“What’s in the Bible?” Curriculum Review

db9e7794-phil-endorsement_06y04806y048000000c4f1c6b6-box-set-banner_09x07209x072000000I am somewhat of a bibliophile (one who loves books). And more particularly, I love to learn about and study the book of all books – the Bible. I guess that would be a more accurate use of the term “Biblio”-phile.

So it is with excitement and anticipation that I share with you a new curriculum from Phil Vischer, the creator of the well known Veggie Tales series (in fact, Phil is the famous scrappy voice of Bob the Tomato). This new curriculum, designed for use in Sunday School or other weekly church gatherings with elementary-aged kids, is called Buck Denver Asks…What’s in the Bible?

Here is the brief summary straight from the curriculum website:

“Buck Denver Asks … What’s in the Bible? is the 13-DVD series from VeggieTales® creator Phil Vischer. In his first new project since VeggieTales, Vischer has set out to teach kids (and parents!) the story of the Bible – God’s great rescue plan! We know the stories of Moses, Noah, David, and Jesus, but in this groundbreaking new Bible DVD series, we learn how they all fit together to tell one big, redemptive story. Vischer’s signature wit shines through with his all-new cast of characters, fast-paced flash animation, and catchy tunes. This is one journey through the Bible you won’t want to miss!”

I took a look at the info and some samples of the curriculum and I am impressed overall. I would certainly recommend it (and if you keep reading, you will see some special discounts on the curriculum that I can offer my readers).

Here are the things I like about What’s in the Bible?….

  1. A scope and sequence guided by the overarching narrative of the Bible, rather than topics. I know a lot of curriculum out there follows a general chronological order of the Bible, but this one aims to cover the entire Bible while constantly keeping in mind the overall cohesion and interconnectedness of the Bible. And it uses the entire story of the Bible as the driving force of content rather than just teaching topics illustrated by a few popular Bible stories.
  2. Use of a variety of learning methods. This curriculum is self-described as being “media-driven,” but that doesn’t mean “media-only.” There are plenty of interactive activities in small groups. There are hands-on activities as well as more cognitive activities (such as review through trivia questions). I like curriculum that keeps moving and draws on a variety of teaching methods and learning styles. I like how the videos use both puppets and Phil teaching (as himself). The puppets help the kids stay engaged (while teaching about the Bible) and Phil’s teaching brings a very real and pastoral aspect to the content. He is both deep and understandable at the same time. I like the combination of all those elements.
  3. The commitment to Scripture. This might sound obvious, but it is important that a curriculum have a strong Biblical grounding in terms of how the writers view Scripture. Phil Vischer has a strong commitment to Scriptural inspiration, authority, reliability, and relevance. To him, the Bible is not just the world’s best selling book that teaches us about the religion of Christianity and how people wrote about it centuries ago. For Phil, the Bible is God’s inspired Word – a revelation from God to us as His message of love and story of redemption. And that changes everything.
  4. It’s all right there. You basically have a curriculum in a box. From what I reviewed, it did not appear that the teachers (who are usually volunteers) need to bring much of anything with them except the videos and other handouts/materials provided by the curriculum itself. Any way to cut down on unnecessary clutter is helpful.

Here are the things I think can be improved….(which is not much, by the way)

  1. There is a puppet named Michael who rides in the back of a car on the way to grandma’s house. I’ve seen him before in other Buck Denver videos. Maybe it is my personal preference, but his voice is hard for me to understand. It is very high-pitched and sounds extremely unnatural for whoever is providing the voice for him. I think it is important to have clear and legible communication if you want to convey such quality content.
  2. Some of the puppets have no eyes (or, at least you can’t see the eyes due to over-furrowed brows or hats). I think the eyes bring life to a puppet (or any other creature for that matter). Again, it might be my personal preference, but I feel like I receive communication better when I can see some eyes in the puppet, person, or creature. Would you like a pastor to preach a sermon to you with a hat down over their eyes the whole time?
  3. There is an extra DVD for a Christmas series (yay!). But it would also be nice to have a special DVD series for Lent (the weeks leading up to Easter). They cover the Gospel stories and the death and resurrection of Christ, but I think it would be nice to have a dedicated series that follows the weeks of Lent.

