I believe the words and titles we use for things convey messages of value. That’s how language works. For example, take “wedding ceremony” versus “wedding celebration.” Both terms tell people that a wedding is happening, but the first phrase sends messages of formality, tradition, and even the sacredness of it. The second phrase sends the message that this wedding is a fun, celebratory, party. Now, in this case, I don’t necessarily think one way is right and one way is wrong. I’m just saying that the words we use send messages of what we value to others.
Now take ministry with children on Sunday mornings at churches. Some people call it “children’s church” while others call it “nursery” or “kid church.” I have even seen it called “childcare.”
This is where I have a strong opinion about naming the programs for children at churches. If we call it “childcare,” we are sending the message to everyone that the Sunday morning church services are really about the adults and that children are secondary. Of course we care for the children on Sunday and there is something very spiritual and God-glorifying about that. But I think there are other terms that can convey a stronger meaning about what’s really important for the body of believers when they gather together for worship.
In churches that separate the ages for age-leveled worship (which is another thing I’m not a huge fan of, but I understand that it is the primary model in Western churches), I think the programs for children (for infants and older) should be named in ways that convey the value of children and the fact that they are full participants in the worshipping body of Christ.
Here are some examples that I think are better terms than “childcare” or “babysitting” for Sunday morning services for children. This is definitely not exhaustive. It is merely a sampling of ideas:
- Children’s Worship
- Children’s Church
- Movers and Shakers
- From the Mouths of Babes
- All God’s Children
- Godly Play (this is actually a thing)
- God’s Kids
- Faith Factory
The list could go on and on.
What do you call your services for children on Sunday mornings? What message does it send? What message do you want to send in the way you name programs for children?
Gideon protested to the Lord that he was the weakest and the least in his family. Yet God (through the angel) calls Gideon a “mighty warrior.” God sees past our size, our rank, and our place in the pecking order of the world. During Lent (which starts tomorrow with Ash Wednesday) we will be doing two memory verses per week. #mvotwyear
There are 66 books in the Bible.
There are 52 weeks in a year.
That’s pretty close.
The difference is 14. So if you can double up on fourteen of the weeks…
Then, you can memorize a verse from each book of the Bible in a year.
In fact, if you memorize two verses in the weeks of Lent (8), Pentecost (1), All Saints Day (1), and Advent (4) and one verse each of the other weeks, you have 66 and can cover each book of the Bible.
So I’m going to do this. Who’s with me? I will post a verse each week (considering Sunday as the start to each week) starting with today.
Today is the first Sunday of the year. And here is the verse…..
It might sound simple, but this pretty much sums up the first major part of God’s story, so I believe it is an appropriate starting point.
This week, let’s ponder the wonder of our God – His awesome power and wonderful works. We get to see it everyday in front of our own eyes – the miraculous created order. Every time we see the sun, the moon, the stars, the animals, the flowers, the sky, other people….we are looking at the creative art of the God of the universe.
We also see in this verse that God has no beginning. He is eternal. It says, “In the beginning God….,” which means that God was already there in the beginning. It’s a little mind boggling if you ponder that point for a bit.
It’s on page 1,195 of course!
So yeah, even most adults need the table of contents if the pastor says, “Turn to the second chapter of Haggai as we look at what this prophet says to Zerubbabel.”
And if you work with kids in a church or ministry setting, you know the challenge of trying to help them find their way through their Bibles.
Let’s face it: the Bible can appear daunting. To kids, a standard Bible is a super long book with tiny font and very few pictures. You may have a wide range of ages in the same room. In addition, there is often a wide range of familiarity and unfamiliarity with the Bible within a group of children. This is also known as the levels “Bible literacy.”
Furthermore, many of the children in our ministry settings have electronic devices and are reading physical books less and less and therefore bringing their physical Bibles less often to church and ministry settings.
Today the Bible is readily available as an app on devices. I’ve used it that way many times. But I have found that method to be lacking, in my opinion. First of all, some apps may have distracting “reading plans” or “devotionals” written by popular authors shouting for my attention on the app when I just want to read the Sermon on the Mount. Those might be great devotionals, but sometimes I just want the raw Scripture. I have also found myself distracted by other things on my device once I’ve opened it up, even if I went there to read the Bible in the first place.
So, call me old fashioned, but I like holding the physical book in my hand and flipping through the actual pages of God’s Word. That’s how believers have been reading the Bible for centuries.
