Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Foundations of Children’s Evangelism Book Review: Center Focus on Leading Kids to Christ

I’ve worked in children’s ministry for a long time, but there was a time when I had my doubts about whether or not I should pursue it as a profession. I was leading as interim elementary coordinator at my church while in Master’s Commission. I loved making the kids laugh and sing and was having a blast. However, after a few months the emotional high of performing on stage began to wane. The new children’s pastor came in, loved what I was doing, and requested that I stay on as a member of his team. I told him I would finish out the calendar year, but after that I would be done.
A month before my departure, the children’s pastor gave an altar call, and I led a child to Christ. I had prayed with other kids before, but this one was different. I had invested in this kid for years, and he came specifically to me, wanting to accept Christ for the first time. I was hooked.
Since that time I had led many kids to Christ, but some questions remained: What is “the age of accountability”? Why do some denominations baptize babies and others don’t? What are the best practices for leading children into a knowing and loving relationship with Jesus? 
For all the work that we as children’s leaders do, leading kids to Christ is the central focus and where we find Foundations of Children’s Evangelism by Dr. Dick Gruber.
His extensive research on the history of children’s ministry as well as the methods of leading a child to Christ helped clarify many of my questions and made me rethink my evangelistic efforts on Sunday mornings and events like VBS.
Foundations is split into two parts. The first portion is a wealth of research and writings and the second portion is full of practical ideas, programs, and applications. He also includes several invaluable appendices that leaders can use to lead a child to Christ and to the baptism of the Holy Spirit, among other resources. I found the research and appendices to be especially helpful.
Instead of an altar call where kids are motivated by fear, anxiety, or guilt, Gruber advocates for a gentle approach. His philosophy could be summed up in, “Let the children come” (Matthew 19:14). In other words, give kids a plain and simple explanation of the gospel that they can understand, and then let them respond in their timing. He quotes Sam Doherty, who worked for Child Evangelism Fellowship for 50 years, in saying, “It is better to suggest to the children that if they want your help and counsel they come to you personally after the meeting is over. This allows them time to think about what they are doing and to come on their own initiative—rather than being influenced by others.” Gruber continues, “Doherty is building a decision time with the child that is constructed on more than the emotion of the moment. He builds relationship with the children, presents the good news to them in a creative, participatory manner, and gives the opportunity to come to Jesus without pressure.”
It is hard to think about not doing  altar calls at egg hunts and VBS, where you could have hundreds of children responding. Numbers look good, but what about the child’s soul? By reading Foundations of Children’s Evangelism, my perspective has changed. I know my perceived large salvation numbers will go down, but that’s okay, because there will be far more authentic responses to the gospel message.
The principles in Foundations are timeless, and I would say any children’s leader would greatly benefit from learning and applying them to their ministry.
This post originally appeared on the Healthy Church Kids Blog.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Two Awesome Plans, One Big Mistake

Sometimes you plan something awesome, and you have unintended negative consequences. This happened to me on Sunday. We had a dance off in both elementary services and the winning group got to sit in the "VIP" section and get a free soda and candy. A little more than I usually give, but it helped illustrate the sermon for the day.

Also, because it was promotion Sunday, we gave a coupon away to all the Kindergarteners and First Graders. A one time thing, but the kids love it.

Two awesome plans. One big mistake.

When we held the dance off in first service, the K-2 boys won. In second service, the First Graders won. 

Do you see what happened? I didn't until a mom pointed it out to me.

I gave 3(!) 20oz sodas and 2(!) bags of skittles to first grade boys in the span of 3 hours. Bad call, children's pastor, bad call.

I'm told one first grade boy was still wired at 7pm that night.

I've apologized to several affected moms and explained to them what happened. I also promised that it wouldn't happen again. They were in good spirits, and we laughed it off.

Sometimes you make great plans and they don't play out the way we envision them. That's ok. That's life. The key thing we have to do when we make mistakes is to learn from them so they aren't repeated. It's ok to take risks, just make sure to have a backup plan and be ready to eat some humble pie if/when it doesn't work.

Have you ever made a mistake like this?

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Must Have Leadership Building Blocks: A Framework Leadership Book Review

When I first started working in children’s ministry as a part-time bi-vocational pastor, I was so excited to finally work with kids every week. I looked forward to the fun we would have and the lessons we would learn as we explored the Bible together. Alas, I learned quickly that this is not always the case. If you’ve been full time, part time, or even a volunteer leader in children’s ministry, you know exactly what I’m talking about. A typical week is spent planning, recruiting, organizing, scheduling, and juggling more balls than we care to count. It’s a tough job, and no one should do it alone.

What you need is a team and a plan. Our kids are our future, and we can’t take that lightly by using a few puppets and adding baking soda to vinegar (again) to make our point. The problem is that many children’s workers I’ve met don’t know how to lead an organization. This was my challenge, and I’m sure many of you lack these skills as well.

