Thursday, October 4, 2018

CHRISTMAS: The Many Names of Jesus Ornaments Part 2

I've posted before on Christmas ornaments called The Many Names of Jesus. Writing on the bulbs in that one can be hard for kids so I recently created these. Kids can easily create these! Check them out and if you want more detailed directions, contact me or you can find them and others in my Advent devotions for kids book that will be out very soon.










Friday, September 21, 2018

H.S. YOUTH: Think Tank

I saw a video the other day on a site called Table Talk from the Hope Channel. It's four guys at a table who are told to bring a Bible and their brain. When they arrive they're provided a list of topics and told to discuss. There are no scripts and no rules. All I could think about is HOW COOL that would be to get the youth talking and having to defend their beliefs. Here's how it would work.

Think Tank

A card table and 4 chairs sit in the middle of the room (the Think Tank). The remaining students sit around the table. If you have a large number of students you'll want to break them up into groups so that you have more than one set of table and chairs. 

VARIATION: Put students in teams of 4. One sits in the chair and the other 3 sit behind him/her for support. They will work as a team.

The goal of this exercise is to have students discuss statements surrounding a provided topic. The students surrounding the table, or on the same team, will provide questions or information to the one in the seat to defend their belief, refute or challenge the other 3 sitting at the table. After a chosen amount of time, the person sitting at the table rotates and a new topic is chosen until everyone has had a chance to sit at the table.

Students are asked to bring their Bibles, Small Catechisms, and their brains. Instead of only giving them general topics, they are also given challenge statements. Reasons and or examples must be given for what they say. For example, if a student says, “God created evil,” he/she must also say why they believe that. 

Materials:  Students will need pencils/pens and paper. I would cut letter paper into fourths. 

Process:  Four students are sitting around a table with their Bibles and catechisms. The rest of the students are sitting around or behind them with their books and paper/pencils. They are not allowed to speak, but can pass notes. The leader/teacher introduces the topic. S/he then has a statement written on a piece of paper and reads it aloud. Each student takes a turn responding to the statement. Many of the statements are right or wrong depending on the situation or perspective. Remember that students need to respond with support of their statement. After each person has a turn responding, the students behind or circling the table can write down questions or statements furthering the discussion and pass them to their teammate or, if no teams, anyone at the table. They may also help with support, if needed. If necessary, the teacher/leader can push by asking related questions and if students are headed off in the wrong direction can step in to steer them toward the truth, especially if they veer off into social or political talk without biblical support. Some topics can become great discussions. At the end of the class or after each question, take a minute to do a wrap up so students don't leave questioning a biblical truth or where the Bible stands on an issue.

Also, you can have students send you topics they want to discuss as long as they remain in a biblical context. 

Topics to Get You Started

Good God – Bad World
            God created evil.
            Evil’s existence helps the world find God.
  The world is full of evil because God is testing us.
            God should stop evil in the world.

God is Love
            Love is accepting everything no matter what.
            Love is accepting everyone no matter what.
            If God loves everyone then everyone will be in heaven.
            Love includes discipline.
            God loves you no matter what you believe.

God’s Law
            The law is just mean and nobody needs it.
            If we’re forgiven the law doesn’t matter.
            The law leads people to the gospel.
            I can’t follow the law, so why try?
            I don’t have to follow the law to be a good Christian.

Baptism
            Baptism saves you. That’s all you need.
            If you’re baptized you cannot lose your faith.
            Baptizing babies is wrong.
            We are baptized to show God our faith.

Repentance
            If I don’t repent I won’t go to heaven.
            My sins are forgiven, I don’t need to repent.

Creation
            Evolution and creation can fit together.
            God’s days are longer than our days.
            Evolution makes more sense than creation.
            Believing God created the world takes more faith than evolution.
            Evolution has been proven.

Holy Communion
           The Lord's Supper is something everyone should be allowed to take.
           Telling people they can't take communion at your church is mean.
           I can take communion at my friend's church.
           The Lord's Supper is something we can do without thinking. Just do it!

The 10 Commandments
          The hardest commandment to keep is...
          The easiest commandment to keep is...
          Breaking the commandments really has no effect on my life.
          There are no consequences for not following God’s law.


Friday, September 14, 2018

EDUCATION: Leading Adult Bible Study

I've posted before on adult Bible study in a post called It's Not What You Teach - It's How You Teach and another called A Sage on the Stage?  They are full of information about adults and learning and tips about teaching adults. Then I went to a few adult Bible studies at my church and realized that the people teaching my classes had not read those two posts. It's not funny to respond in a way that makes people not want to participate. It's not engaging to ask questions and be met with silence because nobody can answer them or are so obvious everybody knows the answer. Asking questions that promote discussion is a skill that can be learned. I love the people teaching the classes, don't get me wrong, but how did we get to this place in the church where adult Bible study can be painful to sit through and yet we still don't do anything different?

