Friday, December 28, 2012

EDUCATION: Video Interviews


A cool project for youth might be to have them write up some questions regarding faith and walk around the congregation asking people about what they believe.  Not only would it be a great project for the kids for Sunday School but it would be great for the members to have to explain or describe what they feel.

Some questions might be "What do you believe about..."

  • God?
  • The creation of the universe?
  • The Holy Spirit and his place in your life?
  •  Jesus Christ, his life and his death?
  • Sin?
  • The devil?
  • Angels?

If you want to get really creative ask harder questions such as...

  • What is the purpose of confirmation?  
  • Is attending Sunday School and Bible study important to you?  Why
  • Why do you think people go to church?
  • Why should we read the Bible every day? 
  • Why do you think it's important to memorize scripture?
  • What Bible verses do you have memorized?
  • Do you feel comfortable sharing your faith with your friends?  What do you tell them?

A video like this can spark great conversation and if you ask the right questions it can also be used as a tool for the kids to educate the adults in the congregation.  It would be a great tool to use as a youth lead worship service.  Now that's something new and different!!

Monday, December 17, 2012

YOUTH: Cell Phone Contract

When I was growing up my parents always knew what was going on in my life because it was public.  The phone was in the kitchen where everyone could hear your conversation, the tv was in the family room where the family watched it, and the computer, when there finally was one, was my dad's.  Friends came over to our house to hang out where there was an adult present and my mom fed us.  We weren't over scheduled and ate dinner together at the dinner table nearly every night.

It's great to be able to provide all these electronics for our kids but they come with responsibility.  When I take youth on trips there are times when they must have their phones and times when they are not allowed.  If I find they're being used inappropriately I take them away and return them to their parents with an explanation of their inappropriate use.

Cell phones are extremely convenient but sometimes kids...

  • don't seem to have an understanding of the cost of cell phones.
  • don't seem to have an understanding of common courtesy and phone use.
  • are calling each other and texting at all hours of the day and night.
  • are sending sexual pictures of themselves and others.
  • are inappropriately using their phones at school and sometimes during class.
  • are bullying others.
  • do not realize that the actions they take with their phones are NOT private.

Many parents have created their own set of rules and keep a good handle on the household rules regarding phone use but in order to help those parents teach their kids appropriate phone use and responsibility I've created this FAMILY CELL PHONE CONTRACT to help them set appropriate boundaries with their kids.  There are a few rules that won't apply to some families so I left it a Word document so it can be adjusted.  Feel free to share it with the parents of your middle and high school youth and anybody else who might find it beneficial.  Also, if necessary, feel free to adapt it for church use during youth events or trips.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

VOLUNTEERS: ASK! It makes them feel valued!

I admit that I'm most at home in small congregations and my pastor at the small church where I'm a member often expresses his concern about people stepping up as volunteers.

Why is it that nobody in leadership in the congregation, including the pastor, ever asked me to help and do they ask anyone else?  Yes, I offered and he often said yes when I did, but the culture there seems to be "We'd like you to help but we won't ask.  But if you ask we might let you."  Is that the culture at your church too?  If you don't ask people to become part of the community, they will probably remain on the peripheral.  Do you get to know your members and recruit them or just hope they are brave enough to ask if there's something they can do?  Do you send out generic "We need volunteers!" emails and hope somebody bites? Most likely, you won't get volunteers with an invitation like that..

Maybe it's time to look at it from a different perspective.  Ask them to help so they feel valued in the congregation and because you feel they are valuable.

Just once I wanted somebody to say...
  • I could really use your help with...
  • I noticed you're really good at.... would you mind....
  • Do you have any ideas about....
  • Somebody told me you're really great at.... would you mind...
After I would convince somebody to let me try something new the pastor would thank me profusely and I once asked him to stop thanking me because that's not what makes me feel valued.  What makes me feel valued is when somebody notices I have a gift and asks me to share it, and when I'm done, thanks me sincerely and then asks me to do something else.  Again, what makes people feel valued is when somebody notices they have something of value to share and asks them to share it.  ASK!!  (And the more people you ask, the fewer will have to do everything... or feel they're doing everything.)

Thursday, December 13, 2012


I was just informed of a resource I hadn't found yet.  I love it when that happens!!  It's called and it is an online course that was written by an LCMS pastor (Rev. Thomas F. Fischer) and would be ideal for those who only have a couple of students (1 or 2), have a student with special circumstances who cannot attend class, or need supplemental material.  It is not free.

I checked out some of the lessons and there's a LOT of good information but there's also a LOT of reading and it is not interactive at all, nor are there many images.  There are quizzes at the end of each unit that are primarily multiple choice and true/false so they do not get past the information recall stage.  There are some class discussion pages that do include a few questions for reflection but in my "hard to please" opinion as a professional educator, not enough for me to feel they're really thinking about the material.  You might want to add some.

BUT, as I said, this site would be good if you only have a few students or students with special circumstances.  You could use it to have them preview a lesson before class discussion, you could have them work at home and come in once a week where you could have a discussion where you have the opportunity to shape their understanding and can press them for reflection.  Remember that it's in the discussion that kids learn most, not in the recall of facts.  You need to make them and sometimes help them reflect on what they're learning!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

CONFIRMATION: Why do people treat it like graduation?

