Hand Blessings

HandsOne of the most precious moments of my week is shared at the end of each week’s Sunday School. After we play together, study together, respond together, laugh together, and pray together, we gather up to 1) get a fruit snack, 2) receive bible bucks, and 3) get a hand blessing.

My friend Lauren Miller, a United Methodist Deacon, shared the idea of hand blessing with me a few years ago and I knew it’d be the perfect way to offer personal and individual blessings to my students. It would involve four of the five senses (smell, touch, hearing, sight), give me time to look into each one’s eyes, and take only a few seconds to speak truth and life over each child.  Every. Single. Week. It’s one thing to touch, see, and hear church, but how often do I get to impart the ‘smell’ of church?

ThistleOilsLauren introduced the hand blessing to me using a scented chap stick with the wrapping removed. With the essential oil craze, finding ‘anointing oils’ is super easy. I came across a package of oil roll-ons at the Thistle Stop Cafe’ in Nashville at last year’s CEF (Christian Educator’s Fellowship) 2014 Conference.  I typically invite the oldest student in the room to choose the roll-on oil for each particular Sunday.

Taking a child’s hand in mine, I draw the shape of a cross with the roll-on oil on the back of the student’s hand BLESSINGSas I look into each one’s eyes and say a blessing: “Anna, may the Lord bless you and keep you and make His face shine upon you and give you peace,” “Griffin, trust in the Lord always and He will direct your paths,” “Isabella, Jesus loves you this I know for the Bible tells us so,” etc. Something relative to the lesson, a hymn, or a scripture. It’s makes me smile to see them smell the back of their hands during the following worship service.

“May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.” Psalm 141:2

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Faith Milestone: Touch and See My Church

Faith+Milestones-shaded+button2Our students worship with their families. We offer nursery for students up to age 4, but we continue to involve and make our worship services family friendly with visuals, participatory experiences throughout the service, call and response moments, moved the sermon to the middle of the order of worship, and invite many voices as part of our services. We wanted our children to know about what they saw, so we made Touch and See My Church a Faith Milestone for our 1st and 2nd graders.

Touch&SeeMichaelThe goals of Touch and See My Church, held a few weeks before Palm Sunday, are to familiarize the children with worship components and connect them to the people in worship leadership. The students also learn why and how active participation in worship is important for them.

Meet & Greet – the students move as a large group and interview several folks in worship leadership asking 4 basic questions: 1) What do you do?, 2) Why do you do it?, 3) Do you like what you do?, 4) How did you get to do what you do? (volunteer, pray about it, went to seminary, etc.)  The students interviewed (in different places in the Sanctuary) a worship singer, a musician, an acolyte, a worship leader, our pastor, and the church secretary.  The students get stickers as they move in a group from person to person because it gives us a sense of accomplishment and all kids like stickers!

Touch&SeeCharlieSnack Lunch – meatballs in the a crock pot in hot dog buns (how we do meatball subs) with cheese balls and ice water is a snack as we show a teaching segment on something in the sanctuary from Chuck Knows Church.  Families get a chance to chat with other families and we read a few sections of Come Worship With Me.

Scavenger Hunt – sending the children to ‘discover’ the sanctuary with their families makes for some great conversations and teaching moments for the parents to do the best teaching to their own children.  Some of the scavenger hunt questions: What is the name Touch&SeeScavengerof our pastor? How many keys are on the keyboard played by our worship leader? How many pews are in the sanctuary? How many pictures of Jesus are in our sanctuary? What color is the church’s front door? Who has more books, Pastor J or the church library? How many crosses are in the sanctuary? What is one item always on the altar table? What is in the baptismal font? Along the bottom of the list it reads, “Answer all the questions and return for something special to take home and share with your family. Psalm 122:1 ‘I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.””

Touch&SeeWe laughed through the debrief and we offered a Look and Find Bible (purchased in bulk inexpensively from a Children’s Pastor’s Conference) for the student to take home and share with his/her family.

We sent an email 3 weeks out, sent a snail-mailed invitation 2 weeks out, then reminded with text messages the week of.  Scheduled it for immediately after worship while the leadership and the ‘physical items’ were still in place and the sanctuary was just recently used, 12:15pm-1:30pm.

What else would you add?