There are a few things that typically go wrong when facilitating adult Bible study.
  • Leaders prepare slides and read them. 
  • Leaders just talk while participants sit and listen. 
  • Leaders ask questions that stifle discussion. 
  • Leaders aren't sure how to stimulate discussion. 
  • Leaders are afraid of the questions participants might ask. 
  • Leaders unknowingly respond to questions or comments in a way that makes people not want to participate. 
In response to my previous posts and this one, I created a document that can be given to those who lead/facilitate adult Bible study in the church. It's called Tips for Teaching Adults. Please share it with those who volunteer to teach adults at your church. It will encourage them and give them confidence. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

LUTHERAN SCHOOLS: Morning Meeting Anyone?

I know a number of elementary teachers who use Responsive Classroom's Morning Meeting to start the day. It's a great way to start on a positive note and it helps focus students. Lutheran school teachers may start out with devotions and a prayer. The devotions are usually a short story from a devotion book. But what if we could adapt the Morning Meeting to a Lutheran/Christian school? Well, that's just what I did.

The photo is small, but you can download it here.



Monday, September 10, 2018

EDUCATION: DIscussion Strategy #2

One of the most effective learning strategies is discussion. It gets people interacting with the material, asking questions about the material, and hearing multiple opinions. We often forget that academic discussion needs to be structured and facilitated. Most adults have experienced discussion as a teacher/facilitator talking and asking questions while a few outspoken students respond. This is not effective discussion. What you want is to have students discuss while you listen, observe, and consider next steps. Here is another way to get more out of your discussion. Again, the success of these strategies is dependent on the size and age of your class. Some of these are great for adults too, but they're not used to them. They're not used to discussion. I LOVE doing this activity in Youth Bible class and it can go on for weeks!!

Bring Your Catechism

Have students sit in groups of 3 or 4 and have each group choose a name (or just give them a number, but kids, you know, they like to name their groups). They are going to respond to some questions that a non-believer might ask. Have the questions prepared in advance and have them in a can or jar or hat that you can pull them out of randomly. Give each group one question that they will ask another group. In their final response, each group is required to have at least 2 Bible verses to support their response. They may discover that the questions and answers in the back of the catechism are very helpful.

Round 1:  Each group receives a question and spends time coming up with a good answer. It MUST be in their own words and have 2 supporting Bible verses.

Some questions might be:
  • Why doesn't the church down the street baptize babies? 
  • Why are babies baptized if they haven't sinned yet?
  • If God is love, what's wrong with being gay? 
  • Why doesn't God like gay people? 
  • Why doesn't your church have women pastors? 
  • Why can't my friends go to communion with me? 
  • If we're all saved then why do we need to follow the commandments?
  • Why do Catholics confess to a priest and we don't?
  • If God knows everything, why do we have to confess our sins at all? 
  • Why should I pray?
(If you really want to challenge them, do the same thing with questions atheists ask.)

Give 5-10 minutes for students to come up with an answer for their question.

Round 2:  After each group gives their answer, let the other groups add points or ideas to their answer.

Round 3:  Let each group pick a different question and answer it based on what they learned.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

ALL SAINTS DAY: Children's Message


This is so good I need to REPOST!


All Saints Day will be coming up pretty quickly. We're talking about all the saints who have gone before us and we have a number of pretty young children who don't really understand the ideas of death, saints, and heaven. They're pretty concrete thinkers. So, I suggested to my pastor that he hand out little paper trumpets or kazoos and let the kids celebrate all the people who are in heaven with Jesus and that we will be there with them some day too.

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!

Another option is to get the rest of the congregation involved. Perhaps they could all sing I Sing a Song of the Saints of God and for the last verse the kids could play their horns as the congregation sings.


Tuesday, September 4, 2018

H.S. YOUTH: Locker Magnets

This is so good it's time to REPOST!

Romans 10:17
So faith comes from hearing, and hearing from the Word of Christ. 

Ever been on Pinterest?  People pin all kinds of inspirational quotes.  Some funny, some serious, and some intresting paraphrases of Bible verses.  We seem to like soundbites and lyrics and slogans.  We remember them and replay them in our minds constantly.  Well, let's take that idea and instead of a poorly paraphrased Bible verse or something out of context, let's give kids the real thing, and since I'm all about finding ways for kids to carry Jesus with them and using Him as their support system, I say, make inspirational locker magnets!  They can give support and encouragement every time a student opens his/her locker throughout the day and soon enough that verse will be stuck in their minds.  Be sure to let them know that if a friend thinks they're cool and wants one that more are available.  Also, try not to let them take popular verses out of context.  Psalms and Proverbs are a great place to start!


 There are many different ways this can be done.  Here are a few:

  • Make them and give them as gifts at the beginning of the school year.
  • Have an event where kids get together to make their own.  Be sure they use real Bible verses (including the reference) and not popular quotes.
  • Develop a few theme verses the kids may like to use and memorize for the semester.  Make large posters for the youth room and locker magnets for the kids. 
  • Make the activity part of a Bible study about keeping the Word close to
    your heart and why it's important to use God's words IN CONTEXT instead of catchy quotes that may be inspiring but may not be Biblical.
Remember that the more often they see God's Word (the magnets) and read them, the better they will remember it later... Brain Rules (John Medina).

