Strengthen Your Ministry: Study, Study, Study!

If you work with kids, it will happen sooner or later. While teaching a lesson, you you ask the class if they have any questions. Sure enough, one child asks a question that has nothing to do with the lesson.

Not only that; it’s a difficult one to answer quickly. For example: “Where did God come from?”or “Does God love the devil?” Or, “How can Jesus be God and man at the same time?”

And soon, others in the class start raising their hands with additional challenging inquiries.

Fruitful Learning Times

Our initial reaction may be to dismiss these questions because they don’t pertain to the lesson. But while this may be tempting—especially if you’re not sure how to answer—these can be some of the most fruitful learning moments for you and your class.

After all, the reason kids ask hard questions is because they are already thinking about them. Why not try to address them, even if they sidetrack you from the main lesson for a while?

Spend Time Studying

If you are a children’s pastor, or if you regularly teach kids about the Bible, it’s questions like these that remind us of the importance of studying (see 2 Timothy 2:15) to grow in our understanding of God. This can include reading books about theology, doing biblical research, memorizing Scripture—seeking God so we can get to know His will and how to love Him and others, not just to have information to present.

If we adopt an attitude of study to know God and know His will, we will be in a better position to disciple others. If we only study to obtain information for our lessons, that information will not be as impactful as presenting knowledge that has actually affected our hearts. We can’t give out what we don’t have ourselves. Kids can tell when Jesus really means something to us personally versus when we’re just sharing information.

Here are a couple of benefits this type of studying mindset provides to you and your ministry:

Preparation for Hard Questions

Sometimes, we need to be OK spending time studying a subject that may not have much to do with children’s ministry at the moment. For example, I have been struggling with the question of violence in the Old Testament as well as the relationship between the Old and New Testaments (For example: How does the New Testament fulfill the Old?) These subjects don’t appear on the surface to have much to do with children’s ministry. Even so, they might have more impact on children’s ministry than we might think initially.

This is what I mean: studying challenging subjects helps me better understand God’s purposes and how to relate to Him. This also helps me as a children’s pastor, as I teach about Him.

I can envision the day when a child will raise his or her hand in class and ask, “Why did God command the Israelites to kill all those people but Jesus said to love your enemies and pray for them?” (If we’re honest, we adults ask this question too.) The easy answer would be to say, “Because God commanded it and we don’t need to question it.” Answers like that sometimes do more harm than good, because we’re not showing respect for a child’s honest inquiry.

Studying difficult subjects like this can better prepare us to have well-informed answers. And we learn about resources we can share with parents, which can help them talk about challenging topics with their kids.

Absorb God’s Word

There are many reasons studying various topics in theology and Bible interpretation can assist us in ministry. But the most important point I want to make is that it is always good for us to know the Bible intimately. I encourage you to find the best way to simply sit down and read and absorb your Bible.

Memorizing Scripture has proven to be tremendous exercise for me. I like to memorize whole chapters and books at a time. Doing so helps me see the big picture and themes throughout a certain book; it helps me to develop perspective. If this sounds interesting to you, start with small books or letters such as Philemon, Titus, or 2 or 3 John. You will be surprised at how memorizing whole letters like these can help you in your understanding of them. Do a google search on Bible memorization apps you can download for help.

For some people though, memorization is difficult. That’s OK. I heard a pastor say once, “We are not all called to memorize but we are all called to meditate upon God’s Word.”

Find whatever method works best for you to absorb God’s Word in your mind and heart. Feed on it; drink from it. God will use it in your life and in the lives of others. And when kids ask difficult questions, you will be better equipped to know where to direct them in the Bible.

Planting Seeds, Both Now and In The Future

These are just a couple of benefits you will receive from adopting a lifestyle of studying and meditating on Scripture. I encourage you to find time in your daily schedule to take on a challenging topic that has been on your mind for a while. You will be surprised at how God can use that in your ministry—now or later.

In your walk with God and in your ministry, adopt St. Anselm’s[1] motto, “Faith seeking understanding.”

 

 


[1] St. Anselm: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/anselm/

The Orphan Crisis and The Church: Taking Our Positions in the Field

Two years ago, as I was reading Larry Bergeron’s Journey to the Fatherless, the Lord opened my eyes and my heart to the plight of the orphan. I was wrecked! That day I told God I would do whatever He desired of me to help His children.

The Lord has since called me to raise awareness of the orphan crisis, plant seeds, and challenge His Church to pray about the position He desires us to play-individually and collectively—to help bring life and hope to His children.

At General Council 2017, U.S. C&MA President Dr. John Stumbo exhorted the Alliance family to consider overlooked people we might reach. As he spoke, the Lord shouted in my spirit—“The orphan!”

The Bible clearly conveys God’s heart for children and His instructions for us to care for them, yet there are 140 million orphans across the globe today (https://cafo.org/ovc/statistics/)! Given this disheartening figure, I am firmly convicted that reaching this people group must become a high priority for His Church. It’s time for us to take our positions in the field!

