Sunday, December 28, 2014

CHRISTMAS: The 12 Days of Christmas Means What?

I recently learned that the 12 Days of Christmas was written in England to help kids remember parts of confirmation when the Catholic faith was banned. I wasn't sure so I looked it up and thought it worthy to share. It went like this:

On the first day of Christmas my true love (God) gave to me

  • a partridge in a pear tree (Jesus to be on the cross)
  • two turtle doves (the 2 testaments of God - Old and New)
  • three french hens (the 3 theological virtues - Faith, Hope, and Love)
  • four calling birds (the 4 Gospels - Matthew, Mark, Luke, John)
  • five golden rings (the 5 books of the Pentateuch - Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy)
  • six geese a-laying (the 6 days of creation)
  • seven swans a-swimming (the 7 gifts of the Holy Spirit - prophecy, ministry, teaching, exhortation, giving, leading, and compassion)
  • eight maids a-milking (the 8 beatitudes)
  • nine ladies dancing (the 9 fruits of the spirit - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control)
  • ten lords a-leaping (the 10 Commandments)
  • eleven pipers piping (the 11 faithful disciples)
  • twelve drummers drumming (the 12 points of doctrine in the Apostles Creed)
Now, lore is full of stories like this so it may or may not be true, but it is clever none-the-less, don't you think?

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

NEW YEAR: Daily Faith Talk

People are always asking for good devotional books they can use with their kids, which I can appreciate, however, I'm going to go in a different direction. First, I recommend they read the Bible (though I wouldn't trudge through all the major or minor prophets). I recommend The Story for Kids or The Story for Children, depending on the age of the kids because it's the Bible and not a devotional.

Second, I'm going in a different direction here because I think connecting kids and their growing faith to their lives doesn't necessarily happen through a devotion written by somebody with the best of intentions. I think it's important to encourage and equip parents to take the time to talk about faith with their kids within the context of their daily lives. The problem is that people don't know how to start the discussion or don't want to take the time to do it every day/night. The thing is, it doesn't have to be a formal conversation. It could be as simple as a dinner table discussion or a bedtime check-in. If people need discussion starters they can try something like this: 
  1. How was your day? Tell me about it.
  2. Anything interesting happen in school today? 
  3. Anything really good/bad/funny happen today?  
  4. Can you think of anything from the Bible that would fit your life or help today? 
  5. Did you see God in the world today? Where? (Caution parents not to teach kids to look for signs as to what to do in life, but to see how God used them or others or showed Himself to them after the fact.)
  6. God won't always make your life easy, but He is always there for you. 
  7. Pray. Get the kids involved in talking to God without a prayer written by the author of a book. It's never a bad thing to teach kids Luther's morning or evening prayers, the Lord's Prayer, and/or any other prayer they can commit to memory that will help them throughout their lives.
I don't mind books for some things (after all, I wrote one with my students for Advent), but for regular daily life, I prefer to train parents not to depend on them... or to only depend on one... the Bible. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

CONFIRMATION: Images of Faith

I love supplemental curricula. One of the reasons I've never developed a confirmation curriculum is because I never teach anything directly as it's written. I haven't found a single curriculum that I find adequate both educationally as a teacher and in content. Most of the pastors I speak with would agree as they seem to create their own as well, which is why I wrote my book The Art of Teaching Confirmation. Whatever you use, please teach it well.

Images of FaithThat said, there's a new supplemental curriculum out there through the CUENet (Concordia University Education Network) called Images of Faith. The problems I find with much of the confirmation curricula out there is that

  1. it feels like it's written by people who haven't been in a classroom in 25 years (or ever) and are out of touch with children that age,
  2. has too much reading for both the student and the teacher (as do many put out by the LCMS), and
  3. are big on telling people what to say to students (scripting) and low on challenging, thought-provoking questions that make students think. 

