You’ve Got Mail!

Today’s guest blogger is Robin Stewart, Director of Children’s Ministry at Athens First United Methodist Church located in downtown Athens, Georgia.   

“You’ve Got Mail” may evoke many different images in the mind of the reader, but for our kids, we want it to remind them that God’s Word is for them daily!

You’ve Got Mail: Letters From God is an event inspired by a combination of the Love Letters from God book series by Glenys Nellist and categories of scripture found in Bible Black Belts by Mark Burrows.

Families on the Fifth is a tradition our church began a few years ago to promote faith-building activities for parents and children to share together.  As usual, we combined as many opportunities as possible. Our goal: for families to experience scripture in a meaningful, memorable way, and to take it with them out into the world. At each stop in the rotation, kids received a letter (scripture postcard) and engaged a variety of activities which utilized a variety of learning styles.

We began together with Words of Celebration: Psalm 100:1-2 directed a rousing family worship time which included movement and instruments.

Groups of families then moved through four stations.

Words of Wisdom: Psalm 19:105 letter from God. Our leader at this station did a fantastic job of telling the story of Josiah finding the dusty scroll and quickly brought it to this day. How do we keep our Bibles? And then our church. It led beautifully into our prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness concept. Our church began its Stewardship season this day.

Words of Comfort: Jeremiah 29:11 letter from God.
This station featured the comfort we are offered in 23rd Psalm and the kids were able to construct the setting of the Psalm on poster board with random materials provided.

Words of Jesus: John 15:12 letter from God.  Our missions assistant hosted this part of our rotations and explained how we prepare food bags to give to our community families who are in need. They were able to witness the assembling of one bag and take away bags to fill with their family. We combined a kindness quilt in this rotation, where kids added their card stock squares to a “quilt” which displays illustrations of kindness experienced.

Words of Inspiration: Philippians 4:13 letter from God. Children heard from a leader who admitted that sometimes she was not sure if she could do all that she had promised, like this morning, but that God is always present and will provide a way! (great testimony following a big UGA weekend). The children engaged in the scripture with a movement activity. We followed up by reminding them of the WITH prayer. We used a game spinner and children were able to volunteer to spin and say a prayer sentence that would match the letter (W-I -T- H) that came up on the spinner.

Take away: An envelope with 5 scripture cards and parents and children engaged together for one hour!

You can connect with Robin at robin@athensfirstumc.org

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GLEE Club

In January my senior pastor asked me to put together a corny-every-kid-involved-old-fashioned-children’s-nativity-event for the next Family Christmas Eve service some 11 months away.  I began praying about the ‘who’, ‘where’, ‘how’,‘what’ and ‘when’. I wanted to offer a way to build such an event with more than singing because not everyone likes to sing.  Last spring a team of the best children’s ministry champions in all of North Georgia gathered around my kitchen table for the annual KidMin Ninja Think Tank. Think an ‘un-conference’ where we share table-life with ideas, food, books, prayers, life, and lots of laughter. My dear friend Katie Atcheson spoke about the updated choir program offered at Grayson UMC on Sunday mornings she calls a Glee Club . A couple of phone calls later, continued prayers, talking about it around every table where I sat for months, several creative leaders stepping forward to champion, a couple of leadership meetings through the summer, and McEachern Kids Glee Club was born. We started with a 30-minute Open House with parents and kids. Almost 70 students attended the Open House and their parents.

The word GLEE means exultant high-spirited joy; great delight. It’s a perfect name for teaching little people with intentionality to praise the Lord in song, dance, body prayers, percussion, drama, art, and sign language. We meet for 45 minutes before youth group on most Wednesday nights so our youth choir can serve and build relationships with the kids headed their way. Calling it a ‘club’ provides a sense of belonging.