There is not much to criticize here, because Phil and his team have worked very hard to put out a great product that will help lots of churches communicate the truth of the Bible in a largely Biblically illiterate culture (and becoming more and more so, unfortunately). Many of us are familiar with the success of Veggie Tales and the way it has become “salt and light” by teaching Biblical truths in ways that are not preachy and are palatable to the masses – both Christian and secular. My hope is that this “What’s in the Bible” project will similarly penetrate into our culture and society in a way that can instruct young people about the most popular (and I believe) most important book in history.

So, here’s the discount I promised you (as well as a free sample):

Click on this link to get ALMOST 50% OFF retail price (good through the middle of November 2014) and an opportunity to get a free sample: http://promos.whatsinthebible.com/kidmin-2014/

 

The Power of a Family Camp

I recently spoke at a Family Camp at Camp Dixie in North Carolina. The idea is simple: create a camp experience that involves the whole family. Most camps offer programs for age-specific groups, particularly children’s and youth camps. But Family Camp is where all the members of the family come to camp together and enjoy the experience as a family. This creates memories that last forever and help families bond in ways that are hard to do in the midst of “everyday life” back at home.

Here are some things Camp Dixie did well: they had plenty of free play time (for the pool, the lake, canoeing, hiking, go carts, etc.). They also had joint worship services for the whole family (music and a special speaker that is geared towards all ages). And there were some times for age-specific break-out times where the adults went to workshops on different topics and the kids went to do crafts.

I enjoyed it and I look forward to returning next year. Here is a video recap of this camp….

Family Camp Weekend 2014 from Camp Dixie on Vimeo.

How to Memorize Scripture

Making an "L" with our hands for the word "Lord" in Ephesians 6:10-11.
Photo: Forest N. Morrell 2014. Making an “L” with our hands for the word “Lord” in Ephesians 6:10-11.

I personally learn how to memorize things better when I associate the thing I want to memorize with something else that is unique and/or familiar to me. For example, if someone tells me their name is John (a very common name), I might quickly imagine that person dressed up as John the Baptist baptizing Jesus in the Jordan River. Every time I see John, I’ll see that unique and familiar image in my head – and ideally remember his name.

I have found through experience that children can memorize Bible verses (and retain them in their memory) very quickly by using a similar method. I use a method I picked up at a Children’s Ministry Conference I attended about a decade ago (I think it was sponsored by Group Publishing). I have since created my own style of this method. Here it is:

  1. Pick a verse that is relevant to the teaching and/or theme you are covering. Try not to pick a very long verse (usually 30-40 words maximum). There is a time and place for memorizing longer passages and that can be done in smaller groups or in one-on-one training. Right now, I am talking about large groups of kids at camp or at church on a Sunday morning or other weekly meeting time.
  2. Show the verse on the big screen or have the kids look up the verse together. Make sure you pick a good Bible translation that has a smooth reading of the verse (I usually like the NIV ’84 and the ESV, sometimes the NLT).
  3. Have the kids stand up.
  4. Attach a motion to each word and/or phrase. I will make up motions (some silly, others just straightforward) to go along with each word or phrase in the verse. I then teach the motions and words to the kids and have them repeat it after me several times. Sometimes I will use a motion from American Sign Language while other motions I simply make up for the purpose of the verse at hand.
  5. Once the kids know the words and motions, the trick is just repetition from this point on. You may want to have a “Memory Verse of the Month” (as my friends at The Village Church in Flower Mound, TX have) and review the verse before and after the teaching each week for a month. When I’m at a week-long summer camp, I will call it the “Memory Verse of the Week” or “MVOTW” (pronounced ma-vah-twa). The kids love saying silly words that are really an acronym. When I do the MVOTW, I will open up every teaching session with the kids standing and reciting the verse. They don’t even need the verse on the screen after the first teaching session. Every time after that, they have it all memorized because they have the motions along with it.

As a word of encouragement, this is something that anyone can do. You don’t have to be a juggler or a magician. You can make up some silly motions for the verse and teach away. If you have fun with it, the kids will have fun with it. And they will remember (and so will you).

I had a group of girls approach me at summer camp a few months ago and they recited the memory verse I had taught them three or four summers ago! They did the verse along with all the motions I had taught them. That is the power of memorizing something along with motions. It drastically increases the retention rate.

