Thursday, May 3, 2018

LUTHERAN SCHOOLS: Money Will Not Fix Your Money Problem

Something has been weighing heavy on my heart for years now. I've posted about Lutheran schools before. Many of them are struggling, so I posted 10 Survival Tips for Struggling Lutheran Schools. I've posted on the philosophy of Lutheran schools and how things need to change.  I've posted on Lutheran school excellence and how it has an effect on enrollment. And I've posted on how Lutheran schools need to be ready for the changes happening in our country right now and how they might be an opportunity. As I watch schools that I respect struggle and close, I cannot give up and need to post on this one more time just in case one school or somebody connected to one school reads it and changes in time to save it from closure or foreclosure.

You've heard it said regarding relationships many times, money won't fix your money problems. I believe that's true of churches and schools as well.  When Lutheran schools start struggling financially, they ask for donations from their congregation(s). "We need more money." Because we, as a church, value our schools, we give it, usually without question. "The school is in trouble and we need to help." Yes, we do, but without question? Without investigating why they are in financial trouble in the first place? If we give them money now, will they be back to ask for more next year?

Dear Lutheran Schools:

Money won't fix your money problems.

Why not? Because money is not your problem. Money is the bandaid used to cover up your problem(s). Giving money to a school that can't meet its budget doesn't fix the problem. Again, they will only be back in a year or two for more money. FIX THE PROBLEMS!

I know people disagree with this, but, at some level we have to start thinking of our schools as a business. Yes, they are also a ministry, but they need to be run as a business. They cannot be spending more than they take in year after year until it's finally too late. They cannot be borrowing every year to pay off their debt while continuing to be unable to meet their budget every year. If that's the only answer your board of directors can come up with, you need to talk to someone else.

You also have to be ready and willing to change and prepare your parents for change! I have seen too many schools that are simply unwilling to look at their school from a different perspective and FIX THEIR PROBLEMS! What might the problems be?

  • Low enrollment. How are you going to get more students? Look at the 10 Survival Tips for Struggling Lutheran Schools above.
  • Too many scholarship students. It would be fantastic if we could let all students attend for free, but that is not realistic. Set a limit of scholarship students you can take and start a waiting list. 

Seriously, friends. We cannot just shake our heads and feel sorry that this is happening. We cannot just throw money at struggling schools without analyzing and addressing the real reasons they are closing. FIX THEIR PROBLEMS!


REMEMBER! 

Parents who aren't Lutheran don't choose schools because they're Lutheran. Many don't choose them because they are Christian. They choose them because they're good schools academically. They know their children will get an excellent education and will be safe and nurtured. What a mission!! 

WORSHIP: Bulletin Welcome!

Some churches aren't sure what to do about children in church. Of course, you want them there. There's no need to send them out to be entertained while adults worship. Families need to worship together, not separately. I've been to some churches that have interesting statements in their bulletins. I've heard some pastors make announcements at the beginning of the service. One pastor said he wanted kids to feel comfortable and didn't mind them running around during the service. Whoa! I want them comfortable too, but kids running around would be distracting for everyone. We also don't want parents to feel their kids need to be still and silent. Church can be a challenge for parents with young children. While visiting my parents I read the message below in their bulletin and thought it was the best message I've read so far.

A SPECIAL WELCOME TO THOSE WITH YOUNG CHILDREN
  • First, please relax and enjoy your time here. We know that children tend to wiggle and squawk a bit, so please don't feel embarrassed by it. Your children are welcome here at Faith.
  • Each Sunday your child may pick up a pew activity pouch to the left of the sanctuary doors. Please return these after the service.
  • To make things a bit easier for your family, dare to sit closer to the front where your child can see what's going on at the altar. Guide them in the liturgy and be models for them. Help them find the hymns and encourage them to stand/sit when appropriate, say "Amen" and "Thanks be to God," and generally help them be a part of the service. The liturgy belongs to them too.
  • If you have to leave, hurry back! Jesus wants the children here and we do too. If you need help, just ask. There are many here who are willing to lend you a hand.