5:45-5:50 Gather & greet
5:50-6:00 All gather in large group to learn sign language which we all present as one of the Psalms are read with echo prayer in pairs ‘knee-to-knee’
6:00-6:30 3-5 year olds make bell bracelets, angel halos, song motions, and play musical games
1st-5th grades gather in cup circles, drum circles, learn sign language to praise songs, and whatever else helps us praise the Lord with high-spirited joy & great delight. Not everyone likes to sing, but we’ve learned everyone likes to beat a bucket with a stick.

Last week a small group led a repeat-after-me-song learned at their Fall Children’s Ministry Retreat. In October we’ll present at the quarterly Administrative Council Meeting and at the Fall Festival in Tshirts that read ‘I (heart) my Glee Club’ with our McEachern Kids logo. We’ve even learned to ‘floss’ in rhythm as an act of worship!

A surprise? Since 45 minutes is too short a time to leave and come back yet too long to just sit and read your phone, eight Moms who typically serve on Sunday mornings in Children’s Ministry are gathering in small group two floors up at the same time. After dropping off their kids, several Dads have also begun gathering in small group in the room right next door to the Moms small group. These small groups are reading a short devotion, in holy conversation, and in prayer while their kids are two floors below in The Treehouse praising the Lord in their sanctuary. We have an attentive Mom, a dedicated Dad, and an amazing middle school young man who serve as buddies to three students with disabilities so those students can participate. Even the kids who have soccer on Wednesday nights are splitting their time evenly because as one Mom put it, “This is her wheelhouse!” Our Ambassadors who have moved up to youth are serving on the set-up and 3-5 year old leadership team. McEachern Kids Glee Club has proven to offer organic, sacred connections and that is something to celebrate with great delight…with GLEE! Do you see me dancing before the Lord? Well, I am!

“Praise the Lord. Sing to the Lord a new song, His praise in the assembly of  His faithful people..” Psalm 149:1

Where In The World Is Oregon?

During half-time of our alma mater’s season opener Baby Girl and #2 Son, both in their early 30s, asked to speak with Mr. Bob and I at the dining room table. My mind raced. Were they pregnant? Were we the objects of an intervention? As #2 Son began this long, drawn-out back story, Mr. Bob said, “Just cut to the chase.”

My first prayer partner, Chantal, and I spent several years in our time in New England fasting on Tuesdays for our children and their walks with the Lord. We would pray our children, mine then 4 and 6 years old, would love the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. We prayed they would be sold out for sharing the gospel with the lost in their worlds and speak of Jesus as their ‘best friend from way-back.’ We prayed for their future spouses. Wayne Watson’s songs, Watercolor Ponies and Somewhere In the World as well as Cheri Keaggy’s Little Boy On His Knees played on our walkmans. We also prayed that God would give us the strength to endure whatever it was He had in store for them as He used us and them for His glory.

To make a brutally honest confession, I really thought that God would answer that prayer like this: Our kids would be healthy and safe. They would get good grades, have good friends, go to a good college, get a good job, meet a good boy/girl, have good children, buy a good house, and have a good life. When at 20 years old Baby Girl heard God calling her to serve in the mission field in Senegal, Africa for 4.5 months, we really didn’t think it would happen. Well, it did. One phone call to her Daddy and he’d have been on the first plane out of Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta to go and get her to bring her back. Instead, I asked the Lord to stop/wake me when she needed prayer. He woke me at 3am each day she was gone. When she returned, I thought, “Whew! Glad she’s gotten that out of her system. She’ll finish nursing school and be back on that ‘good trail’ of loving the Lord with all her heart, soul, mind, and strength… right here.” The Lord had given us the strength to endure.

Since then, she married a young man who was looking so hard for the Lord that young man found her. After finishing Bible College they served in youth ministry in the Everglades until the nonsense being sprayed on the sugarcane fields began taking a toll on their bodies. They moved here sick. They found a great church. They found great friends. They found ready babysitters. They found peace. They got well and healthy. They purchased a home and rescued a dog. All right here. The Lord had given us the strength to endure. All right here.

