A shout out to Jon Acuff at Stuff Christians Like is in order. I ran across this advertisement for the Good News Glove. A tool for children to use in witnessing to their friends. For those of you who are familiar with the “Wordless book” presentations popularized by Child Evangelism Fellowship you get the general idea. The color “black” represents sin. When it’s translated into a finger–anyone want to guess which finger is sin? You might think twice about presenting the gospel finger by finger. Just saying. I guess this was a good idea once upon a time. BTW: they are still available through Campus Crusade. You can check them out here. Just so you know: they cost a little bit more than they did in 1971 (this ad appeared in Gospel Light’s Teach Magazine, Fall 1971). I think I may need to order some! After all there are millions already in print!
I used to play pool a lot when I was in high school and college–(I was never very good.) When we played we had the practice of “calling the pocket.” Basically it meant that when you chose the ball you were going to hit, you had to call the pocket it was going to go in–otherwise, it didn’t count. If you hit the ball and it went into another pocket–If you didn’t call it, it didn’t count. This also prevented people from just hitting balls aimlessly hoping something will go in. Our little practice really meant that we had to focus on what were trying to accomplish. And, it helped us improve our pool playing skills.
Over the past few weeks we’ve been working on “calling the pocket” in our children’s ministry environment during weekend services. We have eight services over two locations–so maintaining and evaluating our environments is a prodigious task. We believe that “calling the pocket” accomplishes a few very important things:
- It allows us to more effectively evaluate how successful we were each week.
- It helps us maintain a standard over several services in more than one location.
- It keeps a very large team with several leaders on the same page.
- It helps volunteers understand their roles.
- It gives us several things to celebrate.
- It gets everyone working together as a team
Here is what we developed (I owe Adam Duckworth at First Baptist Fort Lauderdale for the inspiration for this post. He titled each of these elements at the 2013 Orange Tour in Los Angeles. I tinkered with the purpose of each element and added my own win.)
7 Elements of an Effective Environment
#1 Prelude—Everything from the parking lot until the program actually starts.
Purpose: Setting the tone of the experience
Win: When we disarm the skeptic (the 5th grade boy, the dad who has been dragged to church, the overprotective mom who is afraid to drop off her child); When we create suspense or interest in the core message.
#2 Social—the first 10-15 minutes of the program spent in small group before large group starts.
Purpose: A time for relational connection between the small group leader and child and a child and their peers.
Win: When a child feels that there is a leader who has a genuine interest in their life and they are eager to hear the story in large group.
#3 Transitions—the time between each of the elements of the environment
Purpose: to connect what they just experienced with what they are going to experience.
Win: When a child is carried away on the journey from one element to the next en route toward one core message instead of a series of isolated random activities.
#4 Story—the Bible story presentation.
Purpose: to communicate God’s truth in engaging ways.
Win: When the small group leader is set-up for conversation about the core message.
#5 Worship—Music and singing
Purpose: to invite kids to engage in large group and/or respond to God
Win: When a child emotionally connects with the music and becomes open to hearing the Bible story (before the story) when a child responds to the message they heard in large group (after the story).
#6 Group—25-35 minutes spent with a small group of peers and a leader.
Purpose: Activities designed to help a leader build a relational bridge with a child so that they can layer God’s truth into their life in a relevant way.
Win: When a child is open and transparent and a leader is able to connect God’s truth to that child’s experience in a personal way.
#7 Home—the stuff that happens at home during the week.
Purpose: to inspire and equip parents to become active participants in their child’s spiritual formation.
Win: When a parent does something more than they did last week to help their child take their next spiritual step.
How do you “call the pocket” in your ministry?
“I trust that you are one year nearer to God, and this is the only true ground of congratulation. To be one with Him is the only Human Perfection–to be becoming one with Him, the only true Human History. There is a story of every human soul wrought out in secret between God and that soul, and everlasting blessedness is the last page of the History where God and that soul are coming nearer, if indeed there by any close to that history . . . . This is your end, though it may not be clear in prospect to you always. May every year bring you nearer to God and nearer to men, make you love all men more and more, and be more and more beloved of the many friends who already love you. May you ever seek to please Christ, and be anxious that God should honour you–This last is a wonderful saying–one of Christ’s. How absent are all excluding from His words–how near does He draw us to the Father’s heart! There is nothing to be learnt but from Him.”
quotes from my commonplace book.
Wednesday, October 23rd would have been the 123rd Birthday of Henrietta Mears. In commemoration of Miss Mears’ impact and contribution to ministry, I thought it was only appropriate to share a passage of scripture that she often cited.
In Joshua 1: 2,3 God says to Joshua:
“Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel. Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses.”
