Starting tomorrow, I get to share at the “Not Your Ordinary VBS” at the First United Methodist Church in Monroe, LA. My family is able to join me for this trip as well! Please come if you’re anywhere near central Louisiana. Programs are in the evenings for the next few nights and start at 6:30pm. Thanks for all your prayers and have a great rest of your summer.
So I’m taking a PhD course called Adult Learning Foundations. We’re reading authors such as John Dewey, Paulo Freire, Sharan Merriam, Malcolm Knowles, and David Kolb (as well as stuff about Mezirow’s Transformative Learning).
One of the overall themes I’m getting from the content is that the idea of lifelong learning and continuing education (not necessarily formal CE, by the way) is way more important than most of us adults think.
Our brains, our souls, our bodies, everything about us is built like a learning machine. Our brains have neuroplasticity, which means our brains physically change as we learn new things, like working muscles in a gym and physically changing our bodies (Merriam, Adult Learning: Linking Theory and Practice, 2014, p. 171).
We as adults tend to view education as something that starts and stops. We matriculate in a school at one point in our lives and then graduate with a degree or certificate at a later point. Something about that system communicates to us that we have somehow arrived at a destination and have officially “banked” (to use Freire’s term) a wealth of knowledge that we then use and distribute throughout life.
But that view does not take into account that we are dynamic, not static, beings. I believe God made us as lifelong sponges – with tremendous ability to continually grow in knowledge and wisdom, always learning and questioning things.
And those kinds of learners make the best teachers. The best teachers are always learning – from both their students and from the world around them. We are, after all, expecting our students to LEARN something. So effective teachers lead by example and show their students how to learn. What is the best way to do that? Be a learner yourself.
I’m happy to announce a new book to which I contributed. It is a collection of practical creative ministry ideas that you can use in your Sunday School, Children’s Church, camp, youth group, or other ministry setting with kids. The book categorizes the ideas so that you can find a quick and easy idea whether it is a game, an object lesson, or some other type of activity. It is called Bright Ideas for Children’s Ministry – Volume 1
I’d love for you to purchase your own copy. If you do, please let me know what you think!
Here is the link to the book at Kidology: http://www.kidology.org/store/catalog.asp?item=5422&category=0
And here is the list of chapters and contributors (source: the Kidology.org site):
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1. Are You Content?
2. Chocolate Chip Worship
3. Fire Within
4. Little People in the Land of Giants
5. Pistachio Nut
6. Rat Trap
7. Shine Your Light Bright
8. Strength from God
9. Sweet Words, Sour Words
11. The Only One Who Can Stop You
12. Watch Those Eggs!
1. Cornucopia of Blessings
2. God Looks at the Heart
3. Popsicle Stick Bible Story
4. The Bathroom Mirror Bible
1. Paper, Rock, Scissors Mob Style
2. Giant Jenga Game
4. The Good or Bad King Game Show
5. The Most Important Part
1. Beachball FAQ Final
2. Being Salt and Light
3. IM K4K RU?
4. Kid Connector
5. Murder Mystery Night
6. The Primacy of Parents
7. Transform Your Nursery from Babysitting into Ministry
1. Chocolate Missionaries
2. International Flag Prayers
3. Missions Airplane Experience
4. Raising Money for Family Missions Trips
1. Be Ready for Christ’s Return
2. Look Up!
3. “Palm” Sunday
4. Prayer Wall
5. Really Bad Pictures of the Bible
6. Story Told in Pictures
7. The Best Choice
8. The Bug Buffet
9. The Human Table
10. The Tabernacle: God With Us
1. Identity Texting
2. Skyping Bible Characters
3. Texting Announcements to Parents
4. Texting Kids in Church
1. Generational Worship
2. God’s Character Dossier
3. Kids Build Their Own Props
4. Planning Meaningful Children’s Worship
General Editors: Steven Knight and Karl Bastian
Contributing Authors: Karl Bastian, Andrew Belcher, Ron Brooks, Kaye Chalwell, Rebecca Crews, Jamie Doyle, Keith Ferrin, Josh Goscombe, Bill Gunter, Janelle Hoos, Jesse Joyner, Barney Kinard, Patti Kirkland, Katie Knight, Steven Knight, Tamera Kraft, Joe Mally, Todd McKeever, Kathie Phillips, Megan Rayment, Aaron Strawn, Nicki Straza, and Lindsey Whitney.
In a previous post, I explained the idea of worship response stations and their use in ministry to children. I am going to unpack each station in a series of posts, starting with the prayer station.