Monday, July 30, 2018

EDUCATION: Discussion Strategy #1

One of the most effective learning strategies is discussion. It gets people interacting with the material, asking questions about the material, and hearing multiple opinions. We often forget that academic discussion needs to be structured and facilitated. Most adults have experienced discussion as a teacher/facilitator talking and asking questions while a few outspoken students respond. This is not effective discussion. What you want is to have students discuss while you listen, observe, and consider next steps. Here are a few ways to get more out of your discussion. The success of these strategies is dependent on the size and age of your class. Some of these are great for adults too, but they're not used to them. They're not used to discussion.

Gallery Walk variation 
Write significant questions (read my book, The Art of Teaching Confirmation for more information on significant questions) or thoughtful statements on large post-it notes and place them around the room. The post-its help start discussion, so make sure you ask good questions or make good statements that help guide students to your goals. Remember that the goal is to have discussion, not to write post-it notes.

Round 1
Give each student a few small post-it notes. Have small groups travel around the room reading and responding to the questions on their post-its and post them on the wall next to the questions/statement. Students can ask questions or make comments about what they read.

Round 2
Have students walk around the room again and put a hash mark on questions or comments they want to have answered or talk more about. If they have follow-up questions they can add them too.

The facilitator then can walk around the room and use the students' comments and questions to have table discussion.

Stay tuned for more discussion strategies!

Monday, July 2, 2018

CHILDREN'S MESSAGE: Echo Story

 Free Students Signs Clipart
Oftentimes we use ECHO PRAYERS when we pray with children because they are simple, they use words that the kids can understand, and they help children learn to pray and feel more comfortable praying out loud.  The leader says a short phrase and the kids repeat it.

Developmentally, younger kids LOVE stories.  They learn from a story far more than a stand alone message from an unattached scripture passage out of the pericopes.  Try doing that with Bible stories for a Children's Message.  You can still use whatever theme you're working with that day but instead of an object lesson, which is often lost on young kids, try an ECHO STORY (you can use a children's Bible or any storybook).  Tell the story but have specific places within the story where the kids will repeat a line or answer an echo question.  Here's how it works.

  • QUESTION ECHO - While you share the story, pause to ask simple questions.  "One day a man named Jonah was told by God to go somewhere.  WHO WAS THE MAN?  (Jonah!)  WHO TOLD HIM TO GO?  (God!)  You don't need to ask a question after every single point but you do want to make sure the kids repeat the important parts of the story as that's what they'll remember most.
  • PAUSE TO REPEAT ECHO - While you share the story, pause in specific places to have the kids repeat that line.  "Zacchaeus was a short, rich man and nobody liked him.  He took money from people to give to the government so nobody liked Zacchaeus.  NOBODY LIKED ZACCHAEUS.  He wanted to see Jesus.  Hmmm, what should Zacchaeus do?  He looked around and climbed up a tree to see Jesus.  HE CLIMBED UP A TREE TO SEE JESUS."  You get the idea...  You'll want to make sure these are pretty short and that the lines are kept short enough that the kids can remember them.  You also want to remember that you're telling the story to get a point across so you need to make sure you get your point across in the story and they should be repeating that.
  • REPEAT THE PHRASE ECHO - Tell kids that every time you put your hand to your ear the kids echo a specific phrase or every time you say certain words they echo a specific phrase back to you.  This one works great when trying to get kids to understand something that's complex.  For example, if the basic message is JESUS LOVE EVERYONE and you tell a story about a bunch of mean, sad, ugly, unexpected types of people, every time you put your hand to your ear have the kids say JESUS LOVES EVERYONE!
Oh!  And if there's a specific Bible passage you'd like them to remember, make it short and have them repeat it after you a few times throughout the story similarly to REPEAT THE PHRASE.  You can make up your own stories about life or use an online children's Bible if you need a little help telling Bible stories.

Bible Suite Children's Bible
The Bible Story Guy
The Bible for Children
A Bible in many languages:  Bible for Children, Inc.
Jesus and Kidz
Super Online Kids Bible

I'm sure there are many more...

Thursday, June 28, 2018

CHILDREN'S MESSAGE: The Truth about Object Lessons

The truth is that the majority of children's object lessons aren't for the kids if the kids are under 8 years old.  In the early elementary years faith takes the form of story or drama which means the young kids who come up to the front of the church for your object lesson, lamb's lesson, or children's message, don't have the ability to connect the object to your intended concept.  It's a higher order thinking skill.  Their little brains just can't get it.

