Nurturing Each Child’s Call Into Ministry – TELL

imagesVXGL5UXWEvery time we set the stage for children to give testimony and to hear the testimonies of others, the God-moment is impressed and chiseled on the hearts of the hearers and tellers, especially little people.

This blog post is the third in a six-part series of setting the stage for nurturing each child’s call into ministry.  The first foundational pillar is to offer intentional opportunities to GROW.  The second is to give kids a way to process out loud or on paper what they heard, saw, and experienced.  As well as get their thoughts around how they will move forward.

Think Family Reunion. As a kid I loved to hear the stories of my parents and their siblings, especially the ones that incite laughter from even the grumpiest uncle. These are the stories of family history and the ones that get shared from generation to generation. The same dynamic works for students sharing their experiences with God. We want to offer kids opportunities to build a personal vocabulary to share the Good News of Jesus Christ by sharing their own personal stories.

images33OWJL3VAnytime I can get my kids to write, I’m thrilled.  The first Sunday of the New Year students write about themselves:  favorite book, favorite sport, favorite tv show, greatest thing they did last year, and set some goals for the next year.  Saving them, I’ll mail them years later.  Several years ago, I had a girls Sunday School class write a letter to themselves of what they will “purpose” in their hearts.  The students were in 4th-6th grade.  When most were seniors in high school, I mailed them after Christmas in their self-addressed envelopes.  Oh. My. Goodness.  Many had forgotten, but thankfully Facebook let me see how many of the girls were meeting for lunch to reflect and discuss their letters with one another.

MUSTOne of my girls wrote a fantastic story of “What a 5th grader Will Do For A 6 Pound Bag of Gummies” after a SCREAM Retreat.  I knew we had a writer on our hands.  Inviting her to write of her God Adventures for the church newsletter gives her a chance to tell her God Story to her whole church and a chance to hone her writing skills.  We took our CLUB345 students to a local homeless shelter a few weeks back.  The students were invited to write about what they heard, saw, and felt while there.

  • “On March 8, 2015 I went to Elizabeth Inn, which is a homeless shelter run by MUST Ministries.  When I went inside, it was not what I expected.  It made me feel sad because seeing and knowing what they live through everyday makes me realize how thankful I am to live in a real house with food and afford things.”
  • “I saw that their beds were nice, but small.”
  • “I saw people that need help and they got it by going to the Elizabeth Inn.  It was sad, but they are being cared for.  And I can help by giving toys and can foods and I can make cards.”
  • “Kids get to go to a room to do their homework.  That kind-of looked like fun.”
  • “The Loaves & Fishes kitchen provided food for the homeless.  There was also clothes provided for them.  I’m going to donate a lot to them.”

Moms and Dads and even I can say a whole host of things, but when someone young comes to share testimonies of God’s faithfulness and of how God is working in their lives, impressions are made.  Giving past students the chance to ‘call back’ also encourages previous students to continue to tell their God Story.  I want my kids to hear testimonies of the fruitfulness of their holy habits…tithing…serving…mission trips…reading the bible all the way through…being respectful of their parents…choosing their future schools…answering God’s call on their own lives as nurses, police officers, tutors, scouts, etc.

What are other ways you offer for kids to tell their God stories?

“The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever.” Deuteronomy 29:29

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Nurturing Each Child’s Call Into Ministry – GROW

This is the second post that was started last week about five foundational pillars on which to nurture each child’s call into ministry.  GROW is the first of those pillars.

Our Sunday morning programming is heavy on growing relationships….with God and each other. Most of my kids attend different schools in two different counties. I can provide the best environment to grow their knowledge and love of the Lord, but if they don’t come, I’ve done nothing.

HallwayTablesWatching our adults meet and greet over coffee between services has encouraged us to offer time for our kids to meet and greet over games: table top Jenga, Spot it cards, Connect Four, jumbo Checkers, and Legos. We’ve lined the children’s hallway with small $20 foldaway tables (Bed Bath & Beyond) and placed games for interactive play for the sole purpose of making friends at church. Our first ten minutes is playtime to build relationships and give the kids time to hang out with one another because this is the only place many of them see one another.

Larry Fowler ( shares ‘the greatest factor in getting kids to come regularly is friend to friend, kid to kid, relationships at church.’ Our fun time is specifically structured for building relationships.

Sunday morning is also the time when we can give lots of opportunities to experience and grow in the holy habits:

Activity Stations – journals with pens, bibles with challenges, mirrors and dry erase markers asking “What do you know about God?”, a large piece of paper with one word “Justice” and another piece of paper with one word “Mercy” and inviting the kids to add words they think go with the big word, self-directed prayer walk on campus in partnership with parents/grandparents with challenges at each location inside and outside the building.

