Friday, December 28, 2007

The Importance of a Loving Father

Aside from a brief period in junior high, I never questioned my parents' love for me. And even then, I just had a hard time grasping that my dad loved me for me, and not for what I did (difference in love languages). Little did I know, or even realize until recently, what a profound impact that understanding of love would have on my relationship with the Lord.

At Women's Retreat in November I kept hearing ladies comment on how hard it was for them to accept that God truly loved them. I honestly wondered if there was something wrong with me. I can't think of a time when I've had a hard time accepting God's love. I know He created me in His image, He has a plan for me, and even better than that--He loves me with an everlasting love! I might even err at times on the side of forgetting that I am a sinner because I know how much God loves me. I shared my awkward feelings over easily accepting God's love with a friend of mine and she felt the same way. We finally came to the conclusion that because we felt unconditional love from our earthly fathers, acceptance of love from our Heavenly Father came easily.

Sadly, at one session of the retreat, the speaker asked for all the women who grew up with a loving father to raise their hands. Less than half of the women were able to make such a claim. This retreat was in November, and I still haven't been able to shake that reality. A loving father makes such a difference in a child's understanding of God's love.

I know that I am a daughter of the King because my dad not only called me "Princess," he treated me like one too. I know that God has created me in His image and His design for me is perfect because I grew up being told that I was beautiful. I know that I need have my heart reflect my outside because I was always challenged to be pretty on the inside. And I know that despite a difficult time or phase in my life, God still loves me because after receiving discipline I was told, "I love you."

If only all fathers could understand the importance of loving their daughters. Cherish your little girls. Show her how a gentleman would treat her. Tell her she's beautiful. Your words and your actions will help shape her understanding of her Heavenly Father. Your words and your actions will help grow her up into a woman of God.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

A Complete Family

A family in our church is in the process of adopting a little girl from China. I just finished reading their story of the process so far, and it made me look forward to the day she joins our ministry!

We need to be sure that we're always ready to minister to children of all backgrounds. Different life stories influence the needs each child has as they enter our doors. Some may not have had a complete breakfast that morning, or even dinner the night before. Others may face instability in their home from day to day and need a safe and secure environment. Some may have recently joined a new foster home, while others may have just been adopted into their forever family. Whatever their story, we want Sunday morning to be one of the happy, joyful and safe chapters of their life.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Intentionally Sharing with the Lost

We had a ministry staff get-away today to look at our church's vision statement and evaluate how well our ministries are actually doing at following the values expressed in that statement. The vision of Morning Star is to be a worshipping family of believers who are growing in our faith, loving God and others, serving in our gifts and sharing with the lost. As we looked at the different elements, I felt encouraged by most of them that Children's Ministries is currently in achievement mode. But then when we got to "sharing with the lost," things became diluted. While yes, we are sharing with the lost through the ministries currently functioning under the umbrella of Children's Ministries, but what are we doing to intentionally share with the lost?
We used to do a Fall Fun Fest under the description of "outreach". But when we actually surveyed those who attended, it was realized that only 1% of the 500+ who came were unchurched. VBS could also be considered an outreach because we emphasize the kids bringing friends, and present the salvation message through our lessons over the course of the week. But our purpose isn't specifically to share with the lost.
So now I'm at a loss. It's not like we can take our kids on a mission trip or go street-witnessing downtown. Yes, I can give the kids tools to be mini-evangelists in their schools or neighborhoods. But on the programming end of ministry, what can I formalize along the lines of specific outreach? If you have any thoughts or ideas, I'd love to hear them. Just post a comment!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Setting Up the Christmas Tree... Three Times

We got our Christmas tree on Friday (the day after Thanksgiving). Yes, I know Christmas is still a ways off, but I LOVE the Christmas season, and the longer it lasts the better. So we hiked around a tree lot on the beautiful (yet freezing) day for an hour. It was quite the accomplishment considering the tree hunt took three hours last year. Then it was home with the tree, decorations hung, the house decked out, and festive music played. Ah, the sense of accomplishment. But then, at 1 am we had just settled down for a long winter's nap, when down in the living room there arose such a clatter. We sprang from the bed to see what was the matter. Down the staircase we flew like a flash... OK, different story. But all that to say, the cats had climbed the tree and knocked all 9 feet of it over. So instead of sleeping, we were re-standing the tree, picking up pieces of broken ornaments and attaching 70 pounds of weights and rope to the trunk to keep the tree up in case the cats decided to climb again.

The tree adventure wasn't finished though. The next day it still felt wobbly so we took it out of the stand, repositioned it and decorated it once more. On Sunday we bought more ornaments to replace to broken ones, and for the third time in one weekend, I decorated the tree.

But as I sit here, looking at its lit beauty, I love it. The cats could knock it over again and again, and I'd rehang the ornaments and lights again and again. It's worth it. Children's Ministries can be the same way. You put weeks, days and hours of work into an event only to have a small turnout. You pour your heart into leading worship only to have a sleepy response. You write email after email of details to volunteers only to hear that they never read them. But you keep doing it. Why? Because ministry is beautiful. Seeing hearts grow in their love for the Lord is beautiful. Hearing a child pray to accept Jesus as their Forever Friend is beautiful. The rewards--the changed lives, devotion to the Lord, genuine worship, and people serving in their giftings--are worth it.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Being Teachable

My parents love ministry. While I was in high school, evenings were spent listening to them talk for hours about how church "should" be done. Or their latest learnings from books on ministry. Or what we need to be paying attention to in order to truly reach people. I grew to wish I didn't have to hear another thing about ministry... after all, I wasn't planning on going into it vocationally. But God works in amazing ways, and I now look back on those conversations with great appreciation. Last May, as my dad drove me and Nolan to the Baltimore Airport at 4 am, I found myself in another one of those conversations. This time, it was my dad reminding me of how essential it is as a ministry leader to remain teachable. I was sleepy, so I didn't put too much thought into the subject. But lately, his words have played through my mind with sparkling clarity.

