The Importance of Marriage Ministry: An Interview with Scott Kedersha

During my time at the D6 Conference in 2016 I had to opportunity to meet Scott Kedersha. We served together there as part of the social media team, which means we got to blog and tweet throughout the conference. What I discovered in this brother is a sharp and articulate guy who has a growing ministry with an emphasis that some churches take for granted. Scott focuses on marriage ministry. Recently, I asked Scott if I could pick his brain about marriage ministry. He was graciously excited to do so. Here are the highlights of our conversation. 

Pat: Scott, describe your role and ministry for me.

Scott: I am the director of premarital and newly married ministries at Watermark Church, a multi-site church in Texas, with campuses in Dallas, Fort Worth, and Plano. This ministry seeks to walk with a couple from pre-marital counseling and beyond to build healthy marriages. We are proactive in our approach and equip and mentor couples, through healthy community, on how to handle everything from their own expectations as well as how to hand crises.

Pat: Why is this ministry so necessary?

Scott: We desire for all marriages to be build on Christ (Matt. 7:24-27). The reality is if mom and dad aren't walking with God, neither will the kids. Other ministries can only help so much with this. Our ministry desires to help mom and dad live with integrity with each other first, as a model, for their kids.

Pat: Why is this ministry so neglected?

Scott: I don't really know. Few churches are intentional with their efforts in this area. Because they aren't proactive, they actually spend more time dealing with one crisis after another. Some see this as "everyone's job,"t which means it's really "no one's job". Other churches feel ill-equipped for this ministry, underestimating what they can really do (2 Peter 1:3). What would help all churches in this area is a comprehensive strategy.

Pat: Regardless of current situations, how can churches do this better?

Scott: We use a four-fold strategy: preparing newlyweds, establishing newlyweds, enriching marriages, and restoring marriages. At each stage there is mentorship. We also do an annul training conference where we provide help at each stage as well as leadership training for pastors, and staff. The big question we are asking throughout is, "What one thing can you do when you get home?"

Pat: What is your hope for the church in all this?

Scott: Simply that all we do is marked by love (John 13:34-35). I hope that people come to see the church as a safe place they can find help, That while they are there, they are shown the love of Christ, and that He is the hope of the world.

The health of marriages affects the health of the church. Readers, has your church thought through this critical area of ministry? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.

Just Nicholas: An Interview with Annie Kratzsch and Tessa Janes

I'm excited to introduce the readership to a new children's book and family devotional for Christmas. The book is called Just Nicholas (Matthias Media, 2015). It tells the story of Nicholas of Myra, the Christian saint from whom has come the legend of Santa Claus. It's a story older than Santa told in a way that is fun for kids and helpful for parents.

Young children live in a consumer world. Annie Kratzsch and Tessa Janes, two sisters who serve as part of our church community in Louisville, teach children that the true joy of Christmas is found in giving and showing mercy to those in need. We can give like Nicholas gave, because that is how God has given Jesus to us. Here is my interview with Annie and Tessa:

Jared: What is it like writing a book with your sister? 

Annie: It's a dream come true to work with my sister. We've been writing and illustrating things together since we were little girls and always daydreamed about doing a "real" book together one day when we were grown ups. We're also the perfect team because we have a great relationship that allows us to give and receive feedback openly. Growing up as close friends and in the same home, we share a visual and cultural history that puts us on the same page most of the time; and, even when we have different ideas about something, we understand each other so well that it's easy to communicate our vision.

Tessa: Annie and I grew up working on projects together. Plays, books, games, epic paper chains, we were always doing things like that. Doing a book with Annie was sort of like doing a book with a version of myself that is good at all the things that I’m not good at and can read my mind. So it was great.

Jared: What are the top things illustrators should remember when working with authors? What are the top things authors should remember when working with illustrators?

Tessa: I think it’s important for illustrators to remember that authors might not think the same way or use the same vocabulary that they do. Same thing for authors. You kind of have to hear what they’re saying from their perspective, then translate it into your own vocabulary. 

