Login

Register

Login

Register


How We Reflect God’s Love to Children

In his excellent book, The Mystery of Children, Mike Mason reminds us that “Jesus wants us to become like children because our spirits lived closest to the surface during our childhood. In childhood our hearts are the most transparent, most vulnerable, most malleable.”

He goes on to say: “Growing up usually means covering up our spirit more and more with flesh. God wants us to become the person we really are inside, the person we were born to be. Becoming childlike involves peeling away the masks to get back to the real, rosy-cheeked, bright-eyed face beneath.”

When we’re born, God makes us totally dependent on parents or caregivers for the first five years of our lives. Our parents become like gods to us. In a perfect world, this would be a good thing.

Now, let us paint a scene that happens when a child reaches five years of age. The child goes up to his mom and dad and asks, “Mommy and Daddy, what is God like?” (Even if this question never gets voiced aloud, the child’s spirit will ask it and draw its own conclusions.)

The parents might look at their child and say, “You know, God is a lot like us—he is loving and kind and patient. He is proud of you and is always there when you need him. You are a treasure to him and he loves you no matter what. He likes to spend time with you and he sings a special song over you at night that is just for you. And out of his love, he disciplines you to help you grow.”

Imagine the wide-eyed child who hears these words from his mom and dad. Wow! This is great news, almost too good to be true. With parents like these, can you see how easy the transition would be to how that child sees Father God?

It is a daunting responsibility to know that we mirror God to a child. This means we will need to depend on God a lot (and that is what He wants).

The biggest influence on how a person sees God often is not their knowledge of the Scriptures. Often it is the representation—or misrepresentation—of God which that person saw mirrored by their parents.

We can’t begin to count the number of people who have told us, “I know in my head that God loves me, but I don’t feel it in my heart.” This is the great disconnect that the Father wants to deal with in each one of us.

One pastor, after counseling with us for a week, vulnerably shared in his Sunday message that even though he knew God loved him, for the first time he experienced a profound revelation of  “Jesus loves me, this I know” deep within his heart. Wow! To say he was transformed by this experience doesn’t do it justice.

This is the Father’s really, r-e-a-l-l-y good news in action.

Jerry and Denise Basel are the founders of The Father’s Heart Intensive Christian Counseling Ministry, www.fathersheart.com, and authors of the acclaimed book, The Missing Commandment: Loving Yourself (Expanded Edition), www.jerryanddenisebasel.com.

 

The Benefits of A Daily Devotional

We’ve all fallen into bed at night, so exhausted from the day’s activities that we dose off mid-prayer.  Mornings too can be a flurry of activities as we prepare our children for school, catch the morning traffic report and weather, and mentally rehearse  for the work day ahead.   Not surprisingly, a rich spiritual life comes by taming the uncooperative and easily distracted flesh.  We must make an act of the will to embrace the self-discipline of prayer.   The structure of a daily devotional has helped me to focus and dedicate a set amount of time to scripture reading and prayer. The following are three benefits that have enriched my life since I began this practice.

Thinking Deeply:  The best devotionals ask questions and have opportunities for journaling.  They ask me to examine my behaviors in light of the scripture passage.  Sometimes I realize that I have neglected people or areas of my life that need my attention.  Hebrews 4:12, reminds me that being immersed in God’s word is not for sissies.  His word holds up a mirror to our sinfulness.  Not in a hell fire and brimstone rulesy sort of way, but in a “I want to love you deeply and be beautiful for you” way.

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

God’s word is alive because it keeps teaching me and reminding me of his promises.  No matter how much I study the Bible, he never ceases to amaze me with some new insight into his wisdom and truth. Two thousand years having passed doesn’t negate the relevance of his plan for my 21st century life. That alone, is worth waking up to discover.

A Closer Walk:  The beautiful old hymn about a closer walk with thee, sums up what a life of faith should be.  I daily look to the Lord for strength, as well as guidance.  To begin my devotional, I take a moment to examine my day and all the people or situations I encountered.  I ask myself, did I love, did I forgive, did I support, and when necessary, did I let go?  I ask God for forgiveness when I didn’t and vow to make things right as much as I can.  In the same way at the end of my devotional, as I prepare for the morning I think about what are my priorities?  Does my ‘to do’ list reflect those priorities?  I have yet to have one single day where I behaved with perfection.  As a matter of fact, I’m still figuring out what perfection is, however, if I boast of my weakness, I trust in Paul’s words that God’s power will be made perfect in it. (2 Cor. 12:19).

Quiet: We are bombarded by input day in and day out: 24/7 news, radio, Facebook, text messages, Instagram, work, customers, emails, idle chatter, and noise.  When do we turn it off?  Once you begin taking time for devotionals and incorporating quiet meditation, you will crave this daily oasis of silence.  Sometime I just sit in God’s presence without saying a word.  Kind of like “Son-bathing,” I just soak in his presence.  Occasionally, he talks to me, sometimes I just feel his peace and know that everything is going to be okay.

The more time we spend with the Lord, the more we become like him.  When we know God’s peace, our own being can radiate God’s presence into a chaotic, broken world.

What’s your favorite devotional?

Connecting The Invitation & The Response

By Allen White, Small Group Guru and Church Coach

What if the difference between success and failure lies in the few steps between the sanctuary and the lobby? That’s what I witnessed about a year ago. The much beloved responsefounding pastor of a multi-site, megachurch invited his congregation to open their homes and invite their friends to join them for a six week study the church had produced. The curriculum was awesome. The pastor did the teaching. The topic was relevant. It was a sure thing, but don’t be so sure.

At the close of the service, the pastor made an impassioned appeal for his members to take the next step and start their own group. But, it wasn’t just one next step, it was 20-30 next steps out to the lobby. That evening a crowd of 1,000 adults netted 18 groups. All of our hearts sank.

The pastor had said the right words. He was presenting the right offering at the right time. The church was familiar with small groups. Why the poor result?

Over the years, I’ve seen great messaging become ineffective simply by the distance between the invitation and the response. The best curriculum, the strongest leadership or even the most carefully crafted appeal can all unravel in a matter of minutes if the wrong step is given in recruiting group leaders. A few simple nuances can net a profound effect.

At that church, we made a quick change. Rather than prospective group hosts responding by signing up in the church lobby after the service, the new next step involved no steps at all. The response was simply to take out a card and sign up right there in the service. The cards were collected at the end of the service. The result went from 18 groups to 248 groups in less than 24 hours. The final result over the next three weeks was 1,100 new groups across all of their campuses.

I am convinced most people only think about church when they are sitting in church. Any effort to send people to the lobby or God forbid send them home to sign up on a website simply does not work. By the time well intended church members hit the threshold on Sunday morning, their stomachs have raced to lunch and their minds have raced to evacuating the premises as soon as possible. The moment has gone.

The closer you connect the invitation to the response, the better the response. If the invitation is made in a service, then collect the response in a service. If the same invitation is made by a video email at midweek, then collect the response in the email. By simply providing a link in the email, a willing member can click the link and sign up to start a group right on the spot.