Cognitive Development of Kids 3rd Grade and Below (Ages 3-8)
  • Little ability to think in terms of general principles (kindness, goodness, etc.) 
  • Little ability to think about non-physical entities (God, heaven, etc.)  God the father is a really big dad.  Heaven is a literal place like the library or a big park.
  • Visual symbols do not initially have symbolic meaning -- children must be taught what the cross stands for, for example and it will stand for the church or Jesus but not death that pays for sin.
  • Cannot relate one fact to another, for example, the heart being like the inside of a tootsie pop that was hardened on the outside by sin.  No way.
  • Cannot make generalizations like what happens to a Sunday school class when the word of God is shared.  Super no way.
  • Religious stories are classified as any other stories.  There is none more or less important.  Jonah and Pinocchio are on the same level of truth or make-believe.
  • The stories of miracles are primarily perceived as fairy tales.  They cannot understand them as real.
  • The older they get the more they can determine the difference between real and make believe but that's different than taking something that sounds like it can't be real (coming back from the dead) and assuming it's real.
What Should You Do?

If the majority of the kids who come up during your children's lesson are younger than 8 or 9 there are things you can do if you want the message to be for them.  If it's really something for the adults then please give the kids candy when you're done for being willing to come up front.  Just because they don't understand the larger concept of love, sin, or that Jesus loved them enough to die for their sin they do need to be introduced to the words and the older elementary kids are very interested in meanings of words. The younger ones will most likely equate sin to being mean and cannot transfer that to other actions and certainly not thoughts.  They understand what they experience.
  • Tell stories that are close to the emotions of the child. Stories telling of human characteristics such as loving, sharing, and caring are excellent at this stage. The child will accept these with awe and wonder and will relate them to itself.
  • Use poems, riddles, and songs.
  • Use props, pictures, voices, puppets, and/or volunteer actors to tell stories. 
  • If you have an abstract moral they won't get it but they can answer simple questions like, "What happened when I...?"  "What happened when (the puppet) hit the other one?"  "What would happen if you...?"  The information needs to be relevant to their experiences, which are very egocentric.
  • Show pictures and have kids answer questions about the picture.  "What's happening in this picture?"
  • Teach them what Christian symbols stand for.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

EDUCATION: What is Active Learning Homiletics?

As far as I know, every pastor wants to preach a good, memorable sermon. They want people to leave with a new insight, a word of encouragement, hope. They hope God's word flows through them in law and gospel as needed by the hearer. Given that, we've all heard some rough sermons. They might be hard to remember, hard to pay attention to, and sometimes it's just plain hard to understand. As I have pondered this dilemma, I can't help but wonder how I, as a teacher, can help pastors be more effective in their preaching. Nobody wants to dread the sermon or think of it as "dead time" in the worship service. No pastor wants to be told how to preach. So, if you're a pastor and might welcome a few tips from an educator, here's what I've got for you. Here are some educational tips that can be applied to preaching, because in addition to proclamation, preaching is teaching.

What We Know About Lectures 
Let's face it. Preaching is lecturing. It's a short lecture, but it's still a lecture. Standing up and talking while people listen is lecturing, and that's what preaching is. Lectures are an effective way of conveying information or imparting knowledge, so if your preaching goal is simply to share your knowledge or Biblical information, then a lecture is the way to go. However, if you want to change how people think about something, you need to engage them in a debate of the mind. Can this be done in a traditional sermon? Yes!

According to current brain/learning research, we know that we learn more when actively rather than passively engaged, but what does that mean? Passive engagement is sitting and listening. It's the simplest form of engagement and least effective. More about active engagement or active learning later.

What We Know About Memory


If you want people to remember something, they need to hear it more than once. We all know the Lord's Prayer because we say it every week. If you want people to remember what you say, then your new mantra should be review, repeat, recap

We've long known that our strongest sense with regard to memory, is smell, but that doesn't work so well when preaching. We also know that our senses work best when used together. For example, memory works better when you combine hearing and seeing.

If you hear a piece of information, you'll remember 10% of it 3 days later. If you add a picture to it you'll remember 65% of it. You'll have 3 times better recall for visual information than for oral and 6 times better recall for information that's oral and visual simultaneously.

We think in pictures, not words. As people read, their brain translates the words into mental pictures. Think about Noah and you'll find a number of pictures (ark, animals, adults, rain, etc) flip through your brain like a mental video. If somebody says the word dog, your brain show you a video of many different dogs. So, if we attach a picture to the words, we have a better chance of  remembering the picture attached to the word. What does that say about using slides in a sermon? What does that say about using slides with pictures on them in a sermon?

What is Active Learning Homiletics
There's a reason sermons are only supposed to last 15-20 minutes. That's about how long an adult can sit and listen if they're doing nothing but sitting and listening. "That's ridiculous!" many pastors have said, "They should be able to listen to God's word for hours." Yes, they should, but no, they cannot. They can listen longer, however, if you do something to engage them in a mental debate.