POGOSign&BagsPraying On the Go Bags – Each month we send home a bag of simple directions and a tool to use to pray at home with the family.  We practice the type of prayer a month or so before it goes home in CLUB345 or on Sunday morning (in large group-we all meet together to ensure critical mass, then break up into smaller discussion groups led by amazing adults) so the kids know exactly what to do when they get home to help direct Mom and Dad or big sister or big brother.

Use the Bible – Kids use their bibles every single Sunday and at CLUB345.  We look it up, we read it, we talk about it, we wrestle with it.  Yes, it’s time consuming, but I want them to know the book.  It’s the play book…not on a phone, not as a reference, but a living, breathing, teaching, loving, giving-me-the-best-words-to-hear EVER!  I was 26 years old when I realized the wise men did NOT go to the stable in the Christmas story because I let someone else tell me what the bible said and didn’t read it for myself.  My kids know this story and I share it to remind them that God meant for them to know the scriptures for themselves so they’d know His truth and not be easily be confused about what it says.

FaithMilestonesLogoFaith Milestones – I felt I wasn’t teaching enough the vocabulary of our faith to set us apart from other non-Jesus faiths.  So we’ve begun hour-long specific events this year for our little people with their families.  Our 3 & 4 year olds, along with their parents/grandparents, are invited to learn about Sunday School the Sunday before they join the large group.  Our 1st & 2nd graders, along with their parents/grandparents, are invited to “Touch & See My Church” to meet leaders and get a back stage tour of the worship space and ask questions of the people involved.  Our 3rd-4th graders, along with their parents/grandparents, are invited to acolyte training and learn with our senior pastor about the sacraments of baptism and communion.  Check it out:

Age 3 & 4 year olds – Welcome to Sunday School

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! Learn a special daily blessing for your child and enjoy a special snack.

Age 5 & 1st Grade – I Can Pray

Children and parents/grandparents learn the parts of prayer and when and how to pray through word and song.

1st & 2nd Grades – Touch & See My Church

A chance to explore the sanctuary ‘behind the scenes’ and learn more about worship.

3rd & 4th Grades – Acolyte Training

Learn about being a part of the worship service and the sacraments of Baptism & Holy Communion.

3rd-5th Grades – A Bible of My Own

Student Late Night to learn about the bible and how to use it in daily living.

4th & 5th Grades – Deep & Wide Day Away Retreat

Practicing personal disciplines.

What else do you do on Sunday morning or your age specific programming times to nurture each child’s call into ministry in the area of GROWing a child’s love for our Great God?

Join me next time in the blog when I share how we set the stage for students to TELL in nurturing each child’s call into ministry.

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.” 1 Peter 2:9

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Nurturing Each Child’s Call Into Ministry

A few weeks back I was invited to share at the North Georgia United Methodist Church’s Children’s Ministry Connection training event. The original speaker was going to be out of the country, so I was honored to present in her absence.

Just to clarify: the task was to offer practical suggestions to nurture each child’s call into ministry…not seminary…but a lifestyle of ministry both inside and outside the local church…and to do so in a way that nourishes, feeds, and trains up a child (Ephesians 6:4, Proverbs 22:6) in partnership with Mom & Dad to love the Lord with all their heart, soul, and mind.

JBandsWe have access to the best resources, many opportunities, and a Christian culture that covers everything from clothing lines to music genre.  But I really want more for my kids than to be good kids, get good grades, have good friends, be led by good coaches, meet a good boy/girl, get into a good college, and live a good life.  I want to provide them with experiences and memories so that they live out 1 John 1:1 “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched – THIS we proclaim concerning the Word of life.”

Chad Miller from the Billy Graham Evangelical Association shared at a Children’s Pastor’s Conference a few years back about using a teach/hold/release method (like teaching a kid how to use a hammer) by putting a greater emphasis on experiencing God and not just knowing the right answer.  In an ongoing way, it’s important to be sure that kids…

1.  Know the Gospel – The Good News is that Jesus died for our sins so that we can be reconciled to God, but it’s even better than that! It is Good News that each kid is loved by God, forgiven by God, and raised to new life in Christ Jesus (letting them know there should be a difference in who they are today and who they will be as they choose daily to follow and worship Jesus.)  AND Jesus invites them to a great adventure of living in the Kingdom of God here on earth…when bad things happen, God uses us to help make things right (missions with a message, not just charity).