Each day, 30,000 children die from hunger and 4,500 perish from the effects of drinking unclean water. There are 20,000,000 African HIV orphans and 500,000 children in the U.S. foster case system (http://thechildrenarewaiting.org/). A small percentage of these kids will be embraced by the Church and welcomed into loving Christian homes. Many others will die all too young or age out of the foster care system and fall through the cracks—unless God’s people get in the game.

The Harvest Field

It is reported that approximately 85 percent of Christians give their lives to Christ between the ages of 4 and 14 (the 4/14 Window). The lion’s share of orphans are of this age group. These precious children, many of whom are drowning in a sea of hopelessness, are desperate to be rescued. Their hearts are ripe for the gospel and we, the Church, have the lifeline they need: Jesus!

Matthew 9:37–38 says, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” The 4/14 Window is the harvest field where the fatherless live.

The clock is running out for these children. Time is not on their side, but we need to be. Orphans need love, hope, healing, and forever families to invite them into our hearts, into our arms, and into our homes. Imagine the smile on our Heavenly Father’s face as His people rally to extend the love of Christ in personal and practical ways to His kids.

National Orphan Awareness Month

November is National Orphan Awareness Month and November 11 is Orphan Sunday, a day set aside annually to take a stand for the orphan. Though Orphan Sunday was observed in thousands of churches worldwide in 2017, undoubtedly, there are still countless Christians who are unaware of the magnitude of the orphan crisis—or that it even exists. That was me. Until two years ago, I was sitting comfortably on the sidelines, oblivious to the fact that God had a role for me to play in helping to spare these children.

Obviously, we aren’t all called to adoption or foster care, but the Scriptures are clear, “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress . . .” (James 1:27, NLT). We are all called to care—there is a position for each of us on this team.

Your first play could be as simple as watching My Orphan Sunday Story on the Christian Alliance for Orphans Web site. Then, as time allows, explore the site. As you watch the videos and look through the resources, ask God to open your heart to what He wants you to see, hear—or do; then forward the link to your pastor and others in your circle of influence. If every church represented by readers of this blog view this video, it could significantly impact the number of fatherless children who will experience Christ’s loving embrace.

It’s Time to Unite and Rally, Team!

We, the Church-2.2 billion worldwide (almost 14 times the number of the world’s fatherless)-cannot continue standing by while God’s children suffer. We must unite and rally to help orphans become all they can be. We must help bridge the gap between despair and hope, between death and life.

I know . . . 140 million is a daunting figure, but this number represents individual children, each created in God’s image for a purpose. Their lives can be redeemed as we begin to intentionally pray for the Lord to open our eyes and guide us and then step up to the plate in faith and obedience.

Ask the Lord of the harvest to give you His heart for His kids. Ask Him to show you the role He’s reserved just for you in helping to combat this crisis, then get out there and own it!

Safe at Last!

The orphan crisis is certainly not a game, but metaphorically speaking, the victory can only be won as every fully-devoted disciple plays his or her God-ordained position in the harvest field. His Church, fully engaged, will be the “game-changer.”

In the spirit of baseball, when the Church steps up to the plate… Bam!

For the orphan’s sake and for God’s glory, we cannot sit this one out. What position are you being recruited for? Are you in?

The Power of Imitation

I recently had an inner struggle concerning my work as a children’s pastor. I had some down time recently, but I was conflicted about how I should spend it.

Why Not?

I realized that I needed to reach out to someone to help me with this struggle. So I decided to e-mail a well-known Bible scholar and author I respected and trusted. I was not sure if he would respond, since he had no idea who I was. In addition to teaching and writing, he is also a sought-after speaker, a “celebrity” in the theology world because of the books and commentaries he has written.

So I typed out my e-mail, read it over, and hit “send,” hoping he would write back. But I also felt like I was getting my hopes up, thinking, “Why would a popular Bible teacher, author, and speaker take the time to write back to some random children’s pastor who wasn’t his student?”

So I closed my e-mail and did what many people do—I checked it again about 10 minutes later. And to my surprise, he had already written back! His response was not a couple of hurried sentences, but some thoughtful ones. This blew me away. He had taken the time to read an e-mail from someone he didn’t know and chose to help me.

The next morning, I e-mailed him back, thinking, “surely he will not write back again.” But I was wrong. He had responded once more, providing me wise counsel and honest, truthful advice.

Why Does This Matter?

So why am I telling this story? Because my interaction with this man made me realize the importance of imitating those who live and act like Jesus. I wanted to imitate him because even though he did not know me, he saw my email as important and he believed it was worth taking the time to respond.

His thoughtfulness reminded me of how I had recently received an e-mail from someone I didn’t know who inquired about how we conducted some children’s programs at our church. Since I didn’t know her, I put her email on the backburner—I had other things to think about.