And retention is what we want when we memorize Scripture. When we or these kids are faced with challenges in life or a temptation to sin, what better thing than to recall God’s Word from our minds (that we memorized) in order to resist temptation or pray through a challenge in life? Even when times are good, Scripture is something we want to meditate on all the time.

When Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness (Matthew 4), he was tempted three times and all three times he responded to Satan with a memorized Scripture verse (“it is written…”).

Let’s teach kids how to memorize scripture!

Worship Response Stations

I recently returned from Pine Creek Camp in Gore, VA. I was the camp pastor for two weeks with several hundred preteen kids and their chaperones from Assembly of God churches around Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, D.C., and West Virginia.

I speak at many camps each summer, but this one stuck out because of the format they asked me to follow. First of all, there were two chapel services each day for the kids – one in the morning and one in the evening. The morning service was designed to be the “main” service of the day (in terms of worship music and teaching time) with the evening service being more of a “review and respond” service.

So in the evenings, I taught for about 10 minutes, just reviewing the points we learned about in the morning. Then, for the remainder of the service (another 45 minutes to an hour), we spent responding to God’s Word through the format of worship stations.

The camp told me this ahead of time. So I wrote up some station ideas that went along with my lessons each day. The leadership at the camp then took all my ideas and turned them into reality by getting the supplies, setting up the stations, and manning them each night.

The results were amazing. We realized that kids learn and respond in a variety of ways, depending on their learning languages. Some kids respond well with hands-on and interactive activities while others are fine being still or reading. Most kids have a variety of learning styles inside of them anyway, so it’s good to have the different stations so they can move around freely as they like. I’d like to take a few posts to share the ideas and pictures from the worship response stations.

Here is a quick rundown of the stations. I will go into more details with each one in subsequent posts.

  1. Prayer Counseling – This is the traditional idea of having prayer counselors on hand if a kid or adult needs prayer for anything. This is usually the only “station” people offer as a way of response at camp or in church. We still used it, but it was only one of many ways to respond. 10525923_10201690183931064_2541282716695704447_n
  2. Question Cards – If the kids had a question about God or the Bible, they wrote them down on a 3×5 card and handed it to an adult. The adult would then attempt to find the answer in the Bible and answer the question. If they couldn’t find it, then they would say “I don’t know” or “I’ll look it up later and get back it you.” This was a surprisingly popular station for the kids. God Questions 1 (1)
  3. World Prayer Map – There was a map on the wall and the kids would go up and place a sticker star on a country, city, or location of a people group and pray for them.
  4. Slime Buckets – One night, we taught about Jonah. In order to explore the idea of what it may have felt like to be inside the belly of a great fish, the kids put their hands in slime. This was obviously very popular. 1919619_10201689924364575_7350194639987657628_n
  5. Blindfolded Prayer – Also along the story of Jonah (who prayed in pitch darkness inside the belly of the fish), we had the kids put on a blindfold and then sit or kneel and pray. One leader said this station was the first time he had seen one of his boys pray. Sometimes it takes some creative way that really connects with a particular kid to open them up to things like prayer and worship. 1800191_10201689925044592_1813544821034699680_n
  6. Kids Pray for Adults – I will devote an entire post to this station, as it was my favorite of all the stations. Kids were on hand to pray for adults who wanted prayer. It was humbling for adults and exciting for kids. More on this one later.
  7. The Wooden Cross – This is another traditional station that many groups have used for years. I believe it is still very powerful in form and function. The large wooden cross reminds us of what Jesus did for us and we have the chance to lay prayers and confessions at the cross by writing them on a piece of paper and nailing them to the cross. 10339573_10201689918724434_8519116368611174061_n
  8. Prayer Journaling/Drawing – This was also a very popular one. We had stacks of paper and boxes of crayons, markers, and pencils on hand. The kids would simply grab some paper and something to write/draw with and freely journal or draw pictures as prayers, thanksgivings to God, and other worship thoughts on their minds. 10553423_10201689925124594_4728291633501802324_n10569008_10201690182851037_8364184396806928724_n
  9. Finger Painting – On the day when we learned about Creation, the kids got to draw pictures of things that God made on a large white poster using finger paints. This was extremely popular and looked very pretty when it was all done. 10409409_10201689918484428_3276895270255792122_n
  10. Other Stations – There were also stations with bead bracelets, mouse traps, clay and play-do, bowls of fruit, a white board with a dry erase marker, and Scripture reading. I will discuss each one in subsequent posts.

