Monday, December 14, 2015

LUTHERAN SCHOOLS: Dispel the Myths About Christianity in Schools!

I keep seeing untruths spread across social media by Christians who don't understand the laws regarding religious freedom and separation of church and state in schools. Please, please, please share this information with your youth, their parents, and the whole congregation. Don't let Christians be the ones who make matters worse and scare kids into believing they have to hide their Christianity at school. They don't! I got this list from the Alliance Defending Freedom (The 12 Myths of Christmas) and the Center for Public Education (Religion and Public Schools).
Remember that the point of the law is to protect your child from being proselytized by teachers or other school leaders or adults who follow beliefs with which you do not agree. It is based on non-descrimination, student leadership, and local control. Young children may not know, but it is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT that your older child know when to speak up if a teacher is religion pushing or religion bashing, especially in high school. It is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT that parents speak to administration when this happens. 

Based on the law, here is the truth. 
  • Since Christmas is a national holiday, the word "Christmas" has not been banned from schools or the general public. Schools may refer to their winter break as Christmas Break. They may also have Christmas trees, wish others a Merry Christmas, and have a Christmas party just as they do a Halloween or Valentine's Day party, if they so desire.
  • Public schools do not have to recognize every holiday because it recognizes Christmas. Christmas is a national holiday
  • Students may wear religious clothing or jewelry as long as it is not offensive and does not cause disruption.
  • Students are allowed to talk about their faith, going to church, etc. to other students and teachers at school.
  • Students are allowed to pray at school. They cannot do so over the PA system or lead a class in prayer. Teachers also may pray in school but may not encourage or discourage prayer in word or deed. 
  • Students are allowed to bring Bibles to school and read them during their free reading period or during free time. 
  • Students are allowed to sing and play religious songs, including Christmas carols in public schools. 
  • Students are allowed to reference their beliefs in projects, papers, and homework assignments. They are allowed to read Christian books or stories. 
  • Teachers are NOT allowed to call a student's religion stupid, make him/her feel uncomfortable in front of the class, or to raise or lower a student's grades if s/he references their beliefs in class discussion or written work. 
  • The Bible (and other religious texts) can be used in classes to provide an historical context or as a form of literature. It must be presented objectively and must be educational and not devotional.

RELIGIOUS CLUBS

Non-discrimination
If a public secondary school has non-curriculum based clubs, students are allowed to have Christian clubs. This may also be true for a middle school, but the law is unclear about that age level. At this time it is being left up to the local administration. Check the policies. Schools do not have to maintain an open forum regarding extracurricular clubs and organizations, but once they do, they may not discriminate. 

If the school allows the Boy Scouts or the Girl Scouts to hand out literature on school grounds during non-school hours, or use the building during non-school hours, they may not discriminate against a religious institution. 

A church may hold religious instruction classes in a school building during non-school hours if...
    • other community groups meet in the school (Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, etc.)
    • students are not required to attend.
    • all students are welcome to attend.
    • participation does not affect academic standing or grades in any way.
Student Leadership
Religious clubs must be student organized and student led. Teachers or school personnel are not allowed to organize or lead them, but if asked by students, they may chaperone them. Schools must give those clubs the same rights and privileges as any other club or organization that meets in the school. 

Religious leaders or other outside adults may attend and speak at religious clubs if they are invited by students and if the school does not have a policy banning all guest speakers from extracurricular club meetings. Non-school personnel may not direct, conduct, control, or regularly attend activities of student groups. 

Local Control
The administration of any school has the authority to limit or ban any group that disrupts the order and discipline of the school or the well-being of students and faculty.



Saturday, December 5, 2015

SERVICE: It's the season of SOCKS!!

Imagine how hard it would be to go through the winter with feet that were constantly cold or wet because you had no socks.

Most of the U.S. is now in the season of cold and wet. Homeless shelters around the country are in dire need of socks. They don't have to be new or even match, but they do need to be clean and in good shape. Holes don't cover soles! At the same time, if you haven't yet, make a connection and build a servant relationship with the shelter in your area.

Every city in the country has a homeless shelter where socks or all sizes are needed. One of my youth director friends told me a young lady visited her church and she couldn't find any socks for her. The best she could provide were plastic bags. Think of how you would feel if your children had to go through the winter with plastic bags for socks. If you work in a church, bring some socks in and leave a couple pair in every office just in case somebody comes in who needs them.

If you're in the Minneapolis area there's an organization called SoleCare for Souls. Their mission is to promote health and hope by providing free medical foot care for people experiencing homelessness or living in under-resourced conditions. If your congregation is in the Minneapolis area and you're looking for a service project for your children or youth, try supporting them. If you're not in the Minneapolis area, see if there's a similar organization near you.

Help warm souls by warming soles!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

FUNDRAISER: Ever go to a great swap?

Lots of people have yard sales or garage sales as fundraisers, but why not try something a little different. Try a SWAP!

Clothes Swap or Exchange
The most common swap is for clothes because kids grow out of their clothes and women get bored of theirs. A clothes swap works very much like a yard sale. People donate any clothes they want to get rid of, but of course, they need to be in good shape. If you have a lot of donations visitors pay $10 or $20 for a paper shopping bag at the door and can fill the shopping bag with whatever they like. That's it! People get gently used clothes for their kids or whatever else they need for a great price! Make sure everybody knows they can give an unspecified donation as well. It's a great idea for uptrading school uniforms too.