Henrietta Mears led Hollywood’s First Presbyterian Church Sunday School from 1928-1963, founded Gospel Light Press (1933), Forest Home Camp (1938), and GLINT. I don’t think that Henrietta Mears would have wanted for us to eulogize her achievements or her memory—as the passage says “Moses my servant is dead.” In the same way that Moses vacated his position as the visionary leader of the people of Israel and passed it on to Joshua, so did Henrietta Mears. We cannot, as glorious as our past is, we cannot relive our past. But it can inform and inspire our future. It must inform and inspire our future. Although Moses was dead, Joshua would now enter the land that God had promised and take it. Taking the land wasn’t some sort of “name it and claim it” process, it was real work. While God fought many battles for the greatly outnumbered and untrained soldiers of the nation of Israel, they were still required to take the land.
Miss Mears took this passage literally. When she decided that the resort that would then become Forest Home was what she wanted—people thought her dream was impossible. But, no one advised Miss Mears except God. She believed that a training ground was needed to train the next generation of leaders that would take the Gospel around the world. In spite of how impossible the dream seemed, she took the land. She went out and walked the property and asked God for every part of Forest Home her foot touched. Through the prayers and gifts of 100′s of people, Forest Home was purchased for $30,000 in 1938. It seemed that Miss Mears got what she wanted.
Today, I believe for the organizations that Henrietta Mears founded and the church in general, that God will give us “every place that the sole of [our feet] will tread upon”. However, I believe that it will require work. And, I also think it requires a return to the principles that Mears’ vision and leadership were based upon. Don Williams in a message to the College Department, in June of 1963, summarized the core of Henrietta Mears’ vision as four things:
- a Christ-centered Gospel
- a Bible-centered church
- a Mission-centered vision
- a People-centered ministry
Here are some quotes from Henrietta Mears on each of these.
On a Christ-centered Gospel:
Growing youth is a vine seeking a trellis. If you do not strike a pole around which a vine can climb, and to which it can cling, then it will trail along the ground. This is just what is happening to youth today. They reach out the tendrils of their senses and desires, and finding nothing to lift them up they crawl along the ground. Strike the Lord Jesus Christ as a stake in the midst of young life, and see how this Presence will lift the child. His personality will become an integrated one around this great Savior and Lifter of men. Put a child’s face between your hands and lift it heavenward. Let him see the Savior “whom to know aright is life everlasting.” Let the Light of the Word shine into His heart.
[We] must continually point pupils to Christ and the necessity of a commitment to him. Christ says, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” When we teach Him we teach everything. We will never be satisfied until we see young hearts and lives committed, not to his teachings, but to Him.
On a Bible-centered church:
Do you teach the Word of God? The Bible is the living seed that brings life. We are born, fed, enlightened, equipped for service, and kept by the Word of God. Youth must know how to use this Chart and Compass. Are you presenting the Word to each life and heart. Other things may be good, but this is the best. Always specialize in THE BEST!
We have a statement that the Word is the seed. This is what we, as teachers, will sow. God has given us His Word but there is a false impression that all of God’s Word can be adapted to every age. I believe the Bible clearly teaches that the Word contains “milk” for babes, “bread” for youth, and “strong meat” for men. It is not all for everyone. I believe it would be impossible to adapt the teaching in Revelation, for instance, to a six-year-old. . . . So there are portions of God’s Word beyond the realm of the experience of the child, but there is much that is within his grasp so that nothing need be substituted for the Bible in teaching him. The Seed is the Word; this we know. But good seed can be lost on the wrong soil.
We know there is nothing wrong with our textbook, the Bible. It must be in the way we have presented the great facts and teaching of the Word. When we consider the reasons for the tragic lack of interest that exists in the study of the Scriptures, we will have to admit that we have committed a spiritual crime. We have made children say, “When I don’t have to, I’ll never go back to Sunday school. There’s nothing there for me.”
On Mission-centered Vision:
Do you enlist for Service? Are you helping youth find God’s plan for their lives. We let them go out on an uncharted sea. Let each one know that he is accountable to God for his life, and that the Lord has a place for him in this world. What is more exciting than finding God’s plan in one’s life? Nothing gives greater satisfaction than the sense of building according to that plan. Several hundred young people from our college department have found God’s plan for their lives and are today engaged in fulltime church vocations both at home and abroad. But hundreds more have found that God’s will had led them into professions and business and the ministry of teaching. Christ has all commissioned officers in His service.
Our duty is to enlist lives for the Lord and Master, and every opportunity is seized to accomplish this all important task.
We are training young people for world leadership in answer to Christ’s command, that they should “Go in to all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.”
