Sunday, January 31, 2016

WORSHIP: Finding Contemporary Worship Songs

Graphic from Word to Worship.
I found a cool website where you can find contemporary worship songs by keyword, theme, or scripture reference. It's called Word to Worship and was created by the husband of a Director of Christian Education. I put in Psalm 51 and got about 50 song choices!

When you click on the name of the song it takes you to the details that include:  CCLI song number, author, all related scripture references, and lyrics.  On that page there are also links to find the song on
  • CCLI
  • Praise Charts (where you can hear it and purchase sheet music)
  • Music Notes (where you can hear it and purchase sheet music)
  • YouTube (where you can hear multiple versions of it)
It is currently the season of Lent and a few weeks ago I found myself singing The Lutheran Hymnal liturgy version of Create in Me a Clean Heart, O God at home. Music is one of the greatest gifts God has given us and putting scripture to song and singing it over time keeps it in our hearts for years. Switching the music up all the time to keep worship "fresh" does come at a cost. There are many contemporary songs that are just as good as the older versions and could be used in their place if you don't like some of the older, harder to sing melodies. I enjoy Keith Green's version of Create in Me. There are also some more contemporary songs that are redundant and don't add much to the worship experience outside of repeating the same "Jesus, you are cool" chorus 25 times. Check out this website!

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord! 
(Psalm 150:6)

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

LUTHERAN SCHOOLS: Websites and First Impressions

These days, when people start checking schools out the first place they visit is your website. When I was teaching at a Lutheran school the first thing I noticed was that it was obvious their website wasn't a priority. Pages were incomplete, information that people look for wasn't easy to find or was out of date, and while there was lots of stuff on it, there were too many words. I volunteered to take it over and tweaked it a bit and soon people who visited were making positive comments about the website.

As I have said MANY times before, we are in a place in our country where Lutheran schools need to be out there promoting their strengths. It's important to make your website a priority, keep it simple, and well organized. Here are a few tips.

  • Make sure your header/tag line tells the visitor what/who you are as a school. 
  • Have a useful homepage. People don't want to scroll around and search through a lot of words to find what they want. 
  • All your information does NOT need to be on the home page. Bullet points, NOT paragraphs. Nobody has time to search through a bunch of paragraphs for the main point. 
  • Make sure your information is well organized so people don't have to search through tabs wondering where the information they're looking for is found. QUICK LINKS, my friends, quick links. 
  • Have a PROSPECTIVE STUDENTS or NEW STUDENTS tab/page that has all the info and links to the forms necessary to make sign up easy. 
  • Photos are good. They make the site feel warm, but too many photos are not so good. Put them in a slideshow.
  • Have a CURRICULUM page that shows what you teach and highlights how your school is different from the local public schools.
  • If your school has a great choir or band, put a video of them singing/playing on the site.
  • If you're going to have teacher websites, make sure they're kept up to date.
  • Have an up-to-date calendar that's easy to update. Make sure all forms are downloadable.
  • Don't forget a donation page.
  • Visit your website as if you are a perspective parent. Ask what you would want to know if you were looking for a school for your child and check the links.

To get you started, here are some top reasons a child should attend a Lutheran school.
  1. Christ-centered education and environment.
  2. Committed and qualified teachers.
  3. Strong curriculum with proven results.
  4. Small class sizes.
  5. Diverse population.
  6. All season sports.
  7. Strong,but loving discipline.
  8. Before and after school program.
  9. Active parent, teacher, and friends association (PT&FA).
  10. Supportive association church(es).
  11. Strong family values and environment
Parents who aren't Lutheran don't choose schools because they're Lutheran. Many don't choose them because they are Christian. They choose them because they're good schools. They know their children will get an excellent education and will be safe and nurtured. What a mission!! 

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

PRESCHOOL: Lutheran Trained Employees

At a district committee meeting we started talking about Lutheran Early Childhood Education (ECE) centers and how only about 20% of the administrators in most Lutheran ECE centers are synodically trained (a 4-year degree is not required) and that many more employees aren't Lutheran at all. They have no idea what Lutherans believe. Some employees are from the associated church or may attend another Lutheran church, but most or many centers have to hire from the general public and there is currently no training available for them.

One suggestion being discussed by the leadership in my district is a certification program for early childhood leaders called C-LECT (Certification, Lutheran Early Childhood Teacher), which is a certification program by Concordia University, Wisconsin. The program looks fantastic, but it costs $300 per person. Students may earn college credit, but it requires an addition cost of $125. Some of the employees in ECE centers are in high school and the college credit is only available at CU-W. Other than having trained employees, there is no real incentive for congregations to invest this much money in employees that may or may not be easily retained long-term.

Don't get me wrong, I firmly believe it is important that any person working with young children in a Lutheran preschool needs to know what Lutherans believe before they start having Bible time and teaching kids about Jesus. I don't, however, think it needs to be so expensive or formal, though certificates could certainly be provided. After all, learning time when you're 3-4 years old is about playing and learning Christian values, not doctrine. Given that, I propose the following:

Many congregations in each district and even each circuit have Early Childhood Centers. These employees could all get together to have training that would be similar to any new member training or confirmation training.
  1. A standardized training program could be put together and shared among congregations in the district and training could take place in different circuits 2-4 times a year.
  2. Training would include: 
    • The basic foundation of Lutheran teaching (Law/Gospel, Baptism, Communion, Faith, Grace, etc.) This may be a product of the Small Catechism. 
    • Basic information on faith formation and some child development information. 
There are things I left out of the training that I'm sure others would add such as, in depth information on the structure and leadership of the LCMS, the ECE as a mission opportunity, Christian curriculum and family ministry information. I leave this out intentionally because I do not think it's necessary to meet what my goal would be if I were an ECE director/administrator. I would simply want my employees to know what my church teaches and be able to share Jesus with the children. We're preparing people to work with 3-4 year old kids. More and more research regarding children this age says they should have very limited structure in their daily routine. Their learning time is about playing and learning Christian values, not doctrine. 
In addition, it certainly wouldn't hurt to have a similar, but perhaps shorter, meeting with new parents once a month or quarter to help them understand what the ECE will be teaching their children as well. There's your mission opportunity.