Last week I was talking with a group of pastors about confirmation instruction and one of them asked why people treat it like it's graduation.  The only response I could think of is to ask, "Why do WE treat it like it's graduation?"  We put the kids in a white robe, slap a flower on them, make them write a "final" paper, pass a test, and/or give them an oral exam.  What about that doesn't scream graduation?  Even the wording in the Rite of Confirmation sounds like, "Woo hoo!  You're done!"

Why have we done it like that for so long?  An older pastor reminded me of my grandpa and the many, many people like him.  He was born in the early 1900's and like many people in his class, went to school through the 8th grade and then got a job.  He became a pattern maker.  If people were completing their formal education at that time it makes sense that they needed to complete their religious education by then as well.  Of course, the world changed and for some reason, the church didn't.

The question is... what do we do now?  First, if we don't want confirmation to be the end of something we need to stop treating it like it is.  Second, if we want it to be the beginning or middle of something we need to define what that is and make some changes.

Here's something to think about.

  • Confirmation is the confirming of faith that was begun at baptism and a confession of that faith which, hopefully, does not end at age 13.  This makes confirmation the early middle of one's faith journey.
  • If faith growth is on-going then should there be or can there be other traditions added at other stages in life?  What might those look like?
  • Should we start inviting kids we confirm back after high school for a new tradition before they now graduate and take their faith into the "real" world whether it's off to further education or out into the workplace? 
  • We receive faith at baptism, confirm it in 8th grade, and learn to be missional through high school?  Perhaps we start a new "sending" tradition at high school graduation that focuses on their ability to state what they believe in their own words.  There are any number of creative ways this could be presented to a congregation.
What do you think?

Monday, December 10, 2012

SERVICE: Mission Trips in Your Own Backyard

Matthew 9:37-38
Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.  Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field."

Mission trips are great!  We take kids somewhere with the purpose of giving them the opportunity of sharing Jesus by serving those in need or sharing the Word with those who have not heard BUT what we often overlook is the need for that same mission in our own backyard, in the neighborhood around our church, in our town or county.

And I wonder sometimes if we may be conditioning our kids (and some adults) to think we do service EVENTS and mission TRIPS.  Of course, they're fun and can be great mountain top experiences but what we really want to instill in our people, adults and youth, is that service is an attitude, that we serve people every day, that the mission (purpose) of sharing Jesus is not something we do on a special trip but in our lives every day.  Jesus is just as powerful in our lives every day as He is on a trip or during an event.  Sometimes we can fall into the trap of how going on a trip or participating in an event makes us feel and not that we are to do these things for Jesus and not for ourselves and how it makes us feel.

In order to do that we need some ideas of how/where we can help.  Take a group and try one of these in your own backyard.  Find out if there are any projects that may take more than a few days and plan a local "trip," develop an ongoing relationship with them, or just help out once in a while.  Make yourselves known in the community.

  • Habitat for Humanity
  • Homeless Shelters
  • Drug Rehabilitation Shelters
  • Veteran's Homes
  • Halfway Houses 
  • Food Shelves and organizations like Loaves and Fishes
  • Senior Citizen Homes
  • Special Olympics

It's great to serve but even those who don't know Christ serve.  The point of a mission trip is not only to serve but to share.  Make sure you teach your volunteers to talk about their faith and their relationship with Jesus!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

EDUCATION: Book & Movie Review Websites

Many parents are concerned about popular books or movies and it's not always easy to find out information about them outside of their marketing campaigns or what Hollywood puts out.  So, if you want to check out a movie or book (or other media type) before you let your kids see it, read it, or listen to it, check out one or two of these:

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

LEADERSHIP: Men's Ministry Ideas

1 Corinthians 16:13
Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong.

Does every church need a men's ministry?  YES!  But men do not want to sit around and make crafts or chat about their feelings and share recipes.  They do need to study the Bible and they want to have some fun.  Some of the things I've seen around just for the men are:


Men's Breakfast Bible Study or Men's Morning Bible Study
A lot of churches do this because it seems to work for a lot of men.  Options might be to have a study every week and/or once a month or quarterly have a guest speaker.  Some guys may not come every week but might come for the guest speakers so be prepared to be flexible.  You can meet at church and allow them to bring food or at a local establishment.

Burgers and Bibles - a night out for the guys to get a burger and have a Bible study.

Meat and Potatoes - ladies can have wine and cheese at somebody's house and men can have meat on the grill and a Bible study.

Some things don't work if they're every week but some do.  You have to know the guys in the congregation.  I'm not sure (since I'm not a man) but some suggested topics might be what true masculinity is, defining success, dealing with guilt or feeling guilty for not living up to expectations, male sexuality, working toward a healthy marriage, being a man of integrity in the workplace, what being a leader looks like at home, at church, and in the world, the evil we do and the good we don't do, the prayer of a man, and God's purpose in my life.  A survey is always a good idea for topic suggestions.  Then again, study the Bible itself and not a topic.

OTHER IDEAS for FELLOWSHIP (Men want to have some fun!)

Sports Ministry - We all know most guys love to play sports and they like to remain active so start a church co-rec team for basketball, softball, bowling, or whatever.

