Kids in Church: Children’s Service or Adult Service?

Photo, Katie Samuel, 2011

Think of all the “all-ages” events we go to in this life: baseball games, community festivals, museums, parks, shopping, concerts, movies, zoos, many restaurants, and volunteering in the community.

Then there’s church – and in most churches, the first thing parents do when they arrive is check their kids into a parallel universe of Sunday morning worship so the adults won’t be “disrupted” and the kids can have an age-appropriate worship experience.

I get it.  Many adults in my generation went to church as kids and sat in the pew next to Mom and Dad and were bored to tears because the service was full of “adult things” (boring songs, lectures, and nothing fun to do).  Some of those adults don’t even go to church anymore largely because of that disconnect.

I understand that infants and toddlers need to be privately nursed and cared for where they can cry, crawl, and toddle.  I understand that most school-age kids are loud and fidgety and need ways to learn and express themselves in a manner that is different than adults.  I’ve been working with kids for over a decade and before that I was one.  So having never really left the world of kids in my entire life, I have observed that yes, kids learn and worship differently than adults.  But I have also observed that adults could learn a little something about how to worship from kids (Mark 10:15).

And one way to do that is to combine the kids (PreK and up) and adults in worship every once and a while.  The other, more important way is to train and instruct parents of kids (of all ages) to lead their kids in worship all week long (not just on Sunday mornings).

I visited Israel years ago and attended an orthodox Jewish synagogue service.  I sat and watched as a young boy (4 or 5) stood next to his father and mimicked his every move (the rocking forward and backward in prayer).  I could only ponder the importance of kids learning how to worship from their parents in the context of joint worship.  Of course, that was simply an outward physical action that was being imitated, but it reflects the principle that kids best learn by being alongside their parents in important settings such as corporate worship.

 I really want to believe that there is a way to have intergenerational worship that is actually more kid-driven than adult-driven.  Perhaps a church that usually separates the kids and adults could do a once-a-month service or at least once-a-quarter.  Currently, our church offers that on special holiday Sundays and once-a-month at our whole-family “First Tuesdays” intergenerational worship services, which I really appreciate.

For intergenerational worship, the adults can (and should, in my opinion) be the ones who adjust to the kids’ worship style rather than the other way around.  Didn’t Jesus implore us to have faith like children (Luke 18:17)?  Jesus also told us to “welcome” the children because by doing so, we are welcoming God Himself (Luke 9:47).

Though I’ve been pondering this for quite some time, I was inspired to say something here after reading this excellent blog post by Jow Bowen about the subject.  She concludes what I already said up front – that the most important thing is parents teaching worship in all things all week long to their children (Deuteronomy 6:4-9).  And the church’s role is to support and equip parents to pull that off.  There is a stream of good comments on there as well.

Let me know what you think in the comments.  How do you feel about kids and adults worshipping together?  If you went to church as a child, what was your experience like?


Free Puppet Show Skit for Children’s Church

Photo Credit: Lacy Wagler, 2011

This kid-tested puppet show teaches kids how names have meanings, particularly the meaning of the name given to Jesus Christ.  You may freely reproduce this skit.  Just reference this website if you do….

“What’s In a Name?” (based on Matthew 1:21)

by Jesse Joyner 

note: you may reproduce this skit freely so long as you reference the author’s name and website

Characters and Props Needed:

  1. Eddie the Explorer (could be any puppet character)
  2. Larry the Lizard (ideally a lizard puppet, but most any other puppet will work)
  3. A skunk (use a photograph of one if you don’t have a skunk puppet)

Setting: The Amazon Rainforest

The Skit….

Eddie: Larry, look I see an open field.  We always explore in dense jungles and rivers.  Why don’t we see if we can find any new animal species in the open field over there.

Larry: OK, Eddie, if you say so.

Eddie: You know, Larry, we’ve really discovered a lot of animals out here in the Amazon recently.  I mean, we found the extremely rare Silly Billy Wallabu, the near extinct Ooga Booga Monster, and the endangered Creepy Crawly Caterpillar.

