Piggyback Psalms

The reason I sign songs is because I can’t sing. When I do sing, it’s usually loud and indeed a joyful noise. So when I came across Emily La Branche Delikat’s paperback “Piggyback Psalms: 100+ Bible Songs to Tunes You Know” at the resource center of North Georgia’s United Methodist Church’s Annual Conference last week, I thought, “Hey! THIS I can do!” The book releases today on Amazon!

According to Emily, a Piggyback Psalm is a song that is based on a sacred song or poem from the Book of Psalms and is written or paraphrased in simple language and set to a well-known tune. Because each Piggyback Psalm is set to tunes that are already stuck in my head, it is perfect for this ‘musically less-than Jesus gal.’ There are 62 songs based on 62 Psalms written to tunes like Mary Had a Little Lamb, She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain, The Ants Go Marching, Are You Sleeping?, Skip to My Lou, One Little Two Little, and more. I was surprised at the number of tunes that are already stuck in my head!

Singing the psalms make the liturgy and vocabulary sticky, interactive, and easy to remember. Emily didn’t just include the psalms of joy, but also offered small portions of psalms of lament and anger. I’m glad. I believe we do our kids a disservice when we let them think that following Jesus means it’s all kumbaya. Even the VBS we used this year shared every day that in the storms of life, Jesus is there. When we sing the Psalms, we teach our children that all emotions are important and healthy. An example would be “When Life is Hard” based on Psalm 14 sung to the tune: Rock-a-bye, Baby:

When life is hard and people are mean, I can trust that God is with me. God is my refuge and my strength. Soon I will rejoice and celebrate.

I bought two copies. One for me and one for my daughter to sing with the grands. I’ll probably get more copies, because this resource is fabulous. Thank you Emily for writing, and Abingdon Press for publishing, this resource!

Bonus: In the back of the book, there is an index to align the Piggyback Psalm with the Revised Common Lectionary. There is also a tune index just in case one of the tunes just gets stuck in your head and it’s one of your favorites!

“You are my God, and I will praise you; you are my God, and I will exalt you.” Psalm 118:28

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Is Your Vine In A Jungle?

Hannah Harwood, Director of Children’s Ministries serving at Sam Jones United Methodist Church, Cartersville, Georgia is this week’s guest blogger.  Hannah was the Campus Ministry Intern at Reinhardt University when we first met. My daughter followed in her footsteps and we’ve been connected ever since.

I am currently in a very busy season serving in my first full-time Children’s Director position. It has been a learning experience navigating the ropes of a new position as well as being mom to a very precious Kindergartner. The other day I had a light bulb or face-palm moment. I had just finished leading a chapel on John 15:5 and was talking with one of our children’s ministry leaders. He happened to mention that he had a whole field of grape vines. He went on to discuss a lesson he had learned when he first started planting grape vines. In the winter months he had a tendency to plant several new vines and because they were so small and easy he would plant several more than expected. However, by the summer months the vines were huge and needed pruning and daily care. His neat and orderly rows of vines had turned into a jungle.

Immediately I realized how quickly I seem to fall into the grape vine trap when it comes to ministry and even my personal life. I LOVE to dream about ministry and enjoy brainstorming and creating new programs. I often carry around my dream journal as I write down different ideas that I get from a podcast or conversation with another Kidmin Champion. Surely something good like a new program or new great idea can’t be a bad thing…. Right? But just like the grape vines needed daily care and pruning so do the programs in our ministries. When we are dreaming and thinking of new ideas in those calm-er seasons during the year it is very easy to think that we can handle adding even more to our and our church families’ plates. In most situations projects can seem very small and simple in the beginning.  As more details get added and volunteers provide needed feedback what took such a small portion of our to-do list is now taking up more and more time, energy, and resources.

Looking back at John 15 we can find the answer to the age-old question of when to say, “No” and when to say, “Yes”. We find the section of scripture in the midst of advice Jesus is giving to his disciples prior to being arrested and crucified.

Jesus says to his disciples in verse 16 and 17 “You did not chose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: love each other.

I believe that Children’s Ministry is a calling. A very crucial and important one. We have to remember that because we were called; our command is to bear fruit. When our schedules begin to look like jungles and need pruning we have to ask ourselves, “Does this program bear fruit? Is it helping connect our children and their families to Jesus? Is it fruit that will last or one more thing on our to-do list?”

At the close of my conversation, Mr. J turned to me and said “don’t forget to ask for help if you need someone to take care of different fruits.”  I think my grapevines are going to do just fine and I can’t wait to see the amazing things GOD does.

I am the vine: you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:5

Thanks, Hannah! If you’d like to connect with Hannah, reach out at hccoady@gmail.com.