Golfing - Put some foursomes together.  Many pastors love to golf and a lot of talking and bonding goes on traveling from hole to hole.  Come up with questions to ponder every hole or two.

Fantasy Football - I wouldn't recommend serious gambling but it sure would bring some guys together.

Picnic Pranks - My dad was always the first one to do something unexpected at the church picnic.  The one I'll never forget is the huge sling shot he made to shoot water balloons a long distance.  We were at the park and he had two 2x4's connected to a bucket with thick rubber straps.  We LOVED chasing after those balloons!

Men like to do manly things to serve together - everybody get together to help fix widow Marshall's deck or anything else some shut-ins might need.  Of course, it can't be looked at as one more thing on a "honey do" list.  I don't want to clean somebody's house but if a group of women got together one Saturday afternoon to help clean the houses of shut-ins I'd be in!

Focus on the Bible and the church's mission.  Plan ahead so they know what's going on and stress that they DO NOT have to make a full year commitment.  Having shorter studies with good attendance beats a long study with dwindling attendance.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

CONFIRMATION: Memorizing Books of the Bible

I was talking to pastors recently about teaching confirmation and while it appears that most confirmation programs include memorizing the books of the Bible, they're not exactly a fun thing to memorize so here are a few options.

Sometimes having a picture helps so I created a bookshelf worksheet to help the kids who learn better visually organize them in their minds

I also created a set of Books of the Bible cards.  The cards are simple but can be used to help kids put the books in order if they learn better by doing.  Be sure to print them off on good card stock if you want them to last.

There are also a number of songs I found on YouTube that may help those that are auditory learners.  This first one has a nice, easy to remember tune.

This one is professionally done by the group GO FISH but it may be a little harder to remember the tune.

There are about 20 different versions on YouTube so if these don't tickle your fancy do a search and find something that fits your taste a little better.  Sing away!!

Friday, November 30, 2012

CHRISTMAS: Children's Quote Book!

If you'd like to create a special gift for parents, take a few moments to ask kids questions about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and various people or situations in the Bible such as the birth of Christ and compile their answers into a book to give parents for Christmas or as an "end of the year" gift.  What a beautiful snapshot of what their kids believe at that moment!  Remember not to change any of their answers to make them more entertaining or more humorous.  That is not the point.  They need to be authentic and you might be surprised at the depth of some of the answers!

With technology today it would be super easy to take pictures of the children and give each one a page.  You can have them write their own name near the picture and then print their responses to the questions.  It would also be a great fundraiser for a school!

Here's a simple sample of what a page in a book might look like but I am positive there are many creative scrapbook loving women in the congregation who would love to help put something like this together.

Comb or Coil Binding
Sometimes churches will have their own comb binding (GBC) machine but if not a lot of schools have them and might let you go into the school and use it if you provide your own comb spines.  If not any local office  printing store will have binding as part of their finishing services; some for less than $1 and they will provide the spine.  Coil binding will cost about twice as much but some people prefer it to the plastic comb spine.  Always call ahead to see if you can get a discount or even have the service donated if you provide your own spines.

Be sure not to let your costs get out of control.  You can charge a minimal fee to cover costs or if it's a fundraiser be careful about setting your price point.

Might make a great calendar too!!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

LEADERSHIP: Women's Ministry Ideas

Women were created to be helpmates.  We're helpers.  We're relational and we are the heart of our families.  We nurture, entertain, organize, plan, encourage, feed, cleanse, and the list goes on and on. More often than not we even neglect our own needs for the needs of others.  We can also be personally competitive, defensive, demeaning to ourselves and others, and we expect that we can have everything and beat ourselves up when we fail.  NOBODY has it all in this world... some only pretend better than others. EVERYBODY has it all in Christ... and we don't need to pretend with each other.

The purpose of women's ministry groups is to provide encouragement and support for each other and to remind each other that each of us is unique and does not need to do everything the same way or be the same or even similar to someone else.  We have unique relationships with our spouses or boyfriends; we have different styles of nurturing.  We have unique identities and missions and need to remind each other of our unending worth.  We should share hope and celebrate life!  We should inspire each other without competition and hold each other up in prayer.

