Beyond Children’s Church

It involves a change of attitude, which comes from small, intentional steps.  That is what I keep telling myself with the attitude toward some people in the church toward children.  I have been in churches where they actually said “let’s get the kids out of here so it is quiet”  Sometimes the church brags about having children’s church for the kids, but it really is for the adults.   In my own ministry, I have fought the notion of “keep the cookies in the basement” and “children should be busy during worship so they are not bored.”  That drives me crazy because if you give a kid a cookie, he will ask for a glass of milk, sure, but just let them eat it wherever he wants and if you are encountering God in worship, kids will not be bored.   We must go beyond children’s church!  I often talk with the kids during the sermon or intentionally share something that will connect with them as well.  But then again all of that only comes because I take time to be with the kids relationally.   More adults need to do this.  Talk with kids. Have a snowball fight, go fishing, throw a football around — whatever it takes.  Show interest in them and remember their names.  It makes what you say much more meaningful to them.

The ChurchOne of the big shifts has been creating a small group that is for families.  What I mean is not that we have kids there and they do some sort of craft on their own away from the adults, but we have the kids and adults together the entire time.  We play games together, eat a snack, pray together, and talk about what God is doing in our lives.  This past time we spent time making notes for the shut-ins in our church and have ministered to them through that.   The group teaching is geared at the kids, but the adults find the time to be encouraging for them also.  Their kids are talking about God’s Word together!  Is this not what the Church is supposed to be?

Perhaps one of the most telling events was our baptism service.  We used a water tank for cattle and set it all up outside. This tank was a nice looking pool.  That day was a hot day so keeping the kids out of it was very difficult.  But after we were done with the baptism, the kids went in, some of them in their clothes.  We maintained the respect for what baptism is and made sure we exalted God in it.  But once that was over with, it was time to get wet. This is just another piece, I feel, that makes what we are about as the Church authentic and inviting for kids.  This is important because if it isn’t authentic and inviting for kids, they will most certainly check out.  But if we can get them to understand that the Church is them, now, then perhaps they will grow to be an active part of it.

So, I wonder — are there specific ways your church has tried to connect with children beyond children’s church?

The 7 Dwarfs of Youth Ministry

There is a character in every group...often more than one.
There is a character in every group…often more than one.

My kids went through a season where they watched Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs almost every day.  One night while watching it with them I realized that I was looking at a picture of our youth ministry and probably many others as well.  There is such diversity in a youth group that at any given time you could have any or all of the 7 dwarfs represented.  It is important to know that and figure out how to help them thrive in that group setting.


Every group has their wall flowers.  These are the people who are happy to sit in the corner by themselves and watch everyone else.  I have sent leadership students to go talk with the bashful ones before only to find that they really would rather not talk.  In our minds we think that they are not enjoying their time when they are just introverted.  And if you call them out of the crowd they will immediately turn red.

Bashful seems to thrive the best when they find someone who is similar to them.  If you have one bashful person, you probably have another one.  And while their level of bashfulness might be different, they seem to enjoy being together.  These students are also great people to pull into some behind the scenes service role.  Try it out and watch them thrive!


Unfortunately Dopey comes the most often.  They are the ones tripping over their feet, injuring themselves playing video games and forgetting how to get home.  They are wonderful people who just miss a lot of the details in front of them.  Their favorite phrase is: “wait, what?”

I have found that these students thrive when they are able to see the humor in life and enjoy some of the silly mistakes they make, not as some sort of liability, but as a unique way God has created them.  They often bring a lot of interesting ideas to brainstorming sessions as well.  You might never use their ideas, but their ideas often bring about other even better ideas.


Sleepy cannot even stay awake to say hello to you.  These are the students that will go to a loud concert with you and sleep in the front row.  What do you do?   I guess you should start by giving them a job they love to do and by serving coffee.


Doc is your resident know-it-all.   He knows Greek, Hebrew and a few of the tribal dialects.  He will win the trivia game every time.   Look to Doc to provide the schematic for the outdoor maze you want to make complete with emergency exits for Dopey.  The best thing you can do with Doc is help him steer his genius to be helpful and not off-putting to others.  When Doc is a humble person, others will respond with much greater respect.


