Wednesday, June 26, 2013

SERVICE: YouthWorks Mission Trips

They're not just for youth anymore. It's interesting... people of all ages really like servant event or mission trips much better than serving in their own neighborhoods. While we need to remember that service is not an event but an attitude, mission trips provide an opportunity to serve and adjust our perspective and relationship with Christ away from everyday life. Sometimes these kinds of trips can be life changing for people as they have a chance to witness other cultures, talk about their faith, do physical work, develop or strengthen personal relationships, take special time with God, etc. The problem is finding an appropriate place for your particular group.

If you're looking for a great company to work with for a servant event trip check out YouthWorks. I have a friend who has worked with the company and has only good things to say about it. Groups may go to small or large urban communities, small towns, American Indian reservations, or international sites in Canada or Puerto Rico. Servant events are not just for kids either. Think about sending:

  • A multi-generational group - gives people a chance to interact with people outside their peer group and hear stories of faith and life from people who aren't their family and friends.
  • A group of men - men need to take some time to be with other men and do hard physical work. Men bond doing work together and like to help people. It would give them a wonderful opportunity to get away and think about their life, their faith and their place in the world.
  • A group of women - women are naturally service oriented and enjoy hanging out together and talking while helping. Many may not enjoy hard physical work like the men but they can choose to work with people in other less physical areas.
  • A group of young adults - try one for kids home from college so relationships can be rebuilt or strengthened. It doesn't have to be long or far away to be meaningful and re-focus them back on God, their year, and where their faith is after a year at school as well as to strengthen them for the coming year away from their church home.
  • A group of married couples - what a great opportunity to bring couples together and strengthen marital relationships than through shared service and time to talk about their faith. 

There are options in all parts of the country with different types of people and different types of service. Check out the list of communities that can be served!

Monday, June 24, 2013

EDUCATION: Retelling Bible Story Techniques

Teachers use retelling techniques to help children with comprehension when reading. It helps them sequence the events and remember important details. The same technique will help them with Bible stories as well and will be instrumental in helping them understand law and gospel in each story. Remember that young kids don't need to be able to label what is law and gospel (they won't understand that concept anyway), they just need to be exposed to it. The teacher needs to understand it in each story and be able to let the kids know what Jesus does for us and why which is, in its simplest sense, law and gospel.

When helping kids learn about a Bible story have them read the story or tell it to them first. Then go through it again trying a different technique and having the kids help retell it.
  • Use puppets, props, masks, etc. and let the kids use them to help retell the story.
  • Retell the story leaving sections out for the kids to fill in verbally. 
  • Use "follow the yellow brick road" to help them tell the story step by step. Put pieces of yellow paper on the floor and have the kids tell the story while "walking" down the road.
  • Add body actions to the story so when kids retell, the actions will help them remember.
  • Pause while retelling to ask appropriate questions to reiterate important details and law/gospel.  
  • Let kids draw a picture while you tell the story and then use their picture to retell it.
  • Use a series of pictures to tell the story and let the kids retell it putting them in order. 

Remember, especially for young kids, a picture really is worth a thousand words!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

EDUCATION: Brain Rules on Memory

In graduate school I read the book Brain Rules by John Medina and in it he talks about the two types of memory:  short-term and long-term. It always amazes me that (just like the photo) I can remember the lyrics to songs from when I was in high school and the liturgy of The Lutheran Hymnal even after not saying it for years. Why is that? And why does everybody know John 3:16 so much better than any other Bible verse? It's because we hear it and say it more than any other verse.

In order to put something in our short-term memory we listen to it or say it 10 times in 10 minutes or just long enough for it to become a part of our short-term memory but in high school we listen to the same songs every day over the span of years which firmly sets them in our long-term memories. We said or hear the liturgy only once a week but it's part of our long-term memory because we've said it once a week for 15 years or so. I've heard people complain that it's terrible that kids learn the same Bible stories in Sunday School year after year but that's how they become fixed in our memories. The stories with which we aren't familiar are the ones we only heard once in a while; short-term memory.