KidsNWorship2.  Practice Holy Habits – Give lots of experiences and tell lots of stories to build habits in attending church, having daily time in God’s Word, hearing His voice in opportunities of solitude and silence (Silent Night), praying (during the presentation, we stopped and participated in silly putty prayers,) and tithing (John D Rockefeller said, “It was easy to give my first million dollars to the church because I started when I tithed on my first $1.50.”…Dave Ramsey/Rachel Cruze sharing that putting something in the plate each time it passed is an exercise in trusting God with money…because we serve a generous God, we are called as God’s people to be generous…at WC we use the monthly Bible Bucks store to practice God’s way of handling money 10% to give, 10% to save, you can choose to spend the rest or not.)

3.  Learn the Scriptures – We are wired for stories and the bible is fully of family stories.  Choose a scripture for the year.  Write them on mirrors, shower bags (put in a Ziploc bag and let the friction of the water stick it to the shower wall.)  Pray the scriptures (lectio divina with paint sample cards.)  Teach them the common scriptures (Jeremiah 29:11) and the funny ones (Luke 1:35 “Be dressed and ready for service.”)

4. Go on Field Trips and Tell the Stories – Deliver a cake, pack a shoebox, write a note, decorate a card, decorate for VBS training, pay for the next guy at the drive through, clean up the front of the movie theatre you take the kids to, teach them to be noticers.  Bring in others to tell the stories of their field trips (we used to call these ‘testimonies.’)

KidsGroupWe have 5 intentions for nurturing each child’s call into ministry at Wesley Chapel: Grow, Tell, Serve, Worship, Belong.  The next five blogs will lay out more practical experiences within each arena to nurture each child’s call into ministry.

How do you nurture each child’s call into ministry?  By setting the stage/arena for personal encounters with the living God and letting each one celebrate by talking about it!

“You, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house (are we letting little people be built into a spiritual house?) to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices (spiritual experiences that are so imprinted as memories around the Lord, that once they’ve had a taste of service and ministry, they can’t go back and they won’t forget) acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 2:5

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So Angry I Could Just Spit!

First, you’ve got to know that for a southern gal, that’s about as angry as it gets. I just heard from the second Children’s Pastor this week, the fourth since the new year, who had to leave their position or will be let go soon. These are servants who did not spend too much, paint over a mural from 100 years ago, or even offend a saint of the church.  Because I know too many of the details, I could just spit!

WeepingHeartYes, God will turn it all for good.  Yes, God did not do this to them.  Yes, leadership is stewardship and He’ll give it to whomever He pleases.  But the cuts from stained glass go deep and wide.  Having experienced this heart-wrenching trauma of leaving a local church without a ‘celebration’…what can and should we do?

First, please don’t be silent.  They not only lost their job, but their church, their support system.  They feel they’ve lost their closest friends in the Lord, and their spiritual history with that local church has just taken a huge hit.  And so has their family.  Call them.  Text them.  Love on them with a note, a card, a gift card, flowers, dinner.  You may not know what to say, but please don’t act like they never existed.  It is heartbreaking for the phone to stop ringing today when they had to answer 75 emails about an upcoming event just yesterday.  If and when they don’t answer the phone, keep loving on them in ways you’ve loved on them before.  There is no disloyalty in extending the hand of compassion, sharing a word of encouragement, tying a balloon on their mailbox, or even dropping off flowers on their front doorstep.  Please don’t be silent.

Also, if they’ve had an impact on your life and your ministry, write them a letter.  Tell them of their influence and share a story or two.  Words on paper can be re-read often.  As Dr Phil shares: even though the ‘meeting’ took place once, it repeats itself in a recurring loop, along with every relative conversation that comes to mind.  Then they end up hearing and experiencing it hundreds of times.  They need new words, encouraging words, to record over the loop running repeatedly in their head.  They lost their job, not their life, not their calling.  They need to hear that mantra….a lot.

And for goodness sakes, pray for them…and their spouses…and their kids.  Their spouses are angry.  Their kids are lost.  If the kids are really young, they don’t understand why they can’t be at the only church they’ve ever known…essentially their second home.  If the kids are older, they will struggle between being loyal to their hurt parent or their small group that helps them set the world aright each week.  The professional Christian educator feels guilty for bringing this grief on their family.  Ugh!

Oh, and their heart is also broken for the kids they’ve left behind…who they’ve known since before the kids were born…who visited them at the hospital on diagnosis day….who came to school and had lunch with them…who has nurtured each child into the call God has on each life since they were in the nursery…who was Jesus with skin on every single day.

Professional networking groups are pivotal relationships at this time.  If a colleague is now ‘a ship at sea,’ BE the church for these folks until they dock at their new harbor.  Invite them to your church.  Remind them that they lost their job, but not God’s calling on their lives.  Speak truth of how Jesus redeems, repairs, restores, and remembers what betrayal, loneliness, and hurt looks, feels, and sounds like.  Provide a lunch of laughter, share a trip to the mountains, and hold their hand as they grieve and seek to become whole.  Be the instrument of peace, the salve of comfort, and share the journey.

