Small Groups for Upper Elementary

Tossing some ping-pong balls before we shoot a cannonball of small groups in January, we started a series of three 3rd-5th grade small groups. Where Sunday school may be considered Wesley’s ‘classes’, I was thinking more along the lines of offering Wesley’s ‘bands’: an opportunity for deeper growth and more intentional belonging. Postcards for the Princesses (girls only) and Knights (boys only) were mailed a month before, info in the newsletter, age-level emails were sent, and we talked about it in Sunday school after co-leaders were secured, and promoted it on social media. Using “Raising A Modern-Day Knight” by Robert Lewis and “Knights In Training” by Heather Haupt as resources for games and THE CODE, we were set.

Princess & Knights – Weeks #1 & #2

Opening Activity – Write each name on a craft stick (to be used to call on students and place in small groups); Pop bubble wrap

Introduction Game – Shake hands around a circle with “Hi My Name is ….” completely around the room until everyone has been introduced.

Introduce the Knight’s Code & Princess of the King’s Code with handout. I printed the Princess Code on purple (color of royalty), but changed #5 of the Knight’s Code to read ‘respect the honor of all people.’

Chant Activity – YOU shall love the Lord with all your heart, with all your soul, and with your strength. YOU shall love the Lord with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself, HUH! (Mark 12:30-31)

Lesson Point – #1 When we follow Jesus, we do what He did (according to Luke 2: He went to church; He listened to His teachers; He obeyed His Mama) – #2 Miriam – Finish the task at hand (Princess); Jonathan – Always do what is right (Knight)

Scripture – Luke 2:41-52 (The only story we have of Jesus as a kid)

Miriam – Persevere and finish the task at hand
A princess of the king sets about with determination to finish the task at hand. She reminds herself to stick with her task before starting on play or another assignment. (Exodus 15)

Jonathan – Stand against injustice and evil
A knight of valor fights against injustice and evil, no matter the personal cost. He recognizes that evil triumphs when good men do nothing and is willing to take that stand to defend and protect those around him. (1 Samuel)

Small Group Questions:
How do we grow in wisdom?
How do we grow in stature?
How do we grow in favor? (why do you think growing in these areas are important as knights or princesses of the king?)

Miriam – 1) Can you think of a time when you had to persevere through a difficult situation or task?
2) What are some things you can do to help you get through tough times?
3) How can we celebrate and thank God when he helps us persevere?

Jonathan – 1) Why did Jonathan risk his own life to defend David?
2) How did Jonathan’s bravery in standing up for David lead to the birth of Jesus?
3) How can you be like Jonathan?

Closing Games:

Princesses: Walking with a book on your head (proper posture gives confidence); Shoe game (2 girls, back to back with one shoe beside the couple on the ground; each girl touches own body parts with own both hands as per game caller, then when ‘shoe’ is shouted, the first girl to grab and keep the one shoe beside the couple wins…ex: eyes, head, knees, shoulder, SHOE!); Frozen tshirt game (How to play: freeze a couple t-shirts, split into teams, and the first team to get the shirt onto one of their team members wins.)

Knights: Finger Jousting; Stand Your Ground Challenge
Finger Jousting – The point of the game is to touch your pointer finger to the arms, legs, or torso of your opponent. Lock hands in a wrestling stance with pointer fingers sticking out (our joust). The other arm must be held behind your back and while you can  move your feet to position yourself, you cannot use your legs or opposite arm in this joust. Stand Your Ground Challenge – 2 kids face each other with feet apart at hip width and about 12 inches from their opponent’s feet, palms touching at  shoulder height. Victory goes to the opponent who can hold his ground. Play best two out of three. Frozen tshirt game (How to play: freeze a couple t-shirts, split into teams, and the first team to get the shirt onto one of their team members wins.)

Service Activity:
Write WELCOME postcards to go into guest kid bags; fill kid-guest bags with stickers, bracelets, information and registration forms, pencils, candy.

Dismissal Prayer: The Doxology (it’s not about me, it’s about the King)…the girls prefer to sing the doxology.