Larry: We also found the “ant”.

Eddie: The “ant”?  That’s not a very impressive name.

Larry: But that’s what they call it.

Eddie: Oh, OK.  Now, let’s wait and see if we catch a glimpse of anything in this field….

(the skunk appears from the covering of grass)

Larry: Hey Eddie, I think I see something.

Eddie: (Looking the wrong way aimlessly), I don’t see anything, Larry, just a bunch of silly looking kids.  Especially those boys in the back row.

Larry: No, Eddie, over there (pointing towards the skunk).

Eddie: Whoa!  Look at that fine specimen.  I’ve never seen such a beautiful example of a furry little zebra.

Larry: We’re not in the Serengeti in Africa, Eddie.  There are no Zebras in the Amazon rainforest.

Eddie: Right.  Well, what is it?  We need to come up with a nice name for it.  Maybe we’re the first humans to ever lay eyes on this fine creature.  It needs a good name.

Larry: How about “The Black Animal with White Stripes”?

Eddie: Not original enough.

Larry: “The Ugly Cat”?

Eddie: Not politically correct.

Larry: “The Furry Armadillo”

Eddie: It might be furry, but it’s not an Armadillo.

Larry: Oh, I got it.  How about “Elephant”!

Eddie: No, that’s already taken, Larry.  We should name it based on what it’s like and what it does.

Larry: OK, let’s see if it does anything.  How about we get a little closer to it and see if it reacts to us.

(the animal sits still)

Eddie: Maybe we should call it “nothing”, because it obviously does nothing!

Larry: He looks friendly and furry.  Let’s pet it.

 (they walk up and pet the skunk, the skunk lets off it’s stink and Larry and Eddie scream in anguish of the smell)

Eddie: That smells like rotten eggs in a stuffed up toilet.

Larry: No, it smells like my little lizard brother after he eats too much Taco Bell.

Eddie: Hey, that gives me an idea.  Let’s name the animal, “Smelly Belly Stinky Face”!

Larry: That’s a great idea.  Except now you and I are both Smelly Belly Stinky Faces too!

Eddie: Hey, that reminds me of a Bible story I once learned at church back home.  They taught us a verse about a woman giving birth to a baby, and God wanted them to name the baby Jesus, because that name means “God saves”, and Jesus was going to save God’s people from all the bad things they have done.

Larry: That’s neat.  So Jesus actually means something!  What do you know, everybody’s name has some sort of meaning to it.

Eddie: What does your name mean, Larry?

Larry: Uh, my parents named me Larry because I’m a lizard, and it kind of rhymes, you know?

Eddie: Yeah, my parents named me Eddie, because I’m an explorer.

Larry: They should have named you “Smelly Belly Stinky Face the Explorer”!

Eddie: Hey, Larry, you’re just as much of a Smelly Belly Stinky Face as me right now.  Let’s go take a tomato soup bath or something….

Copyright 2012, Jesse Joyner

To see Larry the Lizard in action, check out one of his famous videos!


Family Night Idea for Your Church: “Family Connect”

On a Sunday morning when I was the Children’s Pastor at our church, two dads of kids in our children’s ministry bumped into each other in the foyer.  Now, before I go on, let me say that at the time we were a medium sized church (about 450 people), so not everybody knew everybody else.  But most “regular attenders” were familiar with one another.

“Who Are You?”

One of these two dads in the foyer had been regularly attending for over 5 years.  The other, for at least a year.  When they bumped into one another, they had never met before.  I witnessed this interaction as they introduced themselves to each other for the first time.  The 5-year guy even made the mistake of saying, “are you new here?”  Then the 1-year guy had to say, “no, we’ve been coming for about a year now.”

The Predicament

I explained this predicament to my wife in the car ride home that afternoon and we brainstormed together about it.  We decided there needed to be some way to connect families with one another.  Parents need the friendship and support of other parents who are going through the similar life challenge of raising kids.  But they can’t start that relationship if they don’t know one another.

