Today is the last day of the class I am taking this week at ACU. It is the second to last class of my Masters in Christian Ministry. Somehow, it escaped my advisors attention that I would be saving an introduction course to the end of my graduate career but it has been nice for me. I am taking Advanced Introduction to the New Testament. What makes an “Introduction” course “Advanced” is beyond me but I am imagining it has something to do with the fact that we are required to write 500 word book reviews on 750 page books and that we discuss some things which would be a little more challenging to handle in a Sunday Morning bible class.
Dr. Curt Niccum from Oklahoma Christian has been teaching the class. He considers himself a textual critic and has an incredible understanding of Greek and how the Bible has been handed down to us. I have been soaking up the study of textual criticism like a sponge. It really is a fascinating study of how the fragments of manuscripts of a given book are often different and it is the text critic’s job to decifer which reading is more accurate. It requires a depth of knowledge and understanding I will likely never obtain.
I will be getting back to Abilene around dinner time tonight. I will have enough time to do my laundary and catch up on some sleep before I leave for Brazos Valley Camp tomorrow to spend the week with the other group of people who teach me about God, preteens. The preteen age group is so exciting. They are not quite at the age where they care immensly about what people think about them but they are beginning to realize that the world of independence is much more exciting. They desire to know God and how he works in their life teaches me things that I cannot learn from those who can quote verses and diagram greek sentences. I am looking forward to the change of pace for the next week.
Keep my wife Krista and daughter Miriam in your prayers. They are in our nation’s capital along with my mom (she reluctantly agreed to go vacationing in Washington D.C. so that Krista could go to a nurse practitioner conference without a stroller and child in tote…). They will be getting back to Mesquite next Wednesday.
I am not usually one who focuses on numbers. I tend to be more concerned with spiritual growth than numerical. Despite this, I think numbers are sometimes an indication of what areas need improvement or are going well. Today, for the first time since I began working as Children’s Minister, I feel I have an acurate idea of where the children’s ministry stands when it comes to DAH DAH DAH …(*insert dramatic tension building sound effects here)…how many children we have in the Mesquite Church of Christ Children’s Ministry.
Today I completed a painstaking process of collecting all the attendance forms from all 10 of our classrooms for both Sunday Morning and Wednesday Night and compiling them into one Super-Duper-All-In-One-More-Information-Than-Is-Really-Necessary-Impress-Your-College-Statistics-Professor-Microsoft-Excel Spreadsheet. Here are a few of the findings.
Based on somewhat incomplete information…From September 2007 to the end of April 2008 we had:
160 different children set foot into our children’s classrooms.
50% of these are on our membership list. (That’s about 80 kids for those who did as well at college statistics as me)
50% of these are visitors. (…The other 80 kids)
Sunday mornings we averaged about 28 kids in attendance.
Wednesday evenings we averaged about 33 kids.
What does all this mean?
I guess it means that now we can see that of the 80 kids who are members at our church 35% are coming on Sunday Mornings and 41% are coming on Wednesday nights.
Whether this is good or bad, I am not sure. Compiling this list helped me become aware of the fact that there needs to be more done as far as follow-up with those that visit. It also shows me which children and families could use more encouragement to be regular attenders.
Now we have to turn the information into transformation…
My blogging has been sporadic at best the last year. The blog posts I have created were not even meant to be for a blog but rather a church bulletin. Each week our church puts out an 11×17 three panel brochure we call a church bulletin. Oddly with a space that size, there is still no room for the happenings of an exciting children’s ministry so part of my weekly ritual is to turn a different 11×17 page into three, front/back, inserts fully devoted to the children and families of the Mesquite Church of Christ. When I do not have enough activities to describe, the leftover room I have devoted to an article I have called, “Family of Faith.” The goal of the article when written is to encourage families to deepen their relationship with Christ.
So what is the reason for this post (which will NOT appear in the Mesquite Church of Christ bulletin)? Today I had a parents meeting after church in which I unleashed the summer calendar full of events and activities designed to help enrich their children’s summer with a deeper and growing relationship with Jesus. A common theme among many of the activities is that I am not planning them. I have delegated much of the responsibility of the summer’s agenda to the parents. This is all in an effort to jump on the bandwagon of a movement affectionately called, “Faith at Home.” I am not sure what is meant when it is referred to as a movement but the book I have been reading recently (Building Faith at Home: Why Faith at Home Must be Your Churches #1 Priority) has called it a movement. I prefer to think about it as God’s grand plan for raising children.
There is a huge temptation as a children’s minister to build the big bad children’s program that is hugely attractive with lots of prizes and incentive for children. Especially as the minister of a congregation which has never had a children’s minister before, I sometimes feel the need to make things great for kids at church. I want the children to enjoy being at church. Church should be fun. Children’s Ministry programs like this grow in number. I can see what will eventually happen though, we will have children who grow up thinking church is fun, as long as there is an incentive besides spiritual growth.
I am becoming more and more convicted that my most fruitful efforts at growing children and families spiritually do not lie in exciting children’s ministry programs with action songs, prizes, and creative object lessons but in changing the hearts of moms and dads.