When people lose their jobs, their family of faith surrounds them with support, encouragement, and fills their hope-tank until they can fill it on their own again.  But when it happens at church, it’s just different.   And I’m so angry, I could just spit!

“If you can extract the precious from the worthless, then you can be my spokesman.”  Jeremiah 15:19

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Family Praying On The Go Bags

M&MsI love to pray.  And if I’m being completely transparent, it is my heart’s desire to do it more often and for longer.  I would think the kids I lead are in the same boat.  So anytime we get to use a tool or item to pray more, it delights my heart.

When I attended last fall’s CEF Conference they offered Mobile Prayer Bags at the Hospitality desk.  The Mobile Prayer Bag could be checked out for two hours to enjoy the various tools that would facilitate prayer. When you returned the bag you needed only to return a couple of items with permission to consume or use the others.

The brochure provided inside the bag provided tools to facilitate prayer that included a rope, a quilted prayer finger labyrinth, a snack bag of M&Ms, lectio divina directions, and a sample paint card.

It got me thinking of how to ‘bring it home’ and offer Praying On The Go and to offer it monthly in 2015.  I could prepare 20+ bags with a monthly theme to be picked up by the families at their leisure from the information table along the Children’s Ministry hallway.

BlessHousePamphletIn January, I included a 6 inch wooden cross, left overs from an activity from last year, and included a Praying Through My Home booklet with directions.  I posted this activity under the title “Bless This House.”

For February, I have just set out the new POGO bags for M&M Prayers with snack bags of M&Ms and the following:

Find a quiet spot, take a deep breath, and open your bag of M&Ms. As you put an M&M in your mouth, close your eyes and take time to feel and taste as the candy melts in your mouth. As the candy melts, turn your thoughts to God, and use the color code below to focus your prayers:

Red candy: Think about the greatness of God. Think about the great things God has made.

Take a deep breath, hold it counting to 5, then breathe out slowly and whisper “God, You are great.”

Orange candy: Thank God for the blessings you have received and the goodness in your life.

Take a deep breath, hold it counting to 5, then breathe out slowly and whisper, “God, You are good.”

Yellow candy: Pray for those who are in need of basic human needs; food, shelter, water, peace.

Take a deep breath, hold it counting to 5, then breathe out slowly and whisper, “Thank you, God.”

Brown candy: Pray for those close to you or far away in need of God’s guiding spirit, that they will feel God’s abundant love in their life.

Take a deep breath, holding it counting to 5, then breathe out slowly and whisper, “Help them, God.”

Blue candy: Confess to God (agree with God) that you are sometimes weak and fail to follow God as you should. Ask God to help you stay strong.

Take a deep breath, holding it counting to 5, then breathe out slowly and whisper, “Forgive me, God.”

Green candy: Sit in silence as you ask God to hear your prayers, those spoken and those that are unsaid in your heart.

Take a deep breath, holding it counting to 5, then breathe out slowly and whisper, “Praise you, God, for hearing my prayers.”

KidwParenthandFor March?  Paint strips from the home improvement store for lectio divina.  For October?  Prayers for our Pastor since it’s Clergy Appreciation Month.  For June?  Bicycle prayers.  I’ll post as I go.

Anytime I can help facilitate the use of the holy practices of God’s people among my kids, I want to give ample opportunity for my parents to be the heroes.  This is just another way I can be a part of that.

“I don’t know what to do, but my eyes are upon you.” 2 Chronicles 20:12

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Kid’s Christmas Program: What’s The Point?

Sunday was our annual ‘Children’s Gift’ presented during the 11 o’clock ARISE service when the children (Preschool-5th grade) sing a few songs, present a poem/drama, and pass out something yummy to the congregation en masse just before the sermon.

Over the last four years, finding a time to prepare like the traditional “children’s choir time” has not worked for us. Many of our students have commitments every weeknight and many of our parents commute or own their own businesses, so volunteers are slim. This fall we included ‘praising the Lord in song’ as an important part of our Sunday School time, so it seemed the natural time to prepare for our program.

ChristmasProgramWe chose a dance song “Yes, Jesus Loves Me,” from the Go Fish Guys and a poem where each student held up student art to represent the animals and folks involved in the Christmas story, then closed with “It’s About The Cross.”

