I don’t know

Many times I get parents who have questions from their kids they can’t answer. Kids love to ask hard questions about God, life, death, sickness, injustice, heaven, hell, the Bible etc. I think we get frustrated when we can’t articulate answers. I used to think I had all the answers or I was somehow coming up short. I thought being a good pastor, father, and Christian meant I had to have an answer for everything. Now I have changed the way I think. Here’s how I’ve come to think.

  1. If we had all the answers we wouldn’t need faith. Faith is about the unknown as much as it is the unseen. We can’t know everything there is to know. Some things just take faith. If we knew everything that is in the mind of God we wouldn’t need to trust Him daily. God wants us to lean on Him when we don’t know the answers. If God gave us everything we needed including all the answers, we would be tempted to not rely on Him.
  2. God is bigger than us. I know this one is obvious but it needs repeating. If God was able to be completely comprehended by our finite minds He wouldn’t be a God worth serving. I know that statement might challenge your belief system. Our minds and comprehension is limited. When we are young we think we are all knowing and invincible. Age brings wisdom for most of us. God is so powerful, so vast, so marvelous that we can’t wrap our minds around all He is. Angels in heaven sing His praises for eternity, each moment having a glimpse of His glorious might revealed. Our small minds can’t fathom the depths of His love and therefore can’t entirely know his character.

So as parents what do we do when our kids have questions that challenge our faith?

  1. Don’t freak out. When you freak out kids stop telling you things. Sometimes they are testing you.
  2. Realize it’s perfectly normal to have questions. There’s nothing wrong with your kids if they are asking these questions or having doubts. This is natural. A tested faith is a stronger faith.
  3. Be OK with not having all the answers. I think sometimes we think its bad to not have the answers because we want our kids to put their trust in us. Remember the ultimate goal in life is to train our kids to trust God.
  4. Be open about your own struggles of faith. Sharing your story helps your kids see an end or a least a progression to their story. Don’t think you have to appear invincible to your kids. Think about how much you connect with a pastor when they are vulnerable. Do the same with your kids.
  5. Teach your kids to pray. Here’s a crazy idea. Show your kids how to talk to God and bring their questions. You don’t know everything but He does.
  6. Teach your kids how to read the Bible. Get them some devotional books. Use our placemats and devotional materials from church. Use the SOAP method (read more here or here).
  7. See if you can find the answers. Some questions can be answered if you dig in yourself. Ask a pastor. Google it but be prepared that not all answers are created equal.

How Jim Wideman Helped Me

My story, like so many others, is that I didn’t want to be a children’s pastor, I got drafted. I was young and dumb and the only problem was I didn’t know it. Like most young people, I believed I knew everything. Unlike most young people, it took me a while to grow out of it. I was stubborn and didn’t want to have to depend on anyone outside my small circle of influence.

I was a legend in my own mind, but my ministry was a giant mess. No one could tell me anything. My pastor tried to help me but I wouldn’t listen. My team stayed relatively small and I had to depend a lot on my wife and myself. I was stuck at a level and wasn’t even trying to do anything about it.

That all changed when Jim Wideman came into my life. I remember the first time I met Brother Jim. He was on a tour with his church doing regional training meetings. When they came to our area, I loaded up our team in the church van and drove the thirty minute trip. I met Brother Jim in the men’s bathroom right before a session he was teaching. I had heard him teach before and had some of his Puppet Trax so I knew who he was. I greeted him and wanted to shake his hand. He probably thought “Who is this weird guy trying to shake my hand in the bathroom?”

His session was great and it challenged me in many ways. It was towards the end of a year so I geared myself up for a new year with a renewed commitment to ministry growth. I even went on eBay and bought an used set of his Club lessons. I then bought everyone of his books and got a hold of any audio teaching I could. As I was reading the book Children’s Ministry Leadership: The You-Can-Do-It Guide, a quote jumped off the page:

There’s no success without a successor.

I had done nothing to ensure lasting success at my church. I didn’t get help for five reasons:

  1. I didn’t know how to ask for help.
  2. I thought I could do it better.
  3. I never thought I would leave that church.
  4. I didn’t trust other people do things.
  5. I wanted all the credit.

Since meeting Jim and joining his mentoring program, Infuse, I have changed those old bad habits. Everyone does better with a coach and I would encourage you to take a look at Jim’s program. Its well worth the investment and I say that as someone who paid the fees out of my own pocket for the first year. It was worth every hard earned penny! If you’re a kids pastor, youth pastor, family pastor or work in any of those areas, check it out today.