“A woman’s heart should be so hidden in God, that a man has to seek Him just to find her.” Max Lucado

Back to the present: #2 Son has been invited to serve as the associate pastor at a church… in Oregon. They have friends there who were part of a new church start and have grown to the point they need more help. For this gal who never got the geography peg in Trivial Pursuit, I had to Google a map of Oregon. It’s nowhere near here! “Mama, there’s a Bible believing church on every corner here, but not in Oregon. They need the Lord.” Be still my heart. But I can’t keep the tears at bay.

I’d like to write that we jumped for joy, but we didn’t. We will at some point, but not yet. Mr. Bob got up from the table and started doing the dinner dishes.

Baby Girl and #2 Son wanted to continue their back-story. They want to tell us about the prayers, the affirmations they’ve experienced through God’s Word and circumstances. We want to hear all about that, but right now, they’ve rocked our world. Right now I want to climb into my savior’s lap and rest my wet cheek on his chest and just cry. Yes, I trust in our Lord and His leading them. Yes, I want to have a spirit of YES when it comes to following God’s call. But this Mama and Mimi is just sad right now at the thought of them being ‘not right here.’ The cousins not growing up together. Us not able to share in their homeschooling, ball games, pool days, the daily celebrations, the family gatherings which make for traditions and connections. I’m just being truthful.

I wonder how the Mamas and Mimis of missionary saints like Mother Theresa, Lottie Moon, Hudson Taylor, and Evelyn Christiansen did it? Mail was sketchy. There were no smart phones, Facebook, nor Instagram. I feel like a big cry baby just thinking about it. I’m so grateful the Lord saw fit to have me born in this era and in this country. Just sayin’.

I’ll probably feel better in a week or so. Right now it’s 3:36am and I can’t sleep. We just found out five hours ago. This I know: The Lord has indeed answered our prayers that she’d love the Lord with all her heart, soul, mind, and strength. She is indeed sold out for sharing the gospel with the lost in her world. God has given her a partner, friend, and co-laborer as they live out before their children the example of discerning and following the voice of God. AND the Lord will give us the strength to endure whatever He has in store for them. He’s a good God like that. He loves like that. He’s a Father with a mother’s heart, so he gets my sadness right now. For THIS is what we’ve raised them for…..WHO we have raised them for.

Pray for them. Pray for us. Looks like we’ll be finding out more about Oregon. But right now, keep the tissues coming.

“But Jesus immediately said to them, ‘Take courage. It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Matthew 14:27

 

We Went On Retreat, Now What?

Taking 3rd-5th grade students on a weekend retreat is a rite of passage. It could be a student’s first time away from home or first time away from family. Both students and parents have lots of questions and lots of uncertainty, but their desire for their child to have a closer relationship with the Lord trumps all that when they fill out the paperwork and arrive for send-off. The trust factor is high and I don’t take it lightly. This is why students should be able to answer the big question of, “How was the retreat?” with more than “Awesome!” even though it was, or “Great!” even though it might have been. It’s an investment of family finances, time, and heart to send a student on a retreat, so families are due more than “Awesome!”

The North Georgia United Methodist Church Conference offers an intentionally developmentally appropriate 3rd-5th grade fall weekend retreat at the beautiful Camp Glisson in Dahlonega, Georgia. Here are the blog posts about the past retreats to give you an idea of how it’s presented.

The 2018 Children’s Fall Retreat was based on John Wesley’s 3 Simple Rules of DO NO HARM, DO GOOD, LOVE GOD. Throughout the teaching times, Wesleyan devotional ‘method’ practices, and even meals (family style) the students learned and practiced how to live out this Wesleyan way of growing like Jesus ‘in wisdom, in stature, and in favor with God and man.’ (Luke 2:52) while creek walking, lake swimming, hiking, trekking, field gaming, and more.