The next lesson for the Princesses will be on Dorcas (be generous and willing to share). The Knight’s lessons will be about Boaz (be generous and willing to share).

There is a great deal of information we hope to gather in these three small group meetings as we pray and prepare for what developmentally appropriate faith formation experiences will be offered come the new year. More on that later.

“The knight survives in that collective consciousness like an ancient Superman, committed to a code of conduct that Tennyson summarized as ‘Live pure, speak true, right wrong, follow the King.'” Frances Gies, The Knight in History (New York: Harper Row, 1984), page 206

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Tour of the Nativities

Think Festival of the Trees, but of Nativities instead. In the midst of an Advent planning session about the Children’s Christmas Eve service and Hanging of the Greens in the Children’s Area, our team hashed out a great idea. I wanted to share it asap since we are all in the midst of Advent planning, so here goes.

What if we offer an open invitation to the congregation to bring a nativity to be displayed on tables lining the children’s worship space (we call ours The TreeHouse)? At the kid’s Hanging of the Greens (HOG service), we go ahead and set up the stage area with a photo booth for the Tacky Tshirt Family Christmas Party (it’s too hot in Atlanta for sweaters!), we set up a few trees, then line the walls with tables. We place solid-colored table cloths on all the tables. Families or groups would complete an information form about the nativity displayed (Family name, contact info, and one or two lines about the history of the nativity) to be displayed with each nativity. Nativities would be dropped off for display the first two weeks of Advent.

On the Sunday before Christmas Eve (third Sunday in Advent), immediately following the last service of the morning, we invite the congregation and families to a Tour of the Nativities in the children’s worship space with Fifth Grade Ambassadors as greeters and tour guides with Christmas music playing in the background. Another kidmin champion mentioned at yesterday’s networking lunch how her local church’s ladies group did this and even opened it to the community. I’ll be finding out more about that as we get closer.

Yeah…this is happening!

What are you most excited about this Advent season as you engage children and their families in developmentally appropriate faith formation experiences?

“Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, ‘We have seen remarkable things today.'” Luke 5:26

The Tale of Four Bibles

What’s your Bible story? It’s a question I ask often when I speak to Christian educators or lead a Ladies Retreat. It’s a beautiful thing to watch someone’s countenance change from ‘here’ to ‘then’ as he or she tells the story of their Bible. It’s a stroll down their spiritual memory lane. Listening to the ‘who’, the ‘where’, the ‘when’ and your heart can jump straight into your throat.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I broke down and bought a new bible. I wrestled with letting go of the current one, but when chunks of Genesis rested in 2 Kings, and pages from Matthew are folded into the creases of Mark, it had to be done.

In 1968, I was 7 years old and my world was round. My parents gave me a Bible that fit perfectly under my arm as I rushed to Sunday School. It was a red-letter King James Bible with a zipper closure. This was my Starter Bible. Every name was marked and spaced phonetically so even this first-born-overachiever wouldn’t stumble if she read aloud the story of Melchizedec. In those days we could earn star stickers on a huge chart for memorizing Bible verses. So all the SHORT bible verses are underlined throughout. Think: “Jesus wept.” This little, black Bible is all that I have of my childhood. As a junior in high school, our home burned down. To the ground. Everything was lost. Everything except our Corning Ware dishes and our Bibles. In every one of my siblings’ bedrooms and my own, the only things rescued…the only things recovered…the only items with no ash…were each of our Bibles. I can still turn the pages at times and the smells of that day return.

In 1991, after resigning from serving as the Assistant Vice President of Investments at a bank in south Louisiana, I found myself standing on the stage of our local church being introduced as the new Kindergarten teacher and Teaching Supervisor at Comite Christian Academy celebrating with God for providing a way that I could earn a living and do more than just feed and clothe my kids at night. As I was being introduced, I prayed, “Lord! It doesn’t get any better than this. I am so excited about what you are going to do in our lives.” When Bob called home that night, he shared we’d been transferred to Connecticut. The memory is so vivid even today.