 Psalm 118:26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. From the house of the Lord we bless you.
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Faith Milestones

Faith+Milestones-shaded+button2Milestones are the significant cultural and developmental markers that we experience throughout our years of life. They are our firsts. There are ordinary firsts of steps and teeth, walking and talking. There are also firsts of our faith life: baptism, beginning Sunday School, receiving a Bible, our first retreat, making decisions for Christ, and more.

Faith Milestones are those firsts as we grow in our faith experiences because we know it doesn’t happen just on Sunday mornings.  It’s part of all we are and all we do as God’s beloved people.  Attending a CEF (Christian Educator’s Fellowship) national conference last year gave me the jumping off point to identify intentional firsts, presented as Faith Milestones, for our little people journeying through children’s ministries.  A huge thanks goes to Donna Draeger, Minister of Disciple Formation at Centennial UMC in Roseville, Minnesota and Deb Johnson, Children, Youth, and Family Minister at Spirit of Hope UMC in Golden Valley, Minnesota for leading the workshop that got this ball rolling around in my head.

It was important these Faith Milestones were in partnership and shared with the whole family as we sought to help families find ways to grow in their faith together.  We wanted shared spiritual experiences for our families and decided to put a few ages together just in case a family missed it the first time.  I calendared throughout the year based on our church’s rhythm of activities and wanted to introduce as much faith-filled vocabulary as possible for these firsts.

MilestoneBrochureFrontI put out a brochure (old school, I know, but it has all the dates on it for the year and that seems to work best for my parents to be able to keep up with it, especially those with more than one child.) I also put it in the monthly newsletters, bulletins, and sent a personal invite as well as a personal email a few weeks out inviting families to preregister if a meal was involved.

Ages 3 & 4 and any new rising kindergartner students: Welcome to Sunday School – Scheduled the Sunday before fall’s promotion Sunday from 12:15-1pm.  Program: What does Sunday School mean? What do we do there? Through story, song, and hands-on activities, learn what a fun place Sunday School is!  I invite a couple of the Sunday School teachers to participate so the families meet & greet and learn the routines.  We play some songs, tour the children’s hallway, decorate a cookie, and we give out a copy of The Berenstain Bears Go to Sunday School to each student.  The following week, I send a personal, handwritten post card as follow up inviting them to Sunday School.

bell hotel-serviceAge 5/Kindergartners and 1st Grade: I Can Pray – Scheduled on an October Sunday from 12:15-1:30 and includes a snack lunch – Children and parents/grandparents learn the parts of prayer and when and how to pray through word and song.  We’ll have prayer stations the families can share similar to the Praying On The Go Bags that are prepared each month.  We’ll make a prayer list and trace hands in a prayer journal for the family to share together…to be left on the kitchen counter for everyone in the family to write blessings or prayer requests and read throughout the comings and goings of their family.  Their take-aways will be the family prayer journal and a glory bell…something to place in the home to ring when they want to praise the Lord!  We hit it and shout, “Glory!”

1st & 2nd Grades: Touch & See My Church – Scheduled on a Spring Sunday from 12:15-1:30 and includes a snack lunch – A chance to explore the sanctuary ‘behind the scenes’ and learn more about worship.  The students and their families will go on a scavenger hunt in the Sanctuary (What is the name of our pastor? How many pews are in the Sanctuary? Touch&SeeJimWhat’s in the baptismal font? What’s bigger…the pastor’s office or church library?, What’s the color of the Sanctuary doors?, etc) I invite the worship leader, a musician, our senior pastor, a worship singer, an acolyte, and the church secretary to be a ‘station’ where the children ask each of 3 questions:  What do you do? How did you get to do what you do? Where do you do what you do? Students receive a sticker at the end of each station because little people like stickers.  Their take-away is a search book of bible stories.  This milestone is more involved, so I’ll post about this one next week.

3rd & 4th Grades: Acolyte Training – Scheduled on a Sunday before Advent/November an hour before our CLUB345 gathering and led by our Senior Pastor.  The students learn how they can ‘help’ in the worship service and practice communion, lighting and extinguishing candles, get a tour of the chancel/stage area, etc.  The students also get their first hands-on teaching on the sacraments of baptism and holy communion.  This is also a very specific time when our students spend time with their pastor.  Anytime I can build their relationships with our pastor, I’m all in!

kids at church3rd – 5th Grades: A Bible of My Own – A student late night 6pm-9:30pm to learn about the bible and how to use it in daily living.  I’m in the process of writing this one now, so check out the blog later.  Our church gives Early Reader Bibles to students entering 1st grade and NIV Red Letter edition bibles to those entering 3rd grade (they’ll use these for CLUB345) on the Sunday during worship before the first CLUB345.

