Archives For Discipleship

BoxingWhat if we could connect every person in our church with someone who would invest in them relationally? Someone who would meet with them regularly to help them process their faith journey and help them take their next spiritual step.  A person who would coach them in how to have God conversations with others and articulate their faith?  What if we could provide them with a weekly experience where they could practice sharing their faith with others, experience real time feedback and coaching? Where they could experience praying with someone for the first time? A weekly experience where they can see the impact sharing their faith has on the lives of others. A place they could experience the joy of leading people to Jesus and see God transform the lives of others through their investment of time, talent and resources. A place where they were provided all of the tools to not only communicate what God is doing in their life, but discover how God has moved throughout time and share it with others.

There is a ministry in our churches that already does this. This ministry is called Children’s Ministry–it may be one of the most untapped forms of adult discipleship on the planet. Adult discipleship through Children’s Ministry.

Think about it–

  1. Children’s Ministry connects people with leaders called Children’s Pastors, Sunday School Directors, Coaches or what ever you call them who invest relationally in them on a weekly basis and coach them as they learn to evangelize and disciple others.
  2. Children’s ministry provides virtually every tool imaginable for creatively sharing faith. Bet you didn’t know you could lead a person to Jesus with a popsicle stick? If you are at a loss for words we will even give you a script of what to say.  But sometimes just sharing what God’s doing in your life is better.
  3. Children’s ministry provides a weekly environment to practice and hone skills in sharing faith. Full of energy, and generally pretty forgiving, children are eager to give you lots of feedback–sometimes instant feedback. You will improve from week to week or you may be eaten alive.  :)
  4. Children’s ministry consistently tells the story of God through history–from Genesis to Revelation, often highlighting the biggest parts of the story several times.
  5. Children’s ministry effectively connects Christians with non-Christians. Last time I checked every one of the babies in our nursery was a non-believer.
  6. Children’s ministry provides a front row seat to how God transforms lives. If you ever wondered if God actually transforms lives, spend some time on a regular basis with the same kids every week and watch how God can change a child’s life. The key to seeing life-change is spending time with the same kids every week.

And you thought Children’s Ministry was just for kids. I challenge you to show me a ministry that is more intentional about training adults to share their faith with others.

I’m attending the Children’s Pastors’ Conference in Orlando and promised people attending my breakouts that I would put some resources online. So here you go.

 

Breakout: Why Children are the Most Important People in Your Church

Why Children are the Most Important People in the Church Presentation Slides

Seasons of the Soul Handout

Breakout Audio (MP3–This is audio of the same breakout from a different conference.)

If you are looking for more information about the breakouts email me. Or come to the Children’s Pastors’ Conference in San Diego.

deep wide andy stanleyOn the family ministry side of the aisle, our commitment to create environments conducive to providential relationships caused us to make several strategic decisions.  The most significant was our decision to keep group leaders with their small groups as long as possible.  The longer a group leader was with a group of kids, the more likely it was that a relationship would develop–and thus the greater chance of God using a group leader in a significant way in the life of one of the kids in his or her group.  So when adults volunteer to lead a group of first graders, they stay with the group of children (and their parents) all the way through fifth grade.  Not only does this create the potential for long-term relationships, it creates a degree of accountability that goes way beyond the weekend experience. It’s not unusual for group leaders to stay with their groups as they transition into our middle school ministry.  That provides them with eight years of influence during what is arguably the most important time for a child developmentally, spiritually, and relationally.

from Deep & Wide by Andy Stanley

Providential Relationship: “Two things make a relationship providential: when we hear from God through someone and when we see God in someone.  When either of those things happens, our faith gets bigger.” (Deep & Wide p. 132)

8 Years ago I would have believed the idea of finding small group leaders who would invest in the lives of a group of kids week in and week out even for a school year was impossible, much less several years.  Then I met Craig Jutila at a Purpose Driven Children’s Conference.  He talked about elevating the commitment of volunteers–moving off of rotation to getting people who were willing to invest in the lives of a small group of kids on a weekly basis.  Since then I have led two kidmin environments in two churches and coached several others to transition from large rotations of volunteers to a core group of small group leaders deeply investing in the lives of kids on a weekly basis.

Here’s a few things that I think only invested leaders can do:

  • Only invested leaders can help connect a child’s faith to community.  There is more childcare than community when volunteers are on rotation.
  • Only invested leaders are able to show how God’s truth intersects with real life because they invite kids into their own lives and inspire their faith by example.
  • Only invested leaders can create a place where kids can be known and belong.
  • Only invested leaders know enough about a child’s spiritual journey to know their next spiritual step.
  • Only invested leaders know about what’s going on in a child’s life to layer God’s truth into their lives in a relevant way.
  • Only invested leaders can effectively partner with parents.
  • Only invested leaders can create environments that supply the relational ingredients of spiritual growth: care, accountability and belonging.