Annie: When illustrators are working with authors, it's helpful to remember to ask lots of questions up front. Pump them for information about the research they did. Ask context questions about age, clothes, time of year, time of day, etc. to build your visual understanding of the particular world in this story. It may seem obvious, but when authors are working with illustrators, they should think about how their story will play out on the page. How will it break down in terms of words per page and how will those words translate visually? Is there an action or image that will move the story along visually? If not, how can you rewrite in a more active way?

Jared: Tessa, you have three books (with three different publishers) coming out this Fall/Winter, the PROOF Pirates Family DevotionalThe Very First Christmas, and Just Nicholas. What did you learn while doing so much illustration this year? What is changing about your work as the demands grow?

Tessa: The more I illustrate, the more I learn. It’s one of those things that I can’t really just practice without having a project because there are so many facets. You have to tell a story, you have to illustrate the context well, you have to be consistent throughout the project, you have to be engaging, you have to make a lot of decisions and they all have to agree with each other. You also have to get better at things you’re not good at because there are so many pieces to illustrating. It’s definitely a challenge and it’s very humbling. I studied art, but not illustration in particular or design, so it’s very much a learning process for me. A lot of people have been very supportive and gracious. I had to ask for a lot of help, especially from my husband and my parents. There’s no way I would have made deadlines without their help and support. I always feel a little surprised when I’m asked to do another project, so I think I’m realizing that this is work that God is bringing to me as well.  

Since working on projects is what gives me practice and experience, I’ve been experimenting more with different mediums and techniques. So really as the demands grow I get more seasoned I suppose. I’ve had to do a lot of self teaching and I have a lot more to do. It’s always invigorating to learn to do something new, or at least a different way than you have been doing it.

Jared: What medium are you using for the illustrations in this book?

Tessa: I used watercolor, colored pencil and ink in this book. I also used a lot of masking fluid and guache. There is a lot of contrast in the dark, snowy night pictures that those two things helped with.

It preserves the magic of the holiday by exploring the transformative power of grace

Jared: Annie, what led you to want to write a book about St. Nicholas?

Annie: A couple of years ago, Tessa was looking for books about Santa Claus to read to her young daughters. She found historical accounts of St. Nicholas and fantastical stories about Santa, but nothing that addressed the truth in an engaging, honest, and non-preachy way. So she asked me to write a book to fill the gap she found and I started working on research and drafting a story.

Jared: Who is this book for? How can Nicholas's story help the child who grows up getting everything he wants for Christmas? How can his story help the child who grows up in poverty--getting very little? How can parents and grandparents use it?

I genuinely believe that this book is for everyone. That's why I'm so proud of it. Parents and grandparents can start reading it to their children from their very first Christmases, yet it remains relevant for older kids and even grown-ups. It is for practicing Christians and for people who are just curious about the origins of Santa Claus. It provides adults with a tool for approaching the 'Santa conversation' without saying "Santa isn't real." Instead, it preserves the magic of the holiday by exploring the transformative power of grace. In John 8, Jesus makes the bold statement that if we hold to the good news of his word, 'you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.' Because of that, I think the story of Nicholas cuts through the gift-based expectations that plague both children and grown-ups at Christmas time. It frees us to be thankful for what we've been given and empowers us to choose radical generosity in our humdrum daily lives.

I'm grateful for Annie and Tessa's work, and their service to the children of our church community. As we enter the holiday season, be sure to pick up a copy of Just Nicholas for the children in your family.

Interview with the Illustrator: Talking to Andy McGuire about The Ology

A few months ago, I posted about the new children's theology book, The Ology: Ancient Truths Ever New, by author and pastor Marty Machowski. The release of the book is now about a month away. One of the things I love most about the book are the beautiful illustrations by Andy McGuire. I recently had the opportunity to correspond with Andy. Here are his answers to my questions. 

Jared: Can you tell me how you first got involved with illustrating The Ology

Andy: I’ve been illustrating for years, and have written and illustrated four picture books and created freelance illustrations for several others. Three or four years ago I gave a postcard advertising one of my picture books to Mark Teears, CEO of New Growth. The postcard worked its way over to Barbara Juliani, the editorial director at New Growth, and she contacted me. Barbara believed my illustration style was just right for the book, and we negotiated from there.