In a perfect world, church members would go home, login to the church’s website, and sign up electronically. No fuss. No sign up cards. No data entry. Simple. That world does not exist. To send someone from the service to the lobby or to their computer to sign up is equal to making no invitation at all. The reverse is also true. To send an email midweek asking for a response the following Sunday is just wasted megabits.

Think like the people who sit in your rows.

  • What’s available to them in their row?
  • Is there a response card or do you create a card?
  • Do they have a pen?
  • Who will collect the cards? Are they placed in the offering, collected at the end of the service, or handed to an usher on the way out?
  • Maybe pen and paper doesn’t cut it. What else do they have? What about their cellphones? Can they send a text to a designated number (not yours!)?
  • When you send an email invitaiton, can they fill out a survey or a web form?

Missed opportunities occur when you can’t adequately collect the response. These thoughts may seem elementary. They may seem unnecessary. You may feel you are getting a good enough result from how your collecting responses now. Or are you?

Reposted from AllenWhite.org with permission.

Allen White has devoted the last 25+ years to helping people find Christ, make meaningful connections, grow in their faith, and find fulfillment in ministry. He has successfully launched hundreds of groups as an Associate Pastor.  Additionally, he  works with Brett Eastman and Lifetogether, coaching hundreds of churches of all sizes and denominations over the last 10 years. He has a B.A. in Biblical Studies and Missions and a M.Div.in Christian Education. He and his family live in Greenville, SC.

10 Assumptions That Shape My Small Group Ministry

By Mark Howell,  Pastor & Small Group Expert

We’ve talked many times about assumptions. If you’ve been along for much of this adventure, you’ve probably read more than your share of articles on assumptions. If the idea of assumptions is unfamiliar to you, I’ve linked to a few of my favorites below.

I’m thinking about my assumptions about small group ministry today because of a question a reader asked me recently. Their question was so obviously the wrong question that it caused to me to wonder why in the world they are doing what they’re doing.

You can ask the wrong question, you know. Albert Einstein famously said,

“If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.

Identifying the right question is a critical skill. And that caused me to reflect on my assumptions.

Here is a list of my assumptions (about small group ministry):

1. There is no problem-free solution.

Early on I looked for problem-free strategies. Eventually I realized there are no problem-free strategies. Every strategy, system and model comes with a unique set of problems. Wise leaders simply choose the set of problems they’d rather have.  See also, The Pursuit of Problem-Free.

2. Unconnected people are one tough thing away from not being at our church.

Every delay at connecting them puts many of them in jeopardy. Putting off the connecting opportunity in order to line up some timing issue increases the likelihood that for certain unconnected people the window will close. See also,What’s Your Urgency Level for Connecting People?

3. The optimal environment for life-change is a small group.

know this. And you know this. That’s why we believe small groups must be prioritized. Circles, not rows are where life-change happens. See also,Essential Ingredients for Life-Change.

4. Joining a group in a stranger’s living room is the second scariest move (preceded only by coming to church for the first time).

This makes a safe and familiar on-campus first step out of the auditorium a key to connecting people. See also, How to Calm an Unconnected Person’s Second Greatest Fear.

5. The people with the most connections inside the church have the fewest connections outside the church.

Conversely, the people with the least connections inside the church have the most connections outside the church. This is an understanding that makesHOST a great idea. See also, Exponential Outreach.

6. Every group of ten has a relative shepherd(and most adults can quickly identify the person they’d be willing to follow).

In a Malcolm Gladwell sense, everyone can see very quickly who the leader should be. See also, How to Connect People No One Else is Connecting.

7. The leader of a group only needs to be a step or two ahead of group members.

Even Jesus didn’t look for Jesus Jr.  See also, Top 5 Signs Your Church Really Wants to Be a Church OF Groups.

8. I need to make it as easy as possible to begin “leading” and nearly automatic that the new “leader” step onto the leadership development conveyor belt.

I’ve longed believed the first part of this assumption. The second part is a more recent add-on that is a critical understanding. See also, Steve Gladen on Saddleback’s Leadership Development Pathway.

9. Whatever we want the members of a group to experience, the leader has to experience first.

This makes coaching or mentoring an essential ingredient for any small group strategy. Coaching is only initially about teaching technique. It is primarily about doing TO and FOR the leaders whatever you want the leaders to do TO and FOR their members. See also, The End in Mind for an Effective Coaching Structure.

10. Prioritizing the launch of new groups connects the largest number of unconnected people.

Prioritizing the needs of existing groups connects the fewest unconnected people. See also, Are You Prioritizing the Launch of New Groups?

What question was so obviously the wrong question?

The essence of the question was, “Have you written anything on how to best connect people with (existing) leaders? One of my greatest issues right now is connecting people on a Sunday with (existing) leaders.”
What makes that the wrong question? Easy. Emphasizing connecting unconnected people with existing leaders (who already have groups), leads to connecting the fewest unconnected people. Prioritizing the launch of new groups (via a small group connection,  GroupLink, etc.) leads to the connecting the largest number of unconnected people.

Reprinted with permission by MarkHowellLive.com

Mark is the Pastor of  Communities at Canyon Ridge Christian Church in Las Vegas, Nevada.  He’s also the founder of SmallGroupResources.net, offering consulting and coaching services that help churches across North America launch, build and sustain healthy small group ministries.

5 of the Best Practices of Thriving Small Group Ministries

By Mark Howell,  Pastor & Small Group Expert

BEST PRACTICES: “A procedure that has been shown by research and experience to produce optimal results and that is established or proposed as a standard suitable for widespread adoption.” Webster

You can learn a lot by studying the best practices of thriving small group ministries. You can improve your results by adopting the best practices of thriving small group ministries. Occasionally, you can improve your results by adapting the best practices of thriving small group ministries to fit your context. I say occasionally because adapting most commonly strips away the design elements that produce the results you hope to attain.


Note: In the spirit of “there’s an upside and a downside to everything,” you will never produce break-the-mold innovation by emulating perfectly a best practice.


5 of the best practices of thriving small group ministries:

The senior pastor is the champion.

You shouldn’t be surprised to learn this. It is just the way it is. There is a reason the two most thriving small group ministries are Saddleback and North Point. Rick Warren and Andy Stanley figured out a long time ago that people do what the most influential person in the organization promotes.

Another important element of this best practice? The average attenders of Saddleback and North Point couldn’t pick Steve Gladen and Bill Willits out of a line-up because they lead their small group ministries from behind the scenes. Small group leaders and coaches know them. But the public face of the small group ministry is the senior pastor.

Think about it: Is your senior pastor the champion? Or does someone else play that role?

 

Thriving small group ministries are promoted year-round

Do you have an annual small group push? Maybe at the end of September? Or in early January? You need to know that thriving small group ministries are year-round endeavors. They are promoted 52 weeks a year. There may be times of greater emphasis, but highlighting group engagement is never out of season.

Thriving small group ministries are always looking ahead to the next opportunity to connect to a group. They are also highlighted year-round in the language of message illustrations and stories of life-change.

Churches with thriving small group ministries rarely miss the opportunity to reference the prominent role of small groups in their strategy. Don’t believe me? Try listening for the drumbeat in a North Point or Saddleback weekend service.

Think about it: Does your church promote small groups year-round? Or is there a groups campaign every year?