Beginning Saturday afternoon, we share and role-play how the students will answer these four questions:
1. What did you do at Camp Glisson that you’d never done before?
2. Who did you meet or get to know better sharing their name and something amazingly wonderful about him/her/them?
3. What did you learn about Methodism and John Wesley?
4. What is your plan to continue to grow in wisdom (not just knowledge), stature (how your body works/what your body needs), and in favor with God and man (living in peace and obedience to God’s Word) in the Wesleyan Way?

The students shared in a small group of 4 first, followed by one person from each small group sharing their answer to each question with the entire group, moving one question at a time. We role-played on the bus on the way home with our seat-mate. The first of the week, an email will be sent to the parents inviting each student to write down (or dictate to their parents) their answers to each question giving testimony to their experiences. In the Wesleyan Way, the large group is like the Church. The Small group is like a Class Meeting (these are smaller groups of people who came together to share their spiritual journey and receive support and supervision.) The Seat Mate is like a Band (Bands were the smallest gathering of faith-filled Methodists who would have ‘close conversations’ which help us be stronger and more resilient, kinder, and gentler, growing in love and holiness). These ‘written testimonies’ will be read aloud by the students, as they wear their retreat tshirt, at the next Church Administrative Council Meeting in October. Our Church Administrative Council meets quarterly with the first 15 minutes highlighting a particular ministry AND the meeting is located in that ministry’s space on campus. October’s meeting will be in The Treehouse highlighting ministry with children.

Followup matters whether it’s after an event, after each Sunday, or after a retreat. How will you followup with your students and families?

“Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” 1 Samuel 3:9

Empowering Young Leaders

This week’s guest blogger is Hannah Harwood, Children’s Ministry Director at Sam Jones United Methodist Church located in the Atlanta suburb of Cartersville.

I love Summers in ministry! The rest of the church might slow down but Kid’s ministry is full steam ahead. One of the biggest events during the summer is Vacation Bible School. About halfway through the week I received the kindest compliment from another member on staff that made me smile for the rest of the week. She told me that after talking with one of the youth volunteers that one of my spiritual gifts is empowering teenagers. The young man had told her that he felt he was able to use his own gifts and that he had a crucial part in VBS. He had been in charge of collecting all the crew rosters, taking attendance, and updating records throughout the week. He was a computer pro and because he was able to use his gifts, I was able to put out necessary “fires” and spend time with leaders and children. We had two Eagle Scouts serve as crew leaders and even a member of the high school baseball team lead worship. Young men and young women from middle and high school were crucial members of the team. They led worship, assisted in crafts, served as crew leaders, and were examples for each child.

As adults, it is so easy to forget that our lead pastors and ministry leaders were once children and youth in churches. When we empower and guide our young adults by learning their gifts we are able to reach not only the current church but the future church as well. It takes listening to the Holy Spirit and trusting God’s call on their lives. I would not be where I am today without the mentors God placed in my life early on. How am I as a Children’s Director seeking out those that need mentoring? How can I walk alongside them and offer support and guidance as they serve in children’s ministry?

In John 6, we find Andrew speaking out to Jesus on behalf of the young boy. He could have easily told the young boy that his gift was not enough and shooed him away. But he didn’t. Not only did he share with Jesus that the boy had offered what he had, but he also revealed his doubt that it would be enough. Each year right before Vacation Bible School, I go through a similar thought process. Do I have enough? And every year God reminds me that as long as I keep looking for the five small barley loaves and the two small fish, HE will take care of the rest.

8 Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up,9 “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” John 6:8-9

You can connect with Hannah by emailing hccoady@gmail.com.

Ultimate Summer Camp

We get the first full week of the summer with Vacation Bible School AND the last week of the summer in our community at Ultimate Summer Camp. We are the only game in town that last week of the summer (or so we’re told) and we rock the event inhouse for 4 year olds through rising 6th graders. The directors of our Recreation Ministry and Youth Ministry take the lead for the 1st-5th graders. A fabulous Weekday Preschool teacher takes the point for the littles. We hire staff, we enlist volunteers, and we wear the kids out!

