Friday, March 29, 2013

LEADERSHIP: Google Sites - Create your own!

Did you know that if you have a Google account you have access to some fantastic resources?  One of them is Google Sites where you can easily and rather quickly create a FREE website for your church, youth group, church leadership, etc.  There are tons of templates to choose from or you can create your own.  What a great project it would be for the youth to create their own youth group page.  It could contain something about the church, what the group believes, a calendar of events, or anything else you might find helpful.  It took me just a few days to figure out how to use it and when I got stuck I simply did a Google search or looked on YouTube for an answer. One of the great things about Google sites is that they can be used in conjunction with other Google tools.

A few ways Google Sites can be used:
  • The youth can create their own youth site.
  • A template can be created and used by the teachers in your partner school.
  • The church can create a simple yet useful site of its own.
  • A template can be created and used by any ministry within the church.
Check out my new non-profit ministry site!  The Carpenter's Toolbox Ministry

Saturday, March 23, 2013

YOUTH: Graduating Senior to Young Adult

What is graduation anyway? It used to be considered the end of formal education but in the past few decades there have been new traditions of preschool graduation, 6th grade graduation, 8th grade graduation, and finally high school graduation; not to mention college graduation.

There is a reason, however, that it is called COMMENCEMENT. Many years ago few people moved on from high school into college so it was the beginning of their lives as adults and they were expected to carry the responsibility of adults. Many would get married after high school and start families and careers that didn't require further education. Commencement or graduation had great meaning. Now, after high school most students go on to college and the expectation of entering society as a mature and independent adult has been stretched out until their early 20's or after college graduation.Therefore, over time the meaning or sentiment behind commencement has changed much like that of the rite of confirmation. (See that posting here.)

What about the church?
There have been studies and surveys about why young adults leave the church after high school. While teenagers leave the youth group to go on to college the question is, were they a part of the church or just a part of the youth group? This is not a matter of programs. It's a matter of maturity. Perhaps by focusing too much on the youth group and their activities we forget to mature them into adults in the church.

How do we best honor graduating high school seniors?
Do we treat high school graduation as a great accomplishment? Certainly. But perhaps it is best to treat it as a commencement instead of a graduation. It is easy to support students who go away to college. It is difficult to keep them going to church during this time. It is, after all, their first time as independent people who have to decide whether or not to get themselves out of bed on Sunday morning. Honor your graduating high school seniors by:

  • Praying for them regularly throughout their college years.
  • Keeping them connected to their home church via email, Facebook, and other social media sites.
  • Provide a Facebook page where members of the youth group can continue communicating with each other, sharing experiences, etc. after graduation.
  • Invite them to participate in the church over holiday breaks as young adults. 
  • Provide opportunities for them to share their input in the church as young adults.

If we continue to treat them as kids without mature expectations and transitioning them into the church as adults, they will stall in their congregational maturity, reminiscing or grieving the loss of the youth group and never really seeing themselves as adult members of the church.

Commencement after college?
Perhaps it would be wise to honor college graduates by having a short service to make them official members of the congregation and getting them involved as adults in the congregation. Ask them to:

  • participate on committees or boards.
  • participate in worship.
  • help teaching Sunday School.
  • help with children or the youth (with appropriate expectations).
  • be a part of church music.
The most important thing is to ASK THEM. Don't wait for them to ask you. Make them feel they are a valuable part of the congregation!

Friday, March 22, 2013

EASTER: Children's Video: The Legend of Three Trees

Ever hear of the Legend of the Three Trees by Catherine McCafferty?  It's a story of three trees whose dreams came true in ways they never expected  through God's purpose they become a manger, a boat, and a cross. It's one of those children's stories that has just as great a meaning for adults as it does children in reminding everybody that we will all be used beautifully for God's purpose. It would be a great book to read to young children any Sunday or on Easter Sunday or there's a 24 minute video on YouTube they could watch as well. Check it out!
Jesus is risen and has a purpose for your life!

Here's the video.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

PARENTS: Kids with Maturity or Artificial Maturity?