4th – 5th Grades: A Day Away At Ms. DeDe’s Retreat – Scheduled on a Tuesday in July practicing personal spiritual disciplines which help grow our focus and love for the Lord.  Deep & Wide Retreat

The scriptures share that Moses prepared the people of Israel to enter the Good Land by asking them to remember and tell the ways that they had experienced God’s love and care. In this way, he knew that faith in the God of Israel would live on.  These shared spiritual memories are special and we have sought to set them apart as such.

Deuteronomy 6:6 “Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them…”


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“Move Your Bus”…A Book Review

move-your-bus-9781501105036_hrRon Clark is the founder of Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta and the author of the new book on leadership teams, Move Your Bus: An Extraordinary New Approach to Accelerating Success in Work and Life.  Serving in the field of Christian education in the context of a local church, I enjoy his books and was thrilled that this one shared some specifics about serving on a team with clear organizational goals.

His lays out the book in a parable speaking of five characters who make up every type of organization aka your bus:

RunnerRunners come early, stay late, never complain, provide a positive spirit, have a strong work ethic, are driven to take the initiative to work, not for personal reward, but toward the good of the whole organization and tackle tasks with an attitude of It has to be done, let’s knock it out, let’s do it.  Runners are the first to fearlessly volunteer and want to include the whole team in problem solving and celebration.

Joggers are steady, dependable, fairly punctual and conscientious about following the rules.  ‘They don’t slow the bus down, but they don’t make it fly either.’  They dress appropriately, often rise to meet expectations, but ‘aren’t going to blow your mind, day in and day out.’  They can switch into high gear when called upon, but can’t sustain such energy for the long haul primarily because they lack the confidence to go full throttle.

WalkerWalkers point out everything they see is wrong in the organization, deflect blame, want attention, complain the Runners make them look bad, and shouldn’t be expected to go beyond their job descriptions. Walkers pull people down to their speed and see no need to accelerate on a regular basis, thereby frustrating Runners and Joggers.  Clark warns that Walkers target new hires quickly ‘to recruit new walkers.’

Riders aren’t interested in organizational success or even personal success. They greatly frustrate the Runners and Joggers since they get the most attention from the Driver of the Bus who desperately tries to motivate the Riders and Walkers to move the organization further. Riders don’t want to lose their jobs/paychecks, so their main goal is to do just enough to avoid termination.  They’ll even keep track of the slights of other staff members just in case they are held to a higher standard than the very bare minimum.

Drivers drive the bus and have the entire organization on their shoulders. In the local church, this should be the senior pastor.  Due to gifts and graces, the driver of a particular local church may be a lay person or a staff member.  Due to personalities, the driver of a particular local church may appear to be a lay person or a staff member.  Due to the lack of a driver, a Runner may assume the role of a driver for a season.  It’s not a Runner’s role, but it’s what a Runner does. Thinking of a school bus driver, they are constantly looking in the side and rear mirrors for hindrances, they constantly check the bus (the organization) that it is safe, ready, and prepared for the ride.  Drivers know the starting place, the destination, and the healthy stops along the way.

The remainder of the book shares how the Driver can accelerate success, most effectively free the Runners, encourage the Joggers to become Runners, and continue to move the bus toward the goal.  It reminded me of a Disney Institute tour taken many years ago.  The focus of Disney’s leadership is on the top 1/3 of the team.  The thought process is to make the top tier more effective, thereby making the organization more effective.  In essence, it’s better for the organization to move a team member from an 8 to a 10 rather than spend all your energy trying to move a 3 to a 5.

BusToyAs a family of faith, we are commissioned to love everyone.  The warning is not to forget, ignore, or even fire the Riders and Walkers, but rather not worry about being ‘fair’ (ex: Jesus didn’t heal everyone, just the one, at the pool of Bethesda found in John 5), look at the good of the whole, and keep the bus moving toward the organizational goals.  Several of the ‘accelerants’ that resonated with me in the local church setting…

1.  Sit with the Runners – We are more apt to BE who we sit with, fostering collaboration, and improving ourselves when we spend time with those who are doing it well.  This is why I don’t miss a networking lunch with others who minister with children, engage in conversation, and ask a ton of questions.  John Maxwell’s new book speaks of great leaders asking lots of questions when in the company of Runners.  What is my question-to-statement ratio?