Not every kid takes the stage with great enthusiasm and not every kid sings along, but the top 3 reasons we continue are…

1. Everyone needs spiritual memories of service in church without perfection.  Everyone in the congregation loves to see kids sing and dance in church, even if they won’t sing or dance in church.  They enjoy the peppy music and how the kids act.  I always say that as long as no one throws up, the presentation is a success.  Nose picking, dress lifting, knocking into other people, no singing, singing to a different tune is all enjoyed and a story is born to share at future family gatherings.  Anytime a Sunday morning takes on a different order, it is set apart in our minds and memories.  I want our kids to have lots of church memories. Memories of ‘not the same-old, same-old every week.’  Memories of their family of faith smiling and clapping with them.  Memories of praising the Lord!

2.  They get to run in church.  Whether a child is late arriving so we hurry to gather their props or we’re handing out candy canes from red and green beach buckets after the presentation, I think it’s good for kids to run in church at times.  When I was a girl, the only lady who I perceived was “sold out for the Lord” wore orthopedic shoes, wore her hair in a bun, and shook her big floppy bible at us as she yelled at kids to stop running in church.  Yep, that’s who I aspired to be (insert sarcasm).  I will do whatever it takes to build church memories that are filled with laughter, joy, and hopefully give a better picture of what a woman sold out to the Lord looks and acts like…she may run occasionally in the church.

3.  Non-Stepford-Non-Perfect-Acting-Kids get to be affirmed by others.  We’ve all had, or been, those kids who’s name is spoken a dozen times during the Sunday School hour.  On this day, they get up there, sing, dance, smile, and get all the attention they could possibly want, and then get told, “You did great!,” or “I loved it when you…”  One of the five pillars of our Children’s Ministry is BELONG.  We want for our kids to feel they belong at church and no matter what happens during the week, this is where they know without a doubt they are loved, laughed with, and given opportunities to shine.

Even if you have just a few kids, even if pageants and programs aren’t your thing, even if Christmas2014your kids act all “I don’t want to be here and I don’t want to do this” on you, it’s important to learn and offer them practice praising the Lord in public. And a small Children’s Gift of Praise…even a Sacrifice of Praise… is the perfect vehicle to do just that.

“Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.”  Proverbs 22:6

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What About THOSE Sundays?

There is a rhythm to every community. A time when you can guarantee a few Sundays of light attendance. Sometimes it falls around a weeklong school break  Sometimes it falls around a holiday typically filled with travelling and over-doing-it. So what do we do about THOSE Sundays?

The Sundays after Christmas and after New Year’s Day are two of the six that can cause this Children’s Ministry Director to toss her hands up in frustration, or…..we do our best to make them especially special!

PajamaParty1This year we will host a PAJAMA PRAISE PARTY the Sunday after Christmas.  Everyone gets new PJs for Christmas, so kids and volunteers will be sporting them with the Youth hosting us with a hot chocolate bar during Sunday School.  We’ll gather in the gym in our jammies, eat some jacked-up hot cocoa, then head back to The Great Room to decorate huge Gingerbread cookies and jam out to Praise Songs.  11 o’clock worship service will look lively for sure.

On the Sunday following New Year’s Day, we’ve invited a Titus 2 Mystery Guest to speak with a special activity.  Baby Girl and #1 Son can give personal testimony when they were little people about the influence of having someone just a bit older sharing about their journey of faith .  They can name the young man who purposed in his heart to be a ‘delight’ to his parents as a teenager, the young woman who purposed in her heart to maintain relationship boundaries, and the multiple missionaries who gave testimony of their week-long, months-long, and whole life experiences of sharing the Good News of Jesus around the world.

hot-choc1Year before last, our church’s theme was “go into all the world and preach the Good News to all creation.”  Every other month we invited a young person to share of their missionary experiences.

  • On Easter Sunday, a young woman shared she had been going with her family to Honduras every year since she can remember on a short term mission trip.  Immediately following, our youth began talking about going to Honduras.  Last year, these same students partnered with the young woman’s home church and did just that.  They made it happen in just a year’s time.  And they are going back next summer.
  • Another young woman visited and shared of her difficulties in the mission field in West Africa.  One of my girls came away telling me and anyone else who would listen that God is calling her to Russia and she has purposed in her heart to make it happen no matter the difficulties she may face.
  • Another young girl, a senior in high school, shared about her receiving Operation Child Christmas Shoe boxes in a Latvian Salvation Army orphanage as a little person.  She was adopted into a family of home-church friend’s of ours as I met her on a Chrysalis Flight the summer before.  Just an FYI…the best gifts in the boxes she received:  bubble gum and flavored toothpaste.  Now, every shoe box that leaves Wesley Chapel has bubble gum and flavored toothpaste in it.

titus_bw1280x720Our Titus 2 Mystery Guest will be sharing with my little people on the Sunday following New Year’s Day.  This very special young person is a student at Georgia Tech and that’s all I’m going to say about that because the mystery matters.  And I can’t wait to see what God will spark in the heart and mind of a child a direction, a purpose, or an intention from the testimony of His own.