ANNOUNCEMENT: Congratulations, Michelle McLeroy! Michelle is the winner of both Glenys Nellist’s books from last week’s book review and giveaway.

God Made Mommy and Daddy Special – Review + Two-Book-Give-Away

In preparing for a Children’s Ministry Stakeholder’s Meeting, I asked a 2nd grader what were her favorite parts of church over the last year. Her response surprised me. She replied, “When we read aloud books.” There are many more flashy things we do, but she shared immediately how we end our time in Children’s Church most Sundays. So when I heard Glenys Nellist had written two new rhyming books focused on mommies and daddies, I picked up several copies right away and she didn’t disappoint.

Published by Zonderkidz, these two irresistible padded-covered board books are a MUST for any child’s and children’s ministry library. In celebration of Father’s Day, I’ll focus this review of God Made Daddy Special. With a lilting rhythm, children will hear of the precious characteristics of a polar bear, skunk (my personal favorite because it is laugh-out-loud funny), giraffe, octopus, lion, flamingo, bat, and elephant. The last pages elaborate on human Daddies. I LOVE books that share the laughter, playfulness, joy, strength, and humor of daddies with their kids. Even a pre-teen enjoys hearing the reminders that their dads are amazing creations of God and ‘a precious gift to me.’

Both books are illustrated by Estelle Corke, who uses traditional paints and watercolors making every parent-animal an absolute visual delight. The images and even the print was intentional: The heart-shaped ‘O’ on the cover of God Made Mommy Special is the publisher’s response to Glenys being from England. In England, they don’t call Moms ‘Mom’, but rather ‘Mum’ making the marketing on both sides of the ocean relative.

Glenys is indeed an accomplished author of children’s books pointing families to the Lord. Might there be something on the horizon about Grandmothers and Grandfathers? This Mimi would be thrilled. Stay tuned!

Want to get BOTH books for your library for free? Comment below with what you’ve planned to do for your Dads and their kids in your ministry with children. We’ll be enjoying donuts with Dad in the Children’s Welcome Center. This pair of books are perfect for a preschool classroom, too. You must be over 18 years old and have a US street address. The giveaway ends on Tuesday, June 12. I’ll announce the winner on that day. Thanks, Glenys! Thanks, Zonderkidz!

To connect with Author Glenys Nellist, find her across various social media @GlenysNellist and visit her website. To connect with Illustrator Estelle Corke, check out her Facebook page.

“Every good and perfect gift is from God.” James 1:17

A Season of Unrest

Guest blogger, Katie Atcheson, serves in the daily trenches of Children’s Ministry as the Minister of Children and Families at Grayson United Methodist Church located in Grayson, Georgia. Katie and I have known one another for years going all the way back to weekday ministry.

I’m a busy mom of three, and I also work full-time as a Minister of Children and Families. There have been times when I rely on music and/or the words of others to help express to the Lord how I’m feeling. Sometimes I just can’t formulate the words to say what I want to my Jesus. I’m so glad that others can often say it just right!

Which leads me to one of my current favorite songs; it’s called “Weep With Me” by Rend Collective. What a beautiful song! Seeing the song title actually prompted me to download the entire album (and if you choose to do the same, you won’t be disappointed). The name of the song caught my attention as the past few months have been a trying and challenging season for me. Not that I sit around crying all the time, but there have certainly been moments when I cry out to Jesus – in need of answers, clarity, and direction.  What’s funny is that I can’t say I’ve received any of those three things I currently long for. At least not in the way I had hoped. Nonetheless I continue to cry out to Him.

My nature, however, would be to turn away from Him in these challenging seasons. Or at least to distance myself. But instead, these past few months have been a season of getting to know Him in a new way. I long to hear from Him, and I can’t say I am hearing His voice in the way I’d like to. Then again, maybe I’m not supposed to. Yet.

Maybe I’m supposed to – in the throws of VBS planning and working on hiring a new assistant and thinking about summer volunteers and planning out what our Sunday morning kids’ worship services may look like for the next few months and looking ahead to fall and times of transition for our children’s ministry (whew!) – be still. Before him. To weep. To listen. To listen for His voice when my human nature says I need to be busy and moving and planning for the next thing.

Working (even volunteering!) in Children’s Ministry is certainly not for the faint of heart. It’s one of the biggest joys of my life! I adore what God has called me to do. But we all go through seasons of change, including seasons where God is stretching us, teaching us to fully rely on Who He is. This is most definitely a challenging time for me, and honestly I can’t pinpoint quite why. There’s a disconnect, maybe even a slight void – and a longing for something more. Maybe you, working in ministry, feel the same at times.