2.  Clean the Windshield – If we are not the Runners on a particular project we should volunteer to take on the menial tasks so the Runner can be the Runner.  Asking “What can I do to help?” or helping others on the team do their jobs well for the greater good of the organization.  My responsibility may not be ‘worship’, but am I helping that team of Runners? It is safe to say that the majority of a congregation’s only connection to the Body of Christ happens in worship.  Even if it’s not in my bucket, what can I do to ‘clean the windshield’ every week?  And not just worship…what can I do to ‘clean the windshield’ for the other staff?  Empty the trash, be one of the last to walk out, be one of the first to arrive, bring a bottle of water to the tech ninja, bring Altoids and sugarless gum to the youth director taking kids on a retreat…

3.  Allow Runners to Reap the Rewards – As the Body of Christ, we must we willing to be happy for and willing to support the Runners who carry the lion’s share of the work.  It’s not a competition, it’s a family.

4. Say Hello – Greeting people with a smile or a ‘Good morning’ spreads good energy and ‘good energy will come back to you.’  Anybody else ever said, “Good Morning,” even in the afternoon or at a night event at church? Guilty! I recall listening to a sermon series and hearing that a cheerful greeting done in the first 5 seconds relates interest, care, and love like nothing else.  Even if you get nothing but a grunt from a young person (like the one I gave birth to during his middle school years,) my greeting can set up an environment of joy, compassion, and empathy.  That’s my idea of great decorating!  That young man now kisses me on the cheek when he arrives and leaves the room. He learned that greeting matters. (Heart melting!)

The goal of a local church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  That’s as clear as it gets. I would think that everyone would want to be a Runner when it comes to Kingdom-building.  It’s not a personality thing, but rather a drive and/or momentum thing.

I was especially moved by the 23rd chapter.  “If you ask your Runners to hide their success or to do their important work under cover, you make them feel unappreciated and that can cause them to decelerate – or even to hop aboard another bus that is moving at the speed of light.” Clark goes on to share, “I’ve been to schools where there really aren’t any Runners, but there are a lot of Joggers who consider themselves to be top performers. If a true Runner comes onboard in an environment like that, she will very likely be perceived as a threat….When you only have one Runner in your organization, you have to work hard to protect that individual because she is in a very vulnerable position.”  Whew! The job of the Driver.

bus-ministryI thoroughly enjoyed the book.  I especially enjoyed being reminded that I am called to be a Runner for Christ and I should be doing all that goes with that in the area where He has called me to serve.  Serving as a professional Christian educator and as a staff member of a local church, I am in bus ministry.  What will you do this week to move your bus?

Hebrews 6:1 “Therefore, let us MOVE (emphasis mine) beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity.”

“A movement exists only when people choose to work together in one direction. The leader’s job is to inspire the people to move.” – Simon Sinek

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Deep and Wide Retreat

DeepTShirtMilestones are the significant cultural and developmental markers that we experience throughout our lives. They are our firsts. Growing in faith is not just a Sunday morning activity. It’s part of all we are and all we do as God’s beloved people. But there are firsts, milestones, rights of passage with specialness wrapped around those firsts in a lots of ways.  We have prepared an ordered format of FAITH MILESTONES to have intentional firsts throughout a student’s experience in our ministry with children at WC.  The Deep & Wide Retreat is our first retreat.

A retreat is time away from our normal life for the purpose of connecting with God on a deeper level.  Faith is formed through personal and trusted relationships and times of stretching and challenge. Jesus started with a few disciples who gathered in their homes so A Day Away At Ms. DeDe’s seemed the perfect setting for a first retreat to do some soul training for my rising 4th and 5th graders. We invited a colleague to bring her rising 4th-5th graders to join us for greater large/small group dynamics.

Deep journalLocation: Ms. DeDe’s home.  I live 40-50 minutes north of our church community in a subdivision with a reservoir and a community pool. Opening my home to my family of faith is table life that I love.