Jared: The Ology is a really big book. What was the illustration process like for you--working with Marty (and maybe even a design firm)? How long did it take?

Andy: You’re right—it is a big book. The biggest I’ve ever worked on. I was given about a year and a half to work on the illustrations, and it took me nearly that long. Marty, Barbara, and I spent several months going over what we wanted on each page. Marty had some ideas for most of the pages. I’d create sketches from those ideas or come up with some on my own, and then I’d send them to Marty and Barbara for their thoughts. Some of the sketches were approved right away, while others took several steps to figure out what we wanted. Theological concepts can be tricky, at times, to turn into concrete images.

Jared: With what kind of medium are you working? Is it colored pencil? Do you always use that medium?

Andy: I start with a light wash of watercolor and then use colored pencil for the detail work. The wash of watercolor shows through to give it a richer, more finished look. I created the pictures on illustration board, which is kind of like poster board but with a nice, textured finish that holds pencil well. The colored pencils I use are just a Crayola 12-pack (the kind you can get at Target :). I don’t like to mess with more colors than that—I prefer to mix my own shades from there. The combination of water color and colored pencil is my preferred medium, although I’ve worked in ink and regular pencil as well.

Jared: What did you learn during the illustration process? Were there any theological concepts that were new to you or challenged you? 

Andy: I like the fact that pretty much everything you’d find in a systematic theology book—the Trinity, sin, Hell, the Holy Spirit, etc.—is covered. The book doesn’t shy away from very tough concepts. As a parent of three myself (ages 10, 7, and 4), it’s been good to see that I don’t have to wait until my children are older to share some really tough truths. We can start this foundation at an early age and trust that God will help them understand what he needs them to know. 

Jared: What did God teach you through the project?

Andy: I went into this with a bit of fear and trembling. As I mentioned above, this was the biggest illustration project I’d ever taken on. I was worried how it would affect my time with family and my sleep, since I have a day job as well. Also, I was concerned I might feel overworked, never having a chance to relax. But my wife and I felt like God wanted me to do it, so I jumped in. It turned out, the project was actually a blessing—it invigorated me in a lot of ways. God was directing me all along.

Jared: Do you have a favorite illustration? (Is that allowed?) Mine is the earthworm chunk ice cream. 

Andy: I like the ice cream/earthworm as well. I was also very pleased with the basset hound and the stinky shoe. One thing I thought was kind of playful/fun was to incorporate some repeating images on the clothes of the children (for instance, if you look hard enough, the wormy ice cream cone shows up somewhere else in the book). 

Jared: There were times when the illustrations in the book seemed to come straight from the text--for example the earthworm chunk ice cream or something more simple like the stolen bike. There were other times when you seemed to take some liberty--like the giant squid hanging on to the NASA rocket (also one of my favorites.) How do you balance that? How often did the ideas come directly from Marty? How often were they more original with you?

Andy: Most of the ideas came from Marty, but a few were my own—but always with Marty’s blessing. To be honest, I can no longer remember which were which, and that’s probably good :). But it was fun to put my mark on all the images with little creative bits here and there. After the original sketches were approved, most of the details were up to me. My friends at New Growth encouraged me to be playful, which gave me great freedom within the illustrations.

Jared: If other illustrators or authors are reading, what are the top things that illustrators should remember when working with authors? What things should authors remember when working with illustrators?

It’s really good to give yourself enough time to do your best. A year and a half was necessary for this, given the amount of time each picture took. That said, when you’re doing something this big (I think we ended up with 115 illustrations), you’re going to have some images you like better than others. You have to be able to live with all of them, but each isn’t going to be your very favorite work, and that’s okay (otherwise, “favorite” has no meaning :) ). I think with something this size, I think you can expect to be thrilled with about a fourth of them, pleased with about half of them, and just “okay” with the remaining fourth. That seems like a good ratio to me.