Yes, you can always have a Christmas Tea, Mother/Daughter Tea, or a luncheon of some kind (and serve chicken or ham salad??) but remember that not every woman needs to attend every event.  We are all different women so it's ok to have different women's ministry groups and events!  Here are some less traditional women's ministry ideas/events:
  • Have a fireside chat where you all get together around a fire.  I would LOVE to do this in the spring, summer, or fall when it could be outside.  Women like to share so play a sharing game where different topics are put on cards (by the ladies in attendance) and discussed.  No whining or complaining and don't forget Bible study or devotions and prayer!
  • For the adventurous... go to a local camp and have EVERYBODY do challenge activities or a ropes course.  Or try the local rock climbing wall and then coffee.  The point is to challenge yourself and support each other.  Don't forget Bible study or devotions and prayer time!
  • Start a Fitness and Faith group where you get together and run or walk outside when weather permits (or a local track when it doesn't).  Maybe somebody in your church already teaches fitness and would be willing to lead a class at church.  Be sure to include time for devotions and prayer!
  • Have a group of sports-minded women join a co-rec volleyball, basketball, softball, or other sports team.  Prayer is always unifying before a game!
  • Have a modern coffee clutch where you meet at a coffee house, drink whatever you want and have a Bible study.  Try one during the day for those who don't work and one at another time for those who do and encourage those who attend to bring a friend, co-worker, or neighbor.  Remember that you DON'T HAVE TO DO A TYPICAL "WOMEN'S" BIBLE STUDY if you don't want to.
  • Have a Trading Treasures Day where you bring your best recipes, home remedies, favorite books, decorating ideas, gardening ideas, inspirations, etc. to share.
  • Send out a survey of what the ladies might need and start some support groups for mothers of young children, mothers of teenagers, working moms or working women, support for any women who are already way too busy, etc.  
It's very easy to be discouraged and fall into bad habits so it's important for women's ministry groups to hold each other accountable so that you can talk about life and its challenges without:
  • Complaining about husbands or children.
  • Gossiping about other women in church or elsewhere.
  • Complaining about church policy or programs.  
  • Whining about co-workers or money problems.
  • Falling into disagreements about petty issues.
  • Competing with each other about who has the best or the worst life or anything else.
Let's LOVE each other as Christ loves us!!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

NEW YEAR: Spiritual Life Resolutions!

Romans 12:2
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is - his good, pleasing, and perfect will.

I believe people should start new EVERY DAY and not every year but if members of your congregation are going to make New Year's resolutions anyway, and I'm pretty sure they will, why not encourage them to make some that have less to do with their physical life and more to do with their spiritual life.  When we focus more on Jesus and others we feel better about ourselves and the pressures of the world become less important.  Simply stated, when we have greater inner peace, we'll have greater outer peace.

I'm told that it takes at least a month to change a habit so it sure wouldn't hurt for the congregation as a whole to try something like a 100 day challenge but be sure that when you bring up any resolutions that you remind them that if they really want something to change it might take more than just a week. You can create a list of ideas to put in the bulletin or on your website.  Here are a few ideas to get you going.

  • Focus more on what we have than what we don't have by cultivating an attitude of gratitude through keeping a simple gratitude journal and regularly thanking God for those gifts.
  • Get in the habit of praying for others before you pray for yourself.
  • Start taking prayer walks through the neighborhood either alone or with the family.
  • Start a prayer chain or prayer schedule where different ministries and their leaders are prayed for on a rotating basis.
  • If you don't have a regular time that you talk to God, start praying at the same time everyday.
  • Turn off the car radio and use that time to pray, ponder God and life and all their wonders.
  • Reach out in a friendly way to others by cultivating a servant attitude through allowing congregational members to participate in visiting shut-ins or those in nursing homes or the hospital.  It's amazing what a smiling face can do!
  • We often forget to READ the Bible!!  Make a resolution to read one chapter every night before you go to bed or right when you wake up in the morning.  It takes just a few minutes!
  • The music we listen to and the movies or tv shows we watch can have a profound effect on how we determine right or wrong.  Choose one thing you know you need to change and substitute something more positive in its place.
  • Put your spiritual life first in at least one area:  prayer, worship, study or reading, or service.

Encourage your congregation to resolve to make Jesus an active part of their lives!!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

ADVENT: Sweet Bags of Blessings!

Share the blessings of treats and good wishes with your church family.

Ever hear of being jingled or elfed?  It's a nice little tradition of secretly dropping off small bags of Christmas treats from one neighbor to the next in a round robin fashion until they've all received a nice neighborly treat.  

I decided to try that with my small congregation but I had to do it with a twist so here's what I did:
  1. Remove the idea of it being about elves or jingle bells and make it more of a passing on of gifts as the Magi did.  I wrote a cute poem about what it's about and decided to call them Bags of Blessings.
  2. Break the congregation up into smaller groups so everybody has the chance to receive a  nice surprise on their doorstep. I needed four groups.
  3. Fill the bags with a nice assortment of holiday treats, a few fancy purchased chocolates and depending on the family, maybe a few simple toys or devotion books or whatever you feel will be a blessing to them.
  4. Add a card with the poem to the bag and make sure you put the grouping of family names on the back so people aren't duplicated or missed.  Also be sure to have each family who's received a gift put their name on the back of the card so people know who's already been visited.
  5. Deliver the bags in secret to start the chain of congregational smiles!
Nobody will know I started this unless they read my blog so this may very well give the secret away, but then I'll know somebody's reading!  

Back of card.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

CHRISTMAS: Random Acts of Christmas!

People enjoy doing random acts of kindness throughout the year but Christmas is different and many congregations participate in what is called an Angel Tree.  They put up a Christmas tree and hang suggested gifts for children in need on it.  Many also participate in organizations such as Toys for Tots or Operation Christmas Child.