On People-centered Ministry:
A good curriculum should be Christ-centered and child-concerned; the Bible should be our only textbook. We believe that the child’s life experiences must be based upon the foundation of God’s infallible Word. We must give him facts so that he will know how to build his life correctly.
Good curricula are written by those not only acquainted with the Bible but with the characteristics and need of the child himself. It is just as necessary for the farmer to know his soil as it is for him to know his seed if he is to gather a good crop. So the teacher must know the child’s heart in order to be effective. It is important to remember that you are teaching children not materials.
The things that Henrietta Mears built ministry upon haven’t changed. I believe future ministry still rests upon these four ideas. What do you think?
To the right is a picture of me with Dr. Dale Bruner and his wife Kathy. Among the many people at the 123rd Birthday Celebration of Dr. Henrietta Mears last Wednesday, they shared some memorable stories of Dr. Mears–like chasing a skunk out of Miss Mears closet in the middle of the night. (Which is really funny, considering all of the furs that Miss Mears wore.)
At the celebration I shared some quotes from a letter that Dr. Bruner wrote to Miss Mears in his final year at Princeton Seminary. I thought they were a fitting tribute to some of the important aspects of Miss Mears’ life and ministry. Here’s what Dr. Bruner wrote:
“I have not had a single occasion here [Princeton Seminary] to be embarrassed by my Sunday School teaching . . . I just go to my knees and thank God for the wonderful and wholesome biblical teaching I received in my home church, at your feet. Not once, dear Teacher, in the face of some of the finest scholarship, have I had reason to be embarrassed by what you taught. And do you know why—or at least why I think this is so? You teach Christ. And He is never superseded. . . . Your passion and preoccupation was Christ. You never tired of teaching Him and we never tired of hearing of Him. As you once said when you came to that part in Ephesians: “…the unsearchable riches of Christ”—“it might seem that to preach Christ and Him only would be a dull subject and that we would be soon done—but in Him we have unsearchable riches and we will never be done with Him.”
“You know what Teacher, I don’t even remember you exalting the Bible, or teaching as a subject “The Bible” in our College Dept. Do you know how I came to my high doctrine of the Scriptures? By the way you used them, and delighted in them! I don’t recall you ever carefully defining your view of the Scriptures, or spending much time in talking about the Scriptures. You seemed so thrilled with what the Scriptures taught that you excited me and so many others to go to the Scriptures ourselves and be thrilled! So we did, we liked what we found, and we just naturally came to love what we affectionately called “the Word.” I never remember having a doctrine of Scripture before I came to Seminary. But, by the grace of God, how I loved the Scriptures!”
It’s hard to say that any age group is more important than the next. Spiritual growth builds upon itself–we crawl before we walk; we walk before we run. God does something unique at each age level which makes every age level important. When we miss something at one level we handicap the next. The things we miss along the way are typically the things that become “the hurts, habits and hangups” of adulthood. Maybe a better way of saying it is, “The stage we miss is the most important.”
The reason why I singled-out childhood is because it represents the beginning of the spiritual journey for most people. We know that most people will decide to follow Jesus in childhood (sometime between the ages of 4-14). In fact, it becomes exponentially harder after age 18.
Leading kids to a relationship with Jesus is the number one task of the church and family.
We cannot stop with leading kids to a relationship with Jesus. We must lead them in a continually growing relationship with Jesus that results in a life fully committed to Him and service in the Kingdom of God. Ultimately we want all people to come to a place where they say, “Jesus, what will you have me do?”
Many people get to the place where they say “Jesus, save me!” but few reach the place where they say, “Here I am, send me.”
How do you help people get to a place where they say: “Jesus, what will you have me do?”
We must respect the technique of the medium we use. The arts cannot tell us what to say, but they can tell us how to say it. And we must listen and obey if we want our messages to be successfully delivered. You will remember some of the hideous chromos [See example to the right] that used to pass as religious art in the days of our youth. I sometimes wonder how many people were turned away from religion because they saw as children religion pictured in the form of tasteless, effeminate, sentimental representations of Biblical scenes and of the Divine Master himself. In my own medium of motion pictures it is well known among professionals that propaganda pictures are never successful—either as pictures or as propaganda. For the general audience you cannot preach on film. If you do, you will not have an audience.
Cecil B. DeMille (164th Presbyterian General Assembly, 23 May 1952)
Tragically, for many people, adding “Christian” before art, movies, poetry etc. . . is the equivalent of adding “bad” before the same. Bad art, bad movies, bad poetry. It shouldn’t be so. We are bearers of the greatest message and the greatest story ever told. We make much of the Word of God and yet we seem novices in our craft. We are followers of the Word made flesh and yet often fail at bringing thought into reality in a compelling way. Unfortunately, bad Christian art is not just ignored, but becomes an excuse for unbelief–even a stumbling block.
