Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Rare Breed of Kindergarten and First Graders

Five and six year olds are so unique--they're going through huge life transitions--going from being little children who play all day to learning structure in school. They are achieving great things such as reading, new social skills and physical coordination. Yet they're still so young and excitable. Our leaders' biggest difficulties is learning how to keep their kids focused. And because our kindergarten and first graders are in the same class as second and third graders, having to follow a curriculum designed for children who can already read and write adds additional difficulties. We're blessed to have an abundance of volunteers, so each small group consists of no more than six kids. And our volunteers love their groups and desire to be the best leaders possible. They just struggle at times to know how to focus these young learners.

So this afternoon, Jared (our Elementary Director) and I met with all our kindergarten and first grade small group leaders. The goal of our time together was to give the leaders insight into how their kids think, to give them tools to handle their kids better, and for them to share and encourage one another with methods that have worked.

The leaders worry that the lessons don't click with their kids, so we shared about the biblical truths that a 5 and 6 year old can comprehend, as explained in this article. These truths are:
-Jesus loves everyone and that’s why He came to earth.
-I know who God is, what He’s like and what He’s done for me.
-I can talk to God whenever and wherever I want.
-I know people in Bible times loved God and served Him, and I know how I can love and serve Him today.

We encouraged the volunteers to focus on these truths as they teach their lessons. To recognize that there are points in the curriculum that are beyond what the students in their small groups can comprehend, so to just focus on what is at their level. And, if nothing else seems to click, to feel like they've accomplished something if their kids go home just loving church. As they get older, the lessons they continue to hear will build off of what these leaders may feel went unheard.

The best part of the meeting, though, was when the leaders were able to share difficulties they're having with specific kids and have the other leaders give advice. Volunteers who have only served for three months were able to look to those that have been around for eight years for suggestions. A leader who was struggling with a first grader was able to hear from the kindergarten leader about what worked the previous year. It was great to sit and watch iron sharpen iron.

And in the end, we were able to remember what an amazing time this phase of life is for children spiritually--they are discovering a personal relationship with Jesus and overjoyed by it. A mom was telling me a few weeks ago about how when she told her first grade son that his great uncle had died, the child's response was, "YES! That means he is in heaven with Jesus now!" In his mind, a person dying and going to heaven meant great cause for celebration. If only we could capture this innocence. But at least we can take joy in this phase of teaching--to not become wrapped up in or overwhelmed by the wiggles and giggles, but to see the great joy found in laying foundational layers of what will develop into a mature relationship with our Lord.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Check it out!

Hop on over to my Bridge 45 blog to see the latest teaching from Lord Maestro Alfonzo Caballero III... this time it's the New Testament in four acts.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

My Greatest Reward

My mom was a children's ministry director, and I started working with kids as soon as I hit sixth grade. I loved leading worship songs and running the welcome time with my friend in our church's fours and fives class. Looking back, I'm amazed by what the teacher gave us 11 year olds the freedom to do. I always knew I wanted to lead children's ministry someday-when I was old, had kids and knew what I was talking about. I never thought it'd be possible to take over a 300-kids-a-week ministry at the age of twenty-four. I'm so thankful, though, for God showing me that He could use me now. I'm also thankful for the trust that my church's leadership has in me, and the rest of the church as well. But even more than that, I'm thankful for the opportunity to show the young girls I work with from week to week that God can use them when they're young-they don't have to wait years to be of service to Him.

A few weeks ago I had the time to observe the worship in Bridge 45. I can't even begin to describe how much joy it brought me to see two of our fifth grade girls on stage, confidently leading motions without any help from adults. Their moves perfectly mimicked mine from the past few years. I love that they didn't have any reason to hesitate in jumping on stage. They didn't have any cause to think that they were too young or unskilled.

One of our kindergarten girls was so painfully shy when she was in our preschool classes that it was a rare occasion for the drop off time to happen without tears. She's been more confident as a kindergartener, but still won't talk to me unless it's a whisper in my ear. Last week I asked during worship if anyone wanted to come up and pray. She raised her hand, and in front of 40 of her peers, prayed confidently into the microphone. Later that week I heard that she told her mom, "I want to teach at church like Teacher Jill."

Seeing kids enter into a personal relationship with the Lord is the greatest possible achievment anyone could have in ministry. But I also know that on a personal level, seeing young followers of Jesus realize that ministry isn't limited to a specific age group is my greatest reward. I love that the kids I serve each week know that they don't have to wait until they're old and know what they're talking about to be in ministry.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Whole Thing

(Read the prior Blog post first!)
Here's the whole thing... it's 30 minutes but well worth the watch!