We moved to New England in November. I couldn’t find red beans, Rotel tomatoes, Duke’s mayonnaise, nor grits. No one spoke like me. My neighbors were polite, but hardly friendly. It snowed our second day and didn’t melt until the following April. I’d never been so cold in all my life. I was lost, and lonely. Bob and the kids gave to me a hardback, red-letter New International Version Life Application Bible for my 31st birthday. This is my Young Mom & Wife Bible. The black print was God’s history with His people. If the print was red, “Jesus said.” And if the print was blue, it was God’s history with me. There is a lot of blue print. Marked up especially around Proverbs 31, 23rd Psalm, Ephesians and everywhere else a young mom and wife would go for comfort, help, encouragement, joy, and vocabulary of love and purpose. On the inside cover is a picture of #1 Son and Baby Girl just after they were baptized.

By 2001, we had been moved by Bob’s company to the Atlanta area. Our kids were in upper elementary school. We bought a home, and began serving in a church just around the corner. We’d both gone on our Emmaus Walks the year before and Bible study was part of the rhythm of our lives. I was teaching weekday preschool, beginning to present trainings and workshops all over North Georgia. My hardback Bible was in pieces and I eagerly saved my coupons and picked up a thumb-indexed, red-letter, NIV, Life Application Bible from the local Christian bookstore. One of my students gave to me a Bible cover that I still use to this day reminding me of my calling and the huge responsibility to consider myself a teacher. This is my Warrior’s Bible. There is more written in blue ink here than any other. My faith files are clear with post it notes and added material to help me bring God’s story to life for me and mine and others.

This is the Bible I soaked in tears as the Lord and I fought through spiritual warfare, when He resurrected dead places in my heart and taught me to forgive. We endured seasons of sifting and wrestling, I claimed my call, I prayed, I taught, I fought, I hid, empty nested, and our children chose their partners for life.

Baby Girl tells me this new Bible is my New Beginnings Bible. Only time will tell of the season to come. A red-letter, NIV (1984), Life Application Bible because it’s the Bible that is the same translation as our student Bibles at our church. It’s hard enough to learn God’s vocabulary when the congruency is off in teaching.  My Warrior’s Bible was filled with years of Bible study teachings from a whole host of teachers, commentators, and personal experiences. It is so familiar. I can picture certain scriptures on the left top corner, or ‘in the middle of the page somewhere in John.’ As much as I miss turning the page to find familiarity, I am touched by a fresh word impressed upon me from a clean page with only His words and not my own. At least for now. When I turn the page I can be sure that Genesis is in the beginning and Revelation ends in the back of the book with “Amen.” And that’s a good thing.

What’s your Bible Story? Do your students know your Bible Story? When’s the last time you shared your Bible Story?

“Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in Your law.” Psalm 119:18
(This post was originally published in December 2015)

Clergy Family Day Away With the Bishop

It was in a conversation among the leaders of our denominational conference that the first Clergy Family Day Away with the Bishop came to be. Camp Glisson was booked, invitations were sent, and a precious band of children’s ministry champions brainstormed what could be offered the children while the clergy and their spouses gathered for a bit of chapel life and face time with the Bishop.

Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson was appointed the Bishop of the North Georgia Conference just over a year ago. She is known for her accessibility and her comfort in participating in small group. Oh, she shines in the large group, too, because she’s a fabulous communicator. But it’s in these small groups where you walk way feeling you’ve been heard, you’ve been encouraged, and you have a new friend and champion for what matters most: making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. She shared in our district Meet & Greet that when she retires, she’ll go back to teaching children’s Sunday school. Yes!

The plans for the day included small group time, a large group photo, lunch, a sharing by the Bishop with the children with a children’s Q&A, then the families could stay on campus to hike, swim in the huge pool with a cooler filled with freeze pops, play in the falls, family choice. With all this planned, the real action happened on the ball field.

While the clergy and their spouses enjoyed small group time with the Bishop at the beginning of the day, Ministry With Children colleagues led children in ‘get to know you’ games for preschoolers, early elementary, and upper elementary. There was a nursery provided for the little-littles led by a local church’s nursery staff in an adjacent building.