I’m anxious and excited to see what is on the other side of this season for me (and for you, assuming this is something you face as well!). But I also want to abide in this place that He has called me to – whether it’s pretty or messy, whether I’m comfortable or not. I’d say right now I’m fairly uncomfortable. But I know my God is faithful; He is for me, and I want to be faithful in return.

I want to remember – daily – that ministry may not always be comfortable. Ministry is messy (especially children’s ministry – one word: glitter)! Ministry isn’t always meant to run smoothly. I know Jesus’ ministry was full of challenges. So I pray that He will equip me to do the best job I can for Him and to call upon His name daily – whether times are easy or challenging. I’m sure he did the same throughout His ministry here upon this earth.

So I do. I call upon Him. And sometimes, I do cry out to Him for answers.
And then I heard that song, “Weep With Me.” One day recently, some of the lyrics just got hold of me. They say:
“Weep with me
Lord will You weep with me?
I don’t need answers, all I need
Is to know that You care for me”

Maybe I don’t need answers after all. I just need Him.
So what do I do when I’m discouraged? What do I do when I don’t hear from Him in the way I wish I could?
“Yet I will praise You
Yet I will sing of Your name
Here in the shadows
Here I will offer my praise.”

I’ll praise Him. From the shadows. I’ll praise Him when I’m unsure, when I’m weak, when I’m discouraged. And you know we all can be from time to time.

So with this next part, I must include a disclaimer and say that I am by no means a singer (ask my kids when I sing to them in my car!). But a part of this song truly gripped me:
“Turn my lament
Into a love song.
And from this lament
Raise up an anthem.”
So will God turn this season of disconnect and challenges into an expression of love to honor Him? He can. And I believe He will. Which then allows me to rest in this season of unrest knowing that He will be glorified so long as I keep my eyes on Him.

One of my favorite scriptures is from 2 Chronicles 20. Verse 12 says, “For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” Verse 15 goes on to say, “This is what the Lord says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s.”  I don’t always know what to do. I don’t have all the answers. But I know the one Who does, and I must – daily – keep my eyes on Him. For the battle isn’t mine. What a relief! God’s got this.

I encourage you to rest in Him, no matter what your circumstances are. Perhaps you work or volunteer in ministry, and maybe you, too, are facing a season of disconnect or discouragement. No matter what or why, remember that these challenges which lie before you aren’t for you to figure out. Yes, we have to do our part, but ultimately, God has the answers, and He’s waiting on us to figure that out! He loves us – unconditionally – and when we encounter these challenges and trying times, He simply wants to weep with us. I pray you will allow Him to do just that.

Thanks, Katie, for sharing your heart! If you’d like to connect with Katie, she can be reached at katie@graysonumc.org, 770-963-2944 ext. 245, http://www.graysonumc.org/graysonkids

Ministry and Minimalism

Ready for a fresh word from a Children’s Ministry champion in the trenches like us? The following is a guest blog from Mrs. Amy May, Director of Children’s Ministry at McDonough First United Methodist Church located in McDonough, Georgia. 

I’m in the middle of simplifying my life. At any given time, you can find bags and bags of stuff in my minivan that are headed to the local Goodwill store. The Lord has shown me that all the extra stuff (whether it is material goods or added commitments) distract me from what is most important in my life. I’ve gotten rid of 75% of my clothing and I’m working on the rest of my house. Constantly cleaning and keeping up with our “stuff” is not how I want to spend my time.

Likewise, I’ve been re-evaluating how I do ministry. A lot has happened since I became a children’s minister twelve years ago: our church population grew, our church population shrank, and I had three children. I’ve been through booms and lulls in attendance and giving. We have put on amazing and spectacular events that cost a lot of money and got a lot of attention. We have done awesome crafts and performances. There is nothing wrong with any of these good things, but I have to ask myself: Who has been brought to Christ through these activities? Am I planning fun events or am I engaged in ministry? I have worked so hard for so long to make things look perfect for visitors. I wanted church to be pretty, glossy, and easy. I wanted good photos for Facebook posts.

I read Sticky Faith by Dr. Kara E. Chapel and Dr. Chap Clark and the book changed the way I do ministry. According to Sticky Faith, here is what children need to help them grow in the faith: mentors, deep conversations, and active participation in the body of Christ to live out His commands. Children need to know they are loved and accepted. They need to see Christian adults live out their faith in real ways. They need to be included. This was good news to me, a children’s minister at a small church. I couldn’t provide expensive trips, a new church playground, and other perks nearby churches offered. Sticky Faith helped me to realize that sometimes I wasted time and energy on things that were not the most important things. All you children’s ministry folks will understand that I was totally being a Martha when I needed to be a Mary.