There are many, many ways to help the world and your community through nationally recognized charities, but if you want to do something a bit more local or something where your youth, children, or families participate directly with the people try one of these:
  • Schools always know of students or families in need.  Contact your local preschools or elementary schools to see if there are families or children for whom the church can buy gifts or provide some necessities. They don't need to tell you their names but it helps to know children's first names, ages, and/or gift suggestions.
  • Visit local hospitals and donate a special gift to the children's wing of for those sick children who may not be going home over the holidays.  Many times their families can provide individual gifts but sometimes they have large medical bills and cannot.  Talk to the nurses and be sure to ask them for suggestions of appropriate gifts for sick children.  Also, stick around to play with the kids!  
  • It's great to send gifts to other parts of the world or the country but sometimes we forget that there are people in need within our own congregations.  The church office knows who they are and since they're within the congregation their identities should remain anonymous.  While they have needs others may be able to provide, remember that nobody wants to be embarrassed in their own church.
Whenever you give to those in need it's important to teach kids to give humbly.  We may give material goods but our attitude should always be that we are giving the love of Christ through those things and taking care of those having trouble taking care of themselves at the moment.  Be careful how you pat people on the back for their service so that they don't give for the recognition of it.  After all, there's no guarantee that any of us won't unexpectedly be in that position at any time.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

THANKSGIVING: Repentance and Reconciliation!

Colossians 3:17
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

Repentance and reconciliation is good for the soul!

During this time of Thanksgiving people try to focus more on being thankful for the people in their lives and not on the things that they have.   Of course, we are thankful for all the gifts God gives us, including things and people and even the challenges that life brings as it is only He that can use them to help us grow wiser, stronger, and closer to Him. 

In my short 48 years on this planet I have seen people throw good friendships away because somebody said something they didn't like, people disown family members for disagreeing with them or their choices, and people divorce spouses because it seems too difficult to open their hearts to each other in forgiveness and work at reconciliation.  And yet, when Thanksgiving rolls around, for what are people most thankful?  Their family and friends!  Sometimes our pride and expectations get in the way of repentance and reconciliation.  The wacky tv dramas we're all addicted to don't help either.  

So, this Thanksgiving and throughout Advent and the Christmas season, encourage people to find somebody they've been disconnected with due to bad behavior or harsh words and reconnect with them.  We are all guilty of inappropriate behavior and should all take the high road and reach out to somebody whether we think it was our fault or not.  Things may never be quite the same but, after all, that's who we're all most thankful for.... and that's what God calls us to do.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

CHRISTMAS: Nativity on Parade!

Each of these figures may stand 3" tall but they were so cute I
created a tiny little manger scene of them.  I made it for a
pastor friend of mine to put on his desk during the
season but never had the chance to give it to him.
People have nativity scenes from all over the world.  They've been handed down for generations or handmade or just been the scene that touched a heart.  They have any number of characters and are made out of any number of different things.  Some people have a number of them that they put around their home at Christmas.  Ever think of having a nativity show?  Have people bring in their nativity scenes and put them around the church with a short form or card relating the history or story behind each one so that as people walk around they can learn about them.  If you put an announcement in the local paper and/or maybe your church sign allows you to put up messages so you can invite the community.  If it's something you'd like to do every couple of years to invite the community into the church you can have a banner made to put up outside.  Plan it for after an Advent service and provide some baked goods and hot beverages.  If you are handing out a postcard community invite to your Advent and/or Christmas worship services you can add it to the information on the card.  (See a previous posting for an example.)

These are tall and I love them under my tree.
I call them my Norwegian Nativity.

Don't forget to have people fill out a form or a card about the history or the story behind each set so as people walk around they can learn about where all the beautiful nativity scenes came from.  Some will have beautiful stories.  I have three myself and here are two of them... very different.  I love to see the different styles that touch people's hearts!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

ADVENT: A GREAT Advent Devotion Book!

A fantastic story to read to your children over and over again every Advent season!

I was recently introduced to a well written story regarding the coming of the Christ child called Behold the Lamb of God.  It is written to be read in the 25 days leading up to Christmas.  Of course, the Bible is not a novel and gives little detail so the author fills in with historically accurate descriptions.  Download a sample from The Rabbit Room here. It will hold a child's interest and would be a great Advent devotion to read aloud with the whole family though some things may need to be explained to the younger ones.

One of the things that struck  me was in the preface when the author, Russ Ramsey, says, "I found myself in the Middle East not too far from Abraham's desert, lying on my back, staring up at that same starry sky.  In the desert, the night is a magnificent thing to behold.  The Lord silenced me with His glory."  Now, think about how stunningly glorious that sky must have been on the night Christ was born.  Oh, to witness that!!

It is available in hardcover and on CD at The Rabbit Room and in hardcover at here.

I LOVE it when I find a great resource like this!!

Monday, November 12, 2012

CHRISTMAS: Teaching young kids new songs.

Psalm 100:1-2
Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth.  Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.

Sometimes churches have teachers working with the young kids and sometimes it's just somebody who really loves music and kids but doesn't have a teaching background.  Teaching new songs to kids who don't read words or music can be a challenge.  Remember that kids learn by repetition.  The more they hear and sing the song, the better they'll know it.  Based on the developmental level of young kids (PreK to 3rd grade), here's what I suggest...
  • Have the kids listen to the song first, verse and chorus.
  • Repeat the first verse a couple of times, having the kids echo it back in short segments.  You sing the segment and point to the kids when it's their turn to sing after you.
  • The next time you sing longer segments and have the kids sing after you until you're singing the whole verse and chorus and they are too. 
  • Finally, let them sing while you mouth the words.
  • If you have many verses, try to have hand motions or pictures to help the kids remember each verse.  
  • Learn the first verse and chorus the first week and the next verse the next week, etc.  It'll be easier each week because the kids will be familiar with the tune.  
  • Make sure you build the song so that they sing all the verses they've learned each week.  Don't sing just the first verse and then forget it while learning the other verses.