Another option is that for every item you bring, you receive a ticket and for every ticket you get to take one item home. If you bring 5 items you get 5 "free" or non-bagged items and then your bag. That way those who bring items get a bonus.

Don't accept any underwear or bathing suits. Ick! Nobody wants those used. Be sure to donate all the leftover clothing to a women's shelter before you give it to Goodwill or the Salvation Army. They're often overlooked.

Shopping Options
You can have people shop as they come or have everybody come at the same time. You can let people browse first before shopping begins, or, if there's a large crowd, hand out playing cards or numbers and have somebody randomly pick a card to see who gets to shop first. If a Queen is picked, all the people who are holding a Queen get to shop first, randomly pick again for the next round, etc.

If you have a fun crowd you could also do it as a timed game where the Queens get to shop for 5 or 10 minutes and then another group gets to go in for the next 5 or 10. Each group gets their time until the Queens get to go again. You could have a bake sale at the same time or just provide a little coffee and a few baked goods for people in between rounds.

Accessory Swap
An Accessory Swap works the same way except that for this one you have shoes (always clean and in good shape), belts, purses, tote bags, hats, scarves, jewelry, gloves, ties, etc. All hair accessories need to be clean. You might choose smaller bags for these items too.

Book Swap
You can do the same thing for a book swap, but instead of a whole bag of books, perhaps people get 5-7 books for $10 or whatever you think is appropriate. It's a great way to transfer children's books from one family to another!

Christmas Deco Swap
I would love to have a Christmas decoration swap. I have tons of Christmas decorations that are perfectly beautiful, but I'm tired of them. I bet other people feel the same way about some of theirs! At this one you could also sell or swap Christmas cookies and candy or other treats.

There are SO many options. You could even have a MEGA SWAP and do it all at the same time!

Saturday, October 31, 2015

ALL SAINTS DAY: Children's Message

I'm working on my new book, The Art of Teaching Sunday School, and in it there will be a chapter on Children's Messages that are developmentally and academically appropriate for specific ages. For example, when you have a lot of young children, object lessons are not really the best way to go. You'll do better if you do something repetitive, a cute song, or a simple rhyme.

Tomorrow is All Saints Day. We're talking about all the saints who have gone before us and we have a number of pretty young children, so I suggested to my pastor that he hand out little paper trumpets or kazoos and turn the whole thing into a celebration that when we die we go to be with Jesus.

You can add a short Bible verse too, and let the kids walk around a bit playing their horns and shouting the verse or something along the lines of "In God's house there's a room for me!" or, "When we die we go to heaven!" This way, whenever they play the horn or kazoo, hopefully, they'll remember what they said too!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

REACH OUT: The Preschool Connection

Some congregations have very successful preschools but they seem separate from the congregation. I've had people ask me how to build a bridge to their preschool families and my answer is always the same... "Show them Jesus!" What a great blessing that God has brought the mission field INTO YOUR CHURCH!

How do you serve your preschool families?
  • Find out about them.  How many are divorced?  How many have single parents?  How many have other kids in the family and what are their ages?
  • Offer single parents support through free babysitting once or twice a month to give them a break.
  • Have a group of people who like to cook prepare some one-dish meals for some of the families in need or single parents.
  • Involve members in Bible story time. Have them share their favorite Bible stories. (They can show, tell, or read from a children's Bible.)
  • Include a service component in your confirmation classes where the kids are required to volunteer so many hours a month in the preschool.  Have the director or teachers make lists of service opportunities.
  • Have members volunteer to watch the kids on the playground so the teachers can have some meeting or work time.
  • Involve the kids in worship services on a regular basis to get families to mingle with the congregation.
  • Provide preschool activity bags to help keep the kids busy during worship and include small bags of appropriate treats (that won't cause a mess in the sanctuary).
  • Have a clothing and/or toy swap.
  • Write a focus article on a preschool family in your newletter so people can get to know them.  Give them a special gift for participating.
  • During church events have prizes such as a meal a week for a month, 3 months, a semester, or longer.
A preschool can be a great addition to a church community and many people think they will bring families into the church and they will. If the community is a reflection of Jesus, they won't help but be drawn in.  Show them Jesus!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

LEADERSHIP: A FIXED or GROWTH Mindset?

I had to read a book for graduate school that I would love to encourage you all to take a gander at. It's Carol Dweck's book, Mindset: The new psychology of success. Basically, it's about the two mindsets that describe how we deal with or define failure and success: fixed and growth. Understanding the two mindsets will help you understand yourself and just as importantly, those in your leadership circles, and even your congregation. The most important thing to know is that mindsets can change!

FIXED
  • take things personally that aren't personal
  • label themselves negatively based on outcomes
  • need their egos polished regularly
  • don't like to take risks
  • feel they are judged
  • choose the short-term solution to boost stock and look like a hero, etc. 
GROWTH 
  • see failure as a setback
  • work on getting better at things
  • are concerned with learning and growing
  • know they can change
  • look for people to help them
  • choose the long-term solution for organizational improvement, etc. 
Do you or does your congregation have a 
fixed mindset or a growth mindset?

Monday, September 21, 2015

CONFIRMATION: Ever try QUIZLET?

Every once in a while I try to create some online tools for confirmation using existing programs and this time I'd like to introduce you all to Quizlet. It's a great tool for learning vocabulary and I added one for WORSHIP TERMS because I think that instead of assuming students think knowing about worship terms is boring and so not teaching them, we should do the opposite and assume they like to feel smart and be smart about their faith and what they believe.