Each day was themed with a popular reality television show, began with free play, then to chapel with the day’s message which roped through the entire day. The week’s Bible theme: 1 Corinthians 10:31 “Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”  These are just a few of the highlights of each day:

Monday theme: Amazing Race

Chapel: Hebrews 12 – God had a race set out for Jesus; God has a race set out for each of us.

Activities: Races, scavenger hunts all over campus, Science Lady (fellow kidmin champion) came with race and motion activities, staff spoke of their many nationalities from around the globe, Gaga ball, Dodge ball.

Tuesday theme: Top Chef

Chapel: Luke 22 – Just as we take individual, ordinary items in a recipe to make something amazing, Jesus did the same with bread and juice.

Activities: Decorated ice cream sundaes (littles) and baby cakes (bigs), outdoor waterslide, made edible playdoh, taste test skills.

Wednesday theme: Fear Factor

Chapel: Matthew 14 – When we are afraid, we can pray. God hears our prayers. Immediately Jesus responds because Jesus is always with us.

Activities: Greased watermelon wrestling which led to watermelon smearing fun, race to eat and finish unknown foods, races with friends attached with jelly & marshmallows, finding gummy worms in whipped cream without hands, cup spill (100 cups filled half with nothing, half with ‘stuff’; student chooses a number and that cup gets dumped on their head).

Thursday theme: Little Big Shots

Chapel: We all have gifts, but only ONE God raised from the dead and is alive today. Only place where ‘incredible’ is noted in the scriptures is Acts 26:8.

Activities: Talent show by group, Big Screen dance off, child-directed art, shaving cream, Talent show by individuals. (The Greatest Showman was HIGHLY featured here by the students.)

Friday theme: American Ninja Warrior

Chapel: 1 Corinthians 10:31 There’s always another course and we are in training. American Ninja Warriors train in a gym. We celebrated the end of a course a few months ago, then we rested. But now we begin a new course, a new school year and we must be in training to follow Jesus all the time. As followers of Jesus, we train at church. Be sure to come to church and gather with other kids who love Jesus because there will always be challenges along the way.

Activities: Science lady returns with 15 science stations, Staff Sargent Marine came to lead conditioning drills and martial arts skills, Ninja Warrior obstacle course.

With a closed Facebook group, we ran Facebook Live videos on the last 3 days…. which gave us a huge boost in families joining the closed group…which means our kids’ stuff is now running in those families’ Facebook feeds. Winner-winner-chicken-dinner!

Followup: Families invited to Promotion Sunday’s Pop Into Sunday School by email, word of mouth, and social media with bubble wrapped hallways, tootsie pops, ring pops, and pop-rocks in the parent packets AND an afternoon old-fashioned pot-luck with a couple of water slides for kids to get wet 3-5pm after all our services are completed for the day. Bring your own chair, tent, and enough food for your family and plenty to share.

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

New to Ministry With Children

A pastor called me recently asking my thoughts on what their new Children’s Ministry Director should do to get started. After 30 minutes on the line, he shared with me that he was in the car and could I send him everything I’d just said by email. Ha! My response, “Absolutely, but not today.” I was in the middle of our 3rd day of Ultimate Camp, setting rosters for the next Sunday, finalizing the new school year calendar of events, lunch was on my desk, and two amazing high school girls were stuffing parent packets within 3 feet of me.

Everyone will offer something different, but he called me, so this is what I shared…

Get Immediate Expectations – Pastor, please meet with your new CMD and inform them clearly, preferably in writing, of what you want to see within the next 90 days. Two questions I’ve always asked the senior pastor/my supervisor were, “What looks like success to YOU?”, and “Tell me about the best CMD you ever knew.” This is the starting standard.

Get the church rhythm – Pastor, please give your new CMD an idea of what the church calendar will look like over the next year, even an overview, so that if a Christmas Eve play or Mother’s Day special music is expected, your new CMD doesn’t hear about it two week’s prior by a passing church leader in the hallway. OR peruse the bulletins over the last year after you give the church secretary/admin a Diet coke over crushed ice.