When I teach children about the Bible, I encourage them to use a hard-copy Bible, not a Bible on an app. Adults can make up their own minds about app Bible verses physical Bible, but I really do think that children between the ages of zero and pre-teen need to be spared the distraction and given the opportunity by leaders to use real physical Bibles. Most of them have plenty of screen time in their lives already. Let’s use Bible time as an opportunity to turn the screens off and read God’s Word the way its been read for thousands of years.
Ok, moving on from that highly opinionated rant…
I want to share some ideas and resources with you that might help you help kids navigate their physical Bibles.
Types of Bibles
First of all, there are many English versions of the Bible – the NIV, the ESV, the NLT, the KJV, The Message, and more. Some are more literal to the original Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic words and others are more paraphrastic. Then there are others in the middle of the literal-paraphrase spectrum. It all depends on the translation teams. Work with your fellow church leaders to find a translation that is readable and works for your denomination. I think it is helpful to be consistent within your own local church, camp, or ministry setting and use the same translation (unless there is a good reason to use another translation for a particular context). It helps everyone to be “on the same page!” Let the church know which one you use and why.
Secondly, there are many Bibles written specifically for children. Some of these are picture Bibles or a collection of paraphrased Bible stories. In other posts, I have recommended some of these Bibles for various age ranges:
Early Childhood – http://jessejoyner.com/faith-development-resources-early-childhood/
Early Elementary – http://jessejoyner.com/faith-development-resources-early-elementary/
Finding Something in the Bible
When you ask kids to look up a Bible verse, clearly say the reference and put only the reference (not the verse itself) it up on a projection screen if you have one. If you do not have a projection screen, then write the reference on a board or poster. There are other times to show entire verses on a screen, but if your goal is to help them navigate the Bible, do not put the whole verse on the screen. The reason is obvious. They will figure, “Why do I have to look it up if I can just read it on the screen?” If you just give the reference, they will have to look it up to read it.
I make everyone wait for everyone else. That means the kids who find the verse first need to learn a little patience and wait for their friends. In fact, this is a good opportunity for the kids to help one another. The ones who already found their place in the Bible can help the ones who are still searching.
Start with the table of contents: Once you have read out the reference, encourage the kids to use the table of contents to find the book of the Bible (most every Bible has one). The book titles are all listed, sometimes twice (once in Biblical order and a second time in alphabetical order). If they’re lucky, their Bible may even have the little tabs on the sides of the pages that list each of the sixty six books of the Bible.
Big Number, Little Number: I explain to the kids that Matthew 5:14 means…
The Book of Matthew.
Big number 5 (the chapter).
Little number 14 (the verse, which is sometimes a tiny number).
This is a popular game/activity in many children’s church services and Sunday Schools and it has been around for a while. I do not know who came up with them. Personally, I’m NOT a fan, and I’ll share why after I explain what they are:
Sword drills are where you as the leader read out a Bible reference and then the kids race to find it first in their Bible. The first kid to find the verse usually then stands up or raises their “sword” (Bible in hand) and reads it out loud. Repeat.
The reason I do not like this activity is because I feel like it favors a particular learning style – and it rewards that behaviour in a confusingly spiritual way. The children who are fast at computing numbers and flipping pages and memorizing lists are rewarded with attention, praise, and even the public reading of God’s Word. We risk excluding children who are wired more for patient contemplation or who are simply more new to the skills of navigating their Bibles. There is absolutely no spiritual gain in finding a Bible verse a millisecond faster than your neighbor but we have somehow turned it into a game where we risk sending that message to our children.
Memorizing the Books of the Bible
This is one of the most effective practical skills we can give kids in terms of navigating their Bibles. There are a lot of books in the Bible (sixty six, to be exact). But there are some surprisingly very catchy ways to memorize the list in order so that when you are looking for a book of the Bible, you can simply hum your tune and find your way there.
Here are some of the songs and tunes that I would recommend. These really do work!
North Point Kids Rap Version (I like how they also mention the genres of literature)
JumpStart3 Books of the Bible (I like Jeff’s music here, very hip)
Brent Weber’s Old Testament and New Testament songs are on this CD
This one from Rachel Neuman is set to some catchy tunes
Here’s another rap version
Some Other Random Tricks
General Electric Power Company – this helps me remember four of the most commonly cited Pauline letters: “Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians.”
Psalms is usually in the dead middle of the Bible. Just hold the Bible with the pages facing you and open right in the middle of all the pages.
