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.



MS Bible Reading Plan Year 1 (Old Testament)

In-church Service

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


MS Bible Reading Plan Year 2 (New Testament)

In-church Service

Out-of-Church Service
Reflection Paper
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)
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.
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).
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.