Nobody is interested in reading a dissertation on the First Commandment before teaching it to 13 year old kids, especially if they're pastors who have been well-educated. This curriculum appears to have the same problem as the teacher notes for the First Commandment are 15 pages long with 7 of those pages student notes. That's quite a bit of work for a supplemental curriculum and seriously, no 12-14 year old is going to read all that. What this course does have, however, are some fantastic images.

What I would recommend as a professional educator is, if you intend to use this supplemental curriculum that has a number of pages of required reading, have the kids read the information at home before they get to class so that you can have them interact with the material in many and various ways in class.  Also, don't forget that a picture is worth a thousand words when it comes to memory so, whether or not you use this curriculum or any other, use images!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

CHRISTMAS: Nativity Masks

Nativity Masks
Oriental Trading
I don't know if I posted on this before but I discovered that the link changed so I'm going to post them again. Here are some really fun nativity masks from Oriental Trading.

They would be fantastic for your pre-k through about 2nd or 3rd grade kids and could be used for more Bible stories than just the birth of Jesus. They would be great for children's messages too!

Young kids LOVE to pretend. Let them!!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

CONFIRMATION: Create a TED-Ed lesson?!!?

Did you know TED-Ed has a lesson creation tool?  

  • Use the TED-Ed website to search of any video on YouTube.
  • Use TED-Ed to enhance the video by adding goals or objectives, add multiple choice or open ended questions, add links to other articles or resources online, or even a blog you created to give students something to think about. 
  • Use TED-Ed for online discussion. 
  • It even allows you to track their progress!

How might you use this fabulous tool? Well, if you need to be gone and still want to give your students something to think about you could use it to flip your classroom, you could prepare something for the kids to experience beforehand that you want to discuss face-to-face in class, or you could create a whole online confirmation program. If you're going to create an online course I would include face-to-face discussion time every couple of weeks to touch base. It allows for a better assessment opportunities.

Check out the video or learn more on the TED-Ed website.


Saturday, September 27, 2014

HS YOUTH: Do they or don't they? Will they or won't they?

It's been a while since I posted. I'm teaching 7/8th grades at Central Lutheran School in St. Paul and have been very busy trying to get my procedures down to something that works for all of us. But, in my quiet moments of contemplation while I walk I've been haunted by a question, "How do we keep the youth attending church into their 20's and 30's and the rest of their lives?"

The answer so far has been to "fill them up" with activities and events throughout high school. I hear people, pastors, and youth workers say, "We draw them in with activities and then share the gospel." Once, after saying that, a pastor immediately added, "It's not a bait and switch." Hmm... for some reason that has never sat well with me.

Churches put a lot of money and effort toward youth ministry as if this is the last chance these kids have, and based on polls, that may be true. Or it may not be true as we can never discount the power of the Holy Spirit in anyone's life. It is, after all, the Spirit of God who brings people to faith. Upon hearing that statistic, however, churches immediately jump into action and designate special people to be "in charge" of growing the faith of their youth. It's as if they're thinking, "If we grow it enough as teenagers it'll last a lifetime!" They give them budgets and youth rooms they can decorate however they want, whether it's black walls with flames or crazy murals. They include game tables, video games, big screen televisions, and sometimes, coffee shops. They send them on servant events and mission trips and fully believe that the more activities the kids attend, the stronger their ties to church will become, because they will develop relationships. They also do devotions and have Bible studies... some of which are truly thought provoking and impactful. None of these things in and of themselves are bad, but the question remains: Are these the things that compel the youth to continue to go to church after they graduate?

We know that the reason they come to church is because they have relationships with other teenagers. This is most certainly true. I had a very close youth group and I'm still in contact with many of them, I love them dearly and know for a fact that they are part of why I am the person that I am. They are the reason I wanted to attend church during high school. They are not, however, the reason I attended church after high school.

So, the question remains. Why do our youth stop going to church during and after college? I believe the answer to that lies somewhere between their life choices and the Holy Spirit. Many don't go while away at college because it's inconvenient, they have no transportation, and they don't even know where a church is located in relation to where they live on campus; but they do go when they return home during college, and afterward if they live with their parents or in the same town.