Over the last few weeks I’ve been digitizing old reel-to-reel tapes in the Henrietta Mears archives at Gospel Light. This week, I ran across a message by Cecil B. DeMille, given at the 164th Presbyterian General Assembly. (The audio from the message is below). He talks of the importance of art and film in sharing faith. Here are some of the highlights:
We must use every method that the providence of God and the genius of man provide.
We must tell the story of our faith in the language of the developed and accepted professional motion picture techniques.
A successful picture requires drama and action. Drama means conflict. You cannot show the brightness of good unless you show it in contrast to the darkness of evil.
You cannot convey your message by putting preachments into the mouths of your characters; it must go out of the dramatic situations you create—and must be expressed in the action of the picture itself. That after all, is how we express our religion in life—not by what we say, but by what we do.
We should be masters of our craft. Masters of cinematography, writing, poetry and music. “Christian” ought to be the equivalent of “great.” I think this is probably what is meant by doing everything as “unto the Lord.”
God has gifted so many of the children, students and adults that we see each week in our ministries. We should encourage them to hone their skills and be great writers, poets, musicians and cinematographers. Who knows: the next Cecil B. DeMille may be sitting in your church today.
Great work requires suffering for something beyond yourself. It’s created when you bend your life around a mission. #dieempty @toddhenry
About a year ago I was talking with a kidmin ministry leader and mentioned something about “family ministry.” His response to me was, “Well, there are a lot of different opinions of what family ministry is, so I just don’t pay much attention to it.” He spoke this as if that was all there was to say about that . . . end of topic. As I was thinking about his response, I began to realize that there has been so much talk about how to do family ministry (i.e. whether kids should be a part of corporate worship, whether there should be children’s church or Sunday school or not, whether family ministry means family events, or just having programs for every individual in the family) that most outsiders have confused how family ministry is implemented with what family ministry really is. This is not so surprising when most pastors think of ministry in general as a program–and, most kidmin pastors present a particular program as family ministry.
We are all guilty of confusing our models with our mission and our programs with ministry.
So, here is what I believe is true north as a family ministry leader:
Family ministry means that I spend equal amounts of time on two things:
- Creating a system that ensures that every child, teenager, college student and parent is connected with someone who feels responsible for knowing their next spiritual step and encouraging them to take it.
- Helping parents become active participants in their child or teenager’s spiritual formation.
That’s it. I run everything we do through that grid. How are we helping parents become active participants in their child’s spiritual formation? How are we ensuring that everyone who walks through the door of the church is getting connected in a close personal relationship with someone who feels responsible for knowing their next spiritual step and encouraging them to take it?
It’s very easy to get caught up in our models of church ministry, a menu of programs or even trying to satisfy all the felt needs of people in the church. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter whether you call it Sunday School, small groups, Bible Fellowship, 101, 201, 301,401, 1 Million and 1. The primary issue is not what model of ministry or what program, but what is happening to people?
Have we created a path for the unconnected to get connected in a relationship with someone who sees themselves as responsible for knowing and helping them take their next spiritual step?
I think we sometimes spend too much time programming to move crowds through programs instead of helping individuals move to higher levels of intimacy in strategic relationships. Because I don’t have experience with every model of ministry, I’m assuming some models are more relational than others. I’m just guessing, small groups are probably better at connecting people in relationships than classes. If a person focused on relationships they could probably make any model work, but some may require more work than others.
Bottomline: good Sunday Schools do this, bad Sunday Schools don’t; good small groups do this, bad small groups don’t; good Bible Fellowship does this, bad Bible Fellowship doesn’t; I’m not sure how classes do this, but it’s probably a good idea to evaluate our programming (whatever that programming is) on its effectiveness at connecting people in forward moving, spiritual-step-taking relationships.
Just because we have one or all of these types of programs doesn’t mean that on the other side of it people who participate in these programs are any closer to a relationship that will help them take their next spiritual step. Especially when we spend more time focused on orchestrating programs than orchestrating steps into greater levels of relational intimacy. In fact, there are probably programs in our churches where people can stall out relationally and yet feel like they are “winning” when it comes to church participation.
It’s tragic when church participation and spiritual growth represent divergent paths.
While I don’t think I have a complete answer, here are few things I think we can do:
- Figure out the best environment for people to connect.
- Make that environment the destination.
- Eliminate any programs that are not steps to that environment.
- Create programs that make stepping into that environment easy, obvious and strategic.