Let me know if you have done worship response stations and what they looked like. Thanks for reading!

All photos are credited to Kelly Gibbs. Thanks Kelly!

Whatever is Admirable

The sixth virtue in Paul’s Philippians 4:8 list is “whatever is admirable.” When we say that we “admire” something, we are speaking of it as something we aspire to, something we want to be like, and something that is worthy of respect and honor. When we fill our minds with things that are admirable, our thoughts help point us in the right direction of growth towards the Lord. Like the other virtues, God epitomizes everything that is admirable. Admiration also represents the things we ponder and think about all the time (that’s what we do with admirable things – we think about them A LOT).

What is admirable? Virtuous and wise people are admirable. Godly men and women are admirable. Humility, love, compassion, patience – these are all admirable things. So let’s fill our minds with them.

Palm Sunday Lesson

Palm Sundae
Make a “Palm Sundae” in someone’s palms to open up your Palm Sunday. The kids love it and its a fun way to transition into teaching about the real meaning of Palm Sunday.

Here is a brief activity you can use on Palm Sunday in your Children’s Church service. It is designed to be humorous and then lead into teaching the kids the real meaning of Palm Sunday.

Title: “Palm Sunday”

Scripture:  John 12:12-15 NIV

“The next day the great crowd that had come for the Feast heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the King of Israel!” Jesus found a young donkey and sat upon it, as it is written, “Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.”

Supplies:  

  • Ingredients for an ice cream sundae and a serving spoon. No bowl necessary!

  • A large trash bag or tarp (a large trash can will work too).

  • (optional) a palm branch.

Summary: You will energetically create an ice cream sundae in the open palms of another person (either another teacher/volunteer or a brave kid with clean hands). You are so thrilled that today is Palm Sunday and you tell the kids that Palm Sunday is the day you get to make an ice cream sundae in your friend’s palms and then eat it. Finally, a “wise person” (another teacher) interrupts you after your shenanigans and advises that Palm Sunday is not about ice cream in palms; it’s about worshipping the Lord Jesus Christ as King. You then proceed to teach the kids about the real story and meaning of Palm Sunday.

Preparation: Gather ingredients for an ice cream sundae. You can be as simple or as elaborate as you like. At least get the ice cream, some chocolate syrup, and some whipped cream. But if you want to go all out, get cherries, sprinkles, a banana, and anything else you like on sundaes. Avoid any nuts or peanut butter products since there may be a child with a nut allergy.

If you can get your hands on a palm branch, whether real or fake, that will help when you get to the real meaning of the story. Have the palm branch hidden from view.

Call up a volunteer (either an adult or a brave child) and tell them to hold out their palms over your trash bag/tarp/trash can (just something to catch dripping ingredients). Tell them to hold together their palms facing up…..

Presentation: With all your energy, tell the kids that you can’t wait for Palm Sunday every year because you get to make an ice cream sundae in your friend’s palms. “That’s what it’s all about kids, right?!” Some will try to interrupt you and correct you, but just keep talking and start making that ice cream sundae. Have fun with it and describe each step as you go. Use your spoon to scoop out some ice cream, then add some syrup, then all your other ingredients. If your friend starts complaining about cold hands, tell them it’s time to eat the sundae! They have to eat the sundae right out of their open palms. The kids will love it!

Finally, a wiser person interrupts you after you’ve milked the moment for all its worth. This other teacher will open up the Bible and read John 12:12-15 to you and explain that Palm Sunday has nothing to do with ice cream. It has everything to do with Jesus as King.*

Proceed to teach a lesson about the real meaning of Palm Sunday, using your Palm Branch as a visual aid. Back then, palms symbolized victory and the fact that Jesus came in on a donkey showed that he was a humble King. Now, we can celebrate Jesus as the one who conquered death and as the King who reigns forever.

*Sources for historical background:

Pat Alexander and David Alexander, Zondervan Handbook to the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 634.

L.A. Losie, “Triumphal Entry,” in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, eds Joel B. Green, Scot McKnight, I. Howard Marshall (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1992), 859.