My church kids won’t remember what awesome craft we did twenty years from now. They might not remember if I did a cool science experiment or showed them funny clips from a movie to go with the Bible story. They will remember that church was a fun place and their Sunday School teacher showed up every week and cared about them. They will remember singing “Allelu, Alleluia” in Children’s worship. They’ll remember that church is a safe place full of people who loved them enough to teach them about Jesus.

There’s nothing wrong with having community events to attract the community to your church. I still do this sometimes. There’s nothing wrong with doing awesome crafts and fun, messy games. I do those sometimes, too. But I’m also not afraid now to stop the showtime and just connect with people. Have some unscripted time. Children need an adult genuinely interested in them and spending time with them. Slow down and eat some goldfish crackers with the kids. Ask how their week went. Ask how you can pray for them. Tell them about the last time you heard God’s voice and how you know it was God who was speaking. Tell them about your friend who had a stroke but wasn’t afraid in the ambulance because she felt God’s arms around her comforting her the whole way to the hospital. These interactions help develop a sticky faith that I hope will last them a lifetime.

“Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed – or indeed only one.” Luke 10: 41-42

If you’d like to connect with Amy, she can be reached at amy.may@mcdonoughfumc.com. 

What To Do Now About Girls and Boys?

Over the last six months, my reading and research has been devoted to how God and culture has wired the boys and girls in and around our local church. Books, articles, conversations, and experiences in an effort to intentionally lead our students well to the throne of Jesus. As a female, what can I do to provide a local church environment which is boy-friendly, since it is not my natural bent? As a mom-on-the-other-side of parenting, how can I best point my girls to Jesus when everything else is pointing them elsewhere?

I’ve written many blog posts about what I’ve learned and can be found by searching ‘boys’ or ‘girls’ in the search bar. This post will share what I’m going to do about what I’ve learned.

  1. No more plastic water bottles for convenience. We’ll use ice water dispensers AND for every field/day trip, we’ll invite students to bring a refillable BPA-free water bottle.
  2. We drink water or milk. There is something that happens beyond the calcium to make strong bones and a body work well. Hydration is key to making sure bodies and minds work well.
  3. Small groups outside of Sunday school will be offered separately for boys and girls. As much as boys are wired for competition, girls are wired for community. Girls especially respond differently when in a coed situation, so I will continue to offer a Princess Class specifically for 3rd-5th grade girls.
  4. Games requiring both balance (girls) and hitting a target (boys) must be mixed in with small groups. Games help students learn they belong. Girls warmup by stretching. Boys warmup by running.
  5. Small group leaders will be men and women of wisdom, not just older. Older youth and young adults are great for games, knowledge, and special activities, but I’m gleaning for wisdom from people the same age or older than my student’s parents who will speak God’s truth into their lives offering advice from a place of Godly wisdom that will affirm a biblical worldview.
  6. Bible study and the spiritual disciplines are taught and caught between 8 and 12. Every special event will include an element of learning and practicing the practices of the saints who have gone before us.
  7. When speaking to boys I will ask, “What would you do?” When speaking to girls I will ask, “How did it make you feel?”
  8. We will intentionally offer a plan for 5th grade students and their parents to share in learning conversation and holy listening skills, and where they must stay together throughout the event to encourage our students to turn to their parents and other responsible/wise adults for instruction, modeling, and ensuring that the parent-child relationship takes priority over the relationships between the child and his/her peers. We will always ensure the parents are heroes in the hearts of the students in my charge. This is a goal for next school year, so I’m talking to lots of parents, kids, counselors, clergy, and even parent’s Sunday school teachers to be sure I’m hearing their hearts, needs, and fears.
  9. We will engage in intentional teaching that the life of a disciple/follower of Jesus is not an easy one. No rainbows and unicorns here. We will teach of the martyrs, the first disciples of Jesus, the early and current church around the world so that when our students discover disappointment, hardship, and grief they have a Heavenly Father with a mother’s heart….they can ask for courage, strength, and perseverance in regular prayer…that just because it’s hard, doesn’t mean that God is not in it…that they can go with what they know and not with what they feel (feelings change, but knowing that God will never leave them nor forsake them is truth)…God has wired them for adventure and not with a spirit of timidity and fear…Jesus is still on the throne of Heaven and intends to be on the throne of their minds and hearts…they have skills and opportunities to make a world of difference for others and it’s not about them. God has placed within each one an inner strength to endure, to give testimony of God’s presence in their lives, and rebuke fragility. Failures in the world of meritocracy, school, and sports will come. “The willingness to fail, and then to move on with no loss of enthusiasm, is mark of character.” (Dr. Leonard Sax)
  10. I will continue to invite the children in our community to church on Sundays and not just the special events. Sunday is game day! Sunday is free! Sunday is Jesus, the Bible, and loving one another. Sunday is when the Body of Christ of all ages and stages gathers so I want our kids to see who’s on their side, on their team, and in their corner in life. Boys learn to be Godly men by spending time with Godly men, so I will be a pest until I get more on our team. Girls learn to be Godly women by spending time with Godly women, so I will give a platform to Titus 2 women to call back to those coming up behind them. At some point these ‘girls of the church’ will need a model for dealing with the tension of ‘becoming women of faith in Jesus.’ The same for my guys. The research says it takes 5 adults to champion a kid’s life, over time, to keep them pointed to Jesus. Reminds me of the 5 stones gathered by David to slay the giant, Goliath. David gathered 5 stones, but only 1 did the deed. I’m looking for 5 Godly men and women for each boy and girl in the ministry I’ve been called to lead…because our boys and girls need us to help them slay their giants. Who’s in?