 

Churches with thriving small group ministries ministries clarify what is most important

They may have more on their menu than small groups, but there is no mystery or confusion about what is most important. If you have any doubt, a quick look at the websites of churches with thriving small group ministries will confirm this. A look at their weekend service program and verbiage from the stage will provide conclusive evidence.

Emphasizing the importance and priority of small groups forces deemphasis of anything and everything else (that might cause confusion about first steps or next steps.

“Should I do this? Or this?” is an uncommon question in churches with thriving small group ministries.

Think about it: How clear is the importance and priority of small groups in your church?

 

Thriving small group ministries are budget priorities

Want to build a thriving small group ministry? Take a look at your church’s general budget. Can you tell from the budget that small group ministry is important?

The budgets of churches with thriving small group ministries are powerful indicators. And it is very important to note that their small group ministry budget explains their results (as opposed to their results being rewarded with budget increases).

Think about it: Does your staffing structure (which is a function of the budget) indicate that small group ministry is important? Or does your staffing structure indicate something else is really more important?

Does your website indicate small group ministry is important? Is it easy to find out about the next connecting opportunity or learn about small group involvement?

Does your on-campus promotion (signage, kiosk, welcome center, first step experience, etc.) indicate small group ministry is important? Is it clear to unconnected attenders?

Does your facility reservation and availability indicate small group ministry is important?

Thriving small group ministries deliver a robust experience

Getting connected and doing life together may be the beginning, but it is not the destination. Making better disciples, life-change, becoming like Jesus, doing what Jesus would do, is the end in mind.

Thriving small group ministries deliver a robust experience. Far beyond closing the back door, small groups are designed to help group members become steadily more like Jesus, experiencing (and practicing) the one-anothers as a way of life.

Think about it: Do examples of groups that “get it” stand out? Are they commonplace (happening all the time)? Or extraordinary (the rare, out-of-the-ordinary group)?

Reprinted with permission by MarkHowellLive.com

Mark is the Pastor of  Communities at Canyon Ridge Christian Church in Las Vegas, Nevada.  He’s also the founder of SmallGroupResources.net, offering consulting and coaching services that help churches across North America launch, build and sustain healthy small group ministries.

Listen to Hearts Alive Bible Backgrounds

Teachers can listen to Bible Background’s from each week’s Hearts Alive Sunday School lesson, even in the car.  Below is a link that will be updated  on Wednesdays for the following Sunday’s lesson.  Enjoy!

 

Hearts Alive Bible Background Fall B Week 8

Hearts Alive Bible Background Fall B Week 7

Hearts Alive Bible Background Fall B Week 6

Hearts Alive Bible Background Fall B Week 5

Hearts Alive Bible Background Fall B Week 4

Hearts Alive Bible Background Fall B Week 3

Children’s Ministry: Practical Tips for Connecting With Parents

By Lindsey Goetz

Children, like adults, are spiritually formed in their day-to-day comings and goings, as they play, learn, and grow.  We are formed by what we do and what we love.  What a parent does at home will have much greater and lasting impact than what we can hope to accomplish in a one hour Sunday morning class. As those who love and work with children, we can each share our own stories of joy and sadness over the ways we have witnessed the shaping power of the home in the lives of our own families and of the children in our ministries.  Most Children’s Ministers, agree– if the parents aren’t on your team, your ability to impact the life of the child is going to be limited.  What are practical ways that we can include, and engage parents in the work of discipleship, both for the sake of their child’s spiritual formation and their own?

Cast Vision–Repeatedly

 We must continually place before parents a vision of the great responsibility and privilege that the discipleship of our families is.  Those of us who have had small children at home can remember what it is like to be overwhelmed by the day-to-day tasks and unexpected circumstances that come along with raising a family.  Throw in a job or two, schooling, and a few other commitments, and “church” can quickly become another item on a checklist of “Things Good Parents Do.”   What are some practical ways to vision cast?

  1. Communicate to the parents how your programming is designed to support or enhance what they are doing at home. When we came into our new position, we sat down and thought about how each element of our ministry fit together to serve, support or resource parents and families. If it didn’t, we have changed it, or  are in the process of changing it so that all that we do can be maximized by parents for the discipleship of their children.

 

  1. Foster places (shared meals, online communities, playgroups, etc.) where stories can be shared of how parents are seeing God at work in their homes and in the lives of their children. When you hear a story like this from a parent in your ministry, celebrate with them and then provide a space for sharing with the community.

 

  1. Work with other staff and pastors to come up with a plan for how spiritual formation can happen at your church. Some churches organize this by grades or ages while others organize it by life events or milestones such as baptism, confirmation, beginning school, etc.  Let parents in on what your thought process is so that they can play off the structure you are using as they plan for discipleship in their home.

 

Take the Pulse Consistently

I still remember the first few weeks after we brought our first child home from the hospital. Just as I was feeling like I had gotten the hang of things, something would change–she would sleep a longer or shorter stretch, need to eat more or less than before, all because she had reached a new milestone.  With the transitional nature of parenting, the needs, struggles, and joys will be different for each family– month by month and year by year.  How are you keeping tabs on the families in your congregation to ensure that they are encouraged, equipped, and prepared for the next bend in the road?

  1. Home Visits— While possibly not practical at extremely large churches, my husband and I have found home visits to be foundational to the ministry we do with families in our church. Our goal is to visit each family in our congregation once every 1.5 years. These visits provide space to connect, to see how discipleship is working in the varying contexts within our faith community, and to listen to the struggles, joys, and needs of the people we are serving.

 

  1. Parenting Mentors. Some churches pair more experienced parents with younger parents for a mentoring relationship. This provides an opportunity for life-on-life encouragement and equipping, as well as decentralizing the work from just the staff.

 

  1. Surveys: Either on-line or in person, keep asking what families need.

Resource Faithfully

As a Children’s Minister, I have found that I am often “in the right place at the right time” as it relates to children and the resources available to parents who are seeking to disciple their children faithfully.  In fact, many companies will send us free copies or samples of resources simply because of our job title.  My husband and I see it as an important part of our role to vet these resources and to pass the quality ones along to the families in our congregation.  There are so many more high-quality resources available to parents and families than there were even just 5 years ago. How do you connect parents with these resources?

  1. Start a well-curated resource library: With the shuttering of many brick and mortar Christian bookstores, it can be difficult to evaluate and choose resources without being able to hold them and flip through the pages. By using free samples and purchasing used books from Amazon, we started our own library. Parents at our church are able to check out books and other resources before purchasing.

 

  1. Introduce resources to children during programming as appropriate. Our family loves the Sing the Bible with Slugs & Bugs CD’s. Every single one of us. My not-yet-two-year-old will call out the refrains of songs from the backseat as she hears the first notes coming through the minivan speakers. When I discovered that few people in our church were familiar with Slugs & Bugs, I looked into booking a concert and purchased all the CD’s for our children’s ministry. We then made Slugs & Bugs the soundtrack of our Summer Sunday School and our Summer Kids Club (VBS).  At the end of the summer, we had Randall Goodgame come for a Slugs & Bugs Sing the Bible Live! Concert. By then, the kids who regularly attend Sunday School were superfans.  More than just passing on a great resource, this thrills me because many of Randall’s songs are just straight Scripture. In our children’s ministry, we have memorized well over 10 verses this Summer, just by singing.  Knowing that those children have the very words of God deep in their hearts is beautiful and life-giving and makes those challenging weeks seem worth it.

