Monday, January 27, 2014

EDUCATION: A Question of Translations?

While we can always trust that God is ultimately in control of His living words, there can be some confusion with so many versions of the Bible around. Over the years there have been many translations and paraphrases and I often have people asking questions about why one is chosen over another so I finally did some research to find out more about them. In doing so I found this excellent article from the Lutheran Witness a few years ago called Handing on the Word of Truth. It talks about textual basis, theory of equivalence, and language, and gives a few tips about choosing one over another.

This is an important lesson for confirmation and youth because people ask about it all the time and having some knowledge in this area will help them understand how decisions are made with regard to Bible translations as well as give them valuable information to share when others ask them questions. There's nothing like the helpless feeling of stupidity when someone asks you what you believe or why you believe it, especially when it comes to the Bible. Their answer should never be, "We read that one because it's the one the pastor likes."

Try this activity. 
Have some translations available (try to have them without covers or do copies so nobody knows which is which) and have the students (adults or children) do their own comparison study. Let them know the year it was first translated and its textual basis (read the article). Then have them read specific sections and ask the following questions:

  • Does one seem more formal or functional than another?
  • What is its readability? 
  • Does it appear to be a word-for-word translation or more of an interpretation?
  • Do their intents seems similar or does one seem very different than another?
  • Do you get the same meaning from each text?
  • Do the words used or does the sentence structure get in the way of understanding meaning?
  • Does it appear to be trying so hard to be contemporary that the strength of meaning is lost?
  • Do the words chosen make it seem that the Law or Gospel loses importance?

One Bible translation isn't necessarily better or worse than another and it is important that we are able to talk about and discuss everything and anything about our faith openly. The Bible is the LIVING WORD OF GOD and while we may not get everything exactly perfect in translation, we can trust that HE WILL.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

LEADERSHIP: What magic bullet will keep millennials in the church?

I rarely (ok, I never) repost somebody else's work because I consider this blog a place of collected resources as opposed to my profound opinions. Mostly because I don't think my opinions are necessarily that profound. They are, after all, opinions. But I keep hearing people talk about what to do to keep millennials in the church and I keep hearing about how we keep asking them what we can do to keep them in the church. Seriously?

In my opinion, this article, How to Keep Millennials in the Church? Let's keep church uncool. is right on the mark. I keep hearing and experiencing people in many different careers adjusting their choices based on the opinions of others. People, including those in ministry, seem more concerned with how they are perceived than who they really are or what they truly believe and this problem persists throughout society.

Politicians make policy based on polls. Good or bad, right or wrong, if people want smut on TV that's what we'll give them. Teachers allow parents and students to influence what we teach and how we grade. We ask teenagers what we can do to keep them interested in high school long enough to graduate. In graduate school a professor asked my class, "Is this what you want to learn in graduate school?" I thought, "What I want?  How about what I need? Isn't the professor supposed to know what I need to learn to earn an M.A. and require it of me?" I've seen colleges and universities ask newly graduated students if they feel prepared for their career. How would a student know? They haven't entered the work force yet!

This is why I keep pushing for a change in education in the church and encouraging those in ministry to stop expecting people to believe because we have fun or entertaining worship services and games or activities before hand to lure people into a study. If you teach them well, allow them to question, and challenge them to think about what God tells them they will be engaged in something life changing... or life giving.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

HS YOUTH: Having a Super Bowl Party?
God really doesn't care who wins the Super Bowl and I don't have any Super Bowl Bible studies but I know a number of youth groups that will get together to watch the Denver Broncos win in a couple of weeks so I put together a few things that might help. Even a Super Bowl party can have a short devotion and anytime you get together with a group of Christians for fellowship you should pray, thanking God for each other and the opportunity to get together. Teenagers who live in Colorado or Washington will probably watch the game but for the most part it's just a good way to have fellowship with one another and develop relationships.