According to Brain Rules, that's how memory works. So... in confirmation, Sunday School, or even worship, what's the best way to get scripture into long-term memory? It's repetition over time. The key being over time. That doesn't mean it should be repeated 25 times in 10 minutes.  It should be repeated 25 times over 10 days, 10 months, or 10 years. The longer it is repeated, the longer it will stay in long-term memory. We may think it's boring for kids but the brain works the way the brain works. There's no arguing with that.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

ADULT EDUCATION: It's not what you teach - it's HOW you teach.

In doing research for smaller congregations I often have pastors ask for resources for adults. People aren't coming to adult Bible study. My answer is this:  It's not WHAT you teach - it's HOW you teach that keeps them away. Every book of the Bible is full of compelling topics and God's truth. The problem is that most church workers are not taught how to teach, how to ask significant questions, and how to facilitate a good discussion that leads to deeper understanding. Most church workers believe (without admitting it) that they need to bring profound teaching to the people or that they need to unravel the mysteries of the Bible. THIS IS NOT TRUE! The Bible was not written in code.

Unfortunately I can't teach people how to be better teachers in a blog.  I can only give tips. The first key to educating well is knowing your students. Check out this post on teaching adults.

The next thing is how you package what you're teaching. Pastors say we're studying the book of Romans. Can you make it any less interesting? It's a letter to people who are struggling with being human and sinful. In the first 10 (or so) chapters we talk about:

  • Righteousness & Unrighteousness - Which are you? If it's simple why the huge discussion?
  • Obeying God's Law - Do you? Don't you? What are the consequences? What does it say about who you are?
  • Faith and Peace - Really? There doesn't seem to be much around here.
  • Obedience - Nobody likes this one...
  • Dead to Sin/Alive to God - Look at your life. What does this really mean today?  
  • The Purpose of the Law - Once you see your sin, what do you do about it? 
  • Life in the Spirit - Why are you not happy?
  • Message of Salvation - Why then are we not sharing this information? 

I'm so tired of LCMS Adult Bible studies that act like adults are stupid so they give the answers right in the questions. I'm so tired of pastors who lecture and give handouts that don't require anybody to think for themselves. Let the adults use their minds. Let them struggle with what God is telling them to do because we all know the answer - it's right in front of us in black and white - we just don't live by it. Let them struggle with why not together. Challenge them. Challenge yourself. It's no longer about what you should do about it. It's about what you do about it.

Monday, June 17, 2013

SUMMER: Neighborhood Fun Night!

You may have noticed that my last few summer posts have not been about planning and organizing huge events but about pulling back and relaxing. I'm quite convinced that, as a church, in some ways, we try too hard and trust too little. Since summer is a time for slowing down and forcing things never really works anyway, why not relax a little bit and stop trying so hard to push Christ into people's lives and just invite them to join in a neighborhood fun night. No in-depth study, no sermons, no pushy questions, just hanging out, playing some yard games, and having some face-to-face conversations. Don't push... plant... and trust that the Spirit will move in their hearts in God's time.

Among the many you already know about, here are a few great yard games:

  • Big Birdie Golf - This looks SO fun!!
  • Yard Twister - A fun twist to the indoor game.
  • Mini Disc Golf - Inexpensive but challenging.
  • Hide some "treasure" in the yard for a treasure hunt.
  • Frisbee Tic-Tac-Toe - Section a shower curtain and pin it to the ground.
  • Basket Frisbee Golf - Cute idea but needs a bunch of laundry baskets.
  • Croquet, Horse Shoes & Bean Bags - Oldies but goodies.
  • Water Balloon Toss - Sometimes it's fun with partners, tossing and catching them with towels.

Don't forget to make some really crazy medals just for fun!
(you can make them out of small paper plates and markers or jewel them up a bit)

Friday, June 14, 2013

LEADERSHIP: Purpose = Practice

As I was taking my daily walk today (and a beautiful breezy day it is!), I walked past at least 3 churches with VBS signs out and it made me want to ask them... why do you do Vacation Bible School? Some are a few days in the morning, some a few evenings, and a few have VBS on a weekend or Saturday and Sunday morning. I kept walking and thinking of all the different reasons, wondering when the last time was that anybody asked that question in each of those churches. People should know why they're doing something... and then determine if their practice is actually following their purpose. When was the last time you asked...

