Family Friday Links 2.16.18

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Here’s what we’ve been reading online this week:

Chuck Lawless had a post for leaders and pastors about being tired, “... of opposition and apathy.” He goes on to list 10 things we fail to see in the midst of being tired. This is a helpful post for pastors, leaders, as well as parents.

Stoked on Youth Ministry had a post on writing discussion questions. It starts out this way, “As every youth worker knows, and has probably experienced, discussion times can either be amazing or a total flop!” The post then goes on to list 5 tips that will help discussion time be amazing more often. This is a great reminder for anyone who leads discussion, including parents.

Our friend, Sam Luce, had a post on the importance of gospel-centered curriculum in children’s ministry. He says, “The big mistake we make here in our teaching, and our curriculum is we limit the gospel to an event.” He goes on to list ways some curriculum has shrunk the impact the gospel is supposed to have.

What have you been reading online lately? Leave a link in the comment section for us to check out.

FAQ: How Did You Choose Your Curriculum?

One question I get fairly often is, "What curriculum do you use and how did you land on it?" It's a really great question. My first year on staff at Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, KY, was 2007. At that time, Sojourn's elders weren't satisfied with the curriculum that we were using, and we began to look for something new. Honestly, I wouldn't recommend changing curricula in your first year in a new ministry role. It's important to build relationships with the team first. But in my case, I had the advantage of entering into a process that had already been started by our elder team. Here is the process that we adopted at that time:

Step 1, Research. 

A research team was formed, and we worked to amass as much information as possible about children’s ministry curriculum. In 2007, the primary researchers were Maggie Ainsworth (now a part of the church planting core at King's Cross Church in San Francisco) and me.

Step 2, Evaluation. 

We set out to evaluate the curriculum based on the following criteria:

  • Gospel-Centered. In our research, we found that children’s Bible lessons were typically designed to teach children what to do—“Be joyful!  Be courageous!”  But this is rarely the main point of the Bible story.  The Bible was written to show us God—who He is and what He has done to rescue us through Christ Jesus. We wanted a curriculum that kept God and his gospel central. We also wanted a curriculum that reflected the core values of our local church.
     
  • Biblical. Christian spirituality is informed and transformed by the Scriptures. So, we wanted a curriculum that majors on the Bible. We looked for one that begins with prayer--asking God for understanding. We looked for a curriculum that helps children observe the text and understand the author’s expressed meaning. We looked for a curriculum that helps children apply what the text says by asking searching questions, and providing relevant application points.
     
  • Equipping Families. We believe parents are called to be the primary faith-trainers in their kids lives. So, we wanted a curriculum that reaches and equips parents in this role. We asked, "How well does the curriculum connect with parents?" Unified children's ministry curriculums, where all age groups study the same passage of Scripture on any given Sunday, scored high for us in this area. Why? Because similar lesson themes help cultivate conversations about the Bible passage that involve the entire family
     
  • Educationally ExcellentWe wanted a curriculum that accounts for and speaks to multiple learning styles as well as the varying age-level abilities of children. We also wanted a curriculum that would help kids retain key Bible doctrines and stories through memorization and review.
     
  • Welcoming for Outsiders. We want to have a children's ministry that creates welcoming environments for building relationships with kids and their families. So, the curriculum should not be so incremental and dependent on previous lessons that it fails to embrace kids that are new to the program. And it shouldn't alienate children from an unchurched background with legalistic standards or application points. Instead, we wanted the curriculum to be engaging and aware of the presence of new kids.
     
  • Simple ExecutionIn 2007, we had one part-time children's ministry staff person (That was me).  I recognized then we needed a curriculum that was "out of the box." Things have changed. Now, we're writing and producing nearly 40% of what we teach. Nevertheless, I think some simplicity is essential. You should never adopt more than the volunteer team can teach with excellence. Before you can evaluate the simplicity of execution for a curriculum, you need to know how your context fits with the curriculum you're considering. What kind of facility/equipment is required by the curriculum? If the curriculum is video-based, do you already have the necessary audio/video equipment? Do you have classroom for every age group or are you more dependent on a rotational format or large assembly setting? Knowing your budget is also essential to knowing what type of curriculum you can consider. Pre-printed curriculum is usually "out of the box" and ready to go each week, but it is also more expensive. Digital curriculum that comes via download or CD-ROM usually requires more prep and printing time, but it is less costly on the wallet. Do you have more money to spare or time? Would you give preference to a curriculum that uses the same supplies each week in creative ways or one that provides lots of options? Answering these questions will help you determine the whether or not the curriculum is a simple fit for your context.

Step #3, Selection. 

Based on these criteria, we scored each curriculum then presented our findings to Sojourn's elder counsel. Download this free score sheet that lists questions from each of the categories outlined above with a rating system. Writing down numerical scores for each curriculum set actually made the choice easier for us and the elders. After reviewing the scores, our elders gave even more solid feedback. We actually went with the research committee's second choice. Today, Sojourn is larger, and a small group of staff members/pastors would make this decision rather than taking our findings before the entire elder board. The final selection will work differently in different churches based on size and church governance. However, I think there was one indispensable lessons from that final stage. Have a community speak in. We would not have landed where we did without a multitude of voices looking over those score sheets.

The tools you give your children's ministry team goes a long way toward helping their teaching be more effective and Christ-centered. I hope our selection process helps you if you're planning to change your curriculum sometimes soon.