I had the preschoolers. The brainstorming team were geniuses to include games with balloons, pool noodles, foam sticker picture frames, hula hoops and laundry baskets.  One KidMin champion and her husband brought most of the supplies after arriving home from a week’s vacation at 1am that very morning. The other KidMin champion traveled more than two hours, with the first hour before dawn to extend extravagant hospitality to these families. I had a helper in a first-born 4-year-old and brought small, white bags to go on a nature hike for treasures. We each gathered a rock, a stick, a leaf, and a nut. If we found more than one of each, we shared with those who didn’t have any. We called each other by our names, we made new friends, and none of the games were done as originally intended, because playing with preschoolers has no rules except to laugh, to succeed, to be kind, to be together. We did it all!

It was a precious gift to serve these families in play with their littles. It was a precious gift to hear the Bishop share with them that they, too, are in the family business of sharing the love of Jesus. It was a precious gift to join the team to provide an environment where clergy families can be encouraged, be heard, be served, and make personal family connections beyond professional connections.

We closed our preschooler’s play time with a hula hoop and pool noodle dance party because dancing is what preschoolers do best. Sharing the love of Christ Jesus through play is what WE do best. I’m sure all these clergy families had a billion (probably not a billion, but this is how kidmin people talk) other things to do, but they chose to connect with the families of their peers professionally AND personally. And I am so glad I was invited to play in the sandbox….with their kids…watching squirrels…gathering treasures…laughing…in the sun…on a beautiful Saturday morning…in North Georgia.

“For the sake of my family and friends, I will say, ‘Peace be within you.'” Psalm 122:8

Sunday Morning Welcome Center

Serving at a local church with multiple buildings on the same campus, I can see first hand that parents can get easily frustrated if it takes 15 minutes to drop off all the littles all over campus before Mom and Dad can get where they need to be on Sunday mornings, especially if they are serving. This is why we opened a Kid’s Welcome Center for K5-5th grade. Every event, even Sunday school, will give parents a one-stop location to sign in their children and see their children immediately engaged in games and ‘friendship stations’ to begin the day/event. It also helps our church greeters to direct guest families to one location. And the benefits continue.

Adults engage in fellowship and community over coffee. Little people do the same over a shared game. If their hands are busy, their minds are calm. At the end of each week, the Welcome Center is set up with various ‘friendship stations’ so little people can play together. Playing together builds a sense of belonging. Learning to play together well builds connection to our peers and other members of the family of faith. Only a game can encourage even the shyest kids to talk and participate.

We add something new each month and even make a snack station with a water dispenser for those who are hungry and didn’t have time to eat. The first stop is a table at the entrance where students write their own name tags and this gives me the perfect opportunity to introduce myself, engage them in some chitchat with students and parents/grandparents, AND learn their names.

The bonus is for our parents who so faithfully lead a Sunday school class as a small group leader. They can register and drop off their littles, then head to their classroom to review the upcoming lesson or adjust the supplies that are provided…in peace. When Sunday school is scheduled to begin, the small group leader returns to the Welcome Center to gather their students to escort to their classroom. When Sunday school is over, the students are returned to the Welcome Center so the small group leader can tidy their spaces (we all share space with other ministries with children) and return unused supplies to their class carts. All I need to do is look down the hallway to see if their class roller carts are outside their doors to know if all the classes are finished.

If you look closely, there is usually a parent or even a Sunday school teacher in the mix…chatting and building with Lego bricks, setting up the Giant Jenga game again, or just touching base with a student who offered up a prayer request last week. The Welcome Center system has worked well and serves as an opportunity to extend extravagant hospitality and a sense of belonging. What other systems are you using to make for a smoother Sunday morning for your families?