The Old Testament in Song from Morning Star Church on Vimeo.

An Entertaining Sunday...

I'm posting this here (even though it's Bridge 45 related) for those of you who only follow this blog. This Sunday, we asked Rocky (Worship pastor for children up through college, as well as co-leader of our college group) to teach the entire Old Testament to our fourth and fifth graders. We gave him an outline (Jared had already done all the research) and suggested he try and do it as a song... the results were amazing! Here's the short version--just the song. I'll post the entire teaching later for those of you who'd like to watch a VERY entertaining, educational, 30 minute teaching.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

God Works in Big Ways

My last post was about having to close our elementary class last Saturday. This week we had it open again, and our volunteer count quadrupled! We actually had to turn away a helper because otherwise we'd have too many volunteers and not enough kids! God blew me away with His provision. I'll have to remember this time of blessing as an encouragement next time we feel like there's no hope.

Another exciting thing is that the modular units for our adult classes are being installed as I write this, and our Bridge 45 unit will be delivered tomorrow! It'll still be a few weeks before it's usable, but it's encouraging to finally see some progress on our church grounds. If you'd like to know more about Bridge 45 (our new preteen ministry and the curriculum we're creating for it), or would like to see pictures of the install-process, check out my other blog here.

Friday, October 17, 2008

A Worshipping Family

This past Saturday we had to close our elementary class because of a lack of leaders. We've been leading up to it for a while, and finally I knew we couldn't sacrifice safety and quality any longer. We've asked for help many times, in a variety of ways. But for some reason, serving kindergarten-fifth graders must be very daunting. We posted a sign saying what was going on, and eagerly handed out boxes of crayons and paper to families as they passed through our lobby into the main sanctuary. (On a side note--I was very surprised that I didn't receive very many complaints, and even more surprised to see that no one turned around and left!)

I was able to sit in the service for the message, and loved looking around, seeing my 20-some elementary kiddos, busy coloring, leaning on their parents, entering and exiting for the restroom, but all in all, being very well behaved. But the most precious moment came when I entered the sanctuary for one of the last worship songs at the end, and could see my elementary kids standing throughout the room, with parents seated next to them. One second grader girl was in the back row, hands stretched to the ceiling with her head leaned back to look toward heaven. I know there must have been a smile on her face. Tears came to my eyes as I observed such innocent, passionate worship in our kids. They didn't care that they didn't know the songs. They didn't care that the majority of the people in the room were still seated. All they cared about was showing their Heavenly Father that they love Him.

What began as an evening of frustration over a lack of volunteers became a blessed night. And the next day, we had four people sign up to help during our Saturday services! And while that was encouraging, what I'll remember is that there is nothing more precious or beautiful than seeing a child worship.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Another thought from my Husband

Nolan, my husband, has been feeling the push to reach out to the students at Willamette University. Here's a note he posted on Facebook that I felt could apply to what we so often feel in ministry:

So last night I was struggling with a few things. I decided this morning that I would share a little of what God is showing me right now through one of those things.

I won’t go into great detail because all that needs to be known is that God is calling me to do some stuff. With all my heart, lately, I have been trying to listen to whatever He has to tell me and then do it. Well the latest task he has asked me to do is where the struggle comes.

What I am struggling with is if I am the right person to be doing the task that God has called me to do. Am I cool enough to be liked? Am I smart enough to be listened to? Am I relatable enough to be their friend? Is my love for God strong enough to point to my Savior?

So my thoughts this morning turned to the simple story of David and Goliath. I thought about his calling and his action. He was just going about his business delivering lunch to his brothers when he was called. So what did David do when he was charged with the task of killing the giant? Did he call into question that he was not the popular choice to fight this battle? Did he question God because of how much confidence other (better) soldiers had in him? Did he go and research the best method of the day for killing giants? Did he come armed with the latest and greatest tools for battle? Did he consult great warriors just because he had never killed a man before? The answer to all of these is an obvious no. He went into the battle with nothing but a sling and some rocks. Although the rest of the people of the day were using swords and spears to kill people, he took his calling and moved forward with a handful of rocks.

So what am I learning from this? I don't need the best method. I don't need the approval of greater warriors than me.When God has called me to do something specific, I don't need to research the latest strategy and most effective methods. Sometimes God calls the armies of warriors and other times He calls someone who doesn't even own a sword. Sometimes God will ignore the best way to kill a man and rely on a sling and some rocks.

