I love Vacation Bible School for a whole host of reasons: training youth, sharing the gospel with little people, dancing before the Lord, and having amazing conversations with folks. You know those wonderful conversations with folks who probably don’t need new friends, but I want to be friends with.
Conversations with those who might attend a different service.
Conversations with those who I can’t get to know from a handshake and a ‘peace be with you’ before the Children’s Moment on Sunday mornings.
Conversations with young people who see VBS as training and take instruction without offense.
Conversations with little people who want access to me so I can tell each one he/she belongs here.
Conversations with fifth graders who are invited to watch and learn everyone they meet this week so they know who’s job they want next year if they want to serve.
This is better than a survey.
From the conversations that took place this year…
I discovered who is on the hospitality committee for the local neighborhoods.
I discovered new families are moving in with younger and younger little people…..so we’re talking about planning a preschool club to get those relationships started.
I discovered there will be a Cotillion offered for local 5th graders and since it’s happening in October, I can schedule accordingly.
I discovered my 5th grade boys are already telling me what jobs they want next year in VBS leadership.
I discovered our high school seniors were handing over the reins to their younger counterparts for a smooth baton hand-off for next year.
I discovered our middle school girls can change the roadside sign in no time.
I discovered our kids preferred fresh fruit for snacks.
I discovered our kids are inviting other kids to come and see about Jesus and church.
I discovered Friday nights are better nights for specials for elementary kiddos for when we start a new life skills series for children’s ministry outreach in 2017 called “Wesley Chapel Academy”.
I discovered even folks who attend the traditional service want to, and do, dance before the Lord ‘in the Sanctuary.’
I discovered who lost their jobs over the last several weeks and who got new ones.
I discovered there are already calendars out there for 2016-2017 with dates for local organizations and I asked for copies so as not to overwhelm my families with the church calendar.
I discovered who has been thinking about serving on the CLUB345 Team for next year.
I discovered our theme for the Bible Late Night this year will be “American Ninja Warrior: Wesley Chapel style” in August and started talking with the graduating youth of how to pull it off…with their help.
What VBS conversations did you have this year? What are you going to do about it?
“Give praise to the Lord, proclaim His name; make known among the nations what He has done, and proclaim that His name is exalted.” Isaiah 12:4
We have been super intentional to equip and invite parents into the faith formation of their children. The scriptures outline this is God’s plan in Deuteronomy, Psalm 78, Isaiah 18, etc.
When young adults who never strayed from the faith are asked the how and why, they speak to learning to read/listen to the Bible as a regular habit. First and by far, foremost. Followed by the family minutes, moments, and milestones which impressed the priority of their faith in Jesus in community: home first, then church.
Let’s be real. There are 168 hours in a given week. Even if we throw everything we have into that one hour of developmentally appropriate faith formation in a typical Sunday school setting, it will never be enough for a robust faith in Jesus in any culture.
A multi-level plan (developmentally appropriate), over time (habits), in community (home, car, extracurricular, church) is the best strategy. That’s a big elephant to eat. We can eat that thing one bite at a time and over a period of time, but we need permission for accountability.
We can’t tap into the accountability of ‘if you’re not here for practice, you can’t play.’ We can’t lay out expectations to parents like a teacher can at a parent-teacher conference of ‘Sue is lost and I would suggest a faith tutor to meet with her every week, sometimes twice a week, to get her up to speed.’ We can’t send a note home with ‘Joe has already been absent 9 days. One more day absent and he’ll be held back to be sure he gets the material to be successful.’ None of these options are reasonable for the local church.
So what do we have?
Side note: Our parents have more than enough guilt. They lay awake at night questioning their parenting skills already. I’m not adding to that. Every parent I’ve ever met wants the best for their kids. The very best! They have dreams and hopes for their children and want desperately to make available every opportunity for success. Christian parents want their kids to have a robust faith in Jesus. An hour a week, even if they come every week, is not gonna cut it for a robust faith in Jesus.
So what can we do?
We can equip and train parents and grandparents (the greatest untapped faith formation resource in any family) and offer space to make all their minutes, moments, and milestones count for Jesus. Everything we do must point to Jesus. Everything!
We offer Parenting With a Purpose classes each fall and spring. Last week it looked like this with a PowerPoint and a Ziploc bag of 167 M&Ms + 1 jumbo gold gumball (representing the weekly Sunday school class): Parenting With A Purpose – A Blueprint.
6pm-6:30pm Kids had pizza dinner (+water, fruit) with 3 kid’s Bible study leaders wearing candy corn flashing headbands (a visual that this is a special night); greeted and checked in by an Ambassador (relationship with an older kid); eat and check in with friends (relationships; food; table life).
