The Idea of Invitation in Worship

“Let the little children come to me.” – Jesus of Nazareth

This past Sunday was a snow day in our part of the country. Most churches closed due to weather. When my wife, daughter, and I made our way downstairs to make some breakfast together, my wife suggested that we have a family devotional time. Since our daughter is six, we have the Jesus Storybook Bible, a summarized version of the Bible that tells the major stories on a level that children can easily understand. Sarah, my wife, thought it would be nice to read a chapter from that book and then say a prayer together.

It was looking like an idyllic family devotional time until we told our daughter about the idea. For some reason (maybe because she had just woken up and because of the magical snow outside), she was not in the mood to have a family devotional time together. She started to cop an attitude and resisted the idea of reading a Bible story together and praying together.

My mind and heart raced for a response. I knew that I had two primary ways of responding: be a dictator and insist that our daughter cheer up and join us in this spiritual moment OR give her the freedom to choose whether or not to join us parents in a devotional reading and prayer.

I chose the latter. I decided that I did not want to force or demand participation in something so special as a time of worship. Instead, I chose the option of invitation. I invited her to the table with us, knowing that she could freely opt out without any hard feelings.

So my wife and gathered at the table, held hands, and started praying. Our daughter was in next room, free to do as she pleased.

While Sarah and I were praying, something beautiful happened…..with our eyes closed, we suddenly felt a small hand join in on top of ours. It was our daughter, freely accepting the invitation to join us in worship. My heart melted for a moment and then we continued our prayer and then read some of the devotional book together. From that point forward, our daughter was actively engaged and the attitude was gone.

I tell this story knowing that not every similar case ends that way. But I couldn’t help but notice a general principle at play that I have noticed when working with children and families in worship settings (or humans of all ages for that matter).

Here is the principle: the idea of invitation. I believe it is critical to invite people to worship and engage with Jesus rather than to force, coerce, or bribe people to such things. For those of us who lead worship experiences, that can feel risky. What if nobody wants to come? What if nobody responds? What if they all walk away? The answer is, it doesn’t matter. What matters is stepping out and worshiping God in Spirit and in truth and offering a free invitation to anyone else who wants to join in. God will work in the hearts of those He is calling to join for that particular time. And if some do not join in at that time, that’s fine. God may still be working in their hearts, just on a different pace or with a different big-picture story.

I wonder if many people are resistant to the Church and to God today because at some point in their lives (probably their childhoods) they felt forced or coerced to do something spiritual. The last thing we want to do to children is communicate the message that God is a dictator that makes them do things they don’t want to do.

Remember that Jesus said “Let the little children come to me” (Mark 10:14; emphasis mine). He did not say, “Make the little children come to me.” The irony in that passage is that the disciples were actually holding the children back. The children wanted to play with Jesus. And Jesus simply said “Let them come to me.”

 

The Caterpillar and the Butterfly: Easter Activity

51lIxcyemKL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_

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).

Citation:

Beckwith, Ivy. Formational children’s ministry: Shaping children using story, ritual, and relationship. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2010.

What Cain and Jesus Share

Stained-Glass-Panel-the-Birth-of-Cain-and-Abel
A stained glass depiction of the births of Cain and Abel. Germany, late 14th Century.

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.

Citation:

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.

Large Group Game: Super Bible Trivia

I’ve played a fun game with large groups of kids over the years that I call “Super Bible Trivia!” This contestant-driven stage quiz game is more of a staged drama than an actual serious quiz game. But it is set up so that the kids think it is a normal quiz game at first. Don’t worry, they’ll all pick up on the fun and join along pretty quickly. The goal is to get kids excited about the Bible.

Remember that this game is just a tool. Ultimately, I believe the Holy Spirit instills in us a joy for God’s Word – by God’s grace. God’s Word is exciting in and of itself. We don’t need to make it exciting. I do believe, however, in creatively facilitating activities that foster a love for God’s Word.

20100629_6088

Basically, it is a quiz show with two contestants from the audience who have to answer a series of questions. Pick a boy and a girl and tell them they are playing for the boys and the girls, respectively. The groups can shout out answers to their contestant.

The first question is a countdown of the most read books over the last fifty years (from 10 to 1). Most kids will not know the top ten list, so they will just stand there confused as you ask for each ranking and then read the answers off (keep reading below for the list of questions I use).

Finally, you ask them “What is the best selling book of all time in the history of the world?” They may give you a blank look again. Or some kids may answer, “the Bible!” Either way, when you finally confirm the right answer (the Bible), you jump all over the place and have adult leaders as cheerleaders running all over the place with lights and noisemakers going off.