My prayer right now is that I am actually hearing the calling of God and that I have the trust and confidence that David had that day. I have many shortcomings and many faults but I am going to carry the sling that God has given me into the place I am being called. God has not called me to use the sword of the day, but sometimes God just wants the sling and a willing heart. It is my desire to start flinging some rocks all for His glory…

Monday, September 29, 2008

Where do we Restructure?

My husband said something today that I totally agree with. "It seems that leaders of ministries love to restructure leadership but tend not to restructure those they are ministering to."

How often is this true? We see that something isn't working, or at least we aren't seeing the level of success that we'd hope for, so we change the way we do things from the top down. But really, we need to look further. Maybe the root of ineffectiveness in a ministry isn't in the person that leads or how they go about leading (although I will acknowledge that this can be the case), but the structure of what they're leading. We get so caught up in doing things the way that they've always been done that when it doesn't work, we look to ourselves. Do I need to improve my communication? How can I change my training methods? If only we didn't have to work with people...

While leaders do need to look inward on a regular basis to see where they need to improve, none of those adjustments will be effective unless we're willing to take a step further and look at who it is we're ministering to. Over time, people change. The culture changes. Our churches change. What may have worked 5 years ago probably won't today. Not because it wasn't a good method to begin with, but because the people the method was designed for no longer exist--they've matured, grown older, or maybe even moved on.

We found an area that needed to be restructured this year--our entire elementary department. As a whole, it was hurting. The kindergartners weren't understanding the lessons while the fifth graders were disengaging. And the problem didn't lie in our large group teachers or small group leaders. Nor was it in our training (after all, we had our best year yet of volunteer training!). The problem was in how our kids were structured. And by simply separating one age group from the other, new ministry doors were opened. I've heard comment after comment from parents about how much their new 4th & 5th graders are loving Bridge 45. I see kindergartners understand the lessons, while third graders are still involved.

And now that we've restructured those we've ministered to, I can start looking at improving other details of our ministry--without feeling like nothing works!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Teaching about Teaching

I was invited to teach a class called "Teaching the Bible," at Corban College this week. I graduated from Corban in 2004 (back when it was still Western Baptist College), and Teaching the Bible was one of my favorite classes! It was an incredible experience to go back to the school that made such an impact on my life and teach on what I'm so passionate about. My assignment was to teach the class about teaching methods to first through fifth graders. It was a blast! I had the students up and down participating in each element. I will say, though, I do prefer to teach the little ones more! I thought I'd share what I taught.

I opened with an activity (thanks to an idea listed on Kidology) where we used a 14 food string to represent each hour in a child's week. Sections were marked for how a child spends each of those hours, with only 1.5 inches for church. I used this to help show the students how short our time is, so we need to make it as impactful as possible.

Then I covered our mission statement and values to show how we keep ourselves on track at Morning Star.

After that I got into how we need to know what a child can understand spiritually at different age levels. This portion came from an article from Today's Children's Ministry by Marlene LeFever.

Bible Truths for Kindergarten & First Graders
-Jesus loves everyone and that’s why He came to earth.
-I know who God is, what He’s like, and what He’s done for me.
-I can talk to God whenever and wherever I want.
-I know people in Bible times loved God and served Him, and I know how I can love and serve Him today.

Bible Truths for Second & Third Graders
-The Bible is God’s truth for me.
-Jesus’ death and resurrection makes a difference to me.
-The Ten Commandments are hard to obey. I need Jesus’ help.
-The world is a big place, and God is working all over the world.

Bible Truths for Fourth & Fifth Grades
-The Bible defines right and wrong
-Salvation is for me and all people who trust Jesus.
-The Bible is the big picture of God working with His people, and I’m part of that picture.

Then, because it's important to not just know who you're teaching, but also who they will become, we looked at
Bible Truths for 11-14 Year Olds
-Being a Christian is a part of who I am and the choices I make reflect that identity.
-God’s Word is filled with people just like me who were faced with difficult circumstances. I can look to the Bible for solutions to problems I face.
-God wants me to serve Him by serving others through missions trips and ministries.

And, since we now know who it is we're teaching, we need to know how they work. As I introduced each learning style (which you can read more about here) I gave interactive examples of how you might incorporate these in the teaching, first in a K-3rd grade way, then in a 4th/5th grade way. We used the story of David and Goliath for each one to show how many different ways a Bible story can be taught.

Auditory Learners
-Not just hearing, speaking
-Group discussion
-Interactive teaching

For K-3 we had a lot of story telling/kids repeat back elements from the story, question and answer, etc.
For 4/5 one student read the passage out loud then they were given potential small group discussion questions.