Parents set up in another room to get a chance to breathe, get water and cookies, take a bio break, chat with who they sit beside. Hospitality time for me to work the room saying, “Hey ___, do you know ___? She goes to the 11am service and has a 3rd grader” to intentionally introduce the commonalities of participants. Then give time for them to chat before the program starts at 6:15pm.
6:30pm-7:30pmKids bring in buckets of building toys they chose from the Children’s Welcome Center and sit together at the feet of their parents to play. The visual for parents and children was intentional.
Program: Though six Biblical holy habits are important only one, the research tells us, bears the greatest weight, so we will focus on Bible Reading.
Read the Bible, not a devotional, not a study Bible. Read the Bible. Listen to it in the car on a Bible app. Use Breath prayers to remember phrases and words from the scriptures. Begin with a book with a narrative like the Gospel of Luke. Introduce the author as Dr. Luke and the gospel is his letter to his friend Theophilus. I wonder if Theo was short, tall, quiet, or his loud friend? Dr. Luke investigated and determined these events to be true, historical, and worthy of defense.
The Next Generation Ministries suggests the narratives of the New Testament first. Then the Old Testament. Then a Chronological Bible. Several of our kidmin leadership team took an online conference of Discipleship Begins at Home sponsored by Women In Apologetics last summer which taught and offered the Blueprint resource to all participants to share with our families in their local churches.
They reminded us that if a kid can read a chapter book, they can read the Bible as a family and in Christian community. “This is what Christians do and we are a Christian family.” At middle school, purchase a study Bible. Invite the grandparents to purchase it and make notes in the margins of their favorite passages. The kids can read. The parents can read aloud. A Bible app can read it aloud for you.
Each participant received a children’s book on a hard faith subject (the Trinity) and what I think is the best Bible Handbook in print (which is hard to find) published by Gospel Light (I miss them) which is child, youth, adult-friendly to give context to the family Bible reading.
Parents are front-line disciple-makers and the saints the local church is supposed to equip. This is one very intentional way we are living into Ephesians 4:12.
At the end of class, I gave them each a heads-up. By walking out with all those resources, they are inviting me and everyone else in the room to hold them accountable.
That accountability might sound like a hallway conversation, “How are you doing with your family Bible reading?”, or “Have you started with your family Bible reading yet?” That’s what partnership looks like. A life coach does that. A pitching coach does that. A personal trainer does that. A math tutor does that.
Let me ask you, “How did you do last week in your Bible reading?”
Nehemiah 6:3 “I’m carrying on a great project and cannot go down.”
It’s Fall Break in the school systems of North Georgia. While others are headed out of town or enjoying a staycation, it’s the week I set aside to get organized for the fall and advent season. Everything was calendared months ago, published on July 1st. Now it’s time to put some details on the Advent google docs to be shared with the lead teams for each event and campaign when they return.
Parenting With A Purpose – with a focus on Apologetics (giving God our minds to defend our faith in Jesus) we will share a Blueprint for Discipleship at Home for the fall and a teaching of what God teaches us about work in a world that only wants to play for the spring.
Grandparenting With A Purpose – with a focus on engaging in sacred conversations we’ll have a table chat in both the fall and spring with other grandparents who have navigated the hardest conversations with their grands.
New Faith Milestones I Can Tell the Story (one for Advent, one for Lent) which will be Messy Church events using images to tell the birth story of Jesus and the resurrection story of Jesus. For Advent: soup & bread, activity themes from Matt Rawle’s new advent study, The Heart That Grew Three Sizes: Finding Faith in the Story of the Grinch. It’s a post-pandemic look at the Grinch taking the redemption story to a whole new level. The adult videos, only around 10 minutes in length are so rich I was able to write the Children’s Moments, the event stations, and a lot of the Christmas Eve service from Rev. Rawle’s materials speaking of phrases kids get like hate, words and people redeemed by Jesus, truth vs lying, and the power of music and memory.
I Can Worship With My Family – interactive, intergenerational worship service for kids with adults in the room. We bring our teaching services from the summer parking lot to Big Mac (the sanctuary). It’s a teaching service at 11am in Big Mac for worship, prayer, giving, singing, Apostle’s Creed, doxology and more when the whole family learns together why we do what we do and what makes Big Mac, Big Mac. Opening a registration link for kids and families who want to take a lead lets us communicate expectations to families and not just kids. Clarity and communication builds trust. All of the other Faith Milestones we teach separately will be now be lived out in community with our church family, not only the Children’s spaces.