Sneezy is always sick or has an allergy to everything, including air.  That makes things hard enough, but they are also extremely nervous about it.  I have found the best thing to do with them is remove that which makes them nervous and help them to relax.  This should be a safe environment for them, so they can relax and hear from God instead of sneezing.


Grumpy is a glass half empty kind of person.  At times he even breaks the glass.  There is no way to make this person fully happy, even if they are smiling.  They will always find a way to kill the fun you are having with a snappy, sarcastic comment.  What can you do with them?  Sometimes the best thing to do is ignore their grumpy comments.  I have sometimes even playfully called them out on it or sent Dopey to converse with him.  There is an opportunity to build a relationship with someone who is pessimistic to help them see that there is joy in the Lord.


Of course Happy does not need to be reminded of joy, they got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in their heart.  He is always smiling, laughing and waking up at 5 a.m. with a bubbling personality.  Happy makes a great greeter or game leader because they are just hard to get past without being happy also.  As it turns out, happiness is contagious.

There is a variety of people in our churches.  That means we cannot use a one-size fits all approach.  It also means we need to think more creatively about how to reach them.  Maybe it is time to throw out the box and look at the needs of the people right in front of you.  You might just be surprised at how different personalities can be steered to really make a huge impact for the Kingdom of God.

Isn’t this an overreaction? – 2 Kings 2:23-25

One of the greatest stories to bring up with high school students is the story of Elisha’s way of dealing with a bunch of youth.  They called him bald and he prayed and God sent bears to maul them.  Sounds like teens should be nice to their bald youth pastors.  But, why was this the reaction?  At face value, this looks rather harsh.  I mean, couldn’t they have just said, “hey, be nice to the man.”

First, here is the story, if you are not familiar.

From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some youths came out of the town and jeered at him. “Go on up, you baldhead!” they said. “Go on up, you baldhead!”  He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the Lord. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the youths.  And he went on to Mount Carmel and from there returned to Samaria. – 2 Kings 2:23-25

The explanation lies in both who the youth were and who Elisha was.  First of all, I asked an Old Testament professor about this and one thing he brought up was that this wasn’t the average youth group.  This was a group of trouble makers, or muggers.  They were comparable to a street gang.  So, sorry youth pastors, I guess if you are balding you can’t use this as a threat.

When they tell him to “go on up” they are not just talking trash.  They are telling him to move on, to get out of town.  Elisha, being a prophet, would not have always received a warm welcome in all places.  Clearly this group was not thrilled with the message he brought and wanted him gone.

With that being said, this had everything to do with opposition to God.  In this case, God dealt with the opposition in a swift fashion.  It is never a good idea to be opposed to God.  This is not a new concept, but just an occurrence where it is done with uniqueness.

It is not an overreaction.  It is the act of an unholy people trying to live in proximity to a Holy God.  This is something that they never did well, which is why Jesus Christ coming was so significant.  Now there was a mediator between God and man.  Now there was an ability to be forgiven of sin and to be viewed as righteous before God.  We could never have done that!

I will say that if you are a teen and have a balding youth pastor, it is still wise to be nice to him.  But, when he tries to ask God for bears to maul you, make sure you remind him of what was really going on there.

And of course — be careful who you taunt. 🙂

Communication without Clarity

Words are an important part of daily life.  Words said with different inflection, can mean different things.  There are disagreements on any number of topics that come from what we call miscommunication.  Miscommunication comes when both parties have a certain understanding of what is being communicated and neither one is right.  This is a follow-up to yesterday’s post on communicating with clarity.  I thought I should mention some of the opposite to what I said yesterday, just for fun.

My credibility to talk about this subject comes from my own life.  When my wife and I got married, I was working as a mechanic and driver at a school bus company.  This also happened to be our last year of college and my wife was doing her student teaching in the school district I was working in.  I would drive to work earlier than she would come into town.  One very cold morning I was driving my morning bus route when someone called in on the radio stating that they had spotted my wife broken down on the side of the road.  At that exact moment, I was pulling into the high school with a bus load of kids.  This was not the most opportune time to hear something like this.  Being male, I immediately went into my “how can I fix this” mode.  Seeing no option, I grabbed the radio and responded with “there’s nothing I can do about it.”  Now, before you paint me as some insensitive husband, you need to understand that in my mind I thought this driver was telling me to come over there and get her.  I thought that she was trying to get me to stop what I was doing and fix the car.  The piece of information I was missing was that this driver had picked her up, out of the below zero weather, and she was listening to what I had just said.  I finished my route and this driver brought my wife to me.  She was very mad at me and I had no idea why.  Making matters worse was that in all the jumping up and down to flag someone down she had lost her keys on the sidewalk somewhere.  Thankfully they were still on the ground when we got back over there.  Oh, and she was very early in the pregnancy of our first child and was concerned about all the jumping she had done.  You know what made it even more fun was that I went over there after my route to pick the car up and it started and ran without a problem.  I drove it all over the place and it never did that again.