“Train up a child in the way they should go and when they are older, they will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6

“Train up a child in the way they should go in Jesus and when they stray, they’ll only stray so far.” Reggie Joiner, Orange

Girls on the Edge – Mind, Body, Spirit

In discovering who the girls are that walk through our local church doors and who I meet in the community, I’ve been surprised by several items unpacked by Dr. Leonard Sax compilation of research in Girls On The Edge: The Four Factors Driving the New Crises for Girls: Growing up too fast, the Cyberbubble, Obsessions, and Environmental Toxins. Much of his information on environmental toxins I blogged here. Yet, two areas of environmental toxins resonated with me: (1) BPA used to make just about every kind of hard plastic such as a typical baby’s bottle and the resin that lines the inside of a can in most canned foods such as soup, ravioli, tuna, and vegetables is leaching into our foods/waters acting like a female hormone contributing to the early onset of puberty in girls (pg 107), and (2) Phthalates used to make lotions and creams softer have a complex action on the human endocrine system, disrupting sexual development and increasing the risk of obesity, possibly via a direct action on fat cells (pg 109). Think most baby pacifiers, soft plastic toys for infants, and salad dressing as well as body lotions are just now found to be harmful. We’re talking for more than 40 years, we’ve welcomed these things ‘as is’ and as ‘modern conveniences’. Good grief! Moving on.

The book closes with especially interesting info specific to a girl’s mind, body, and spirit. These are areas that made me go, “Hmmm…”

A Girl’s Mind
• Early reading does not equal a life-long inspiration to learn. As our kids get older, they are less and less likely to read for fun once the middle school years arrive.
• The greater danger for girls today is that American culture puts too much emphasis on the virtual world and not enough on the real world. Kids in second grade need to understand dirt more than they need to search about dirt on the school-issued iPad.
• When girls go to school (or church) with boys, they obsess over what they look like. When girls go to school (or are in small groups) with other girls, they thrive on the community with their focus on their behavior/character. Therefore, as boys crave competition, girls crave community. Safe, nurturing, linguistic (talking), serving community.

A Girl’s Body
• 8-year-old boys are better, on average, than girls at tasks requiring targeting a moving object in space (dodgeball). 8-year-old girls are better, on average, at tasks requiring balance (hopscotch, jump rope).
• The most dangerous sport kids do today, even more dangerous than football or ice hockey, is girls cheerleading with the focus on how they look AND the dangerous flying skills they exhibit. Volleyball coaches could care less what you look like while you play sport full out.
• The sport with the greatest risk of concussion is women’s ice hockey, having more than double the risk of concussion than guys playing football (pg 168).
• Specializing in one sport year-round (year-round sports weren’t even possible until the early 1990s) greatly increases the risk of injury since overdeveloping one set of muscles, while neglecting the others, throws the body out of alignment (pg 162). Participating in the same sport year-round also means she’s likely to be with the same group of girls for most of her days, making their respect and opinions the highest priority of her life (pg 162). There needs to be real off-seasons with unstructured play (pg163).
• A normal part of puberty is the widening of the pelvis leading to a larger Q angle (the angle formed by the thigh bone in relation to the vertical) for young girls. “As a result, activities that involve the quadriceps – activities such as running, jumping, or kicking a ball – create a more severe torque on the ACL in girls meaning a girl is 4-6 times more likely to injure her ACL than boys playing the same sport at the same level of competition. THEN, she is more likely to develop ‘significant arthritis’ in the knee with a greater likelihood for knee replacement by the time she’s in her 30s.
• Girls need to drink plenty of milk and avoid soda. Milk from a cow, or a goat. Soy milk doesn’t count. There’s more to the story between milk and girls than calcium. Drinking soda is associated with brittle bones in teenage girls, but not in teenage boys.
• Boys engage in sports because they want to win. Girls ‘are more likely to enjoy sports when the emphasis is on having fun and getting in shape rather than on beating the other team.’ (pg 177) Reminds me of a girl I knew who only at the end of the swim season realized that a swim meet was a competition and not just a place to ‘swim and meet people.’

