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Why I Miss The Olympics
Posted by Laura

We love excellence.  We love it so much, we buy things that are excellent…or are excellently marketed.  We strive for excellence in what we do.  We admire excellence in fashion, entertainment, art, and especially athletics.  Once every 4 years, we admire that excellence in the Winter Olympics.  We cheer, cry, realize we never have a chance of beating Norway in the all-time Medal count, and we root for the underdog.  Once in every 4 years, we bask the in the athletic excellence of the greatest athletes ever.

And then, it’s over.

We saw amazing things these Olympics.  But no one is watching anymore.  I’m sure they are all still training, waking up early, landing triple axles, flying down a snow-filled halfpipe, and brushing ice.  But we aren’t watching.  Why?

Because it’s weird.

Honestly- who spends time becoming excellent in spinning on ice?  Who runs 75 miles a week?  Who perfects a triple summersault?  Who strives for a tenth of a second less down a mountain? 

People who believe in weird excellence.

I love these people!  One of the reasons is because I remember running in NCAA Track and Field and seeing amazing things.  The kind of amazing things that you see at the Olympics.  Records are broken.  My teammate fell 6 times in steeple chase and still finished 5th.  I saw another run a 5K in 14:55- YES- a 5K.  And hardly anyone was there to see it.  This amazing feat was missed while someone was watching youtube or working on a report or playing a video game.  The truth is that we don’t appreciate the excellence in this world unless it comes within our sphere, our understanding of our everyday lives.  Amazing, creative, impossible things happen without anyone noticing as these athletes excel in weird.

Children’s ministry excels in weird.

Every week, children’s ministry leaders write, prepare lessons, blow balloons, buy 10 more pool noodles, pray for hours, study, copy, email, drink coffee, search google, thank a team, clean up diapers, paint cardboard, get hit with dodgeballs, make more copies, send more email, and clean more diapers.  Why?

We know our God loves weird excellence.

This is how kids learn God loves them.  It is not through random lessons, but the movement of our hearts to find creative and meaningful ways to show them that Jesus loves them.  We search and search and then develop these lessons that show God is relevant to their lives.  And we don’t do it for a medal.  We do it because the end result of these crazy efforts is God connecting to a soul and changing a life for eternity.  Our gold medals are in children’s devotion to Christ, decisions to follow Him, and souls saved.

I miss the Olympics because I miss the reminder that weird excellence is truly awesome.

It reminds me of all of you. 

Keep landing triple axels in the empty arena.  God is cheering you on.  And so are we!

Revolutionizing or Rewinding Christmas?
Posted by Laura

We tend to think in a lot of black and white around the holidays. Nostalgia is on fire, and not just any fire, a fire roasting chestnuts in a fireplace.

The truth is most houses don't even have a working fireplace that would roast chestnuts.

The second and far more interesting truth is that no one I've ever known with a fireplace roast chestnuts! And I, for one, would probably burn them!

As a whole, and there are some exceptions, churches love the nostalgia of the holidays. We love the idea of candlelight Christmas Eve services and programs and parties and even more parties and pageants and...oh, look...another party! But with so much changing in the world and even changing in our children's ministry to make the message more relevant, should we really be stuck in the old traditions of the past!

This is a hard question to answer- Revolutionize or Rewind? And what you need is not just one answer, but a strategy. Why do we do this? Is it accomplishing it's goals? Are the people driving by our "live nativity" really changed or made aware that the Son of God left the glory of heaven to live and die for them?

So while hitting the rewind button comes naturally, let me encourage you that sometimes the VHS tape is out of date- and you just need to get the DVD. There's nothing really wrong with the event, but maybe considering not many people know what a "Cantata" is, your church might consider not "revolutionizing", but just renaming. It's a concert with skits.

For Kid's ministry, that may mean if you are approached about a Christmas Pageant, you can find creative more meaningful ways to have one. You can have an impromptu one at several Christmas parties so kids and adults can jump into the action! It may mean having one as part of a family service specifically designed to reach kids with their parents gleaming the simple truth of beloved story! It may mean taking a break and having kids put on a pageant in a nursing home where they bring handmade gifts and cards as part of mission project!

Many of us will always hit the rewind button at Christmas. Over time, it creates a tradition. But that tradition only has meaning if the truth and love of Christmas are clear and touch our hearts. Christmas traditions have to mean something; they are defined by the feelings that we have for Jesus and for our family. What does that mean? Sometimes we revolutionize the tradition based on it's meaning. Caroling was supposed to bring a little light and remind people of why Jesus' birth. What could do that today? Caroling with coffee? Not caroling, but just handing out coffee? Creating a Christmas Eve service to reach someone who's never been in Church and doesn't know what to do?

Different events may have different answers to this question: you may rewind and press play for the event everyone loves, you may upgrade to the DVD for the live nativity and change it into a family experience, or you may say we need to create a new movie that's HD so people can see with a new clarity the love of Jesus.

Either way, have a blast making memories that will last because they are memories with meaning.

Crazy Straws Are Way Better Than Chocolate Syrup!
Posted by Laura

Can children‘s ministry be relevant without compromising the truth of the gospel? It seems like people have debated this for years, especially since many curriculum, tools, and methods of communicating have been created specifically for the purpose of making Christianity applicable to children‘s everyday lives. Some churches have members within its ministry that disagree so vehemently with any changes to Sunday School or Children‘s Church that they start using one of the most abused phrases to attack relevant curriculum and methods: “watered-down”.

The assumption is, of course, that taking the gospel and making it easier to understand or more life applicable alters the material being taught. They assume that the Bible must be taught the way that they were taught, and any other way is less theologically sound. So, let‘s look at it this way: let‘s assume the truth in the Bible is milk (that white stuff that comes out of cows, safe for human consumption, and really good with cookies).