Get covered in Prayer – SPRC, please set up a weekly prayer team of 2 or 3 (Matthew 18:20) for your new CMD’s first 6 months. This dedicated prayer covers a multitude of misunderstandings and invites a great deal of favor.

Get Connected – Require your new CMD to get connected with other kidmin champions in the area. Each North Georgia UMC Conference District has a networking group and the contact people can be found here. The research claims the average ‘life span’ of a new director of children’s ministry is 18 months…unless connected with others outside their own house/church. This is an investment into the long-term.

Get the Resources – Share the closed Children’s Ministry Facebook groups in the area that are available to safely and confidently ask questions, share resources, and know what trainings are happening near and far.

Get the bookSustainable Children’s Ministry: From Last-minute Scrambling to Long-term Solutions by Mark DeVries and Annette Safstrom. It’s all about setting up the systems that build a healthy ministry and a healthy ministry leader. This is a go-to book for every new and old CMD.

Get a coach – Even Olympians need a coach for encouragement, focus, direction, and a partner in ministry outside their own house/church. A person to talk with the new CMD one-on-one about insights, discuss the book above, etc. In the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church, we have an amazing coach in Rev. Debby Fox. She’s a great connector and can offer names and contacts of other CMDs all over North Georgia with varying expertise and experiences.

Denominational theology – The pastor asked if I thought taking a class or two at seminary would help this new CMD in understanding Methodist theology. I don’t know about that. What I do know is that any new CMD is on the fast-track, because Sunday comes every week. I’ve discovered a jewel in the first seven podcasts of Small Groups in the Wesleyan Way presented by Discipleship Ministries. Rev. Scott Hughes and Rev. Steve Manskar do an excellent job of giving vocabulary, history, and a theological basis for the United Methodist Church and the Wesleyan way of approaching ministry. I never miss an episode.

Yes, this seems like a lot, but Sunday’s coming. These are all goals that can be accomplished within the first 90-120 days of employment. These are just my thoughts. What are yours?

“I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ.” Philemon 1:6

Pop Into Sunday School

The Sunday school hour is a priority. It’s when children are involved in large group, then break up into developmentally-appropriate small groups by grade. If we run a ‘special’ on a Sunday, it always happens at the Sunday school hour because I want families to get into a new habit of joining us during that time. If Sunday school is a priority, then we want to do something memorable for the first Sunday school of the season. My colleague and dear friend, Katie Atcheson, who also leads ministry with children is part of our children’s ministry network in North Georgia and the POP INTO SUNDAY SCHOOL was her original idea. Thanks for sharing, Katie!

We prepared parent packets similar to what families receive when they go to their kid’s school for meet & greet. Ours included: school year calendar, parent/family interest survey to be completed and returned (family info and ways to serve in the ministry this year…think: parent volunteer list similar to what families get at meet & greet again), God Loves Your Family brochure, postcard for upcoming Glee Club & Cherub Choir open house, and pop-rocks (thanks for popping into Sunday school).

We had jars of Ring Pops and Mini Tootsie Pops for kids on Sunday as well as lined the main hallways with 1/2″ 24X250 (ordered two rolls) bubble wrap. When you step on it, it sounds like firecrackers! Can’t help but step on it. Can’t help but laugh. Can’t help but be surprised! I actually got an email from the church receptionist when it was delivered by Uline.com that the bubble wrap was too big for the church office door! We didn’t need all of it, so we cut the remainder into strips for the kids to pop upon arrival while in the Children’s Welcome Center.

The sounds of the kids popping and laughing were better than I imagined. It was noisy and made the morning a very special way to begin a new season of Sunday school. What did you do to begin a new year?