 

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Children’s Ministry Lesson: The Ten Plagues

red waterI have taught Children’s Church lessons for over a decade and I think yesterday’s lesson on the ten plagues was one of my favorite lessons to ever teach.

Please don’t think that I love dark and dismal things like plagues. They really are pretty negative. Biblically speaking, they were real judgements carried out on lots of people, ultimately leading to death for many.

Thankfully, we are separated by centuries from these ten plagues described in the book of Exodus. That is enough separation of time for me to feel free to use some creative object lessons to help kids remember the story and ultimately – the main point (which has to do with Jesus Christ).

So we had a little fun in re-telling the story. Here’s what I did with each of the plagues to help the kids learn and remember them:

  1. Blood (the Nile turned to blood): I lined the kids up behind a trash can. They each came up with a popsicle stick and a small cup of water. They then dipped the stick (representing Aaron’s staff) into a bottle of red food coloring and transferred the stick to the water. And whahlah: the water turns to blood. We did it right over the trash can so they could throw it all away immediately since red food coloring tends to make some serious stains (like blood 🙂
  2. Frogs – I juggled some stuffed frogs and then threw them at the kids. If you don’t know how to juggle, that’s fine. You can just toss stuffed animal frogs at them!
  3. Gnats – I sprinkled pepper on a child’s arm.
  4. Flies – I brought out my fly swatter and pretended to swat all the flies around me.
  5. Livestock – I juggled some stuffed animals (cow, sheep, horse) and then threw them at the kids. Feel free to skip the juggling part again.
  6. Boils – I put dozens of stickers all over the skin of a volunteer kid (face, arms, neck, etc.).
  7. Hail – I threw marshmallows at the kids: first small ones, then jumbo ones; this was by far their favorite plague.
  8. Locusts – no object lesson here, I just told the story (I guess I needed an object lesson break 🙂
  9. Darkness – I gave all the kids blindfolds and they blindfolded themselves; then I gave them simple commands like waving their hands in front of their faces; from that we discussed how difficult life can be when you can’t see anything (and pitch darkness over a whole city can cause a great deal of havoc).
  10. Firstborn/Passover – I painted some red paint on a piece of wood and spoke about the angel of darkness passing over the homes of the people with the lamb’s blood over their doorstep; I also had all the kids lay down and pretend like they were sleeping – then we pretended it was morning and all the first-born children had to stay down while the others could wake up; it was a good visual of how some kids made it and others did not; I also gave them some unleavened bread to eat.

This then led to the most important part of all – the fact that Jesus is the Lamb of God. And his blood was shed so that we can be set free (as Moses and the Israelites were set free after the Passover). I explained to the kids that I do not think it was a coincidence that Jesus died on the cross at the end of Passover week the year he died. That was the week that Jewish people celebrated the exodus into the wilderness and the angel “passing over” any homes with the lamb’s blood. So also should we have the lamb’s blood (i.e. a relationship with Jesus Christ) and that is the only way we believe we can be free from the judgement of God due to sin.

Want more lesson ideas for Children’s Ministry? Sign up for my free newsletter here and I’ll keep you in the loop for my best free resource ideas and materials!

Circus 4 Ever

195865_212016565480292_622055_nI’ve got some exciting news. I have partnered with some other jugglers from the Christian Jugglers Association and we are happy to introduce to you a non-profit called Circus 4 Ever. This is an organization that exists to make an eternal impact on lives around the globe using juggling and circus arts. Our primary objectives are to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ by helping to fund mission outreach efforts that incorporate the circus arts, to provide circus arts training and equipment for kids around the world, and to help meet both spiritual and physical needs in the process. Check it out by clicking here to learn more or to make a tax-deductible donation.

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:

http://thefamilyrobinsonblog.blogspot.com/2010/11/be-wise-sanitize.html

Do You Dream of Puppets Too?

Dreaming of a full size puppet theater in the basement of our church – performing character-building and Bible-lesson puppet shows for kids and families in our city. Wednesday morning storytimes, Friday evening family nights, all sorts of applications. Widely publicized to maximize community participation. Even kids can learn and perform the puppets.

Sketches are next, then fund-raising, then building, then recruiting. I love my job.