“Family Connect”

So we came up with something called “Family Connect.”  It is just a one-night event, so it is not designed to answer all the issues that parents need.  It is simply an “entry-level” event to help families connect, have fun, and get to know one another.  The goal is that relationships are fostered and will continue to grow further so families can minister to one another.

It went off as a super hit with our families.  We expected 75 people and about 125 showed up (out of a church of 450).  And the format was simple:

  • We threw the party on a Friday night from 6:30pm-8:30pm.
  • Families with kids from birth through 18 were invited.
  • The event was completely free to all who attended.
  • The party snacks were freshly popped popcorn (in one of those carnival machines), drinks, and ice cream sundaes (yes, we sugared them up).
  • We organized an evening of DJ music and large group games led by a team of high-energy college-age kids (blue team versus red team).  Not everyone had to participate in the group games, but you at least had to cheer on your team!
  • We had giveaways throughout the night (I got a stack of free coupons from a local self-serve yogurt shop that wanted to support our Family Connect Night).
  • We simply called it “Family Connect.”

Everyone spoke highly about the event and it seemed to do really well at helping people laugh, connect, and have fun together.  Oh, and those two dads and their families know each other now….

Try it at your church in your family / children’s ministry department and let me know how it goes!

Children’s Ministry Stunt Lesson: The Human Table

This human stunt is a crowd favorite – and anyone can do it.  Its called “The Human Table”.  You could also call it “The Levitating People” or come up with your own name.

It’s called a “stunt” lesson rather than an object lesson because you need 4 adults about the same size as one another who are willing to perform somewhat of a stunt (so they need healthy knees and backs).

I’ve been doing this thing for years with kids, adults, and audiences.  I first saw some clowns do it at Ringling Brothers about 15 years ago, so I can’t take credit for creating it.  But over the years, I have innovated a little and added some of my own twists and lessons to it.

Here’s how you do it:

What you need:

  1. 4 adults with healthy knees and backs (kids are usually too weak to make this happen, but teenagers will work) that are about the same size as one another.  Also, keep it the same gender (4 men OR 4 women, just don’t do co-ed – you’ll see why).
  2. 4 chairs that don’t have arms/armrests (folding chairs or choir chairs are perfect).
  3. At least 10-12 feet of space in all four directions from the middle of your presentation area.

Here’s what you do:

Step 1 – Call up 4 volunteers (according to the stipulations above)

Step 2 – Set up 4 chairs in the following pattern and do as the picture caption indicates:

Sit each person in a chair so that the back of the chair is on their right (so their legs extend out from the square of chairs)

Step 3 – Tell the participants to put both feet flat on the ground, shoulder length apart, and to make a right angle with their knees.  Have all four people raise their left hand straight up and repeat “I will not sue you for injuries incurred…” (no, really, they have to raise their hands so the next step will work).

Step 4 – Then have them all lay back on the knees of the person behind them, as shown below.  Then they need to interlock their left arms in the middle of their newly formed human square.

Step 5 – Take out the chairs!  One at a time, remove the chairs and ask the guy or gal sitting on it to lift their rear a little so you can pull it out.

Step 6 – I like to play some dance music and have them kick, hop, crabwalk, hold a kid on top of them, really anything that seems pretty crazy like that.

Step 7 – They’ll eventually collapse, but don’t let that happen before everyone can take a good picture.  They’ll remain your friend if you help them up.  At some point (before or after the collapse), I teach the kids about Galatians chapter 6 and how Paul teaches us to “bear one anothers burdens,” which essentially means that in the body of Christ, we are here for one another – supporting each other, encouraging eachother, providing for one another, and so on.  These 4 guys (or gals) illustrate how to “support” one another in the physical sense.  But we also want to do that in the spiritual sense.

Have fun with this and please don’t hurt anyone!  Here are some other pics of this trick from other events.  What kinds of human stunts do you do?

The Greatest Half-Birthday Ever

Today is my sister’s birthday (happy birthday, Rachael).  But that also means it is my half-birthday, since I was born on September 27th, as I proudly announced to the kids in church this morning (I made them sing “Happy Half-Birthday” to me).  They forgot the cake.