20100630_6177

After a great deal of celebrating, you return to the game for the next question. At this point, the answer to every question is “the Bible.” After the first few questions, the contestants see the pattern and start laughing along as you ask more questions. Whenever they answer, “the Bible,” you and the other leaders start going crazy and cheering for the answer. Eventually, all the kids will get into the celebrating of each answer as well. You can have as much fun as you can handle!

20100630_6172 copy

If you want to have a surprise ending, make the final question (after 8 more questions where the answer is “the Bible”) something like, “What is the longest story book ever written?” (saying “story” eliminates encyclopedias and the like). The kids will probably say, “the Bible.” But that is incorrect. It is actually In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust. Then you can finish off by saying, “But that book is not nearly as great as…… the Bible!!!!!”

20100629_6063 (1)

It makes for a lot of fun and noise. The idea is not to make fun of the Bible, but rather the opposite: to have fun getting super excited about the Bible. It is a great lead-in for a lesson about God’s Word and its importance in our daily lives and in the scope of eternity.

So here are the quiz questions:

  1. What are the top ten most read books over the last fifty years? Note: go through the list individually, which each ranking being one question. Here is the source of the list I’m using for this.Screen Shot 2013-11-15 at 8.38.32 AM
  2. What book is actually a collection of 66 books and is considered God’s Word to us?
  3. What book has been translated (at least in part) into nearly three thousand languages, which is far more than any other book on the planet?
  4. On what book do presidents place their right hand when they take the oath of office in the United States?
  5. What is the primary object that is meant to be placed in a pulpit when a pastor is preaching?
  6. What can be found in the nightstand drawer of thousands of hotels across the country?
  7. What ancient book has the most number of ancient copies still in existence today?
  8. How do you pronounce these five letters when put together into an English word: B-I-B-L-E?
  9. Video Question! (show a slide of a picture of a Bible and ask the kids to name what they see).
  10. What is the longest story book ever written? (answer is NOT the Bible – but rather In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust). But again, you can finish off by saying, “But that book is not nearly as great as…… the Bible!!!!!”

Have fun and let me know how it goes. In my next post, I’ll list out some practical ideas on how to get kids excited about God’s Word (that are not game related).

By the way, I later discovered that there is a website by the same name (Super Bible Trivia) that is a great resource for Bible Trivia questions. My game idea is not related to that website, but I would still highly recommend that site. You can try out their quizzes here.

 

 

Want more ideas for games to use in Children’s Ministry settings? Sign up for my free newsletter here.

Need a speaker/entertainer for your next outreach or retreat? That’s what I do full time! Check out my availability here.

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).

childrenmatter_md

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?
IMG_6273.JPG

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.

geometric-solids-170377_1920

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

Want more ideas and thoughts about Children’s and Family ministry? Sign up for my free newsletter here.

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.

image12

  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.
image6
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).

image7

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……

IMG_2252 IMG_2253 IMG_2255 IMG_2263 IMG_2264 IMG_2277

 

 

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.

 

Socioeconomic Diversity in the Christmas Story

There are two primary nativity narratives in the Gospels – the Matthew version and the Luke version. Have you ever noticed that Matthew talks about the Magi (but not the shepherds) and Luke talks about the shepherds (but not the Magi)? Matthew was writing to a mostly Jewish audience while Luke was writing with Gentiles primarily in mind. Perhaps Matthew thought the detail about the Magi would strike the Jewish hearers in a certain way while Luke found it important to write about the shepherds instead.

I love the socioeconomic diversity in that contrast. The Magi were probably wealthy, royal, intellectual, and/or all the above. They traveled “from the East” just to see a little baby. On the other hand, a group of simple, common shepherds found their way to same little baby after hearing about the baby from angels. Royalty and commoners are both transformed by the power of this gift from God. Why? Because deep down inside we are all the same. Rich and poor – we all share the same human condition: depravity.

And this baby would someday ride into Jerusalem on a donkey – a beautiful irony that mixes both triumphant victory and humble lowliness at the same time. He is the humble King – come to save princes and paupers.

Pictures below are of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. One is of the sanctuary area and the other is the small crypt where it is traditionally believed that Jesus was born. They probably don’t know the exact spot, but it gives you and idea of the small stone spaces in which people lived back then and at least you know you’re in the general vicinity of where it happened!

IMG_5141.JPG

IMG_5154.JPG