“Starting from the beginning, Peter told them the whole story.” Acts 11:4

Like Me Or Not: A Giveaway

During a long and difficult season of healing from the deep cuts of stained glass, a dear pastor suggested I find a way to overcome being a pleaser if I was going to continue God’s call on my life to minister to children and families. A pleaser is a person who tries hard to make people happy or to make people like them. Was it that obvious? Of course it was. I wore that status like a pair of glasses. It was my lens when I began my call to ministry. Had Dawn Owens’ book Like Me Or Not: Overcoming Approval Addiction been published 15 years ago, it probably wouldn’t have taken me so long to be on this side of a struggle I’ll deal with my whole life. “Most of us are addicted to approval, but not everyone knows it.” (pg 9)

An approval addict’s wounds go deep and can be slow to heal because of the number of times we scratch them open. For many, the wounds have left scars we don’t want others to see. But scars fade and even disappear in the light of the wonderful gift Jesus gave us when He decided to choose the approval of God over the approval of man. When we do the same, our scars become so insignificant to us that we no longer realize they are there. (p 10)

Like Me Or Not is a raw book. Dawn Owens goes down trails I would typically avoid. Yet, she hits the nail on the head often. In each chapter Dawn addresses areas of everyday when we find ourselves dependent on the approval of others rather than focusing on the approval of God. She writes of insecurities, putting ‘me’ where God belongs in my focus, the lie of self-justification, social media, the individual choice to be angry or offended, rejection, comparison, and being a control freak.  Community, not comparison is how we show the world our Savior is alive and lives within us. (pg 125)

In every instance she points us to the scriptures where we find God’s heart, the perfect vocabulary necessary to learn the truth of who we truly are and whose we truly are. She writes of forward-moving steps to overcoming the addiction to people-pleasing by realizing who the enemy is, reminding myself who I belong to, recognizing the guilt and shame I’ve ever felt is not from God, and this is the kicker: forgiveness comes when I realize the person who hurt me or ignited my insecurities did so out of their own wounds. The walking wounded. Hmmm…

There probably aren’t any surprises in the text when you’re on the other side of approval addiction, but when it’s YOU, and you’re in the midst of a bad case of it, the practical responses to renewing our minds to seek to please the Lord are very helpful. She’s right for what it’ll take. It’ll take discipline and patience and trust in the one who speaks, “Beloved” to your soul. Study and pray the scriptures.  Fast from those things which encourage you to be conformed to the approval of others. Quit talking to other people about your decisions going instead to God in prayer. Take a true Sabbath. This and more is what it took for me. I have a stack of index cards with the scriptures which helped me turn the corner and wait on the Lord. If I don’t hear “Beloved”, even in my self-talk, it’s not of the Lord.

Dawn’s personal stories are real and she points us to Christ throughout. I’m grateful for her book and suggest anyone in ministry with others (is there any other ministry?) to pick up a copy. As a matter of fact, I’ve got one to share. Let me know by a comment below and I’ll announce the winner next week.

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” James 1:5

Best Read of 2018: Sustainable Children’s Ministry (part 2 of 2)

When I watch my grandson play with little green army men, he’s very particular about where every figure goes. He sets one, then realizes he must reset another. He’s flat on the floor, taking in the whole scene as close as possible. It’s all in the set up. There’s a leadership lesson there. It IS all in the set up when it comes to preparing for a new school year. So when I came across Sustainable Children’s Ministry: From Last-Minute Scrambling to Long-Term Solutions I had a road map for setting up systems.  As the authors shared in chapter 1: “Putting foundational systems in place will never be urgent, but without them, everything becomes urgent.”

