teaches all of the children, but especially the boys, that being faithful and involved in the church is for everyone.  I fully expect by this summer’s 5th Sunday, I’ll be able to hand off the whole lesson for them to lead while I take pictures and watch!

 

Jelly Bean Jesus Lesson and Printable

THE NEW YOUAs promised, I am back with a full lesson and printables for your children’s ministry.  This is designed to be taught around Easter, but it could easily be modified for any time of year (you may need to use Skittles,Lifesavers or M&Ms instead).

One allergy note:  Some children react badly to Red Dye #40 and other food dyes.  Be sure you are aware of any children with this issue and notify parents you will have a snack as part of the lesson (if you plan to allow children to eat the jelly beans during class)

Lesson Overview:

Jelly Bean Jesus Lesson

Age Level:  Elementary (K-5th grade)

Scripture: Ephesians 1:7, 1st Timothy 4:10, John 8:12, 2nd Corinthians 5:17, John 18:37, John 15:9-13, 1st John 2:2

Objective:  Children will begin to understand seven characteristics of Jesus (to be further explored at home with Jelly Bean Jesus Devotions)

Supplies Needed:  White, orange, yellow, green, purple, pink and red paper, timer able to mark seconds, marker, carrot shaped treat bags, twist ties, white, orange, yellow, green, purple, pink and red jelly beans (separated by color in seven Ziploc bags), Jelly Bean Jesus labels (enough sets to label jelly beans and use with craft activity), Jelly Bean Jesus treat cards, Jelly Bean Jesus devotions, large white paper, jelly bean or sensory paint and paint supplies (or craft supplies of your choice), clean up supplies

Notes for Teaching this Lesson:

It may seem like there are a lot of supplies and preparation for this lesson, most of the supplies are printable items available below.  The other supplies are very easily modified to your setting.

It can be tempting to set up the candy in an assembly line and skip hiding the candy and finding it, but this process helps the children be involved in the lesson.  It keeps their attention better in a fairly long Bible lesson if they can be up and moving around.

Use whatever craft supplies you are comfortable with for the craft.  Jelly Bean paint like this one are fun and unusual, keeping students more engaged in their free art time.  This free art allows students to connect with God’s Word on their own.  Even if they choose to paint or draw Minecraft figures or princesses, they are still seeing these words at the top of their paper.  It is an opportunity for children to connect with God, but that opportunity is for them. We cannot force a child to seek God while they are painting, we can only create an environment and expect the Holy Spirit to do the rest.

Blessings to all! Tweet me (@mammarousu) or email pictures of your kiddos doing this lesson!

 

Jelly Bean Jesus Lesson

Jelly Bean Jesus Devotion Elementary

Jelly Bean Jesus Labels

Jelly Bean Color Card

Jelly Bean Jesus

Jelly Bean

Our Easter Eggstravaganza (my non Egg Hunt Egg Hunt) is about two weeks away. I thought I’d feature a cool tool we will be giving families to help them teach kids about the character of Jesus with candy.

Jelly beans are the perfect Easter candy according to my kids. The day a woman shared the Jelly Bean Prayer with the children at children’s chatter, complete with bags of jelly beans for each child might have been the best day of church ever! So when we were looking for new activities for this year’s Easter event, I  remembered itI decided to do my own spin on it for two reasons. 1. I hate black jelly beans and knew they’d be kind of ugly in the layered display I was thinking of and 2. The internet Jelly Bean Prayer doesn’t have quite the discussion possibilities I was hoping to give families.

 My idea was to layer the colors in a carrot shaped treat bag. Kids could eat one color each day of Holy Week while talking about a different characteristic of Jesus, with Scripture verses and maybe even questions or talking points for Mom and Dad I fully realize that kids may just dump their jelly beans together and the papers may get tossed, but that’s not my concern. My concern is always on trying to provide the best tools possible for families to talk about Jesus.

This could be a great Sunday School activity, family devotion activity (because it’s based on the characteristics of Jesus and not the Easter story specifically, you could do it any time, with any colored candy for that matter).

