Worship Response Stations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All photos are credited to Kelly Gibbs. Thanks Kelly!

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.”

 

His Name Endures Forever: An Object Lesson

I’d like to share a worship response object lesson we organized at summer camp last month. It was a little risky because we had about 300 campers and it could have gotten chaotic, but the kids did great and the end result was very moving.

First of all, when I say, “worship response,” I’m referring to something we do after the sermon/teaching time in a worship service. The band played soft worship music while the kids rotated around the room at various stations that helped them respond to God’s Word in a variety of ways. I go into more depth about this general idea in another post.

One of the stations this particular evening of camp invited the kids to write things down at two different tables. The theme of the camp was “I Am” and we looked at some of the “I Am” statements made by God in Scripture.

Table number one had poster boards, permanent markers, and a basket of cards wherein each card listed a name of God found in Scripture (“Counselor”, “Redeemer”, “Alpha and Omega”, “Good Shepherd”, etc.). The kids would come to this table, grab a card, and write what they saw on the card onto the poster (using a permanent marker).

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On table number two, we had a large white dry erase board and some dry erase markers. The children were invited (if they chose to do so) to come forward and anonymously write a sin or struggle on the white board using the dry eraser (see where we’re going with this?).

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When all the campers had written what they wanted at the two tables, we brought the posters and white board on stage. I instructed the band to play What Can Wash Away My Sins? Nothing But the Blood of Jesus while a child wiped away the sins and struggles from the dry erase board. It was a beautiful moment.

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Then, as you can probably guess, we brought up the posters with the names of God all over them. I told the same child to try erasing it with the dry eraser. You should have seen the look on his face! He thought I was crazy for telling him to do so. But I wanted to make the point clear: as he attempted to erase the poster with God’s names, nothing was coming off. It was all permanent! And that is exactly the point of this illustration: Jesus wipes away our sins, but His name endures forever!

Your name, LORD, endures forever, your renown, LORD, through all generations. -Psalm 135:13

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Photo Credits to Christopher Seay of Next Level Kids Camp in Texas (all except the last photo).

Faith Development Resources: Late Elementary

EIGHT TO TEN YEARS

adventures-in-odyssey-640x360Adventures in Odyssey.

Produced by Focus on the Family, Adventures in Odyssey is a long-running radio program that is set in the fictional mid-American town of Odyssey. Whit is the wise elder statesman of the community who helps kids figure out solutions to life’s problems through a Christian and Biblical perspective. This often happens at his soda fountain shop called “Whit’s End.” He also has a time machine called the “Imagination Station,” which allows characters to travel back in time – whether to the battle of Fort McHenry at Baltimore or to the stables in Bethlehem with Mary and Joseph. Originally in cassette tape format and then compact disc (CD), Adventures in Odyssey episodes can be downloaded online nowadays (http://www.whitsend.org/).

The Bible App for Kids (https://www.bible.com/kids).

81c4uvghm5LAn app for devices that allows children to interact with Bible stories through animated visuals. Thiscan be helpful in allowing kids to engage with Scripture through the technology of their generation. Like all electronic devices, parents and leaders should monitor the amount of time spent on the device.

Hastings, Selina. Illustrated by Eric Thomas. The Children’s Illustrated Bible. New York: Dorling Kindersley, 1994.

516R7JFHJ4L._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_A very comprehensive collection of Bible stories with colorful and detailed visuals aids such as pictures, maps, diagrams, and artwork. It includes introductions to the Bible as a whole, the Old Testament, and the New Testament. It also has a glossary of names and a useful index oftopics. Each Bible story is retold in a way that a parent could read to their child while the child looks at the pictures. Many of the visual aids provide the cultural and historical background information relevant to each particular story (http://www.amazon.com/Childrens-Illustrated-Bible-Selina-Hastings/dp/1564584720).

Jacob’s Ladder (Toy).

1372_JacobsLadder_1C_1This traditional wooden toy is a set of small wooden squares linked by a ribbon. The ribbon weaves in and out of the blocks so that when you hold the toy a certain way, the blocks fold down on one another and givethe illusion of a falling ladder. The toy can also be configured into various positions to imitate everything from a table to a dog. The name of the toy (Jacob’s Ladder) opens up a conversation the parent or ministry leader can have with the child(ren) about Jacob’s dream at Bethel (Genesis 28:10-19). In the same way that the toy has a mesmerizing appeal to it, so also God mesmerized Jacob in a dream about a ladder. That ladder represented a portal to heaven (as angels went up and down on it). It was through this gate/portal that God spoke to Jacob and declared the covenant promise that had been given to Jacob’s grandfather, Abraham (Gen 28:13-15). Later, in the New Testament, Jesus alluded to this ladder when he told Nathaniel that he would see “the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (John 1:51). This was Jesus’ declaration that he himself was the ladder (the portal between heaven and earth) to God the Father. Here are someinstructions on how to make an oversized version (http://www.sermons4kids.com/instructions-ladder-toy.pdf). It can also be purchased here: (http://www.amazon.com/Toysmith-6195-Jacobs-Ladder/dp/ B000RAEBL2/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1454428925&sr=8-2&keywords=jacob%27s+ladder).