Time: 10am-9pm, Tuesday in July

Scripture Focus: Ephesians 3:17-18

What to bring: A bag to carry everything in (we did some moving from place to place and keeping up with your own belongings is a life skill), swim suit, towel, pen, bible, highlighter, 3 skipping rocks (just a little something odd to add to the list), walking shoes, bag of favorite candy for popcorn bar (which we enjoyed after the movie debrief.)

PreRetreat to do:  Sit down with Mom/Dad and get answers to the following questions and be ready to share (we used these as the jumping off points in small groups for learning how to extend hospitality by being able to start and continue a conversation. And anytime I can encourage my families to have faith conversations, I’m in!)

1.  How did you get your name?

2. What is your first memory of church?

3. When you talk on the phone, it’s a habit to have a visual image in your mind of who you are talking to. When you pray, the same thing could happen. What does God/Jesus look like in your mind when you pray?

4. What are some faith practices of your family from birth to now?

5. What is an experience that let you know that God is real?

10am: Arrival/Introduction Games – Name Wave (say your name and do a motion – everyone repeats the name and motion one at a time moving around the circle until everyone has introduced themselves and everyone has said everyone’s name); Hand Who?(invite each student to draw an outline of his/her hand on the journal given to each one, then for each finger write something interesting: thumb-something you do well/thumbs up, first finger-something that makes you stand out from a crowd, middle finger-something that frustrates you/pet peeve, ring finger-something you are committed to/passionate about, pinkie finger-a little known fact.) Then, we broke up into 2 groups by church to share.

Deep10:30-11:30 Session 1 – Soul Training: Holy Habits…devotion & journaling & bible study…The most important thing a human being does is to love God. (A Good And Beautiful God by James Bryan Smith)  We handed out Mood Rings (amazon.com) that change color according to the mood of the wearer. What if someone made ‘love-of-God’ rings indicating the level of love the wearer feels for God? And what if everyone had to wear them?  What color would yours be?

Deep holy conversationEphesians 3:17-18 God’s love is wide (covers all of our experiences and the whole world), long (continues the length of our whole lives), high (rises to the heights of our celebration and elation), and deep (reaches to the depths of discouragement, hurt feelings, despair, death/loss, feelings of being shut out or isolated.)  We shared examples of each. Our soul training and holy habits are expressions of how wide, long, high, and deep OUR LOVE is for God.  Took 15 minutes of silence to journal what we thought/felt.

Deep at lake11:30-12:30 Session 2 – Soul Training: Counting Your Blessings…picked up sandwiches and goodies for lunch prepared by our church partner and hiked to the reservoir’s edge to make a list of 100 blessings.  A good way to remember that God loves us is to make a list of His blessings. In increments of 10, it’s an elephant we can eat when we take one bite at a time. (ex: reading your bible all the way through).  Categories: 10 people who love you, 10 colors (God saw fit to give us more than one color), 10 items of nature that show we serve a God of order (much easier when we sat outside at the reservoir’s edge,) etc.

Deep walk back12:45-1:15 Session 3 – Soul Training: Play…hiked back to the pool and swam for 30 minutes.  The gospel/good news includes an invitation to a great adventure.

1:25-3:30 Session 4 – Soul Training: Play…went to a movie: Inside Out.  We play because God is good.  God wants us to be full of joy, and play is a way to experience the goodness of God and the richness of life.  When we play, we are training our bodies and souls to live with genuine excitement. (A Good And Beautiful God by James Bryan Smith)

Deep movie debrief3:30-4:15 Session 5 – Soul Training: Trust…movie debrief.  Discussion in large group of our gift of emotions when did you have to ‘put your fear in your pocket’ and be stretched?

4:15-5 Session 6 – Soul Training: Table Life…popcorn bar and hangout time

DeepHospitality5-6 Session 6 – Soul Training: Hospitality…We are called to be a witness to the good news by speaking and greeting others.  We learned how to engage in conversation/tossing the ball back and forth in large group.  Then broke up into 3 smaller groups to stretch our natural tendencies to talk only about ourselves and practice carrying on a conversation using the 5 pre-retreat questions.

DeepService6-6:45 Session 7 – Soul Training: Service…My team made deep dish pizzas and wide fruit salad for supper while the other team made handmade cards for each church’s shut-ins.  We shared what a shut-in was and what to write to someone you don’t know, but want to encourage in the Lord.  When my team finished their task, they, too, made and wrote cards to our church’s shut ins.