Kidmin Bad Habits

Here are some bad habits that I’ve noticed over the years in kidmin:

  • Offending attention spans
    • The general rule of thumb is 1 minute per age of child. Anything longer than that and kids can shut us off. The mind can only process what the rear can endure.
  •  Not being prepared to teach
    • When we aren’t ready to share the message because we didn’t prepare, it shows in our confidence and delivery.
  • No teaching  on the correct level
    • If your presentation of the gospel is on a level that is too shallow or too deep for the kids they won’t receive it. You can’t give a baby a steak and you wouldn’t feed a teenage baby food. Know the level and tailor the message to your audience.
  • Saying things we shouldn’t say
    • Shoot, crap, dang, darn, God’s name in vain, heck, sexy, sexy, inappropriate stories, etc, Yes, I’ve heard all those things in kids over the years.
  • Trying to do it alone
    • Some of the biggest issues I’ve had over the years came from trying to do it all by myself. Sure no one can do it like me but unless I want to do it that way by myself forever I have to let someone else help. Plus, I couldn’t always do it that way anyhow.
  • Recruiting the wrong way
    • Emotional pleas don’t usually work. Getting in the pulpit and begging never works. Your pastor shouldn’t have to do all the recruiting for you. There is no shortcut to recruiting volunteers. A friend said it this way: “recruiting is like doing the laundry; no one likes doing it and you’re never outgrow doing it”. It takes personal invites and work to make recruiting work.

I’m sure I’ve made many more mistakes and errors than these. How about you?

 

Candypalooza 2014 – the how and why

candypalooza

Last weekend we held a big weekend event at my church. I know around Halloween some churches debate having an alternative event. We decided to try fitting what we are doing into our weekend experience. It started with the premise of getting kids to invite their friends to church for a weekend service and then afterwards they would get what kids want this time of year, CANDY! The stated win of the event was to give kids an opportunity to invite their friends. The kids could also dress up as their favorite heroes to add a little fun.

We created invites for kids to personally invite their friends with. We designed our series (My Church is Sooooo Sweet) to look just like the event so that the series ended with a big bang event. We asked our church members for candy donations and they responded with abundance. We ordered some special prizes and bags for each kid. We setup manned candy stations in one of our hallways areas. After the kids attended service they got their bag as their parents checked them out. Then their parents took them to the stations to get their candy.

It was a very simple alternative event and a small majority couldn’t understand what we intended to do. I know in the past that some people object to just giving the kids candy because they feel like that is too much like Trick or Treating. For me that’s the point and to those people I say I’m a grace based candy giver not a law based one. This even was successful for us giving us about a 15% bump in kids attendance that weekend. We had so many visitors that our new check-in kiosk ran out of cards on the counter.

We did have a few minor challenges. Our kids area is already a major bottleneck so this created more crowds. Some people are turned off by that. Personally it excites me and we had smiling faces to diffuse any anxiety. Any big event is going to have crowds so that really isn’t something you can do away with. In between services also was a bit of a challenge. Our service ran a little over and people were coming and going at the same time. I just coached the teens manning the stations to give their ~5 pieces of candy quickly.

We also added in attendance number goals for each service and one of our three services hit their goal. Their reward was getting to see me slimed live on stage. The other two did get to see a pre-recorded sliming on video. This obviously was a huge hit with the kids.

So I know this isn’t original or very creative but it was a simple event that worked very well for us. Its really just a simplified version of Trunk or Treat with minimizing it down to what the kids want.. CANDY!

Any questions?
Ask in the comments and I’ll answer whilest I taketh my candy tax.

Discipline in Your Classroom

We’ve all had classrooms that seemed out of control. We may have even known a leader who hit because the couldn’t keep things from going to the chaotic side. Here’s a few keys I’ve used over the years for our lead teachers and room leaders.

1)Let them know what’s expected of them. This is why I think having some sort of rules and sharing them with the kids is important. I don’t want our teachers to feel legalistic but we do want order in our classrooms. Kids need reminders of rules as our fallen nature just wants to live in rebellion. We make our rules simple and try to even make them fun as we ask for kid’s help in reciting them. This is especially true with younger children. I also like to change up the wording of the rules every 18-24 months or so. This keeps it fresh but at the same time I keep the basic core of the rules the same. For instance one year the rule might be “Raise your hand if you want to talk” or another season it may be “no talking while the teacher is talking”. I’ve used acronyms and word play to keep them fresh and fun. I’ve had the K.I.D.S. rules and had the Go Rules (Go listen, go respect, go before class, go have fun).

