Lately, I have been wondering how often the disciples looked back on the three years they walked with Jesus as “the golden years.” After Jesus returned to heaven all of the disciples were called to carry the gospel to a hurting world. They would go to perform amazing miracles, travel, and equip the world through their writings about Jesus. But, I wonder how many times did they longingly, look back in the review mirror and remember those sweet three years of walking with Jesus.
Earlier this week I had coffee with a dear friend, a friendship that was birthed in some of my most formative years of leading a creative team. And at one point our conversation turned reflective. In the late 90’s and a few years into the millennium, all was aligned that I would work with a team that would heavily influence how children’s ministry is done around the globe. At the time I don’t think any of us on the Willow Creek Community Church, Promiseland, Creative Team even fathomed that the small group / large group model would become a part of such a large number of churches,
But for that short season God had aligned a “Superbowl” caliber team for His purposes. I don’t think we realized it at the time, as most days we felt like we were going mock 10, trying to write curriculum, minister to 3000+ kids a weekend, host conferences and figure out how to work well together as a team. We had a blast, we pushed each other’s frustration buttons (a lot,) we moved the ball forward, God honed each of our skills “like iron sharpens iron,” and then one day the season ended.
God did not leave us after this amazing season, but had a plan to continue to use each of us. Members of this creative team would go on to be a Caldecott Award winning children’s author, a Second City Actor/professor, a senior member on the Re-Think team (Orange.), writer for Kid-Stuff, two school teachers, a music label owner/producer, a president of a national mentoring program, an award winning video producer, and I would go on to write curriculum for Kidmo, Phil Vischer & as Training Director for INCM.
However, I have found it a “funny” thing that while we each have gone onto other things that have been meaningful, when we meet up with one another at some point in the conversation someone will say, ‘man that sure was a sweet season.” So for today, I am reminded that we need to embrace each moment, as we have no idea if in five years we will look back at a season that seemed hard at the time, for all of it’s sweetness and what God did. Have a great Friday!
With all the challenges that Egypt is facing this week; President Morsi writing his own constitution, judges on strike in protest, and daily protest it is a stark picture of a nation that is hurting and in transition. In September I had chance to visit this interesting nation, and spend a day with one of the most impressive organizations I have seen in a very long time, Stephen's Children. Whose aim is improving the lives of Christian children and families living in Cairo's slum quarters and impoverished communities in rural, Upper Egypt.
Nobel Peace Prize Nominee, Mamma Maggie Gobran has been called the Mother Theresa of Egypt. Her and the Stephen's Children team work with the poorest of poor. It is almost impossible for me to put into words the positive impact that this organization has on these children and their families. They have a staff of 1500 who weekly go into homes meeting the needs, educating, building relationships, and just caring for this forgotten community. Mamma Maggie says, " You know, we don't choose where to be born. But we do choose to either be sinners or saints. To be nobody, or the heroes. If you want to be a hero, do what God wants you to do."
Over the Last year, I have had the chance to visit many amazing organizations that come along side children in very difficult & challenging life situations. Sometimes the organizations come along side whole families others the kids are without families who can support them. Each time I have the opportunity to visit these organizations I sit in awe at what they do and the impact that they make in a child's life. So for this Christmas every few days I am going to give you a small window into some of these amazing organizations.
Today it is Nathaniel's Hope
, an organization that comes along side those with special needs and those that can reach out to them, like churches & businesses. Check out the video and see what they are doing for these kids, whose families often have tight budgets due to large medical expenses.
Today we reach the finish line of the What's in theBible Race to the Finish
blog tour. Volume 9, God Speaks! marks the end of the Old Testament volumes. This is one of my favorite volumes. When we started the What's in the Bible series one of our driving values was to help kids put the Big Picture of the Bible together through Biblical literacy. Volume 9 does just that. It creatively and authentically covers all 17 books of the prophets. With the help of scientist Dr. Schniffenhausen, who returns to the series and brings us the Prophet O'Puter , puts the history pieces of the Old Testament together.
In this volume we were able to include some fresh ideas for some very challenging content. Kids get a chance to build their own Prophet Timeline over the four weeks and learn the books of the prophets rapping with Sunday School Lady. And probably the coolest idea yet came together in the take home card, which includes a QR code for families to scan with their smart phone. This then takes them to a review of the days lesson including video!
You can win the entire series of What's in The Bible? Church Edition by heading over to the Race to the Finish
site. There has been a lot of great things said about this series already in the 8 previous reviews. Check those out as well. Looking forward to the New Testament!
Three years ago when I started to blog, I was also starting as the part-time children's director of Lakeview Church. With the majority of my prior experiences at mega churches, God had pressed on my heart, to understand the challenges of a small or medium size church when it came to resources. Lakeview provided that opportunity, plus God had many more lessons to teach me about a multi-ethnic church (English and Korean Speaking campuses). I was blessed to call Lakeview home. This weekend will mark my last weekend with Lakeview, a bitter-sweet weekend. I am sad to say good bye to this amazing church, volunteers, kids and staff.