This has been a wonderful day for many reasons – and I am so thankful to the Lord for his grace and goodness in so many things:

1. We had a joyful time of worship at church this morning.
2. My family and I got to be a part of a lunch with great friends and colleagues.
3. Our hometown VCU Rams made it to the Final Four for the first time in history.
4. Our small group Bible Study met in the evening and our discussion and prayer time was very invigorating (we’re studying the life of David in the Old Testament).
5. I came home to the news that the Kentucky Wildcats (our previous hometown team when we lived in KY) ALSO made it to the Final Four (for the 14th time in history)
6. I have the most beautiful wife and daughter in the world, a vocation that I love, and a roof over our heads.

Thank you Jesus for your grace and goodness.

5 Prophecies Surrounding the Birth of Jesus

The story of Christ’s birth in Matthew contains 5 prophecies (between Matthew 1:18 and 2:23).  It is easy to focus on the virgin conception as a stand-out miracle in the life of Christ (and it is), but it is also easy to overlook the miracle of multiple fulfilled prophecies surrounding the birth of Jesus.

Here are the fulfilled prophecies recorded by Matthew:
1. Isaiah 7:14
Matt. 1:22   All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:  23 “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” — which means, “God with us.”
2. Micah 5:2
Matt. 2:3   When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.  4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born.  5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:  6 “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.’”
3. Hosea 11:1
Matt. 2:14   So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt,  15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
4. Jeremiah 31:15
Matt. 2:16   When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.  17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:  18 “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”
5. No Specific Old Testament Verse
Matt. 2:23 and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: “He will be called a Nazarene.”
This 5th prophecy is unique in that it cannot be directly traced to a saying in the Old Testament.  Therefore, Matthew could be referring to a general theme that was collectively understood among multiple prophets.  And the saying could specifically mean that the Messiah would come from a “backwoods” kind of town (such as Nazareth, see John 1:46).  In his commentary on Matthew, Craig Blomberg shows that scholars as early as Jerome (4th Cent.) believed this take on the prophecy (Blomberg, NAC: Matthew, p. 70).
Image: painting by Grigory Gagarin (1810-1893)

Teaching Kids Godly Character at Home

Here is a great real-life example of a family in our church who is living out Deuteronomy 6:7 in their home (“Impress them [God’s commands] on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”). Click on the link below to read about it:

The Lord Gives and Roeder Takes Away

In my hotel room in Columbus this weekend, I caught a glimpse of the televised trial for the murder of George Tiller, the abortion doctor from Kansas City. At the moment I was watching, Scott Roeder (the defendant who admittedly shot Tiller) was on the witness stand.

Roeder attempted to justify his pulling of the trigger by claiming that he was protecting the lives of the unborn, saying that life starts at conception and that God the Creator was the only one in charge of the beginning and ending of life (not Tiller). He quoted the familiar phrase that “the Lord gives and the Lord takes away” (which is found in the Book of Job, chapter 1, verse 21).

This is a great example of my previous post in how the Bible can be used for evil as it can also be used for good. I believe that Mr. Roeder used a Biblical passage and twisted it to fit his unjust actions. He used the Bible for evil.

The double-standard in Mr. Roeder’s logic cannot be more blatant. He is defending his act of murder by saying that only the Lord is allowed to take life away from someone. Think about that for a second. “I’m going to kill you because you’re a child-killer and I believe that only God can end someone’s life, not you.”

For the record, I happen to believe that life begins at conception and that abortion is taking the life of a child. But there is a right way and a wrong way to respond to those with whom we disagree. I believe that Mr. Roeder chose the un-Christlike way to respond to someone with whom he disagreed. Some right ways to respond include patient prayer, loving compassion for struggling mothers, peaceful engagement and dialogue with people of opposing viewpoints, and voting for legislators who seek to protect the lives of the unborn.

If Mr. Roeder knows his entire Bible, he would come across the sayings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5, verses given):

21″You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder,[a] and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother[b]will be subject to judgment.