As for what authors should know about working with illustrators—it’s good to give them freedom in the details. I really enjoyed that part of the process as I worked with Marty and the good folks at New Growth.

I'm really grateful to Andy for sharing his thoughts and wisdom with us. If you enjoyed or learned from Andy, leave him an encouragement below.

Introducing Galaxy Buck: An Interview with Creative Trust's Melanie Rainer

One thing I think about a lot as a parent is how to help my kids live for God. But more important than that, according to the Scriptures, is that they live a life with God.

That's the theme in the newest project out from Phil Vischer and the good folks at What's In The Bible? I recently corresponded with Melanie Rainer, who helps to develop curriculum content for Phil's team. Here are her answers.

Jared: Melanie, tell me a little about your job. What does a director of content and special projects for Creative Trust do?

Melanie: I serve as the Director of Content for Creative Trust, a company based on Nashville that specializes in brand management and audience development for Christian artists and media properties. We are partners in Jellyfish Labs, Phil Vischer’s film studio. I spend the vast majority of my time deployed against Phil’s projects, including What’s in the Bible? and now Galaxy Buck. We’re also in the process of relaunching JellyTelly, a streaming video site for Christian families. As Director of Content, I focus on creating amazing experiences for families using and creating our content! I served as the producer and editor of the What’s in the Bible? curriculum, and I’ve written several family activity books and a series of family devotionals called The Bloom. I love dreaming up ways to help families connect to God and each other in their everyday lives. 

Jared: Can you tell me a bit about your latest project? What's the basic premise and goal of Galaxy Buck? And what is your role in the project? (Are you a puppeteer?)

I am not a puppeteer! Phil is the brilliant mind - and voice and arm - behind all of our characters. If you’re familiar with the What’s in the Bible? series, our 13-video series that introduced Buck Denver and Friends and goes all the way through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, you’ll recognize the characters in Galaxy Buck. Galaxy Buck is a classic space adventure story with a Gospel-centered twist … what if there were people on other planets who had never heard about Jesus? And what if there was a Galactic Mission Board to send space explorers (like Buck Denver) to tell the Good News across the Galaxy? Galaxy Buck helps kids imagine what it’s like to bring their faith to life - to share the Good News, but also what it looks like to walk with God every day. 

Jared: Without getting too much into the teaching content of this series, I understand that it involves some pretty big concepts. What is your team's process for making complexities simple enough for children?

This is one of my favorite parts about my job! I love working with the amazing content that Phil creates to help craft meaningful family experiences off-screen. Phil really inspires and directs the big teaching concepts - he’s an extraordinary writer, teacher and editor. Sometimes we partner with other writers and teachers to create curriculum or other resources, and sometimes I write or other folks from our team. It’s always an amazing collaborative experience with people who are passionate about the spiritual formation of kids. 

Jared: The project is designed to help answer kids' doubts. Do you run into a lot of young kids (Buck Denver's mail bag, etc.) who have questions and doubts about their parent's faith? Apart from pre-ordering a DVD, how would you counsel parents to answer those questions?

Wow - this is a GREAT question! One goal we always have as a company is to partner with parents to build resilient faith in their kids. We know that faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit, but we also know based on research that parents’ faith is the single biggest indicator of whether or not kids will stay Christians throughout college and beyond. What a huge responsibility! One of the things I love about Galaxy Buck is that it encourages kids (and parents) to focus on life with God instead of doing things for God. I think we often emphasize works for kids because we think that’s easier for them to understand. Being a Christian means being a good person - rather than what you and I know it to be, which is being a Christian means growing in Christlikeness and growing closer to him! (And of course out of that flows the fruit of the Spirit and the other good things that come from pursuing Christ first.) For parents, I would say the best thing you can do to encourage faith in your kids is live faithful lives transparently. Pray together, talk to them about your doubts and fears, involve them in your wrestling with and worship of God. Talk to them openly about how God is working in your life. As parents, we often believe that we have to model perfection for our kids, but other than Jesus there is no model of perfection anywhere! So we model for them what it means to follow Jesus and point them to him in everything.

To find out more about the Galaxy Buck project, check out their website here.