There are some of these churches that add strawberry syrup to it to make it more attractive for kids. They say, “but it‘s still milk; this is the only way kids will want to drink it!” So they have fun contests for how many kids will come, they spend all of church playing games earning tokens, and they mention Jesus once in a while. It‘s milk, but it has fundamentally changed. How do you ever convince the child to ever drink plain milk/really experience the Jesus of the Bible? The statistic for these kids remaining in church after their teenage years probably won‘t be very high.

So traditional churches are off the hook, right? Not exactly. The basic approach of many traditional churches is to force kids to pay attention to the Bible stories through bribery. Enticing a kid to sit still and listen to a Bible story by offering game time afterwards is basically telling them to stare at the milk, even if they don‘t drink it, and then offering them the bottle of strawberry syrup straight from the container. The problem is they never have to drink the milk; all they have to do is remain still and staring at it, or take fake gulps of it, to get the strawberry syrup. That‘s why so many kids taught in traditional settings may never get to truly comprehend the spiritual depth and relevance of Bible stories.

But you may also be asking: “But some churches are getting kids to get excited about church again- with new methods, tools and video curriculum!” And here is the big deal: these kids do not look like they are on strawberry milk or a watered-down gospel. These kids are passionate about living for Christ, doing what‘s right, and worshipping God. You can walk into these churches, see over-the-top decorations and video curriculum which may cause alarm for the traditionalist, but the results of kids coming to Christ, memorizing scripture, and living out their faith are undeniable and astonishing. So what‘s the deal? Are they using chocolate syrup? No, but it is simple - there is no flavoring added. Even though there are things that defy traditional Sunday School, the children‘s ministry is still giving kids “milk”. They only ever added one thing: a crazy straw!

Think about it. As a kid, would you want to drink milk out of a cup, or one of those crazy, spirally, sparkly straws? Straw. Why? It didn‘t change the flavor of the milk; it is still plain, white milk. But you were more eager to drink it. It did look cool from the offset; but it was also just fun. It made an ordinary thing a fun experience! You got to swirl the milk, blow some bubbles, and just appreciate your interaction with something so simple yet awesome. It might mean some exciting new things; actually some things that might look very non-traditional. But the message is always pure.

Don‘t alter the truth. Make learning time 40 minutes; just add video teaching and skits that are Bible based and founded on living out a life of righteousness. Take prayer requests. Open up the Bible. Have high expectations for living out faith and memorizing scripture. Just create effective and fun ways to tell the Bible story. Make church an experience, not just an event!

So add a crazy straw. Make it worth it for kids to get excited about drinking their milk without watering it down, adding flavoring, or offering them sugar to sit still! And as the experience of drinking milk goes on, they realize something. Life is better with milk. The milk will start to change their lives. So when you take the straw away one day, it won‘t matter. They‘ll be hooked- and devoted to God!

The First Useful Thing You Can Learn From a Commercial
Posted by Laura

You want your kids to be excited about coming to church. You want to reach out with relevant tools and exciting new curriculum. You want to use all the best resources to create an environment that makes coming to church the best experience of the week: cool games, interactive lessons that makes the Bible applicable, great artwork that makes kids feel valued, and awesome contemporary music that makes worship meaningful and fun! But then comes along the negative opinions; will it work? Can it work? Aren‘t we just “watering down the Bible?” And “watering-down” means making the Bible understandable. I once saw a church claim they never watered-down the Bible reading from the KJV to 2 year olds, closing the Bible, and then asking them what happened in the story. Blankest stares in history - which makes you scared to think the opinion those kids were already forming about the Bible. Bible=Blank. Personally, that‘s not first impression I want my child to have about the Bible.

Communication is a funny thing. The truth is people get used “teaching” without realizing they are not communicating. They get comfortable with their method of teaching and dislike challenges or changes. The truth is anyone can “teach” if the working definition of “teach” is spouting off spiritual facts from Bible stories. But communicating takes extra effort and understanding what kids need to hear in order to listen to the truth of the Bible. There seems to be the stigma that teaching the Bible in fun, interesting ways somehow trivializes it. But the truth of the Bible still shines through: you’ve given the message of Christ to them in a way they can grasp!

But I can see where some people might get worried about changing the message - and if the message is being changed or altered so as not challenge sin or negative behaviors, it would be cause for concern. But too many people look at the children‘s ministry on the surface and say, “It looks so drastically different that the message of Jesus must be compromised, right?” It must have lost its depth and meaning. But the truth is, that is not the case. These kids are excited about God, memorizing the Bible, inviting friends to church, and carrying their faith into their teenage years. While it might be hard to explain the psychology of communicating differences to teachers who just fear compromising the truth, try it this way.

It‘s the Insurance Policy test. Watch the two commercials below: they are drastically different. Each commercial is meant for a different set of viewers. Call the company. Just call them for a quote. You may find it interesting that the policies of this company do not change depending on which commercial you saw. The product and its rates are the same, and the need for the product is communicated in each commercial. Yet certain people will undoubtedly be more persuaded to commit to the product through one commercial rather than the other. One person will remember one commercial rather than another. It‘s simply a communication difference. There is nothing sacred about the traditional style of teaching the Bible, considering the ‘traditional’ style was once ‘contemporary’ itself.

So share how important it is to communicate, not just teach. To communicate is to sacrifice. It means if they do not comprehend the message, you throw your method out the window and find another way to get your message to your kids. Make them want to sign their life away to Jesus. Convince them life with Jesus is better - not easier - but better. Accidents will come; sometimes unexpected and tragic. But you gave them Jesus as an insurance agent by sharing with them on their level why they needed one. They‘ll be in good hands!