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 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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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:

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.

 

One Body, Many Parts

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800px-Haeckel_Siphonophorae_37When I spoke at Camp Dixie last weekend, I was given the theme “Submerge,” which was focused on God’s deep love for us. As I was pondering some topics to go along with that, I learned a little bit about the creatures of the deep ocean. By the way, scientists say that we know more about outer space than we do about our own ocean. It is so deep and vast that it will take a very long time to chart it and discover it the way we have our own land.

There are creatures found in the deep ocean called Siphonophores (an order of Hydrozoa). They baffle scientists because while each one appears to be a large creature (some get up to over 150 feet long), the large “creature” is actually a colony of many individual animals playing different parts and roles in the whole “creature.” This is different than say, our bodies, which are made up of different parts and cells. These are entirely individual creatures working together to form one large creature!

That got me thinking about when Paul says that we are one body with many parts (1 Corinthians 12). The siphonophore is a great metaphor because each animal has a particular part to play and is a part of something bigger than itself. In fact, “most of the zooids are so specialized, they lack the ability to survive on their own” (Siphonophorae, Wikipedia article, 2015).

I happen to be a juggler and a public speaker. But there are many things I cannot do or cannot do well (like shoot a basketball or perform surgery or cook a turkey). Sometimes I wish I could do it all, but then I remember that God made me with certain gifts and not others. It is my responsibility to pursue excellence at the things God has gifted me with and celebrate and encourage the many gifts in those around me. When we come together, there is an unstoppable synergy that becomes the force of Christ’s body on earth advancing the Kingdom of God.

I hope this encourages you today.

Here is what Paul says to the church in Corinth…..

1Cor. 12:12   The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.  13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body — whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free — and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

1Cor. 12:14   Now the body is not made up of one part but of many.  15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body.  16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body.  17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?  18 But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.  19 If they were all one part, where would the body be?  20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

1Cor. 12:21   The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”  22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable,  23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty,  24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it,  25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.  26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

1Cor. 12:27   Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.  28 And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues.  29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles?  30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?  31a But eagerly desire the greater gifts.

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!

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“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/

 

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.

Whatever is Lovely

God is love (1 John 4:8,16). So anything that is of God is lovely. And all things lovely are of God. This includes, but is not limited to, the love we share between one another in various relationships such as friends and family. In fact, all people are God’s creation and we are called to love them. So other people are lovely. And we should think about other people – how they are all beautifully made in God’s image. We should think about them before ourselves (Phil 2:3-4).

What else is lovely? God’s creation. The nature around us. Anything that reflects the image and glory of God. For example, it is a lovely thing to attend a wedding and celebrate the coming together of a husband and wife. On the other hand, it is not lovely to watch a husband and wife hurling insults and hurtful things towards one another. When we think about the wedding and ponder what is going on, our minds and hearts are pointed towards God and His glory. When we ponder hate and hurtfulness, our hearts and minds are pointed away from God.