Friday, November 9, 2012

CHRISTMAS: The Many Names of Jesus Ornaments

It's hard to find nice ornaments for a church Christmas tree.  Instead of putting snowmen, colored ribbons, a thousand different angels, snowflakes, etc., many congregations just use plain colored glass balls.  You can always make Chrismons* or other Christian symbols but that takes time and people and they're too complicated for most kids.  What about making ornaments using the many names of Jesus?  You can take simple colored glass balls and write on them with silver or gold paint pens or use glitter pens.  It's amazing how easy they are to make with a paint pen!  I only had silver,gold, and white but any paint pen or glitter pen will do.  If you really want to get fancy glue jewels on them.  I think I'll make a few more fancy ones for my own tree!

Don't forget that the point is to get the names of Jesus on your tree.  Try these:

Emmanuel, Jesus, Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Christ, Son of God, Lord of Life, Lord of All, Redeemer, King of Kings, Savior, Lamb of God, Lord, Messiah

Choose your favorite names and create them as a set.  Make it a fun event!
  • Have a family day and let kids make a set of them with their parents.
  • Have an ornament making day for the crafty ladies groups during Advent.
  • If your congregation is small, give one away to each family at each Wednesday Advent service.
Have kids in the Sunday school or school decorate them and sell them as a fundraiser!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

LEADERSHIP: Sunday school attendance dwindling?

2 Timothy 3:14-15
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

Sometimes people forget that a religious education is extremely important to keep faith alive and growing.  Sometimes they forget that Christian education is as important to their kid's future as a scholarly education.  If your Sunday school attendance numbers are dwindling you need to remind people about its importance - not guilt them into attending.  How you word things is really important because people have been using guilt to get people to attend for years and frankly, it doesn't work.  Don't guilt - educate!  Here's what I suggest to remind people of the importance of Christian education...

  • Write about it (briefly) in newsletter articles.  The longer the article the less chance they'll read it all.  Research shows that having kids participate in church negatively affects their participation in drugs, alcohol, and sex.  They make smarter decisions because their faith has grown over the years to become a part of their choices.  Worship and Christian education play different roles in faith development.
  • Put short blurbs in the bulletin. If they're sitting there they'll read it to look busy.  A short blurb just needs to be a statement of faith development in children or a reminder of the benefits of Christian education.
  • Make posters about its importance.  Here are some of my wacky examples:
    • Introduce your kids to the Bible. We'll do it here for free!
    • Faith grows when it's fed. Sunday school is a great snack!
    • Your kids can't learn from the Bible if they don't know it!
    • Water helps plants grow, Sunday school helps faith grow!
    • Faith helps your kids face the world's problems. Make it stronger in Sunday school!
    • Is your bucket empty?  Fill it up with the Word in Bible study!
Remember in your articles and blurbs to focus on how faith is developed.  The message is that your child has faith and if you feel it's important for your child to have that faith then it's important for it to be nurtured through Christian education.  People get so busy these days that they sometimes forget how important it is that both they and their children be strengthened in the Word.  Going to church is not the same.  Educate them as to why.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

FUNDRAISING: Rice Krispie Church Silent Auction

Ever make a Gingerbread house?  It can be a daunting task.  Ever make a cereal treat or Rice Krispie treat house?  It's a lot easier and kids love to eat them.  I put some chocolate chips in mine to make it look like an old stone church.  I tried to get a cross to put on the top but my great idea of making it in chocolote failed miserably.  I have to think about that...

Anyway, I thought it would be a great idea to have the youth make and decorate a bunch of Krispie Churches or Houses and then auction them off for a fundraiser.  If they take some real time and make them creative they might make some good money!  Here are suggestions based on my experience:
  • Don't make the church too big!  If you need a template check here.
  • If you make a dark church use melted chocolate chips as glue.  I put 1 cup of chocolate chips into a regular recipe of Rice Krisipie treats.  If you want it lighter, put in less.
  • If you're making a bunch you'll save money on candy because you won't waste a whole bag for just one or two.
  • Be creative!  Don't forget that pretzels can make a nice fence.
  • Use regular royal icing to decorate with wreaths, trees, etc.  (I tried to use food coloring with white chocolate and it didn't work out so well.)
  • Make the walls and wait a while for them to get good and hard before you put them together.  Make sure the roof isn't too soft before you put it on and wait overnight for all the glue (choc chips or frosting) to harden.
  • Don't decorate on the same day you put them together.  You want them solid before decorating.
  • Use a cup or lid of some kind to cut out a perfect circle.
  • If you want to make stained or colored glass, use a regular hard candy recipe.  Bring to a boil and then turn down to medium heat.  Swirl in a few drops of food coloring and pour at 300 degrees.  Put your wall (back or inside to counter) on a sheet of aluminum foil and pour the candy directly into the hole.  Let cool and harden before removing the foil.