  • Why do we do VBS? Does what we do support that reason?
  • Why do we have a youth group? Does what we do with the youth support that reason?
  • Why do we have contemporary/traditional worship? 
  • Why do we have a board of directors? Do they do what supports that reason?
  • Why do we do it that way?
  • Why...?

And if there aren't many things to ask why about, take a moment to ask... why don't we? What is the purpose of each ministry in your church and does your practice equal your purpose? If you're doing something without a reason, maybe you should think twice about it. If you're not doing something, maybe you should think about that too.

Monday, June 10, 2013

SUMMER: Don't make plans... make disciples.

One of my favorite family memories is dinner. My mom drove us crazy because she made us turn off the TV  and when we did that, oddly enough, we started talking... to each other. The topics have changed but to this day we have great conversations during meals when we get together. We are a religious, philosophical, and funny family and nobody would believe our crazy conversations but through them my parents were doing their part in making us disciples. Another memory, and one of our family jokes, is that whenever we put up our tent it rained. You know when great conversations happen? When everybody's trying to sleep in a tent while it rains. "Don't touch the sides of the tent!"

So, here's my absolute favorite and best resource for your congregation this summer. Set aside the structure, the constant event planning, organized game playing and programming, and encourage the families in your congregation to spend time at the cabin, camping, hanging out in the yard, eating dinner on the porch, taking a walk after dinner, inviting the neighbors over to sit in the yard, and hanging out with their church friends at the lake. Talk about anything and everything, about life, the mysteries of the world, animals, God, the stars. Find out what people are thinking and don't lecture or correct. Listen. Respond. Talk. You won't see it but they will grow. You will grow. Faith will grow. Making disciples isn't about forcing conversations or formal programs. It's about looking, listening, laughing, loving, and living... with God.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

LEADERSHIP: Want the opinion of the people?

There are many times when we think we might want to offer a class or event to members of our congregations but we just don't know if they're interested.  One way to find out is to add a poll to a church electronic newsletter, website, or even your Facebook wall.  There are a few different ways it can be done but using Poll Code is the easiest thing I've ever done.  You just type in your question and add the code (or the link to it) to the newsletter or website.  If you want to add it to your Facebook wall then click on the Facebook button and voila!  You can even send it in an email. Just think of the interesting information you might get from your church website or your Facebook wall once people start liking and/or sharing it!

Would you (and/or a friend) be interested in attending a parenting teenagers class at Lutheran Church? free polls 

Friday, June 7, 2013

VBS: Easy Online Registration!

Looking for a simple way to create online registration for your VBS? It's really easy to use a Google Form. Just create a Google Drive for yourself or your church and click on CREATE Form. I admit I didn't choose the coolest background or colors but here's a sample I created for you:  Lutheran Church VBS Registration Form. I added the picture of my fake VBS curriculum and just used the simple text question type and a multiple choice for the grade level because for that one they can only choose one answer. You can then send links through email, embed them in your church's webpage like I did below, or create a link for your website or electronic newsletter.

All the information will be automatically saved in a spreadsheet and you'll have all your registration information at your fingertips. Give it a try!!

Saturday, June 1, 2013

CONFIRMATION: Electronic Flashcards Sites

Did you know there are easy-to-use websites that provide the ability to create online flashcards with quizzing?

This one called Flashcard Exchange already has some for the Small Catechism thanks to many who found it before me. You can sign up for free and create your own for Scripture memory work. It also has a quizzing utility. The cool thing on this site is that there are cards already created for many Catechism categories including the questions and answers. It would be cool to use those questions with the Bible reference answers. This is a cool site but there are so many ads that it feels really complicated to use. Mobile apps are also available.

There's also one that I consider a step up (and I'm not sure why) called StudyBlue. The quizzes are pretty good and it keeps track of scores. There isn't anything for the Catechism or confirmation already created but when I looked at religion there were a few created about Martin Luther and/or Lutheran History. It also has apps for Apple and Android phones so kids can take their memory work with them wherever they go.

And then there is Quizlet. For some reason I liked this one best and it seems like it's well used. It also not only has flashcards but keeps track of what is learned, creates quizzes with short answer, matching, and multiple choice questions and also has some already created. As with the others the user can determine what types of quiz questions they want and whether or not they want to be prompted with the word/phrase or the definition. It is also available for Apple and Android phones.