2) Always correct in love. I try to make sure to never correct my own children in anger. The same thing must be for the children God has entrusted to us. Correction should flow out of relationship when at all possible. Don’t be sarcastic or belittle the children. I admit I struggle with not being sarcastic, as it’s one of my top “gifts”.

3) Have rewards for obedience. The Bible says that God is a rewarder of those who seek Him and when I grow up I want to be just like Him. I believe there is nothing wrong with offering rewards for good behavior. There is a Biblical law of reaping and sowing that I want to impart to the children. The best ways to do that is to show them. I’ve used candy, treats, Bible Bucks, Reward Points, stamps, stickers, quiet seat prizes and more. It all has depended on budget and culture of the church I was at.

4) There need to be consequences or steps of consequences for disobedience. I personally like using a “three strikes and you’re out” policy. This allows for a warning, a moving of seats, and then finally a calling of a parent. I tell them that I like baseball so much that I have to have three strikes. In my 25+ years of kid’s ministry, I’ve gotten to “strike three” with only a handful of children.

Sometimes I’ve even used a “three balloon method”. This is where I would blow up three balloons. I would tell the and if the classroom got out of hand and I needed to stop I would “pop” a balloon with no warning. If at the end of the class there are any balloons left everyone gets the daily reward, but if not… no one does. I don’t like to do this all the time but it helps on weeks and services where it seems like just about everyone is having a hard time obeying. This uses peer pressure in a positive way.

5) Be consistent Do what you say you’re going to do even if it doesn’t seem fair to everyone. No one ever said we had to be fair. To quote Andy Stanley: “Things stopped being fair in the garden”. Don’t change what is acceptable behavior based on your mood. Create and stick to a system that works no matter who is teaching. Kids will have their favorites but you don’t want one teacher to have to be the “bad guy”.

6) Be engaging. I’ve found that often when behavior is struggling, it’s because we aren’t engaging the children properly. Maybe our segments are too long. Maybe we are just plain boring. Are we having realistic expectations for the kids? Do we expect boys to behave like girls? (I’m looking at you, big education.) Get honest with yourself and learn to evaluate what you’re doing. Find someone who can be honest and open with you, if you can’t identify it yourself. One of the things we do to help kids engage is have a small group time. This gives kids a chance to talk to their friends and leaders openly in group of trusted people. Engaging the kids is about sharing the right things in the right methods. Let’s not make the great story of redemption boring!

7) Be appropriate. I don’t mean to avoid telling off color jokes(although you should already understand that). Are your age groups appropriate divided? Do you make provision for kids who have special needs that sometimes inhibit their ability to understand how to behave in certain situations? Does your classroom provide ample space for the amount of kids you have: not too little but not too much? A small classroom as well as a large classroom can lead to issues. All these things can contribute to behavior.

How about you, what are your keys? What Do you agree or disagree with? What have I left out? Leave your comments.

Dumb Things I’ve Done in Kidmin – Miscommunication

This continues my plethora of stupid things I’ve done in ministry. I hope you can learn from me but at the very least laugh at me.

I remember serving at a church and taking kids to camp one summer several years ago. I had asked one of our long time helpers/teachers to cover the lesson that week and sent her the lesson plan. Or at least I thought I did.

You see, weeks prior I emailed it to her and even sent follow up emails. She never responded and I never made sure she was ready. I was so caught up in camp that I let it slip. I figured it would be alright and she would come through.

Well the Sunday morning after camp she was no where to be found. I ran to the sanctuary to see if she was held up talking after Sunday School. She was and nervously asked if she had everything she needed for the lesson.

“What lesson?” she replied. She wasn’t ready. She hadn’t check her emails that month apparently. I shouldn’t have assumed that my communications were received just because I sent them. She didn’t communicate the way I did. I learned afterwards that she would respond immediately to texts but didn’t check emails.

I flew by the seat of my pants that service and we had kids get up and testify about camp. It wasn’t a total disaster but I knew I had to get better at communication. We can assume that because we are talking that people are listening. Communication is two-way and if we aren’t using the proper channels then we are where the failure begins.

Can people understand what we are communicating?
I heard General Ulysses S Grant used to keep a regular solider at his side and run orders by him to make sure they were clear. I am infamous for writing things that make no sense which is why no one reads my blog. I have to run communications by others to make sure I am understood.

Are we communicating with the right length of information?
No one wants to read your novella email. I have received work emails that you had to scroll until your hand hurt. I just wanted to reply TLDR. The same goes for long policy manuals. Say what you got to say and then allow people to ask questions if they have them.

Do people know where to get the information they need?
You have to make it easy to get what they need or they just won’t do it. What methods do you use? Do people know that those are the methods?