Rice Krispie Treats
3 Tblsp butter
4 cups marshmallows
6 cups Rice Krispies
Hard Candy Windows
1 1/2 c sugar
3/4 c water
Quickly swirl in color and pour at 300 degrees F.
Royal Icing
1 lb powdered sugar
1 tsp cream of tartar
3 egg whites
Color and beat until stiff.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

OUTREACH: Christmas Neighborhood Invitation

Why not take a little time to walk through your neighborhood and drop off a few invitation postcards?  You can knock on doors and if nobody answers leave them in the door (not the mailbox) or, if you're too nervous to talk to strangers, you can just leave them.  If you get the chance to talk to a few people be sure to ask them if they have any prayer requests.  People don't like to give out personal information so if they have prayers for people only ask for first names.  Don't forget to bring something to write them down! 

You can either have them printed or print them yourself on cardstock.  If you have them done online you can get 100 postcards for about $10 or 500 for $20, but postcards are also easy to print yourself.  You can have almost a ream of paper cut twice at your local business copy store for a couple of dollars.  I like to keep things simple so here's a sample I created. 

Monday, November 5, 2012

CONFIRMATION: Martin Luther on Parents or Pastors?

Before you delegate the teaching of confirmation to parents, consider Martin Luther's thoughts...

Martin Luther wrote a few treatises dedicated strictly to education and encouraged teachers, preachers, and other theologians to consider the role of education in society.  In 1524 he wrote a treatise to "the councilmen of all cities in Germany that they establish and maintain Christian schools." 

He made it clear that he considers the Christian education of children to be extremely important.  Many in the Lutheran church are currently leaning toward shifting the responsibility of the actual teaching of the confirmation curriculum to the parents because Luther wrote the Small Catechism to be taught by the head of the house to his household.  Perhaps they are not taking all of the historical information into consideration or are taking it out of context.  Luther published his Small Catechism in 1529 but in this treatise in 1524 he clearly states that he believes it to be a civil responsibility, and to those who would say that the Christian education of children is a parental responsibility, he says "Very true: but if the parents neglect it, who is to see to it? Shall it on that account remain undone and the children be neglected?"  He then shares his reasons why parents should not be the ones to provide Christian education to their children (as taken from his treatise).
  • There are those who lack the piety and decency, even if they had the ability, to do it.
  • The great majority of parents are, alas! unfitted for this work and do not know how children are to be trained and taught, for they themselves have learned nothing but how to provide for the belly; whereas it takes persons of exceptional ability to teach and train children aright.
  • Even if parents were able and willing to do it themselves, they have neither the time nor the opportunity for it, what with their other duties and housework.
Based on this treatise, Luther would prefer the local government provide religious education to children before delegating that task to parents.  Later, he clearly states in the preface of the Small Catechism that he found that "the common people, especially in the villages, have no knowledge whatever of Christian doctrine, and, alas! many pastors are altogether incapable and incompetent to teach [so much so, that one is ashamed to speak of it]."  He also tells the bishops that they are neglecting their duty in not educating the people!  In his opinion, barring the ability for the government to publicly educate all children in Christian doctrine, Martin Luther thought it was the job of the clergy, and barring the ability of the clergy, the parents.  The Small Catechism is his attempt to help the parents because neither the government nor the clergy were doing their jobs. 

Thanks be to God our clergy and other church professionals are well educated and able to educate our young people and all the rest of us!!

Friday, November 2, 2012

BAPTISM: Adult Baptism in the Lutheran Church

Mark 16:16
Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.

The Lutheran church baptizes infants but there are many times when adults join the church and request to be baptized. 

A while ago someone said her pastor was looking for some printed material regarding adult baptism in the LCMS and they couldn't find anything.  I was surprised about that so I looked around and I couldn't find anything either.  So, I figured it was time somebody printed something up.  Now, I'm no amazing publisher but I created a simple brochure anyway.  I figured I might as well share it with anybody who's looking for something like that so here it is. 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

H.S. YOUTH: One of the BEST H.S. Videos yet!

"Beware of Christians" 1 hr 33 min Directed by Will Bakke
I stumbled on this movie on Netflix and it's excellent!  It's a documentary about 4 college guys who are Christians who travel to Europe to discuss whether or not there's more to Christianity than the American brand which seems a bit fake to them. They have some really personal discussions about what it means to follow Jesus and talk about identity, materialism, sex/relationships, church, wealth/poverty, media/entertainment, and alcohol. It would be an EXCELLENT discussion starter for high school and/or college kids.  Along with the discussion they use scripture to support their thoughts.  They're serious but I also laughed out loud a number of times because they are just normal college guys doing and saying weird college guy things.  What makes this video so cool is that it's not a movie with a moral.  It's their peers talking about issues of the day.
I would suggest pausing the video to have discussions of these topics right along with them.  (There's one point of decision theology near the end where one of them talks about his "altar call" experience but he also talks about how hard it is to choose to live a God-pleasing life.)
Check here for a more detailed review.  There is a study guide available but I wasn't all that impressed with the depth of questions so I created this one.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

THANKSGIVING: Kids are thankful too! Video

It's so easy to create videos these days that I thought it would be fun to create a "Kids are thankful too!" video to play before or after the Thanksgiving service.  The concept is simple.  Ask as many kids as you can what they're thankful for and only record their answers.  Now, you have to remember that young children (3 to maybe 5 years old) are being taught to say "thank you" but don't really understand the concept of thankfulness so if you're not getting an appropriate answer you might want to ask the question differently.  Try... "What (or who) do you love most?"  "What (or who) makes you happy?"