Active Learning Homiletics is a term I created to explain the intentional action of integrating learning principles into homiletics. In this sense, it's about intentionally engaging people with the material instead of letting them be passive listeners. The way I'm using it here, it does not mean you have to separate people into groups and have them participate in some kind of activity. It means you enhance what you're saying with something that breaks it up. For example,
  • Ask significant or probing questions that make people think or wonder. 
  • Use slides with photos and words on them so that when people recall the pictures, they recall the associated words as well. 
  • Use pictures of maps when talking about a region. 
  • Use a graphic organizer to help organize groups of information.
  • Have them read along with you when reading scripture.
  • If you want them to remember a phrase, ask them to repeat it a few times throughout the sermon. "Say it with me, folks, I am with you always." 
  • Try unexpected quizzes (but don't call them quizzes). "Remember what I said about...?"
  • Throw up a video, cartoon, or use a joke to demonstrate a point. 
  • Recap or restate your main points before the end of the sermon.  

Saturday, June 9, 2018

SERVICE: Sonshine Care Card

My husband and I have been asking servers at restaurants we go to if they have anything they would like us to pray for when we give thanks for our meal. A few weeks ago, our server nearly burst into tears as she said yes. We prayed with her.

Across the room sat a woman who looked as if she was going through cancer treatments. I said a little prayer for her.

Both times I wished I had something to give them to let them know that God loves them and I prayed for them. At the same time, I don't want to make it seem like, "Hey, I prayed for you. Wanna come to church with me?" That's awkward and ineffective. Inviting a perfect stranger to church rarely, if ever, works. Never-the-less, I wanted them to know that God is with them and always will be. To say "I prayed for you" and walk away makes the words cold and uncaring. I thought, if you're going to tell somebody you're caring for the, you should at least act like it. Also, I don't want to tritely use those words. They are powerful. So, I created a card to hand out in those moments. It's a simple business card and I keep a few of them in my purse and car. This is what they look like.



I didn't want to put my personal phone number on the back of the card and wanted to have a place where people could reach out so the number on back is from a Tracfone. A time may arise that I do invite somebody to church or give them the number of my pastor (with permission to do so) or refer them to another resource.

My congregation has a Stephen Ministry program, but sometimes people don't need a repeat visitor. Sometimes they just need an listening ear or a kind word of encouragement. so I wondered if the pastor might be interested in putting a phone number for that ministry on the back of the card. They're talking about it. He said this may be a whole new form of Stephen Ministry.

Imagine if we could just reach out to people in this simple way. I'm here if you need me.

Monday, June 4, 2018

H.S. YOUTH: The After-Confirmation Program

Just a few weeks ago there were confirmation photos all over social media and today was graduate recognition Sunday at my church. For those graduates there has been 4 years of no Bible education unless they come on Sunday morning. (I've been to some youth Bible studies and wasn't impressed as kids sat around, looking at their phones, and answered obvious questions.) After confirmation, how many of them show up? We graduate them from formal Bible learning at 14, the beginning of their identity searching, deciding who they want to be formative years, and hope they continue to show up. And if they don't we think we need to do more activities to draw them in. We need a more dynamic program. We raise a lot of money and go on lots of trips to youth gatherings and mission trips to Thailand or Guatemala or anywhere not near where they live. I'm not saying those are bad, but times have changed and we need to change with them.

So, after extensive thought, here's what I came up with.

The Caper

After confirmation Sunday, choose a Saturday morning and let the parents know you're going to kidnap the confirmands. That way they don't have a chance to come up with an excuse not to come to their first youth group event. (Also, it's a really cool tradition.)

Why do we have a youth group?
Because during the teenage years is when the need to be a part of a group is of utmost importance. Belonging is paramount. Students need to belong somewhere and if we don't provide that place and hook them in early, they will find a group outside the church. That's not always bad, but it's also not always good.

The key to a successful youth group is connection. No, not students being connected to their DCE or an adult leader, but students being connected to each other. They need to make friends. There are a few things necessary for that to happen.

  • Getting to know each other games and activities. There are millions of these online. They need to have fun, learn to trust each other, and laugh together. If you don't now, start a co-rec sports team, especially summer softball. 
  • Getting to know each other talks. Simply sharing information is not the best way to get to know somebody. You need to find out what they have in common by creating a survey and finding out about them before the kidnapping. For example (knowing when their birthdays are ahead of time so groups are somewhat equal), "Everyone whose birthday is in the summer in group one. Everyone whose birthday is in winter in group two...."  The discussion question is: What's the craziest thing that ever happened at or on your birthday or a party you attended? Then switch up the groups and talk about embarrassing moments or fears or whatever the survey shows they have in common. 
  • Opportunities to work together. Put newbies and regulars in mixed groups for jobs like cooking breakfast and cleaning up, collecting recyclables at church (yes, they can). Also, if you have a youth room, plan to redecorate every year on this day (see previous post). Everyone should participate in this activity. The more students work together, they more they learn about each other. There's nothing more binding for kids than laying around OUTSIDE all hot and sweatty after working hard to help plant the flowers around the church when suddenly a water fight breaks out. 
  • Feeling safe. This is a big one. Sometimes you have students from different schools, students who are homeschooled, or a student or two who regularly feel left out. Every year on this day get everyone together to create and sign a pledge that will hang on the wall. It's a pledge of how they will treat each other. Be specific, don't just say "be respectful." Try to word things from a positive perspective instead of negatives. This is what we will do, not what we will not do. Have the kids find Bible verses to support what they write. Then have them say the pledge. We pledge this to each other. "This will be our safe place." What does it look like if everyone is included? Also, remind people that not all teasing is mean. Sometimes with high school students tease you they're letting you know you fit in. Make sure, however, that everyone needs to be comfortable being told to be nice if somebody gets too snarky. 