How quickly things change when there is emotion coupled with misunderstanding!

Here are a few ways we communicate without clarity based on nothing more than my own observations.  Feel free to add your own.

1- Emotional Grid – People who have a certain hot button issue they are passionate about might hear a lot of things through the grid of their issue.  This makes discussion near that topic very dangerous.  We are getting into the political season in our country where people get passionate about their particular issue or candidate.  It is a recipe for miscommunication, if there is no relational foundation to start with.  (and often even if there is)

2- Whatever –  I hear this one from parents of teenagers a lot.  When someone doesn’t want to get into a discussion about something, even though they are upset, they might just say, “whatever.”  This is a passive way of back talking and disagreeing.

3- Fine – Just like ‘whatever’ is the word ‘fine.’  When someone makes this exclamation they are usually annoyed past their tipping point.  They might be giving in to something or they might be defiantly resisting something and accepting a punishment.  Either way it leaves a lot of guessing to be done.

4- Interesting-  I could tell you the truth about how much I don’t like your idea, or I could just say that the idea is “interesting.”  Which is more helpful?  I think we would rather hear that our idea is a good one, but what if it isn’t?  It doesn’t mean smashing someone, just being able to communicate clearly.  If an idea is not going to work and you know it, please tell me!  On the other side of it is the ability to not take everything so personally.  People get rather skittish around people who take everything as a personal attack.   In ministry, for example, if I tied my personal life to any criticism I receive about something in the ministry, I would go looney.  You just can’t do that.  I have met people like this and it isn’t an invitation deeper relationships. (or longevity in ministry)

5- Inside Jokes –  You have certainly been in a room with someone who constantly laughs, only to have you look at them in curiosity and then they look back at you with,  “oh, inside joke.”  Listen, either bring me inside or keep it to yourself. (how’s that for clear?) All that communicates to me is I am not a part of your group.  Depending how sensitive people are in the room, it could have varying effects on people.

This all comes down to love for each other.  I realize that I am not perfect at this and no one is.  I do recognize that I am called to love people, just like you are.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  – John 13:34-35

Part of loving one another is communicating properly and receiving what people say properly.  This means parting with some of that immediate offense and instead assuming that people don’t mean to hurt you with their words.  Of course people do at times, but we can avoid misunderstandings by giving each other some grace and jumping to the conclusion that we always know what they mean.

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.- Romans 12:17

Faith: There’s No App for That

No app for faith
No app for faith

There is a palpable buzz in youth ministries today.  It is the buzz of cell phones that are not turned off despite your request for them to be turned off.  Since there is no App labeled ‘off’, many people just turn the volume down.  There are so many phones in the hands of teenagers these days. Students who don’t even say much have cell phones so that they can text, tweet, and download the latest App.  In this age of immediate technology youth ministry communication has changed.  We now have conversations with students while they play the latest edition of Angry Birds or giving students the benefit of the doubt that they are truly using a Bible App during the lesson.  We also have multiple text-message conversations at once because we realize that the students will look at their phones if it buzzes.  It also means being ever vigilant to penetrate the world of constant media stimulation with the ever-constant Word of God.  This can be a source of major frustration for youth leaders because students will spend hours staring at the screen and then tell us they have no time for God.  How are we to make sense of that?

The Bible is the most relevant book ever written.  This has never changed despite all the latest technology.  The challenge for us in youth ministry is to encourage teenagers to see it that way.  It is a significant hurdle because of the constant distractions the latest gadgets produce.  It all creates buzz that doesn’t naturally help students follow Christ.