“Teach the older men…teach the older women…then they can train the younger women…and encourage the young men…In everything set them an example by doing what is good.”  Titus 2:2-7a.

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A Great Children’s Council Meeting

“The best question a leader can ask his/her team is, ‘What’s missing?'” ~John Maxwell

I LOVE the women who make up our Children’s Council. In the beginning of my tenure, we met monthly. We now meet quarterly and I adore their company. I enjoy meetings, but meetings with a purpose, a focus, take-aways, and ‘circle time.’ Those meetings give me insight, a filter, and energy.

StarbucksLast Tuesday we gathered at the local Starbucks because we can get caught up, laugh, and speak face to face as we wait for our dessert in a cup. It’s relaxing, a breather for a hectic day.

Sitting in a circle, we each picked up a folded card that would ask questions to prompt our opening conversation. These questions were emailed earlier in the day to give time for prayerful consideration:
What are we doing well?
What is confusing?
What is missing?
What are we not doing well?
What is fruitful?
What has energy?

Taking notes offers a filter when implementing programming and communicating to our families in the days and weeks to come.

Proverbs 22 6I then passed out a 2015 calendar (I spent the previous couple of weekends in Microsoft Publisher to prepare) with sermon titles, special events, school holidays, and the dates of Fantastic Friday/Parents Night Out, Faith Milestone events, VBS, and CLUB345…the dates of the non-regular-Sunday-stuff. The goal: Families need to plan ahead ( the council should be our greatest advocate and talk up these activities way ahead of time) AND the greater calendar offers the filter to not overwhelm our families and servants in the regular rhythm of our community.

who-what-when-where-why-howThen, a front/back page of 2014 Celebrations as well as 2015 Plans, along with a more detailed explanation of upcoming Faith Milestone events with the what, the who, the when, the why, and the where that will be shared at next month’s Administrative Council meeting. I also introduced the upcoming three worship services in 2015 that will take place on the fifth Sunday of the month: Families First On The Fifth with a glimpse of what that’ll look like, but really just a ‘jumping off point.’

We started at 6pm and departures started a little after 8pm. It took a while, but a productive and focused meeting where everyone spoke, everyone shared, and everyone laughed.

Three MUSTS for meaningful meetings:why-1.jpeg

1.  Great preparation – have a plan, share the plan ahead of time (ex: emailing the questions to prayerfully consider along with the reminder email.)

2.  Great participation – have something where everyone shares, all voices are important (what folks talk about offer a glimpse into what their hearts and minds are taking up the most space in their heads.)

3.  Great prayer – before, during, and after.

Top takeaways from last night’s meeting?Team-Building-Activities

1. We have renewed energy for Sunday school (good thing because I had a copy of Sunday School That Works: The Complete Guide To Maximize Your Children’s Ministry Impact put out by Group Publishing for their take away and our discussion for our winter meeting.

2. As an alternative to our typical SCREAM Retreat in March, we will offer a day away retreat called “Deep And Wide” in July. 9am-9pm and only for rising 4th, 5th, and 6th graders…a faith milestone at Mrs. DeDe’s house (great response from the Moms on the Council because I live 45-50 minutes away from the church in the mountains of North Georgia.)  We’ll hike, swim, go the movies, and have a program specific to practicing ‘soul training’ and answering their own personal call into ministry.

3. Sending the weekly Sunday school challenge by text to the families of the older kids.

4. Incorporating the traditional songs with motions in Sunday school…there’s great truth in the traditional songs of ‘Deep and Wide,’ ‘My God Is So Great,’ and ‘He’s A Peach of a Savior,’ etc.

“The most effective children’s ministry director is the one who has an inner circle of champions and advocates who believe so much in what you’re doing they will hide bodies for you.” ~ Lynley Jones, Children’s Ministry Director, Asbury United Methodist Church, Lafayette, Louisiana

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No More Children’s Church For Us

Since last summer, our staff team has been on the mission of improving the worship experience for our medium-sized church in the Atlanta suburbs. We’ve attended seminars, trainings, workshops, and even a week-long retreat with The Worship Design Studio team. We have been intentional to institute many details making the experience more personal, more inviting, relative to all learning and worship styles, and giving multiple opportunities for congregational involvement throughout.

What has this got to do with little people? Everything.