Keeping children and students with the same small group leader for several years creates a healthy relational dynamic. Children and students are particularly susceptible to misinterpreting negative events. Having a mature adult in their lives in addition to their parents can make all the difference when grappling with challenging circumstances.

from Deep & Wide by Andy Stanley

At the end of the day without invested leaders what’s left on the table is life transformation. That’s unacceptable to me.

I’ve had several people ask about getting information on the breakout I did at San Diego called Why Children Are the Most Important People in the Church–Everything you wish your senior pastor knew about Children’s Ministry.

So here is the information you are looking for.

Why Children are the Most Important People in the Children

Breakout Audio (MP3–I fixed the audio so that it is a littler clearer than what you may have bought at CPC)

Seasons of the Soul

Thanks for coming to my breakout.

Most people decide to follow Jesus between the ages of 4-14.  This has been called the 4-14 Window.  And if you are in church ministry being mindful of this window could be the most important thing you do.  It is certainly why I believe that kidmin is the most important ministry of the church.

Kidmin is the most important ministry of the church.

I think that the 14-24 Window may be the next most important.   While many decide to follow Jesus between 4-14, what their lives will look like, whether they will be fully devoted followers of Christ or just church attenders, whether they will be spiritual champions or spiritual second-handers is largely shaped by the decisions they make between ages 14-24.   This is a monumental time in a person’s life that we cannot afford to neglect.

The evidence seems to bear out—that the church at large is not doing a very good job at this. In fact it was suggested in a recent article that we shouldn’t really be concerned with this age group at all.  Instead, we should just chalk it up to stage of life and wait until they come back to the church in their mid-thirties.  The short sightedness of this article made my toes curl.  Most of the people I know who are in ministry today made decisions to commit their lives to service between 14-24. We are seriously impacting the future leaders of the Kingdom of God by neglecting this age group.

The most important aim we can have for 14-24 year olds is helping them find their place in God’s Story—helping them commit their lives to meaningful service in the Kingdom of God.

Here are just a few foundational things churches can do to leverage this spiritual window.

1. Connect youth with mature Christian adults.  The more the better.  Check out Family Based Youth Ministry by Mark Devries.

2. Get 14-24 year olds in circles.  Real small groups where a mature Christian adult is investing in a small group of students every week.  Better yet, have this person travel with them through high school and college.  Yes, even through college.

3. Don’t let ministry end at graduation. The average 18 year old will be making most of their most life altering decisions in the first few years of college.  Most youth are virtually abandoned on graduation day.

4. Incorporate 20somethings into a total ministry strategy from birth through 25.  So much is wasted because Children’s Ministry, Youth Ministry and College Ministry leaders don’t play well together.  The bodies left in the gaps between these silos is staggering.  We must come together and develop a unified strategy.

5. Think beyond your curriculum.   The destination of a series of classes or a curriculum is more knowledge.  More knowledge and more classes cannot be a substitute for people doing life together.

6. Youth and 20somethings must have a sense of belonging in the church not just the youth ministry.  Check out this interview with Chuck Bomar.

7. Help youth find their place in God’s Story.

8. Connect the Church and home.  What happens at home always trumps what happens at church.

Just in the last year there have been several books written on the topic of youth leaving the church.  Among them You Lost Me by David Kinnamen at the Barna Group; Slow Fade by Reggie Joiner, Chuck Bomar and Abbie Smith; Sticky Faith by Kara Powell.  The topic of youth leaving the church is perennial—that is it seems to be a topic that pops up in cycles.  (Check out my post on an article called Why Do Teenagers Drop Out? From Teach Magazine Summer of 1963.)  While it draws a lot of statistical studies the truth is, for those of us in youth ministry it’s personal.  We know the kids who walked away from church and faith.  They are more than numbers they are faces.

This last week I had the opportunity to corner Chuck Bomar and ask him some questions about why youth drop out and what the church can do about it.

How do you create belonging in your church?

I ran across this article a few months ago while looking through some old Teach Magazines.  You can download it here Why Do Teens Drop Out? Teach Magazine Summer 1963

The article cites three reasons for teens dropping out of church:

1. Not enough activity  I.e. most environments were sit and soak environments—youth wanted to be involved, they wanted relational environments.  They wanted to connect with their peers in meaningful ways.

2. Adult hypocrisy—leaders/teachers were not prepared, not invested, or more invested in transferring information than transforming a life.

3. Boredom and lack of challenge—youth were looking for real life connections between their life and the Bible

Do any of these things resonate with you?

Check out the final summary:

Two overall impressions gained from tabulating survey results were that dropouts were saying in effect:  1) “I’m here, but unused.  Give me something to do;” 2) “I’m here, but you aren’t hitting me with God’s Word.  Your shots are off target.”  Churches today need dedicated spiritually strong leaders who know how to reach young people with God’s Word and use them to His glory (and their satisfaction).  It is one of the greatest needs of the hour.