“Welcome is the beginning of worship, for in welcoming one another, we welcome the divine ‘shekinah’, the holy presence of God that is in each person.” (Bath Church, Hospitality Team Letter)

Retreating From The Other Side

The annual Children’s Ministry fall retreat for 3rd-6th graders for the North Georgia Annual Conference takes over two weekends at the beautiful Camp Glisson in Dahlonega, Georgia. Accepting a new position so soon before the scheduled weekends made it impossible for me to meet, greet, promote, and secure all the details to bring students from my new local church, yet I was invited by Rev. Debby Fox, the generous colleague who coordinates this fabulous event, to come and help. I jumped at the invitation with a resounding YES!

Even with atrocious traffic issues due to heavy hurricane evacuations from neighboring states, every driver approached the registration stop on campus with a smile and anxious anticipation of what the weekend would hold. The energy was contagious and carried into the first worship service after claiming bunks and cabins.

The ALIVE Retreat was planned to teach the liturgical worship calendar, introduce students to worship vocabulary, visual elements, various audio elements, and entirely developmentally appropriate. The incredibly gifted Chuck Bell prepared four worship experiences with 3rd-6th graders in mind and invites his very talented daughters to serve in leadership roles. It is impossible to explain the impact of their roles in the eyes and hearts of their peers. Overhearing a student say, “Hey! I could do that, too,” starts dreams and hopes early.

“If Sunday School was the place where people were built up in the faith, then camp was where they made their decisions about following the Lord.” Henrietta Mears

A District Superintendent was the teaching pastor for the first ALIVE weekend who took puppetry to a whole new level with this age group. The District Superintendent of the Atlanta-Marietta District has liturgical puppets and he had the students and adults riveted to the antics of his puppet friends. He was SO good! His teaching was SO good! He was SO funny! Overhearing a student share, “I saw His lips move, but he let that puppet roast him,” means this creative DS hit the mark.

  • The students did not linger in the back, but were in the front ready to experience the teaching and worship completely.
  • The food was fabulous and this year’s participants ate all of it. They probably didn’t need the gallon-sized Ziploc bags that were handed out to ‘save the chicken strips’ for later.
  • The artwork and camper guide was beautiful and personally engaging. The drawstring backpack was perfect to carry essentials all over camp.
  • The cooler weather did not make it too cold to swim.
  • Some adults realized jumping from the platform would have gotten them further than trying to zip line into the water. Age is a crazy thing!
  • The students learned to communicate with our great God with breath prayers…and were all-in every time I saw them pass the prayer nets.
  • The students sang the songs, rang the bells, and participated fully.
  • The Children’s Leaders were gracious to one another and loved on each other’s kids.
  • The young adult leaders, ELI and RELI (Experiential Leadership Institute) student leaders rallied the students to play well, to play with, and to enjoy a sense of belonging that only ‘play’ can offer.

Something special takes place within us that firms up our understanding of how we are a connected body of believers when we participate in a fall retreat at a location that is part of and equips us to pass on our heritage of faith. Sharing sacred moments in sacred spaces makes for a faith that is deeply memorable and incredibly sticky. You can read about the previous retreats here and here.

“Camping programs are high yield. Taking people away from their regular life for a few days, and offering them a season of activity, intense focus without distractions, peer-to-peer interaction and Bible influence is perhaps one of the greatest investments in people’s lives.” Henrietta Mears

I did get to love on students of years’ past who remembered me and students from my previous local church. I about squeezed and hugged them until their eyes popped out of their heads. One young man was experiencing an away retreat for the first time after hearing his brother come home the last two years with stories. His fabulous Dad was a chaperone. Oh to be a fly on the wall when the younger brother and Dad returned home to share their stories with the older brother. Oh the stories…the testimonies…the memories.

“Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story.” Psalm 107:2

The Book of Everyday Prayer: A Book Review

A dear friend gifted to me a new book on prayer. This book is not for a quick sit-down, but rather a guide for some lingering before the Lord. This dear friend so knows my heart’s desire. The Book of Everyday Prayer: Liturgies for Personal Devotion, written by Jeremy Steele, is a delight for this prayer-vocabulary-challenged gal.

