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Henrietta MearsWednesday, 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?

Aero Vodochody L 29 Delfin Jet CockpitThe average airplane can have over 40 gauges.  But only a few of those gauges are critically important at any given time.  And maybe the most important is the one right in the center.  Like the speedometer on a car, the attitude indicator may be one of the more important flight instruments on a plane because it shows the aircraft’s “attitude” to the horizon.  In other words, it will tell you whether you are flying upside down or not.  Kind of important.

Kidmin, like the cockpit of a plane, has lots of dials and gauges—lots of things that demand our attention like scheduling, team training and curriculum to how many popsicle sticks we need for VBS.  It can be overwhelming.  But what if some things are more important than others?  What if there are some systems that require our attention more than others?  What would be the attitude indicator for kidmin?

Apart from the basics like Jesus and the Bible—we know we need to point kids to Jesus and we do that through the Bible—, what would be the top five gauges we should give our attention to?  What systems are really critical to the effectiveness of kidmin?

Here is a great top five from The Orange Leader Handbook also known as the Orange Essentials:

System #1: How we integrate leaders.

We can’t expect people to follow us if we are not on the same page going in the same direction.  This is especially true when working with children and students.  We are laying the foundation of a person’s life so we must all be working with the same end in mind.  Having the same strategy to get there is a good place to start.


System #2: How we communicate truth.

How we say what we say is as important as what we say. Maybe we should communicate as if what we have to say is the most important thing that can be said.  Since it is.


System #3: How we connect people.

Spiritual growth happens best in the context of close personal relationships.


System #4: How our church partners with families.

Parents have the greatest potential to influence the life of the child.  Lasting impact begins with a system to effectively partner with parents to help them leverage their influence during the week.


System #5: How we mobilize every generation to be the church.

We have a lot of people doing church, but not a lot of people being the church.  If kids are not being the church while they with us, how can we expect them to be the church when they are not with us?


You are in the cockpit of your ministry at your church.  The gauges you give your attention to will determine the effectiveness of your ministry.

What do you think are the top five gauges we should be looking at?

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: I’m Not Creative: Leading people who don’t think they are creative.

I’m Not Creative Presentation Slides  (I use  Click the link to the left.  You have to sign up for a free account to download it.)

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

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

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?

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.

While I wish my job were easier, that volunteers would be beating down my doors to be a part of Children’s Ministry, that curriculum would be less expensive and require less preparation or that Mary would just show up on time—at the end of the day I don’t really care about the cost, or if it’s easy on me or easy on our volunteers.  What I care about is whether or not our ministries, our programs and our materials effectively lead kids in a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.

I like the fun games, great crafts, hoppin’ music, and compelling videos.  But I like all of those things, not because they are fun, or great, or hoppin’, or compelling, I like them because I know that I must engage the heart of a child so I can help them take their first step in connecting with their Heavenly Father.

I like great materials.  But what I wish every curriculum publisher would know is that a curriculum is not as important as who is investing in my kids each Sunday. I’m not interested in easy, no prep, or no fun.  Most of all I want small group leaders and Sunday school teachers that will be there every week, developing relationships with kids and families and then layering God’s truth into their lives in a relevant way each Sunday.  I want to see lives changed and families transformed.

There is one thing that I know I have in common with every Children’s Ministry Leader, Pastor, Family Pastor, Sunday School teacher, Youth Pastor and children’s worker–that I am in ministry because I believe that there is nothing more important than a person’s relationship with Jesus Christ.

Here is a short presentation I gave on creativity at Gospel Light.

Creativity for Non-Creative People from Damon DeLillo on Vimeo.

Back in the day, there was a famous preacher story that circulated amongst what were then known as “Christian Education Directors”–our modern day family pastors. It was said that D.L. Moody had come back from a tent revival meeting where he reported that 2 1/2 people were saved. Whoever he was talking to replied, “You mean, two adults and one child?” D.L. Moody responded, “No, two children and one adult.” Because when you save a child you save a life.

Sounds like philosophy 101. Imagine two people are tied to a railroad track. One is a 45-year-old adult. One is a 2-year-old child. You only have time to save one before they are killed by an oncoming train. Do you save the 45-year-old adult or the 2-year-old child? (It depends on if the adult is a choir member or a children’s small group leader ☺)

While I don’t think this is D.L. Moody’s commentary on innate human value, the point is pretty obvious: Children should be the center of the church because they have their whole lives ahead of them. As Gordon MacDonald said during the Orange Conference two weeks ago:

The most important person in a church is the baby.

I wish he had had the opportunity to elaborate on this thought. Since he didn’t, I will. The baby is forming their first impressions of the world and most importantly the first impressions of who God is. And, they are going to form this foundation largely upon their interactions with adults and more specifically the adults that spoon food into their mouths: Mom and Dad. It won’t be what is taught, but what is caught as they observe the behavior of the most important people in their lives. With a baby we are helping them form the foundation of their view of God. Someone really famous I can’t remember said, “The child is the father of the man.”

Research shows that children as early as age two are stitching together the big pieces of their worldview, beliefs and behavior and by age nine most children have settled upon the spiritual beliefs they will carry with them through adulthood. Which means, children are impressionable, adults are not. It means, with children we are partners in forming the foundation of their belief system; with adults we are only tinkering with the foundation that has already been laid. Try working on the foundation after the house is built.