What I know for sure is that going to every youth group activity throughout high school is not what affects their choices as a young adult.
  • Church feels different after college. The youth group and the youth room are full of strangers and they don't belong there anymore. 
  • Their friends have grown and changed and so have they, so they don't feel as connected as they once did. They may not have kept up relationships and some may have moved away.
  • They're making friends and developing relationships at work, so that's who they hang-out with now. 
  • They tried adult Bible study and found it less than stimulating and while in the youth group they could ask questions and interact with the material, adult Bible study seems a place where only the pastor talks, few people ask questions, the pastor asks and answers his own questions, and/or the outline given has all the answers on it. Everybody agrees with whatever the pastor says and they all sit and nod and share how they agree, with coffee.
  • As a teenager there's a separation between the congregation and the youth. You're not a part of the congregation... you're the youth. How do they become a part of the "inner circle" that is considered "the congregation" after they graduate from high school or have been away at college? Perhaps nobody ever invited them to be a part of the a board or committee, or when they did they were treated as if they were still a teenager and nobody took their input seriously. 
On second thought, maybe it's not about how we treat the youth, but how we treat the adults.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

CONFIRMATION: Read the Bible!!




“Biblical literacy is neither a current reality nor a goal in the U.S.” (The Barna Group, www.barna.org)

What most Christians believe about the Bible and their faith is completely misguided. The problem stems from

Workbook on Amazon
1) Not really knowing what the Bible says. Christians are creating their own version of Christianity based on what they want to believe is true as opposed to what the Bible teaches. Barna’s research suggests that this practice takes effect in the early teenage years and that by the time most kids reach the age of 14 they think they know everything about the Bible and don’t need it anymore.

2) Reading out of context. One of the things missing from confirmation education is the expectation to read the Bible in more than short sections or specifically chosen verses. Barna says, “Bible reading has become the religious equivalent of sound-bite journalism.” If it fits on a coffee cup and they agree with it then they accept it. As a result of this practice students go through confirmation without understanding the fundamental themes and have little interest in deepening their knowledge of the Bible or its author.

Developed from the "70 Most Important Events in the Bible," the "Old Testament Bible Reading Plan and Workbook for Middle School" is a one year, 33 week reading plan with comprehension questions. Until this point, most students have heard and talked about various stories in Sunday School but have never had the opportunity to read God's redeeming story in context themselves. The middle school comprehension questions are primarily plot oriented in order to give students an overall understanding of the story of God's ongoing relationship with His people. Students should be able to relate the stories back to the educator with accuracy and be able to tell what God is doing and what the people are doing as well as apply what they know about them in different ways. Answers are not included as students should not be looking for what the author or the pastor/educator thinks, but what they think. If educators are unfamiliar with any particular reading they may read along with the students. Check out a SAMPLE!

A pdf file with photocopy permission within a congregation is available from my website or a workbook for each student may be purchased through Amazon. I'm going through it with my students this year. 

(Old Testament Level II for high school will be out later this month and then Gospels & Acts followed by Epistles later this year.)