So, here's what you can do with Quizlet. Once you get to my list: LW 101; Worship Terms, you can see the different options.
  • STUDY: Flashcards, Learn, Speller, Test  
  • PLAY:  Scatter, Space Race

Flashcards
Of course, nobody really thinks flashcards are fun, but they are a fantastic learning tool. Students can use them to learn the term or the definition and there's an audio function that works pretty well for pronunciation.

Learn
The best way to use this section is to show the definition and have the student type in the term, but it can be done the other way around too.

Speller
This is actually pretty great. The definition is given and the Quizlet lady speaks the term and the student has to spell it.

Test
The test is excellent! You can decide what type of questions to which students should respond:  written, matching, multiple choice, or true/false.

Scatter
This is a matching game. Both terms and definitions are on the screen and need to be put together.

Race
In this game the definitions scroll by and the student needs to type in the term to earn the points.

How can you use this with a confirmation class? 
Any one of these tools can be used independently or as a full class. First, I recommend giving them a week to learn and play. After that week, take time out of class and...
  • The games are timed. Put students in groups and invest in a wireless mouse. Allow each group to compete in a chosen activity.  
  • Print one side of the cards and show the other side on the screen. The object is to have students put the terms in the correct order that you show the definitions. (Try not to go back too many times.)
  • Test them using the online quiz. Show it on a screen and have them take it independently.
  • Have a class tournament throughout the week. Sign up yourself and create your own or use my card set. The program keeps track of high scores.
PLAY AND LEARN!!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

ACTIVITY: Paper Plane Ice Breaker

It's the beginning of the year and people will be beginning new groups. I don't know if this ice breaker is out there yet, but if not, I just came up with it. Everybody can make a paper plane so start with giving everyone a sheet of white (or the same color) paper. Remind them not to put their name on it, because we've all been taught so well to do that, that we do it without thinking. After that you can go one of two ways.

1. Simple Ice Breaker

  • Write 5-10 "getting to know you" questions and have everyone put their answers on the paper  without showing anybody their answers.
  • Fold the paper into an airplane.
  • Put everyone in a circle or around the edge of the room and have them fly their airplane into the middle of the room.
  • Everyone picks an airplane (not theirs) and reads the answers aloud.
  • The person reading gets the first chance and then the group tries to guess the identity of the author.
  • OPTION 1:  Have people stand on a line and throw the planes. The one that goes the furthest gets to go first.
  • OPTION 2:  Have people write a question that everyone has to answer on the airplane . 

2. Go Deeper
Instead of "getting to know you" questions, use this method to have students ask or answer questions anonymously during a Bible study to enhance discussion.

  • Prepare questions ahead of time and have students answer them anonymously. 
  • Have students agree or disagree with a topic, including support... discuss. 
  • Have students ask questions about faith, life, or the world that will be used for discussion of a topic. 

Remember that the key to growth really is through discussion. It's the socratic method and it works every time!

RALLY SUNDAY: Commissioning the Whole Congregation

I mentioned Rally Sunday being the perfect day to commission the whole congregation and a DCE friend asked me what I imagined that would look like. What do you commission them for? We commission leaders in the church and teachers but we rarely commission the whole congregation as if now that there are other people doing those jobs that it's all covered. They can relax. Hmmm... no so quick there, Sparky. We commission people because we want to empower them to service and affirm their commitment. Why would we not want the entire congregation to know they are also commissioned into service whether it's a formal leadership and/or education position or not?

What would that look like? There are commissioning services available online, in hymnals, and in the Lutheran Service Book but personally, I would do something simple. First I would commission the board members or formal leaders, then the teachers, and finally the congregation. Start with an appropriate Bible verse for leaders/teachers and a few statements about what they are being called to do with "I will with the help of God" replies, and a brief prayer of thankfulness and encouragement. Many commissioning services are not this simple but I don't believe in making an entire worship service about focusing on one group of people. We worship God, not our volunteers.

The congregation is being commissioned for any and/or all of the following:

  • participating in the community that is the congregation. 
  • living in the light of Christ in their neighborhoods.
  • encouraging and participating in Christian education for themselves and their families.
  • living as an example to people living in a non-Christian society.
  • making disciples as they go about their everyday lives.

After this there is the prayer for all commissioned to live and share the truth of the Gospel, asking God to strengthen and preserve them, etc. Seriously, every pastor is better at writing these things than I am but that's how I see it in my mind... simple, straightforward, encouraging, and empowering.

Why not remind everyone that we are all an extension of our Lord and the church this Rally Sunday?

Friday, August 21, 2015

EDUCATION: Great book for the wee ones!


Do You Know Who Jesus Is?

It's always hard to find a good resource for young kids, but I've found one! There a lot they can't understand about faith, but they CAN understand the stories and the story of Jesus is the best and most important one to share with them. Most rhyming books try so hard to rhyme and be clever that they use vocabulary far beyond that of a 2nd grader, however, the new booklet from the Lutheran Hour Ministries called Do You Know Who Jesus Is? is really good. I just read it and the illustrations are perfect for the age group, the rhyming is simple, and the vocabulary age appropriate. It also does a really nice job of telling a simple story. Just add a song like Jesus Loves Me and a prayer and it's an excellent devotion, Jesus Time class lesson, chapel talk or children's message.

This resource would be great for:
  • Christian Schools - devotion, Jesus Time class lesson, chapel talk
  • Christian School - new students gifts!!
  • Church Pew Bags for kids.
  • Children's Message - Break it into sections or take the time to read the whole thing.
  • New member or visitor gift for a family with young children.