Things have been going well lately in our Children's Ministry, and it would be so easy to just sit back and enjoy the goodness of it. To become confident in my own abilities and embrace the mentality that I have arrived. But the reality is that while an element of smoothness has been achieved on Sunday mornings, I still have so much more to learn. Being teachable means looking for ways to grow, areas to improve, and new ideas to implement.

Being teachable doesn't happen without looking inwardly. My job can't be soley about taking care of the needs of others. I need to carefully evaluate my own skills and take time for personal leadership development. So today, in an effort to keep growing, I took some time to myself. A few months ago I purchased the book, "Lead the Way God Made You" by Larry Shallenberger. Since then, I've carried it in my laptop bag every day, but haven't made the time to get past page 4. Today, I dove in at a coffee shop. Already, it's proving to be a worthwhile, educational and profitable read. And after a delicious time of reading and eating, I met with our Senior Pastor's wife for our weekly Bible study. As I drove home, I felt refreshed. Today was about me--about growing and learning--and I loved it. Imaging how much more God could use me if I took more days like this to let Him reveal Himself to me, teach me and challenge me. I love it when my dad is right.

So how about you? What do you do to make sure you keep growing? To keep being teachable, whether it's in your ministry, your parenting, your work?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Follow the Compass of Gold

I always look forward to holiday movies. It seems like the year’s best hit theaters between Thanksgiving and Christmas. While some of this year’s films are being awaited with excitement, one movie is being met with great controversy. The Golden Compass, based on the first book of the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman, has stirred up discussions and controversy in Christian circles. On the surface, this fantasy movie has an enchanted look, but when the books it is based upon are examined, a strong anti-religion undercurrent is obvious.

Phillip Pullman, a talented and gifted British author, is a an agnostic. Pullman explains that his book “depicts the Temptation and Fall not as the source of all woe and misery, as in traditional Christian teaching, but as the beginning of true human freedom something to be celebrated, not lamented. And the Tempter is not an evil being like Satan, prompted by malice and envy, but a figure who might stand for Wisdom.”1 The characters in The Golden Compass discover that life is about living for yourself and your own desires. The conclusion in the third book, The Amber Spyglass, reveals that everyone came from Dust instead of a Creator, therefore everything the church had sought to serve never existed. While the first movie of the trilogy is based on the books, the strong anti-religion themes won’t be as obvious. “Several key themes of the novels…are to be diluted in the adaptation.”2

So how do we, as Christians, respond to The Golden Compass? 1 Peter 3:15-16 instructs us to “in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” We need to remember that no matter how we respond to this movie, God must receive glory.

In an interview, Pullman was asked, “Do you believe in God?” His response was, “I don’t know whether there’s a god or not… there may well be a god somewhere, hiding away. Actually, if he is keeping out of sight, it’s because he’s ashamed of his followers and all the cruelty and ignorance they’re responsible for promoting in his name.”3 Pullman doesn’t recognize the Truth. As believers, we need to be careful in our reaction and not prove Pullman’s point about the church. Instead, we should be like the compass in the books, and point toward Truth. Only the Truth we know comes from God, while the truth in Pullman’s books is found in man.

The Golden Compass isn’t the first book or movie to have anti-Christian themes, and neither is Pullman the last agnostic author. I hope that we can sift through the onslaught of media we face each day, and stand in love for God’s truth. “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground...” (Ephesians 6:13).

As Christian parents, take a stand for the truth. Know what movies your children are watching. Know what books they’re reading. Use God’s Word as the compass of gold for your family, and remember Philippians 4:8, “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

1. Question and Answer Session with Philip Pullman: www.randomhouse.com/features/pullman/author/qa.html
2. The Golden Compass (film): en.wikipedia.org/wiki/His_Dark_Materials:_The_Golden_Compass
3. Philip Pullman Q&A: http://booktalk.guardian.co.uk/WebX?50@@.ee9d102/9

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Serving Our God as One

I’ve really been enjoying the show, Kid Nation, and all of the challenges the kids participate in. Each week, the children are faced with an opportunity to show teamwork. As individual districts, they are working toward the goal of social standing in Bonanza City. As a city, they are working toward a prize. All four of the districts need to complete their challenges within an hour in order to get something great like a washing machine or a disco party. The older kids take on heavier, specific roles in many of the challenges, while the littler ones are given tasks within their strengths. Each person plays their specific role in order to help the whole. Without everyone succeeding, there is no prize.

As I was thinking about it this morning, I realized that the church works the same way. Each ministry is working within itself, using people in their strengths and gifting in order to achieve what we call Children’s Ministries, Student Ministries, Credo, etc. For the most part, we do it really well. We complete our tasks. But it seems so easy to forget the second part of the challenge—working as different ministries toward one big goal, the big prize. We keep ourselves separated, forgetting that we belong to the church as a whole.

So how do we unify? How do we continue to make our individual ministries happen without ignoring the greater needs of the church? It takes unity and support. It takes an understanding that while your ministry is valuable and important, it shouldn’t be a priority over any other ministry. It takes recognizing that God has gifted you in one area but not necessarily another. Appreciate those who are gifted differently. I’m so thankful for our middle school pastor! If I had to do his job, we’d have a lot of dead kids on our hands. While my ministry to children greatly differs from Pattie’s ministry to women, we still need to recognize the importance of both while respecting the varied methods. It warms my heart when our college pastor says there’s no way he could ever do what I do. In the same way, I could never do his job.