Let’s not forget to be clear of the goals and the why of each experience. Every experience must be a developmentally appropriate faith formation experience. Ministry leaders are not event planners, but disciple-makers who take every opportunity and effectively use what’s in our hands to give testimony to God’s goodness and His faithfulness to His people. Determine when, where, how, who, and the discipleship follow-up for sharing the good news of Jesus and His plan of redemption and restoration in truth as the priority not the add-on or side-note. Write it down so not to be distracted by a negative comment or an expectation expressed after-the-fact. Measurable goals offer clarity, purpose, and let you set priorities to filter the could-haves and should-haves. The experience is part of your over-all strategy for faith formation, not a one-and-done.
Partnering with families means they can trust that we will be prepared to be a blessing as their calendar begins to turn into fall. Partnering well with our leadership team means they will not be overwhelmed and will have on hand the tools to be successful.
How do you get organized for the next season?
“Let the peace of Christ rule in your heart and be thankful.” Colossians 3:15
When families prioritize a time on their calendar for a weekend retreat for their 3rd-5th graders and discover we are unable to make it happen the way we’d originally planned, we pivot with intentionality because our 3rd graders have finally arrived. Our 4th graders should’ve arrived last year, but 2020. Our 5th graders see everything as ‘the last time’. Asking the question, “What’s in our hand?” and partnering with another local church, we planned a late night event, 4:30-9:30pm on a fall Friday night.
Promotion – 3rd-5th graders are invited to learn to grow s’more like Jesus as we travel to Mountasia for putt-putt, go-kart, and pizza then back on campus with s’mores at the fire pit. $25 per student. Chaperones free. – Logo image built on phone through Bazaart app – Coordinate original chaperones along with new leaders for driving, fire, tshirts, hospitality, setup, cleanup, and space arrangements on a campus used by multiple ministries on a typical Friday night. – With the ‘bring list’ including non-typical items, we sent 3 emails before event night: one week out, 3 days out, the night before so families could make whatever arrangements were necessary.
Space Everything was outside except the bus ride. Dinner of 2 slices of pizza and unlimited pitchers of water (my beverage of choice) and unlimited putt-putt and go-cart time for 2 hours cost $25.10. With local Friday night football, we were the only group at Mountasia. Most of our kids were not old enough to ride alone, so this was a time of intentional relationship building between leaders and students to share a go-kart.
Students were instructed to bring – Gas or food gift card for a mission project – a dear church family battling childhood leukemia would be delivered a gift box filled with notes written by students along with the gift cards the following Sunday – Refillable water bottle – holy habit to take care of our bodies and the earth – Bible – Bible study on Luke 2:52 – Closed-toe shoes (can’t go-kart without them) – Camp/lawn chair – place to keep track of their own stuff, personal space, and to sit for Bible study
Schedule 4-4:30pmWelcome, Rules, Introductions 4:30pmAssign small groups w/leaders 5-7pmMountasia 8-8:30pmBible study and teaching 8:30-9:15pmSplit into 2 groups, with time then flip Group 1: S’mores at the fire pit & note writing to mission family Group 2: Breath prayer Labyrinth 9:15-9:30pmTalk to each other-1 on 1 w/ get-to-know-you and either/or questions (students stood facing each other so they could move; release nervous energy) 9:30pmGroup picture, dismissal
Bible study: Luke 2:52 The one Jesus-as-a-kid eyewitness account was placed in God’s Word especially for kids by Dr. Luke. How do we become s’more like Jesus? We spend time with others who love Jesus together in prayer (labyrinth), play (Mountasia), service (gift cards/note writing), at tables sharing food (pizza, water pitchers, s’mores), and in conversation (get-to-know-you questions).
Scripture memory: Jesus grew in…(chat through ways to grow in…)
Wisdom – take good care of your mind – hands on head
Stature – take good care of your body – arms up showing muscles
Favor with God and man – take good care of your heart – hands over your heart in shape of a cross.
Breath Prayer at Labyrinth w/Bible Buddy (plush s’more distributed by Ambassadors) Lord, let me grow in wisdom, in stature, and in favor with God and man. The prayer labyrinth has been a labor of love and gifted by an art teacher in our church. Though unfinished due to the rain, she came to teach and practice the labyrinth journey with the students at it’s inaugural use.
Weather was the greatest consideration of the entire week preceding, so Plan B was walked through and ready to go: gym reserved if not outside, umbrellas for labyrinth, sterno tins in glass jars for s’mores in small groups (now we can take this anywhere and share), arcade was arranged if no putt-putt/go karts running, gaga ball pit space/covered space for outdoor Bible study with camp chairs. Both Plan A and Plan B were walked through every step the week before and the day before. Leading ministry with children and families has always required navigating multiple moving pieces, especially people and calendar resources, and requires pivot adaptability and Plan Bs. It’s what we’ve always done. It’s what we’ll always do. When done often, it builds adaptability muscles. When done well, it builds trust and integrity.