My review and synopsis of the first nine chapters can be found here. These are some highlights from the last several chapters:

Chapter 10:  Beyond the Victim Before we can have politics in the church, we have to have relationships. Invest time and communication with your parents. Invest time and communication with your senior leadership. Invest time and communication with the other staff on your organization’s team.  The authors share the ‘secret six’=six secret ways to be the champion of the ministry you’ve been called to lead into the regular flow of what you do:

  1. Celebrate successes-share stories of last week
  2. Share the bigger vision-when you ask for help, share the big picture of where you’re wanting to go. For the last 90 days I’ve been sharing how we need to split children’s church due to our growth in numbers, so I began asking for prayer for leaders to take on Well-Versed Kids for our 3rd-5th graders. There are now 5 on that team and we are ready to begin next week!
  3. Embrace fun-offer an environment where there is a spirit of joy and resilience, not negativity and a critical spirit of what you’re missing, lacking, coveting… You get the picture.
  4. Share the dream-‘get your message to the congregation through stories and pictures.’ I use a closed Facebook group, I use the church’s main FB page, I send parents pictures of their kids, and I have a story every time someone asks, “How’s it going?”
  5. Build trust with key leaders-there are folks in every congregation who have the trust and ear of the rest of the congregation. Find those folks and talk about what’s happening ALL THE TIME.
  6. Be patient-Did you know it took 10 years for Chick-Fil-A to be the fast food restaurant that finishes every customer transaction with ‘My pleasure’? TEN YEARS! “Give yourself the grace to let change happen at the Spirit’s pace, not your own.” This is when a kidmin networking group can help. They will help you maintain the momentum when you are in the valley and feeling like nothing’s happening the way you’d hope for. The scriptures and my monthly networking group has been my lifeline.

Chapter 11: Children’s Ministry is Family Ministry Parents are already partners with us in the faith formation of their children, and so there are few things more important to our children’s ministries than building relationships with parents. I know Sunday mornings are not the ideal time for you to have serious relationship-building time with parents. But your presence and availability to them during that time is key.  If you are scrambling around looking for cotton balls, trying to get technology working, or teaching one of the kid’s classes yourself, you may miss your most important opportunity of the week-connecting with the people who have the most spiritual influence on the kids in your program. Make a plan of contacting a certain number of families each week, then contact them. If you’re not a people person or an introvert with exceptional people skills, this can be a matter of prayer. But it’s got to happen to grow and have a sustainable ministry. Jesus was all about relationships, old and new. Met or invested in anyone new lately?

Chapter 12: More Than Planning is where Annette shares a few hard-won tricks of the trade for managing the urgent while preparing for the future. Whether you’re struggling like I was or you’re an organizational savant, these tips might help you get enough altitude to tend to the things that matter most.

Chapter 13: Your Ministry Marathon ‘Injury prevention and warning signs that you may be one of the walking wounded…prevention…and recovery.’ Find a rhythmic week in ministry with ‘on’ time, ‘flex’ time, and ‘sabbath’ time. What can typically happen on which day of the week, write it out, then guard it with your life. It is your life! Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson of the North Georgia UMC Conference speaks often of guarding and celebrating a weekly Sabbath. As church staff, our Sabbath is different, but critical. Figure it out, then guard it. The way I guard it is to talk about it. “Fridays are my Sabbath.” It’s that easy, because people who care for you will also help you guard it. Here are a few thoughts of when and how do we staff members worship.

Chapter 14: Finding Your Bounce Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down. Well, they do fall down, they just don’t stay down. If we are the team with many ideas, then we get the ‘chance to fail often and quickly.’ So how do we get out of the pit?

  1. Be humble, not defensive. Learn to respond with, “Fair enough,” or “Point well taken.”
  2. If you pay the tuition, learn the lesson. Debriefing is the last thing you want to do, but when it offers solutions, isn’t that what we’re looking for?
  3. Talk most about what you want most because ‘we always get more of what we focus on. Focus on the ways God IS at work regardless of our most recent misstep.’

Then, develop/build a community of support for yourself with mentors, your supervisor, and coaches. Hey, even Olympians need coaches and so do you!

God’s called you. Your organization has hired you. Parents are relying on you. Kids are depending on you. I believe in you. What are you doing today to set yourself up for the long haul?

“May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.” 2 Thessalonians 3:5