This presents a huge problem on several levels. For one, “It is not the way Church is done.” Meaning, the general model for how children gain spiritual knowledge is in the Sunday Morning Bible Class (an maybe Sunday evening or Wednesday night). It seems there is a general attitude that this is where the meat of children’s spiritual meal is supposed to come from. The problem is that even churches with a long Bible class (1 hour or more – Mesquite’s Bible classes last 45 minutes) that is only 2 hours a week of spiritual instruction! And that is IF the children come both Sunday Morning and Wednesday. We wouldn’t tolerate this if the government said that they are only going to teach our children from 9:00-10:00am Monday morning and 1:00-2:00pm Thursday afternoon. A church based model for spiritual instruction is simply not enough.
The other problem with a “Faith at Home” model is that most of the parents do not seem to be wired for it. This is not to say that they are incapable of accomplishing the goals of a “Faith at Home” model, just that it is unfamiliar and there are likely some tools missing from the tool belt to make it happen. I could go up to any parent at church and ask them if they want their child to grow more spiritually and 100% of them would emphatically say, “YES!” I could ask those same parents if they felt like had all the resources they needed in order to make it happen and most of them would probably agree that they could manage popping out a devotional once a month or so. If I asked them how often they spend in spiritual activities as a family besides praying before meals each week, I fear the answers would not reflect their priorities.
I do not feel this is necessarily 100% the fault of the parents. I think both the problems mentioned above go hand in hand. The church has not stepped up to the plate to equip parents with what they need to make it happen and the parents have been comfortable in letting the church be the spiritual teachers of the children.
So where does this leave me?
I believe it leaves me with an incredible opportunity! We have some things in place for this summer (and hopefully the next school year) which will aim to equip parents to take charge of their children’s spiritual growth and development. I feel like hiring a children’s minister has lit a flame in the hearts of many of our church’s families. I get excited when I see heads nodding at the idea of a class designed for parents to interact with their children AT CHURCH!! I hope that as a minister to these children and families I am able to find a pace that does not outrun the church or my own stamina.
Let me know what you think. If you have any ideas how to bridge the gap in helping parents be the spiritual leaders and build faith at home, share them.
“Death has been swallowed up in victory!
Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death is your sting?
The sting of death is sin
and the power of sin is the law.
But thanks be to God!
He gives us victory
through our Lord Jesus Christ!”
1 Corinthians 15:54b-57
Today we celebrate! We celebrate because we can give thanks to God that Jesus holds the victory over death and the victory over sin. I love this passage because of the imagery. I think about a worker bee who is trying so hard to create something that at times seems so sweet. The honey that sin offers can be enticing at times. But going after the honeycomb means that you are likely going to get stung. For some, being stung by an actual bee can mean death. For all being stung by sin meant certain death. Until….
Until DEATH WAS SWALLOWED UP IN VICTORY. Jesus drank the honey—he swallowed it up so its deadly work has NO POWER in our lives. Today as we celebrate His resurrection, we should remember that he took our sin and nailed it to the cross with his own body. The death he died for us carries the power to free us from the sting we were destined to feel.
Paul continues on in verse 58 to encourage Christians to “Stand firm, letting nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord.” His death frees us from sin. His resurrection gives us hope. Stand firm. He will return for you!
Academic or Spiritual
Each year children are sent back to school with such excitement about new beginnings and being one year closer to graduation. With all the preparations made in August, parents hope that their children are ready for the school year to begin. So much concern and effort is put toward their academics that it is hard to imagine that anything could be more important than school. It’s hard to imagine that anything could be more important than their education which will impact their future careers and success. It’s hard to imagine that with all the emphasis placed on academic achievement, there could be anything we might want to prioritize above ABC’s and 123’s. Could there possibly be anything more important?
If we were able to step out of our brand new school shoes to look at our lives, would we be able to see that there is often more emphasis on intellectual development than spiritual development? Please do not hear me saying that we should yank kids out of school and only educate them in the Bible. What I am suggesting, albeit suggesting strongly, is that the spiritual development emphasis should be tipping the scale. But how are you as a parent supposed to ensure this with all the homework, piano lessons and football practice, especially when you already attend church three times a week?
Is it really possible to raise spiritual champions in a world that makes it so much easier to raise spiritual weaklings? Excelling in school is so much easier because there are so many more resources available to ensure that children do well academically. So how is a parent wanting to raise their child up to make righteous decisions supposed to compete? Every way possible. Mark 8:36 asks, “What good is it for you to gain the whole world, yet to forfeit your soul?” I do believe that it is possible for our children to excel in school and be spiritual champions. To accomplish this, I believe that parents are going to have to use every resource available to them to compete against all the tools the world uses to create spiritual weaklings. Parents, you can do it. God does not call you to raise spiritual champions without giving you to equipment you need to cross train. Jesus says, “Take heart, for I have overcome the world.” You can compete. You can cross train. You can raise spiritual champions. Do not be afraid to prioritize spiritual health over intellectual health.
Taking It Home
Pray each morning with your kids this week before they head off to school. Pray that God will teach them more than their teachers. Pray that they will learn about His love and His compassion.