With mutual respect comes support. Stepping out of my ministry box and understanding that it might be insulting to the other ministries to have a kids’ kitchen against the wall in the auditorium while they try to present themselves as relevant to a critical culture and therefore storing it away midweek shows support. Sure it takes extra effort to pull the large piece of plastic out and put it away each week, but being able to support my fellow ministers is worth the work. In the same way I love their support in respecting the items in our Sunday school classrooms throughout the week.

When we all work hard within our specific areas, we can do great things for God. But when we all join together as a church, amazing things can be accomplished. While the ministry I do with the children, their parents, and the volunteers doesn’t give me social standing as it does on Kid Nation, something is achieved. But just like the kids in Bonanza City, the best reward doesn’t happen until the ministries I work alongside accomplish their goals as well. Do I want to see our church grow spiritually? Would I like to see new families join our fellowship? Am I overjoyed by commitments to Christ? Yes! But can I do it by myself, on an island, without the support of those I work with? No. True church takes unity and support. It happens when the body of believers, gifted in a variety of ways, join together united to serve our God as one.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Being the Dreamer God Made Me to Be

I've always been a dreamer. As a child it meant I lived in imaginary worlds where I was the mother of twelve children, or the teacher to a class of third graders, or even living in the "olden days" helping with the underground railroad. As an adult, my imagination has transferred into dreaming for the future. In college, a speaker once said that her most frequent prayer is, "What dreams do You have for me, God?" Since then, I have been asking the same question, and have loved the response from Him!
It was God's dreams that showed me that I can be a Children's Ministries Director, even though I'm young and don't have children of my own. It was God's dreams that made it possible for me to be at a church that was willing to invest nine months of training into me in order to prepare me to lead this ministry. It was God's dreams that allowed my Executive Pastor to recognize that I am a dreamer and give me the freedom to do so.
For the last month I've felt like my dreams were slowing down. Life became full of the day to day without a passion and excitement for what could be. While that meant a lot of needed business was accomplished, there was so much desire for the future that lacked. But the dreams have once again started to spark! I've found how essential it is to have conversations with other dreamers. To be reminded that so often what could be should be. To see that excellence requires endurance--a willingness to tread through the challenges that come with making a dream a reality. But above all that, to be who God has created me to be--the dreamer He has created me to be, and to lead this ministry in that way.
I feel like God has Morning Star on the cusp of something great. For some reason, my mind went to the scene at the end of Mary Poppins when the winds change, signaling that it's time for Mary to move on; signaling a time of transition. The winds of dreams are starting to pick up, and oh how that excites me!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Friday, October 12, 2007

Equipping Our Kids to Change a Nation

While the show Kid Nation on CBS has received mixed criticisms, my husband and I are really enjoying it. It’s fascinating to watch kids of various ages problem solve and analyze their issues in the ghost town of Bonanza City. While I expected to find a variety of ideas from the show regarding cool VBS games and methods for grouping kids, little did I know there’d be a powerful lesson for Children’s Ministries.

In this week’s episode, the issue of religion was brought up. While I’m sure quite a few conversations hit the editing floor, I was sad to see how Christianity was represented by some of the children. Some said they were Christians and used that as license to mock the Jews. Other said they were Christians yet struggled when asked to explain it. And some claimed Christianity yet were eager to participate in ceremonies worshipping other gods.

If we are properly equipping our Children to be life-long followers of Christ, we need to be giving them the tools to not only understand their faith, but defend their faith at a young age. 1 Peter 3:15, 16 says, “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”

We need to be helping our children discover the answers about their faith so that when asked to defend it, their answer is personal. They know what they believe because they’ve discovered it (with help and guidance) for themselves. And not only do we need to be giving them the tools to answer, but the instruction to do so with respect. A respectful defense of your faith doesn’t mean not allowing the other to speak. It doesn’t mean cruel words. It doesn’t mean maliciousness. It’s gentle.

I would hope that if a kid from my program went on Kid Nation, they’d be a strong witness. And that hope serves as a challenge for me and the parents in my church. Our kids could change a nation.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

October

I just have to say that October is proving to be every bit as wonderful as I hoped it would be.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Making It Sticky--Simple and Unexpected

Our team has been reading the book Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. It's a great resource! We've been using it to look at how we can market our ministry to the church in a way that really reaches people. This week I posed the question of what can we be doing to genuinely reach people? How can we help them see, experience and understand our mission? What can we do to make Children's Ministries at Morning Star really stick? How do we communicate the core (mission)of our ministry?

The Heath brothers' give a wonderful acronym for sticky ideas, SUCCESs.
Simple
Unexpected
Concrete
Credible
Emotions
Stories

Since we're only through the first two chapters of the book, our focus was on simple and unexpected. Parents in our ministry (as I'm sure in all Children's Ministries) are bombarded with paperwork each week from school newsletters to advertisements in the mail box. How can we make it so that what we send home doesn't get classified as another piece of paper? We need to keep it simple and to the point. "Compact ideas help people learn and remember a core message" (Made to Stick pg 48).

I love to talk, write, read--anything dealing with words. I wish I could write a long, newsy note to parents each week and have it actually be effective! So while the temptation for me would be to give every parent the long version of what our ministry stands for, it wouldn't stick with them. It needs to stay simple. In the same way a catchy, repetitive song sticks in your head, a simple message will carry with a parent despite a paper overload in all other areas of their life.

"The first problem of communication is getting people's attention" (pg. 64). It doesn't matter how wonderful my simple message is unless I communicate it in a way that catches someone's eye. The unexpected message doesn't blend in. Whether it's a flier of a different shape, a video instead of a spoken announcement, or a child wearing a sandwich board instead of a sign on the wall, it stands out. A sticky idea not only gets attention, it holds attention; it's valuable. The Heath brothers explain that surprise gets attention and interest keeps attention.

