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 motto, “Faith seeking understanding.”
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.
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.
Does anyone else notice that the voices of our culture are getting louder? I don’t mean the message. I mean the voices. The voices are loud. They are strong. Sometimes filled with high-octane, celebratory energy. More often they are angry and disagreeable. The intense volume of voices sets some alarm bells off for me, because our children are exposed to more media than ever before. Although I have no hard evidence to support my claim, I will say it all the same, because I believe common sense accepts my conclusion—voices are getting louder.
When my children were little there was a new cartoon show featuring a character with a knapsack, a map, a multi-ethnic worldview, and an adventurous spirit. I should have loved this character, but I could not enjoy the show at all. To my ears it sounded like the main character was yelling. All. The. Time. Oh, how I longed for the dulcet and calming voice of that friendly neighbor, Fred Rogers.
When I first began children’s ministry it was at summer camp. I was told I was a natural fit. I had a clear, strong voice that commanded attention and that kids would follow. This voice was every camp director’s dream. It is true that when working with large numbers of kids I still bring out that loud, rallying voice from time to time. But, oh, how I long to work more frequently at engaging kids with a hushed, quiet, yet inspiring voice.
In a culture that puts loud voices on TV programs, YouTube clips, and even in church leadership positions, I wonder—how do we help kids learn to listen to the still small voice of God? It is a worthy question given our “louder is better” social environment. I wonder upon this today, and invite your wondering too. This is what I am pondering:
1) Redeeming Quiet Time. Spend enough time in children’s programming and you will come to observe a noticeable absence of quiet times. The logic, I suppose, has been that a busy kid is a happy kid—and I agree. While I in no way bring criticism toward well-programmed children, I do desire to see us redeem the notion of quiet time. Quiet time is too often focused on making kids be quiet. What would it look like if instead quiet time was redeemed to be a time when kids are invited to become extraordinary listeners? Passionate intercessors? Deep thinkers? Filled with questions? Imagining what God imagines? Quiet time can be highly effective in building a dynamic children’s program, but it will never happen accidentally. Quiet time will require explanation, invitation, and freedom for experimentation.
2) Increasing Dynamic Range. It is all too tempting to hop on board the loud voices train. As a trained musician, I became aware that one of the best ways to highlight a crescendo (getting louder) is to precede it with a decrescendo (getting softer). This is the effective employment of dynamics. So too in our children’s programming, I wonder what it looks like to increase our dynamic range? We are likely already good at making loud voices louder. How are we doing at the other dynamic settings? Are big, compelling presentations countered with moderate volume group dialogue? Are quieter exchanges made easier to enter into with silent contemplation? What is your current dynamic range? What would it take to widen the range? My guess is the most opportunities to expand exist toward quiet and silent times.
3) Expect God to Speak. I will only speak for me, but if I’m honest, I often find these quiet times a challenge because of my doubts that God will speak, or move, or in anyway honor the efforts of kids to engage in this counter-cultural activity of silence. To this I have only one reflection to offer: God is so much bigger than my doubts. Time after time these opportunities result in genuine spiritual encounters that the kids are eager to share about. I will add that time after time there are also kids that feel nothing but frustrated by the exercise. Still I am encouraged in my faith as I hear what God is actively working out in the lives of those who are learning to expect His presence. These gentle engagements are worth any temporary discomfort in trying something unfamiliar. God speaks all the time. How are we shaping kids to expect to hear His voice?
It just may be that wrestling with these ideas will help shape how a generation draws near to God in intimacy and with expectant hearts. How do we foster opportunities for children of all ages to encounter truth that comes quietly, insight that comes calmly, direction that comes in silent spaces? Shh. Let us listen together. Quietly. What is the Lord saying?
Helping Parents Win
Recently, several big storms rolled through my town with lots of thunder and lightning. They frightened my youngest son, Daniel, producing some traumatic emotions in him.
As I listened to my husband comfort Daniel as he tucked him into bed amid the loud booms and rain hitting the window, I sat in awe. Instead of the usual platitudes we sometimes share, “It will be OK” and “It’s nothing to worry about . . .”, my husband took the opportunity to point Daniel back to God and His creativity and power, sharing how strong and mighty Jesus is.
It was a small but important opportunity to point Daniel to Jesus amid the circumstances of daily life. I also wondered how many parents miss opportunities like this, not because of a lack of desire but because they just don’t know how. I’m beginning to see that this is an area where we as children’s ministry workers have an awesome responsibility and opportunity to help parents develop their children’s spiritual lives.
On average, a child will participate in our Sunday-morning lesson environment for about 40 hours annually. By contrast, parents have an estimated 3,000 hours with their children each year—approximately 8 hours a day.
Clearly, parents have the most opportunity to make the greatest impact in their children’s spiritual lives. But although many parents want to, they don’t know how to provide that direction. So I’m attempting to shift some of my Sunday morning lesson-plan focus for children onto how I can support their parents. I want to provide a springboard for them to talk with their kids about God throughout the week, readying them to point to Him during the little moments of daily life.
I recently had the opportunity to attend the Orange Conference in Atlanta, where I sit in a breakout entitled “When Parent’s Win,” led by Mike Clear, director of Children’s Strategy at the reThink Group.
Mike reminded us that parent’s “will never really believe they matter to us [children’s ministry leaders] if they don’t really matter to us. So let’s be for every parent.”
For too long, parents have not been a part of my children’s ministry strategy. So I’m beginning to ask myself and pray through the following questions.
- How can I help connect parents with positive influences like mentor parents, other parents at the same phase of life and family seminars/events, so that they don’t feel so alone?
- How can I help provide shared-faith experiences for parents and kids? What kinds of milestone events have I built into my ministry?
- How does my one hour a week with kids in children’s ministry provide the most benefit for parents to talk about spiritual matters with their children during the rest of the week?
- How do I come alongside the natural rhythms of a family’s life to help them re-engage with church at different phases during the year? For example, the fall is often full of new beginnings for families as kids go back to school. How does church stay or become part of that new rhythm? How can we connect with families in the New Year as everyone is looking for a restart? How do we help families recharge over the summer but still stay connected?
- What types of resources can I provide to help them talk about critical issues with their kids?
I don’t have answers to all these questions yet, but I’m looking forward to working through them and wrestling with the tension of priorities they bring to my children’s ministry.
How are you doing in partnering with parents? I’d love to start a conversation and share ideas with you on this topic. Feel free to comment on this blog post or on the cmalliancekids’ Facebook page to keep this conversation going.