The Role of the Children’s Pastor

I’m reading a great book on ministry with children right now called Children Matter by Scottie May, Beth Posterski, Catherine Stonehouse, and Linda Cannell (Grand Rapids: Eerdman’s, 2005).

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Here is a quote that made me stop in my tracks:

“Our responsibility is to create an environment in which the child can learn about and enter into God’s story, respond to the Holy Spirit, and experience the presence and leading of God” (Children Matter, p. 34).

Read that again. This is super important for Children’s Pastors/Ministers/Leaders. Notice that is does not say that we are the ones with all the knowledge to pass down to the children. We are not the ones with all the answers and the ability to make a child’s faith grow.

Our job is to make space for God to do what He does.

Our job is to point towards God.

Our job is to walk together in faith with these kids, set the stage for God’s works of grace, and get out of the way.

Jesus himself commands us not to “hinder” the children, but instead to simply let them come to Him (Matt 19:14).

I know this sounds abstract, so I will give one practical example to explain what I mean by this. One thing that I have found to be a perfect way to “make space” for kids to encounter God organically is something called Worship Response Stations. These are tactile, exploratory stations that give kids opportunities to connect with God in creative ways after a music and teaching time in worship.

I have an entire other post about Worship Response Stations that you can read here.

What are some ways that you as a leader make space for kids to encounter God?
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An Undivided Heart

I love the simplicity of Scripture. The ability to rely on God and to have an undivided heart comes from Him!

“Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness: give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name” (Psalm 86:11).

Godly Play: A Model for Ministry with Children

Godly Play is a teaching system used by many churches around the world to educate children about God, the Bible, and also invite them into the Christian narrative. Jerome Berryman developed the curriculum and he was influenced by the educational theories of Maria Montessori.

I observed Godly Play in action once when I was in seminary. My professor, Dr. Catherine Stonehouse, ministered with children at her church in Wilmore, KY using Godly Play. As a class, we watched as she sat down at the level of the children and told them the story of Abraham and Sarah using small generic wooden figures and a pile of sand for the Middle Eastern desert. It was very quiet and the children were mesmerized. The whole feel of Godly Play is quite the opposite of many Children’s Ministries, which are full of electronic screens, loud rock band music, video games, and resemble the “Let’s Make a Deal” show.

Godly Play uses symbols, rituals, manipulatives, and storytelling to join children in the spiritual pilgrimage of knowing God. Children are not just receptors of information, but rather natural learners as well as teachers themselves. It is all done with an attitude of holy-awe and unplugged simplicity.

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Here are some resources that explain more about Godly Play. Check them out and let me know what you think!

  1. Godly Play Foundation
  2. Jerome W. Berryman. Godly Play. San Francisco: Harper, 1991.
  3. Jerome W. Berryman. The Complete Guide to Godly Play, Vols 1-8. New York: Church Publishing Incorporated, 2002-2012.
  4. Video Introducing Godly Play:

Is Jesus Our Superhero?

A metaphor thWonderworldComics3at 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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Talking to Kids About Martin Luther King, Jr.

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.

Martin Luther King, Jr. giving his "I Have a Dream" speech in Washington, DC.
Martin Luther King, Jr. giving his “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, DC.

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…..

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

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Longest Celebrity Marriage?

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).

Photo by Alan Light
Photo by Alan Light

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.

Super Easy Scripture Slides and Images

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.

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  1. First, download the app. Search “youversion” on your app store.
  2. 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.
  3. Then tap on the orange button (of a photograph), which will lead you through the step-by-step editing process.
  4. Once you have your slide, share it as you like! See the images below for a more detailed look at how it works.
Tap a verse you want to turn into a slide. It will underline it will dotted lines. Then click on the orange button on the right - the one with the image of a photograph.
Tap a verse you want to turn into a slide. It will underline it will dotted lines. Then click on the orange button on the right – the one with the image of a photograph.
Select an image from their gallery. Or you can use your own (the very first option).
Select an image from their gallery. Or you can use your own (the very first option).
Use the options under the image to change the font, size, and color of the verse.
Use the options under the image to change the font, size, and color of the verse.
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When you’re ready, tap “save.” Then you will see this image. Tap the “share” button to see your sharing options.

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).

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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.

Want more creative ideas for Children’s and Family Ministry? Sign up for my free newsletter here.

Need a speaker/entertainer for your next event? Check out my promo videos here.

Here are some slides I’ve made since I found out about this……

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The Interrobang as a Metaphor for the Hypostatic Union

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?

 

Works Cited:

“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.

 

Remembering the Sabbath


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IMG_5123Last week was a very busy week. There was office work, family obligations, booking events, and the ongoing process of fixing up our old house. And right now we are fixing up the kitchen! It will be great when it is done, but the process can seem long and laborious. So I try to find every free and waking minute in order to work on the kitchen.

The problem is that after a full week of normal work, normal life, AND fixing up a kitchen, I was completely exhausted.

I told Sarah that I wanted to take a Sabbath on Sunday and not do any work-related stuff. In fact, we planned to go on a family walk at a nearby park. Needless to say, Sarah was thrilled. And we spent the day worshiping at church, visiting friends and family, and going on our anticipated family walk.

It was exactly what we ALL needed. When I was in college, I would work like crazy, often not taking a legitimate day off each week. One of my close friends was a top student who worked very hard but he never did any work on Sundays (or whichever day he chose as his day off). I was amazed because he was so good at school but still found time to take off and refresh himself. His example made an impression on me. So I have tried to take at least one day off out of every seven days since college. It is not always the same day of the week since my life schedule changes from week to week. But I have realized that without a Sabbath, I actually become less productive in life, which means that working too much can ironically become counter-productive.

I believe that God made us to bring Him glory. One way we do that is through work. But work is not everything. Even God rested on the seventh day after making the universe. Think about that. God took a break. He’s God after all. Does He NEED to take a break from work?

When Monday morning came around, I was refreshed and ready to tackle another busy week. I’m so glad made us this way – to need and enjoy the Sabbath. I look forward to the work I get to do, but I also look forward to Sabbath breaks!

Hebrews 4:9-11, ESV

9 So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, 10 for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. 11 Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.