Johnson, Andy. Lantern Music. Multiple music albums (http://www.lanternmusic.org/).

a4030392961_10Andy Johnson serves as a worship leader for the Children’s Ministry program at Valley Church in West Des Moines, IA. He has compiled three albums of original worship songs where the lyrics are Scripture verses. Johnson uses simple sounds from the guitar, keyboard, and drums. The musical style could be considered modern folk pop (like Jason Mraz). The tunes are catchy and memorable so that the kids can memorize Scripture in a way that is engaging on their level.

The Lads (http://www.theladsband.com/).

This is a music band of young men who hail from New Zealand. They have since based themselves in the Nashville, TN area and they tour the country performing shows that communicate Biblical truths through upbeat kid-friendly music styles. They have CD’s of their music as well as a few television show episodes that feature their music and storytelling with a Christian message.

Mauss, Doug ed. Illustrated by Sergio Cariello. The Action Bible. Colorado Springs: David C. Cook. 2010.

9780781444996This is another comic-book style Bible (similar to the The Picture Bible mentioned above). This one has a lot of bright colors and high-energy action depictions. It is drawn to resemble an action-packed graphic novel or superhero comic series. It is very visually stimulating. Parents and teachers could read through stories with the children and appreciate the artistic medium. I would suggest balancing something like this with time and space for quiet reflection and prayer away from the images. See more at the home website for the product: (http://www.theactionbible.com/).

Meiklejohn, Julie ed. Amazing Science Devotions for Children’s Ministry. Loveland, CO: Group Publishing. 1999.

This book is a collection of 41 science-based object lessons that teach Biblical truths. For example, there is a lesson that teaches kids how to make a rainbow using everyday household supplies (a cup of water, tape, scissors, a piece of paper, and sunlight). The teacher or parent can lead the child in the science project and then discuss the Biblical connection (in this case, the beauty of God’s creation and the promise he gave Noah never to judge the earth again with a global flood). Children learn the God-authored beauty of science as well as a particular Biblical truth alongside the science. There is an introduction and an index of Scriptures and topics (https://www.group.com/product/9780764421051-amazing-science-devotions-for-children-s-ministry.do).

Noah’s Ark 504-piece puzzle: Christian Brands RC717 Noah’s Ark Jigsaw Puzzle by Gifts of Faith, 2013.

Puzzles are a great way for a family to come together around an “unplugged” activity that helps people slow down in this media-driven society. When the subject matter of the jigsaw puzzle is a Biblical scene, it allows the family to discuss the Bible story in organic and meaningful ways. Certain details that may be missed in a quick glance at a picture suddenly become relevant as everyone looks for a certain piece of the puzzle. Aside from the subject matter of the puzzle, there is a valuable payout in terms of family togetherness, cooperation, patience, and working together towards a goal. This 504-piece puzzle is appropriate for older elementary children through adults.

Worship Response Stations.

10339573_10201689918724434_8519116368611174061_n 10409409_10201689918484428_3276895270255792122_nFor centuries, Christians have developed creative ways to respond to God. From the sacrament of communion to the lighting of prayer candles, Christians throughout history have practiced a wide variety of worship response methods. While many liturgical churches have response experiences and stations often built into their liturgy or curriculum, non-liturgical contemporary churches often lack the same variety and scope of response opportunities. For example, many churches today view the “altar call” as their definition of a response to a worship service. I like to challenge that thinking and attempt to create what I call “worship response stations” in order to expand our perspectives on how we can creatively respond to God in worship. I have found this idea to be especially helpful in children’s ministry because children enjoy variety and interactive experiences. Here is my pinterest board with worship response station ideas from many different people: (https://www.pinterest.com/jessejoyner/worship-response-stations/).

Here is an exceprt from my blog post about worship response stations from August 7th, 2014 (http://jessejoyner.com/worship-response-stations/):

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 with 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.

*This list comes directly from a paper I wrote for a class at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL in March 2016. The class was ES 7524 (Education and Ministry Experiences for Children) taught by Dr. Magdalene Larson.