Deep pizza prep6:45-7:30 Session 8 – Soul Training: Table Life…ate dinner!

7:30 to the pool…

We were stormed out at the pool, so we played on the playground eating dessert until the lightning started.  Our partner church returned to their church.  We headed back to my house for a rowdy game of Apples to Apples until their parents came to pick up.

Deep fruitOur first retreat was everything I had hoped and more.  I got to share my home and heart with the students who God has gifted me for a season.  We laughed, were stretched, worked, served, hoped, challenged, helped, shared, and made memories.  Spiritual and sticky memories are what I like best!

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Summer Church-on-the-Go Boxes

Since January our families have been picking up Praying On The Go Bags each month to build their faith muscles in prayer with simple directions and a prayer prompter to take home.  I wanted to do something different for July following Vacation Bible School and came across a great facebook post of a blog offering  Take Out Church.  Thankfully, everything they used with photos and pdfs are at the link.  Gotta love it when colleagues share their goodies!

POGOBoxStuffWith a spin specific to us and our Children’s Ministry tagline, I prepared a pizza box (purchased at a local pizza shop @ $1 each) for each family, ordered the prayer cubes, and filled it with some goodies to clean out my own shelves along with the following instructions:

Summer Church On the Go Instructions

Summer Church On The Go is a way for your family to bring church with you as you vacation and enjoy wonderful family time this summer.  Building memories around faith practices. In this box are ways you and your family can

GROW (App List, Coloring Scroll with memory verses),

TELL (Flat Jesus, Conversation questions),

SERVE (Serve Your Neighbor Game),

WORSHIP (VBS CD, Prayer Cube, Skittle Prayers), and

BELONG (give the Wesley Chapel Welcome Postcard to a friend and invite them to church, Write a note of encouragement on the funny postcards and mail them to whomever you want – grandparents LOVE this stuff!)

Through it all we want you to remember to take Jesus with you. He is the most important thing in this box, but especially in our family life. Color FLAT JESUS and then take it with you everywhere you go. Take a picture and post it on facebook or email it to the church office at church.office@wesleychapelumc.com.

Have fun, be safe, and enjoy church on the go this Summer!

FullSizeRenderWe introduced the boxes at the children’s moment the Sunday following VBS as a way to continue growing in our faith during the next month when most of us might hear, “Mom, I’m bored.”  It was quite dramatic to see a stack of pizza boxes near the church office and the kids headed straight for them after services were over.

What is your follow up to VBS?

“Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” – Colossians 4:2 NIV

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Eye Twitching Season

Two mornings last week had me awakened by my eye twitching. Instantly the old southern wives tales came to mind of ‘someone must be talking about me’ or ‘I’m going to come into money’, or is that if your palm itches?  Anyway, it’s eye twitching season for me.

EyeTwitchingMy eye begins to twitch when the VBS signup board outside the office has way more white space than names. My eye begins to twitch when I’m not sure if the Science Camp folks have the registrations that will encourage them to come back next year. My eye twitches when I discover I’ve texted the wrong date for the 5th Sunday Family Service and find that several of the families are now going to be out of town or a little person has one last dance recital that very morning. My eye twitches when our conference has put together this awesome overnight retreat for tweeners, and I don’t know how many to register for since it’s still 90 days away. My eye twitches that vacation time is here and it is so much easier for folks to stay home from church even though we have a rocking Science Sunday school planned. My eye twitches that I have only 2 out of 7 Sundays (in July, no less) with signed up helpers for summer Sunday school that starts in a week and a half. Oh and did I mention that #1 Son moved into his own apartment last weekend and Baby Girl is still way too far away as her 3 year old is a real 3 year old and I wish I lived close enough to take Mr Yummy for a night to let her sleep through the night?

eye-twitching-causes-1Yep, it’s eye twitching season.  What do I do?  I pray.

I pray to ask God to remind me who (Him), why (kids to know Jesus and have faith tradition memories), when (His timing and the rhythm of my community), what (there is still a week or two to come), how (if he can multiply fishes and loaves, he can multiply hands and smiles and time) needed to make a season His.  And I pray for more: more children, more volunteers, more families, more resources, more kindness, more patience, more love, more joy, just more.

And then there’s a week later.