Check out the preview and order here.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

YOUNG ADULTS: We're off to see the professor!

It's getting to be that time of year when our lovely high school graduates will be excitedly skipping off to college, to be in charge of their own time. What does that mean? Well, depending on where they're going, they may not see the inside of a church for a while. After all, sleeping in on Sunday morning is an easy habit to start when you may have to look for a ride to a church. How do we keep them connected?

As I was thinking about this and trying hard to remember my college years (quite some time ago), I thought about how my feelings of "home" changed. At some point I started thinking of the campus as home. College is one of those experiences where you are a group of people in a similar somewhat stressful situation. so you develop strong bonds pretty quickly. You make new friends and it doesn't take long before you recognize that you don't have a lot to say to those friends you left behind, who went their way and made new friends too. The thing is, that's a normal process. Sending care packages is nice, but Our concern should not be to keep college students connected to their youth group friends, it should be that they find ways to continue to grow their faith.

To that end I recommend the following: 
  • Find out if there's a faith organization on campus. Contact their office and let them know the name of the youth who will matriculate there in the fall.
  • Find out if there's a Lutheran church near the campus and contact them as well, sharing the name of the student and asking that somebody reach out to see if the student needs a ride to church. Try using Student Connect, to help find a Christian faith community.
  • If possible, have the parents visit the church with their child before s/he moves into the dorm, apartment, etc. 
  • Get your youth in the habit of doing weekly online devotions either in a blog format (students can help write them) or on a Facebook page. The devotions can be sent out to phones, computers, or tablets. Make sure you ask a question and see if you can get some responses.
  •  Pray in written form for those students on those electronic pages as well. Create some memes of Bible verses and add their first names to them so they (high school and college youth) know when it's their turn. I found in my classroom that kids loved knowing I was praying for them when it was their turn. 
  • Remember that not going to church for a while at this age is normal. This is a transition time. They need to choose worship for themselves and come to a realization that they're doing it for them, not for others. At some point it needs to be a response to God, not your parents.
  • In October or November start asking them how they want to participate in a worship service when they get home. Start transitioning them into an adult role. Have them read scripture during the service, be a last minute usher, help with communion, etc. 
  • College students often have a long break over Christmas, get them involved with Christmas activities and have them substitute for Sunday School teachers on break. 
  • This is the big one. Have them talk to the high schoolers about what they've learned about themselves while away. As the frontal cortex of their brains continue to develop, it's important for them to continue thinking about and talking about their faith in connection to their life and life choices. Let it be simple question/answer, but have a few thoughtful questions prepared ahead of time to get things going. A few samples:
    • How is college different from high school? 
    • How are the people in college different from the people in high school?
    • What have you noticed about your faith in this time? Growing? Shrinking?
    • What do you miss the most?
    • Is it hard to find a church? :
    • Do you find yourself praying more or less? 
    • What's the best thing about college?
    • What's the hardest thing about college?
  • It would also be super cool if you could get a few together to talk to the adults too!! Just sayin...
The bottom line is that it will be rare for them to go off to college and remain close with their high school friends for too long. We need to find ways to start the transition to their new roles as young adults or just plain old adults like the rest of us. 

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

EDUCATION: Bible Maps for Kids



Pictures are incredibly important when teaching kids about foreign places. They need them to help connect the dots. I got really excited when I found this resource because it's fantastic for kids. It's a website called Kids Bible Maps and the use of their maps for educational purposes is free. There are maps of journeys, areas, people, and Bible stories. When teaching about a particular story, try to show kids where in the world this actually happened. This is not a make-believe land where stories occurred. Try to connect what happened then to real places. I'm showing maps for the 12 Tribes of Israel and Jesus' Ministry, but there are many, many more. Consider adding them to your Sunday School curriculum! 




Saturday, August 1, 2015

LUTHERAN SCHOOLS: Are we ready?

I said I wasn’t going to post on Lutheran schools again, and I really wasn’t until a few things happened: 1) the government chose to define marriage and family contrary to the Bible, 2) public schools will soon be integrating gender identity and sexual orientation courses into their health/sex education curriculum in Virginia, and 3) fetal organs are legally being harvested and sold in the United States of America and it seems to be okay with the general public. People need Lutheran schools!

So, I ask again. Are we ready? This may be the perfect time to save people from current or future liberal teaching in the public schools. The question is: As a church, will we be passive observers or active participants?

Synod or District Support

For many years the larger church body of the LCMS has sat in the stands and watched the game from the sidelines, cheering on the players and hoping they do well. They publish statistics and encouragingly talk about how well schools are doing and lauding their excellent academics, while enrollment numbers decrease to the point where most PreK-8 schools are growing down (creating daycares) because they can’t seem to recruit (and retain) older students.

So often in the church (and in schools) the answer is about more money. “We need more money!” “If we don’t raise more funds we will have to close!” But, money is not the problem, so money is not the answer. The problem is that many Lutheran schools were created to educate the children in the congregation that sponsors the school, and the days of people wanting to come to a Lutheran school simply because it is a Lutheran school, are long gone. Today, most Lutheran schools struggle to compete with traditional and charter public schools. They don’t even know where to begin and they have nowhere to turn for guidance. The time is ripe, my friends!!

