How is your heart?

I have struggled with writing this blog post for months as I’ve wrestled with the Holy Spirit. He has been working in my heart, revealing to me that, despite my best efforts, I am prideful, envious, and filled with thoughts of comparison.

I’ve now started to realize the core of my sin: I have cared too much for what others think of me—or my ministry—and not cared enough about who Jesus is calling me to be or who He says I am. My heart screamed with fear that I have not been doing enough—that I am inadequate.

But then I read 2 Corinthians 10:12–18.   

We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise. We, however, will not boast beyond proper limits, but will confine our boasting to the sphere of service God himself has assigned to us, a sphere that also includes you. We are not going too far in our boasting, as would be the case if we had not come to you, for we did get as far as you with the gospel of Christ. Neither do we go beyond our limits by boasting of work done by others. Our hope is that, as your faith continues to grow, our sphere of activity among you will greatly expand….For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends. (NIV)

Ouch, Paul!

As I read that passage, I had to reorient my perspective and repent of the comparison, judgement, and boasting in my heart—and my lack of wisdom. In 1 Corinthians 1:5–7, Paul says:

For in him [Christ] you have been enriched in every way—in all your speaking and in all your knowledge—because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.

It is not the works of my hands and the things that I do that I am to boast of. I am to boast about the work of Christ. He chooses to use me and to use you. I am to give glory, thanks, and praise in all situations. He gives me all I need, and I lack no spiritual gift.

As I’ve begun to understand that it is to be less about me and more about Him, my heart has started to heal. I’ve also found David Benner’s book The Gift of Being Yourself quite helpful in reorienting my heart back to the truth of Jesus.

“In order for our knowing of God’s love to be truly transformational,” Benner says, “it must become the basis of our identity . . . An identity grounded in God would mean that when we think of who we are, the first thing that would come to mind is our status as someone who is deeply loved by God.”

Can you imagine how much we could show the world God’s love if we were not concerned about our own accomplishments and instead felt deeply loved by Jesus? Knowing who we are in Christ can set us free. That is why it is important to know the truth of who the Bible says we are. It says we are:

And so much more. The C&MA has a wonderful resource that details all that the Bible has to say about who we are in Christ. You can find the downloadable resource here: http://cmalliance.org/about/family/leadership/books. It is a great place to start meditating on the truth of God’s word as we examine our hearts.

Adrift

Doing more sometimes means doing less

A nonprofit’s mission was to “fight hunger by teaching families to provide and prepare nutritious food.” They had amazing success with the first families they served. As parents learned how to shop for and cook inexpensive but nutritious food, they felt empowered to competently provide for their families.

Other area service providers took note of the successes and began sending over the families they felt unable to serve. The staff began to hear from their volunteers about many of the other problems families in their neighborhood faced. So, eager to serve, the founders decided to open a computer lab with people available to help with job resumes.

Then they opened a childcare center to provide a safe place for under-resourced families to send their children. All the while, the ministry wholeheartedly believed they were doing what was only natural and needed. But the people who financially supported them became confused by all the new programs and grew disillusioned.

The employees were run ragged and couldn’t communicate the company’s vision to their clients or supporters; in fact, they had difficulty remembering why they signed up for this work in the first place. Eventually the nonprofit shut its doors, leaving a hole in the community as it left.

This scenario is fictional, but the outcome is a danger to every ministry—maybe especially kids’ ministry. It all boils down to something called “vision drift.”

We may receive a clear calling or direction from the Holy Spirit as to how we should minister to children and families. Then we add more and more tasks and events until the original calling is completely unrecognizable. So how do you fight vision drift?

  1. Know your God-given vision.

What has God called your ministry to? Is it that every child knows and believes in Jesus? Is it that families take on their God-given role as the primary disciplers of their children? Does your vision work in harmony with the vision God has given your church leadership? Spend time prayerfully asking God what role He is calling you to play in your local church body.

  1. Be a specialist, not a generalist.

In any job, you will have to do things you aren’t naturally skilled at and don’t necessarily fulfill any of your passions. But refuse to be diluted! Focus most of your time on areas where you excel and where you sense God’s calling.

Just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you should. Recruit team players to fill needed roles that don’t fit your skillset.

  1. Say “no” to good things.

By fiddling with language you can easily convince yourself that x, y, or z fits the vision God has given you. Maybe a particularly vocal parent believes you should offer VBS, Awana, daycare, or a MOPS group. None of those are inherently bad; in fact, they can be very good. But doing them without evaluating if they propel or support your mission is asking for burnout.

  1. Be ruthless in removing distractions.

Once you start doing something it becomes your job. Have you ever volunteered to do something, thinking it will be “just this once,” only to discover you’ve become the one expert?

I enjoy making graphics, but I’m not our graphic designer. If I decide to do all of my own graphic design, then I’m subtracting those hours from another part of our ministry—say, having lunch with a key volunteer or an invested parent.

Check your weekly to-do list and be ruthless about cutting jobs you could ask a volunteer to do or that belong on someone else’s plate, that aren’t adding value toward your vision, or that maybe don’t need to be done.

  1. Cultivate your culture.

Praise what you want to see more of, and don’t ask your volunteers to do things that devalue or dilute your vision. Model what you want to see.

If I believe soul care is an important component to a healthy team and I even write that into my philosophy of ministry to children, but I never rest and never build in rest for my team, well, I’m sending different messages, aren’t I? Define what you want to be true of your team (your values or virtues), and then don’t compromise them.

Finally, don’t allow contextualization to change your culture. Sometimes we believe we are simply finding creative ways to “contextualize” our ministry to the community we serve. But if my mission is for children to follow Jesus but I only play games and offer “moralistic” story times so they’ll think church is fun and want to come back, then I’m not fulfilling my mission. I’ve changed the culture into a watered-down version of Christianity that will neither compel nor satisfy anyone I hope to serve.

Each one of us has a role to play in the body. If we take on burdens out of obligation, or because “no one is doing it,” we rob others of playing their God-given roles in the body of Christ. So, let’s remind ourselves of 1 Corinthians 12:4–6—There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.

I’m praying for all of us who labor for the gospel to find freedom in doing the job Christ prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10). Let us do those good works with conviction, consistency, and clarity, through the power of the Holy Spirit at work within us.

Shh

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.

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.