My message to families needs to be worth their time. My unexpected message gets me a listening ear (or a watchful eye). My simple message gets them to pay attention to the point of understanding. Say I want a family to attend an upcoming event. In our world of electronic communication, a hand written note is unexpected. And not only that, a personalized note is endearing. Keeping it short and to the point not only saves me from a lot of writer's cramp, it leaves my main message in their minds.

I'm looking forward to next week as we look at the concrete side of sticky ideas and making sure people get what I'm talking about. I hope to see a transformation in the way our communication sticks to those in the church. This book is sticking with me :) What sticks with you?

Thursday, October 4, 2007

October is Finally Here!

I love the month of October. Beyond the joy brought by watching trees change colors, the weather turn cool, and a change in wardrobe, it's my favorite month in Children's Ministries. September is a crazy month of finding the right people for the right roles, training new volunteers, and children going crazy with the weather change. Then October comes and I breath a sigh of relief. People know what they're doing. Kids are becoming accustomed to sitting for longer periods of time but aren't tired of learning yet. October is the time where I get to analyze our current effectiveness, make improvements to the look of our lobby, start visiting with parents who disappeared over the summer. And I relax, knowing November will come soon enough, and with it illnesses, holidays and anxiety from the kids for a vacation. But for now, it's October and I love it!

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Numbers Aren't Everything

For as mathematically declined as I am, it's surprising that when it comes to Children's Ministries, I love numbers. Every Monday I take the numbers from Sunday's attendance and input them in an Excel document to chart our growth/loss and track what times of year are busy/slow. I have three years worth of Sundays recorded for each department (nursery, preschool, elementary, etc.). I love comparing the numbers! The problem happens when I start to judge the success of an event by the numbers. The perfect example of this happened Friday night.
A year ago we started doing a family service six times a year called FX (Family Experience). I'd LOVE to see it become a must-schedule for all the families of Morning Star. Last year our highest attended FX was in January with 95 people. It was amazing because it was only our second FX, and had doubled the first one's attendance. Friday we had our first FX of the year and 40 people attended. It was the most enthusiastic crowd we've had yet. They kids participated passionately, the parents joined me enthusiastically with motions for worship. Each family acknowledged to how much they love coming to FX. And if you were to ask me what kind of families need FX the most, three of the perfect candidates were there. Sounds like a success, doesn't it?
Then why do I look at the number 40 as a flop? Why do I keep measuring the success in numbers rather than family growth? When I start looking at the number, I don't think about the family that desperately needed encouragement and felt called to come join us for pizza and a program. When I start looking at the number, I don't recognize the father who doesn't join his family on Sunday but came for FX. When I start looking at the number, I don't remember the sweetness of two little boys making an invitation to give their father for the next FX. When I start looking at the number, I forget about the family that supports me and encourages me through everything I do. And, when I focus on the number 40, I loose sight of the fact that that 40 was more enthusiastic than our crowd of 95 ever was.
While numbers can make a good gauge for tracking what works and what doesn't, and they help watch for patterns, the true evaluation should come from the stories seen and heard as a result of our efforts. And if I'm evaluating off of those stories--FX was a HUGE success.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Stay on Target

Every summer my family took a 16-hour car ride to California to visit my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. The best part of the vacation was staying at my grandparents’ farm. The house was full of memories—sights, smells, textures and experiences. Mornings on the farm began with breakfast on the patio, followed by some target practice with the bb gun. My brothers and I would take turns shooting pop cans off a stump at the far end of my grandparents’ yard. Because the cans were so small, and my marksmanship needed fine-tuning, I employed the use of lawn chairs for better aim. With the chair facing me, I’d rest the barrel of the gun on top of the chair back. Then, with one eye squinted, I’d watch carefully until the aiming bead at the end of the barrel lined up with the can. A gentle pull on the trigger and—“twink,” I’d made contact. Or, “thunk,” I’d missed and hit the stump instead. The best was when the can went flying, signaling perfect aim.
In Children’s Ministries we’re also aiming at a ministry target—the target of equipping children and families to become complete in Christ and love Him for a lifetime. So we integrate bb gun wisdom in hitting the target. We use tools to help us send the can flying. Just as I needed a lawn chair to help steady my hand, we have four key values to guide each ministry decision—teaching the Bible creatively in a child targeted manner, building relationships, providing family resource tools, and safety. In in the end, the bead that we line the target with is the children.
Staying on target in ministry is essential. Because we want each shot to be dead on, we carefully reevaluate, looking for effectiveness. From our current way of doing Sunday mornings to communication with parents to extra events, we analyze what is the best use of the time, energy and resources God has given us. How can we be better stewards? A year ago we began looking at Fall Fun Fest. While it was fun and exciting and loaded with candy, we asked if it lined up with our ministry target? We found that we were actually hitting the stump instead of the target in view of our values.
This year, we will not be having Fall Fun Fest. Instead, we are excitedly planning a fun, high energy Family Experience where parents and kids can learn and worship together. Family Experience (FX) happens 6 times a year and each one focuses on a different key concept or virtue. The October FX will be looking at Outreach, specifically to your neighborhood. FX is a lot of fun and we hope you’ll join us. While it’s geared toward elementary aged kids and their parents, it is entertaining enough for a preschool aged child to have fun, deep enough for a middle school student to enjoy and relaxed so you don’t have to worry if your baby cries.
We’re working hard to keep our ministry on target. Just the phrase “stay on target” reminds me of a scene from Star Wars where the pilots are aiming for the Death Star, and one of the them keeps reminding in his monotone voice, “Stay on target, stay on target.” Without great focus, we’re going to miss our target.