Faith is not an App we download one time and let it update on its own.  Romans 10:17 tells us that “faith comes by hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.”  It is not good enough for students to set their faith to update automatically and then to never think about it again.   It only updates through time with Jesus Christ. Students who don’t have people regularly encouraging them to think and live biblically will have a difficult time growing in faith.

As youth leaders our job is to point them to Jesus Christ as the source of true faith.  Students need to understand that the fast paced, media-driven, self-centered lifestyle that so many experience is not what God calls us to.   We can challenge students to set down the distraction of technology in order to hear the voice of God because there are no short cuts to that.

The lack of time with God also has an affect on relationships in the youth groups.  It used to be that disputes were handled in the public forum.  Now students in might look fine on the outside, but on social media they are mean to each other.   There have been conflicts between people that have been escalated because of social media.  It has become so easy to say whatever without thought and it matters for the long-term.

Let’s create buzz in youth ministry.  We don’t do this by offering the same things that the world does.  We instead see the challenges of youth ministry as opportunities to teach what God says in His Word.  We leverage the good and bad of technology by being engaging in the teachable moments their influence provides, whether pleasant or not.  With proper vision and by the grace of God we can make the buzz in the youth group the truth of God’s Word.  After all, Faith only grows because there is no App for it.

This is an article I wrote for a recent edition of YLO by Interlinc.

Throwing Out the Template

Think creativity and new!
Think creativity and new!

What would happen if we started over every time we came to a new ministry event?  What if we looked at each new event as a fresh start, a clean slate?  What if instead of laziness and routine we found ourselves in a creative and cutting edge place?  Maybe there needs to be more done than just changing the dates on a flyer in order to remain fresh and moving in ministry.   People need creative thinkers right now who are willing to step into each event with fresh eyes.  I am not saying that we can’t use some of the same stuff we have already created.  What I am saying is that each event needs to be put together with intention beyond just getting it done and over with.  We need vision for true impact on lives for eternity.  With that in mind, I offer three indicators that it is time to start throwing out some templates in your ministry.

You routinely have missed errors because of the date

If you know what I am talking about, then you need to throw out the template.  These are those times when you come to a meeting or some other event and you realize that the printed materials have the wrong date because all you did was print out last year’s materials with a slight change.  I know creating something new can feel daunting, but give it a try.

Creativity is lost

If you have not had a creative idea in years, it is time to throw out the template and to start brainstorming again.  Creativity will only come with time and collaboration.  I know the best events are those that are planned over a period of time with many people.  The worst ones are those thrown together at the last minute.  We need to dream again in the church and use the talented people right there!

You don’t know why this program is going on

We are all busy enough without adding programs that just fill time.  This can be a difficult place to be because the programs might be a lot of fun.  Over time people get very comfortable in their routines.  Still, that is not a valid reason when it comes to deciding what is done and when.  If you don’t know why a program exists, it is time to take a step back and consider what direction you need to be heading.  Sometimes the best thing that can happen is to stop a program.  When you do that, the things that are important become better because more time is invested in doing those things well.

I know that ministry planning is difficult, but we do want to leverage the influence we have in order to make the most impact.  I believe there are many creative ideas out there that would help us reach our communities for Jesus.  It is time to ask the question: “why”  and be willing to throw some programs out in order to do what God is calling.  Have you asked God in a while to clear the clutter in your ministry?  Have you looked at your calendar with fresh eyes?  Have you inquired of the people serving as to their level of energy and commitment?  When we evaluate, we  learn and the church is better for it.

Do you have any methods or tools you use to keep things fresh in your ministry or life?  

The Lego Jar (7/20/13) – Meet me in St. Louis…

Well, last week was a week where I was away at a youth conference in St. Louis.  It has taken a little bit of time to get back into the real world this week.  This week’s Lego Jar consists of a picture from St. Louis and a video from my boys this week.

I will say that St. Louis is a pretty quiet city.   It wasn’t awful, just kind of quiet.  We did spend some time at the City Museum, which was awesome!  The arch is quite large, but you didn’t need me to tell you that.


The conference was awesome!  There were about 7,000 high school students present giving their time to worship and growth in the Lord.


When I came back to my office, I had a gift!


We went to the beach this week and caught some crabs.  We also lounged in on the deck in the wonderful heat of summer.


The other night the boys decided to put on a little show for us. I captured part of it on camera.

I guess that will do it for this week.  Have a great weekend!