Saturday, August 23, 2014

LUTHERAN SCHOOLS: 10 Survival Tips for Struggling Lutheran Schools

I know this blog is primarily for congregations but I'm taking a side trip because, let's face it, our Lutheran schools (and probably many other parochial schools) are struggling to survive. They get smaller and smaller, combining classes until they have no choice but to close. What I've found over time is that many K-8 Lutheran schools are great about having religion classes, chapel, devotions, and prayer. Where they often struggle is on the governance, administrative/academic fronts. Here's my professional advice to start turning the Titanic.
  1. Know your competition (private, charter, traditional public). If you don't know what they offer, you won't know how to compete with them and let's face it; you're competing with them and many of them don't charge tuition. Too many Lutheran schools think their only competition is other parochial schools.
  2. Know what you value most. Set priorities, and know what's flexible and what's not. Your arts program may bring students to your school but you do not want to have to explain that your kids get a lot of electives but you skimp on science or math. Some things are flexible and some are not. For example, for 7th/8th grade, some schools have 5 core classes (Religion, Language Arts, Math, Social Studies, Science) and then electives (Health, Art, Music, Band, P.E., etc.). That's 5 classes that have required homework. Now think about electives. Having 4 electives that run all year add 4 more classes with the possibility of homework. That's a lot of homework!! But there are options: fewer year-long electives, one elective per quarter (but band/choir all year), etc. There's only so much elective time. How should it best be used for the benefit of the students?
  3. Understand the needs of your population. The academic needs of elementary students are very different from those of middle schoolers. Know what they are and address them. Most K-8 Lutheran schools will send their students to a public high school. Make sure they're prepared both academically and socially. 
  4. Have a rigorous curriculum, don't just say you do. Prove it with data. I see Lutheran schools all over the place that claim they have a rigorous curriculum but have no data to back it up. So, in essence it's just your opinion. Your curriculum is rigorous... compared to what?
  5. Have a clear and concise website message. There is no prize for a complicated website. When parents are looking for a school for their kids they do two things: ask around the neighborhood or at church, and check schools out on the web. Be sure the top 5 reasons they should come to your school is on your website. After that they'll visit. Be sure your school is visitor friendly. Is the front door easy to find? Once in the front door is the office easy to find? Are the office and classrooms neat and tidy? Is all storage in an appropriate place? Is it clean?
  6. Make sure your school board is trained to run a school and not a church. Schools and churches are two very different entities. A lot of people think the school is a mission and it is, but it is also a business intended with the specific purpose of educating students better or as well as any public school. When the education fails, the school no longer exists. Private schools are not bound by many of the rules or requirements of the state but there are a lot of lessons that can be learned from their governance and administration. (See my Lutheran School Board Information Manual).
  7. Have a fully qualified faculty. All teachers should be licensed. Too many Lutheran schools hire people they like before people who are qualified as both teachers and administrators. Why would a parent send their child to a school whose board, administration, and faculty are unconcerned about having qualified teachers and administrators? Be sure your teachers keep in touch with what's going on in the world of education. Visit other schools, not other Lutheran schools, but other local schools to see what's going on there. 
  8. Live up to your state's standards. The message is... we do everything they do but more. Be able to show it with comparison guides either on the website or as a document given to prospective parents. If you're going to compete with the local schools you want to be more than a Christian school, you want to be an excellent school academically. Tell people you provide everything the public school does and more! Your students get Christ in the classroom!
  9. Reach out to ALL the Christian congregations in the area. Lutheran schools can and should reach out to all Christians in their area and not just those in their denomination. It's very easy to use Google maps to find your school and then do a search for churches in that area. Just because they're a different denomination doesn't mean their members wouldn't appreciate a good Christian education for their children.
  10. EMBRACE CHANGE!!! There's only one thing that never changes and that's God's love. Realize there are things that need to change and stop finding reasons to keep doing what you've always done. There's a reason people make fun of the phrase "We've always done it that way." That's about pride. Don't become a school that closes simply because you refuse to embrace change or let go of your pride.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

EDUCATION: Church Year Posters for Sunday School

One of the things students forget regularly is information regarding the church year. Yes, we talk about it once or twice, but it's not really information they remember. One way to get it to stick a little better is to put up posters around your Sunday school classroom(s) and youth room. When kids get bored they look around the room so you might as well have them look at something educational and faith building.

I posted on these before but the posters were the kind that can be printed on standard paper which means they weren't very sturdy and/or needed to be laminated. They are simple to design on your own or you can turn what I have created into an 18"x24" poster and have them professionally printed. My design costs only $2 per poster. Simply go to my posters page and once ordered I'll send the pdf's and you can have them printed at a place like Short Run Posters for about $4 each. I've found the pdf works best at Short Run Posters, it's a good deal, and the posters are a good quality.