Monday, September 10, 2007

A Real Pain in the Neck

A week ago we were building toward one of our biggest Sundays of the year. We were prepping for a total reorganization of our elementary department, and prepping for promotion of almost all children. Three days ago I was setting up for an open house and then analyzing how many name tags we needed to print ahead of time. Two days ago we were hosting an open house for the new kindergartners so they wouldn't be as intimidated by the "big" Grow Zone. Yesterday, I hit the snooze button on my alarm clock, rolled over, my neck popped and then pain hit. I couldn't move my head without a sharp pain in my neck and the muscles in my shoulder cramping. All I could think was "not today, not today."
After several attempts followed by screams and tears, my husband and I realized there was no way to get me out of bed, therefore, there was no way I'd be going to church. But of course, the show must still go on. My husband delivered the few items that were still in my car, and my team took over. They did great! While yes, quite a few things went wrong like the computer crashing right before worship, some volunteers didn't show up, and parents failed to read some of the signs and became confused. But the kids still learned and had a great experience.
All this just reminded me how important it is not to hold too tightly to control. That no matter how well organized you may be, others need to be invited into that creative zone deep within you. Jared, our Grow Zone Director, asked one of the best questions he could have thought of on Saturday before our open house. He said, "Could we go through exactly everything that's going to happen tomorrow so I can be sure that I understand all that you've been thinking?" Our conversation revealed we were on the same page. But had we not gone through it, I'm sure his confidence level when pushed into leading on his own would have been much lower.
Amy, my Early Childhood Director, thinks much differently than I do. While I'm completely global, she's completely analytical. One of the biggest lessons I've learned from working with her is that no matter how lined out an event or a project is in my mind, it does no good to our group as a whole unless I put it on paper.
While I would have LOVED to have woken up without a pain in my neck, I am thankful that things still happened. Our executive pastor has reminded me that the true test of an effective team is to have the leader gone and see if things still function. I'd say we have a great team!

Friday, August 10, 2007

Lessons from my Cat

My husband and I have a crazy cat. He loves to fly around our house like a mad-cat, and randomly jump against the wall. The real treat happens when he jumps and grabs a door frame, five feet up, and clings to both sides of the frame with all four paws, a wild look in his eyes as he checks to see if I noticed. Other times he takes the calmer approach and simply jumps against the wall six feet up. I have the scratched paint to prove it. One day, my husband pointed out that Wylie (our cat) is like a five-year-old trying to get attention. The "Look at Me!" mentality. Whatever he's doing, I can just hear him thinking, "Look how fast I can run!" or "Watch, I can jump high!" or "Did you see that? I jumped!"
Once the five-year-old behavior was pinpointed, I remembered a time at church one Sunday. Elaina, one of our kindergartners, first proudly showed me that her bangs had been cut (I didn't see a difference) and then kept asking what else was different about her hair. I wasn't sure, after all, nothing looked new, she simply wore two pig-tails. Turns out she'd never worn pig-tails before, so this was very exciting! And my Elaina encounter didn't end there. She then pro ceded to run back and forth across the room, calling out, "Look at me teacher Jill! Do you see how fast I am?"
The first couple laps back and forth were easy to be excited about. But when she kept going, my enthusiasm began to waiver. I still needed to make sure all the volunteers showed up, make contact with a specific parent, and get some fliers to another class.
My husband's observation of the similarity between our cat and a five-year-old made Elaina's antics click in my mind. She is at an age of discovery where every coordinated movement or new look is exciting! She is so proud of what she's capable of. But when I get caught up in all that I have to do on a Sunday morning, I loose sight of the most important aspect of my job--the children. Rather than looking up at all the adults and tasks, I should be looking down at all the kids. Getting excited about every accomplishment, celebrating a high running speed, and being equally excited about the first ever pig-tails.
They may not be jumping six feet in the air or grabbing door frames, but the kids in my ministry are designed wonderfully, and deserve all the praise and attention I can give.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

It's That Time of Year Again...

September is looming. And so is the dry erase board in my office. On it I have a line for each volunteer needed in the fall. And some of those lines are filled, but unfortunately, quite a few are still blank (something to celebrate though! More lines are filled than in past years!). This is the time of year when people start avoiding eye contact with me. Oddly enough, though, I love recruiting! My husband starts laughing when in a conversation, someone says they're majoring in education, or love kids, or enjoy their nieces and nephews. He knows what question is coming. "Oh really? Have you ever considered working in Children's Ministries?"
While I never want to be seen as a stalker, I love making one on one contact with a person, and inviting them to join our team. I'd way rather have a conversation about what appeals, what age group is favored, and what services a person is available than just depend on an ad in the bulletin.
Two years ago we started a new "marketing scheme" for fall recruitment. People didn't seem to notice the onslaught of "URGENT NEED" notices in the bulletin, so we took a more gentle approach. We planted ourselves with a booth in front of the main entrance to the church with large pictures of children's faces and a big sign that said, "Amazing Face: Who influenced the life of this child?" During announcements in "big" church, a picture was shown of one of our staff people as a baby (one week it was the senior pastor, another week the executive pastor, another week the middle school pastor). Everyone was invited to come to our booth and guess who the baby in the picture was. And then, we would draw one correct entry randomly, and that person got a $20 gift certificate to a local restaurant.
Here's the catch... the entry form was also the sign up form for working in Children's Ministries! We had soooo many people volunteer!
The next year our theme was a play off of Master Card commercials, only we called it Master Care. Playing games-5 minutes. Leading hand motions-15 minutes. Holding a baby-30 minutes. Leading a child to Christ--Eternal.
This year, our theme is "Flip a Child's Future for Christ." We've printed up stories of children who's futures looked bleak until a friend brought them to church. Now, their future is being flipped. We'll see how it goes.
But all this to say, as much as I don't like the frustration of seeing blank lines filled slowly, I love recruiting!