The gold-framed Guardian Angel picture followed my maternal grandparents to every home they lived in. They moved from the coal mines of West Virginia to Virginia to Florida then back to Virginia. They also kept a huge, white family Bible on the coffee table. These are the images I recall from my childhood related to their faith.
In Family Driven Faith: Doing What It Takes To Raise Sons and Daughters Who Walk With God, Voddie Baucham, Jr. speaks of marking the home as God’s territory. He shares the memory of his Buddhist mother. Her regular practice of that belief system involved all five senses: a black lacquer box in the corner of their dining room, a statue of Buddha, a scroll of strange writing, incense, fruit, beads, and a small gong or bell. Those images remain with him to this day even though she became a Christian within six months of his conversion.
“Imagine the impact that Moses’ teaching had on the children of Israel in the Promised Land.” God’s people were entering a new land with new smells, sights, sounds, tastes, yet were expected to retain their distinction as followers of the one true God. How? Marking their doorposts, celebrating annual feasts with bitter herbs, unleavened bread, and the stories. Oh, the stories, the stones, the Sabbath practices, the music, and so much more.
My BFF-in-the-Lord just set up her new office space with bright yellow chairs and throw rugs to cover floor stains. She has stuffed animals (you know, the holy stuffed animals like sheep, donkey, lamb, plush Jesus which are staples for family faith experiences) on shelves and filled a wall with pictures of remarkable moments with the people of God she has served alongside. Visual reminders of creative, innovative, hard, hilarious moments in time where she served her families in ministry with great zeal and joy. She has marked her space as the Lord’s.
How can we regularly and intentionally mark our spaces and places for the Lord? At home? At church? At work? Sticky faith formation experiences engaging all five senses.
Engaging Eyes “There was a period in history when anyone who wanted to be considered a serious painter, a grand master, painted biblical themes.” At this week’s Faith Milestone: Bread & Juice Class, we’ll pull out the jumbo framed picture of Da Vinci’s Last Supper for our kindergarten and first grade students to stand behind for their class photo.
Engaging Ears “Music is an incredible medium. With a few notes we can be transported to another time and place.” Preparing for this week’s S’more Jesus Late Night with our 3rd-5th graders, we prepared a Spotify playlist with camp songs. Sent it out ahead of time to the leaders and the children. Dr. Richard Hunter offered a sermon based on his daughter’s favorite song, at the time, Tim McGraw’s Live Like You Were Dying at my home church. There are some messages super sticky because of a song.
Engaging Taste “There is no such thing as Christian food.” Well, I beg to differ. I recall a young pastor at my home church who prepared a summer sermon series based on breakfast cereals. I’ll never be able to look at a box of Frosted Flakes the same again. Goldfish? Cheerios? S’mores prayers? Bread and juice?
Engaging Smells “I could almost smell the Sunday dinner as he described in great detail his vivid memory of every aspect…” Dr. Doug Thrasher gave a sermon at my home church about Sunday dinner with biscuits and gravy on a communion Sunday. I’ll never forget the intentionality of a mama setting the Sunday table for her family and the planning involved.
Engaging Touch “Have you ever walked into a home with one of those enormous family Bibles? I mean the kind you have to open with two hands.” When a local UMC church was closing in our district, one of my moms went to the garage sale the church was having. It was her home church. She asked about the Chrismons which were a sticky faith formation experience of her now art-teacher-of-the-year faith journey. They pulled them out and gave them to her! Even before this, she had led our 3rd graders in October and November for the last four years in a rite of passage to make and learn about Chrismons. She leads those students to decorate the children’s large group space each year for Advent: Hanging of the Greens. Lots of gold beads, lots of white styrofoam, lots of conversation, LOTS of stick pins. The Chrismons of her home church are now enjoyed and shared with her students at her son’s home church. The Chrismons of both churches hang together in our children’s spaces.
In my weekday preschool days, we displayed an apple when we studied apples. We ate apple stuff, counted apples, played with apples, used apple-scented shampoo in the water table, read apple books, painted with apples, and did everything we could possibly think of with apples.
“It all comes down to a simple question: Why are we here?” If our local church, and our family, exists to know Jesus and make Him known, how are we intentionally marking our lives for Him in the stickiest ways possible, through our five senses? At home. At church. At work.
“You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” Deuteronomy 6:9
Rev. Ken Hagler is widely known as Jedi Pastor Ken. An ordained elder in the United Methodist Church currently serving a local church in Alaska, he records video, writes a blog and books, speaks, and prays like a coach and teacher to help spiritual pilgrims along their way. He is a real Jesus follower in the trenches of life who experiences great joy, great grief, great redemption, great wonder, and has faced head-on some of life’s greatest challenges.
A jedi is someone trained to guard peace and justice in the universe.