ChurchChangeIt has always been our desire to connect as a family of faith…a family where our kids and their parents and grands pray, sing, praise, give, share and greet together.  Before this month, we dismissed the kids to a separate Children’s Church time immediately following the children’s moment and before the pastor’s “big sermon” which took place towards the end of the order of worship.  On Communion Sunday, we ushered the children back to their parents so to participate as a family.

When we changed the placement of the “big sermon” to be early mid-service, the giving, greeting, and praying were now at the end of the service in response to the Word proclaimed.  Our kids were going to miss some powerful times as a family of faith if we continued Children’s Church.  Oh I could do those things in Children’s Church, but not like it’s done with our whole family of faith.

PrayerhandsI spoke with our pastor, a couple of ‘big names’ in KidMin, and some of our Children’s Church families sharing what we were doing and they were game for us to stay and continue to worship together. Families sitting side by side, arms around shoulders, standing in unison in call and response, enjoying time and space together.

We had already offered some interactive pew tools for our kids and now I could kick it up a notch, such as…

ClipboardsSermon Bingo…our pastor puts out the sermon schedule, scripture, and title for the entire year in advance.  This helps me when I prepare the weekly Children’s Moment, so I set up a bingo card with words and phrases that are likely to be sung, spoken, or shared for the several week-long worship series.  The kids then mark or color the spaces when they hear the vocabulary.  These are placed on clipboards in the narthex.  The kids are invited to place their completed cards in my mailbox outside the worship space.

Etch-a-Sketches…for our littlest disciples.

Clipboards with blank paper…I invite the kids to take notes, draw pictures, write a note or draw a picture of encouragement to give to someone who sits in their row or one of the pastors.

A Challenge…when the sermon was titled “Salt and Light,” I challenged the kids in Sunday School to pick up a clipboard outside my office and tally the times they heard the words “salt” and “light” and tell me after the service which word was said most often.  I have a few tally sheets on the bulletin board behind my desk…”light” won out.

Pockets monthly magazines on clipboards…I attach a note about a few upcoming kid’s events like Fantastic Friday/Parents Night Out or the Jingle Bell Shoppe.  Even our middle schoolCarlieArters enjoy these.

Cloth 3 ring binder zipper pouches from Dollar Tree (they are quiet)…with crayons, or colored pencils, or a handful of legos (for the pre readers).

And yes, all of them are out each week in a nice, shallow rubbermaid container set just outside our worship space.  Colored ribbons make for a colorful display.  I look forward to seeing what else we can come up with.

Attending the bi-annual CEF Conference (Christian’s Engaged in Faith Formation formerly known as Christian  Educator’s Fellowship) last month in Nashville, ‘kids in worship’ was the topic of almost every conversation.  Facebook has had multiple conversations and some very heated.  We have a Children’s Ministry networking luncheon coming up this week and it’ll be the topic, as well.  I’ll blog afterwards with what we came up with.

We are no longer offering Children’s Church.  We want to live and worship as a family of faith.  Our staff supports it, our parents support it, and our kids are thriving making connections with folks of all ages and stages.  Like family, some things are taught and some things are caught.  We want opportunities for both.

viele bemalte bunte KinderhändeWe offer a nursery for ages 0-4 years old.  This gives our parents a choice for our smallest disciples of staying in the service or be loved on in the nursery.  Our Mamas seem to like having the option.

There appears to be a great deal of research out there now that kids who worship with their families and connect inter-generationally in a family of faith are more likely to remain active in the local church as they get older.

This is the research we have lived:  We worshipped together in the early traditional service and served together and separately throughout Baby Girl’s and #1 Son’s preschool, elementary, middle school, and high school years at our home churches…in Baton Rouge, in New England, and in Woodstock.  They were invited to serve and lead on Sunday mornings as they grew in their faith and faithfulness.  They enjoyed a regular diet of adult investment into their lives.  When #1 Son didn’t want to go, the conversation went something like this, “Church and worship is what we do as Reillys.  It’s who we are.  God gets an ‘awards’ day once a week for all He has done for us and we go.  This is not a choice you get to make.  It’s KidwParenthandright up there with you don’t get a choice to not brush your teeth or not take algebra.  It’s what we do.  When you get old enough to earn a degree, move out, and pay all of your own bills, then you can make a decision about church.  Until then, we leave in 10 minutes.”  If we were too busy or too tired for church life, we were too busy and something had to go.  It was never church.  The priority of worshipping together and serving in the local church was guarded and made for lots of conversations of who we were as christians as they grew up.  A life lesson of filtering what is good for what is best.  Oh, and did I mention that I was not on church staff until they were in late high school?

This is what I know:  Baby Girl and #1 Son remain active in their spiritual disciplines and in their local churches now as young adults.