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Upholding the Standard of Excellence

Sometimes I don't want to worry about how something looks and settle for less than the best. But then I remember where I work and change my mind. At our church, there is a high standard for image. Some perceive it as a vanity issue. I see it as obedience. God put His absolute best into creation. After all, He made us in His image. Why should we, His followers, be content with just ok? It seems like in Children's Ministries, it's easy to loose track of a good image, after all, do the kids really care how our display table looks?
Our Women's Ministries Director makes every display she does beautiful. It doesn't matter if it's for a season-long Bible study or a one night event, her promotion displays are elegant. My hope is to make a "Pattie Quality" look to everything I do. I want my Children's Ministries displays and tables to catch the eye of a mother and make her want to be a part of something so nice. To be specific and to the point for the person who has to stop by quickly. To instill excitement in onlookers. But most of all, I want to honor the Lord by putting the effort into making my work reflect the work He did in me.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

A Safe Place

This year, the Fourth of July was a special day for my family. My younger brother, Mike, has been in the Army and serving as a guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery for the last three years. His time of service has come to an end, so the fourth was his last walk at the tomb. My parents, aunt, uncle, cousins and their spouses were all able to participate in watching Mike honor these fallen soldiers one last time. But for Mike, one of his greatest opportunities to show respect occurred on Memorial Day.
While instructing a group of four people in the wreath-laying ceremony, Mike noticed the one lady wore a button with a picture of her Marine son who died in Iraq. Throughout the ceremony the woman sobbed. After they were done and returned to a secluded place, Mike asked the lady if he could give her a hug. The tightness with which she clung to him caused him to weep. After all, he’s told our mom many times that he does this for the mothers who have to watch their children go off to war and then never seen them again.
While my own mother is able to see her son on a regular basis and hasn’t had to watch him go to war, she has seen him walk away and not yet come back spiritually. Mike was the preschooler who hated going to Sunday school. In an effort to help him willingly enter his class at four years old, my parents started teaching Mike’s class. My parents’ involvement allowed his early years to be full of good memories at church. But as he reached his teens, church no longer felt like a safe place. He was teased and unwelcome. So much so, at the age of sixteen he decided he no longer believed in God. Throughout high school his hair color and mood changed several times, and he couldn’t bring himself to say he loved our family. But we kept praying. Now twenty-three, he still doesn’t believe, but our relationship with him has been restored. In fact, yesterday he finished our phone conversation with “I love you.”
I know there are Michael Steiners in our ministry. Remembering his experience drives me to want to make sure your children always feel safe within the walls of Morning Star. Whether that safety is found physically in the way we staff our classes or found emotionally in the level of acceptance and love they feel, my prayer is that our kids are safe. And that safety they sense here is transferred to their relationship with Jesus, Who’s love never fails.

Monday, July 2, 2007

VBS Final Skit

We had a blast at VBS last week! The elementary kids enjoyed visiting Willie Wantcha's Character Factory each day. On the final day, Willie's dad (played by Pastor Scott) visited to teach Willie a lesson on the Holy Spirit.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Here We Go...

Vacation Bible School starts Monday and we are ready! I'm really excited about quite a few things associated with VBS this year--our theme (Willie Wantcha and the Character Factory), our volunteers (believe it or not, we've reached our goal), and the decorations look great. Our kids will be learning about how as they grow in their relationship with God, they'll see growth, or the Fruit of the Spirit. It's going to be a great week!

Tuesday, May 1, 2007


Vacation Bible School--June 25-29
Child Registration and Volunteer Sign-Ups begin this Sunday, May 6!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

It's Almost Here!

The official Morning Star Children's Ministries website is almost finished! We're so excited to finally have an official website. It's address is www.morningstarkids.com. You can subscribe to receive email notifications every time something new is posted.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Modesty

A parent recently sent me a note regarding modesty among our children. I've observed that the clothing available to little girls is starting to have an older and older flavor. I'm sure parents have struggled with how to maintain their child's innocence in the midst of a changing world. I would highly encourage parents to look at how their children (specifically little girls) are dressing. Are these dress patterns that you would hope continue through their teenage years, or do you plan on them become more modest as they get older? I know that standards set today will carry into their older years. The letter below expands one why it is important to encourage modesty in our young girls.
Another parent reminded me that often the dress of the children is reflective of the parent or whoever is raising them. I have often felt challenged to look at my own wardrobe to make sure what I wear reflects Christ-like character. Denise Nelson once told me about what a wonderful opportunity I have by being a younger woman leading these little girls. She encourages me to be a person that I would want them to model after.
I hope you can take to heart what was shared with me.