Most of the time when teenagers get together at church it involves planned activities of some kind and not sitting in front of a TV so try introducing some Super Bowl Party Games like these:
  1. Super Bowl Bingo (printable)
  2. Super Bowl Smackdown - Who will be the first to... (printable)
  3. Super Bowl Props - Who will... or What will... betting sheet (printable)
  4. Super Bowl Trivia - includes answers (printable)
  5. Trivia website - Kidzworld
  6. Fox Sports Fun Facts about Super Bowl Sunday - need computer to view
  7. Super Bowl Fun Trivia - online questions
Be sure to have a bunch of crazy prizes for the winners. The best prizes are the crazy prizes you can get at any dollar store. The funnier you make the prizes the more fun the kids will have!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

EDUCATION: Mere Christianity by C.S. LEWIS

In my opinion there are few people who have brought more clarity to Christianity through the written word than anybody else. One is C.S. Lewis. In my opinion everyone above 8th grade should read and discuss Mere Christianity. I think that it should be read, discussed, and everybody should be encouraged to underline profound quotes, write their own thoughts in it and add scripture references to it. There are many study guides available online at the following places:  Lewis FoundationC.S. Lewis InstituteCalvin College (college level thinking) and Cokesbury. You might want to check them out and adapt them as necessary to your age group.

Try using it in one of these ways:
  • Give it away to the congregation as a gift (you can buy a copy for under $5 and in some places under $3) and then do a sermon series and Bible study on it. 
  • Intergenerational Bible Study - What a great opportunity to help transition high school students or young adults into adult Bible study!
  • High School Confirmation - As I believe we should confirm our faith throughout adulthood and not just in the 8th grade, this book would be a fantastic study for high school students with a faith confirming project that can be shared as a youth-led worship service with the rest of the congregation.
This is one of the few books that will help people (young and older) put words to what they understand of their faith which will help them when they talk about it with friends. And what a wonderful conversation starter, "I'm reading this great book..."  

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

HS YOUTH: Intergenerational Activity

More than ever kids need to spend time with older people in the congregation. What can you do about it? How about creating an event where the kids serve lunch to the older generation? Here are some ideas of what to do:
  • Have some music from the 30's, 40's, and 50's playing.
  • Take special care in choosing some trivia questions on the table that may bring back some memories. 
  • Have seats for the kids to join them at the tables for dinner or at least for dessert.  
  • Come up with some interview questions for the kids to ask to help create discussion.
Some questions might include:
  1. Did you grow up in the country or in the city?
  2. What kinds of games did you play?
  3. What kinds of things would you do with your best friend?
  4. How did you spend your free time as a teenager?
  5. What are some of your greatest memories of high school?
  6. What are some of the greatest inventions that you have seen over the years?
  7. What did you think of everything that happened in the 60's?
  8. What was your favorite job?
  9. What was your favorite game to play as a kid?
  10. Do you remember when you got your first TV? What did you like to watch?
  11. What was your favorite vacation? Where would you like to have gone that you didn't?
  12. Did you like to dance? What kind of dances did you do?
  13. Where would you go and what would you do on a date?
  14. What kind of chores did you have to do? 
  15. If you could share any piece of wisdom with high school kids today, what would it be?

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

LEADERSHIP: Questions for a New Year

Some people set their ministry goals in the late summer or fall and others look at the New Year as a time for renewed energy and growth. Either way it's wise to stop and ask questions about what's going on, where you're going, or whether or not you're on the right track regarding your ministry. While these questions are geared toward a congregation, they might also fit for many families.

Questions for a New Year
  1. Are there particular people in your congregation or life who need prayers regarding their salvation?
  2. Whether members of the congregation or not, are there older folks in your neighborhood that your congregation or your family could help out more? 
  3. Have you made any goals with regard to your faith life? How are they going?
  4. Is there a book of the Bible that you've (as leaders) wanted to study?
  5. Is there a book of the Bible that you would like to encourage families in the congregation to study?
  6. Have you or has the congregation been distracted from its spiritual goals? 
  7. Do you have a goal that will change something in the church or your family in the next 5 or 10 years?
  8. Is there one thing you need to make a priority and put on the top of your list?
  9. How can you share the blessings (financial and otherwise) God has given your congregation with others? 
  10. Is there a new ministry that needs to be started to help minister to or reach out to people in the community?  
  11. Are you visible in the community as a strong Christian presence?
  12. In what area of ministry do you most need to change and do you have a plan to do so?