 

  1. Book Clubs- Select a small number of books or other resources and invite people to sign up for parenting or family “resource clubs” for feedback. Depending on the resource, families can get together to analyze, troubleshoot, rejoice, and encourage along the way.

Communicate Clearly

To be honest, this is the area where I struggle the most.  I highly value communicating with parents, but I am also tired and often fall short of my grandest plans for excellent parental communication. I would love to hear what it looks like for you to communicate clearly with the families in your church regarding the material and experiences their children are having.  All too often I fear my “take home sheet” is trampled on the floor before a parent ever lays eyes on it.

  1. Plan ahead— Planning ahead allows you time to communicate events, programs, and even curriculum to parents in a way that respects their time while also giving them the chance to make parenting within the context of the local church a priority.
  2. A communication survey: ask parents how they would most like to receive information, how often, and what kinds of things they want to know. And the dreaded question “How do I keep those papers from ending up on the floor?”
  3. Follow Through With Action

Obviously, communicating with parents in a culture where all of us are overworking and under sabbathing is difficult.  It takes counter cultural persistence and effort.  But the responsibility we have to children and families to faithfully serve, equip, and walk alongside them in the journey of discipleship is well worth the effort.  How do you keep families in the loop?  What are you planning to try after reading this article?  Are any ideas stirring in you?

Lindsey is a Hearts Alive writer and curriculum specialist.  She and her husband are the Children’s Directors for First Presbyterian Church of Aurora, IL.

Did You Have A Relationship With Jesus as a Child?

We asked this question to our Hearts Alive writing team.   Their answers inspired and amazed us.  We hope that their testimonies remind you of the awesome responsibility we all have as Children’s Directors and Sunday School teachers.  Thank you to David Sanford for sharing his story with us today.

Q: Did you have a relationship with Jesus as a child?

A: Unlike most other Hearts Alive writers, I didn’t grow up in a Christian home. Just the opposite. My father is still an atheist. His lectures were always the same: “There are no rules. Don’t obey anyone. Don’t even obey me.” When I fully committed my life to Jesus Christ at age 13, however, I found out my family had a rule: You can’t be a Christian. So, I was kicked out of my dad’s side of the family for 37 years. It was pretty surreal.

Then again, I was old enough to vividly remember reading the Bible cover to cover the first time. Imagine not knowing even the most famous Scripture stories. When I got to the beginning of Genesis 45, I wept at Joseph’s heartfelt love for and forgiveness of his brothers. When I got to the story of David and Goliath, I cheered. When I got to the story of David and Bathsheba, I felt so ashamed to bear his name. When I got to the end of Revelation, I put my Bible down and thought, Wow, I didn’t get all of that. So, I picked it back up and started over. Nobody had told me to read only three Bible chapters a day, so I read it cover to cover in as fast as 27 days. Except for one stretch, I’ve continued reading it avidly all of these years.

Q: How did that affect your childhood or teen years?

A: Coming to faith in Jesus Christ changed the whole trajectory of my life. I have a lot of cousins about my age. So, I know how my life would have turned out without Christ. Thankfully, the Lord has won one family member after another to Himself. I only wish we all would have done so as children.

Q: How did you get to know Jesus?

A: A friend in my neighborhood invited me to attend his Sunday school class. He stopped going after a while, but I’ve been in the church ever since. That’s the difference between hearing the truth and really listening to it. That’s why I’m so jazzed about the Hearts Alive curriculum. It brings Scripture stories to life for children. And not just as great literature, but as life-changing gospel truth. One of our core objectives is to see children fall in love with Jesus. I’m so thankful for Mrs. Rosemary Phillips, my first Sunday school teacher, who helped me do just that. Again, it literally changed the whole trajectory of my life.

The Harvest is Plenty!

A Children’s Director’s Guide to Recruiting and Maintaining Sunday School Teachers

By: Deborah Bell Rodahaffer

Eighteen years as a Director of Christian of Education, mentoring Christian educators, and today, as Minister for Parish Life, have taught me that recruiting Sunday School teachers and all who serve should begin in prayer.  I pray that God will send me the right person for the position. When a candidate does come my way, I ask that person to pray about his or her commitment to this ministry.

Some Children’s Ministries put a notice in their church bulletin to recruit teachers.  However, I have found that “scouting” for teachers has worked in my ministry.  What I mean by this, is I observe prospective candidates for several weeks and see how they interact with children and adults. If they have good people skills and a servant’s heart, I invite them to serve.  I prefer candidates who have been active in the church for at least a year. Think outside of the box when looking for teachers. Some of the best Sunday School teachers I know are lawyers, artists, gardeners, librarians, college-aged parishioners, and dads.

INITIAL MEETING

I find that a one on one meeting in one of the church meeting rooms is the best environment for both you and the candidate to discern if this is the ministry for them.  Here is a guideline for what I cover.

 

  • Offer a written job description outlining expectations including time commitment and go over each point with candidate allowing ample time for questions.
  • Always use the word ministry rather than volunteer. Leading children to love and know God may be the most important ministry of your candidates’ lives.
  • Acknowledge that you value this candidate’s ministry before it even begins because you entrust the candidate by offering a sacred responsibility in leading children.
  • Be clear about YOUR role in his/her ministry. (You will provide training, curriculum, materials needed each week, advocacy, and on-going support.)
  • Have sample curricula available to look at together and send home with candidate.
  • Tour the Sunday School room where the candidate will teach/lead.

 

Candidates may be reluctant to accept position because they do not feel “qualified”. Remind candidates that with God’s help everything is possible and that you prayerfully considered the candidate for the position before you approached them. Together you will make the experience of teaching young children exceptional for students and teachers.  Accept the candidate’s “yes” or “no” response with love knowing that you both entered this process of teaching/leading children through the power of prayer and through that, the decision will be the right one for both of you.

 

PARENTS AS SUPPORT

Do not ask a parent to teach in his or her child’s class. Unless a mom or dad of young children has a real desire to teach, allow them to be involved in other church ministries until their children are older.   Do encourage parents to be part of a Sunday School support ministry that can help you outside of the classroom.  This team is vital in helping purchase supplies, pre-prepare arts and crafts activities, providing snacks, and hosting events for teachers.

 

MAINTAINING

Maintaining and helping your teachers to grow in their ministry is as important as finding the right people to teach.  The following ideas may work in your ministry, they worked in mine:

 

  • Regular training sessions with all teachers (with lunch, dinner, or dessert is best) Have frequent discussions about their teaching including all questions they have about lesson plans, scripture readings, etc. Send them articles or recommend books that will help them in their ministry.

 

  • Immediately respond to any situations involving children or guardians where you need to take the lead.

 

  • Make quick weekly check-ins with teachers by email or text (What was best about your Sunday? Any concerns about students, family members? How is your week going?)