A Girl’s Spirit
• The puberty years are the years of ‘spiritual awakening’ when she will struggle to figure out what she really cares about (pg 182).
• If you fail to nurture your daughter’s budding spirituality, it may be extinguished making it more likely she will substitute sexuality in the place of spirituality. Reminding us again that ‘no young man (or woman) can fill the niche in the heart that belongs only to the spirit. But girls don’t know that.’ (pg 183)
• Girls who are FULLY engaged in the spiritual life are less likely to be depressed than girls with the same demographics who are disengaged from spirituality. The antidepressant effect of being involved in the spiritual or religious life gets bigger, but only for girls, after the onset of puberty. (pg 192)
Achievements in academics and athletics won’t get you through the dark night of the soul. If her life is just mind and body, she’s may feel her life falling apart when disappointment comes. But if she has nurtured her spirit, nurtured it because you have taught her to cherish it (by your words and actions), then she can endure through that dark night. (pg 195)
• “The spirit cannot grow and be healthy if there is not enough silence.” T. S. Eliot Turn it off…the tv…the radio…the phone…the headphones…the computer. Let her learn to comfortable with her own company, her own thoughts, and her own creativity.
Girls need a community that lasts, (pg 206) where there are multiple generations and intentional time for building community and personal relationships. Don’t let your girls fall into the trap of thinking that her knowledge (and the knowledge of her peers) is a substitute for YOUR wisdom. (pg 208) (my emphasis)
• The core of a girl’s emotional life, for most girls, has to be founded on good friendships with two, three, four, or, at most, five other girls and/or women. (pg 211)

Come back next week when we wrap up with intentional responses to leading little boys and girls to the throne room of their King how He has intentionally wired them.

“The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down.” Proverbs 14:1

Girls – No Down Time and Obsessions

There is an intentional balance required between WHAT we teach/model and WHO we teach. I can know every Bible story in the book. I can deliver it with every ounce of energy and passion in my body and soul. Yet if I don’t take into account my audience, their needs, their world, their developmental appropriateness, are they really learning? I don’t think so. This has been my motivation for studying my students. How are boys wired so I can speak to their boy-ness? How are girls wired so I can speak to their girl-ness? What are the ‘-nesses’ of today’s culture that were not there just 15, 10, even 5 years ago?

In Dr. Leonard Sax’s book, Girls On The Edge: The Four Factors Driving The New Crisis for Girls, we read that the first factor is the unintentional consequence of our girls growing up too quickly and hitting puberty at 8 or 9 years old. That blog can be found here.  Girls today are missing middle childhood, that special period from roughly age 8 to age 12 when girls in previous generations were able to figure out who they were and who they wanted to be. A long childhood is one of the features that define us as a species (pg 100) The second factor he calls the ‘cyberbubble’ where girls are hyper-connected to their peers causing them to become disconnected to themselves.
When I grew up, my home life included relationships with a parent, siblings, and close extended family. There were many circles of friends between school, church, and recreational activities likely involving many age groups. Today, “social life” for children and teenagers means social life with kids the same age. (pg 46) Much of their world today is set in ‘age levels’ from school, dance class, softball, and even most churches.

Before the explosion of the availability of cell phones, email, instant messaging, and the technology of 24/7 connectedness in 1995, girls had a private life and private time. Tweens and teens need a time to reflect on who they are and who they want to become: time to just chill (pg 47). Hard to chill out when something next to you is vibrating every couple of minutes. How can she sleep? Most pre-teens and teens need nine hours a night to function at their full potential (pg 49). Side note: Sleep deprivation can mimic ADHD almost perfectly, having trouble focusing or finishing tasks. She’ll be absent-minded, lose her house-keys (pg 50). Research has even shared that once a child hits the age of 12, they begin ‘dropping’ info from their minds that is not the most important in the moment, because there is so much to remember. I’m having flashbacks from my kids hitting middle school and forgetting their gym clothes, band shoes, or lunch. Whew!