It was true back then and it still is today.

Measured on the dial, an hour a week to prepare a life for eternity is too brief a time to allow one wasted moment or one careless touch upon a soul.  Henrietta Mears

Let’s face it, the amount of time we have with a kid is not growing.  Once you take away vacation and sick days we probably only have 40 hours a year with our most faithful kids.  And, when I look at all of the non-purposeful unstructured time in many Sunday kidmin programs, we could have much less than that.  One estimate puts actual teaching time at only 17 minutes on an average Sunday.  That would be less than 12 hours per year.   The mission of leading kids to Jesus and the limited amount of time we have to do so each week, demands that we become intentional about every minute we have with our kids.

When “Sunday’s coming” it is easy to get into thinking “How am I going to fill the time?” versus “How am I going to leverage the limited time I have?”  If leveraging the limited time you have with kids each week is important, I think the best thing we can do to make every minute count is to clarify what a win looks like at every level.  A win is what are we aiming for in everything that we do.

Clarify the Win

In baseball, there may be all kinds of “wins” like strike outs, catching fly balls, tagging a runner out etc. .  . but the difference between a winning team and a losing team boils down to one thing: how many runners cross home plate.  The ultimate goal is to get as many people to cross home plate as possible. That’s it.

Define the “win” of your kidmin:  If you only accomplished one thing what would it be? 

Just like baseball, kidmin has wins. If you only accomplished one thing what would it be? You can define the win for kidmin itself, every program, every part of that program, every event, every volunteer role, every department.  A good place to start is defining the win for all of kidman.

A “win” is not a mission statement.

A “win” is more than a mission statement.  Mission statements tend to be broad and all encompassing: “We exist to magnify God by loving others the way Christ loved us to develop every person’s gifts to fulfill the great commission to reach the lost in Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth . . .”  That may be a great mission statement.  It says a lot of things.  A “win” is an irreducible minimum.  If we could only do one thing what would it be?

Here’s a great kidmin win: when a kid takes the next step in a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.  That’s a win.

What it might look like: It could be the first time an unchurched kid comes to your church.  That’s a win. When a kid expresses an interest in following Christ.  That’s a win.  When a kid is open and transparent for the first time in a small group and a small group leader is able to speak God’s truth into that child’s life in a deeply personal and life transforming way.  That’s a win.  All of those are steps in a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.

Defining the win at this level will help you prioritize your ministry.  If you can’t clearly define how something you are doing, whether it’s a program, an event, or a part of a program helps a child take the next step in a growing relationship with Jesus Christ, it might just be something that you should stop doing.  Here’s where you can begin making a list of things not to do.

A great resource for more on this topic is 7 Practices of Effective Ministry

In my next post, I will talk about what wins might look like for a Sunday Morning program.

What’s your ministry win?

It is natural to describe the local church in terms of its activities, its work, as an institution; but everything the church does is for the sake of people.  All programming and organization are means to the end of effecting changes in people.  The focus must always be on people.  From Focus on the People in Church Education by Lois LeBar (p.11)

It was true when Lois LeBar wrote it 60 years ago.  And it’s still true today.  I think that this is one of the primary questions we must ask of everything we do.  What really is happening to people?

It’s easy to get caught up in how our programming glorifies God, whether it is doctrinally correct, whether it fits into the church budget or church program, whether it is outreach or discipleship, purpose-driven or whatever, but the truth of the matter is we are leading people not programs, we are teaching people not curriculum and what is truly glorifying to God is a person fully devoted to Him, not a program, a budget, a curriculum or a class.

So what really is happening to people in our ministries?  What do we want them to become and is everything we are doing moving them closer to that?

The most important thing in life is personal relations: being rightly related to God, to oneself, to others.  At the heart of the universe is a Person, not natural forces, a Creator who reveals Himself to persons, who became a human Person in Christ, who seeks to redeem estranged, sinful persons back to Himself.  This sovereign Ruler condescends to use persons in communicating His love and making men like Himself.  Therefore, Christian ministry ought not to grow so complicated that it loses sight of the individual person.  The key question must always be: What is happing to people?  From Focus on the People in Church Education, Lois LeBar p. 11-12

When I’m fighting for more money for the Children’s Ministry budget, more space in the building, more volunteers, and more time for announcements during the service it really is because I believe that the child is the most important person in the church.   

How many adult problems would be solved if every preschooler who entered our churches left knowing they have a Heavenly Father who loves them?  Or what if every elementary child left knowing they can place their trust in Jesus for every area of their lives?  Or what if every High School student left knowing their place in God’s story and having made a lifetime commitment to serving Christ.  What if every college ministry developed that calling to life service?  What if everything we did for children focused on winning them to Christ . . .

The child is the most important person in the church because when you save a child you save a life.