Snail-Mail lessons for Children’s Ministry

I recently mailed a personal letter   to each of the children involved in our Sunday morning programs, letting them know I was praying for them on that particular day. That’s right—snail mail. It took much more of my time than writing an e-mail, and it cost more for sure. And it was low-tech—old-school—so maybe I’m showing my age.

I wasn’t sure how long it would take for the post office to deliver my letters. However, I was quickly made aware that they had been received.

Unlike the returns from the mass e-mails I often send, the response rate to this mailing was high! I received personal phone calls from kids saying “thank you,” videos from parents of their children opening the mailing, and extra-special, mid-week hugs from children who were delighted to receive their own letter.

As I’ve reflected on all of this, I’ve wondered if there aren’t a few lessons we could all learn from those stamped wonders—and the small people who received them. Here are several reminders from this simple exercise that I’ve found to be helpful in my ministry among children.

1) Children love personal things.

It doesn’t take long when working with kids to discover that they are ego-centric—not a bad thing in childhood. Kids are doing the developmentally appropriate work of figuring out how they fit into the world and the community around them. So receiving a letter with their name on it is special indeed.

It’s also a good reminder to be mindful of a child’s desire to connect personally with the story of God. It is not enough for them to be made aware of the great heroes of the Bible, the Ten Commandments, or the Fruit of the Spirit. Children particularly need to feel a personal connection to the God we are inviting them to discover.

Through as many means as possible, work to find ways of putting a child’s name on what you want him or her to learn. It can be as simple as using their names often. Here are some examples:

2) Children enjoy objects that they can touch.

A personal letter is not a momentary thing—it is a keepsake. It is tangible evidence of a relationship. Evidence that can be re-read, revisited, and hung on the fridge to show others.

I wonder about the ways we are inviting children to engage with tangibles as we explore faith with them. The nature of faith is unseen in many ways— but there are many aspects of our faith that can be enhanced through tactile experiences.  Here are some questions to ponder in your lesson preparations:

How do I model prayer for the kids I teach? Do I invite them to hold something in their hands as they spend time talking with God? Do I make space for them to write their prayers in a journal to re-read? How do I explore the Scriptures with the children? Do I do all the reading for them, or do I let them hold a Bible in their hands, too? Do I let them do the page-turning? Do I let our children explore their ideas through creative expressions? Do I invite them to create a tangible memory marker?

3) Children are moved by a clear, simple message.

A hand-written note is not flashy entertainment. Yet kids ask their parents to read and re-read a simple, personal, hand-written letter over and over to them. We should keep this in mind as we share the simple, personal, once hand-written words that are now our Scriptures.

Telling a clear message of Jesus is riveting when it’s personalized. I am not opposed to the sometimes outlandishly fun and entertaining ideas that children’s programming engages. Rather, I am advocating for a place in our curriculum where there is room for the simple, low-tech, quiet, yet clear, presentation of Jesus’ story.

Children of all ages enjoy the simplicity of a personal touch.  This is the lesson that Snail-mail brought to mind for me.  Sometimes we get distracted by the way we connect God’s story to children.  We can forget that the best part is that it’s true, it’s personal, it’s life-giving, and it is for all .

The Power of Dialogue

I am part of a unique church with three language groups, each bound by a particular culture with immigrant parents who spent most of their childhood outside the US. These parents now face a huge cultural, generational, and social challenge in connecting with their children. “How do we equip parents to connect with their children?” This has been a constant hurdle we are faced with. One response we took into action was to hold Family Forums for our children, youth, and parents. We sensed a need to create safe platforms to address current issues our next generation is facing.

Recently, the topic of the forum was “sexuality”.

A panel of educators from the church led the forum. Teachers in the preschool, elementary, and high school age groups each shared how the world is shaping our children’s worldview of sexuality. We presented the idea that all people are born as sexual beings. This was God’s design. We see signs of this as early as an infant growing in his first year, being stimulated by certain bodily touches. While this age group may simply realize and explore their body parts, we see how sexual identity is sadly and destructively shaped without a guided biblical worldview.

In the early years, we see manifestations of sexual promiscuity through a little girl’s flirtatious personality and dress. In the elementary schools, we see children openly talking about “sex”, as many reside in homes where the television is available without restrictions. We see teenagers falling into depression and insecurity as the world of social media has become the primary voice of their sexual identity. Our children will begin to form a worldview on sexuality from an early age—who will we allow to shape this in them?

Parents confessed their lack of engaged dialogue with their children on this topic. It can be a very private topic as many of them never had such conversations with their own parents. Many parents felt ill-equipped to give a proper response that is age-appropriate to their children. Unfortunately, many parents live in a world of secrecy and shame as they themselves struggle with sexual sins. How can they talk about sexuality when they cannot overcome their own battle?

While the church could have spent the forum talking about the do’s and don’ts of sexuality education, we took an approach that would challenge parents to sense the deep need and urgency to create dialogue with their children. Often, our next generation does not want to be lectured at. They want to be heard. They need to process what they hear and see. They need to be asked questions, to realize they can think for themselves. We are not raising puppet Christians, merely focused on their outward behavior and actions. Rather, we must engage with the heart. It is not a 1-2-3 step process, but it is having a place in the hearts of our children for them to know it is safe to talk to mom and dad about this issue (among all others). They would not be judged or shut down if they are struggling with gender confusion nor would they be forced to end friendships with children of same-sex parents. We are not compromising our biblical standards in creating dialogue. Rather, we are slowly shaping our children’s worldview through the power of dialogue.