Currently, the leadership of the church (synodical and/or district) have people in place to help schools deal with conflict and paperwork. Unfortunately, that’s not where the help is needed. Schools need someone who can help with:
  • Marketing. Lutheran schools fail miserably at this. They need to stop hiding their light under a bowl, hoping somebody will notice they are there. It’s time to put it on a stand so the light can shine before others and glorify our Father in heaven. Schools need help finding their strengths and learning how to market to them. They need to let people know what they teach in health and their Biblical/family values without pointing fingers or making negative remarks about other schools.
  • Raising Standards and Expectations. People are looking for schools that are excellent academically and a safe place where their children will thrive. Excellent schools have programs that embrace change and many Lutheran schools are so resistant to change that they don't even recognize that their standards have slipped!
  • Defining or Redefining board structure and leadership. Schools have different problems and needs than do churches. School boards need to be trained! (It hasn't been updated recently, but I freely share my Lutheran School Board Information Guide).
  • Separating school and church finances. A lot of people disagree with this one, but schools that cannot stand on their own financially should not depend on the church to bail them out. It is a recipe for disaster!
As was written to the church in Laodicea in Revelation 3:15-16: “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”

So, I ask yet again. Are we ready? Will church leaders (okay, this part doesn’t include me as I am just a woman with a vision) throw money at the problem or provide real help? Are they ready to take advantage of the opportunity that God has provided for our schools to play a part in reaching out to a lost society or, as a church, have we become salt that has lost its saltiness? Will we sit in the stands, hoping somebody on the field will come up with a big play and be able to execute it on their own or will we join the team and provide the help they desperately need?

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

CONFIRMATION: For Those with Learning Challenges

At one time or another you may run across somebody in your congregation that isn't able to go through the regular confirmation program due to learning challenges, or somebody who needs extra help. The question becomes, what is this person able to grasp regarding Holy Communion and confirmation? To learn more about specific learning disabilities, try the Learning Disabilities Association of America. Also, the University of California, Berkeley, has a great website with tips for teaching students with specific disorders or challenges including autism spectrum disorders, ADHD, learning disabilities, and more. Since everyone is different and nobody comes with instructions, you may need to try a few things.

First, be sure to check with

  • The parents, who will have tons of suggestions for motivation and behavior, and
  • Their teachers, who will be able to give excellent and specific advice that will apply to individual students' issues. 

Some students with learning challenges may need one-on-one instruction. Others may need to wait a few years, and still others may simply need some basic adjustments such as:

  • Breaking the material into smaller steps 
  • Begin by reviewing the last lesson (all good teachers do this)
  • Asking shorter, more pointed questions
  • Asking them to repeat or explain what you've said more often
  • Being patient and giving extra time or practice
  • Using as many graphics or pictures as possible
  • Simplifying complicated vocabulary
  • Choosing what is or isn't absolutely necessary for them to understand.

Building on the Rock:  Preparing for First Communion and ConfirmationRemember that all things do not always work for all students, and when there are learning challenges, this can be magnified. Also, many students with learning challenges are very bright in one way or another. Try to tap into that area as much as possible.

Curriculum
There is a curriculum available that was created especially for this purpose. It's called Building on the Rock and was written by Bethesda Lutheran Communities. It can be used for teens or adults.

From the Bethesda website: "This curriculum offers a structure to support the First Communion process and Confirmation instruction for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Building on the Rock is designed to offer people with developmental disabilities the opportunity to become a participating member of the church."


Wednesday, July 22, 2015

EDUCATION: Dealing with Addiction

I recently came across a TedTalk by Johann Hari called Everything you think you know about addiction is wrong. It has some points that would be a fantastic discussion starter for anybody over the age of 15, as addiction usually begins in the teenage years when we start seeing ourselves in the broader context of society. The video itself is primarily about social issues and does not connect to God, but I included that in my discussion questions. I didn't include a bunch of Bible verses about treating your body as a temple or trusting in God because, honestly, I wanted them to look at the problem from an angle other than "don't do this because it makes God unhappy" or "God loves you so don't turn to alcohol" or even "your body is a temple, don't trash it." This is not about drugs and alcohol. It's about addiction. The reality is that we are in a society that is lonely and disconnected from God and so we turn to addictions of shopping, food, alcohol, gambling, cell phones, internet, pornography, drugs, etc. He even makes a point about how nervous people look when they are in a room and somebody expects them to turn their phones off for 2 hours. It's time to start getting to the root of the problem.

You can watch the video below or go to the TedEd site, but here are a few of the main points:

  • People are addicted to far more things than just drugs or alcohol.
  • Addiction is about disconnection and loneliness on a basic human level.
  • Addiction is about the cage in which we find ourselves that we call life.
  • Addiction is about not being able to be present in our own lives. 
  • We have traded stuff for connection. 
  • It's our nature as human beings to need to bond. 


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

CONFIRMATION: Need a culminating project idea?

I'm always looking for creative ways to have kids share what they believe. I've had them do "Journey of Faith" posters. I had each student design one to be printed as an 18' x 24" size. In Powerpoint or as a Google doc slide, the slide should be 8.2" x 11" and saved as a pdf to upload well to Short Run Posters. This site will print them for $3 each. Below is a sample done by a former student of mine. I have to say, parents LOVED these!

I've also found a really simple and FREE site, Stupeflix, that will allow them (or you) to create a video for free. It's as simple as adding photos and text. They'll even let you use their music, or upload a song of your own. I did a quick sample. Of course, I would probably be clear about:
  • What they need to include.
  • How many slides they need.
  • How many words they should use.
  • What music they may include.
Here is a sample of requirements that may help you out.