Visual Learners
-Not just looking, participating
-Highlighting, drawing pictures, writing notes

For K-3 we did a modified "Art Attack" where three students helped draw the picture as I read it. One person drew every reference to people, another drew objects, and the third drew action. The pictures were hilarious!
For 4/5 we talked about how you could hand out papers to each student so they have the option to take notes, doodle or draw pictures of what is being taught.

Kinesthetic Learners
-Need to stay in constant motion
-Hand motions
-Non-specific movements

For K-3 the kids were given three different actions to do when referenced in the story--hitting your legs with your hands for running, turning your arm in circles in the air for the sling, and victory arm movements for triumph.
For 4/5 we marched in place while saying, "The battle is the Lord's" in different ways--like we really mean it, like we're going to battle, so the kids next door hear us, etc.

-Always need to know more
-Focus on specifics
-How, why, where?

For both age groups we looked a the specifics that are listed in regards to story--how many stones David got, where he got them, what they were like, why he didn't wear Saul's armor, etc.

Global Learner
-Skip the details, go for the action
-Think about the details relevant to the big picture
-Let them help tell the story

Several students helped act out the big elements of the story--the tallest guy in the class was put on a chair and played Goliath, the shortest girl was David, and three people each represented the Philistines and the Israelites. They had to act out the story as it was told.

Over all, it was a lot of fun, and a great reminder to me of what all needs to be thought about as we plan lessons and write curriculum.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

It's been a while

I've been meaning to blog for a few weeks now. But every time I start to type in the blogger website, I just feel tired. We've been busy lately... but then I suppose who in Children's Ministries hasn't? Fall is up and running and I'm really happy with what all's going on in our program. Some highlights from the past month:

-At the end of August we had a training meeting for our Bridge 45 volunteers. We had each person share about their previous experience in Children's Ministries as well as why they're volunteering now. Two women shared that they want to be involved in Bridge 45 to better know and reach their 5th grade daughters(I love parents who get involved!), another was a father who wants to be involved in the ministry his kids are in. One man, Geary, has been involved in Children's Ministries for years and next to him sat a college senior who was one of Geary's boys 12 years ago! I love the heart of volunteers.

-September 6 and 7 was our fall kick off weekend. Several classes of kids promoted to their new rooms, and other classes were shuffled. It was our first week of separating the kindergarten-third graders from the fourth and fifth graders. The energy in Adventure Mountain (K-3) was incredible! Each child enthusiastically participated in worship, activity stations were buzzing and small groups were a blessing to watch. The fourth and fifth graders looked nervous and excited to be in their new class, and the word I heard in response to it was, "awesome!"

-We switched back to three weekend services and the volunteers of our preschoolers LOVED the smaller class sizes! Hooray for manageable numbers.

-Tasha, our new Early Childhood Director, was offered a new job that was too good to pass up. Her last day was Sunday the 14. On Friday the 12 I met with Lucy Younis who's experience is incredible and her philosophy of ministry was exactly what I was looking for. I planned to take the hiring process slowly, but sometimes you just can't ignore it when God speaks so clearly, so I hired her on the spot. She started in the office on Tuesday and is already doing a fantastic job!

So while busy, hectic, and constantly changing, things are going well!

Friday, August 29, 2008

All our Changes this Fall

Here's what we're giving (in newsletter form) to the parents this weekend:

New Staff
As many of you know, Amy Chirgwin served our church for two years as our Early Childhood Director and did a wonderful job. This fall she’s getting married and being whisked away to Paris! Taking her place is Tasha Martinez. Tasha has years of experience in leading children’s ministries and is excited to be on our team! She’ll be spending most of her time with our preschool kids because we’ve also hired Mallory Crain to be coordinate our Wee Zone classes. Mallory has been a volunteer in Wee Zone for the past year and served as the Nursery Coordinator at her previous church. We’re so grateful that the Lord has prepared Tasha and Mallory for this ministry and brought them here at just the right time!

Something New in Elementary
We’re restructuring our elementary department! You’ve probably heard about Bridge 45, our new ministry to 4th and 5th graders. We’ve been meeting weekly to write a program for this age group and are thrilled to provide teaching that addresses the rapid growth they’re facing. Equally exciting is our new class for kindergarten—third graders. Jared Boltman, our Elementary Director, is leading this transition. It couldn’t be in better hands.

A New Name
With all this restructuring we saw the need to rename our ministry—after all, one of the zones would be obsolete (Grow Zone), and we really wanted an overall name (more than just “Children’s Ministries”). We wanted a name that kids could remember, where they’d say to their friends, “Do you want to come to ______ with me?”