The "Talk"

After everyone arrives and has eaten and cleaned up breakfast, and since you have them all in the same room, have the "talk." This is the moment where you shift into serious mode and tell them that now that confirmation is over it's up to each of them to decide if nurthruing their faith is important to them. Some parents may still make them go to church, but they get to decide whether they will nurture their faith or not. Let them talk in groups and list the pros and cons of specifically setting aside time to nurture their faith. Ask the following questions:

  • Why do we have Bible studies on Sunday mornings or Wednesday nights?  Because the Bible is our primary connection to God and being disconnected from from God weakens our faith. 
  • Is your faith important enough to you to continue going to church? 
  • Is it important enough to you to be a part of a high school program?
  • Is it important enough for you to read and study the Bible? 
  • Now that you're not required to attend a class, where will faith and nurturing it be on your priority list?  
  • It's not important that you be on the softball team or do every fun activity the youth group does. What is important? 

Then tell them about the Faith Builder Program.

The High School Faith Builder Program

The Faith Builder Program is, in many ways, an extension of confirmation. It continues through high school and hopefully instills in youth a desire to always keep learning and seeking God's truth in the Word. It needs to be planned ahead so everyone knows what they're going to do as a group. (Remember the need to belong part?)

Below is a chart of a program I would create that includes the 7th and 8th grade confirmation years. Everything is done within the context of the youth group. The youth meetings need to be run by the youth and an agenda created for each meeting. In the meeting the projects and timelines should be discussed. You'll notice that fun/fellowship activities aren't included as they are outside the scope of this part of youth development.

Year/
Grade
Study
Service/Leadership
Project
7th

Catechism

MS Bible Reading Plan Year 1 (Old Testament)

In-church Service

Out-of-Church Service
Faith Journey Poster
(Talk to family members about faith.)
8th

Catechism

MS Bible Reading Plan Year 2 (New Testament)

In-church Service

Out-of-Church Service
Reflection Paper
9th
Worship Education

Worship Music Study
  - Hymn Studies
  - Contemporary Music Studies
  - Camp Music

LCMS & Social Issues: Where do we stand?
In-Church Service

Out-of-Church Service

Work with junior students to develop a worship service.
Worship Music Project
  (Music reflecting beliefs)

Evaluate Adult Bible Studies
(using an evaluation tool)
10th
HS Bible Reading Plan Year 1 (Old Testament)

Discipleship 101
Sit in on various boards or committees. See what interests them. 
Work with Sunday School children on an Old Testament Story presentation.
11th
HS Bible Reading Plan Year 2 (New Testament)

Discipleship 201
Leadership – participate on a board or committee

Plan & Organize a Worship Service (work with peers).
12th
Surprised by Joy by C.S. Lewis

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
Leadership – Plan and organize an event at church.
Use a creative way to share their beliefs: create a video, write a book, use creative drama, write a song, etc. These should be shared with the congregation on or around graduate recognition Sunday. (Previous post)

REMEMBER - everything kids do together is fun because 
they're doing it together!  Let friends work with friends!
  • Service within the congregation - Students need to transition into adult roles by starting to take an active part in the congregation though ushering, reading Scripture, being Sunday School teacher aids, doing yard work or working on the facility, 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. If they have an idea of their own about how they can serve, perhaps starting a homework club, have them propose it at a board meeting.
  • Service outside of the congregation - This could begin at any time and should not be something they do with a large 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 or garage, help an older person in their neighborhood, volunteer to take care of a younger person for somebody, stay after school to help a teacher, read to younger kids, etc. 
  • Organize an event. Students should organize (with a few friends) a church event. 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. 
  • Visit adult Bible studies. Students can 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. 
  • I believe... - Students can work together to create a document of their beliefs. It can be a video, book, creative drama, song, etc., but should be in their own words. (This document may help.) The goal of every Christian is not just to be concerned about their own relationship with God, but to be able to share the gospel with others.
  • Develop Worship Service - After learning about worship, students 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. They'll need guidance from the pastor and be given structure. These documents might help:  worship table of parts, blank worship table of partsbiblical history of worship, and worship service planning outline
The Faith Builder Program is intended to be both fun and challenging! 
PLEASE don't make this a huge chore!