Ken is one of my favorite Jesus guys. He’s just written a new book and it comes out TODAY and you can get it FREE for two days on Amazon. You can download it for free on your Kindle app on September 7 and 8, 2021. Hardcopies can be ordered, but this can get you started.
“Prayer: Simply Breathe” is a compilation of 52 Breath Prayer Devotions including a short, closing section on how to create your own prayers. “A breath prayer is intended to ‘drill’ down to the cry of our heart. It is not so easy to discern what the cry of our hearts might be though.” (pg 112)
The book is framed around praying Scripture as you breathe. A short sentence or phrase prayed as you breathe. Repeated over time as a holy habit. Short…holy habits…prayer…scripture…it’s the perfect model for teaching and practicing prayer with little people.
“Prayer is the act of turning our mind, our emotions, our body, and our spirit to God.” (pg 5)
Ken writes in short, simple sentences introducing each breath prayer with a short ‘something to think about’ as you prepare to practice each breath prayer:
Sometimes, your week gets out of hand. There is no shortage of news related to those in power. I have spent a lot of time out in the woods hiking and camping. You have had it happen, no doubt, when things did not go as planned in your life. It hurts when people lie to us. There seems to be no end to the evil that human beings will do to one another. Our lives are meant to show out what God is doing.
There is scripture all over. There are people quoted all over from all walks of life. Ken is deeply knowledgeable about sacred practices of following Jesus to help the people of God of all stages and all ages. He is one of my teachers.
Ken led a workshop on prayer at a retreat for 5th graders. When Ken led the prayer workshop, the boys hung on every word he had to say. I remember a conversation Ken and I had on our way to the dining hall. I asked him about boys and prayer. He spoke of the importance of physicality, short words and phrases, and prayer postures. I heard his words again on page 116, “It is my hope and prayer that if nothing else, you leave here with a prayer you are not bored to pray.”
Order your free Kindle edition on September 7 and 8 here. Check it out and let me know what you think. I’d like to chat with you about how you might use this resource to teach your littles and their bigs to practice the holy habit of prayer.
“Faith is fun.” Rev. Ken L. Hagler, Jedi Pastor Ken, Prayer: Simply Breathe, pg 116.
Last week I traveled with my traveling bestie to Boston. We checked out the Monet exhibit with it’s ‘Boston stories’ and the power of visual narratives on display by the Paper Stories of Ekua Holmes at the Museum of Fine Arts, the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, and enjoyed some downtown Concord shopping. We were surrounded by creativity, collage, children’s books, and Christian community. I didn’t know how empty my creativity bucket was until it started getting refilled.
The best part of the trip was the radically ordinary hospitality we experienced at two dear friends’ homes. Both hostesses, and their families, embraced our presence with great food and table-life filled with sacred conversations.
Rosaria Butterfield, in The Gospel Comes With A House Key, writes that Christian hospitality is what loved her to Jesus when she was openly hostile to the good news of the gospel. Dinner times of table-life with ordinary food and conversations regularly, faithfully offered by a humble couple were the key to opening her mind and heart to living a life for Jesus. Today, she and her family open their home, spare room, table, and crockpot in ways that would make most of us shudder. She reminds me of just how good the good news is.
Butterfield challenges her Christian readers to be ready to assume the posture of host, obeying God’s command to love our neighbor, or the posture of guest, graciously and humbly receiving nourishment and care from our brothers and sisters in Christ. “Ordinary hospitality works on the principle of tithing. God commands we are either returning 10% to our church or receiving aid from our church because we desperately need help. Both giving and receiving bless the church.”
There was so much laughter, so many cups of tea, and multiple conversations around the gathering of God’s people and His Word. One conversation in particular I wish to share.
Sometimes mighty warriors stay with the stuff.
In 1 Samuel 25 we read how David’s men have a run in with Nabal, a Calebite. David sends a small group of ten young men to Nabal asking for favor, asking for help. Nabal is beyond salty, but ‘surly and mean in his dealings’. When the ten return and report to David, it doesn’t go well. David tells his Mighty Men to ‘strap on your sword’. ‘About 400 men went up with David, while 200 ‘STAY WITH THE SUPPLIES.’ The KJV reads, “abode by the stuff.”
Abigail, Nabal’s wife, goes on to save the day, but of the 600 of David’s Mighty Men, 200 of them stay by the stuff.
Who are the mighty ones who may not be ‘strapping on their swords’ yet use their swords staying by the stuff? It’s one thing to love on those who are on the front lines of the ministry you lead, but we all have the mighty with swords who ‘stay by the stuff’. Finance Committees who have to make big decisions for the local church as a whole. Trustees who have to answer for a whole lot of ‘stuff’. Your church saints who can surround you and your kids in prayer. Do you have a prayer team? Are we only reaching out to the local church leadership when we want something, or also checking on them in the parking lot before and after services.