The New Testament (starting with Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) is in the wayyyy back of the Bible. It is usually about 75%-80% of the way through the pages. So if you’re headed for a book in the New Testament, turn to the very back of the Bible. The opposite is true for the Old Testament, which makes up the majority of the Bible and is found first.
The prophets (both major and minor) are found after Psalms and before the New Testament. So if you hear an obscure Hebrew name (like Zephaniah), then find the Psalms in the middle and start moving further back in the Bible, but not too far. If you hit the Gospels (like Matthew), then you’ve gone too far. Remember, Malachi is the last book of the Old Testament.
Help them Discover the Wonder
Kids will work hard at figuring out on their own how to navigate things with which they are fascinated. The greatest gift we can give these kids in Bible navigation skills is a love for and curiosity with God’s Word. They can memorize the list of Bible books all day long, but if there is no interest to find out what’s in those books, they’re not going to care to look. As teachers, leaders, and pastors, we need to be excited about the Bible ourselves and show the kids why we love the contents and the stories. A fun exercise is to share about some of the lesser-known but incredibly dramatic stories of the Bible, like Jael nailing a tent peg into the temple of a sleeping Sisera (Judges 5:24-26)!
I also believe that the Bible is God’s living Word, which means it is not just a historical account of events. There is a great deal of history in the Bible, but it is first and foremost HIS story – the story of God for the past, present, and future. That means that it affects my daily life and that God’s Spirit speaks to me through this Word when I read it and meditate on it. As leaders, we can tell the kids stories about how God has changed our lives and shaped our understanding of Him through the message of His Word.
Remember Bozo the Clown’s Grand Prize Game?!
If you don’t, then either you’re much younger than me or you had better things to do than watch television as a child.
His bucket game was full of pomp and craziness, but the basic idea of it is extremely simple and duplicatable in any setting where you want to have fun with kids.
All you do is line up some buckets or baskets and have kids try to toss a ball in each one – successively tossing the ball in the next farthest bucket each time (college students have another name for this game, but that version is not for kids).
If you miss, you’re out or go to the end of the line. The player who makes the farthest basket wins.
The super easy variation that I put on this game is having just one stationary bucket or trash can, then making the players take one step back each time they make a shot. The player who takes the most steps back and continues to make the shot wins.
The fun is endless, because you can have all the kids line up and simply try to make a shot from the farthest line drawn. If they make the shot, they keep shooting and stepping back each time until they miss. The next player then steps in at the new line and tries to push it back even further.
Another variation is to have someone shake or move the bucket back and forth while blindfolded. That way, they don’t move the bucket in such a way that helps the shooter. And it gives a funny challenge to the shooter.
What are some variations you’ve put on this game?
Last night, I was working with my seven year-old daughter on a Bible verse that she is trying to memorize. The verse spoke about the “fear of God” and we had a good discussion about the definition of the word “fear” in that context. While that alone is a whole other discussion, the point I want to make here is that while we were discussing that topic, a number of other theological topics came up in our discussion. I noticed that she was engaged and interested in hearing my take on this grand story of God. Then a powerful thought hit me: “Wow, here I am passing on a story that has endured for generations and I am just a tiny little steward of this story in the course of history.”
It was a humbling thought.
It was also very encouraging. It is exciting to be a part of something so much bigger than myself. God’s story precedes me and it will endure long after my time on this earth. It is my job to care for it, stay true to it, be transformed by it, and pass it on to those after me – so they can do the same for the generations after them.
James Earl Massey wrote a book in 2006 called Stewards of the Story: The Task of Preaching (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press). The title alone is a gripping reminder that preachers (and, I would add, Christians in general) are responsible to pass on the story of God in accurate form from one generation to the next. Like a family heirloom, the story of God is a priceless narrative that neither begins nor ends with our generation. It was given to us and we have the duty of preserving it and passing it on to those who outlive us.
In the foreword to Massey’s book, Timothy George writes…
“Stewards are trustees, into whose care and responsibility something precious – in this case, something infinitely precious – has been entrusted. In the most basic sense, trustees are not “owners” of the prized bequest they have received. Rather, they hold the bequest in trust, and they have a fiduciary responsibility to pass it on intact to those who will one day receive it in turn from them” (xiii).
God’s story is first and foremost the Biblical story that was at one time transmitted via oral tradition but then put to text over the course of many centuries. But passing on God’s story to our children also means telling them of the great things God has done in our lives and in the lives of saints throughout history.
