Finding quality resources that help nurture the faith development of children and families can sometimes be difficult. This is the first post in a series, broken up by age-level focus, that can be of help to children, family members, and ministry leaders as they navigate the pilgrimage of the Christian faith. I will start with early childhood (birth to two years) and work up to the PreTeen age group. I have included a variety of mediums throughout the series such as text, music, toys/games, and online resources.
BIRTH TO TWO YEARS
Card, Michael. Sleep Sound in Jesus, Compact disc (CD). Brentwood, TN: Sparrow Records, 1989.
Prolific Christian songwriter Michael Card created this album of soft and melodic lullabies with rich lyrics proclaiming blessings and prayers over little children (http://www.christianbook.com/sleep-sound-in-jesus-compact-disc/0006176933/pd/CD086).
Currie, Robin, and Cindy Adams. Baby bible storybook. Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2003.
This book puts a series of major Bible stories into the simplest terms so the parent can read them to the child as the child looks at the illustrated picture. A scripture reference is given at the top and at the bottom is a very short prayer that the parent can say as they pray with their child (http://www.amazon.com/Baby-Bible-Storybook-Robin-Currie/dp/0781400767).
First Steps in Worship. Founded by Tracy Rader.
This is a company that produces ready-to-go kits of worship resources for use in infant and toddler worship settings. Products include kits of books and manipulatives such as “Baby Bedtime Blessings,” “Cradle Choir,” “Pass-It-On Praise,” and “Wiggle Into Worship.” The tote bags and the manipulatives are soft and washable for easy cleaning in between uses (firststepsinworship.com).
Henley, Karen, Dennas Davis, and Randall Dennis. My first hymnal: 75 Bible songs and what they mean. Brentwood, TN: Sparrow Corporation, 1994.
This small hardback book includes very simple hymn and Christian song melodies along with a brief explanation/devotion about the lyrics. It is meant for the parent to sing to their child and then read the short devotional thought to the child (http://www.amazon.com/My-First-Hymnal-Bible-Songs/dp/0917143353).
Morganthaler, Shirley K. Right from the start: A parent’s guide to the young child’s faith development. Revised edition. St. Louis: Concordia, 2001.
This text for parents and leaders is a tool for understanding the faith development of children from both a spiritual perspective as well as from the field of neuroscience (http://www.amazon.com/Right-Start-Parents-Childs-Development/dp/0570052777).
Nederveld, Patricia L. God loves me storybooks: The Bible in 52 storybooks. Revised edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Faith Alive, 2015.
This collection of short books uses both art of Bible stories as well as photographs of young children to help kids make the connection between Bible stories and themselves. Parents can read one storybook each week of the year to their children or go at whatever pace they prefer (http://www.faithaliveresources.org/Products/001400/god-loves-me-storybooks-revised-edition.aspx).
Saxon, Terrell. Baby blessings: A faith-based parenting guide, birth to two. Colorado Springs: Standard Publishing, 2003.
This resource covers multiple aspects of early child development from cognitive to spiritual. It has a section of practical activities that parents can do with their children to help nurture their faith development (http://www.amazon.com/Baby-Blessings-Faith-Based-Guide-Parents/dp/0784713588).
Thomas, Mack. The first step Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 1994.
This 445-page condensed paraphrase of the Bible takes major stories from the Old Testament and New Testament and retells them in three sentences or less per page. Each sentence is usually less than ten words. Each story is accompanied by large illustrations depicting the Biblical scene. There is a helpful section in the back called “Teaching the Bible to the Very Young,” which gives parents tips on how to use the book and talk about the Bible with infants and toddlers (https://books.google.com/books/about/The_First_Step_Bible.html?id=KlRuXaTKraYC).
Top Ten Christian Songs for Little Kids, compiled by Jesse Joyner (April 24, 2012).