Below is the visitor message from the same church. This pastor has a very relaxed way about him and it shows in how the people of the congregation interact with each other and visitors.

WELCOME VISITORS!
We are pleased that you join us today! We pray that you would be nourished and strengthened as God comes to us in His holy Word. You are among fellow sinners who are in need of God's grace and forgiveness in Jesus. If you would like to learn more about our confession of faith or desire pastoral care in any way, please contact Pastor _____.

If you really like the message in your church bulletin, please share it in a comment!

Saturday, April 7, 2018

EDUCATION: The Elephant in the Church

A few years ago I wrote an article that I hoped would be published in an LCMS publication. It wasn't, so here it is. 
The Elephant in the Church 
There is an elephant in the church that people keep looking at, touching, and talking about, but nobody wants to push it or poke it to get it to move. It has been there for a while and nobody is really sure what will happen if we try to change it, so we put a tablecloth on it and try to make it look like something else. After all, how do you move an elephant that has been there for a while and is comfortable where it sits? That elephant is congregational education and to move it would mean change, trying something different, and messing with tradition.

We all read the same Bible literacy studies that show the decline in Bible knowledge in the U.S. and we all know that in our congregations Sunday school and Bible study attendance is at an all-time low. Of course, we tell ourselves it’s not our problem. It’s not in my church. The pastor educates well and we have Sunday school, VBS, and regular Bible studies. It is not us… or is it? Do we know what we do not know about education?

The content in the Lutheran church has always been strong. It’s how we teach, not what we teach that’s the problem. We have learned a lot about education, the brain, how children and adults learn, and what effective and meaningful instruction is in the past 50 years. Do we apply that information to our education practices?
  • Is our instruction meaningful or have we slipped into the belief that we have to entertain in order to educate? 
  • Are we educating for information alone or for application and understanding? 
  • Do we challenge the thinking of teenagers, young adults and adults? 
  • Do we train pastors how to educate middle school students effectively, how to practice appropriate classroom management, how to find out if students understand the incredibly valuable information they are sharing? 
  • Do we hold confirmation students accountable for what they are learning or give them a pass if they've shown up? Can they share what they've learned in their own words?
  • Do we expect confirmation students to read the Bible or just short passages in it? 
  • Why do we treat confirmation as if it is graduation? 
  • Do we train volunteer teachers regarding the developmental level of their students and how they best learn? 
  • Do we understand how important repetition is for long-term understanding? 
  • Do we train pastors how to engage adults in meaningful discussion? 
  • Do we publish materials that inform, engage, and challenge beliefs? 
  • Do we allow people to struggle with spiritual truths or tell them what they should think and believe? 
  • Do we follow in Martin Luther’s footsteps in asking, “What does this mean?” or do we tell people what it means first? 
The first step to solving any problem is admitting there is a problem; admit there is an elephant in our church. Our content is exemplary. Our methods could use work. The next step is to stop coming up with reasons why we shouldn’t poke or push the elephant and provide the information and tools teachers need, so the passion of teaching His people about His Word is ignited as we teach students of all ages “to observe all that I (Jesus) have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:20)

We are blessed with the ability to look at how we educate with new eyes and make it more relevant and meaningful by engaging and challenging the people and watching the Spirit grow their faith. The question is, will we take the tablecloth off of the elephant and give it a good shove or will we continue to tell ourselves we’re doing okay? 

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

EDUCATION: Gospels & Acts Workbooks

FINALLY!! I've finally finished the middle school workbook for the Gospels and Acts and I also updated the middle school Old Testament workbook. (Answers are intentionally not included so that students feel free to share their thoughts, allowing leaders to discover what the students think or believe about what they’ve read. It will also enhance discussion and help leaders to know when students are misunderstanding what they’re reading.)

Gospels & Acts Description (sample)
Find it on Amazon.
The Gospels and Acts Reading Plan and Workbook for Middle School is a one year, 33 week reading plan with comprehension questions. It tells the story of Jesus’ ministry through the gospels and Acts, up to Paul’s first missionary journey.