Dear Friends,
I know spring is in the air because my kids are asking for Popsicles and to run through the sprinkler!
None of us subscribe to the exact same length of skirts, age when shorter shorts are prohibited, skorts appropriate or not, or programs allowed to be watched. This is fine but for the one or two days we are together for a Sunday school class, community group, or activity we attend together, it seems we could all abide the same "higher" or more "strict" standard. I am talking to myself as well as all of you. If you only have one pair of long shorts then save them for when you will be at community group, for example.
This came up from something my kids and I were listening to on the radio. The author of a very good book I have read, " For Women Only: What You Need To Know About the Inner Lives Of Men", Shanti Feldhahn was speaking about her new book, "For Young Women Only: What you need to know about how guys think". She was talking about the results of the surveys and interviews she did of 404 15 -20 year old boys.
It did not matter if they were Christian and conservative or not. They overwhelmingly said that when a girl wears a tight top or one with spaghetti straps, they can't help but file her away as a picture in their mental Rolodex. Although she thinks she is just cute, fashionable, or possible sexy, she would never want him to picture her naked! But unfortunately, that is what the boys said happens. Even though he does not want to and as Christians we train our sons to look away and fill their minds with good thoughts, the picture is there and it is very easy for them to go from the remembering of the tight tee shirt to picturing the same girl naked! As moms this can be shocking. As dads this maybe embarrassing and you won't want to admit it. Its OK. The 800+ 15-75 years old males admit it for you.
This brings me to why I write this. Fine, fine, that is some other boy; someone else's daughter. But.... after those comments were made on the radio, I turned to my own 12 year old son. Please trust me. He is a good and godly boy. Loves his friends and family. Doesn't lie to us (really!). Turns the channel when I am not even in the room if an inappropriate commercial or show comes on. I asked him if what Shaunti just said was true. He hung his head a bit and said," Yes". I apologized to him that this is even possible and something he has to deal with. "Is this a problem with girls you know, Son?" "Yes, sometimes," he said. Now I know that this is uncomfortable and I can not ask my son to tell you all this story or have him ask our friends to not wear thus and such. BUT I ,being the speaking the truth in love kind of gal that I am, can say this.
We are a family. We spend time together. A lot of time, tears, growing, laughter, and training is done through our relationships in Christ. I want all the kids to be safe, loved, respected, to be free to be young and not worry about what others may be thinking or picturing. These are the only "youth groups" that some of us have. They should be able to feel like sisters and brothers not like they need to avoid each other. We are not perfect, but this is something that needs to be addressed and continue to be so.
I looked up the dress code for Salem/Keizer public schools and clipped a few items to be discussed. The ball is in your court now parents. Let's get a consensus before the weather gets any warmer.
Thanks for your consideration. I just read a two great articles by Dannah and Bob Gresh called The Clothes Crisis and Helping Boys Stay Pure. They are the team that promotes modesty and keeping the female allure for marriage. Their website is
PureFreedom.org. The articles are found at http://www.christianitytoday.com/cpt/2002/005/4.44.html

Love,
Your Friend
P.S. Our son read this email and approved it.

from the Salem Keizer School district website:
Our main purpose as an educational institution is to assist students in presenting themselves in a manner that promotes a positive and productive school environment, personal pride, and academic success. Students' dress shall be modest, neat, clean, and in keeping with health, sanitary, and safety practices. To clearly establish this climate, the following are not acceptable:
-Clothing which compromises modesty. Immodest clothing such as tank tops, halter tops, tube tops, muscle shirts, backless tops/dresses or see through attire. Clothing that exposes inappropriate areas including undergarments, shoulders, and midriffs shall not be worn at school. Shorts and skirts that do not cover the mid thigh area. Fashion holes in pants must be below the thigh. Pants designed to sag below the hips will not be allowed. Pant legs must not drag on the ground.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Let's Celebrate!

Easter Sunday brought many reasons to celebrate. We reminded the kids that hearing about Jesus dying on the cross to save us from our sins, and then rising from the dead is something to be excited about! As a Children's Ministry staff, we can celebrate that we had over 500 kids in attendance! It was a full house, but a lot of fun. Children of all ages heard the salvation message that Easter brings, and many made first time commitments to follow Jesus. Thank you to all of our volunteers who so lovingly welcomed these kids to Morning Star!

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

A Lesson from my Dad

I remember walking into the grocery store with my dad when I was about six years old. I was holding his hand and practically running to keep up with him (he's six feet, four inches tall). "Someday you're going to get married," he told me. "You just make sure you marry someone with Jesus in his heart."
"I know, I know," was my response. This wasn't the first time my dad mentioned that standard for my future husband, and it most definitely wouldn't be the last. Even into my college years I heard the reminder in my dad's simple phrasing, "He has to have Jesus in his heart." Because I started hearing this message so young, and it continued throughout my growing up, a standard was engraved on my heart.
Thinking back, every boy I ever liked (even at the age of 8) was also a believer. As I became old enough to date, "Jesus in his heart" was my number one requirement. And of course, the man I married has a strong love for the Lord and desire to serve Him. With my dad's words ringing in my mind, I would have never considered anything else.
My dad didn't just pray for my future husband, he made sure I knew what to be looking for. He lived out Deuteronomy 6:6 and 7. "These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up." The Biblical truth of being equally yoked was mentioned at any time-while walking into the grocery store, driving in the car, or watching TV.
A conversation with a mom after church on Sunday reminded me of one of the best lessons my dad ever taught me. Looking at her six year old son made me realize how young I was when I started to think about my future husband. I looked the six-year-old in the eyes and told him, "You make sure whoever you marry has Jesus in her heart."
He looked me in the eyes and nodded, a confused look on his face. "OK, Teacher Jill."

Thursday, March 29, 2007

145 Dollars!

A few weeks ago, the curriculum for Grow Zone (second-fifth grades) challenged the kids to do work around the house for money. The money they earned was to go towards a class-wide giving project. On Sunday, we collected $145 from the kids to be given to the Union Gospel Mission! I was amazed by what the kids did. Not only did they understand the challenge, but they remembered to do it when they got home. Kids vacuumed their houses, cleaned gerbil cages, washed dishes, rubbed feet, etc. And they were so excited to know they were helping people who are less fortunate than themselves. Way to go Grow Zone!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Hello from Chicago!

Amy and I are currently attending the Children's Ministry conference at Willow Creek Community Church outside Chicago. Today was the first day, and it was GREAT! There is something so powerful about joining with 3000 other Children's Ministry workers from around the world. While there is so much I could share... for now, I'll stick to just one point. Today was encouraging.
Last year I attended the conference with my mom. Each day left me feeling inspired, overwhelmed, passionate, excited, scared, a mix of emotions. This year, I still feel inspired, passionate and excited. But along with that, I feel like our ministry is moving forward, and doing it well. This doesn't mean we don't still have room for improvement, or lots to do. But through conversations with other directors with ministries similar to our size, or slightly smaller, I was affirmed that Morning Star is a great place to work. My pastoral staff supports me in a way that is rare amoung Children's directors. My volunteers are dedicated and loyal. I love my job description. I have two staff team members who are also passionate about what they do, and our personalities compliment one another. We aren't having to work hard to gain the respect of our church, and mountains (within our church) don't need to be moved in order for us to carry out the dreams God has given us.
But beyond all that, the Word of God is being taught clearly to our children. They leave each Sunday with a greater understanding of His word, and how it applies to their lives. We still have a journey ahead of us. But I travel this road enthusasticly.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Why Do We Love Our Volunteers?