What does this mean for ministry with children? Am I still giving information, or am I inviting them to ask questions? Good questions. Let the room go silent to give them time to think. Every young girl needs ‘an alternative community of girls and women’ who can give a hug and remind one another that God made them and Jesus loves them. It matters to God how His kids treat one another. Can we provide another place, a community, where she feels at home? Go ahead and write the note she’ll read over and over again. Send the postcard and make comments less about what she looks like and more about Who she belongs to, how they’re treating one another, and displaying the fruit of the Spirit.

Let’s model for our girls, and talk about, setting time aside each day to be with the Lord. At 8 and 9 years old they can begin to try often enough to succeed by 10 years old some holy habits of prayer journaling, reading the Bible, giving a tithe, and serving in community. Let’s give our girls a new target for their obsessive tendencies. I remember the summer I was ten years old. There’s something that happens when a kid (boy or girl) turns 10 that begins trajectories in many directions in music, art, writing, and interests in lots of things for many seasons to come.

This brings me to Dr. Sax’s third factor: obsession.  Our girls obsess over things we think aren’t important, but they rehash conversations from their peers like a stuck record-player (NOW I’m dating myself, for sure.) Do we know what keeps our girls awake at night?

Be a good listener. Don’t be in a hurry to make recommendations. Just nod and keep your mouth shut until your daughter has her say. When we listen to our friends it is usually with the purpose of understanding their dilemmas, of helping them clarify how they feel, and of letting them know that we care. We listen long enough to know what it feels like to be in their shoes. Too often with our children, we rush in and offer suggestions, propose alternatives, or solve problems. (Madeline Levine, The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating A Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids, pg 134)

What are you thinking about the girls in your ministry? What are they ‘obsessing’ over? Join me next week for part 4 when we unpack Religious involvement seems to work as an antidote or as protection against preoccupation with physical appearance and unrealistic standards of thinness and performance. (pg 191)

“We typically believe that going to church and reading our Bibles a few times a week equals a personal relationship with Christ. Most of us would rather spend our time and energy focused on more immediate issues in our life – guy problems, friendship challenges, or weighty decisions that need to be made about our futures. And yet, amazingly, the answer to every single issue we will ever face can be found through deep intimacy with our true Prince (Jesus). Leslie Ludy, Authentic Beauty, page 184-185

Girls – Accelerated Development

When I began reading the compilation of research in Dr. Leonard Sax’s book Girls On The Edge: The Four Factors Driving the New Crisis for Girls, I was surprised at the areas of influence on a girl’s thinking that I did not have to navigate when I bridged adolescence. These are the four areas outlined by Dr. Sax and the research: Sexual Identity, The Cyberbubble, Obsessions, Environmental Toxins.

Sexual Identity – Like most young people, girls want to feel special, but romance has changed. “Fifty years ago, girls were the gatekeepers for sexual activity. The boys had at least to pretend they liked the girl in order to get physical.” (pg 25) Today’s culture encourages physical activity without romance due to popular music, movies, and product marketing. Pediatrician Meg Meeker asserts that ‘depression in teenage girls may often be a ‘sexually transmitted disease.’” (pg 25) Girls often confuse their desire for attention with their desire for sex moving ‘from a culture of dating to the culture of the hook-up.’ Girls have multiple voices talking at them all day long, but they’re confused of what voice to follow.

Song of Songs 8:4 reads, “I charge you, daughter of Jerusalem: do not awaken love before it’s time.” The struggle is real that our girl’s bodies are beginning to develop at 8-10 years old. Their bodies are jumping from childhood into teen world over the course of a summer without the in-between years. I mean, who in the world wants to be a teenager for 10 years (ages 10-20) when just last Christmas she got an Easy Bake Oven and still wants to wear sparkle shoes? It’s where we are.

One of the ways we can encourage a smoother transition for parents and daughters is to surround her and them with a community of faith offering an alternative voice to popular culture. As boys crave competition, girls crave community and will be shaped into the person she becomes by that community. The challenge: “a girl’s community is more likely to consist primarily of girls her own age.” (pg 204) When girls of the same age talk, the most popular topics tend to be about their own personal problems, obsessively rehashing negative emotions. This excessive talking can make them feel worse resulting in making girls more anxious. The right kind of community bridges the generations.

We offer a regular gathering of 3rd-5th graders we call, “Princesses of the King.” In the course of an hour and a half, we play a game that offers a way to gracefully speak to one another (ice breakers), read and study a woman of the Bible, then respond with a life skill such as note writing or this week’s Cupcake Wars when the girls will decorate 125 cupcakes which will be delivered to a homeless shelter. After Bible study, we break up into small groups led by what I call, Titus 2 women of faith who will speak into the girl’s lives to offer a place for building community. The local church provides the only avenue in our popular culture to intentionally gather women of many generations. We can draw on that pool of generations of women.