We will not hide them from their descendants;
we will tell the next generation
the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord,
his power, and the wonders he has done (Psalm 78:4, NIV)
Remember the “telephone game” from when we were kids? A line of kids would have to preserve a sentence from the start of the line to the end of the line by each kid whispering it into the ear of the person next to them. The sentence was almost always completely butchered by the time it reached the end of the line, often unrecognizable from the original statement.
God’s story is way more valuable than the statements given in a telephone game. That’s why oral tradition was a very strict art in ancient times. And when we were able to write it all down, God gave us the gift of holding onto this story in a textual form that was painstakingly written, copied, and preserved by prophets, rabbis, monks, and then the printing press.
Our job as followers of God is to painstakingly preserve this story in it’s original form and pass it on as such. I always say that in preaching and teaching the best strategy is to stick to the Word. It’s hard to go wrong when we stick to God’s Word. We get sloppy and misdirect our hearers if we start making stuff up and/or talk about whatever we think is right and accurate.
Stick to the Word. Hold it close to your heart. Let it transform you. Pass it on in it’s original form. And teach others to do the same.
If you work with kids, then you saw the fidget spinner come and go this past summer. The popularity of this fad toy (which has actually been around for quite some time) peaked sometime in June 2017. But by July and August, it seemed that every child in North America had at least a dozen of them, if not, more. Their interest waned. And parents were tired of buying yet another metal and plastic spinny thingy.
Kids are kids. They will always find a new fad toy to enjoy every season. Sometimes that is driven by brilliant marketing campaigns by large toy companies (like the Pet Rock or Tickle-Me-Elmo) or simply by the interests of the children aided by the viral nature of social media (like the Fidget Spinner or the water bottle flipping craze).
I have come across three toys that I predict could be contenders for an upcoming viral fad. Only history will show if I get any of this right. But I have found some toys that are basic in design yet complex enough to capture one’s attention for hours on end. Here they are….
The amazing ball-on-string-on-wooden-stick toy that has an infinite array of possible tricks and variations. I have been aware of them for years but never spent much time with one until now. I have some basic tricks down but if you want to see ninja level, watch this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iFiiXkonsXY&t=228s
This small toy made of wood and ribbon has been around at least since the Colonial period in America. The segments roll downward and appear to magically transform themselves like a magic falling ladder. I’ve seen children and adults stare in mesmerization (is that a word?) at this very simple toy. Watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KiIpUUsIsVE
This is a stick toy that is weighted in such a way that it rolls and dances in different directions when you manipulate it. Just watch this video to get the gist of it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K7TwE4Qv2nQ
I’d like to share some resources that have helped me over the years while working with children and families in church ministry contexts.
You’ll notice one book in this list that seems out of place (the Jonestown one). I included that as a narrative about how NOT to lead families and children in ministry. It is a warning to all of us who work with children to steer clear of the vices that plummet leaders into grave destructiveness.
Jerome Berryman. Godly Play. San Francisco: Harper, 1991.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Life Together. New York: Harper, 1954.
Diana Garland. Family Ministry: A Comprehensive Guide, Second Ed. Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2012.
Jeff Guinn. The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2017.
Catherine Stonehouse. Joining Children on the Spiritual Journey. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998.
So here’s a way to teach a Bible lesson using a fidget spinner….
What Really Lasts?
Bring and show off as many of these fad toys as you can find (show pictures if you don’t have the actual toy):
- the hula hoop
- Lincoln Logs
- the pet rock
- the Rubix Cube
- the slap bracelet
- Beanie Babies
- Super Soakers
- Razor Scooter
- Silly Bandz
- the water bottle flip
- and now……the fidget spinner!!!
Then, if you have some skills, show off a few fidget spinner tricks or have a volunteer come up and do some.
Then read Isaiah 40:6b-8:
“All people are like grass, and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field. 7 The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them. Surely the people are grass. 8 The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever” (NIV).
So the Bible says that our human existence here on earth is very temporary. People come and people go. The same can be said about the things we make – buildings, clothes, airplanes, and even toys! All these toys come and go. Their fame will only last for a short time. Fads come and go, but the Word of the Lord stands forever….
You see, God is eternal. He has no beginning and no end. The same can be said about His Word – which we have in the form of the Bible.
Don’t put your trust and your joy and your excitement in these temporary man-made things (like fads), put your hope and passion into God and His Word. His Word will last forever, long past these toy fads. So let’s learn from Him and His Word!
Feel free to show this video as part of the lesson – I combine the fads of 2016 and 2017!