Monday, August 4, 2014

ACTIVITY: FOOTGOLF Anyone?



FOOTGOLF you say?  I had never heard of it before a friend told me she did it with her family in California and now I find there are 6 Foot Golf Courses in the Twin Cities area. Here's how you play in a nutshell. Players kick off from a tee box and attempt to get their soccer balls in a 21-inch diameter "cup" using the fewest number of kicks on a 9-hole course. Doesn't it sound like fun? The cost is about $10 per person. There's even an American FootGolf League!! What a great way for families and youth to spend an afternoon! 

Here are a few options:
  • FootGolf tournament as a fundraiser. Just think of how many more people can participate in this than in a golf tournament.
  • Annual family tournament before or after a church picnic.
  • Annual Fall FootGolf tournament.
  • Have some wacky awards for those who kick the ball in the wrong direction, etc.
  • Have some serious awards for best score, worst score, etc.
I might not even make a fool of myself playing 
this game and can't wait to try it!!




Saturday, August 2, 2014

EDUCATION: Change Sunday School to Bible Story Time!!

The more congregations I visit and church workers I talk to, the more obvious it becomes that the implementation of Sunday School has developed a couple of problems: teacher shortages and low attendance. What does this mean? It means it's time for a change.

It's time to change Sunday School into Bible Story Time!

Educational research shows that stories have great value in learning for people of all ages so any age can be involved, but it should be geared for the kids, meaning that the stories should always be told so that the children can understand them. When I give SS teacher training it's all about the story and providing children opportunities to tell you what they know. I give participants information regarding the developmental abilities and interests of kids in each age group and then we apply that to Sunday school. This helps kids have a better understanding of Bible stories and God's relationship with His people.

The Goal:  Students hear the story and accurately tell it back. Parents and other adults participate and aid the kids in retelling each story to their group. The older the student, the more detailed the retelling should be.

There are so many options about how to pull this off that I don't know how to present them other than to give a list and let your imagination run wild with what will work for your congregation.

  • People of every age are invited to participate.
  • Either have somebody tell the story (please do it well) or use a video (try What's in the Bible? from Veggie Tales creator Phil Vischer) or read it WITH EXPRESSION. 
  • Another good resource would be The Story for Children (4-8 years) and The Story for Kids (9-12 years).
  • Break into age appropriate groups with a few adults in each group. 
  • Middle & high school students can either choose (as a group) to participate in story telling or do a study, hopefully a Bible reading plan, on their own.
  • You can, but don't need to have the same adults every week. 
  • If you happen to have a great story teller in your church this could be fantastic.
  • Have plenty of props for the kids to use when they retell the story.
  • Have pictures that kids can use to retell the story.
  • Every week have a few volunteers share the story from last week so they see that each of these stories are part of a bigger story. 
  • At the end of the year (or maybe twice a year) have a service dedicated to the children telling the congregation what the Bible says by telling the stories.
We all learn through stories and kids LOVE being read to! Being able to retell the stories of the Bible correctly help children remember them. So, if you're having trouble getting parents to bring their kids to Sunday School, invite them to Bible Story Time!! Invite the ENTIRE CONGREGATION to Bible Story Time!! Invite the ENTIRE COMMUNITY to Bible Story Time!!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

YOUTH: What's your philosophy?

What's the philosophy of youth ministry at your church? We all want our teenagers to learn and grow in faith and I've seen it all. There are churches that have little activity and churches that have so many scheduled activities that being a part of the youth group becomes expensive and more of a country club experience than anything else. I've seen strong and well developed Bible study experiences and those who just sit down with kids to talk about whatever. So, my question is, what's the philosophy of youth ministry at your church?

Youth ministry is a balance. Teenagers, in high school, are all about being social but that doesn't mean they aren't searching for something deeper at church. They need the truth of the gospel and yearn for a deeper knowledge of their God. They do not want watered down theology and constant praise songs.