Schools are trying to create “safe places” for children. They are already making changes to create gender neutral bathrooms and even adopting the term “they” in the singular form. While the world strives for safe places, how are the church and families creating safe places for our children to process what they are exposed to and possibly engaged with? How are we equipping our children to embrace God’s truth, heart, and thoughts? Are we askable parents and church leaders, where children feel safe to talk to us? The harsh truth is that our children will learn about sexuality from somewhere, from someone. Will we be the primary voice that shapes our children’s worldview? Will we be the “safe place” for our children?

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will ishis good, pleasing, and perfect will (Romans 12:2).

 

Bubble Machines

bubble machine

I do a lot of visiting of churches and every now and then I see something I think is awesome. I was recently in Oconomowoc, WI at Crosspoint Church meeting with their amazing Children’s Ministry team. Their team is dynamic and full of ideas. When I walked into their nursery I saw a bubble machine. Brilliant! They have a bubble machine in all 3 of their nurseries on Sunday morning and they have them running. It’s a great attraction and distraction, if you know what I mean. They LOVE their bubble machines and I’m sold. What kid doesn’t love bubbles? What a great idea!

bubble machine

 

 

The Power of Our Testimony

“That is so cool! Can you tell us the story again?” My four children kept repeating these words. I may have retold “the story” more than a dozen times within one hour.

At the beginning of this year, I entered a 40-day fast with a specific breakthrough prayer for a “Jericho wall” to collapse. Forty days passed with amazing personal spiritual renewal but complete silence in seeing this barrier broken.

When day 40 came, I was greatly disappointed in God’s silence. My mind was filled with so many questions and doubts, until my husband handed me a letter from the U.S. Homeland Security approving a two-year blocked visa for our new youth pastor’s wife. Our Jericho wall fell. On the very last day of the fast, God broke through the silence and all my doubts. I cried tears of awe and wonder of our amazing God.

Prayer and Fasting

The next couple of days I retold this miracle story to different groups of people. My children had never seen me speak of God with such wonder. They persistently kept close to hear the story again and again.

Witnessing this miracle stirred many in our church community into seasons of desperately seeking God over their mountainous Jericho walls. During this wave of revival, God impressed on my heart, This stirring must happen to the children. Don’t overlook them.

Our children’s ministry leaders chose to take this assignment from God. Thirty-three children responded to our invitation to a 40-day fast. The children took this invitation seriously and wrote down what they would fast from and what their breakthrough prayer was.

Many fasted from their devices, media, certain foods, favorite hobbies, sleep, and even arguing. Their breakthrough prayers included salvation for family members, healing for sick people, mean friends at school, and a deeper hunger for God. The power of this fast was a 40-day prayer guide filled with daily testimonies from our own church members and well-known people of faith.

Psalm 78

Living with Conviction

As we gathered with these 33 children each Saturday night of their fast, we were blown away by the ways God was engaging with them.

One day of the fast we invited the children to spend time in God’s presence, asking for dreams and visions. A seven-year-old responded, “In 10 years I will tell people about God’s work. In 15 years I will be in college, and like in the movie God’s Not Dead, I will stand up for God. In 20 years, I will go to work. God could use me by having me tell people about God. In 30 years, I will be like daddy, helping people I meet. In 40 years, I will be like those people who are godly and their descendants are godly.”

A nine-year-old child responded to her public school teacher’s complaint of back pains by asking, “May I lay hands on you and pray for you?” God healed the teacher’s back.

Another nine-year-old child had a foot injury and was taken to the hospital. When the medical staff suggested the child watches TV while she waits to heal, she responded, “I’m fasting media. I’ll be OK.” The staff said they had never met a little girl with such conviction. She even requested her mom to stop playing games on her phone so they can fast from media together.

Don’t Stay Silent

During the fast, we were challenged to pray for two lives in serious condition. One was of a 17-year-old suicidal youth. Another was a newborn baby who had lost her mother during labor and delivery. We turned to these fasting children to stand in the gap for these two lives. The prayers of faith, life, and power turned the 17-year-old to find restored hope in Jesus as well as stabilize the newborn child’s condition.

As we ended the 40-day fast, each child and parent explained how the testimonies in the prayer journal were the most powerful and exciting part of this journey. It made Jesus real to them.

Revelation 12:11 states, “They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.” As believers, we have been given authority through the blood of Jesus Christ. We seal up this victory when we bear testimony of Jesus Christ in our lives. Each of us has been given a voice to testify. Can you imagine our children walking in Kingdom authority and triumph, using their voice to silence the enemy?

Let Psalm 78:4 be our assignment: “We will not hide them from their children; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done.”

To whom will you tell of the Lord’s praiseworthy deeds? Who will come to you and repeatedly beg, “Can you tell us the story again?”

Let’s not stay silent. Use your voice.