Lakeview was a part of an important season of my life. Eight years ago when my boys were younger, I desired to be a more present mom, and God blessed me with contract work, writing, and a few part-time gigs. Many, like Lakeview, were in my "sweet spot" others, well they helped pay the bills, but blessed me to be the "present" mom I felt called to be. Two weeks ago we graduated our oldest and the other two are both in high school now. A new season of life is quickly arriving.
Once again God is stirring and calling, and has more than blessed my socks off. He recently called me to a job that is almost 100% in my sweet spot as a leader, strategist, trainer, and creative. A job with a global focus serving children's leaders who are trying to help kids choose Jesus for a lifetime in some of the most challenging areas of the world. A job that will also allow me to help develop training and serve children's leaders here domestically. And it is for an innovative organization, the International Network of Children's Ministry
where I will serve as the Director of Training. (Here is a link to today's press release)
A great new season indeed. Thank you for your support and I look forward to sharing where these new adventures take me and the lessons I learn along the way.
10 years ago, I was driving to my job at Willow Creek Community Church, when I heard a plane hit the World Trade Center. I made an assumption that it was a small plane. It wasn’t until an hour or so later that my husband would call to share the gravity of the events that were unfolding. My biggest emotion that day was fear… fear that our “safe” world was unfolding. That day would revolve around trying to get through meetings, followed by a series of quick phone calls to my husband discussing how we should respond, should we go to the kids elementary & pick them up or would that scare them more, and then finding myself sitting in the Lakeside auditorium where the news was on the big screen and a room full of staff, watching the events unfold in stunned silence. As with all Americans, so much changed in my life that day, the last few weeks I have found myself reflecting on the last 10 years. As part of my process I found myself making a list of what changed both for the better and for the worse over. Below is a portion of that list and the few changes that affected me personally.
1. My children’s innocence was lost that day. I posted the drawing from my 2nd grader the day after 9/11. Scared children. Immediately following the attacks and all the news reports on Osama Bin Laden, we found our boys scared of people from the Middle East. Since we live in a multi-ethnic suburb of Chicago this was a significant challenge and grieved my heart. We worked hard over the next several years to help them understand the Muslim religion, develop friendships with kids of many ethnicities, and most importantly to follow Jesus’ example, love people.
2. I no longer enjoy flying. As a child one of my most memorable father/daughter dates was the day my Dad took me on my first airplane ride. We flew 30 minutes from Kalamazoo to Detroit, had lunch at the airport and then flew home. From that moment I was hooked on the adventure of flying to new places. The last ten years the flying industry has reduced to a dismal, invasive, time consuming, unpleasant adventure, and robbed me of all my love for flying. These days I fly only for work and as a family we have become road-trip adventurist.
3. A compassionate generation. While 9/11 was filled with such great tragedy, it has created a nation of people that are more aware of the world around them and the atrocities. Things like global poverty, child slavery, women’s rights, and disasters are often front page news. As are amazing organizations, churches and individuals who respond to the need. I am proud of my family, community and nation each time I see them respond with generous compassion.
4. Love each other, each and every day. If nothing else my passion to make sure those I am closest with sense my love for them. Not a day, a phone call, an interaction goes by without doing my best to communicate words of affirmation, an act of kindness, and love.
It is 10 years later, much has changed, but in so many ways that which was meant for bad, has turned individuals towards good. I pray that the families and those closest to those who died, see the way that their loved ones sacrifice has changed a nation and a world for the better. I know I will always remember their sacrifice and hope me and my family honor their memory with the good we can do.
Earlier this summer I blogged about trying a multi-generational format at one of our campuses. I thought it would work or at a minimum be tolerated by the congregation for six weeks. Wow, have I been overwhelmed with how well it works. But today’s blog isn’t so much to tell you how well it works as much to tell you why it works.
The biggest determining factor in this has been a campus pastor who believes in all generations of the church worshiping together. That it is important for each generation to have a little “give and take” in order that the church may be strengthened by the entire body worshiping together. If your thinking this must be a campus primarily of families or the pastor must have raised his own kids to be open to such an idea, you are very wrong. Our campus is equally divided among singles, young adults, college students and families as well as our pastor is in his 20’s and just had his first son a few months ago. Age is not a factor, but vision is.
Parent’s interaction has been another key factor. As children’s pastor’s we are always looking for ways to empower and equip parents in the spiritual formation of their kids. We often offer nights of training, parent weekends, or family fun-nights. All great things, but we normally can’t plan more than a few of these a year. This summer has shown me a different way to train and equip parents, a way that allows us to partner with parents on a weekly basis way more effectively than other things that we have tried.