The Bible teaches us to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17), so I believe prayer is essential to Children’s Ministry – before, during, and after worship services. I’d like to look at ways to use prayer during worship services with kids – specifically when used as a response to the hearing and teaching of God’s Word.
Most of us are familiar with the traditional “altar call” prayer station. This is where the teacher/preacher speaks and then calls people forward for prayer, either en masse to pray with the preacher or to receive individual prayer from pre-selected prayer counselors. The focus of the prayer is usually related to the points of the message, whether a call to follow Jesus or for healing or for God’s strength to overcome a challenge in life, etc.
There is also the method of having people pray in their seats after the message with no call to get up and receive prayer. And some pastors simply tell people to seek out a leader after the service if they have questions or a request for prayer (sometimes with prayer counselors waiting in a particular location, like the front of the sanctuary or in a prayer room somewhere else in the church).
There are many other ways to incorporate prayer as a way of response to the message. But here is the way we did it at camp a few weeks ago:
I preached the message and then closed by inviting the kids to come forward for prayer if they wanted to respond to the message. I had about half a dozen prayer counselors ready and they came forward before the kids so the kids could find one of them. I encouraged all the kids that if they saw a friend come forward for prayer that they were welcome to join that friend and stand beside them in prayer. I also mentioned to the many adults in the room that if they saw their own child (whether in their own family or in their cabin group) and wanted to stand beside them in prayer that they were also welcome to do so.
The worship band came on stage and began leading everyone else in some slower paced worship songs. After about one song, I opened up the entire room to all of the many worship response stations, sometimes having a large group prayer to ask God to prepare us and speak to us during the worship response stations.
The prayer counseling station then stayed open as one of many response station options. Kids took advantage of it at various points throughout the entire response time. Even adults (including myself) took advantage of it.
And that leads me to the next thing we tried with the prayer station – the “kids pray for adults” station. I think it was one of the kids that suggested it to me and I thought it was brilliant. I had led something similar before when I was a Children’s Pastor at a Tuesday night prayer meeting that was led by kids. The idea is so simple and incredibly life-changing.
So on the second night of these worship response stations, I opened up the “kids pray for adults” station. It was separate from the “adults pray for kids” station, which was still there. I told the kids about it and said that any kid who wanted to pray for adults could come work the station and be available to pray for any adult that came forward for such prayer.
We had a few dozen kids come to the station and they stood there ready to pray throughout the worship response time. I even encouraged some of the girls who were there for a long time to go try some of the other stations. They said they wanted to keep working the prayer station. Of course I let them, since all the stations were optional and had no time limits.
I then encouraged adults to come receive prayer from a child. One man told me it was the highlight of his week – as he came back to the station for prayer five times in one night. Here is why I think this station is so powerful:
1. It humbles us adults to hear the prayers of a child.
2. Children pray very sincere, concise, heartfelt prayers. They are not like us adults who pray like the Pharisees with prayers to sound super-spiritual that go on and on.
3. Children pray with childlike faith, which is the model of faith Jesus teaches us to have (Luke 18:17; Mark 10:13-16). Don’t you want prayer from someone with strong faith? Then have a child pray for you.
4. It empowers children and it is our way of telling them that they are as much a part of God’s family as adults and have just as much (if not, more) to contribute to the Kingdom of God and ministry to others.
It is this last point – about empowering children by letting them use their spiritual gifts – that I think we most often get wrong in Children’s Ministry. We usually view Children’s Ministry as the time for us adults to download information into the brains and hearts of kids. But Jesus told us to be like children in our faith. So why don’t we more often let kids teach us and give them opportunities to use their gifts and bless both adults and other children? It goes against our intuition, but so also does the Gospel of grace.
Let the children come to Jesus – and let them pray!
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
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.
According to the Gospel of John, Jesus died before the other two men crucified next to him (John 19:33). John explains that the Jews did not want Jesus’ body hanging on the cross during the special Sabbath, which was the day following the crucifixion. So Pilate gave special permission for the bodies of the three men to be removed before the Sabbath.
It is important to note the difference between “crucifixion” and “death” here. Crucifixion is being hung on a cross, which more often than not leads to death. One could conceivably survive a crucifixion (some naysayers of the resurrection suggest Jesus survived it). One way the executioners could speed up the death on a cross (and virtually guarantee it) was to break the legs of the crucified. Without good legs, one cannot hold themselves up on the cross to breath whatever good breaths they can get in while hanging there.