However, we didn’t need modern research to tell us this. Around 400BC, Socrates in Plato’s Republic believed the best way to ensure the prosperity of the “polis” was to take all the boys away from their mothers at an early age and “educate” them. Thus, they could be sure that all of the foundational principles of the Republic would become part of a person’s identity at a young age. If it sounds a little like brainwashing, it kind of was. Just in case you are on Who Wants to Be a Millionare: this was what John Dewey—the Dewey decimal system guy—had in mind in his vision of the public school system; a place where the government would take children from their homes to ensure that they were being properly educated with only the “right thoughts” appropriate for a liberal citizen of the American Republic. BTW: Mortimer Adler fought against this and suggested that the answer was not teaching children only the “right thoughts,” but how to think critically. There are very few schools based upon his model. Maybe he should have come up with a library index system also.

So that is the historical and social science view. However, our own tradition goes back at least 1000 years earlier than Socrates to Moses at about 1400BC. So here I’m going to leave this post hanging—because I’d like to develop the historical view in a little more detail.

What are you doing at your church with the babies to give them a first impression of who God is?

Stats: 16 Adults (14 children)

Today we visited Reality Church in Carpinteria, CA. We went to the 8:30am service. Drove all over to find parking, because it was so jammed. We ended up parking 3 blocks away. I don’t know how many people the auditorium held, but it appeared there were over 500 people at the morning service.

Just an Observation: Over 500 people bypassed the beach (located only a block or so away from Reality) to attend church at 8:30am today. Not a bunch of old-folks–but twenty to thirty-somethings. This happened in a beach community, on a day when the surf was great–at 8:30 in the morning. This was one service–there were two more services. Everything else aside: that’s a win.

For those of you who missed our first launch team meeting, here is the inside scoop.

We want church to be irresistible. We want church to be the first option on Sunday morning. We want children to shake their parents out of bed on Sunday mornings to go to church. We want outsiders, people who don’t consider themselves religious, to attend church this Sunday and look forward to next Sunday. We think church should be irresistible.

When I read the New Testament, Jesus was irresistible. People loved Him or hated Him, but they couldn’t ignore Him. He couldn’t be marginalized. People didn’t pass Him by on the way to the beach or the mall. They either found Him to be irresistible or irritating–irritating enough to have Him killed. He wasn’t boring.

In Ephesians 1:22, 23 the church is called the body of Christ. As a gathering we represent Jesus Christ. It actually says we are the fullness of Him. We can talk about all of the many ways that we should be like Christ as an organization, but we don’t often talk about being “irresistible” like Christ. I am all for embodying Christ in all Biblical dimensions; somehow, though, we miss this one. When we miss this one we lose the attention of the community–but most of all the people we are trying to reach.

The mission of River Park Community Church is to lead people in a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. We believe that a growing relationship with Jesus Christ is not a certain amount of Bible classes or knowledge, but three life-long pursuits: Intimacy with God, Community with other believers and Influence with those outside the faith. We believe that when a person is pursuing these three things, wherever they are on the road, they are maturing–they are leading a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.

They are Biblical pursuits, they are the right pursuits. These are relational pursuits. Because they are relational pursuits they are impossible to execute as a church. I can’t force anyone to be in community, much less force anyone to have a relationship with God. So, as a church, we realize the mission to lead people in a growing relationship with Jesus Christ is an impossible mission. We can’t make it happen. It is the unique office of the Holy Spirit to make such relational pursuits happen. It is the Holy Spirit that initiates our relationship with God. It is the Holy Spirit that brings unity to the followers of Christ. It is by the power the Holy Spirit that we speak boldly. And . . . it is by the power of the Holy Spirit that a person is saved. So . . . we admit that we cannot engineer relationships and we cannot engineer life-transformation.

However, when I look back on what God used to transform my life, I realize that life-transformation happened in an environment. Whether it was a small group Bible study or missions trip, life-transformation happened in an environment. Most often it was an environment that fostered close personal relationships with other believers. It was a life on life environment where there was care, accountability and a sense of belonging. As a church we have concluded life-transformation happens best in close personal relationships. We are in the business of creating environments where that can happen.

If we get down to what churches really are, they are a cluster of environments. Hopefully they are environments designed to partner with the work of the Holy Spirit to lead us in a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. Hopefully they partner with the Holy Spirit rather than place obstacles in the way of those trying to get to know God (Acts 15).

We believe that leading people in a growing relationship with Jesus Christ is an impossible mission. But . . . we can create environments that encourage and equip people to develop an intimate relationship with God, community with other believers, and influence with people outside the church. We believe this happens best in a small group environment where close personal relationships can be fostered and people can experience care, accountability and belonging–that is community. We call small groups our destination. We want everyone to arrive at this destination. Everything else we do as a church leads to this destination. Everything else is a step along the path toward small groups.

However, we know that people don’t just want to jump in and get naked. If the person across the counter at the dry cleaner started divulging all of his marital problems while you were trying to pick up your wool sweater, that would just be weird. We believe there has to be a place where people can enter as guests and become friends before they become family.

In fact we believe that most people think church is for church people not for them. So . . . they are most likely not interested in joining a small group in your church. So we create an environment that is designed specifically for guests: it’s called Sunday morning. It is designed to change people’s minds about church. The next step might be an environment designed to introduce people to small groups; a place designed to change a person’s mind about community. This is where a person moves from a guest to a friend. Once they have connected in a small group they are family. Our job is simple:

Our job is to create irresistible environments that lead to small groups.

Our task for the next five months:
1. to build a launch team of 75 members by September 14th
2. to build a resource pool of $250,000 by September 14th

We have 26 launch team members and have raised $153,000 (one time gifts, monthly commitments, staff tithes and GHC matching funds.)

Take-away: Invite people you know to become members of the River Park Community Church launch team.