Check mine out. I used the music provided by the program.


Friday, July 17, 2015

VBS: It's time for a CHANGE!

I've posted before on Vacation Bible School:
But this post is different. The previous postings were all about working within the current VBS model. Today, as the Queen of Change and a proponent of always being brave enough to try something new, I propose that it's TIME FOR A CHANGE for VBS. What? Change?!?! NO WAY!?! We've always done it this way! I know, I know, but hear me out.

Many, many, many years have passed since Vacation Bible School was named Vacation Bible School, and I have no idea why they named it that. Kids don't love school. They like it and learn to enjoy some aspects of it because they have to be there, but reality is reality and if given a choice, they would not choose school. So why call it Vacation Bible SCHOOL? What is VBS anyway? Sure, there are Bible stories or studies, but for the most part there are games, songs, snacks, and crafts. Why not call it Bible CAMP? Sure sounds more fun that Bible school.

And speaking of camp, why not have any number of camps to serve a number of populations throughout the summer? If you really want to reach out to your community, try having different camps throughout the summer.

  • Kids Camp (formerly known as VBS) - They usually have a fun and catchy name that changes every year.
  • Joy Camp - For those with disabilities. Not every congregation may be able to do something like this, but if you can, I'm sure it would be a great blessing.
  • Sage Camp - For the older set. This would be great if you could provide transportation for some people in assisted living as well as those in your congregation. Give them a special time-out from their regular lives. Sing songs, do crafts, and have Bible studies. Want to give them a really great time? Let them sing songs from their youth!
  • Spiritual Gifts Camp - Learn about personal spiritual gifts, but take it one or two steps further and work with others in the community to find places to use your gifts outside the church building and throughout the community. Whatever the gift, teach them how to incorporate it into their daily lives. (Try Uniquely You!)
  • Dads & Sons (or Moms & Daughters) Camp - Incorporate sharing beliefs into the activities. It is incredibly important for parents to be able to casually talk about what they believe and why they believe it with their children, and the most important role model for a child is their same sex parent.
  • What do I believe and why? Teen Camp - In this wacky world where things don't make sense and people are attacking Christian beliefs from all sides, knowing how to communicate what do you believe and why you believe it is incredibly important. You don't have to defend it or convince the world that you are right, you just need to know for yourself and be there if/when somebody needs you to share it. 
  • Parenting Teenagers Camp - How many people in your congregation wouldn't love this? Find a good program that gives good advice. It could be set up so that it's a lot of fun!

Pick a topic and turn it into a camp!

Pick a population in your community, find something that will help them, and turn it into a camp!

Monday, July 13, 2015

EDUCATION: Interactive Bible Maps

When teaching about history, maps are a necessary resource for both children and adults. Maps should be used any time a teacher talks about an unfamiliar area whether it be for a sermon, adult or children's Bible class. They help paint a picture of where in the world things really happened and the distances traveled. iBible gives a nice view of where people traveled, both Old and New Testaments. I have done a print-screen shot of a couple of them so you can get a good idea. You can see that sometimes they reference the journey in the map and sometimes they do it beside the map.

You can always use the Bible overlays in the GloBible too. For the resource it provides, it is a very reasonable price at less than $40. I used this Bible many times during the week in my 7th/8th grade religion class. 

I've also found a resource that is more expensive (about $70), but is pretty cool. It's the Accordance Bible Atlas. Here's a video that helps understand what the software can do.


Whatever resource you choose, please remember that we think in pictures, so I encourage you to use handouts to help students (both adults and children) connect what they see on the screen. MAPS are fantastic resources for congregational education!

Here are a few other sites that might be helpful when trying to paint a picture of Bible times. Check them out!

Bible History Online - Ancient images that can be used for non-commercial purposes. This website is somewhat of a challenge to use.
Free Bible Images - Images easily found in story line format.
Visual Bible Alive - Images for non-commercial use are free.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

CONFIRMATION: Six Chief Parts Posters

I am a huge believer in educational posters. Around the classroom, posters give students something valuable to look at when they take a mental or brain break. When kids get bored they look around the room and it never hurts to give them something to look at that relates to what they're learning. I haven't seen a lot of really good educational resources for the church, so am slowly creating more and more. I've created posters for the church year, posters of Martin Luther's morning and evening prayers, and now have created posters of the Six Chief Parts of the catechism.

You can buy the pdf files from me (see posters page) for $2 each ($12) and have 18"x24" posters professionally printed. Once I get your order I'll send the pdf's and my recommended printer is Short Run Posters. They'll print them for about $4 each. It's a good deal, and the posters are a good quality.













Thursday, July 9, 2015

EDUCATION: Creating a Video Timeline - Journeys of Paul

Below you'll see my latest project... a timeline. It was pretty easy to make once I found what I wanted to put in it. I created one video myself (Paul's First Journey) to see how difficult it might be. It took me a day, but now that I know what I'm doing, it should be easier the next time. As I update the spreadsheet, it automatically updates the timeline, wherever it is.

If you like  and have an idea to create your own, Timeline JS has simple directions. If I could, I would make creating things like this my job!

What might be included with a presentation like this is a worksheet for students to follow the journey and questions, and a map.to complete the trip too. It would be great if they could use the same map for all of the journeys to see how many people he reached. Remember that a picture is worth a thousand words as far as the brain is concerned.

I'd love to know what you think of a resource like this and how it might be useful for you.