 What you need:

  • Carrot shaped treat bags with twist tie or ribbon to hold closed (the carrot shaped bags hold the layers nicely and each day’s jelly bean dose won’t be enough to give kids bellyaches)
  • Jelly beans sorted by color: red, pink, purple, green, yellow, orange and white
  • Color meaning chart
  • Parent card

 At our event, children move down an assembly line, filling their bags in reverse order of the devotion. Adult and youth leaders will spoon the jelly beans into the bags, telling kids what the meaning of the colors are as they do so.  Then they will close the bags with a twist tie that has a small card attached with the meanings of the colors and Scripture references.  Parents will receive a more detailed explanation with talking points or discussion questions to help families use the jelly beans as a devotion.

My colors and their meanings are listed below in the order children will add them to their bags.  They will eat them in the  opposite order.  Later this week, I will have a mini lesson and printable tags and parent devotions for you to use in your own ministry.

Red- Jesus Sacrificed Everything for Us 1 John 2:2

Pink- Jesus Loves Us John 3:16

Purple- Jesus is the King of all Kings John 18:37

Green- Jesus Makes Us All New 2nd Corinthians 5:17

Yellow- Jesus is the Light of the world John 8:12

Orange- Jesus is our Hope 1 Timothy 4:10

White- Jesus Redeems Us-Ephesians 1:7

Saving the Easter Egg Hunt

EasterI’ve blogged before about how much I hate Easter Egg Hunts.  Traditional Egg Hunts seem to bring out so much ugliness in kids and more disturbingly, their parents.  The behavior I’ve witnessed at egg hunts over the years makes my stomach turn.  Not only that, the whole hunt lasts only a few minutes.  Families leave the candy war without much evidence of the miraculous event that the egg hunt is supposed to be celebrating.

So over the last two years, we have been re-vamping our Easter Egg Hunt to be a kinder, more Jesus centered event.  You can read about last year’s very successful event here.  This year, we’ve expanded our event to include a glow in the dark egg hunt, an Easter Symbol Scavenger Hunt, a twist on the jelly bean prayer, a craft station that will create decorations for our Easter worship celebration and games.  It’s going to be a ton of fun and send families home with two tools to help talk about and celebrate Holy Week.

But what if your church is committed to a traditional egg hunt?  How can you tweak or reinvent a traditional egg hunt to be more Jesus centered?  I have a few ideas for you.  It’s not too late to make a few simple tweaks to your Easter event.

1. Don’t put candy inside the eggs you hide

If kids know that no matter how many eggs they find, they will receive the same candy prize, they will be less likely to push, hit and steal eggs from each other.  Fill those candy treat bags full of sugary goodness and hide hollow eggs.  (This also makes the preparation a whole lot simpler)

2. Fill the eggs with Easter symbols

Again, give a huge candy bag at the end, but inside the egg put pictures and a brief explanation of symbols of Easter.  Think Resurrection Eggs, but by the ton.  You could put different symbols in each color to help insure children will not have a basket full of palms for Palm Sunday. Have a stash of eggs at the candy area for kids to swap if they missed a color.

3. Make the Egg Hunt the grand finale

Do a puppet show, a short play, even a dramatic reading of an Easter storybook (Jesus focused instead of bunny focused) first.  Invite your pastor to welcome everyone and say a prayer of thanksgiving.  Hold a mini worship concert (with a kids choir) as people arrive and register.

4. Have additional stations or events

Face painting, balloon artists, other games, crafts, food- all opportunities for your church members to share hospitality and kindness with the community.

5. Make sure families take home more than candy

Whether you stuff eggs with candy and do a totally traditional egg hunt or try one of the above ideas to mix it up a little, don’t just give them candy.  Find a way to give them Jesus.  Maybe it will be a coloring page with a verse of Scripture on it.  Maybe you tuck an Easter (Jesus themed) coloring book or storybook inside the treat bag.  It can even be as simple as a postcard with your church’s information, Holy Week services and a thank you for attending.  But don’t let them leave your event with the same candy they could get at any community egg hunt.

Egg Hunts can be a great way to reach out to the community.  Find creative ways to encourage positive behaviors and send families home with ways to talk about Easter together.