Framework Leadership by Kent Ingle gives us the building blocks that any leader needs to have. Ingle has taken a mountain of leadership theory from multiple sources and boiled it down to quick, easy-to-read, and understandable bites. He states in chapter 1, “To be effective, the leadership framework must not only take into consideration the context; it must arise from and be integrated into it. Effective leadership isn’t a one-size-fits-all quality.” To build this framework into the context of our position, Ingle covers such topics as active listening, understanding context, establishing clarity, leading with conviction, building teams, taking risks, and much more.

A mentor of mine once said that for many years, children’s ministry was about the carnival guy. He can do balloon animals, give David Blaine a run for his money, and Bozo was his hero. But children’s ministry has changed drastically over the years. We still need to know how to do those things, but we also must know how to prioritize, lead volunteers of all ages, line up what the kids are doing with the vision of the house, and create alignment within all the different ministries. Now churches are looking for both an administrator/leader and the carnival guy.

Ingle teaches the reader how to become the leader. I think he says it best: “Framework leadership gives the leader a kind of map of the unknown. It provides a structure, a rationale, and a method for moving an organization forward in the change process.”

If you’re looking for a way to take your ministry to the next level, to move past, “Here comes Sunday,” and lead to a breakthrough, the principles in Framework Leadership can take you there. Your kids and your ministry deserve it.

his post originally appeared on AGKidMin Blog.  Used with permission

Monday, March 20, 2017

When Your Kids Don't Know

"We don't know!"

That's what a Rainbow exclaimed Wednesday night during the Mpact Award Ceremony when asked what their club colors are.

It provided a great laugh and little bit of embarrassment for the parent and his teacher. It reminds me of a truth about working with kids that you know if you've been working with them for longer than 6 months.

They'll say just about anything and tell you they remember nothing. It's a problem for teachers all around that brings frustration and sometimes laughter, but that doesn't mean we should just give up. On the contrary we should keep working because the message does get through...eventually.

The truth is, as we all found out shortly after the Rainbow's proclamation, is that the kids did know their colors and what they mean.

If you're working in children's ministry, you're training kids to have a life-long faith. Sometimes we think it's going to be this big meaningful thing we've planned that's going to make the biggest impact, which it can. Most of the time it's the little things we say and do that make the lessons stick forever and you don't even know it.
That's ok.

That's why we do this every week. You never know when you're going to make a difference in a kid's life, but you are as long as you show up and show a kid God's love.

Monday, March 13, 2017

My First Small Group Leader Focus Group

We’ve been doing Orange for about 2 years and made the transition to small groups 5 years ago. Growing up in the traditional children’s church model of Sunday School and Large group, it has been an uphill battle understanding what it takes to lead a quality small group that focuses on relationship over content and teach others to do the same.

One of the hardest principles of Lead Small is Partner with Parents. I know it’s a great idea, and I use the tools that 252 provides for take homes, but I wasn’t confident that my SGL’s were connecting with their few or their parents outside of Sunday morning.

One of the things I love about Weekly is their weekly to do lists. I don’t do everything on the list, but it’s great to get some ideas. Recently, they listed a small group leader focus group. I loved all the questions and how it gave me a plan to get a pulse on what my small group leaders were thinking.

I’ve learned that unless you put something on the calendar it won’t happen, so I found a good date and made a Facebook event in our SGL leader group.

Once the day arrived, I had my questions and focus points from what Weekly provided and most of my SGL’s showed up. I provided some coffee and set the tone for the meeting.

Before I knew it, we were having a great conversation about how to do small group better. I focused on listening to their needs and asking for solutions. SGL’s were sharing ideas with each other and encouraging one another.

We didn’t stick to one particular category of questions but that was ok. Many of my SGL’s were relatively new and had some great questions. We decided to make some changes for them to better connect. First, they wanted a monthly roster of their few with addresses and birthdays. They were super excited about the postcards Weekly provides and wanted to use them. Second, we’ve had some turnover so they all agreed to reach out to their few they haven’t seen in at least three weeks with either a postcard or a phone call. Lastly, they weren’t connecting with parents. Most of my SGL’s didn’t know who their few’s parents were. So, we decided to instead of dismissing our kids into our large group space to play and wait for parents to show up, we invited the parents to go to our small groups and pick them up. We still checked security tags at the door, and I used my Large Group Host team to walk parents to all the different classrooms. We’ve only done it for one week, but we’ve received positive feedback.

I hated to end the conversation, but our time was up. I prayed over them and our small groups and we dismissed. I’m looking forward to seeing how our SGL’s use the 5 principles of Lead Small specifically how they connect with their few and their parents.