Are we nurturing authentic maturity or artificial maturity in our kids? For years I've wondered about what's going on with kids and why they seem so mature and yet aren't. Their parents are good people with good intentions as they nurture an artificial maturity in their kids by doing too much for them in trying to ensure their success and not letting them experience life as it is. It is crippling their maturity and ability to grow into independent adults. All people in leadership in churches and schools should read the book Artificial Maturity by Tim Elmore. Here is my very brief synopsis:  In order for them to be always successful, adults under-challenge kids and do too much for them, creating exactly what they were fighting against in the first place.

We search for mature teens and expect to find them instead of building them. What we have found is that the maturity in kids has been postponed by the actions of the adults in their lives.  While 50 may be the new 40, for many young adults 26 is the new 18.
  • Maturity is about the whole person: biological, cognitive, social, and emotional.  Many kids may be advanced biologically, cognitively, and socially but delayed emotionally and I would add, spiritually. 
  • Artificial maturity occurs in kids who are overexposed to information far too early and underexposed to real-life experiences far too late. One without the other causes immaturity, virtual maturity or artificial maturity. The perfect example is how kids have friends on Facebook but struggle with developing friendships in real life.
  • Parents don't let their kids ride their bikes around the block and are constantly connected with them on their phones to ensure their safety. They drive their kids to school and schedule every minute of their day. Too much safety and structure prevents kids from taking calculated risks and learning about failure and life's consequences, learning to resolve conflict and think for themselves, and learn problem solving. They do not learn to self-regulate.
  • Parents who hover over their kids, constantly monitor them, and structure their time and activities leaves kids with a lot of unfounded confidence which leaves a gnawing sense of doubt. They are confident on the outside and insecure on the inside.
Some thoughts as to how to help:
  • Provide autonomy and responsibility simultaneously. Do NOT give independence without responsibility attached to it.
  • Provide information and accountability simultaneously. Children receive too much information without any application (Dear Confirmation Teacher...) which produces consumers, not contributors.
  • Provide experiences to accompany their technology-savvy lifestyles. Virtual social experiences do not develop the social skills which kids are lacking. Make FACE TIME = SCREEN TIME.
  • Provide community service opportunities to balance their self-service time. Mow our lawn and the lawn of the elderly neighbor's two houses down. Don't do the household chores for the kids because they're "busy."  They're busy in self-service.
Help parents bring the lives of their kids back into balance!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

PARENTS: The Sex Talk...

If you're looking for a few good books to help have some of those difficult conversations I recommend Sex and the New You published by CPH.  They're easy to read and cover some nice topics in relation to God's plan for men, women, and sexuality.  Some of the topics include:  Gender is More than Body Parts, You're Changing into a New You, Is Sex a Secret?, and information about what's going on with the opposite sex.

There are a few ways to use these books:

Let the Pastor do it!
It's perfectly fine for a Pastor to have these discussions during confirmation class but it works a lot better if the genders are split up and a male and female leader can be a part of each group.  Having a man in with the girls is good so they can ask questions about boys and get honest feedback and vice versa for having a lady in with the boys, however, there may be times when the discussion will go better if the opposite gender is not in the room.

It's the parent's job!
Another option would be to have a parent meeting and introduce the parents to the books and encourage them to have these conversations with their kids.  It can be a difficult topic for parents but it can open discussion that will be beneficial all through the teen years.

It's a group effort!
Get a group of girls together at somebody's house and let any moms join in the discussion for a fun evening of bonding and do the same for the boys and dads.  That way the kids have their friends and won't feel completely on the spot and neither will the parents.

God made us special people and the ability to have intimate relationships is a gift.  Let's get the kids started in the right direction!

Monday, March 11, 2013

LEADERSHIP: Spiritual Gifts Inventory?

Wow!  I just saw a Spiritual Gifts Inventory that was 31 pages long. 31 PAGES LONG!!  Now that's a serious inventory.  I can appreciate people buying into those kinds of things but I'll be honest with you... I don't want to fill out anywhere near 30 pages of forms for anything.  I think after something like that you should at least have a new house or a major degree.  Ministry and serving in the church can be simple and I recommend my very simple three-step approach:

  • First, list the ministries already in your congregation and make sure everyone knows that they are welcome to join any one of them.  
  • Second, make sure they know any new ideas will not be discouraged.  If somebody wants to serve in an area nobody thought of, unless it costs too much money (and sometimes that's any money), or nobody wants to lead it, the answer should be a resounding "YES! You can do that! Give it a try!"
  • Third, ask a few questions:
    • What do you like to do? 
    • What have you done before?  Do you want to do it again?
    • Would you like to try something new, and if so, what?