Children's Ministries at Morning Star depends on over 100 individuals per week who give of their time and energy to make sure that the young ones of our church know the love of the Lord. Without these volunteers the children could not be reached. I love seeing the different giftings in each person. From Deena Golden who can walk through a store and see props for a Bible story in ordinary items. To Tom Payseno who understands that our elementary aged boys need to grow into strong men of God. Or Connie Hammond who prepares crafts for two and three-year-olds. Laura Snodgrass not only loves to teach, but she also loves to shop for our tape, scissors, paper, crackers, glue... We have baby holders, toy cleaners, people greeters, name tag writers, lesson teachers, craft makers, song leaders, bathroom takers, table lifters, chair movers, oh the list goes on and on! Without all of you, our ministry could not exist! Thank you for what you do, and be assured that you are making a difference.

Appreciation Video

To all of our volunteers--Thank you so much! We really appreciate you!

Monday, March 5, 2007

Family Experience


This Friday, March 9 is our third Family Experience and I'm so excited! The first two went really well, so it'll be neat to see what happens through this one. Our key concept is "Generosity: Making someone's day by giving something away." We have a great acting team lined up to help illustrate the Bible story! If you aren't familiar with how FX works, here's some background information:
The two greatest influences on the life of a child are the family and the church. On average, the church has about forty hours a year with a child. The family, on the other hand, has three thousand hours. As the church, we would like to engage the family. We would like to combine these two influences. After all, wouldn’t two combined influences have a greater impact than only two influences?
The goal of FX has two parts. One goal is to get parents of elementary aged children excited about what their kids are learning at church. The other goal is to coach parents in how to further their child’s spiritual learning at home.

FX will be high-energy, exciting and fun. It is designed to be a time where kids bring the parents to church. We’ll begin with high energy worship and then slow the songs down so the kids see that their parents praise God just like they do. We will then expand on a lesson your children recently learned in either Discovery or Grow Zone, and provide an opportunity for the family to circle up for a small group time to discuss the lesson and pray together similar to a family devotional time.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Vacation Bible School 2007


Once again we are writing our own VBS! Last year it was so nice to create a program just for our kids and the way they work. With how well it went, how could we not write our own this year? Our theme is Willie Wantcha and the Character Factory with a focus on the Fruit of the Spirit. It's going to be great! If you like planning, we'd love to have your help! We are still looking for people to head up the planning of preschool crafts, preschool snacks, preschool games, elementary games, and volunteer coordination. Let us know if you're interested!

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Our Values

The goal of our ministry is to equip every child and family to become complete in Christ and love Him for a lifetime. In order to make sure we stick to that goal in all that we do, we have four key values. Any time we are planning a lesson or event, we make sure it fits within those values. They are: 1. teaching the Bible creatively in a child-targeted manner, 2. developing relationships, 3. providing family learning tools, and 4. safety.
Teaching the Bible Creatively in a Child-Targeted Manner
We want children to leave Morning Star each week with a greater understanding of God’s Word and how it relates to their lives. In order to help them gain this understanding, we teach the Bible in such a way that they’ll really hold on to it. A few of the “tools” we use are drama, songs, games or activities. We also understand that each child learns uniquely, so we try to teach to the different learning styles.
Developing Relationships
Community and belonging are important to foster any form of growth. Infants, toddlers, and preschoolers receive large amounts of one-on-one attention, while elementary aged kids get to be in small groups. We want children to leave knowing someone cares about them, and to see a familiar face when they return each week. Our teachers and leaders are modeling what it means to love and serve God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength.
Providing Family Learning Tools
We see church as a supplement to what parents are teaching at home. For the most part, we have about 40 hours a year with a child, while the family gets around 3000. Our goal is to make those 40 hours meaningful, and provide parents with tools for teaching their children the rest of the time. This includes weekly take-home sheets with discussion points, and availability on the teacher’s part to answer questions and refer parents to valuable resources.
Safety
An effective learning environment is a safe environment. In order to protect the children and our volunteers, no child is to be left alone with an adult and volunteers are required to complete a criminal background check. To ensure that children are not released to the wrong person, parents/guardians of kids first grade and younger must turn in their child’s duplicate nametag in order to pick them up.

Our Mission

The mission of our ministry is to equip every child and family to become complete in Christ and love Him for a lifetime. But how do we see this play out in the way we do ministry? How can we measure whether or not we're achieving our mission?
Equip
Through teaching, hosting events and providing resources for both children and families, we hope to provide every opportunity possible for children and their parents to learn more about what it means to be a follower of Christ and to grow through this knowledge.
Children & Families
Reaching the children is obvious when it comes to Children's Ministries. This is done through our Sunday morning program, as well as all outside events. Pulling in the family is where it becomes more complicated. We reach the family (parents and children combined) by providing take home sheets that walk a parent through how to find out what their child learned. Resources are available to help parents understand how spiritual and mental development work with a child's physical development. We also plan events for the parents and kids to learn together.
Complete in Christ
Colossians 1:28 is the verse our mission statement is based off of. Paul says, "We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ." The purpose behind all that we teach and plan is to equip children and families to be developmentally-complete in Christ, which means they will understand and accept salvation. Growth is evident. We see growth in the head through knowledge and understanding. In the heart through a love for the Lord and others. In the hands by giving back to the Lord through time, talent and offerings.
Love Him for a Lifetime
Our mission for Children's Ministries is not restricted to the time of our formal ministry. Our hope is that we'll establish patterns of growth, and then be able to see a life full of fruitfulness in the people we minister to.

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