EyeCalmWhen we had to add more chairs to the VBS training held after church on Sunday for more faces appeared than the names on the sign up board.  When the Science Camp folks shared at the walk-through that we are full with a waiting list.  When the voices shared for the Family First On The Fifth Worship service were many and fabulous (Gosh! I love it when tweeners can work a microphone in partnership with one another, a 6th grader invites the congregation to “meet and greet one another with a handshake and a smile”, a Dad and his two daughters lead the service in announcements and the call and response, and the high schooler who led corporate prayer and prayed from his bible!) When a saint of the church walks in on Monday to sign up to be a part of the team to lead Summer Science Sunday school for the first two Sundays of the Summer that begins this Sunday.  When #1 Son is content in his new place. When Baby Girl realizes that God was so wise as to only offer 24 hours in a regular day…no more, no less.

Eye twitching season and God.  It’s more than I can even imagine.

“On the day I called, You answered me; You increased strength within me.” Psalm 138:3

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End of Season Celebration

club-345-1-mswIt saddens me to see a season end, but thrilled to see how God will use His young disciples I have watched grow in their knowledge of Him and personal history with Him. We just celebrated the end of the season for CLUB345. These are our 3rd – 5th graders, so I technically get to play and pray with them for three years before they head off into middle school youth group, confirmation, and beyond.

We meet on the 2nd and 4th Sundays of the month from August through April. The schedule looks like this: 5-5:30 snack meal, 5:30-6 games, 6-6:30 lesson, 6:30-7 response activity. This year we used Abingdon Press’ Live It! curriculum on Family (last fall) and KatieNameMaking A Difference in the World (this spring). We’ve had special guests who are ministry colleagues who actively engage the students with their toolbox of goodies relating to something they are passionate about. We’ve gone on field trips to other local churches and had them come to ours to give our kids a ‘big experience’ that is always more fun with more, giving them the experiences of our connected system.

We just celebrated our last night of the season with a special guest who spoke of ‘what we need to live’ and we prepared and learned about UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief) Sewing Kits. We ate dinner from a taco bar and enjoyed what we call, Wesley Chapel’s Got Talent when any of the students are free to perform a talent.  We even had one juggling this year!  We invite the youth to attend the talent show and then make a presentation of a gift.

BradfordVersesThe gift is a framed copy of their name in scripture.  I purchased the inexpensive frames from IKEA (3 to a bag) through Amazon.  Then used gift bags purchased from Hobby Lobby for the background using my handy-dandy paper cutter.

I have a huge list of scriptures that I’ve gathered over the years to copy and paste that begin with each letter of the alphabet, some with multiple scriptures because the letter is used multiple times. I choose the ones I think offer wisdom and hope as they enter middle school.  If you’d like a copy of the list, send me an email to dedereilly@comcast.net.

What do you do for the end of the season?

“The end of a thing is better than it’s beginning.” Ecclesiastes 7:8 KJV

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Nurturing Each Child’s Call Into Ministry – BELONG

BelongWe’ve been sharing how the local church can nurture each child’s call into ministry. At WC we provide five specific ways to intentionally set the stage to do so in partnership with Mom and Dad. We’ve looked at practical experiences so kids can GROW, TELL, SERVE, and WORSHIP our Lord God with all their hearts, souls, minds, and strengths. Today we consider ways for children to know they BELONG.

We are wired for stories and community.  The local church community is the perfect environment to live and tell our stories, to belong, and be drawn into the ongoing Christian story “teaching us how to negotiate the hows and what-nexts, the surprises, struggles, and victories of the radical, countercultural way of life that Christianity is.” (from Susanne Johnson’s Christian Spiritual Formation in the Church and Classroom.)

“When children feel a sense of belonging and sense of pride in their families, their peers, and their communities, they can be emotionally strong, self-assured, and able to deal with challenges and difficulties.” (Alstear: the Early Childhood Curriculum Framework)  Children feel a sense of belonging as they experience respect, encouragement, forgiveness, care, approval, and especially love…unconditional love.  We want our children to move beyond saying, “That’s my church,” and move toward proclaiming, “That’s where I belong, where I matter, and where I am loved, no matter what!”

11137087_10205437777456862_3762399533793086975_nStarting in the nursery, we can meet Mom with a “smile at the door and be ready to play on the floor.”  We ask how Little Man is doing, how was his night, and show interest in his family with joyful questions.  When Little Man is picked up, we share his story with Mom about how he napped, or what he played with, or an anecdote of his experience while in our care.  Moms understand Little Man may not be the only one in the nursery, but she wants to know that we have cared for him as if he was.