38″You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.'[g] 39But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

43″You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[h] and hate your enemy.’ 44But I tell you: Love your enemies[i] and pray for those who persecute you,

Thankfully, justice was served and Mr. Roeder was convicted of murder. Looks like he’ll be in prison for life, with a possibility for parole after 25 years.

Heavenly Father, please protect the lives of the unborn, grant support and wisdom to young mothers who are struggling with tough decisions, and please help us to respond lovingly to those with whom we disagree.

Knife Juggling and the Bible

Tomorrow morning, the Scripture lesson for Godz Kidz at Commonwealth Chapel is going to be the same as what the adults will hear in the adult service – 2 Timothy 2:14-21. I’m going to focus in on verse 15, which says, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”

Part of my juggling show (which I’ll show the kids tomorrow) is juggling knives. Now, a knife is an interesting object. It is sharp, deadly, and dangerous. At the same time, a knife is also useful, helpful, and life-saving. The Bible (which metaphorically refers to itself as a sword) is the same way. It can be used for harm or it can be used for good.

Many people wrongly judge others using Bible passages taken out of context. Many cultures throughout history have used the Bible to justify evil and hatred. On the same hand, the Bible, when properly handled (like a scalpel in the hand of a surgeon) brings life, hope, peace, and justice to a world full of darkness and hatred.

Tomorrow, we’ll talk about rightly handling the Word of Truth. That means reading it, studying it, interpreting it contextually, and asking the Spirit of God lead us in understanding it.

Lord, help us to properly understand your Word and always handle it in ways that bring the resurrection power of Jesus Christ to this world. Amen.

According to What Scriptures?

Image: “The Burial of Christ” by Gustave Dore, woodcut (19th Century)

This is the season of Lent, where Christians remember the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ during the 40 days (not counting Sundays) leading up to Easter. This morning, I read the first recorded Christian creed of the resurrection, which was written by Paul of Tarsus in the middle of the first century in his first letter to the Christians in Corinth: “…that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures…” (1 Cor 15:3b-4).

This begs a question: Which “Scriptures” attested to this death, burial, and resurrection? Paul grew up as a very devout Jew, and knew his Jewish Scriptures very well, so he is certainly speaking of those sacred texts, which is what Christians today regard as the Old Testament. The New Testament was far from its final form (indeed, some texts were not yet written) as of Paul writing this creed. So Paul is not referring to the death, burial, and resurrection accounts found in the first century biographies of Jesus written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

While the “suffering servant” songs of Isaiah (i.e. Isaiah 53) and Psalm 22 foreshadow the death and suffering of Christ, there is still the question as to which Jewish texts point to the resurrection of Christ. There are few particular passages to which Paul could be referring:

1. Psalm 16:10-11: “because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay” (this is especially interesting when you read Peter’s sermon in Luke’s Acts of the Apostles (Acts 2:22-36).

2. Isaiah 53:11: “After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied” (interestingly enough, the phrase “of life” is not found in the Dead Sea Scrolls and the phrase “light of life” is not found in the Masoretic Text).

3. Hosea 6:2: “After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence” (remarkably, early Jewish rabbinical teachings from the 2nd Century view this passage as referring to resurrection; see also 2 Kings 20:5 for another “third day” restoration).

4. Jonah 1:17: “But the Lord provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights” (this should be seen as prophetic only as it relates to what Jesus says in Matthew 12:40: “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth”).

According to Gordon Fee, the most plausible explanation for Paul claiming that the Jewish Scriptures foreshadow the resurrection of Christ is that “‘on the third day’ was probably seen in terms of the variety of OT texts in which salvation or vindication took place on the third day” (Fee, NICNT: 1 Corinthians, 727f.).

I would like to reference two commentaries that helped in compiling this information: John N. Oswalt’s The NIV Application Commentary: Isaiah (2003, p. 587) and Gordon D. Fee’s The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The First Epistle to the Corinthians (1987, pp. 727f.).