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 .

In God’s Lap

Runners to the mark … get set … BANG!

And you are off and running in the annual holiday marathon. The winner will be determined on January 2, based on who has

• Accumulated the most points for the best decorations on their block;
• Attended the most holiday events;
• Hosted killer parties; and
• Saved the most money on Christmas sales, while getting everyone the perfect gift.

Bonus points are given for sending traditional Christmas cards, participating in the church choir cantata/musical/play, and helping to feed the homeless. Points are docked for failure to have home-baked cookies, packages sent too late to arrive before Christmas, and acting like Scrooge.

As you run this annual rat race, expect to occasionally have a twinge of guilt about not having time to stop and focus on worshiping our Savior, whose birth we are supposed to be celebrating.Your intentions will be good, and it will continually be on your mind, but you won’t have the time or the energy to make it happen.

But above the din of all the noise and the chaos that has become part and parcel of this time of the year, a still small voice is heard: “I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother… is my soul within me.” It’s the voice of King David in Psalm 131:2 (ESV).

If anyone understood the pressure, expectations, and chaos of responsibility and deadlines, David did. As king of Israel, everything landed on his desk. He was the executive, judicial, and legislative branches of the government. In addition, he was the Commander-in-Chief of the army and set the spiritual climate for his people.The very welfare of an entire nation rested on his shoulders.

How was he able to quiet his life and soul before the Lord in the midst of all the demands and stress in his life?

He learned to live his life with childlike faith.

He saw himself as a 3- to 4-year-old child, snuggled in his mother’s lap—old enough to be weaned but not yet old enough to care for himself. The cares and demands of life do not touch him as he feels the loving arms of his mom around him, knowing she will protect and care for him.

This childlike faith is what Scripture calls us to embrace. It is characterized by a simple, unquestioning, and accepting dependence on God. It is quietly submitting to and trusting in God.

This faith grows from the foundation of deliberate choices. “…my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and wonderful for me” (Psalm 131:1).

There had been times in David’s life when pride, haughtiness, and self-ambition were a struggle for him. But now he chooses a new path of humility before the Lord and turns his back on the selfish, ambition-filled life. His life is now focused on trusting in God and enjoying His presence.

This time of year gives us a good opportunity to see the clear distinction between all the demands society puts on us to have a Merry Christmas and the Lord’s invitation to step away from the self-elevating, self-exalting, and self-centered aspects of this holiday season. It’s an invitation to choose to climb up into His lap and allow Him to put His arms around us and draw us close to His breast so we can listen to His heartbeat.

Maybe society is on to something when it proclaims that Christmas should be a time of allowing ourselves to be children again, to be lost in the wonder of this season. It is time to embrace a child-like faith and celebrate the wonderful gift of God’s love, grace, and mercy in Jesus to us.

But remember, it won’t happen if you don’t make it happen. So sit down with your calendar and block out some time every day to get alone with the Lord to worship and celebrate Him.

If the stack of obligations staring at you on your desk or calendar is hindering you, take a walk, or jog without your earbuds, or bundle up and go sit in your backyard—whatever it takes to get alone and quiet with the Lord.

Climb into His lap, snuggle down, and listen to His heartbeat for you.

Merry Christmas!

Thanks a Latte

John Maxwell once said, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” He’s right, especially when it comes to children’s ministry volunteers.  Think about it.  Our volunteers juggle diapers, runny noses, Goldfish crackers, and more, all while taking part in the spiritual formation of the little ones in their care on Sunday mornings.  Even the most die-hard, kid-crazy, VeggieTales-loving volunteer needs some encouragement every once in a while.  They need to know that their leaders care.

Out of the zillion different ways we can express our gratitude for our volunteers, this is one of my favorites.  I’ve used it with two different teams and both have loved it! Take a look…

thanksalatte.png

I stopped at a dollar store and picked up some cute mugs for a dollar each, then put a biscotti cookie, an instant latte mix packet, and some fun flavored creamers in each.  The finishing touch was to add a “Thanks a Latte!” tag to each mug. (A quick Google search will bring up loads of printable tags with this saying on them that you can choose from.)  All told, each mug cost about $2 to make.  That’s a price tag that can fit almost any budget!

What are some ways you’ve encouraged your volunteers?