Though our girls may have the knowledge to navigate technology, they don’t have the wisdom to know what to filter. That’s where we come in. Are we offering opportunities for sharing such wisdom? Are we offering a community of women to teach our girls to ‘go with what you know and not with how you feel’? It doesn’t have to be anything formal or structured. Who have you invited to join your ministry with girls to help those girls navigate adolescence with grace, with wisdom, and in the knowledge and favor of God and man? (Luke 2:52)

In next week’s blog we’ll address the Cyberbubble factor.

“I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs – how he can please the Lord…An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit…I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.” 1 Corinthians 7:32-35

Girls – Who Are They?

Every child comes through our double doors, walks through our lobbies, and signs into our Children’s Ministry as individuals. Our goal is to find out what makes each one tick, hopefully before we find out what ticks them off. They come with various experiences and expectations. Discoveries can take time especially when our time with little people is limited to one or two hours each 168-hour week and that’s if they come every single week. We all know how unrealistic that is for most families. It doesn’t take long in a classroom of 3rd-4th graders to discover a chasm of differences between boys and girls. I’ve heard 3rd-4th grade referred to as Ninevah. My son’s 4th-6th grade Sunday school teacher they nicknamed “Braveheart” when they were in high school because they KNEW what they put that man through in early adolescence. I’m not sure he’s still teaching boys, but those boys are now men and it is THAT season they all remember and speak of now that they are grown men, with families of their own, serving in their own local churches.

It was my daughter, wife and mother of two, who told me, “Mom, you’ve GOT to read these books by Dr. Leonard Sax!” I read and blogged several weeks from Boys Adrift primarily in an effort to intentionally ensure my ministry with children was boy-friendly. What I learned was beyond my capabilities to ‘just know’ and I’ve been very forthcoming about the changes we’ve made to foster a more boy-friendly environment while meeting the goal of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. The first of those blogs can be found here.

Some early adjustments to intentionally make our ministry with children more boy-friendly included more games (they thrive on competition).  We ask “What would you DO?” rather than “How would you FEEL?”. We use paper products and not water bottles or plastic (environmental estrogens). We speak of Jesus winning (will to win). We have planned Faith Field Trips (outdoor day trips for faith formation) because children are wired to live life and engage in nature rather than read about it, and we seek to engage more men in ministry with children even in a ‘ministry of presence’ because boys learn to be men of faith by spending time with other men of faith. We all need a mentor:  a Yoda in the faith.

Dr. Leonard Sax’s companion book Girls on the Edge: The Four Factors Driving the new Crisis for Girls has been just as enlightening about the current state of girls and young women in America. In clear language, the blending of anecdotes, clinical research (LOTS of research), Sax offers a holistic, sobering call to help the current generation of young women develop the support and sense of self that will allow them to grow into resilient adults. The next few weeks of blogs will focus on ways the local church can further partner with families and equip small group leaders to navigate a girl’s center of self toward her Savior and the adventure He has for her.

The obsessions are worse, nastiness is rampant, drinking is up, and sexuality keeps creeping down the age ladder. They want attention. They want to feel special. How do we invite and welcome girls into the place of relationship with God their maker, Jesus their Savior, the Holy Spirit their comforter and partner in life, and one another as hope-filled, joy-filled, confident, women of faith? How do we teach our girls to be more like Jesus in kindness, compassion, and generosity? What plans can we put in place to let them learn and then practice interacting with the real world and not just be a good student? They may look strong and confident on the outside, but they’re fragile within. They’re fragile because a negative comment will repeat itself a million times in their heads, a top-to-down-and-back-up look from a peer can break a heart, and changes in the most important relationships around her can make even the ‘smartest’ girl without the emotional vocabulary to explain the depth of her disappointment.

What are we doing to equip them to fight the rise of a relentless focus on how they present themselves to the world in images and sound bites before the self has had a chance to fully form? How do we offer a ‘social life’ beyond kids their own age so the voices they are hearing and repeating in their heads are of truth, God’s loving truth, spoken into their lives from Titus 2 women of faith so girls of the church know what a women of faith looks like, sounds like, acts like, and lives like? How do we offer girls a private time and private life when technology deprives girls of any break, any breather, any alternate perspective because as girls become hyperconnected to their peers, they are disconnecting from themselves? (pg 47) Parents are shaking in their boots as their little girls prepare to move to middle school.

I hope you pick up the book and/or join me over the next several weeks. Adult guidance is essential because there are too many unknowns. And though we women have taken this journey, we’ve not been down their road of today’s culture. We’ve got work to do and we’re better together.

“She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks.” Proverbs 31:17