 

  • Create an environment where teachers have a minimal amount of prep work. Make sure that you or your support team have decorated, cleaned, set-up classrooms each week. Crafts and activities along with a prepared snack should be ready to go.  Have “restroom runners” so that teachers do not need to stop classes in progress (reminder – bathroom doors should be propped open when children are in the restroom). Teachers should be able to focus on teaching and being present to the children.

 

  • Encourage the faith life of your teachers with opportunities for bible study and retreats. Take a personal interest in them and make it a habit to pray for and with them.

 

  • Help teachers to focus. Remind teachers that teaching younger children needs to be fun. When children have fun, they will want to be present and they will retain more of what they learn. What is most important about Sunday School with younger children is that the children feel safe, feel valued, and know that God loves them.

 

HONOR TEACHERS:

It is important to commission church school teachers in front of the congregation the Sunday before or the Sunday church school begins.  The Rector/Minister and Christian Formation Director should participate in the Commissioning.  As teachers we are evangelizers and this critical role should be elevated.  Other means of recognizing teachers is by highlighting their ministry with bulletin board displays with photos and short bios (include comments from children and parents) or including them in newsletters that go out to the congregation.

Send notes or cards to your teachers (birthdays, anniversary of teaching start date) or small gifts from time to time. Say “thank you” every chance you have because that is the best way to honor anyone’s ministry.

 

Debbi Rodahaffer served as Director of Christian Formation for children, youth, and adults at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Louisville, KY, for eighteen years. She currently serves as Minister for Parish Life at The Episcopal Church of the Advent, Louisville. During her twenty years in lay ministry, Debbi served as president of Forma: the network for Christian Formation, and as a three-time deputy to the General Convention of The Episcopal Church. In the Episcopal Diocese of Kentucky, she served as chair of the Christian Formation Ministry, on All Saints’ Conference Center board, on the Standing Committee, and on The Commission of Ministry. Debbi currently serves on Kanuga Conference Center’s Christian Formation Conference Planning Team and hopes to have an opportunity to talk with you about all things formation and hospitality next June 2019 at Kanuga, Hendersonville, NC.

 

Come to God Like a Little Child

 

Of all the Scriptures, some of the most profound talk about coming to God like a little child. No matter how old we get, the Father still refers to us as children. He adopts us as His own, and even if we surrender our lives to God at seventy years of age, we still come as a child. After all, in our culture we adopt children—not adults—and that’s how it is with God.

 Jesus was very clear on His position regarding children and the kingdom of God. Mark 10:13–16 tells us: “The people brought children to Jesus, hoping he might touch them. The disciples shooed them off. But Jesus was irate and let them know it: ‘Don’t push these children away. Don’t ever get between them and me. These children are at the very center of life in the kingdom. Mark this: Unless you accept God’s kingdom in the simplicity of a child, you’ll never get in.’ Then, gathering the children up in his arms, he laid his hands of blessing on them.”

 You can almost see Jesus hold the little ones in His arms, place His hand on the head of each child, and bless each one. Notice they have done nothing to earn His love.

 During His earthly ministry, Jesus said He did only what His Father was doing (John 5:19). Furthermore, Jesus said that when we see Him, we see the Father (John 14:9). So when Jesus says come to God like a little child, that’s exactly what we want to do! There is no virtue in being childish, but we should never outgrow our childlikeness.

As His child, God first wants us to be vulnerable, in a position of recognizing our need for His care and protection.

Second, God wants us as His children to trust Him—to trust that He made us, knows us, loves us, is with us, and enjoys us.

Third, God wants us to remember no child is fully developed —let alone perfect. As children of God, we are always in a process of growth, which our Father understands and accepts.

Fourth, God made us to be dependent on Him, with needs such as love, affection, acceptance, and a sense of belonging. God highly esteems dependence as a characteristic of our ongoing condition and position with Him. We never outgrow our need to lean on Him, to be weak so that He can be strong on our behalf.

Fifth, children are valuable, unique, and special to God Himself. He planned for us from the beginning and knit us together in our mother’s womb. There has never been and will never be another person like you or like me.

This last point speaks to the fact God has a specific purpose in mind for you and me. By inviting others to become children of God, we certainly fulfill that purpose and bring much glory to His name.

Jerry and Denise Basel are the founders of The Father’s Heart Intensive Christian Counseling Ministry, www.fathersheart.com, and authors of the acclaimed book, The Missing Commandment: Loving Yourself (Expanded Edition), www.jerryanddenisebasel.com.

In Search of a Parenting “Guarantee”

Excerpted from Born To Wander: Recovering the Value of our Pilgrim Identity (Moody Publishers, 2018)

By Hearts Alive! contributing writer Michelle Van Loon

 

Our world at times is coarse, confusing, terrifying, and dangerous. (It is also beautiful.) Most of us feel powerless when we read the headlines or watch the news. Too often, our lives and communities are affected by decisions made somewhere else by people we’ve never met. There are wars and rumors of wars, natural disasters, and the simmering uncertainty of when a radicalized, bomb-wearing individual might decide to detonate themselves in the middle of a sporting event.

 

I recognize the yearning to escape from it all. The desire to protect our children amplifies those concerns. I’ve felt the longing to shield my kids and to hide my family from the big, bad world. Our responsibility as parents is to do all we can to protect our kids from harm as we seek to disciple them in the way of Jesus. Love for them and for the One who gave them to us compels us to do both.

 

Not long ago, I ran into Annie. We had both home schooled our kids during the 1990’s, sharing enrichment classes, field trips, and curriculum tips as we journeyed together. At our recent reunion, we traded notes about what our adult children were doing. She observed that few of the kids we knew back in the day were coloring in the lines their parents had drawn for them when they were young. A fair percentage of them had chosen to pursue a different lifestyle or partner than their parents planned for them. Some were no longer walking with Christ. With great sadness, Annie told me she’d assumed homeschooling would give her a button she could push in her children’s lives to ensure they’d always stay on the straight and narrow. As they’d become adults and begun making their own decisions, she was shocked to discover there was no button.

 

Jesus chastised the Pharisees for building their lives around the idea of a button—a formula that would guarantee a happy outcome. There is nothing new under the sun. Whether it’s a strict lifestyle designed to keep the world at bay or innocuous- sounding messages or books that promise “Seven Steps to a Happy Marriage” or “How You Can Have a Winning Family,” the notion of a formula is a lure for most of us. Our formulas reflect a sense that a God-honoring life will require extra effort.

 

But these “outside in” remedies fall short of God’s purpose for us. There are no shortcuts, or sure-fire guarantees. He desires us to be holy, and that process can only happen from the inside out—in each one of us as individuals, and among all of us who are walking the narrow road with Jesus day by day.

Born to Wander will be available on July 3.   You can order here.

Helping Children Find Themselves in God’s Story

By Lindsey Goetz

Before he dies, Moses speaks to the people of God gathered in the wilderness.  It’s been 40 years since they rebelled against God, and most of the generation that disobeyed has given up the ghost.  

