forming young leaders

Today two adult colleagues and I worked with our elementary age children to prepare them to lead the early childhood kids church next week.  They are very excited. Our Bible theme next week deals with how God created the land in all its varied forms for us to live in and enjoy.

I have a worship team to lead music, a craft team to guide the little ones in a mixed media art experience, a game team to lead a game which corresponds to the lesson, and a drama team to take the younger children on an imaginary journey through the various landscapes God has made.

There are additional jobs as well, such as snacks, time keepers, buddies to partner with children who need extra help, and so on.

Every child has a role. On alternating weeks we practice for the following week, and then perform our ministry duties on that subsequent week. There will never be a dull moment, with the children always looking forward to each week and contributing to the content and process along the way. Continue reading

Innovator

Photo by Glen Alan Woods

This photo was taken deep within the confines of the Group Publishing facility. The sign was posted next to a door. The room inside was empty at the time of this photo, but the sign still perked my imagination.

Is this innovation central for Group Publishing? Is this where employees go to test new ideas? Is it like a theoretical centrifuge which separates mediocre ideas from the potentially amazing. Or is it something else altogether? I don’t know. I suppose I should have asked while there.

My point in this post is that Group has built into their physical infrastructure a space specifically designed for innovators. Having spent a couple of days onsite, I am quick to point out that the entire facility seems to generate an innovative flair. Yet, the fact they have designated an innovator room speaks volumes about what they value.

I am not suggesting that other businesses follow suit in designating an innovator room by posting a placard on it. I am suggesting that an ethic of innovation is necessary in a business climate which is rapidly changing for a variety of reasons.

Likewise, I don’t suggest that churches signify an innovator space in their facility. But it wouldn’t hurt to create space in conversations, meetings, and relationships for innovation to occur naturally as part of normal everyday interactions among leadership and parishioners. How might that happen in real church life? Here are some suggestions to jump start your thinking: Continue reading

excellence requires hard work

Have you ever taken a moment to admire a painting or sculpture? Perhaps a poem took your breath away, or a novel captured your imagination long after you finished its final page. Maybe it was a classical piano piece, or ballet performance, or the complex artistry of an athletic event. Each of these skills performed at the highest level exudes excellence in its own right, which in turn requires years of disciplined hard work by their respective participants.

Yesterday, I was privileged to watch two stellar performances, the first a classical piano recital, and the second at a ballet production of Giselle. Two of my nieces, Jeci and Meghan, exemplified excellence.

Jeci is a gifted pianist who, at age 15, has students of her own. She performed two classical numbers at a local recital with no sheet music on hand. I knew she was good, but she blew me away with her mastery of the material. Hard work and talent produced excellence at the highest level.

Meghan (pictured in the foreground in the photo above, taking her final bow) is a talented ballerina who, as I type this, is performing her final ballet of her career. At 19, she is retiring from ballet to focus on her academic career and other interests. Her performance was breath-taking. I admit that I write partly as a proud uncle. But based on the applause her specific dance routines generated, I suspect others in the audience were similarly impressed by her artistry.

Both of these young ladies exemplify the rewards of hard work. Their effort in practice paid dividends in their performances. The excellence they achieved was not due to luck, chance, or any notion that piano and ballet are easy disciplines to master. Far from it! They have worked hard for many years with unrelenting focus. They were self-motivated, not driven by the ambitions of others. They wanted to be the best they can possibly be in their skillset.

What might this imply for children’s ministry? Continue reading

letting go of mommy and daddy

Today I greeted a three year old girl who visited our early childhood kids church for the second time. She was tiny. Sweet. And she did not want to let go of mommy. Her mother and I exchanged a knowing look, and she placed the crying child in my arms. The girl wept as her whole world walked out the door. I comforted her the best I knew how. I rocked her, and rubbed her back gently, and wiped her tears as they fell from her cheeks. Continue reading

my children’s ministry heroes are average

Recently Christine Yount Jones put out a call to her CM Mag Facebook friends to submit names of people who are heroes in children’s ministry. She is asking for names of those who are current heroes based on the last twenty years of impacting the children’s ministry world, and those who may yet become heroes in the next twenty years. In essence, these are people to whom many of us turn as thought leaders concerning all things children’s ministry. I submitted a short-list to her. I am pretty confident at least a couple of them will be included in her forthcoming CM Mag article.