Monday, March 6, 2017

How I Chased the Lion: A Personal Review of Mark Batterson's New Book

Eight years ago my lead pastor said something I will never forget. He had just cast the vision to go multisite and had received approval from the board. I was ecstatic for the upcoming challenges and the “prestige” of becoming a children’s pastor of multiple campuses. As we were walking to the children’s area, I started to share with him my plans for the ministry when he abruptly stopped me. He said, “David, I’m not planning on you being the children’s pastor of both campuses. You have to grow in leadership before I can trust you to do that. You will probably just be here at this campus.”

I’ll be honest. That knocked me down a couple of pegs. I was devastated to say the least, but the dream was born. It was big. It was scary. It was roaring at me like a 500-pound lion. I didn’t know what to do or where to go, but I knew I had my marching orders.

What is your 500-pound dream? What is the one thing you know God has called you to do? Does it scare you? If so, good. Is it risky? If so, even better. Do you have no idea how it might happen? Not a problem.

We each have a God-given dream. It may be something God has given just to you or passed down to you from a spiritual parent. Either way the dream is dangerous. In his book Chase the Lion, Mark Batterson shows us the sequel to “In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day” to face our fears and overcome the biggest obstacles.

When pursuing our dreams, we want it to happen now. I know I did. I was expecting the church to be multisite within a year. God-given dreams take much longer. A few months after that conversation, my pastor was diagnosed with brain cancer and passed away 18 months later. My dream was dead. What I didn’t realize is that pursuing dreams is a “game of inches” as Batterson calls it. We slowly chip away at the dream every day until it finally becomes a reality. That conversation I had with my pastor was my decisive moment—the one moment that when you look back on it, you realize that’s when everything changed.

Batterson shows us through real-life examples and the stories of David’s mighty men in 2 Samuel 23 how to stand our ground when adversity comes. Take, for instance, Eleazar, who fought 300 hundred men until his hand froze around his spear. Or consider how to run toward danger instead of following the instinct to run away, like Benaiah in a pit on a snowy day.

Sometimes in our lives, the dreams we have are not given to us by God, like mine was. They are given to us by our leaders. That’s what Batterson calls a dream within a dream. We can catch hold of someone else’s vision and make it our own.

When I moved to my new church, multisite wasn’t on the radar, but I continued to work and grow and develop. Every day I worked to become a better leader and pastor. Then that day came. My pastor said he thought it was time for us to go multisite. He’d been thinking about it for a few years. In fact, he had met my former lead pastor at a multisite conference months before I knew what “multisite” even meant.

Now two years later and less than a month away from our second campus launch, I can’t help but be overwhelmed by God’s goodness. He gave me a lion to chase, and I’ve almost got it. Batterson believes you can too.

We all have dreams. The question is, are you going to pursue it with ferocity or just sit on your laurels because you’re too scared, too tired, or too overwhelmed?

Chase the Lion is a clarion call to action. It will help you find your dream and resolve to accomplish it no matter what the cost.

This post originally appeared on AGKidMin Blog.  Used with permission.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Book Review: Front Row Leadership by Rob Ketterling

When working with other leaders, the question I hear often is, “How do I lead up?” They may not use that phrase exactly. It usually comes out like, “Why won’t my leader do this?” or “How can I get them to see it my way?” This is a common theme among any leader who must submit to the authority of someone else.     

Every leader who must submit is faced with two options: They can sit on the back row and criticize every move their leader makes, or they can move to the front row and bring about the change they know needs to happen.  

The thing is, it’s always easier to sit in the back. You don’t have to do anything but criticize and talk about how much better it would be if they would just do it “your way.”  Back-row leaders get a certain joy out of seeing their leaders fail and convince themselves that they know the right way. Back-row leaders are ultimately poisonous to the organization because of their negativity. They do bring change, but unfortunately it's usually the bad kind and can destroy the organization from the outside in.

Conversely, a front-row leader moves past the cynicism and ego. They decide that they’re not going to sit in judgment. They decide they are going to do something to create the change they want to see happen. They choose to support their leader no matter what direction they choose.

That’s what Front Row Leadership is all about. Rob Ketterling shows how a leader can move from the back row to the front row. As a recovering back-row leader, Ketterling gives the road map for moving from the back to the front. He shows the reader how to look for obstacles and frustrations and how to push through them. With his conversational writing style, he walks the reader through creating alignment on teams and describes the job of a front-row leader.

Each chapter ends with key points for quick reference and discussion questions to ask yourself or your team. 

As a children’s pastor, I am constantly finding myself needing to lead up. With Front Row Leadership, I now have the tools I need to bring about the changes I know need to happen. If you’re a mid-level leader, you need to read Rob’s wise words and apply them to your own leadership because, as Rob says in the book, “Organizations that refuse to change, won’t survive.” 

This was originally posted on kids.healthychurch.com.  Used with permission.