Perhaps YOU are the mighty who are called to ‘abode by the stuff.’ While the denomination and the world is making so much noise, we are staying the course of making disciples of Jesus Christ in our local church, in our backyard, from our spare room, table and crockpot. Be not distracted nor consumed by the battles elsewhere, but rather strap on your sword and abode by the stuff well.
I’m still processing and holding dear the experiences of last week. Thanks to the hospitality of our hosts, Mr. Bob is getting to taste some new recipes, which he is all-in for. He is our family’s #1 Mighty Man. He stays by the stuff. I can not do what I do and be who I am if it were not for Mr. Bob staying by our stuff.
Who is staying by your stuff? How can you show your appreciation and gratitude this week for the mighty who stay by the stuff?
“It gave me great joy when some believers came and testified about your faithfulness to the truth, telling how you continue to walk in it.” 3 John 1:3
“The local church has adopted the language of our education system, but not the practices,” said Rev. Jeremy Bannister at the Discipleship Begins at Home online conference. He goes on to share that our school system has metrics to measure academic standards, regular conditioning for team sports, and accountability measures for every extracurricular commitment our families engage in, but not discipleship and followership of Jesus.
As leaders in the local church our job is to equip the saints to do the good work of following Jesus and making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
Parents and grandparents are on the front line. Parents and grandparents know their desired outcome: for their kids to love Jesus with their whole hearts for their whole lives. It’s up to us, the Christian education professionals, to give them the tools and the metrics of what is developmentally appropriate and be honest about what it’ll take.
Be honest that one hour of Sunday school will never be enough to learn the skills necessary to beat the devil and grow a robust faith over the other 167 hours of a week.
Be honest that most Sunday school curricula offers the basic foundation of God made you and Jesus loves you over and over and over again. Repeated every year. Year after year. This will not nurture a robust faith able to engage with a loud and angry culture coming at them through every means possible.
Be honest that some parents and grandparents haven’t been trained in their own discipleship with the same standards, commitment, and metrics to confidently know what will make a hill of beans by the time their child walks across the graduation stage for that 12-year diploma or takes on their first job with a Godly resilience.
Be honest that we can do our own discipleship better by modeling our own consistent holy habits of systematic Bible reading, tithing, serving the world for the greater good, engaging in robust conversation by asking good questions, and not forsaking gathering together in Christian community in ways beyond what our jobs require.
Be honest to ask ourselves, “If every disciple of Jesus is just like me, where will God’s kingdom be here on earth?”
This is the good news. There’s no time like the present to get started.
Prayerfully consider an accountability partner to begin reading the Bible in a systematic way. How can you teach from a textbook when you haven’t experienced it as a whole to be reasonable and applicable?
Tip: Once a child begins reading chapter books, they can read a chapter of the Bible. Not as a study, but to read. Read to learn the whole Jesus story, to learn the language of our Creator, and to recognize the voice of our good shepherd. Read the book aloud. Find an easy-reader Bible and just read. If a full bible, begin in Luke because it’s a narrative. Dr. Luke wrote what he researched from eye witnesses.
The Next Generations Ministries offers a a fabulous Discipleship for Life edition of metrics for developmentally appropriate holy habit practices beginning at birth-one year old and every year following. Not in a legalistic, check off the box way, but a gentle reminder of what starting and continuing looks like for a disciple of Jesus. They also have a 5-year plan for students and adults who haven’t begun the Discipleship for Life edition for an intentional start or re-start. These resources were shared at the Discipleship Begins at Home conference. I’ve been able to roll some of these out easily and effectively.
Prayerfully consider along with your significant other how you can grow into regular, systematic tithing.
Prayerfully consider who you’d like to spend time with (someone older and more spiritually mature) and invite him/her to co-lead a small group Bible study for the fall. There are three seasons for small group Bible study: fall, winter/spring, summer. You will grow in deeper relationships, sacred conversations, and Biblical wisdom in community with healthy accountability. If you’re a young-married, co-lead with another who has been married for a long time. If you’re a mom, find a mom further down the road and more mature in her walk to co-lead. If you’re a more-mature, find a younger to co-lead with.
Prayerfully consider offering parents and grandparents this fall a couple of metrics for daily (Bible reading, prayer), weekly (fellowship, giving), monthly (service) soul training to be experienced at home, along the road, at the table, with conversation prompts to grow a healthy confidence in discipleship. Offer a Parenting With A Purpose class to roll it out, then follow it up with, “How’s it going?”
So. How’s it going?