The Family Prayer Corner

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Yesterday, I worked together with my five-year old daughter to set up a little prayer station in our house. My wife and I got the idea from her school, which uses a lot of hands-on activities that teach kids about spirituality.

I’ve always been a little skeptical of creating ritualistic prayer spaces because I want kids to know that they can pray anywhere, anytime, all the time.

But, I went ahead and tried this prayer corner idea and I was amazed at how excited my daughter got about it. There was something tangible she could do and touch while she did something that is very deep, abstract, and invisible. Truth be told, my wife and I got excited about praying at the prayer station too. As adults, we often treat prayer as a perfunctory chore. But this prayer station helps touch the human senses in ways that provides concrete metaphors for unseen realities.

So far, it has done wonders for us in terms of reminding us to pray and as a gathering point for our family to joyfully pray together.

Here’s what we did:

  1. We got a glass plate and a miniature clear glass jar (like a small Mason jar).
  2. We found some smooth decorative rocks that we had in a drawer. For you, these could be any kind of rocks. We call them the “prayer rocks.”
  3. We placed the prayer rocks around the jar on the plate.
  4. We found a battery-powered votive candle (that you can get at any hobby/craft store) and placed it on one end of the plate.
  5. We explained the idea to our daughter and allowed her to to choose a spot in the house to put the prayer station.

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Here’s the way to use it:

  1. Whenever anyone wants to, they can go to the prayer station for as long or as short of a time they like. You can go alone or with someone else. It is always voluntary. And it should never be something we “show off” to look spiritual (Matthew 6:5-6).
  2. Light the votive candle.
  3. Grab a rock and say a prayer. There is nothing magical or spiritual in the rock. But it can help us focus and act as reminder that God hears our every little prayer. The rock can also be a symbol that God is our rock and our foundation. The prayer can be either silent or out loud. You can take whatever posture you like.
  4. Drop the prayer rock in the jar and stay as long as you like. There’s something about the sound of the glass bead rocks in the glass jar that adds a sort of song to the prayer.
  5. Turn off the votive candle.
  6. When the jar is full or the all the rocks are used up, re-set the rocks to the original position of being spread around the empty jar. Before you re-set it, take in the sight of the full jar as a reminder of all the prayers that God has heard and His faithfulness to answer.

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If you try this, I would encourage you to put your own spin or family personality on this station. Also, though we haven’t added the following yet, I think it would be helpful to have some prayers on hand nearby in a drawer if someone wants to pray a pre-written prayer (either from Scripture or a good prayer book). You could also frame the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) and place it at the prayer station.

This could also easily be turned into a Worship Response Station for large groups at church or at camp. You could set up tables with small rocks all over them. Have the kids say a prayer and then place (not throw 🙂 the rocks in a wooden bowl or a similar type of container.

I still firmly believe in prayer as something we can do anywhere and anytime (John 4:21-24). But even Jesus spoke of the prayer closet (Matthew 6:6) and he himself had the Garden of Gethsemane (“Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives” – Luke 22:39). So why not create a Gethsemane in our homes for our families, the very foundational place of spiritual growth for our children?

Want more ideas for crafts and stations for children’s ministry in the church and in the home? Sign up for my free monthly e-newsletter here.

Questions Kids Ask About God

One of the worship response stations that I’ve used at multiple retreats and summer camps is a table where kids can go and write down questions they have about God or the Bible. We call it “Question Cards.”

There are Bibles on hand at the table and adults on hand as well to help answer any questions the kids have. The adults facilitating the table won’t have all the answers, so sometimes the answer is “I don’t know” or “Let’s do some more research on that one.”

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The kids LOVE this station. They are free to ask any question they have about God or the Bible, no matter how weird or difficult the question may seem. I find that the kids really open up when given the chance to physically write a question down on a notecard. They will express more that way versus asking them point blank to verbally ask a question they may have about God.

The goal is to give kids a space to voice their thoughts and questions about God. We want them to know that its OK to have hard questions about God and the Bible. It also provides opportunities for deeper conversations and ministry to happen when kids (and adults) bring up these hard or “weird” questions. As adults we want to let them know that many answers can be found in the Bible, but some things may never get answered on this side of eternity.

Here is just a sampling of some of the questions that kids ask. I especially like the one about whether Jesus had “crushes” or not. It might sound silly at first, but when you think about it, that is a very theologically profound question. Did Jesus have any romantic attractions in his life? If He did, what are the theological implications, if any? The Bible is silent on that issue.

God Questions 1 (1)

I love letting kids ask these questions because they often think of things that we wouldn’t think of as adults. And they challenge us to search out Scripture and the insight of the Holy Spirit as we deal with difficult questions about God.

Have you done something similar in your ministry? How have you done it?

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