The Send Off
Send-Off Sunday is also graduate recognition Sunday. Imagine what they will have learned and how much fun they will have being creative while developing their belief system. Imagine how much they will feel a part of the congregation after serving in the congregation, participating on boards, and being welcome in adult Bible study. On this day, the seniors will share their projects (video, book, skit, song, etc.) with the congregation. Depending on the size of the group it can be done during worship or afterward with a potluck. Please be sure to have families come up and put their hands on their kids as you pray for them.  Have the other students in the group write and say the prayer.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

LUTHERAN SCHOOLS: Money Will Not Fix Your Money Problem

Something has been weighing heavy on my heart for years now. I've posted about Lutheran schools before. Many of them are struggling, so I posted 10 Survival Tips for Struggling Lutheran Schools. I've posted on the philosophy of Lutheran schools and how things need to change.  I've posted on Lutheran school excellence and how it has an effect on enrollment. And I've posted on how Lutheran schools need to be ready for the changes happening in our country right now and how they might be an opportunity. As I watch schools that I respect struggle and close, I cannot give up and need to post on this one more time just in case one school or somebody connected to one school reads it and changes in time to save it from closure or foreclosure.

You've heard it said regarding relationships many times, money won't fix your money problems. I believe that's true of churches and schools as well.  When Lutheran schools start struggling financially, they ask for donations from their congregation(s). "We need more money." Because we, as a church, value our schools, we give it, usually without question. "The school is in trouble and we need to help." Yes, we do, but without question? Without investigating why they are in financial trouble in the first place? If we give them money now, will they be back to ask for more next year?

Dear Lutheran Schools:

Money won't fix your money problems.

Why not? Because money is not your problem. Money is the bandaid used to cover up your problem(s). Giving money to a school that can't meet its budget doesn't fix the problem. Again, they will only be back in a year or two for more money. FIX THE PROBLEMS!

I know people disagree with this, but, at some level we have to start thinking of our schools as a business. Yes, they are also a ministry, but they need to be run as a business. They cannot be spending more than they take in year after year until it's finally too late. They cannot be borrowing every year to pay off their debt while continuing to be unable to meet their budget every year. If that's the only answer your board of directors can come up with, you need to talk to someone else.

You also have to be ready and willing to change and prepare your parents for change! I have seen too many schools that are simply unwilling to look at their school from a different perspective and FIX THEIR PROBLEMS! What might the problems be?

  • Low enrollment. How are you going to get more students? Look at the 10 Survival Tips for Struggling Lutheran Schools above.
  • Too many scholarship students. It would be fantastic if we could let all students attend for free, but that is not realistic. Set a limit of scholarship students you can take and start a waiting list. 

Seriously, friends. We cannot just shake our heads and feel sorry that this is happening. We cannot just throw money at struggling schools without analyzing and addressing the real reasons they are closing. FIX THEIR PROBLEMS!


REMEMBER! 

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 academically. They know their children will get an excellent education and will be safe and nurtured. What a mission!! 

WORSHIP: Bulletin Welcome!

Some churches aren't sure what to do about children in church. Of course, you want them there. There's no need to send them out to be entertained while adults worship. Families need to worship together, not separately. I've been to some churches that have interesting statements in their bulletins. I've heard some pastors make announcements at the beginning of the service. One pastor said he wanted kids to feel comfortable and didn't mind them running around during the service. Whoa! I want them comfortable too, but kids running around would be distracting for everyone. We also don't want parents to feel their kids need to be still and silent. Church can be a challenge for parents with young children. While visiting my parents I read the message below in their bulletin and thought it was the best message I've read so far.

A SPECIAL WELCOME TO THOSE WITH YOUNG CHILDREN
  • First, please relax and enjoy your time here. We know that children tend to wiggle and squawk a bit, so please don't feel embarrassed by it. Your children are welcome here at Faith.
  • Each Sunday your child may pick up a pew activity pouch to the left of the sanctuary doors. Please return these after the service.
  • To make things a bit easier for your family, dare to sit closer to the front where your child can see what's going on at the altar. Guide them in the liturgy and be models for them. Help them find the hymns and encourage them to stand/sit when appropriate, say "Amen" and "Thanks be to God," and generally help them be a part of the service. The liturgy belongs to them too.
  • If you have to leave, hurry back! Jesus wants the children here and we do too. If you need help, just ask. There are many here who are willing to lend you a hand.


Below is the visitor message from the same church. This pastor has a very relaxed way about him and it shows in how the people of the congregation interact with each other and visitors.

WELCOME VISITORS!
We are pleased that you join us today! We pray that you would be nourished and strengthened as God comes to us in His holy Word. You are among fellow sinners who are in need of God's grace and forgiveness in Jesus. If you would like to learn more about our confession of faith or desire pastoral care in any way, please contact Pastor _____.

If you really like the message in your church bulletin, please share it in a comment!

Saturday, April 7, 2018

EDUCATION: The Elephant in the Church

A few years ago I wrote an article that I hoped would be published in an LCMS publication. It wasn't, so here it is. 
The Elephant in the Church 
There is an elephant in the church that people keep looking at, touching, and talking about, but nobody wants to push it or poke it to get it to move. It has been there for a while and nobody is really sure what will happen if we try to change it, so we put a tablecloth on it and try to make it look like something else. After all, how do you move an elephant that has been there for a while and is comfortable where it sits? That elephant is congregational education and to move it would mean change, trying something different, and messing with tradition.