I once posted a blog of what I subjectively feel are the “top ten” Christian songs for little kids. As of this writing, that post alone has received over sixteen thousand hits, which tells me that people are interested in good classic songs that teach children about God and help them connect with God. If you follow this link, you can find more links that provide a version of each song on YouTube as well as an explanation as to why I think that song should be included in the list: (http://jessejoyner.com/top-10-christian-songs-for-little-kids/). Here is the list itself:
Count Your Blessings
Deep and Wide
The Butterfly Song
Hallelu, Praise Ye the Lord
I’ve Got the Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy Down in My Heart
He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands
This Little Light of Mine
Jesus Loves the Little Children
Jesus Loves Me
Zobel-Nolan, Allia. Lift the flap nativity. Illustrated by Tace Moroney. Reader’s Digest: New York. 2001.
As the title suggests, this book tells the Christmas story using simple words and flap-opening so the child can physically interact with the story as they hear it from their parents. The illustrations are colorful but not too bright. The art form has a level of refreshing minimalism so the focus is on the relevant characters and storyline rather than distracting cartoonish embellishments (http://books.simonandschuster.com/Lift-the-Flap-Nativity/Allia-Zobel-Nolan/Lift-the-Flap/9780794435271).
*This list comes directly from a paper I wrote for a class at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL in March 2016. The class was ES 7524 (Education and Ministry Experiences for Children) taught by Dr. Magdalene Larson.
This family or children’s ministry idea comes from Ivy Beckwith, the author of one of my assigned readings for my class at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School about ministry with children.
Here is the description as I put it in my paper. I would encourage you to take this simple idea and make your own creative family memories out of it…..
Another practical way families can foster faith formation for one another is through ritual and tradition. Ivy Beckwith suggests many ideas for how families can do creative God-focused activities at home that sometimes turn into recurring rituals and traditions. She says that rituals foster things such as identity and healing within faith and family communities (Beckwith 2010, 78-80). One of the many ritual ideas she gives is an Easter tradition where the family makes butterflies and caterpillars out of craft materials. The caterpillars can hang on a tree leading up to Easter and then they are replaced with the butterflies on Easter morning. The family can then discuss the meaning of Easter and the new life we have in Jesus Christ (86). Oftentimes the best faith formation between parents and children happens in the unexpected moments – like while the crafts are being made, rather than during more formal settings such as the big reveal of the butterflies on Easter morning. Again, the role of the parents is to create environments and opportunities for God to reveal himself in any moment of the day – whether planned or mundane – and then to be ready at any moment to “give a reason for the hope they have in Christ” (1 Peter 3:15).
Beckwith, Ivy. Formational children’s ministry: Shaping children using story, ritual, and relationship. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2010.
What?! You’re comparing Cain, the first murderer, to Jesus? How dare you!
Follow me here. I was writing a paper about ministry with children and I suddenly discovered in the Cain and Abel story something I had never seen before…
You probably already knew that Cain was the first child to be born (remember, Adam and Eve were created). But what Eve said upon his birth is pretty remarkable. She said something that leads us to conclude that Cain and Jesus were both gifts of God’s grace, each in a unique way.
Here’s the excerpt from my paper….
When we look at Scripture, the first children in the Bible were Cain and Abel. Their parents, Adam and Eve, had already been banished from the Garden of Eden due to their disobedience and sin towards God (Gen 3:16-24). In this new reality of paradise lost, Adam and Eve conceived their first child, Cain. Despite having a broken relationship with God, Eve proclaims, “With the help of the LORD I have brought forth a man” (Gen 4:1; italics mine). These are the first post-Edenic words spoken in Scripture, which I believe speaks to the significance of ministry with children. In this newly fallen world, our predecessor Eve viewed children as a gift from God. Even Cain’s name in Hebrew is a wordplay intended to sound like the word for “to bring forth” (Coppes 1980, 797-798). This means that God’s first gift of grace following our sin was a child. We turned from God, and the way he extended an offer of grace was through a baby.
Does that sound familiar? Thousands of years later, despite our sin, God gifted us all with the baby Jesus Christ as the ultimate gift of His grace.