Jeremy Steele is a husband, father of four, and the teaching pastor at Christ United Methodist Church in Mobile, Alabama. He confesses on his blog that sometimes he doesn’t always know what to pray. A fellow sojourner, indeed. Like me, he is fascinated with the ancient prayer texts and song lyrics that help us come before a gracious God with a heart unsure of what to say, when to say, and how long to listen. From his own words, “The book… is for everyone who, like me, needs more than what comes off the top of their head.  It’s for the teen, young adult and adult who are ready to claim old hymns, beautiful Bible verses and a new word or two as their own prayers.”

The seven-day read-along guides offer prayers at different times of the day: dawn, morning, midday, afternoon, evening, and midnight. Each prayer opens with a Call to Prayer followed by a Confession, Invitation, Refrain, Scripture passage reading, the repeated Refrain, a Psalm/Song Lyric, the repeated Refrain, The Lord’s Prayer, a Prayer for Today, ending with a Concluding Prayer covering about three printed pages. I particularly like the text of Confession and Invitation. I know I don’t spend enough time inviting the Lord into the conversation and I sure don’t spend enough time in confessing before the Lord. The words bring me to pause, to breathe, to listen, to linger before the Lord.

At this point in my life, I find myself waking up a bit earlier and really enjoying the lingering in my prayer chair in the morning. I also find myself aware of a need to come before the Lord at other times of the day and this has proven to be the perfect tool.

Various prayer practices are also outlined in the book, but a special section is dedicated to prayers for occasions such as ‘cleaning a room’, ‘when a friend moves away’, ‘getting a new thing’, and even ‘coffee’ (I will insert ‘tea’ here). I’m not kidding! The prayers for situations of gain and loss as well as relationships are authentic and some may put a smile on your face. I think the Lord likes it when we come to Him with a smile…in prayer…for ‘working’, for ‘friendships’, even ‘video games’. Really, I’m not kidding…there is a prayer for video games and it’s fabulous!

The book is published by The Youth Cartel and is available here.

“Almighty and all-loving God. I thank you for the new friendships that are emerging in my life right now, and I thank you for the gift of all the friends that you have blessed me with in the past. I thank you for how growing closer to people helps me grow closer to you, and I thank you for the opportunities that friendship give to be a support and be supported by others.” ~ Jeremy Steele, The Book of Everyday Prayer, (page 183)

When Do You Worship?

Less than a month ago, I accepted a full-time position with a new local church in ministry with children kindergarten through fifth-grade. The church is new to me on the ‘day to day’, but I have long known their generosity, their heart for service, and their reputation of training up leaders for more than 15 years from those who serve within the Emmaus community there. Good people, indeed!

The senior pastor asked me this very question the first time I met with him and a representative from the Staff Parish Relations Committee. One of our challenges as local church staff is to guard and prepare for ourselves that which we encourage for the congregation we serve. We have to creatively prepare for opportunities to engage in worship, corporate worship. As followers of Christ, we, too, are called to follow the directive by the author of Hebrews to ‘not forsake gathering together.’

“Then I (the apostle John) looked and heard, the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand (THAT’s community!). They encircled the throne and the living creature and the elders (serving a God of order.) In a loud voice they sang (singing is still a part): Worthy is the Lamb (Jesus) who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” Revelation 5:11-12 NIV

This was revealed to John of how Jesus will be worshiped in Heaven. I am SO visual, it gives me a great picture of what it means to worship our great God.

How can we worship Him today in power? I have power over my emotions, my disposition, and setting my own priorities. I have the power to set aside one day a week as my Sabbath. Fridays are my Sabbath.

How can I worship Him today in wealth? With my money. Returning to Him which was His in the first place is an act of trust and obedience. Giving is the act of returning a tithe (10% of my increase). Since I am no longer in services when the plate is passed, I have now set it up for my bank to issue and mail the tithe.

How can I worship Him today in wisdom? With my mind. Romans 12:2 reads, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Jesus understood that any authentic transformation will happen for all of us in our minds first. When I am regularly in The Word, learning the language and vocabulary of God, transformation takes place. This one is seriously on me. If I claim I am not hearing from God…If I state that ‘I don’t get fed at church’… If I hold on to the idea that my personal preferences for Sunday morning worship determines if I worship or not… I am SO out of sync with what God intended worship to be.