We all read the same Bible literacy studies that show the decline in Bible knowledge in the U.S. and we all know that in our congregations Sunday school and Bible study attendance is at an all-time low. Of course, we tell ourselves it’s not our problem. It’s not in my church. The pastor educates well and we have Sunday school, VBS, and regular Bible studies. It is not us… or is it? Do we know what we do not know about education?

The content in the Lutheran church has always been strong. It’s how we teach, not what we teach that’s the problem. We have learned a lot about education, the brain, how children and adults learn, and what effective and meaningful instruction is in the past 50 years. Do we apply that information to our education practices?
  • Is our instruction meaningful or have we slipped into the belief that we have to entertain in order to educate? 
  • Are we educating for information alone or for application and understanding? 
  • Do we challenge the thinking of teenagers, young adults and adults? 
  • Do we train pastors how to educate middle school students effectively, how to practice appropriate classroom management, how to find out if students understand the incredibly valuable information they are sharing? 
  • Do we hold confirmation students accountable for what they are learning or give them a pass if they've shown up? Can they share what they've learned in their own words?
  • Do we expect confirmation students to read the Bible or just short passages in it? 
  • Why do we treat confirmation as if it is graduation? 
  • Do we train volunteer teachers regarding the developmental level of their students and how they best learn? 
  • Do we understand how important repetition is for long-term understanding? 
  • Do we train pastors how to engage adults in meaningful discussion? 
  • Do we publish materials that inform, engage, and challenge beliefs? 
  • Do we allow people to struggle with spiritual truths or tell them what they should think and believe? 
  • Do we follow in Martin Luther’s footsteps in asking, “What does this mean?” or do we tell people what it means first? 
The first step to solving any problem is admitting there is a problem; admit there is an elephant in our church. Our content is exemplary. Our methods could use work. The next step is to stop coming up with reasons why we shouldn’t poke or push the elephant and provide the information and tools teachers need, so the passion of teaching His people about His Word is ignited as we teach students of all ages “to observe all that I (Jesus) have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:20)

We are blessed with the ability to look at how we educate with new eyes and make it more relevant and meaningful by engaging and challenging the people and watching the Spirit grow their faith. The question is, will we take the tablecloth off of the elephant and give it a good shove or will we continue to tell ourselves we’re doing okay? 

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

EDUCATION: Gospels & Acts Workbooks

FINALLY!! I've finally finished the middle school workbook for the Gospels and Acts and I also updated the middle school Old Testament workbook. (Answers are intentionally not included so that students feel free to share their thoughts, allowing leaders to discover what the students think or believe about what they’ve read. It will also enhance discussion and help leaders to know when students are misunderstanding what they’re reading.)

Gospels & Acts Description (sample)
Find it on Amazon.
The Gospels and Acts Reading Plan and Workbook for Middle School is a one year, 33 week reading plan with comprehension questions. It tells the story of Jesus’ ministry through the gospels and Acts, up to Paul’s first missionary journey.

It begins with the Gospel of John as it is written in a more theological than a logical or chronological style. Following are the three synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, which are compiled to give a complete, but not redundant reading experience. The plan ends with the first part of Acts. The questions are primarily written to give students an idea of what Jesus was telling the people. They are not meant to be all encompassing or theologically comprehensive in nature. They are meant to get students thinking about what they are reading and what is happening in each account.

The first page contains information about the gospels and their writers describing how they are similar, different, and their intended audience. There are also both student and parent instructions as well as recommended implementation and tips on the art of leading discussion.
There is also a cool project, Bible Culture in the New Testament, included in this workbook! Students have the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the culture of the time by researching and presenting a cultural topic they find interesting such as: food and cooking, fashion, music, schools/learning, government, etc. A list of options is in the appendix. 
This book is also available on this website in pdf form. It is $75 and can be photocopied as needed for each member in a class.

Old Testament Description (sample)

The Old Testament Bible Reading Plan and Workbook for Middle School is developed from the 70 Most Important Events in the Bible (http://www.angelfire.com/il/lcms/events.html), It is a one year, 33 week reading plan with comprehension questions.The reading plan begins with creation and ends with the rebuilding of the temple. 
Find it on Amazon.
Reading them in order, students will gain a better understanding of how the smaller stories create the bigger story of God’s plan of salvation for his people, and an overall understanding of the story of God's relationship with the Israelites. This book also contains both student and parent instructions as well as recommended implementation and tips on the art of leading discussion.
There is a cool project, an Old Testament timeline, for students in this book. Each week they study, they create a timeline. They can create a book individually or create a wall timeline. Each week a new piece of the Old Testament story will be posted down a hallway so that by the end of the year anyone who walks down the hall will learn about God's love through his relationship with the Israelites. 
This book is also available on this website in pdf form. It is $75 and can be photocopied as needed for each member in a class.