And yet, when Moses speaks to God’s people, he recounts the stories of their rebellion and wandering in the wilderness as though they actually had been there.  Perhaps one of the places we see this most clearly is in Deuteronomy 5:3-4:

“The Lord our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. Not with our fathers did the LORD make this covenant, but with us, who are all of us here alive today.  The LORD spoke with you face to face at the mountain, out of the midst of the fire…”

In Reformed traditions, when we baptize infants, we are marking them as a part of the people of God before they have the ability to make that choice for themselves.  Indeed, we baptize them because we believe that they don’t make that choice for themselves; God is the one who has moved towards them in grace.  I love that the baptismal liturgy we use at our church rehearses the whole gospel, prefaced with the words, “For you, little child.”  

Other traditions have a similar aim in mind when they dedicate babies—they are saying to a family and to a child, “We are here for you, praying for you as you grow, and your story is bigger than you are.”

Let’s explore four principles for parents, children’s ministers, and those who worship in communities of faith with children as we seek to help children grow up into this identity as part of God’s people, as participants in what Michael Goheen calls “The True Story of the Whole World.”  

We teach the Bible as one big story.

How can a child see herself as a part of God’s story if she doesn’t know it?  As those who love, serve, and parent children, we must faithfully work to build Bible literacy in the children we shepherd.  This includes teaching specific stories from the Bible, certainly, but it also includes connecting each of those stories to the bigger story.  Children’s Ministers and Sunday School teachers do well to find curriculum that is gospel-centered, that helps teachers and parents point to Jesus in every story and strive for God-centered biblical application, rather than distilling each passage to a few moralistic talking points.  

We regard them as a part of God’s people now

It seems straightforward, but we help children grow up understanding themselves as a part of God’s people when we treat them like a part of God’s people. When we make space for them to serve, and give, and participate alongside the rest of God’s people in the work of the people, we help children understand that they belong to the people of God now. In our church, each time we take the eucharist, the children are welcomed forward with the rest of the congregation to receive a blessing.  No matter how shy my daughters seem at that moment, the wonder in their eyes gives away the profound impact the simple act of having a cross traced on their forehead and words of blessing spoken over them. It is an act and experience that they carry with them into their playtime throughout the week. Such a welcome opens a child’s eyes to the possibility that she could even see herself in the greatest story of all time.

We preach the gospel to one another in our households.

Once, I was in a group of church leaders when someone pointed out that I continually brought up the gospel.  This was profoundly encouraging to me as someone who misunderstood the gospel for many years, to have come to a place where it so resonated in my heart that it came out my mouth frequently enough that someone else commented on it.  This should be what our households are like—gospel-saturated places where every member of the household daily lives in and drinks in the Gospel. As adults, we must pray and train our eyes by regular study of the Word of God to see the gospel played out around us.  As we do this, we must grow daily in our ability to recognize the movements of the grand narrative of the gospel (Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration) in our day-to-day lives and point them out to our children and the young people around us. When we do this, we help the young people among us to see God’s story in real-time; we give them the wonderful gift of understanding that the greatest story of all the world is still being told. And it involves them.  

We invest in intergenerational relationships.

One of the key factors that determines whether or not a child will remain faithful to the Lord as they grow into adulthood is the presence of quality relationships with adults other than their parents who know and love the Lord. We help children see themselves as a part of God’s big story as they get to know people at different points in their faith journey who can testify to the work of God in the world and in their lives. These kind of relationships take intentional work, but the payout is worth the work.  In her book Children Matter, Scottie May writes that the simple but intentional act of looking into a child’s eyes and saying, “I’m glad you’re here today.” is a great investment in the sorts of relationships that will form a child’s identity as one of God’s people.  

Any parent, aunt, uncle, friend, teacher, or grandparent who has had a child approach them with an armload of books can testify that children naturally love story. As those who love and serve children, then, let’s make it our aim to lovingly and graciously teach children the Word of God, by which they may come to know him and to see themselves as a part of his wonderfully big story.  

 

Guarding Child-like Trust in Jesus

by David Sanford, Hearts Alive Writer

 

I had the privilege of interviewing a fairly large group of third to sixth graders at my church. Each child sat on a “hot seat” and answered five questions. The first four answers were easy: name, grade, number of siblings, and how many years they’ve gone to church.

The final answer was a little tougher: talk about when it’s hard for you to trust God. I was amazed at their responses. First, they had a much shorter list of reasons than adults usually do. Second, several of the children honestly and sincerely told me, “It’s always been easy for me to trust God.” You should have seen the smiles on their faces.

What could possibly ruin such wonderful, child-like trust in God?

Sadly, it’s very possible for a child to grow up in a faith community, learn lots of Bible stories, sing lots of songs, memorize plenty of Scripture verses, say all the right things, look good—very good—and yet lose his or her faith.

Sometimes, it’s the individual’s own choice.

Sometimes, however, it’s because of the sinful, terrible choices of adults the child should have been able to trust.

Scripture couldn’t be clearer that anyone who repeatedly or severely harms a boy or girl or young adult by sinning against them—physically, psychologically, socially, sexually, or spiritually—is in grave danger of God’s judgment. Listen to what Jesus says in Matthew 18, verses 5 and 6.

Anyone who welcomes a little child like this one in my name welcomes me. What if someone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin? If they do, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and be drowned at the bottom of the sea. (NIRV)

Believe me, ancient Jewish men feared drowning above all else. Even experienced fishermen like Peter and Andrew, James and John, were scared to death of drowning. Sure, some like Peter could swim, but that wasn’t a given. There certainly was no Michael ben Phelps back then. Even if there were, imagine a judge ordering a crew of Roman sailors to take you 10 miles out into the Mediterranean Sea, tie a 100-pound milestone around your neck, and send you to the bottom of Davy Jones’ locker.

Peter and his fellow disciples shuddered at the thought. It should make us shudder too. Why? Because Jesus warns each and every one of us that such a fate would be much better than causing a child to lose his or her faith in Jesus Christ.

The point Jesus is making is crystal clear: Don’t let your attitudes, your words, and/or your actions soil or steal the God-given faith of a child.

But perhaps Jesus’ warning should also cause us to think of other smaller ways we can cause children to begin to lose faith—by our critical attitudes, hypocrisy, self-centered living—anything that doesn’t truly reflect Christ-like, child-like kingdom living.

I’m not talking about being perfect. Instead, I’m saying that a child’s faith grows, not diminishes, when an adult apologizes to the child for, say, losing his or her temper.

When it comes to sharing the love of Jesus, let’s always make sure it includes children. And then let’s do all we can to guard their trust in Jesus.

The Faith of a Child

Some claim a small child’s belief in God doesn’t really count. But that’s not the case. The apostle Paul could say to Timothy, “continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:14-15 NIV).

True, children can’t understand everything they’re taught. So? There is nothing wrong about a child’s inadequate concept of God or of the Christian faith. After all, 1 Corinthians 13:11 (NIV) says: “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.” The Bible doesn’t criticize a child’s way of thinking. The One who made us knows us.

Helping Children Hear the Voice of God

By: Lindsey Goetz

“…May God give you ears to hear His loving voice, his loving voice  speaking all around you, all  around you, and deep inside.”