And that is exactly what the Roman soldiers did to finish the job of killing the crucified men next to Jesus. But when they got to Jesus to break his legs, they noticed something remarkable – Jesus was already dead. Instead of breaking his legs, they jabbed his side with a spear – resulting in a spilling of blood and water (John 19:34).
I say remarkable because we could imagine Jesus, who worked many impressive miracles (including raising the dead) outliving the two mortals on either side of him. But they actually outlived Jesus on the cross. There is an old saying (not directly Biblical) that Jesus died of a broken heart. One could make an argument that he did – both physically and spiritually. His physical heart would have burst by the sheer trauma of crucifixion. His spiritual heart was bearing the sin of the world, crying out to His Father, “Forgive them, for they know not what they are doing!” (Luke 23:34).
This weekend, before the glorious Resurrection Day (which is tomorrow), we remember the death of Jesus and what He went through on our behalf. His suffering was so great and violent that he died before men like you and me in the same situation. He emptied Himself. He lowered Himself (Phil 2). That is the extent of His love for us. And He did it all in obedience to and for the glory of the Father.
I think Jesus dying without having his legs broken speaks to His amazing love for us. Instead of trying so hard to live on the cross – he gave Himself up for us. It also fulfills the prophecy (as reported by John) found in the Old Testament about his bones not being broken (Ex 12:46; Num 9:12; 34:20).
Have a Happy Resurrection Day tomorrow! Picture below is The Entombment of Christ by Caravaggio (1602-3)
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.”
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.
Yesterday, I saw the IMAX film Jerusalem at the Fernbank Museum in Atlanta. Put out by National Geographic Entertainment, it shows both the bloody history as well as the beautiful peoples and cultures who live there today.
I spent a semester living in the Old City of Jerusalem when I was in college for a study abroad program. I also got to re-visit Israel with my family last May for a few weeks. So this was a film that I was greatly anticipating ever since I heard it was coming out.
The film is a mere 42 minutes long, but it is fully packed with stunning fly-over shots, three-dimensionally moving panoramas, and everyday-life Old City action that really does make you feel like you’re shopping for fresh pita bread just inside of Damascus Gate. The soundtrack is driven by a recurring orchestral riff akin to tracks found in epic action movies (think Daft Punk’s Tron soundtrack). The only sense it was missing was smell (think a mixture of Old City garbage, ferrel cats, incense, and baklava), but I guess IMAX technology hasn’t reached that level of development yet.
I have to admit, there were a few moments when I wanted to shout out loud “Oh Yeah!” when I saw these beautiful arial views of Jerusalem from various angles. But I kept my thoughts to myself out of respect for the other movie patrons. My eyes raced around the wraparound screen to find the spots where I lived, studied, and visited multiple times. It was a real thrill, and I will come back to see it again (and bring others with me).
It opens with a brief overview of the history of Jerusalem (starting with a nice 19th Century David Roberts painting of the city). The narrator explains why the city has been the centerfold of history, religion, and humanity – brutally fought over more so than any other piece of real estate on the planet. The reasons, of course, include being positioned at the crossroads of the world’s major continents, the elevated bedrock which served as a high holy place for worshippers, and the water coming from the Gihon Spring.
Then we learn about the three major monotheistic religions that call Jerusalem home: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (in that chronological order). Each is given equal attention and the unique culture of each is shown in a positive light. Three young women, each one raised in their respective faith community in Jerusalem, tell the story of their faith from their perspective. The film then displays how these women’s lives (and also their entire communities) live so close yet connect so little. The movie closes with the three ladies, well, I won’t spoil it for you. You have to go see it yourself!
I love Jerusalem the city. The main reason is because it holds so much meaning in the story of my faith as a Christian. But I also love it for the architecture, archaeology, the various people groups, the cultures, the politics, the inescapable intense global issues, and the gorgeous scenery (might I say heavenly?).
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:
- 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 🙂
- 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!
- Gnats – I sprinkled pepper on a child’s arm.
- Flies – I brought out my fly swatter and pretended to swat all the flies around me.
- Livestock – I juggled some stuffed animals (cow, sheep, horse) and then threw them at the kids. Feel free to skip the juggling part again.
- Boils – I put dozens of stickers all over the skin of a volunteer kid (face, arms, neck, etc.).
- Hail – I threw marshmallows at the kids: first small ones, then jumbo ones; this was by far their favorite plague.
- Locusts – no object lesson here, I just told the story (I guess I needed an object lesson break 🙂
- 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).
- 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.