It's important to sit down and think about what your youth ministry program is all about. What do you, as a church, value enough to provide that for your youth? I suggest every congregation consider what I call the four pillars of youth ministry.

  • Spiritual Growth - providing opportunities for quality Bible study.
  • Leadership Training - by allowing students to be leaders.
  • Service - both inside and outside the congregation.
  • Fellowship - opportunities for students to have fellowship and grow together.

You can print off a copy of my philosophy of youth ministry here.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

LEADERSHIP: Cool Idea to Decorate the Youth Room

Christian Statements

Sometimes I visit churches and the youth rooms are a little scary. I've seen the walls painted black or other dark colors or there are poorly painted murals on them because people wanted to provide a space the teenagers could make "their own." I posted an idea on how to get around that unsightly problem previously. Check out that posting here. For now, let's just leave it at wanting them to feel comfortable within boundaries, because first and foremost it is the church, the house of God. So, we give them choices, however, limited choices.

Vinyl Wall Expression, Whatever is True  -
Christian Book Store
With the amazing growth of technology, there is another really cool way to decorate youth room or Sunday School classroom walls easily using vinyl wall decals. They're removable and can change the feel of any plain classroom with little effort. They can cost as little as $20 and at some places you can choose a color or even design your own decal. These are so SUPER cool that I might even put a few in my classroom! The only caution I might share is that there is a lot of coffee cup theology out there and while many cool and popular quotes may seem Biblical, there's a good chance they aren't. You might want to make sure you're advertising the right things on the walls of your church and let that story be told through actual Scripture as opposed to cute or wise quips.

If you do a Google search for scripture vinyl wall decals you'll see a lot of options at a wide variety of prices. Check these out!

Christian Book Store
Vinyl Unlimited
Christian Statements - These have a variety of colors!
Wall Praise - You can create your own designs here!
A Great Impression
Trading Phrases
Christian Vinyl Wall Art

A Great Impression

Sunday, July 27, 2014

CONFIRMATION: Best Resource EVER!!

As you all know, I have a bit of a passion for improving how we educate in the church and especially for confirmation; so much so that I wrote a book about it! The book, The Art of Teaching Confirmation can be found on Amazon. It can best be described by those who have reviewed it so elegantly that I cannot help but repeatedly use their words. 
Link to Amazon.
“If there is one task in the church which causes consternation among pastors, students and parents, it is confirmation. Pastors, according to St. Paul, are supposed to be apt to teach (1 Tim 3:2). But the art of teaching confirmation is one learned through experience, through trial and error. Pastors are well-trained in theology, but they may be less knowledgeable about the many areas which surround that necessary teaching task. Laura Langhoff brings to the topic insight to the pitfalls, joys and opportunities found in the experience of teaching the foundations of the Christian faith especially to the young student. With almost thirty years of experience with youth and teaching, Langhoff takes on the First Article issues of delivering the faith to students of a certain age. The topics of development, assessment, learning techniques, homework, expectations and strategies are articulated and approached with expertise so that Christ Jesus is clearly taught and the Christian faith is heard, read, marked, learned, and inwardly digested. Pastors, whether new or well-seasoned, will not be disappointed by Ms. Langhoff’s teaching gift to them.  A good read it is and will challenge pastors to reevaluate their own teaching approaches and sharpen their skills and knowledge.”
– Pastor Shawn L. Kumm, Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, Laramie, Wyoming 
"Laura does something that should have happened years ago - in an accessible and useful way - talks education psychology in regard to Confirmation instruction, in real world language. It's absolutely necessary that a variety of audiences pick this book up to hone skills, review concepts and theories, and be encouraged in a vital task of the Church - teaching the faith. So, Pastors, DCEs, other Ministers of the Gospel, and lay teachers, check this out today!"
– Matt Harwell, DCE, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Glencoe, Minnesota