Every night, a lump forms in my throat and I blink back tears as I finish singing “The Song of Blessing” to my three daughters. It strikes me anew every night that I’m praying that the God of the universe would open the ears of my children to his voice, that they would hear him.  As a parent and as a children’s minister I feel very keenly my responsibility to help children learn that God is speaking–by his world, by his Word, by his Spirit– and that they can hear him.  “The Lord does not look at the things people look at,” the Lord said to Samuel when he went looking for a King; “people look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”  And I wonder if a vague memory floated through Samuel’s mind–of a young boy, lying on the temple floor, who heard the voice of God at a time when the word of the Lord was rare. Scripture says that this was before Samuel knew the Lord, and it was Eli who helped Samuel recognize the voice of God.  Hebrews 1 tells us that God has spoken, once and for all, by his Son.  How are we, as those who love, serve, and worship with children, helping them to listen for God’s voice?  

We Let Them Hear God’s Voice in Scripture:

We refuse merely to entertain children when they come to worship with the gathered people of God.  Whether we remove them from the worship service or not, our primary aim is not to entertain them or even to teach them character traits or moral values; our goal is to declare God’s word to them.  He has promised that his word will not return without accomplishing its purpose. Are we equipping children and giving them the opportunity to hear and to study God’s Word?  

We Minister to the Whole Child.

Effective children’s ministry applies the truth of the gospel to situations that matter to children now.  By treating children as people who belong in God’s family now, who are being joined to Christ now, and who have the ability to hear God now, we honor the image of God in them, help them to see how the gospel applies to all of life, and train them to listen for God’s voice every moment of every day.  

We Show Them Jesus.

I’ve already mentioned the Hebrews passage that reminds us that God has spoken to us by his Son–and what a beautiful, true Word he is! The author of Hebrews goes on to say that Jesus is the exact imprint of God’s nature.  So if we really want to hear God, we listen to Jesus–his words, his silences, who he listened to, and who he loved. The best thing we can do for the children we minister to is to be an arrow that points daily, hourly to the ultimate authority on who God is and what he does– his beautiful Son.

We Create Space for Them.

Children’s ministry programming must offer space for children to hear from God as he speaks to them by his word.  We should be wary of always dictating the form a response should take, of minimizing concerns children raise, and of hurrying children along from one activity to the next. Instead, we should create space for children to hear God’s voice in his word and help them to become comfortable resting in that place through prayer, singing, or creating something that helps them give attention to what they have heard.  We must provide ways in which they can be reminded of what they have heard throughout the week. (The Live it All Week sheets from Hearts Alive equip parents excellently to create this space in their homes.)

If we hope to raise and to serve children who are aware of God’s voice and listening to it, we must be people who do those things as well.  And maybe that’s why I feel the lump form in my throat each night as my heart aches for my children to know the loving voice of God, to be people whose lives say “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.”  Maybe it’s because as I pray this prayer for my children, I’m also praying it for myself.

 

Lindsey Goetz is a mom to three fierce and lovely daughters, and she and her husband David serve as Directors of Family Discipleship at First Presbyterian Church of Aurora IL, where they are enjoying Hearts Alive with their Sunday School classes. Lindsey and David also host The New City Families Podcast, creating space for conversations about family discipleship, to the glory of God for the good of our city. Lindsey currently loves cold brew coffee, neighborhood walks, and reading to her daughters.

 

Pentecost and the Jewish Feast of Shavuot

Hearts Alive Writer, Michelle Van Loon is our guest blogger this week.  She explains to us the connection between Pentecost, the celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit and the Jewish feast of Shavuot. 

He told them to wait.

Wait for who?

Every time I read the account of the first Pentecost, I’m struck by the fact that Jesus’ followers had no clear picture of exactly who or what they were waiting for. But the risen Messiah told them to wait, so that’s exactly what they did.

On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 1:4-5)

There was context for his words. They were smack-dab in the middle of counting the Omer, numbering in prayer each day between the pilgrim feasts of Passover and Shavuot. Those feasts were two of the three times each year the Chosen People needed to present themselves as one in Jerusalem at the Temple. (The third was the fall feast of Sukkot.) Jesus’ words to them reflected the fact that they were going to be in Jerusalem for the Shavuot. I’ll be covering Shavuot in more detail next month, as it will begin this year at sunset on June 11th.

However, the Western Church will be celebrating the event that happened on the first Shavuot after Jesus’ resurrection this Sunday, May 15th. The Eastern (Orthodox) Church will be marking Pentecost this year on June 19th.

The Jewish festal cycle and the Christian calendar each offer holidays that are meant to serve as an on-ramp into the intersection of time and eternity. These moments and days point us beyond our own everyday agendas and connect us with our place in a bigger, more beautiful story. I’ve been blogging a 5-minute intro to each major holiday and season in both the Hebrew and Christian calendars. Today, I’m offering an overview of the feast day of Pentecost. This celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Church ends the Easter seasonand inaugurates the long calendar period of Ordinary Time. (I’ll be covering Ordinary Time in a subsequent post.)

Who?

Before his arrest, Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would be sent to his followers. Fifty days after Jesus was crucified, God immersed them in the resurrection life of Jesus, filling them as he’d once filled the Holy of Holies in the Temple and supernaturally empowering them to proclaim his glorious grace.

What? 

Pentecost is drawn from the Greek word pentekostos, which means fifty. It references the fifty day period between Passover and Shavuot.

Pentecost had a place on the yearly Christian calendar from the second century. Pasche, the observance of the resurrection, was the name for the entire fifty-day period between Easter Sunday and Pentecost Sunday. By end of third century, Pentecost was the name given to the final feast day of the fifty days. Over time, a liturgy and an eight-day vigil leading up to Pentecost formed around the day. These holy days were second only to Easter in importance for early believers.

Because the date of Pentecost is calculated based on the date of Easter via the lunar cycle, the earliest date in the Western church for Pentecost is May 10th, and the latest date is June 13th. In these churches, Pentecost Sunday became an alternate day for baptisms for those who could not be baptized on Easter.

When?

Pentecost is directly tied to the date in which Easter is celebrated each year. It’s considered a “moveable feast” as it is not anchored to the Julian/Gregorian calendar. Because the date of Pentecost is calculated based on the date of Easter via the lunar cycle, the earliest date in the Western church for Pentecost is May 10th, and the latest date is June 13th. In these churches, Pentecost Sunday became an alternate day for baptisms for those who could not be baptized on Easter.

Pentecost had a place on the yearly Christian calendar from the second century. Pasche, the observance of the resurrection, was the first name for the entire fifty-day period between Easter Sunday and Pentecost Sunday. By end of third century, Pentecost was the name given to the final feast day of the fifty days.

Why?

Paul uses the language of Shavuot, the Jewish festival with a focus on offering of the first fruits of the new wheat crop, to speak about the resurrection of Jesus to his friends at Corinth:

If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.  But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.  For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.  But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.  Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power.  For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.  The last enemy to be destroyed is death. (1 Corinthians 15:19-26)

God gave the Holy Spirit was given to the Church so we’d be empowered to do the kingdom works Jesus didproclaiming good news to the poor, freedom to prisoners, recovery of sight to the blind, and setting the oppressed free. Acts 2 baptism with tongues of fire – a reversal of Babel’s confusion and shattered community  – that set free the community of believers to live their birthright as children of the King.