This establishes the point that children are both a gift from God as well a means of God’s grace to adults (and other children, for that matter). Most adults in this world and in the church community understand that children are a gift, but how often do we view them as channels through which God extends His grace? When we view children in this way, we realize that as adults, we need children as much as they need us.
Coppes, Leonard J. “Cain.” Theological wordbook of the old testament. Vol 2. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke eds. Chicago: Moody Press, 1980.
A metaphor that some people use for describing Jesus Christ is that he is our superhero. But, I feel that the metaphor (like most) breaks down here – and so much so that I am uncomfortable saying that Jesus is my superhero (and teaching kids the like).
Here’s why: I believe that Jesus is beyond the category of superheroes. He alone is God (John 1:14). To call him a superhero is to limit him to a man-made box that likens him to our understanding of superheroes in popular culture.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. – John 1:14
Furthermore, I think the metaphor is backwards. Instead of “Jesus is my superhero,” the aim of superheroes is that most are written to be godlike or to have supernatural powers. So it is not Jesus trying to be like them. It is them trying to be like Jesus.
In fact, I believe that the story of God’s salvation history is the greatest story ever told. I also believe that it is historically true. Comic book authors write about the struggle between good and evil and the godlike characters who wage battles using superhuman powers. If there is anything compelling or attractive about these comic book narratives, I believe it is because we are naturally drawn to themes that resemble the greatest story ever told (the Bible), not the other way around. I believe we are drawn because we are wired (by God) to yearn for the deepest realities of finding redemption from darkness in Him.
Granted, most comic book writers are not trying to write about characters who want to be Jesus. The comic book universe is a fictional fantasy world. Jesus, we believe, is a true historical person. And that is another huge difference that makes this metaphor break down even more…
When you mix fantasy with reality, especially with children, you can potentially cause a blurred line between the two. I think fantasy and fiction (and comics, for that matter) are great literary genres and we should encourage kids to enjoy great literature, whether textual or graphic/visual.
I would rather keep these two worlds (truth and fiction) separate so as not to make children think that Jesus is “limited” to the superhero status of comic worlds. Likewise, I don’t want kids to think that Spiderman is their divine savior.
For you are great and do marvelous deeds; you alone are God. Psalm 86:10
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The great thing about a holiday is not just the fact that many people get the day off, but it also carves a memorial into the annual calendar that commemorates something or someone that we as a society deem important. When children see that they have a day off of school and that people are celebrating something, many of them naturally ask, “why?”
That is why holidays are brilliant. They ensure that certain topics and values will be passed down through the generations. Even if the adults forget to cover a certain topic in raising children, the holiday topics will almost always come up (year after year) and the children will learn about them.
For Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, we are reminded of the great values of love, respect, diversity, overcoming the impossible, justice, faith, courage, community, and all sorts of other positive teachable topics. What comes with his story is also the harsh truth of sin and darkness in the world – topics such as hate, racism, injustice, murder, terrorism, and the like.
We told our daughter (who is five now) that there was no school on Monday because it was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. That sparked her curiosity about the subject. She had already learned a little about him in school recently, but she wanted to know more when we were talking about it in the car.
Here are some of the things she asked (progressively as I was answering each question:
“What did he do?”
“Is he still alive?”
“How did he die?”
“Why did someone kill him?”
“Where was he when he died?”
As you can see, she was very curious about his life and the circumstances of his death. I chose not to sugarcoat anything and answer her in a very honest matter-of-fact way. She may be five, but I have learned that even young children are ready to hear about the harsh realities of this sinful world in which we live. Of course I’m not graphic in describing how he died, but I tried to be straightforward about it – and she was able to understand and handle it well.
Before I show you how I answered, I wanted to jot down a few ideas on what I feel are helpful things to keep in mind when speaking to young children about tough, dark subjects. I don’t claim to have all the answers. I’m just sharing what appeared to work with our daughter…..
- Be honest – the worst thing we can do to our children is lie to them and make them think there is nothing bad or evil in the world. They will wake up to that reality someday and it is best if they hear it first from their parents.
- Be straightforward – I don’t see any value in beating around the bush or creating a fog of confusion in her mind by using ambiguous generalizations such as “we need to be nice to other people.” It’s better to be specific and use MLK Day (and every other day) to combat racism in its face and talk with children as early as possible about treating everyone with love and respect no matter their skin color.
- Be God-focused – we believe in God. So did Martin Luther King, Jr. In fact, he was known for saying that the arc of the universe curves towards justice. And that curve is because of the hand of God. Full justice and love may not be evident at this moment, but God’s finger is pointing in that direction. We shall follow, and he shall lead.
Here is the gist of the answers I gave:
“What did he do?” A lot of people are mean to other people just because of the color of their skin. He challenged those ideas and gave a speech about a dream he had. He had a dream that little girls of different skin colors would hold hands and play together in the playground. And guess what? That dream came true (I said that not to say that all is well, but to point to the example that she knows, which is the fact that she does play with and hold hands with children of different skin colors). Now there are no more laws that black people need to use different water fountains or bathrooms than white people. (We will continue to explain to her that not all things are completely better between people of different skin colors and there is still a lot of work to do to make sure there is equality and community amongst our diversity in this nation).
“Is he still alive?” No.
“How did he die?” Somebody shot him with a gun and killed him.
“Why did someone kill him?” The man hated him and did not like what Martin Luther King, Jr. taught and wanted to keep doing things that were very bad for black people.
“Where was he when he died?” I think he was on a balcony of a motel in Memphis, Tennessee.
I added, “We believe that God made all people – and that he made all different colors of skin. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a pastor who believed in God and that God was going to bring justice to this earth over the course of history.”
Let us press on in every fight against injustice and trust in the grace of God as we follow Him on the journey towards justice.
Celebrities, including Hollywood stars, music icons, and famous people around the world have a reputation for short and numerous marriages. But there are always examples to the contrary, and I write this to show that lifelong monogamy is still possible. I personally believe it is only possible by the grace of God.
I think I may have discovered the longest, if not, the longest current marriage between two television/movie/stage celebrities. And I cannot find their names listed on any “longest celebrity marriages” lists around the internet.
I was listening to the soundtrack of the musical 1776 (about the founding fathers and the events leading to the signing of the Declaration of Independence) on my computer and was impressed by the performance of John Adams played by William Daniels (who also played Mr. Feeny on Boy Meets World).
So I searched his name to learn more about him. I discovered that he is married to a woman named Bonnie Bartlett, who is also an actress. They have both won Emmys for their work (on the same night too).
They got married in 1951. That was 65 years ago.
Can you find or name any couples where both are celebrities who have been married longer? I know “celebrity” is a relative term, but in this case they both won Emmy awards for their acting roles, so I think “celebrity” is a fair term to use for both of them.
I would love to interview them and ask them questions about having a long marriage in a culture that has a reputation for the opposite. I’m thankful for them and their example.
I like finding neat science tricks and visual illustrations that can be used to help communicate Biblical concepts in teaching. I found this neat brain game trick which I like to call the “curved arcs” from Steve Spangler Science. He sells the pieces I bought below. But you can also make your own and he has instructions on his site. I made my own large versions out of wood. The pictures below are the smaller cardboard type.
At first glance, one may look smaller than the other.
You can especially notice how they appear different lengths when you position them like this.
This is the two pieces switched. Now the yellow one is “longer”!
But when you stack them (seen below), you realize they are the same size!
Most adults pick up on this pretty quickly. Kids take a little longer to agree with you, of course. But no matter your age, it is still a fascinating reality. Two objects of the exact same size can appear to be different lengths depending on how they are positioned relative to one another.
Clearly our eyes and brains can play tricks on themselves. And that is one of the points I like to make in teaching kids about the Bible. There are several connections you can make here.
One that I make is that we as humans are all equally fallen sinners before God. We might compare ourselves to other people and think, “Well, I’m not as bad as that person!” The truth is, all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). When you put the two arcs on top of one another, you realize that they are the same. We are the same as humans as well in terms of our guilt before a perfect and holy God.
What metaphors or illustrations would you make with this brain game? Have you used any in the past? Let me know if you have any ideas!
I recently stumbled upon a fast and free way to make Scripture slides for Children’s Ministry (or any other ministry, for that matter) with an array of free and attractive backgrounds.
And it may already be in your phone/device.
It’s built into one of the popular apps out there – the free YouVersion app of the Bible (they’re not paying me to post this, btw 🙂 I just really like this feature and want to share about it).
I was using the app recently and saw a button I had never seen before. So I clicked on it. What I found was amazing. It was an option to make an image of any selected Bible verse over any background of your choice (your own or from their library). The settings make it easy to change the font, the font size, the colors, etc. Below are some steps and pics to show you how to do it.
- First, download the app. Search “youversion” on your app store.
- Once you familiarize yourself with how to find a certain verse (which is intuitive), select a verse by tapping it. It will underline the verse with a dotted line and then give you a selection of options on the right.
- Then tap on the orange button (of a photograph), which will lead you through the step-by-step editing process.
- Once you have your slide, share it as you like! See the images below for a more detailed look at how it works.
Then you can share the image by email, message, or social media. You can also save the image to your device and hence drop it into any slide show you are making (such as Keynote or ProPresenter).
I love to use it to share a quick verse on social media or as a slide when I’m speaking or teaching about the Bible. It’s super easy to use and best of all, it’s free!
Bonus: Many of the most popular Bible verses (John 3:16, for example) have special pre-made images with artsy fonts and backgrounds. Those are fun to discover and you just have to stumble upon them when you go to those verses and then go to this “edit image” process.
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Here are some slides I’ve made since I found out about this……
I performed at a company holiday banquet on Sunday night in Pennsylvania. As I was eating dinner with the owner and his family, one of his children asked me, “Do you ever get nervous before your shows?” My answer was a quick and simple, “Yes.” Then I explained a little more.
Yes, I still get nervous before my performances even after nearly years of on-stage experience (which is most of my life) and over eight years of full-time one-man show performances.
Why do I get nervous? Frankly, I’m afraid the audience won’t like me. I’m afraid I’ll let down their expectations. I’m afraid I’ll mess up. I’m afraid I’ll injure someone. I’m afraid that it will be the last performance of my career for whatever reason.
And then I do the show…and they love it. I love it. Everybody has a great time. I realize that it was all in my head. And here’s a key thing to consider: Is that really a bad thing?
I would suggest, “No.”
Call it nervousness, call it stage fright, call it butterflies. We all know the feeling. And I believe it is a very normal and human thing. It is the desire to pursue excellence and to deliver something that is beneficial to others. And there will always be the risk of failure. I believe that if we don’t feel at least a little fear or nervousness in the things we strive for in life, then we might not be challenging ourselves enough.
But the fright is still there. Knowing that it is a very common feeling does not make it go away. How do we overcome stage fright?
I think that’s the wrong question.
The question should be, “How can we use stage fright to our advantage?”
So here are some things that I do in order to work through stage fright and use it to my advantage…..
- Just do it – Nike was right. When I just get up and do my show, all the jitters go away. The jitters are usually the worst right before I go out on stage. But within a few seconds of starting my rehearsed routine, I’m all good. Speaking of rehearsed….
- Practice – It sounds trite, but the more you practice, the less you need to worry about them not liking you. If you practice a ton for your presentation, you’ll do great. And even if you mess up, the audience will easily forgive you because they have a sixth sense that knows whether you’re practiced up or not. They can tell when you’ve worked hard on something and that they probably couldn’t do it themselves anyway, so they will appreciate you. Believe me, audiences are a lot nicer than we as performers usually think they will be.
- Look out at the audience before your performance – This may not be the right ritual for everyone, but it helps me. If possible, peek through the curtain to see who you’re about to perform for. Or at least get as good a look as you can at people as they come into the event. The more I see who I’m playing to and the more I gaze into their eyes and expressions, the more at ease I become because I realize that these are normal human beings who just want to enjoy a performance. They’re not out to get me. They’re not out to boo the performer off the stage. They’re on my side. And that helps me tremendously.
- Transfer the nervousness into energy – This is easier said than done. But it really it a mental exercise. Tell yourself that the nervous jitters are going to help you do great because you can go out there with excitement and anticipation for a great show.
- Pray – I am a person of faith who prays. I am part of a larger community of faith that supports me and prays for what I do. I can say from experience that prayer does amazing things – especially when it comes to stage fright and gearing up for presentations. Knowing that God made me and has called me to this vocation helps me focus my thoughts and energy on Him rather than myself. I believe that life is not about me anyway – it’s about bringing glory to God. If you have any inkling in you that there is a God (or even if you don’t believe in God), give prayer a chance and see what happens….
If you have no idea what that title means, that’s OK. It is actually fairly simple to explain those weird words, which I will attempt to do. The “hypostatic union” is an important theological concept to understand about the person and work of Jesus Christ. It basically says that Jesus Christ is one person, two natures (divine and human). The interrobang is a punctuation symbol that I believe is a helpful metaphor to understand the hypostatic union.
The interrobang is a lesser known punctuation mark. Merriam-Webster defines it as “a punctuation mark ‽ designed for use especially at the end of an exclamatory rhetorical question” (“Interrobang,” Merriam-Webster). This means that it unites both the symbol and function of the exclamation point and the question mark into one character. For example, instead of “You lost the dog?!” it is also acceptable (and more economical) to write, “You lost the dog‽” In fact, you can still see the shape of both the exclamation point and the question mark in the interrobang as the two characters are superimposed on one another. Here is a larger look at how they merge:
! + ? = ‽
This is a visual metaphor for the hypostatic union. This is the theological doctrine that Jesus Christ is simultaneously fully God and fully man. In Christ, the two natures (divine and human) are united into one person (hypostasis) (McGrath, 1998, 56; Oden, 1992/2001, 165). This can be a potentially difficult point to explain to children (and adults as well). But when a simple visual metaphor such as the interrobang is used, the ability to grasp the concept is increased. Not only that, but it also helps learners experience and understand what for them may be a new spiritual reality in their hearts and minds, which ideally helps them draw closer to God. This is the generative nature of metaphors in spiritual formation.
Note that in the interrobang neither the exclamation point nor the question mark are absorbed or lost into the other. The reader can still clearly make out the fullness of each punctuation mark – and they are artfully merged to co-exist in one typographical character. So also is the character/person of Jesus Christ. He is one person who embodies the union of total divine nature and total human nature. Just as you can make out the entire exclamation point and entire question mark in the interrobang at the same time, so also does Jesus have the entirety of divinity and the entirety of human nature at the same time (John 1:14; Phil 2:6-11; Col 2:9, 3:15-20). The author of Hebrews adds that though he was like us in every way (human nature), he had no sin (Heb 4:15). That is because he was also fully God and it is impossible for God to sin (James 1:13; Heb 6:18; Psalm 92:15).
Why is the hypostatic union such an important concept? It has to do with the very foundations of Christianity – salvation by grace through faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ. If Jesus was merely a man and not God, then he would be less than perfect and his sacrifice would not be sufficient to atone for sins against a perfect and holy God. If Jesus was God and not also human, then he would not be able to offer himself on behalf of humans (human sin against God demands that the atonement must also come from a human – see Anselm’s argument at The Christian History Institute).
What do you think about the interrobang‽ Is it a helpful metaphor? What are some other metaphors that may help us better understand the hypostatic union?
“Interrobang.” Merriam-Webster. online article. http://beta.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/interrobang (accessed December 17, 2015).
McGrath, Alister E. Historical theology: An introduction to the history of Christian thought. Oxford: Blackwell, 1998.
Oden, Thomas C. The word of life: systematic theology: volume two. Peabody, MA: Prince, 2001.