It begins with the Gospel of John as it is written in a more theological than a logical or chronological style. Following are the three synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, which are compiled to give a complete, but not redundant reading experience. The plan ends with the first part of Acts. The questions are primarily written to give students an idea of what Jesus was telling the people. They are not meant to be all encompassing or theologically comprehensive in nature. They are meant to get students thinking about what they are reading and what is happening in each account.

The first page contains information about the gospels and their writers describing how they are similar, different, and their intended audience. There are also both student and parent instructions as well as recommended implementation and tips on the art of leading discussion.
There is also a cool project, Bible Culture in the New Testament, included in this workbook! Students have the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the culture of the time by researching and presenting a cultural topic they find interesting such as: food and cooking, fashion, music, schools/learning, government, etc. A list of options is in the appendix. 
This book is also available on this website in pdf form. It is $75 and can be photocopied as needed for each member in a class.

Old Testament Description (sample)

The Old Testament Bible Reading Plan and Workbook for Middle School is developed from the 70 Most Important Events in the Bible (http://www.angelfire.com/il/lcms/events.html), It is a one year, 33 week reading plan with comprehension questions.The reading plan begins with creation and ends with the rebuilding of the temple. 
Find it on Amazon.
Reading them in order, students will gain a better understanding of how the smaller stories create the bigger story of God’s plan of salvation for his people, and an overall understanding of the story of God's relationship with the Israelites. This book also contains both student and parent instructions as well as recommended implementation and tips on the art of leading discussion.
There is a cool project, an Old Testament timeline, for students in this book. Each week they study, they create a timeline. They can create a book individually or create a wall timeline. Each week a new piece of the Old Testament story will be posted down a hallway so that by the end of the year anyone who walks down the hall will learn about God's love through his relationship with the Israelites. 
This book is also available on this website in pdf form. It is $75 and can be photocopied as needed for each member in a class.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

SERVICE: Homeless Bags

When I pass somebody standing on the corner asking for help I feel terrible. I want to help and have done so before, but am always cautious of handing out cash. I heard that some people create "blessing bags" or backpacks for the homeless and I've seen the lists of what people put in them. They give about 20 things like cans of tuna, a few crackers, mouth wash, lotion, and bottles of water. Those seem to be a little much for me. Somebody also told me their child created bags to donate as a service project and some people carry them in their car to hand out to those they meet on the corner holding up signs. I LOVE that idea. I always want to help, but I don't want to give cash or, on the other hand, spend a lot of time packing up and giving them a bunch of things they may not want. When I pass someone standing on the corner I simply want to hand it out the window.

Here's what I am putting in my quart size ziplock bag:

  • $5 McDonalds gift certificate (there's a McDonalds in every town)
  • small comb
  • 1 pr socks (I can't imagine no socks or cold, wet feet)
  • travel toothbrush and paste 
  • card with an encouraging Bible verse and my church info on it
That's it! Why not all the other stuff? Because I think there's a difference between donating something to a shelter and handing it out to someone standing on the corner. There are a million lists of things online that you can use if you're donating bags to a shelter and, if you need a service project, by all means that's a good one. But if you just want something to have in your car that will provide a meal, warm, dry feet, and a bit of encouragement from our Lord, then this is a way to do it. 

Monday, January 8, 2018

BAPTISM: I Am Jesus' Little Lamb

"A far cry from a signed certificate. What a great way to commemorate a baptism. It is not just a signature on a form, but an explanation of the significance and importance of having been baptized in a form kids will appreciate as they grow older." (Amazon Reviewer) 

Find book on Amazon. Click here.

See sample pages below.
One of the gifts we receive is the Holy Spirit.


Information from the parent section. Good information for godparents.


Friday, November 3, 2017

EDUCATION: Luther's Kids Prayers in Song

It has been brought to my attention by a pastor that with a couple of simple changes, the Luther's Kids Morning and Evening Prayers I wrote can be sung to the Tallis Cannon or Old Hundredth tunes. What an exciting observation! I might suggest that if you're teaching them to children that you choose a different tune for each prayer. That way they won't confuse the words.

I've created posters of them and will be getting new bookmarks as well. Stay tuned!