How?

Liturgical churches use the tried-and-true order of service for Pentecost Sunday. (Here’s a link to a selection of liturgical prayers for the day.) Low-church (churches that don’t use a formal liturgy for corporate worship) Charismatics and Pentecostals seek to live in Pentecost’s reality every day, thus, they don’t tend to mark the day. Those from other low-church traditions interested in celebrating the gift of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the big C Church may find some inspiration for service planning here.

And for all of us, Audrey Assad’s achingly lovely prayer, Spirit Of The Living God

At The Intersection Of Time & Eternity: Pentecost

To read more of Michelle’s writing, go to her website: Michelle Van Loon.Com

 

Be a Chopstick to a Pepper

By: Sara Buffington, Hearts Alive Sunday School Curriculum Writer

This spring has brought a new hobby to our household: vegetable gardening. My seven-year-old, who prior to this was only interested in toys involving batteries, has fallen in love with growing our own food.  We are only beginners, and we are learning as we go.

Last week an “accident” befell our tiny chili pepper plant.  We had had a thunderstorm, and the rain and the wind had toppled the plant.  “Mommy help!” my son cried. “Our plant has fallen over!”  Anxiety turned to relief as we straightened the plant and applied more soil around the base.  A few days (and another rainy and windy day) later, the plant toppled again.  When it happened a third time, I knew we needed another solution.

Feeling like a genius, I ran to the kitchen to dig out an old chopstick and a twist tie from the junk drawer.  We “staked” the plant by shoving the chopstick in the soil next to the delicate stem.  We entwined chopstick and plant together with the plastic twist tie.  Now the chili pepper stays erect during howling wind and rain.

Jesus was fond of the agricultural metaphor: scattering seeds, the grain of wheat, and staying connected to the vine.  Like plants, we grow, we take root, we live, and we die.  As I staked that little pepper plant with my son, I thought about how he had things in common with it: they are both young, they both have shallow roots, and they both need someone or something to help hold them up.

When we, as teachers or parents, care for a child and teach them about God’s love, we can be the chopstick that holds them up as they grow.  As believers, should we not support one another? In time, their faith will strengthen, and their roots will deepen.  May our prayers for them echo Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians:  Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong” (Eph 3:17 NLT).

Meet the Hearts Alive Writers: Jill Turner

Jill Turner helps Hearts Alive Sunday school teachers understand the background for each week’s lesson.  Many of our users have commented on the value of this component and how it leads to more meaningful discussions with students.

 

Cultivating Children’s Love for Jesus

by David Sanford, Hearts Alive Writer

Why do children love Jesus so much? In the Gospels, it’s clear that they loved Jesus because He first loved them. Jesus wasn’t posing for future artists when He invited children to gather around Him. Actually, He didn’t have to do any coaxing. Children loved Him. So did their parents, who were eager for Jesus to bless their children.

Like a beloved uncle or grandfather, Jesus would put His hands on their heads and pray for them. I can imagine parents reminding their children, “Do you remember when Jesus prayed for you?” What a treasured memory.

It’s sometimes said that adults who love children at heart are really kids themselves. That is, they’ve retained the best qualities of their childhood.

While some grown-ups love to be around kids, some apparently don’t. There’s no question which when we look at Jesus.

Jesus loved to be with children. During His three and a half years of ministry as an adult, we see Jesus giving an amazing amount of priority to ministry to children. Jesus talks with children, something only parents and grandparents usually did in that culture. Jesus commends the faith of little children who, in that culture, were sometimes considered incapable and unable to truly embrace religious faith until they were almost teenagers.

Not only that, but we see Jesus blessing children. We see Him feeding them. We even see Jesus using a little boy’s sack lunch to feed the multitudes and send 12 hefty baskets full of leftovers to help feed others.

Beyond that, we see Jesus healing boys and girls who are demon-possessed and curing others who are sick and dying. He even resurrects a 12-year-old girl who had just died and an older boy who had died a few hours earlier.

In his preaching and teaching, Jesus said that children are a strategic, essential part of his kingdom in heaven and on earth. In so many words, Jesus told his disciples, “Listen, my kingdom belongs to kids.” Not only that, but Jesus goes on to say, “Unless you become like a little kid, you can’t even get into My kingdom.”

What is Jesus talking about? Well, what are kids good at doing? They’re good at receiving. When you’re a small child, your mom and dad give you some food. What do you do? You receive it. Your grandparents send you a birthday satchel with five shekels in it. What do you do? You receive it. God gives you a sunny day to go outside and play. What do you do? You receive it.

The same thing applies when it comes to God’s kingdom. Can you work really hard to get a part of God’s kingdom? No. Can you be good enough, for long enough, to get a part of God’s kingdom? Again, no. Can you pay lots of money to get a part of God’s kingdom? No. That’s what grown-ups would try to do. Jesus says, That’s not the way to get into My kingdom. My kingdom isn’t like that at all. To get into My kingdom you have to get down lower—humble yourself—and trust Me.

What do you have to do to get a part of God’s kingdom? That’s right. You have to receive something. Or, specifically, Someone.

In all we do with children, let’s be sure to cultivate their love for Jesus.

The Servant Life Hearts Alive Palm Sunday Reflections

There’s a bumper sticker that some of you may have seen, it says: Salt Life. I imagine this to mean a life dedicated to spending as much time as possible at the beach: swimming, tanning, jet skiing, surfing, fishing, basically celebrating sun and sand. This coming week’s Palm Sunday lesson in our Hearts Alive curriculum for kids is about The Servant Life, and if you are reading this blog as a Sunday school teacher, congratulations! You are already immersed in Servant Life. As a servant, you know that there can be days that it is a thankless job. You sacrifice a leisurely morning in bed to the rush of preparing for class and sometimes dealing with the behavioral issues of other people’s children. There are those rewarding moments when you see the difference that knowing Christ can make in a child’s life, but most of the time, you will not witness the fruit of your labors. You won’t see the comfort that God brings to a child when he faces a small social challenge or even a full blown crisis in the future. Yet let me assure you, that seed is taking root. God’s Word never returns empty and will accomplish what HE desires (Isaiah 55:11 NIV).

The opposite of the Servant Life is the King Life, and He who is the worthiest, King of all Kings, spurned this life while He lived on earth. It is the life that many in the secular culture sing about… Greed, power, pleasure, cutting down others, being successful, demanding respect and adulation. It is a me-focused life. This week’s Heart’s Alive lesson is a great opportunity to ask ourselves and our students to reflect upon which lifestyle we have chosen for ourselves. Are we little “kings” always demanding to go first, to speak the most, never to wait, and always have our way? Or do we follow the example of our Lord who washed others feet and died a horrible death on the cross to pay a debt that He certainly didn’t owe, but gave out of love. The King Life seems more fun than the Servant Life, but this is a temporary delusion. Lasting fulfillment and happiness is always found in serving others.

“The greatest among you will be your servant.” Matthew 22:11, NIV

“My Father will honor the one who serves me.” John 12:26, NIV

“In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'” Acts 20:35, NIV

Share This: