Wednesday, July 31, 2013

CONFIRMATION: Parents Helping with Confirmation

When I speak to pastors regarding the parent's role in confirmation they all say the parents don't participate enough. I have to wonder two things:  1) Do the parents realize how important they are in the process? 2) Do you let them know how they can help?

I have created a How Parents Can Help With Confirmation document in MSWord and in pdf (which seemed to save better) that you can use or modify to share. A number of pastors have begun having parents be an integral part of the teaching process in leading small groups and/or helping with classroom management.  There are pros and cons in both of these models.  With regard to classroom management I would say that having parents involved for that reason may alleviate some of the problems but it also sends a message to students that the pastor/teacher cannot handle the problems. I will talk about classroom management in a post in the near future. Below you can see the pros and cons of having parents directly involved in the education process.

Parents as a Part of the Teaching Experience
  • Parents know and understand the curriculum and get a refresher at the same time.
  • Parents have the opportunity to hear what their children think about what is being taught.
  • Parents have a greater understanding of what's required every week.
  • Parents take the confirmation journey with their children.

  • Sometimes parents overshadow the students in discussion.
  • Parents aren't always comfortable with the silence after a question is asked and answer for the students.
  • Middle school students will not freely discuss some issues with their parents or the parents of a friend in the room. 
  • Some parents push a little too hard for their kids to succeed and confirmation is not that kind of a class. These parents would do better to help at home. 
  • Pastors/teachers sometimes forget that the class is for the kids and speak more to the parents.
  • Having parents involved hinders the students from developing a personal relationship with the pastor/teacher.

Monday, July 29, 2013

WORSHIP: Brain Facts to Enhance Preaching Effectiveness

There are some brain related facts that can and should be applied to preaching. What is the purpose of preaching? One definition of sermon is "an often lengthy and tedious speech of reproof or exhortation." A much kinder definition is "an oration by a prophet or member of the clergy." Now, we all know that that's not what any pastor wants his sermon to be. So let me ask again:  What is the purpose of preaching? My guess is that it's going to have something to do with sharing the Word of God in a meaningful way. What do you want people to get out of each sermon? Once you know that you can consider how to get those points across to have the greatest impact on the congregation. These are things scientists know for sure about how our brains work. They will also help you develop appropriate slides to get those points to stick around a little longer.

Brain facts that will enhance your preaching effectiveness:

  • If you want people to remember something longer than 30 seconds you have to say it more than once.
  • It takes repeated exposure to something over long periods of time to make it a solid memory.
  • Memory and emotions have a great influence on what we consider boring and we don't pay attention to what we consider boring. Emotions make the brain pay attention.
  • Our senses work best together. For example, memory recall is higher when you combine hearing and seeing.
  • If you hear a piece of information you'll remember 10% of it 3 days later. If you add a picture you'll remember 65% of it.
  • You'll get 3 times better recall for visual information than for oral and 6 times better recall for information that's oral and visual simultaneously.
Ready, set, GO!

Brain information from Brain Rules by John Medina.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

HS YOUTH: Talk About Homosexuality

Most people about my age remember a time when homosexuality was something that wasn't spoken of in public. Kids these days, however, have quite a different experience. Teenagers today have grown up in a society where homosexual behavior is considered just another option... or more like a gay or lesbian person is just another variety of person. On top of that they don't read the Bible and have allowed other people to tell them what it says or means and/or many have been told that there are parts of the Bible that are no longer relevant. Considering their life experience, the world in which they've grown up, and the fact that they may have gay friends, the topic of homosexuality needs to be approached from a different perspective than just "it's wrong." It needs to be discussed within the context of all sexual sins and all sins as well as God's design for sexual/intimate relationships.  It also needs to be a discussion where the kids get to talk more than the adult(s). Let them struggle with it, provide them with information along the way and guide them to a conclusion.

Question Jar
One of the greatest tips I give when talking about a sensitive topic like this is to have time at the beginning of class for kids to write down questions anonymously to be put in a question jar. Put some questions you want to be sure to answer in first so nobody knows who wrote which question. The key is to make sure the kids feel completely comfortable so they actually ask the questions they want to ask so give the same size paper to everyone and have them fold them the same way and tell them that if it makes them more comfortable they can write down anything and just put it in the jar. They may say you'll know their handwriting but they shouldn't care as much that you know they wrote the question as they would about their peers knowing they wrote it.

I've created a basic Homosexuality Discussion Outline that has a number of questions you can use to help organize your discussion or at least get the ball rolling. It is only one way of discussing the issue but it is certainly an issue that should be discussed.

Key Thoughts on Popular Arguments
  • Marriage is a label not a behavior. God doesn't care what it's called or whether or not society agrees with it. He hates the behavior so having homosexuals be "married" is not the problem. Homosexual behavior is the problem.  Unrepented sin is the problem.
  • You can't expect people who don't know God to understand His plan.
  • The Bible is not a book about perfect people. It's a book about a perfect God saving His imperfect people so because people in the Bible sinned doesn't mean God is okay with it.
  • God CLEARLY shows us His plan for intimate relationships right at the beginning of the Bible.
  • Homosexuality is a sin like all other sexual sins and all other sins.  It's no different than watching people have sex in movies and on tv, having random sex with anybody anywhere, living together without being married, reading about sex in romance novels, looking at pornography in magazines or online, lying, cheating at school, stealing a pencil from a friend, speaking poorly of somebody, etc.
  • God IS love but that love is not about accepting our sinful behavior without repentance. He does NOT love that. There is a reason we do confession before absolution. 
  • You should not expect non-Christians to accept God's rules. They don't know God.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

LEADERSHIP: Characteristics of Sheep

In the Bible there is much mention of livestock but sheep are used particularly to describe the people of God. The people were very familiar with sheep and their behavior which is probably one reason God uses them to describe us and why Jesus refers to us as sheep throughout the Gospels. Another reason would be because it is so accurate.

I've been reading the Old Testament again and a little bit ago I ran across some interesting information about sheep that cracked me up when I made the comparison of the behavior of the Israelites to sheep. It literally made me laugh out loud. I share this, if for no other reason, to give you a little chuckle, but as a professional educator I try to find out as much about my students as possible. The better I know my students, the better a teacher I can be. As a shepherd, the better you know your sheep, the better a shepherd you can be. We all, like sheep, have gone astray... (Isaiah 53)


  • need the most hands-on care of all livestock.
  • are gregarious animals. They are better kept in numbers as they are social.
  • have a strong sense of flocking which is primarily about fear of predators.
  • are passive and have little means of self-defense. 
  • become nervous and difficult to handle when feeling stress.
  • are gullible and often follow the crowd.
  • are creatures of habit. 
  • frequently look for easy places to rest.
  • don't like to be sheared or cleaned. 
  • are vulnerable to mob psychology and stampede easily.
  • are vulnerable to fear.  
  • are competitive and compete for dominance. 
  • have little discernment in choosing good food and water. 
  • are stubborn and insist on getting their own way. They will even eat poisonous plants and dirty water.
  • need a shepherd to lead them or they wander off and get lost.
  • trust their shepherd as their most calming influence.
  • need "rod and staff" guidance. They are not just used for protection but for guidance of wayward sheep. 
When I look at myself and my life in comparison to this list I can easily see why satan, the ever prowling wolf, so easily manipulates me and I can proudly sing, "I am Jesus' little lamb!"


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

LEADERSHIP: Easy Event Planning Form

I was meeting with a pastor in my circuit last week and he explained that his small church was having a little confusion when people were having/hosting events in the church. The board of directors was concerned about liability and the communication with the church office was inconsistent so we sat down and hammered out an EVENT PLANNING form that I thought I might share. It is electronic and can be put on the church website or emailed and submitted to the church administrator electronically. It can also be printed and turned into a paper form if that's more convenient.  It's a simple Google Doc form and the details will be added to a spreadsheet which will keep track of all the congregational events. It will make a nice archive for recurring events.

You never know when an emergency will strike so I recommend that everyone who is in charge of a group, board, or committee that would host an event should be given an IN CASE OF EMERGENCY information sheet which includes church contact information (name, address, phone number), evacuation map(s), information about where First Aid supplies (defibrillator) are kept, and the phone number of the people to contact for building and/or liability issues. If there are a number of entrances please have them listed in a way that they can be easily distinguished by emergency responders.

A packet containing this information should also be available outside the church office either attached to a bulletin board or in a simple folder holder.

Check it out!

Friday, July 12, 2013

EDUCATION: Use those Catechism Questions!

I LOVE the questions in Luther's Small Catechism! Whenever I get confused about what Lutherans believe and why I flop that little blue book open and look at the questions. It's amazing!

Far too many Lutherans don't really know what they believe. Why not? They were confirmed, weren't they? Sure... when they were 12! The only other stuff you remember from 8th grade are some of the friends you had, the girl/boy you fell in love with, the weird, mean, or beloved teacher, and the math. Things you had an strong emotional connection to and the math. You remember the math because you revisited it all through high school. In short, it was repeated for years. So, realistically, nobody should be expected to be able to answer those catechism questions unless they've been revisited in high school and regularly as adults. AND I've heard many people say one of the greatest problems Lutherans have in speaking to unbelievers is that they're not comfortable talking about what they believe. So, I'm telling everyone to use the catechism questions!

HOW? Any way you want or try one of these:

  • Pick a section and put the numbers of the questions on cards to be chosen at random at the beginning of adult and youth Bible study every week. Be sure to go over the Bible verses that support the answers.
  • Pick a number at the end of class every week for the next week and let everybody think about the answer all week. At the beginning of each class briefly go over them.
  • As you go over the Bible verses that support the answers assign one as memory work. Be sure to hold them accountable the next week to say it (and one from a previous week) together out loud.
  • Create an entire adult Bible study out of those questions but require the participants to look for the verses that support the answers given the book and chapter. Some of the questions will bring up good discussion. Don't lecture! Let them hash it out and guide them.
  • Create an online quiz with different questions each month for the church website. Once it's digital you can use it more than once! Give it a snappy name like Martin's Memoirs or Do You Know What Lutherans Believe? 
  • Have catechisms available for purchase for anybody who doesn't have one (not just the confirmands) and remind everyone what a cool and valuable book it is and why it's so cool. It's pretty much the Lutheran Handbook.
As an adult that book means far more to me than it did when I was in 8th grade. You can tell by the doodles...

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

LEADERSHIP: Team Building for a Small Staff

WAIT A MINUTE!! Isn't team building for businesses? Isn't team building for those big churches with a lot of staff members? Isn't team building stupid? The answer to all of these questions is a resounding NO!

A little team building experience can be great at bringing staff members together at the beginning of each year. Notice that I didn't say PAID staff members? In a small congregation the staff members include a number of volunteers. A while ago I wrote something for a Lutheran camp who wanted to start providing some team building experiences for professional church workers. I figure it's a good time to share that information with the rest of you.  

The goal of team building is to build a shared vision and/or mission and to give people a chance to bond as a team and plan for the year. 

Keys for building a successful team building experience:
  • Begin and end the experience in the Word and pray for each other, the day, and the congregation.
  • Let the team help choose the schedule and activities.
  • Let the team choose the goals for the experience.
  • Include age appropriate activities for building trust and a team attitude (simple physical team building games or if a camp is near and you have the budget to go off-site, try the high ropes and/or challenge course activities).
  • Include opportunities throughout the day for "real" work like annual or strategic planning.
  • Have the team complete an assessment about whether or not the goals were reached after the experience.
  • Don't forget: it never hurts to have a few Bible study goals for a leadership team as well!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

EDUCATION: Best Practices in Using Slides

Source: The NIV Quickview Bible
Whether in a Bible study, during a sermon, or throughout worship, slides are more and more commonly used. Everybody has their own opinion about how they should be used from projecting liturgy and song lyrics (personally I like to see the music) during the worship service to outlining a sermon or Bible study. The question on the minds of many church professionals is how should they be used most effectively? Sometimes it's because they haven't asked the first and most important question: What is the purpose of the slides? Using technology just because it's popular is foolish. Using technology because it enhances worship and education is highly beneficial. While this post is primarily for educational purposes, some of these tips will be helpful for sermons and worship as well.

Basic Slide Creation Tips
  • Eliminate extraneous slides. Nobody needs to read everything the presenter says or will say. Nobody needs to read everything the pastor says. Obviously, everybody needs to read what they should remember or write down.
  • Choose font type, size, and color wisely. The font needs to be legible from a distance so must be large enough for the size of the room and the color should not remotely match the background. Dark backgrounds need a light font color and light backgrounds need a dark font color. 
  • Use bullet points or short sentences. You don't need to show your every thought in complete sentences or paragraphs. Don't use too much text!
  • A picture is worth a thousand words. People learn or remember more easily if they have an emotional connection so illustrations or photos can be valuable. Diagrams, charts, graphs, maps, videos, etc. help describe complicated information. Be sure you label them!
  • Choose simple backgrounds. Complicated or animated backgrounds or backgrounds that change every few slides are distracting no matter how cool they may seem.
  • Include major points, highlights, and/or quotes. You're providing an outline of what you're presenting so including major points, highlights or quotes reinforces important details.
Basic Slide Presentation Tips
  • Don't read your slides. Everybody there can see them!
  • Pause for people to read the slides. People have a tendency to read what they see before they listen to what you say. If you don't pause they will miss what you're saying because they're busy reading.
  • Pause for people to write down what they need, especially if you use quotes. Let them know what isn't necessary for them to write down (especially for confirmation). If you don't pause they will miss what you're saying because they're busy writing it down.
  • Don't use repeated animation. It will totally distract from what you're saying. If you use photos or illustrations that are momentarily distracting be sure they enhance what you're saying and pause while people react to them.
  • Refer to diagrams, charts, graphs, and/or maps. All of these things provide support data.  If you're not going to refer to them then why are they there? If you need a good source for Bible maps try Free Bible maps or for something more interactive try BibleMap. A simple search for Bible maps in Google Images provides some fantastic resources. PreceptAustin has a number of public domain maps. Others seem free to use as long as the use is not online or commercial.
  • Videos and/or movie clips should be kept short. Remember that they should enhance your presentation, not take it over or become the presentation. 
Use technology wisely!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

CONFIRMATION: What does this mean?

In the wonderful world of education, our main goals are to make sure students (any age) know any new information and have an understanding of it so that they can apply it in some way to gain deeper understanding. How we ask questions is imperative in making the connection from simply eliciting information to understanding and applying it. Unbeknownst to him, Martin Luther asked a pretty profound question in his Small Catechism with regard to education when he asked, "What does this mean?"

The problem is that when we teach out of the catechism we have kids read and memorize the answer without making them think about the question!  So... before you tell students to read and memorize ANY part of the catechism, ask them, "What does this mean?"

Give them a chance to talk to a friend or two about it and respond:
  • verbally.
  • written on a note card.
  • written on a white board.
Then assign the memory work.  That way they know what they're memorizing before they do it!