How can I worship Him today in strength? With my body. I KNOW my triggers. Peanut M&Ms are my Judas sin…you know, sin that comes at you looking like a friend, kissing you on the cheek, then turning on you. I may not be able to scale a 10 foot wall, but taking care of my body is worship. Thank you, Fitbit, for the accountability help.

How can I worship Him today in honor? With my deeds. I honor our great God when I bake a cake, write a note, make a phone call, send an encouraging text, share a casserole (this is how we really share love in the south, right?), bring a flower, go above and beyond in my work, drop off a 24-pack of toilet paper when my neighbor has house guests due to a funeral or a wedding. How and when I serve should bring Him honor.

How can I worship Him today in glory? With expressions of hope, encouragement, and forgiving well.  Glory has a weight to it, a leaning-in quality. Ephesians 4:32 reads, “Be ye kind, one to another, tenderhearted, and forgiving one another, just as in Christ God forgave you.” So I give Him glory when I extend the same forgiveness He gives me. This is when worship doesn’t come easy. Yet He invites us to ‘lean in’ through prayer.

How can I worship Him today in praise? With my words and my speech. My words can heal or hurt, my countenance when sharing those words can help or hinder. My heart is heard by my words and how they are shared.

Worship is not where I go or the type of songs sung, it’s how we are to live. Not once a week, but every single day. I listen to sermons by podcast, sing to my favorite worship songs on my cellphone at the top of my lungs and in sign, attend other worship experiences that take place other than on Sunday mornings, and give online. I take bible study in small group, share life and accept accountability in a weekly Emmaus Reunion Group, and have my personal ‘quiet time’ (which is sometimes FAR from quiet) with the LORD each morning. Oh, and in my new position, I sing and dance before the LORD with little people every Sunday morning. How wonderful that our Great God has offered us the tools to serve AND the tools to worship the One and Only whose abundant love has ruined me for the typical, the ordinary, the mediocre.

“Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.” Psalm 100:2

Taking Up Too Much Space In My Head

Ever have a situation that takes up WAY too much space in your head? It not only stays in your head, but lays heavy on your soul? And the situation is much more personal, because you are directly involved? It takes place in your world, in your house, in your backyard, on your turf. I used to filter my response with, “If I am still troubled to the same degree as when it happened, or even more so, after three days, then I need to do something about it.”

It’s been three days and I’m still twisted.

Those of us involved in ministry with children in the local church are spunky, creative, and nurturing. We also submit to the authority over us, keeping our heads down and doing the work. We typically avoid ever drawing so much attention to ourselves that we become targets. We are well-informed and can quickly read a room for safety because we are usually followed by little people and harm will not come to our own ‘on our watch.’ It’s kinda like the gift the LORD gives and grows in Moms and Dads to expand our peripheral vision to a complete 360 when it comes to our kids. We are easily influenced by those with credentials seemingly a tad better than we perceive our own because we wish to serve at our best. We don’t push back and we keep the peace although we are ferociously protective of the kids in our charge and our fellow servant leaders.

There are strategies we can learn to engage in these critical conversations well. When our natural response is to freeze, fight, or flight, Rev. Dr. Scott Hughes, Director of Adult Discipleship at UMC Discipleship Ministries, has been blogging and sharing around the country equipping folks to lean into these critical conversations with courage. Scott and I collaborated on what that engagement could look like for those who minister with children at a learning event last weekend. In the book Crucial Conversations we can learn to prepare for that conversation using the acronym STATE providing an ‘easy way to introduce risky information and defuse emotion, making it possible to keep a conversation on track.’ (Crucial Conversations)

S – Share your facts…this was my expectation, but this is what I saw happen; address the gap between expectation and reality.
T – Tell your story…this is how you felt and what you are now having to do as a result of the gap between expectation and reality.
A – Ask for other’s paths…ask questions for clarity and understanding with the goal of creating an environment of safety making him/her feel his/her opinion matters.
T – Talk tentative…presenting your story as a story and not as fact; refrain from pre-judging motives
E – Encourage testing…perhaps asking, “Do you have an alternative explanation for the discrepancy?”