But the response I received from this scholar made me realize the importance of imitation; it reminds me that the Apostle Paul said he wanted his spiritual children in Christ to imitate him as he imitated Jesus (see 1 Corinthians 11:1).

When this Bible scholar and teacher e-mailed me back, giving me a thoughtful response, it was obvious that he did not dismiss my struggle as unimportant or a waste of his time. This in turn made me want to do the same with others. I was convicted to respond to the person who e-mailed me about our children’s ministry practices.

Imitating Those Who Imitate Jesus

Why is this important for children’s ministry? Because as anyone who works with kids knows, they imitate people—the things they see, feel, and touch form them. Their hearts are shaped by their observations of the ways adults and others live and act in relation to them and the world.

If we work with children—whether as a children’s pastor or children’s ministry director or a volunteer—we cannot do it alone. We have to be intentional about imitating those in our lives who look and live like Jesus. As we do, we grow to be more like Him—and the children under our care will grow to be more like Him as well.

Persevere

I didn’t expect to learn such a huge life lesson when I stepped off the bus before a high school track meet my sophomore year.

It was a dual meet, so many of the kids who normally wouldn’t participate had the opportunity to run. My friend Tom was one of those kids. He was to run in the two-mile race—eight laps around the track.

Tom didn’t have much athletic ability or speed, and he was running against some fast runners. One had already qualified for the Olympic tryouts.

As soon as the race started, Tom dropped to the back. As it continued, he fell farther and farther behind—to the point that when every one of the other runners had crossed the finish line, Tom still had a full lap to run. At that point, the track meet official stepped in front of him and told him the race was over and he was to step off the track.

But Tom didn’t break stride. He simply stepped off the track and kept running. Soon the rest of us realized what he was doing—he wasn’t going to quit until he finished his race.

When he was about halfway around the track, our opponents realized what was going on. As Tom rounded the final curve, members of both teams met him, cheering him on and clearing a path on the infield of the track so he could finish. Before Tom reached the finish line, the spectators in the stadium where on their feet, cheering loudly.

I still remember his smile and look of joy as he finished his race. He was a winner, not because he won the race, but because he finished the race set before him.

That day Tom taught me what enduring to the end—persevering—really means.

Let us also lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:1b-2).

I don’t know what your race looks like—it’s different for each of us—but it is still to be run with perseverance and endurance.

One common race is that of meeting all the needs and demands of leadership in your church’s children’s ministry. VBS, summer camps, and the missions trip are done, and now you find yourself neck-deep in the fall push and the looming demands of preparing for the Christmas pageant and special events.

Added to that is the fact that you still need three nursery workers, two children’s church workers, and “a partridge in a pear tree” (all of whom must pass your background checks) to meet your minimum staffing needs.

Or maybe your race includes juggling all the demands of family, church ministry, and your marriage while attempting to actively build relationships in the community and sharing your faith.

For some, the race seems to be run in the dark where abandonment, loneliness, and a lack of purpose are your running mates.

So how do you run the race with perseverance in these kinds of situations?

Let’s learn from the instructions in Hebrews 12:1-2. 

Lighten your load.        

Make a habit of regularly stepping back and doing a personal inventory of your life (see Psalm 139:23–24). Allow the Holy Spirit to begin to open your eyes to the amount of garbage you’ve allowed to become attached to your life and schedule. If He uncovers hidden sin, deal with it immediately. If you don’t, you are essentially trying to run your race by cheating and you will fail.

I have found that it is often the weight of the unnecessary or worthless activity that I allow in my life that holds me back in my race. I have found it beneficial is to annually keep a detailed time log during a two-week period. When I do, I am always surprised with how much time I am wasting by allowing the dribble of life to again become attached to my life. For me, this dribble includes the mindless use of social media, watching too much TV, playing games on my i-phone, and just wasting time being busy with things of no importance.

Commit to finish the race

Marathon runners don’t start the race with the attitude of “I think I will run until I get tired or until something better comes along.” They are committed to run the race to the best of their ability, with an understanding that they will face hardships, hazards, and difficulties—to endure to the end.

Sometimes while we are running the race the Lord will move us into another ministry or even cause the ministry in which we are serving to come to an end. We need to realize this is not failure on our part, nor is it the end of the race. Rather, the Lord is revealing to us that our race is on an unexpected path. We are to continue running the race, even during times of transition. 

Keep your eyes on Jesus and the example He set.

The race we are running is all about Jesus. It starts, ends, and is all about Him every step of the way. He is our reason for running this race. It is He who enables us to run it and gives us the example for us to follow.

Jesus promises to never leave us or forsake us while we are running. And He is our reward and joy at the finish line!

Through the years I have had the privilege of competing with some great athletes who set records and won awards. For the most part, I don’t even remember their names. But I do remember Tom.

Thank you, Tom Nestor, for teaching me a lesson that day. It greatly impacted my life. You are a winner!