“May I stand before the throne of God able to say, “Lord Jesus, I did everything I could do to make sure my children are well-founded in the person of Christ.” – Rev. Jeremy Bannister, Discipleship Begins at Home Conference, http://www.TheNextGenerationMinistries.com
There has been a great deal of movement in the local church’s children’s ministry world. Relocations due to reset priorities, drastic budget changes, and the need for pioneers has opened and closed doors like nothing I’ve ever seen. Lots of open positions and a willingness to courageously grow into how we’re naturally bent has made for many conversations with clergy, laity, and staff from all over the country.
Last week I shared three areas of considerations for churches as they determine their goals for the next 1-3 years. You can read about that here.
I closed with “Realistic and reasonable expectations make for a much more enjoyable workplace. Hiring new and retaining effective staff is a disciple-making opportunity, and we must always be looking for ways to make the experience better. Next week I’ll share more about hiring a pioneer and the most important question every candidate should ask.”
Are you looking for a pioneer who enjoys starting things? Are you willing to give them the parameters and be okay with letting them creatively hit the ground running? Or are you looking for typical children’s programming? Not everyone can live and work with a pioneer, an innovator, but would prefer a project manager. No judgement here, but don’t be disappointed when a new hire isn’t both a pioneer and a project manager unless they are very experienced and have stories and evidence of such.
When hiring a pioneer, clearly communicate shared goals, shared resources, walk alongside in the areas of your giftedness and skillset, and help unruffle feathers. Inform your pioneer that it’s okay to network, get the lay of the land, and build relationships in the first three months, six months, and touch base often both informally and formally. Offer a weekly standing meeting to be informed, offer encouragement, and coach him/her without micromanaging.
Coaching is involved in everything. What is the senior pastor or supervisor willing to coach and what are they not? Remember that people don’t quit their jobs as much as they quit their supervisors. Do your best to set up everyone to win in a candidate’s giftedness and natural bent. A teachable spirit on all fronts and clearly communicated parameters can stop the cut of stained glass beforehand. Hiring and leading staff is discipleship work. How patient are you? It’s unrealistic to think you are hiring for a lifetime. Churches, decide what you want for the next three years and start there.
One of the best questions a candidate can ask of their future/current supervisor and the senior pastor is, “Who is the best children’s ministry person you’ve ever worked with?” Wait, then follow up with, “What made them so great?” The first couple of statements shared right here are the lens through which the candidate/staff member will be quickly measured and these are hardly ever part of the job description. Clarity is an expression of love. Your first response bears the greatest weight.
Consider a lead in children’s ministry to be a ministry with families instead. From the research coming out of the parents we serve today (this changes every 5 years), families want to share experiences especially as kids get older whether it’s on the ball field, Disney World, camping, or faith formation in the local church and along their way. Equipping parents and grandparents to love their kids to Jesus as they go, wherever they go is what they’re asking for. And it’s what God had in mind all along. Deuteronomy 6. We’ve either gotten really good at this over the last year or we’d better start. Parents want their kids to belong, be known by name, and no longer entertained in a herd. Large group is amazing, but it’s in the small group setting where kids are known and can chat about the life questions they are wrestling with, dwell on, and take up space in their heads and hearts. They want and need to build deep relationships with people who will model what loving Jesus looks like, sounds like, and acts like. Kids drive where their families will go, but they don’t drive. Let nothing happen that doesn’t not engage minds and hearts to love Jesus and God’s Word more with the whole family in mind.
If I could relive my life, I would devote my entire ministry to reaching children for God. -D.L. Moody
On August 1st, I’ll celebrate 4 years serving in full-time ministry with children on staff at my local church. I’ll also be celebrating 31 years in professional Christian education in the local church from south Louisiana, New England, and the southeast. Of all the seasons of ministry I’ve experienced, THIS season is definitely the one for which I was truly created. God’s faithfulness, His word, and the saints of seven local churches have modeled pioneering discipleship and Godly relationship for this follower’s life.
Ministry with children is done best in community as equippers of the saints. Parents and grandparents are the saints and God-ordained disciple-makers. They are the true heroes, the cape-wearers, the torch-bearers in ministry with children and families. Yeah, we can make a VBS happen, but how will we do THAT? Our Heavenly Father has only invited us to play in His sandbox.
I’ve got my shovel. Insert the confetti cannons!
“The idea of changing the world is utter nonsense…unless you’re a children’s pastor, then it may be possible.” – Roger Fields
Hiring a Lead in ministry with children used to be about hiring a teacher with creative decorating skills, training in behavior management, and a Vacation Bible School coordinator. Not anymore.