Well, it’s been three days and I am just as twisted as I was when the situation took place. The expectation was one thing, the reality was something altogether different. My tribe was affected and I feel responsible. Ugh! I know the ‘whats’. I can use the STATE method to prepare and stay in my lane. The challenge now is ‘when and to whom?’  I covet your prayers…

“Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you until all the work for the service of the temple of the Lord is finished.” 1 Chronicles 28:20

Bible Praying For Parents: A Book Review

PrayerBooksChantal and I became quick friends during my family’s time in New England. I had accepted Christ as my savior at 10 years old at VBS, but she made Him Lord of her life as an adult. She was on the disciple-of-Jesus express train and I jumped on with all I had. We sharpened one another as iron sharpens iron in the Lord’s army as wives, mothers of little people, and weekday preschool teachers. One evening a week from 8-9pm we would call one another to share prayer requests and then pray our hearts out over the phone. At the top of our prayer lists were to become the Godly wives our Creator called us to be and that our children, all under 7 years old at the time, would love the Lord with all their hearts, souls, and minds at an early age. We fasted one day each week for God’s call on the lives of our children, even to pray for their future spouses. Yet even with all of our intentionality I felt limited in my prayer vocabulary, until I picked up a copy of Stormie Omartian’s The Power of a Praying Parent. Thirty chapters with thirty prayers at the end of each chapter along with scripture. Whatever day of the calendar month, that’s the chapter I would pray for my children. That was 1993.

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Godly parents desire to be faithful to pray for their children. I’m thinking today’s parents are just as challenged as I was in prayer vocabulary. I have always encouraged parental prayers as part of a parent’s spiritual discipline, and The Power of a Praying Parent was the best resource I’ve ever used. Though I started this prayer practice when my littles were under the age of 7, it was when they were in middle and high school these chapters were especially helpful: Praying Through A Child’s Room, Learning To Speak Life, and Avoiding Addictions. A fruitful resource indeed and in paperback still available today.

“Having raised children from birth to adulthood, I’ve come to realize that one of the main things our children will take with them when they leave our realm of influence is their faith. If we can be sure they have strong faith in God and His Word, and the love of God in their hearts, then we can know they are set for eternity. Our prayers can play a big part in helping them achieve that.” Stormie Omartian, The Power of a Praying Parent (p. 204)

While listening to the podcast , The Kid’s Ministry Collective I heard of a new book Bible Praying For Parents and immediately ordered two copies. Keith Ferrin and Judy Fetzer collaborated to publish a book of prayers straight from the Holy Bible. Mrs. Fetzer collected these 365 prayers and sent them to herself and others through her blog www.mamahenprays.wordpress.com. Y’all this book provides more than just a book of prayers.

Bible Praying For Parents is a great tool for brief, breath prayers for our kids for every day of the year. The book also includes a section for Bible praying by categories such as anger, anxiety, family relationships, temptation, and more. And if that wasn’t worth the $14.99 price of the book, the back section is entitled: Bible Blessings.

Forty-three blessings are listed in the order they are found in the Bible. Blessings to speak over your children at night, as they head out the door, while eating a meal, or wherever you wish to speak God’s Word and truth so they know the power and mystery of the One who loves them even more than you.

“From 2 Thessalonians 3:5 Blessing: ____________, may the Lord direct your heart into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.” (p 293)

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Hand in hand through childhood

When we read the Bible we learn God’s vocabulary and of His history and plan for His people. When we pray God’s vocabulary over our children, we hear His heart for our own, and our children hear His voice. This new resource should be beside every prayer chair on the planet because this I know: No one will pray for our kids like we will. Lord, may we be found faithful to do so regularly and well.

“A Godly Mother guides our steps…nurtures our growth, encourages our Spirit, molds our character, commits our lives to the One she’s been raising us for.” Julee Lynn Boren 1971-1998