If you ask adults you'll get the same answers...  Jesus, my faith, my family, my friends, my job.  All good answers and I hope they're in that order but it's not nearly as cute as those little kidlets.  Don't expect them all to say Jesus.  Some responses will be very serious, some funny, but all good.  Sometimes they say the last thing on their mind in the moment and it might be what they had for lunch.  Give it a try and see what you get!  If it turns out good put it on your church website...

Friday, October 26, 2012

REFORMATION: Luther's Seal Mosaic

I was looking for different activities for Reformation and came up with a few interesting ideas about Luther's Seal.  It's something Luther came up with himself and each part has specific meaning (see the explanation below).

There are a few ways to recreate the seal in a mosaic so a number of people can be involved.  First, make a template of it and section it off so that each group is responsible for one section.  (The image itself is in the public domain and can be recreated freely.)  When it's done everyone can put their sections together and it'll look fabulous!  Try any one of these mosaic options:
  • Tissue paper for more of a stained glass look
  • Melting beads (the ones you iron and they melt)
  • Construction paper for a regular mosaic look
  • The coolest thing I found was this great video recreating it with Legos. Check it out!

Explanation of Luther's Rose by Luther in a letter to Lazarus Spengler in 1530
"Grace and peace from the Lord. As you desire to know whether my painted seal, which you sent to me, has hit the mark, I shall answer most amiably and tell you my original thoughts and reason about why my seal is a symbol of my theology.

The first should be a black cross in a heart, which retains its natural color, so that I myself would be reminded that faith in the Crucified saves us. For one who believes from the heart will be justified" (Rom. 10:10).

Although it is indeed a black cross, which mortifies and which should also cause pain, it leaves the heart in its natural color. It does not corrupt nature, that is, it does not kill but keeps alive. "The just shall live by faith" (Rom. 1:17) but by faith in the crucified.

Such a heart should stand in the middle of a white rose, to show that faith gives joy, comfort, and peace. In other words, it places the believer into a white, joyous rose, for this faith does not give peace and joy like the world gives (John 14:27). That is why the rose should be white and not red, for white is the color of the spirits and the angels (cf. Matthew 28:3; John 20:12).

Such a rose should stand in a sky-blue field, symbolizing that such joy in spirit and faith is a beginning of the heavenly future joy, which begins already, but is grasped in hope, not yet revealed.

And around this field is a golden ring, symbolizing that such blessedness in Heaven lasts forever and has no end. Such blessedness is exquisite, beyond all joy and goods, just as gold is the most valuable, most precious and best metal.

This is my compendium theoligae. I have wanted to show it to you in good friendship, hoping for your appreciation.

May Christ, our beloved Lord, be with your spirit until the life hereafter. Amen." 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

EDUCATION: Church-Year Posters

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, ...  Ecclesiastes 3:1-3...

One of the things kids don't seem to remember is the church year.  It's just not talked about enough for it to stick.  So, here's an answer.  You'd be surprised at what kids learn from posters!  If you put them around the room, when they get bored they look at them... over and over again.  You can buy some that look pretty complex but here are some easy ones that I created.  They can be printed on 8 1/2" x 11" paper or enlarged and there are seven (7).  If you put them in order they'll make sense.  The first one is kind of an overall view and then the smaller ones have more information.  Below I put a few samples. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

SERVICE: Those in the Armed Forces

Do you have congregational friends in the service?  Do you send them gift boxes?  You should!  Did you know that Concordia Publishing House has an Armed Forces Devotional Book for about $5?  It's really cool!  It has appropriate scripture, hymns, prayers, and other things.  What a great gift to give someone who is separated from their church family to help support their faith! 

So, get your people together and when you send a gift box out to those in the service (and you should!) make sure this book is in it.  If possible, have members of the congregation sign it and add a positive comment. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

H.S. YOUTH: Tradition!!

Tradition is WONDERFUL!!  It brings people together and gives them something to look forward to.  It's because of certain traditions that young kids see the teenagers in the youth group do in and around the congregation that they look forward to being a part of the group.  What are your congregational traditions?  If you think about it you can see those.  They might be a certain version of Silent Night at the Christmas worship, or a holiday church decorating "party" with a potluck lunch, a Thanksgiving Eve Pie Social, what is done for your Easter Egg Hunt, or maybe you have a special way you clean up the church every spring or a traditional summer outdoor worship service. 

No matter what your congregational traditions are, try to have some for the youth too.  They might be something like...
Possible Scene from The Life of Christ
  • A short easter drama about the tomb being empty that begins the Easter service.
  • A toy round-up every Christmas.
  • A Christmas party for the younger kids planned and organized by the youth.
  • A holiday party that includes area youth groups.
  • A traditional Jewish Seder meal every Maundy Thursday.
  • Put on the drama The Life of Christ in the church yard every summer.
The most important tradition is the one that incorporates new members of the group.  Make it something the young kids look forward to!!