In my conversations with search teams and pastors over the last few weeks, these have been just a few of the questions we have chatted about…
Do you live in the community? If the pastor’s answer is YES, then it opens the door to consider an experienced candidate who is a connector who may commute. If the lead is expected to pull daily office hours, a commuter won’t fit. Ask what would it take for the hired lead to be trusted to get the job done without daily office hours? Everyone wants someone with experience, but what kind of experience would permit him/her to work from a home office at least one day each week? I commute an hour plus from my home to the church building, typically three days per week, but I connect by phone, social media, email and more, plan, research, collaborate, and learn all the other days, except Friday Sabbath, at tables all over the place including the home office.
If the pastor does not live in the local church community, then it would be wiser to hire someone who does. It’s important to have someone on staff living in the community the church serves. That person will know the rhythm of the community, attend the local school meetings, the cross country meets, and will know the holiday parade schedule, among all the things which make that community special. They’ll know how the community shops, drives, vacations, learns, and plays.
Hint: Go to the next couple of PTA meetings and watch who ‘works the room’, chats with lots of people with a resting face of ‘joy’, or has great kids who enjoy being in groups of people.
Story: An innovative kidmin lead was hired from a school event as she worked the room. It was discovered she was a connector who ran local political campaigns which made for a perfect fit for a new church start’s children’s ministry. She earned a Christian education certificate to get the theology part down. After 3-4 years she handed off a healthy, vibrant ministry and a new kidmin church building to a supportive church when she moved on to pioneer a new endeavor. I learned so much from her about marketing, packaging, vocabulary, and sustainable energy.
As the local church’s head disciple-maker, as clergy, willing to teach someone how to do ministry? Not as a micro-manager, but would you be willing to hire a networker personality and not be annoyed because they don’t yet know how to build a ministry budget? The amazing kidmin community of the North Georgia UMC Conference can walk alongside a teachable networker to build a candidate’s skillset like budgeting, calendar management, collaboration, Safe Sanctuary, curriculum decisions, and more. There are some skills a kidmin lead will need to be part of his/her nature like connecting outside their department/local church with other ministry leads, making new friends, team building/recruiting, gratitude, helpfulness, communication clarity, a learner, generosity, a great sense of humor, trustworthiness, a desire for other disciples to succeed, to equip the saints to do the ministry of the church, goal setting, and loving people. There is a big difference between event-planning and really loving people to Jesus. Skills are important, but personality traits may be more important. Know what the pastor team can teach, what he/she is willing to teach, and what will annoy the daylights out of them to teach.
Hint: Whatever the job description in your hand, it’s outdated. Post-COVID has set the pace and priorities of families we serve on it’s head.
Look at the printed job description understanding there may be too much to ask of one person, especially from the get-go. Be okay with a dream list of tasks. It may be more reasonable to bullet-point the top, most important 5-10 tasks from which to grow the job description with the natural giftedness/bent a candidate can bring to the table. You’ll be surprised at what could be fabulous. Evaluate and check-in from those items every 30-60 days. Let the job description grow into the ministry you dream about for the future for your families. I re-evaluate my job description every January because a healthy ministry is always growing and changing to the audience we serve. Read more about that here.
Hard question: Do you really want your kidmin to look just like the one that can be found at every other church? When a person serves the local church in their natural giftedness and bent, what could burnout one person might just energize another.
What are the three most important things that have to happen in your context within the next year if the church were to start from scratch? – VBS? Christmas Eve kid’s service? Sunday morning numbers? Midweek? New people? Retention of volunteers? Folks on-ramping in the kid’s area then getting connected in another? Full programming (whatever that means)? Returning numbers? New numbers?
What about the first 90-days? – connecting with a monthly networking group, already engaging social media, in-person detail, evangelism (be specific with a definition), mission (defined), a clean database, priority programming, marketing, event planning, reading a book on ministry systems?
Hint: Break down your church year into quarters. What has to happen in that quarter no matter what? It may not look like an event to plan, but a opportunity to piggy-back, partner, share, and not even on a Sunday. This is especially helpful with a small to mid-size church when resources feel more limited and you will need whole-church buy-in.
This we know:
There is lots of movement this year. Hardly anything moved last year due to COVID, so if nothing else, this year seems extra.
COVID has caused people to reassess their priorities, so people are relocating into and out of the area. Use all the means possible, not just church staffing sites, to post the position and network, network, network.
There are lots of open positions, many of them part-time in smaller to mid-size churches. That’s okay. Our current societal structure encourages side-hustles. You’d be surprised at the work and elegant art that can be attended to with excellence by someone trained in other fields like counseling, teaching, preschool, real estate, etc. which can rock the church house in growing a ministry with families.
Consider hiring for a period of one-year, then reassess.
Require networking and specific continuing education as part of the job and allow time for it.
Realistic and reasonable expectations make for a much more enjoyable workplace. Hiring new staff is a disciple-making opportunity, and we must always be looking for ways to make the experience better. Next week I’ll share more about hiring a pioneer and the most important question every candidate should ask.