Saturday, June 20, 2015

LUTHERAN SCHOOLS - When was the last time you asked WHY?

Simon Sinek's Golden Circle
This past year, after teaching many years in public/charter schools, I taught at a struggling Lutheran school. By the end of the year, I am quite sure that I drove the leadership and the principal absolutely crazy. Why? Because I was always asking, "Why?" Why do you do this and why do you do that? Sometimes they had legitimate answers, but more often than not, they weren't sure.

I didn't ask the questions because I was trying to make a point, I didn't ask because I thought they were doing everything wrong, and I wasn't accusing those in charge of not doing "it" right, though they may have thought so. You see, most Lutheran schools (K-8) now teach double grades and their enrollment continues to decline. They don't know why it is declining, so they mostly blame it on changes outside the school:  charter schools, change in the culture, the neighborhood, or the culture of the neighborhood, and most often, lack of funding. The leadership is working hard, the faculty and staff are working hard, and the church keeps putting more of their budget into the school.

I asked all those questions because I wanted to know why the school was failing. They have a mission statement and a strategic plan. What's the problem? About midway through the year, after asking "Why?" about a million times, I discovered their problem and I believe it's a common problem among Lutheran schools. I don't think they know why they do what they do.

The problem is not the leadership (noun), it's the leadership (verb). It's knowing why people should send their kids to your school. Some will say that if you don't have money, then that is your priority. Yes, but if you don’t change fundamentally, you’re putting a Band-Aid on a gushing vein. Money is not the problem. Giving more money to failing schools is not the answer. Parents not sending their kids to Lutheran schools is the problem. So, the questions are:
  1. Why does your Lutheran school exist? 
  2. Why should parents send their kids to your school? 
  3. What can be done to become a school which parents want their kids to attend? (Every school educates.)
  4. What can you do to get people to believe what you do about your school?
  5. How can the leadership inspire action that will lead to change? 
I believe in high standards and my students always thrive, grow, and meet my standards. Always. I know what I do... but most of all I know WHY I do it. I believe it. I saw this Ted video by leadership expert Simon Sinek about why some businesses/organizations are successful and some are not. It might help you.




If your Lutheran school has lost its identity, 
start asking WHY. 

Thursday, May 14, 2015

EDUCATION: Hymnal Scavenger Hunt

I'm in the middle of teaching about worship and it would surprise nobody to hear that my students are completely unfamiliar with the hymnal. We don't have new hymnals, so I have to use Lutheran Worship, but as my goal is to show what a useful book it is and introduce my students to the many different types of services there are, it will do for me.

As I was writing it, I realized that it might be beneficial for many others as well, so here is the link for a LW HYMNAL SCAVENGER HUNT!  You also might be able to adapt it to the newer hymnal or any other hymnal you use.

Monday, March 30, 2015

YOUTH: Defend Your Faith??

"Do not try to make the Bible relevant. Its relevance is axiomatic. Do not defend God's word, but testify to it. Trust to the Word. It is a ship loaded to the very limits of its capacity." Dietrich Bonhoeffer

This Holy Week, as we watch Jesus not defend himself in order to fulfill God's promise, somebody asked me a question about defending our faith and teaching our children to do the same. I've also had parents tell me that what their kids really need is to be able to defend their faith to other kids. To this, I can only respond, "No, no, we don't,"

Defend It?

Who was it that came up with the idea that faith needed to be defended? Trying to defend something as intangible as faith to those who will not believe is a futile effort. They will not be convinced by any logical argument. Faith, by definition, is not logical. It is given by the Holy Spirit when God deems it. Some have cited 1 Peter 3:15-16 NIV as it says:
But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.
But what about the rest of the sentence? It says "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have." The reason for the hope that I have is Jesus Christ. He needs no defender. He needs no defense. He certainly does not need us to convince people that we're not crazy for what we believe or that it is logical and makes sense. Expecting that of our youth is not only a daunting task, but is unrealistic, as they cannot defend themselves against the powers of darkness or the walls of those who are stuck in their unbelief.

Share It! 

What I want my students, and everybody else, to be able to do is know what they believe well enough to share it in a way that gives them confidence when somebody asks them questions about it. No, you do not need to convince anybody of anything. You do not need to know the answers to their many questions. For most of them, your answers will just lead to more questions that cannot be answered. We don't believe because we've suddenly been given all the answers. We believe because the Holy Spirit has given us faith. We share our experience and truth, we do not need to defend it.

So, don't fill their heads with answers to have at the ready when those who do not believe begin pestering them with questions that may or may not match their answers. Fill their hearts with confidence in knowing what they believe and the ability to share it in their own words.

WHEW!! Isn't that a relief? Given all that, people will still ask questions and make stupid remarks, so here are a few phrases and suggestions.
  • "I believe the Bible is true."
  • Teach them to put the creeds into their own words and be able to tell others what they mean in their own words. Here's what I believe... (about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit). 
  • Teach them some Bible verses to help explain where their belief comes from and how they see God in the world and in their lives.  
  • Teach them to stand in what they believe with confidence:  "It's stupid? Well, maybe to you, but it's not to me."
  • "That's what I believe. I can't make you believe it and didn't tell you you had to believe it, but I believe it."
  • "Religion is for the weak? Well, that's your opinion. It makes me feel strong and confident."