This morning, however, I started to think about all those people we will never hear about. They are not thought leaders on a national or international scale because frankly, most people do not know about them. In the natural, they seem average. Yet they are worthy of recognition all the same. They live all  around the world in obscurity and speak myriad languages. Some are foreign missionaries while others are indigenous children’s ministers. Some give up comfort and financial security to work with street children; others were street children, and now give back to carry on the work. Some work with children who live in or near garbage dumps. Still others work with orphans in war zones, child soldiers, sex slaves, and abandoned children. 

All around the world, many commit to volunteering all the days of their lives in smaller churches. They work full-time jobs, but also give as much energy and creativity as they can to the worshipping communities of which they are a part.

These and so many others labor with limited resources, and very little recognition or help. Some die for their efforts forgotten by all but those little ones and their families who were impacted by them. They are forever consigned to obscurity in the natural.

Those are the real heroes. I wish I was more like them.

Unleashing Creativity in the Face of Discouragement

I am most creative when I am most passionate. For in that passion I set aside preconceived inhibitions which tell me that I cannot do it. It is as if I look at the Simon Cowell of my imagination and reply, “I really don’t care what you think. So pfft.”

Maybe some of you are like me, doubting your own abilities, your own capacity to develop innovative solutions to your ministry challenges. You wonder why on earth God has placed you in your ministry; rather, in his ministry to which he has entrusted you. Yet here you are, like me, struggling, hoping, laboring passionately, but harboring doubts deep in the privacy of your own heart. Sometimes it makes you cry, feeling as if you have let others down. Indeed, feeling like you have let God down.

And in those moments, God would have you look again to him and rest. Rest in the assurance that if he called you, he will equip you. As you avail yourself of opportunities to learn, and the resources that are available, and the encouragement of your faith community, you will grow, and improve, and find fulfillment through God’s blessing on your life and work.

Discouragement in children’s ministry is a common malady, often resulting from things like stress, isolation, ongoing criticism from various sources, a break down of relationships and spiritual disciplines, and so on. There are many reasons it can happen. Some of them we have control over. Others, not so much. But we can control how we respond.

Obstacles are an opportunity to learn and grow, even when they at first hurt our feelings. Don’t let the obstacles destroy your passion for living and ministry. Rather, consider them an opportunity for God to unleash his creativity through you in keeping with how he has gifted you. And don’t be surprised if someone comes to you marvelling at your courageous creativity and how it has brought them closer to Jesus.

Children Find Ways to Enjoy Play

As I entered the parking lot of the apartment complex across from my church, I noticed two boys running and laughing. It was not an unusual sight on a late summer afternoon. Then I noticed the source of their interest. They each chased plastic grocery bags. They threw them up into the wind and then, as the bags were whisked away in the breeze, the boys ran after them, laughing and grinning.

Children have that way about them, the ability to create fun out of the mundane. Poverty holds no regard for the welfare of children. Neither do children hold any regard for the limitations of poverty on their ability to unleash their imaginations within and beyond the confines of their circumstances.

I watched in wonder as they frolicked in the sun, not a care weighing them down for the moment. Play is their indigenous language. And the toys they imagine even in poor circumstances form the vocabulary they utilize (This concept was originally articulated by Gary Landreth, Author of Play Therapy). A world of wonder in the frontier of pre-adolescent imagination. Imaginations uninhibited by self-conscious awareness of playing with someone’s discarded refuse. Two boys, two bags, and their laughter carrying in the wind throughout the trash-strewn parking lot.