Write notes, send birthday cards, send postcards from training events and travels, report on their achievements, attend their outside activities, go to a play, share their stories and victories in the church newsletter.  Even consider sponsoring the local swim team where your students will be wearing the team shirt with their church name on the back.

Swim TeamChick Night…for 5th grade and higher to connect with other women of the church. They’ll interact over food, games, craft, mingle, laugh, and know they are acknowledged and welcomed by the Titus 2 women, the ‘models’ of negotiating the Christian life as a woman of faith in Jesus.

Saints Book Club…sign language ministry to go to other churches to help and teach at special events invites them to ‘learn, then teach/pour out’ the gifts and opportunities with others in the Body of Christ…invite them to things I’m doing…going to the movies…small group opportunities…confirmation mentoring/sponsoring…connect with other UMC churches through Messy Night, Winter Ball, Confirmation, Summer camps where students get a chance to meet other adults who are sold out for Jesus.

The greeting/beginning time on Sunday mornings gives them time to make make new friends and spend time together at church because it may be the only time they get to see or play with one another.  Provide the environments to play together and pray together.  Doing anything that will encourage face time, table life, encouraging memories, and building relationships with one another.

NurturingPowerpointHow do we nurture each child’s call into ministry?  We intentionally set a balanced stage for personal encounters with the living God as each one grows in wisdom and stature with the Lord and man (GROW),  share in their own words their story and experiences (TELL), use his/her gifts and explore interactive opportunities to show mercy, do justice, and love on others (SERVE), experience worship corporately as an integral part of the family of faith (WORSHIP), and repeatedly engage in relationship building so that he/she knows without a shadow of doubt that God’s people are his/her people. (BELONG)

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Matthew 19:14

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Nurturing Each Child’s Call Into Ministry – WORSHIP

Smaller churches can rock at this one! Though we plan our sermon series a year in advance, we don’t have the limits that many large churches have. We do have a worship committee, but by serving on it as the staff liaison, involving the kids is gladly welcomed.

Kid_FriendlyWorship is how we adore the Lord of all creation.  Worship is also our response to what the Lord has done, is doing, and who He is.  Worship is song and giving and being fully present among His people.  Worship is regular, personal and corporate, and participatory. We can continue to nurture a child’s call into ministry through worship.

Kids love parades, so processionals for World Communion Sunday (loaves of bread), All Saints Sunday (names of people drawn/written on cards), and Thankful Sunday (items kids are thankful for expressed through drawings of homes, families, items of importance) all presented on the altar table.  Jumping into Summer Sunday School shared by kids jumping rope on the front lawn before services as people are arriving for worship.  Posters of specific themes decorated and lining the narthex hallways invite the artistic to share their love of art.

Allow them to intern in the tech booth or take up the offering.  Yes, they’ll wave Palm Branches on Palm Sunday, but let the CLUB345 kids cut out hundreds of paper palm branches to insert in the hymnals on a specific page number so the whole congregation can participate.

ThankYouGodTeach kids how to take notes from the sermon….if the sermon is on Salt & Light, let them tally how many times they hear the words SALT and LIGHT.  Our CLUB345 kids prepare luminaries to line the walkways for Christmas Eve and they clean them up after the last service of the night with their families.  Let them hand out takeaways after the service in a theme relative to the sermon series.  Invite them pour out/pump out hot chocolate at the Easter Sunrise service. Invite kids to acknowledge specific groups like Boy Scout Sunday and Girl Scout Sunday….they can wear their uniforms to church, hand out bulletins, and initiate the pledge of allegiance.

Don’t forget the importance of a Call & Response in the worship service for them to talk.  Invite children to share prayer requests and be sure to say the Lord’s Prayer or Apostle’s Creed when the entire congregation does.  I even teach them a few simple sign language motions for specific words they’ll hear all the time in worship, so they can do them all together.  This month?  We’re all getting egg shakers to be a part of the praise band from our seats.  Egg shakes are handed out at the end of Sunday School and returned to the bucket in the narthex for next week.

The worship service is in community and it’s regular and it’s important.  Inviting and involving children in community worship offers spiritual memories, accomplishment, and worship teaching as another means of nurturing each child’s call into ministry.

“Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise His holy name.” Psalm 103:1

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