Why We Do What We Do: Redeemer Fellowship

For those of you who don't know, I am a pastor at Redeemer Fellowship, a nearly nine year-old church in St. Charles, Illinois, that is, in the far west suburbs of Chicago. As Community Life Pastor, part of my responsibility is to oversee the children's ministry we call Journey Kids. Yes, the ministry is named after Jeff's church ... don't judge! We have set up this ministry in a specific way based on the convictions and values we hold.

The workers spend their time not just caring for the kids but also praying for them.

Right now, we have 5 classes that look to reach newborns through 5th grade with the gospel. The youngest children are in class for the entire service time. They are our Infants (0 through when they start walking), Walkers (starting to walk to age 2) and Toddlers (ages 2 and 3) classes. We separated the Infants and Walkers because (with the recent baby explosion our church experienced), we didn't want the ones who could walk stepping on the ones who could not get out of the way. The workers, typically 2 or 3, spend their time not just caring for the kids but also praying for them.  In the Walkers class in the midst of caring for these little ones, the workers do share a short lesson from the Children Desiring God toddler curriculum. We use this 12 lesson course and spend a month sharing God's character with the kids through pictures. The Toddler class does the same lesson in a more direct way, while sharing a snack around a table, usually about 7 to 10 minutes.

So much of what kids learn is caught rather than taught. We want parents to lead by example teaching kids about corporate worship.

From ages 4 through the 5th grade, kids start out in the service with their parents. We do this intentionally for a few reasons. The reason we do this is because we believe that parents are the primary disciple makers of their kids. So much of what kids learn is caught rather than taught. We want parents to lead by example teaching kids about corporate worship.. We want our kids watching Mom and Dad singing. We want our parents to explain the meaning of communion and pray with their kids. We want the kids to see people being baptized. We believe this is critical for kids to experience and better prepares them to be worshippers themselves. The last announcement that is made every week, right before the sermon is that kids are dismissed to their classes. We want to be intentional about age appropriate instruction which is why we dismiss them at this point. These kids meet their teachers and helpers in the back of the sancturary and head to their classes. The Primary class is for those 4 yrs old through 1st grade and the Intermediate class is 2nd grade through 5th grade. Both classes use the age appropriate lesson of the Gospel Story curriculum published by New Growth press. These teachers and helpers lead the kids through the Bible's grand narrative that points them, through every lesson, to Jesus and their need for a Savior.

For the safety and security of the kids, as well as the peace of mind of the parents, we use KidCheck© for our check-in process for all of our classes. I have written on this before, and while I personally struggle with the need for such a system, this is one of the best. The kid's name tags that are printed out provide teachers with name, allergy information, and a secure way for them to know which kid belongs with which parent. The other security system we have in place is that we do background check on all of our workers. This is another step of security that protects everyone; the kids, the church, and puts parents even more at ease.

This is what we do and why we do it. My hope and prayer with sharing this is that it helps others think through the same things. 

Called to Encourage

If you are a ministry leader of any kind, then at least part of your job is to recruit, train and encourage to volunteers you lead. This is not only part of your job, but it's also a command.

Ephesians 4:12 tells us we're responsible "to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ." As a ministry leader you are called and commanded to be equipping the people of your local congregation for the work of ministry. This is THE way healthy churches grow. Why is this case and how do we as leader do it? This post will attempt to answer both.

The Why

Why are pastors and leaders called and commanded to equip the saints? The simple answer is found in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19). We are called to make disciples. Part of making disciples and part of being a disciple is helping those discover and exercise the calling God has placed in their hearts. God uniquely gifts each believer in a way that will be a benefit to the church.

Part of discipleship is helping people realize the necessity and value of serving. They need this is valuable to their growth, as well as those to whom those these gifts are serving. The believer grows through the process of preparing to serve; the sharpening of their skills and knowledge, and those they are serving learn through being taught within the context of community and relationships. Many have said that all ministry is relational. Equipping people is the way of making this reality.

THE HOW

So how do we "equip the saints"? I've found this simple formula helpful:

Good vision + curriculum + good training = encouraged teachers.

A good vision is worth putting your all into in order to see it accomplished. This vision needs to be communicated regularly and can always be refined. Helping those who serve see the aim will allow them to see how it's accomplished as well as how they themselves need to grow. The communication of this vision should be a regular part of any training we do.

Good curriculum, in my opinion, teaches the whole counsel of God in a gospel-centered way. There are quite a few out there. Four of the best I've seen are: Children Desiring God, The Jesus Storybook Bible, Gospel Story for Kids, and Gospel Project for kids. There are of course many more good choices (if you know of others, please leave a comment for me to check out). I like these because they introduce kids to Jesus, not just teach about Him.

Parents looking for good stuff to use for family devotions should check out books like: Long Story Short and Old Story NewExploring Grace Together, Training Hearts, Teaching Minds, and Big Truths for Young Hearts. If those aren't your thing, try catechisms like: the New City Catechism app, or the North Star Catechism (co-authored by our own Jared Kennedy). These are short, simple and fun helps that draw kids closer to Jesus. There are of course more out there (... and again if you know of them, please leave a comment for me to check out.)

Good training, comes down to a simple formula: I do, you watch; you do, I watch; you do. This is a simple way to see how to do what's being asked of them as well as how they can add their own unique personality to it. I don't want to just throw a new teacher or helper (or even parent) to the wolves of expectation without giving them a picture of how to successful accomplish the goal.

If these steps are followed, the result will be an encouraged teacher. Whether they are a new teacher or helper, a new parent or a parent that is new to family devotions, they will feel not only encouraged but equipped to fulfill what God is calling them to do; so much so that they will delight in the challenge.

With the proper encouragement, teachers will see ministry less as duty to perform and more as a blessed calling. And that is the way God designed it.