Saturday, March 28, 2015

LUTHERAN SCHOOLS: Finances and Change

Pencil, Eraser, Write, School, Rubber
Previously, I posted 10 Survival Tips for Struggling Lutheran Schools. After teaching in one for almost a year, I have a few more observations. You have to begin with an honest appraisal of your financial situation and assess the school's willingness to change. Money is not your problem, parents choosing not to send their kids to your school is your problem. It will take change, maybe great change, to be able to become the kind of school that attracts parents.
  1. How many years does your school have left? Struggling schools need to be financially realistic. Do you even have time for a 5 year plan?  
  2. Your church (or association churches) cannot and should not be the major financial support for your school. Every Lutheran school needs to be financially stable and able to support itself. If that cannot happen, something needs to change. 
  3. You need more students more than you need more fundraisers. Schools will always need fundraisers for special projects, but you will not fundraise your way out of financial debt. Tuition should support the general education provided by the school. If that isn’t happening at your school, something needs to change. 
  4. Five new students who can’t pay tuition are not five new students. Of course, we would all love to provide a free Christian education to all children, but the reality is that parents who cannot afford the tuition are a financial burden. Any private school can only support so many students on scholarship. 
  5. Borrowing more and more money without great change is not good financial stewardship. I don't think I need to say anything more about this. We all know the popular definition that insanity is doing the same things and expecting change. 
  6. If your options are CHANGE OR CLOSE, you may need to sit down with parents and lay it all out. Let them know that change is coming. If you’re too afraid of change because somebody might get upset and move their child to another school, you might as well close your doors right now. 
  7. What should you change, and what should you not? Never let go of your beliefs and your Lutheran Christian heritage, but understand that that will not bring students into your school. If it did, Lutheran schools would be bursting at the seams. They are not. Keep having chapel and teaching religion (confirmation, Bible literacy, having Jesus time, morning/afternoon devotions, and prayer). Without that a Lutheran school is just a school. 
  8. Change anything else!  Anything else can be changed now, and I mean anything else, and I mean now, in order to market your school as competitive and better than other neighborhood schools. Just do it! 
  9. If you can’t change the little things, you’ll never change the big ones. There are always people who don't want to change anything, from the look of the office, to where the pop machine resides. CHANGE IS GOOD! It brings new life. How much time do you have to put it off?
  10. Get some fresh perspective on your situation. Sometimes it takes someone from outside the school to see the situation clearly. People who have been working at and supporting the school for years, often have difficulty seeing the reality of the situation and may not have the vision to effect the necessary change. If you're not taking advantage of that opportunity, you should be.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

LEADERSHIP: Volunteer Training for Sexual Child Abuse

Most churches and schools cannot function without the help of volunteers who work closely with children. The insurance carrier at my school, Church Mutual, asks that all the teachers and regular volunteers go through training for sexual abuse prevention. Of course, they say it's nearly impossible to spot a sexual predator, but knowing what to look for and what to do if it happens is imperative. We watched the video put together by a legal team. Another great training program you might want to check out was created by the Catholic church (I know, I know...) and is called Virtus.

This type of program should be see by EVERYONE who spends time with children in your ministry and attendance should be taken to show that they have all participated. That would include:
  • Pastors
  • Licensed Teachers
  • Directors of Christian Education
  • Youth Directors
  • Chaperones
  • Sunday School Teachers
  • Preschool Teachers
  • Daycare Teachers/Leaders
  • Volunteers in the Nursery
  • Regular Classroom Volunteers
  • Parent Volunteers who go on Tours
  • Anyone else in regular direct contact with children/youth.

Any training you do should address:
  • awareness of the signs of child sexual abuse 
  • methods and means by which offenders commit abuse
  • prevention.

It should also help leaders address:
  • creating policies and procedures that help define child sexual abuse
  • the reporting of child sexual abuse
  • the screening and selection of employees and volunteers
  • victim advocacy.
As the video says, "Just because somebody is nice and friendly in public, doesn't mean that they are not a predator." Sadly, in some cases, this is true.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

CONFIRMATION: Reflection Essay

It's that time of year when confirmation educators are looking for some way to show that the years spent every Wednesday have been faith building. It's not an easy thing to do because we can't really tell when faith grows and let's be honest, we're talking about 13-14 year old kids whose brains aren't fully developed yet. So, why do we do culminating projects like having kids write a reflective essay about what they believe? Because the only way to know what they believe is for them to tell us. My overarching question when teaching kids and religion and faith is this, "What do you believe and why do you believe it?" If they can answer that in their own words, then they will feel more comfortable talking about it.

Until we make a change in how and when we teach confirmation, we should know the best way to teach middle school aged students and how to help them share with us what they're thinking and what they believe. One way is to have them write a reflective essay. I posted on this before and also put it in my book, The Art of Teaching Confirmation, but I added a worksheet to help kids organize their thoughts on paper.
Here are two resources that will help.
I pray they provide some guidance to your students in this area.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

EDUCATION: More than just don't do drugs.

Somebody recently asked a question about doing a Bible study on drugs. I found a few great resources to share. 

Focus on the Family has something good from a Biblical perspective. It can basically be a whole Bible study or more if you really discuss the issues. Never assume your youth don't or have never used drugs just because they go to church, and don't forget to ask the hard questions. It shows you are interested and care about them.

Another great resource is Drug Free World. There is a lot of detailed info about specific drugs and how they affect the body. There's a booklet/slideshow and short documentaries by real people. Anybody who leads a Bible study on drugs should use the information on this site to be sure they know what they're talking about. 

It's not, "Just say NO!" 
GIVE KIDS THE FACTS ABOUT DRUG USE!