Many people will disagree with me but personally I don't think spiritual gift inventories are necessary.  Just because somebody is good at something doesn't mean that's what they want to volunteer to do at church but maybe they do. You have to ask to find out.  My gift is teaching but I do that all day long.  At church I want to play the bells!  People know what they're good at and what they enjoy and they just want to be a part of the congregation in an area in which they feel welcome, appreciated, and can find a little joy.  They want to feel like a part of the group.  It sure doesn't take 31 pages to do that.

We will find a place for you to serve!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

EDUCATION: Jelly Telly for Kids and Parents

Ever heard of the Jelly Telly club? is an online destination for families, developed in a partnership between Focus on the Family and the creator of Veggie Tales, Phil Vischer.  Check out Phil's description and vision by looking at this video!  For $5 a month you receive access to the largest selection of Christian family programming anywhere, anytime.  It includes a blog (the most recent entry was a review of the movie Wreck it Ralph), activities such as coloring pages and craft ideas, a list of videos by topic, and if you become a member there is an exclusive weekly downloadable family guide and activity pack that includes guided prayers, memory verses, etc.

You can choose videos yourself or run the daily player which is a compilation of videos for 60 minutes of safe, ad-free, positive, online Christian entertainment for kids (and families) to laugh and learn.  There are easy to play online games and great video series such as The Parables, The Bed Bug Bible Gang, and What's in the Bible? with Buck Denver.  

Here's a sample from Phil and What's in the Bible?

 Check it out and have parents in your congregation check it out too!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

EASTER: Leftover Easter Lilies?

There is nothing as fabulous as the smell of a church full of blooming lilies!!  While I was growing up our church had them all over the altar and down the aisle at nearly every pew and they were glorious.  My mom then brought ours home and planted them with her other bulbs.  Sometimes churches now let people choose other types of flowers too.  Of course, there's nothing inherently wrong with that.  Easter lilies are a tradition and traditions change.

Whatever is the tradition at your church, sometimes people don't pick up their flowers after Easter Sunday worship.  I've even known them to be (shhh) thrown away.

This year, if you have leftover lilies, why not donate them to a local retirement home, group home, or nursing home?  I'm sure the residents would appreciate the cheerful flowers.  You might even want to make arrangements for that ahead of time and let people know they have an option to donate their lily or other flower.  Let the youth group deliver them and stay for a nice visit!

Friday, March 1, 2013

EDUCATION: Bible Reading Punch Cards

Another great idea to try to get kids to read the Bible more and to have a greater understanding of God's plan for His people than just cherry picking verses to fit their current emotional state is to provide some Bible reading punch cards. They can be used for kids of any age and when so many are completed (or the list of books has been read) they can be rewarded by a certificate handed out during church and/or a gift card to a Christian book store.  I'm not sure I like the idea of winning prizes for reading the Bible but I do believe in taking time to recognize the accomplishment.

As with the Bible Reading Challenge, if you want them to think about certain things while they read you'll want to have some simple reading guides to go along with the reading or you can have a brief conversation with them to be sure they're actually reading and that they're understanding what they're reading.  The guides should be simple and/or short but are necessary because kids often read the Bible (and many other things) without actually understanding.  Kids don't always connect all the dots on their own or in the right order so the purpose of the guide is simply to make sure they "hear and connect" what they read.

I suggest you have numbered cards so they read in order, explaining how nobody just picks and chooses paragraphs out of a book and understands the whole story.  I would suggest using The Story.  There is a version for kids ages 4-8 called The Story for Children, a version for older children called The Story for Kids, and also The Story for Teens.  Some of the books have discussion questions included as well that will benefit parents in bringing the story of God's people together for the kids.  If you'd like to use my punch cards look here.

Happy Reading!!