Every weekend or two, the campus pastor will have an area of focus that he would like to help parents with, things like praying together, the Lord’s super, etc… On those weeks he writes an e-mail to the parents letting them know about the area of focus, Biblical information associated with area of focus and tips for parents. For example on the weekend it was about praying together, he let the parent’s know what groups would be praying about and tips for how to pray with their kids. Kidsland staff partners with him by administratively taking care of the communication with the parents and fielding questions. This approach allows the service itself to flow and not feel too “family”, but inclusive of all generations, but equipping and empowering parents effectively.
For those of you wondering how we handled this practically in the Kids ministry; parent’s check-in their kids (3yr old – 5th grade) prior to the service. Kids sit with their parents during the first portion of the service (up until the sermon) and the teaching pastor releases them to Kidsland where they are taught a creative, age relevant Bible lesson. From a Kidsland program perspective, we cut out our play-time and music time, so no “teaching” time has been lost.
It has been a great summer! We are thrilled that this is now a permanent format and all generations will be worshiping together for the foreseeable future.
In Children’s ministry why is it we shrink away from teaching some of the more challenging stories of the Bible? You know the ones I mean; Joshua taking over the Promiseland and God instructing him to go to war while killing thousands of people, don’t even go near the book of Judges and the horrible actions of the Israelites, or the Israelites in the desert who disobey and God sends down fire and snakes to punish those that follow idols. Often we cloak our answer with lines like, “the kids can’t handle that story” or “if we tell that story the kids might think God is mean in how he deals with their sin.” Over the last year I have had to challenge some of my own thinking on this issue. When Phil and I talked early on in the What’s in the Bible? curriculum project he was adamant that we would address some of these more challenging pieces of the Bible. As I walked through so many of these sections this last year in my curriculum writing, God has reminded me the importance of teaching kids the whole Bible. The big question we need to ask ourselves is what do the kids miss if we skip many of these stories? They will miss the seeing God pursue his children, God calling them back to him. They will miss seeing how each time the Israelites tried to create their own path they would stray from God, worship idols, and things would go really badly. They will miss seeing God providing leaders and a way back to him each time they strayed. In essence they miss seeing how much God loves his people and we are called to worship him and him alone. When we choose to create Bible lessons that are filled with just the warm and fuzzy content and not the whole Bible, I question if it will help kids when they are late elementary, junior high or high school. The times when they may make some significant sin choices, will they turn back to God as he pursues them or will they just remember that on Noah’s Ark God saved the animals? My goal is to help kids choose Jesus for a lifetime, which includes Jesus in the good, the bad and the ugly times in their lives.On the practical side, creating age appropriate, relevant lessons with more challenging Bible content can be a stretching experience to say the least. Keeping it creative and concrete will be challenging for sure. But I think it is time we start asking ourselves if we should be introducing the whole Bible to the kids in our ministries? For kicks below is a quick look at one way Phil chose to creatively handle teaching kids about the cycle of apostasy in Judges.
Summer is such a great time to try something new in Children’s ministry. Most weeks things are a little unique with volunteers and families on vacation. Kids and families tend to have less structure in their weeks, so a good time to step outside of our standard weekend box. This year at one of our campuses we are building inter-generational services for the summer. The kids will participate in the service with their families for the first 30 minutes, and then move to their classes for large group time. The campus pastor is passionate about the church being the church with all ages involved. We have had some great planning meetings on how to add in some mini-family ministry moments to each service.
I have enjoyed looking outside of our box and being able to use an already existing worship time to intentionally help parents’ in the specifics of spiritually forming their kids. What are you trying new this summer?
Rarely do Ottis or I talk about our home in the context of the race and cultural differences that are our reality. Once in a while we will run into someone who is curious enough to ask, but for the most part our life is a reflection of our faith, personalities and the life we choose to live. We have had the freedom to raise our boys in an amazing community, schools and church. We have rejoiced at watching them flourish and grow, becoming who God has created them to be. Today, I watched the documentary “When I Rise." It reminded me that we each have a desire to just live the life we were called to live, nothing more, nothing less. And many of us are able to make that a reality. But for another portion of the world this is not reality. So many woman and children are subject to the oppression around them, and forbidden to live a life of fulfillment, but condemned to struggle under slavery, extreme poverty and lack of rights. I am keenly aware that 50 years ago my boys’ lives would have looked drastically different. But because there were some very courageous individuals and organizations that stood in the civil rights gap who had a bigger dream, my boys have had a chance to grow-up and flourish. As I watched “When I Rise” I could only think about today’s reality and those oppressed around the world and thank God for those who stand in the gap for change, organization like IJM and Nuru International. So my Monday question is “What are you doing to stand in the gap today?”