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

CONFIRMATION: Time for a Paradigm Shift

CONFIRMATION is about giving a young person the information they need to verbally and publicly confirm their faith. We begin at an age when they have the cognitive abilities necessary to do that but should it ever end? Should all people of all ages continue to have opportunities to confirm their faith? I say, "YES!!" If they can't tell you what they believe, how will they be able to share it with somebody else?

My ideal program starts in 7th grade with a special dinner and the giving of gifts that include a study Bible, a catechism, and a reflection journal. This special dinner is an opportunity to explain to parents and students that confirmation is the beginning of life-long Christian education. Students are now old enough to move from Sunday School to Bible Study and it starts with special classes called confirmation because we're now giving you the tools and information that you need to confirm your faith and share it with others.

My ideal program is the big paradigm shift because it actually has no ending. It continues through high school and into adulthood and hopefully instills in them a desire to always keep learning and seeking God's truth in the Word. It'll be hard because so many people like the 8th grade, white robe, red carnation, here's your "certificate of completion" ceremony. There should never be a ceremony indicating completion of a program. It NEVER ends!

My ideal program would include:
  • Traditional Catechism education incorporating appropriate teaching/learning activities and strategies that I often talk about in my workshops. 
  • Bible reading program - This should be continued through the high school years and include reading guides and a once-a-month Bible study including deeper, more reflective discussion questions regarding that reading. 
  • Lutheran Worship education - Most students know absolutely nothing about Lutheran worship services. 
  • Worship Music education - This could be REALLY cool and should be a part of the high school program. It is a chance for students to get to know some great hymns and really look at the different types of contemporary worship music. 
  • Service within the congregation - This should begin near the end of the 8th grade and would include a mentoring component. I think the kids need to take an active part in the congregation though ushering, reading Scripture, being Sunday School teacher aids, working or participating on a board and/or being a part of a "ladies" group or larger church ministry of some kind. This should include multi-generational activities. 
  • Service outside of the congregation - This could begin at any time and should not be something they do with a youth group but could be done with one or two friends. We want them to live lives of service and understand that it doesn't have to happen within and "event" or "mission trip." They can volunteer to visit nursing homes, clean their grandma's home, help an older person in their neighborhood, volunteer to take care of a younger person for somebody, stay after school to help a teacher, etc. 
  • Leadership - This should be done in high school. Students should organize (with a few friends) an event at the church each year of high school. The older kids should take the key leadership roles while the younger kids learn from them. The key to this working is not to let adults take over and do it for them. 
  • They should also visit adult Bible studies regularly and do an evaluation of some kind that includes questions about the content and asks their opinion of what was discussed. They need to feel absolutely welcome and encouraged to attend and ask any questions they might have. Some older adults may have difficulty with this but it's an important step in the transition into adult participation in the congregation. 
  • Summative assessments or benchmarks - Students should write an essay on what they believe, with specific requirements, to begin the process. There will be formative, or informal, assessments through the first 2 years of the more traditional confirmation classes and at the end of 8th grade they will do a more formal Reflective Essay on what they believe. They should also write one at the end of high school that will be similar but have different requirements as they will be capable of a higher level of critical thinking. Other high school benchmarks could be the organized event, opportunities to speak about what they've learned about worship, service, and leadership in meetings or classes, and I would have all high school students help organize and lead a worship service. It should contain all appropriate elements, a theme, appropriate music, a message about what they believe with specific teachable moments for the congregation, etc. Again, they'll need guidance and be given structure. 
It's in developing programs like this that I wish I was in a congregation and not teaching math. But then again if I were I would probably not have the time to share it with all of you! My summer is looking very busy this year in continuing to develop this program further and adding all the educational components!