“What’s good for kids in church is good for everybody.”  Mark Burrows, Children’s Pastor at First United Methodist Church of Ft. Worth

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Change Is A Movement of the Holy Spirit

My Mother-in-Law got a new cell phone. Her flip phone broke in half and she got tired of having to use both hands to talk. She didn’t want a smart phone, but wanted another flip phone, so my Honey got her one. Same color, same style, but it has a few upgrades that the first one didn’t.

UpgradeButton We got daily phone calls for two weeks about her frustrations. She would open it in the night to use the light and hit a button. It took her picture. She wants to know what Verizon is going to do with a picture ‘they’ took of her in the night. She found the flashlight button, which we thought was a good upgrade, but now she can’t turn it off and she says it blinds her and she really doesn’t want to use her glasses at night to turn it off. Somehow she has gotten a ding alarm set for 3am and wants to know who is calling her in the middle of the night.  We chuckle and we have tried to ‘fix’ her new phone, but as she found out when she went to the Verizon store, upgrades can’t be removed.  She has now quit calling us and is finally settling into her new, upgraded cell phone.  If she finds a new challenge, she now goes straight to the source, the Verizon store, and they teach her.

The staff and worship committee at my church have taken on the challenge to instill excellence in worship for 2015 and we aren’t waiting until January to get the ball rolling.  We are ‘shooting a few bullets’ this fall.  Jim Collins, noted author and researcher of the book Good to Great, calls it ‘shooting bullets before cannonballs.”  Over the last several months we have spent time with the best:  Mark Burrows from First UMC in Ft Worth, and Rev Dr Marcia McFee.  We have continued to participate in online training and working diligently alongside our laity in prayer and discussion about some of the things we have ‘sprinkled’ here and there before we go ‘all in’ for the Advent season.

We’ve beenUpgradeChangeSign at this a month now.  We are putting educational information in the weekly bulletin and in our monthly newsletter. I note it in the emails addressed to folks who serve on the worship teams on Sunday morning and our worship leader is talking it up at their practices.  We are taking every opportunity to speak face to face with energy and enthusiasm.  Our senior pastor is even planning for a few Sunday School class visits over the next month or so to give folks a chance to participate in word, deed, and prayer.

I LOVE the energy that comes with the tension of change in the local church.  It gives me a chance to share in the whole church, not just my area of Children’s Ministry.  It gives me a chance to be invited into the hearts and spiritual histories of the saints of the church as I may be more accessible, maybe even ‘safe’, when the tensions come.  Just last week, I happened to be sitting behind someone who needed to ‘share’ immediatelyUpgradeChange after services.  She placed her hands on my shoulders, looked me in the eye, and shared her personal challenge with tenderness and grace.  In that very moment, I got to feel, hear, and see her heart as I looked into her eyes.  It allowed me to encourage, affirm, and pray for her.  I was invited into her journey.

The sense of the movement of the Holy Spirit comes to more people when we make changes at church.  And it can be uncomfortable.  And they don’t know what to do with the discomfort…the tension.  Folks begin to articulate their personal preferences, their personal histories, and their personal narratives.  How they do this is a direct result of their dedication to prayer and bible study.  How I respond is also a direct result of my dedication to prayer and bible study.

Every church I have every served has been a place of change.  Some congregations handle it well, some just get mean about it.  Thom Rainer, President of Lifeway says, “Obstacles and critics are common, but not insurmountable.”  Church saints and leaders who are in the Word on a daily basis and in prayer on a daily basis, share their challenges in a way that invites others to know their hearts because they are kind, ChurchChangethey are constructively involved, and they read everything that comes out: bulletins, newsletters, emails, everything!  Those constantly in the Word and prayer speak of their tensions with tenderness, open minds, and discussion for clarity for understanding.  Oh the filter that is afforded with a regular diet of prayer and bible study!

I, too, get frustrated when I have to take on an upgraded cell phone, an upgraded computer, any upgraded device.  Yet I have discovered the situation invites me to slow down, to pay attention to the details, and to participate fully until I can be more confident in my place in the mix.

When it comes to participating fully in church change, I will devote myself to prayer (talking with the Lord), bible study (the Lord talking with me), and to be ‘all in’ in the community of faith (read everything that comes out from the leadership).  It’s a ‘whole church’ thing, not just my particular area.  Then I’ll ask, “What ELSE can I do to help?”  When the Holy Spirit is involved, I will not settle to sit on the sidelines and wait to be invited onboard.  I’m jumping on and holding on for dear life because something great for His Kingdom is going to happen and I don’t want to miss a thing.

“To love Him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”  Mark 12:33

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