After some prayerful brainstorming, we’re excited to introduce Adventureland! It’ll be a place where kids adventure through the Bible and see that God’s Word is exciting! Wee Zone (infants-2’s & 3’s) will become Adventure Ranch, Wonder Zone (3’s, 4’s, 5’s & Tender Hearts) will become Adventure Cove, and kindergarten—3rd grade will be Adventure Mountain.

We have logos all ready to go and will launch the new name in October when we open the new modular unit for Bridge 45.

We have two interns from Corban College assisting us this year. Roni Paden has interned in our program for the past two years and will be helping in a variety of ways, but most specifically by coordinating our teen helpers. Caleb Molstad is in his first year of internship and will be assisting Jared with Bridge 45.

Promotion Weekend—September 6 & 7!
It’ll be an exciting fall! It will begin with Promotion Weekend on September 6 and 7. On those days children will attend their classes for the upcoming school year. Our teachers are excited to welcome their new students! Kids who have been in the following zones/classes will promote as follows:
Adventure Ranch (Formerly Wee Zone)
-Current infants and toddlers will stay where they are and be promoted at the discretion of the parents and director.
-Current 2’s & 3’s: Children who are 3 by September 1 move upstairs to the 3’s & 4’s class (room 200). Those who will turn 3 after September 1 will stay in the 2’s & 3’s class for the year. These kids will move up next fall.
Adventure Cove (Formerly Wonder Zone)
-Current 3’s & 4’s: Children who are 4 by September 1 move to the 4’s & 5’s class (room 202). Those who will be 4 after September 1 will stay in the 3’s & 4’s class (room 200).
-Current 4’s & 5’s: Children who will be attending kindergarten in the fall will move to Adventure Mountain (room 204). Children who are 5 by September 1, but won’t attend kindergarten in the fall will continue to be in the 4’s & 5’s class (room 202).
Adventure Mountain (Kindergarten—3rd Grade)
New kindergarten-third graders will be upstairs in the triple room (room 204). Small groups will be assigned by grade and gender.
Bridge 45 (4th & 5th grades)
New fourth and fifth graders will be in the south auditorium (formerly Grow Zone) until our modular unit is installed and ready to go. Bridge 45 will not be offered during Saturday service; forth and fifth graders will join Adventure Mountain.

We Need You!
A variety of volunteer positions available! Nursery and toddler workers, classroom helpers, large group teachers, worship or small group leaders, service supporters, shepherds, mid-week helpers for prep work or helping in Tender Hearts (our special needs ministries) are all possibilities. If you are interested in serving, please sign up at the Children’s Ministries information and resource table.

We also need donations (financial and material) to outfit our new modular unit for Bridge 45. With less than $14,000, we can provide a state-of-the-art learning environment for our 4th and 5th graders. If you would like to help with this, pick up a form at the Project Bridge 45 table in the north lobby or contact Jill Nelson.

Friday, August 22, 2008

And here it is...

The church will be seeing this, as well as a request to help furnish it, this weekend.

Promoting Bridge 45

This weekend we're promoting the launch of a new modular unit for our ministry, Bridge 45. We went out to the construction site this week and video taped what it looks like currently, as well as visited a completed unit. We want to give the church a picture of what it will be, so that way they can take some ownership. We're asking for $14,000 to fully furnish the unit with everything from folding chairs to a Play Station 2. Stay tuned for our promo video!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Changes Ahead

Back at the Conspire Conference, Christin Yount Jones (editor of Children's Ministries Magazine, her blog is here) asked where we're at in a storm... seeing it on the horizon, in the middle of it, just coming out and still feeling shaky, or in peaceful waters. At that time, I felt good. I still feel good, but it's probably safe to say I'm in the middle of a hurricane.

Amy, my Early Childhood Director for the past two years, had her last day in the office today. She's engaged and after her September 13 wedding, she and her husband will be preparing to move to Paris! We've divided her position a variety of ways. I now have a 25 hours a week Early Childhood Director and an 8 hour a week nursery/toddler/2's & 3's coordinator. I'm sad to see Amy go--she's done a fantastic job and brought her department to a level of excellence beyond my expectations. But I'm thrilled she's getting married, and fully confident in the jobs our new team members will play.

We're starting a new ministry for our fourth and fifth graders--Bridge 45. We're so excited about what this will do for our older elementary kids. If you want to know more, check out my blog for it here. For this program we're getting a new modular unit! Because of permits, etc. we won't be able to use the modular unit until October, so we'll move K-3rd to their new room in September, and the fourth and fifth graders will get their room in October.

We're also renaming our ministry... or should I say finally naming it? For countless years we've just been "Children's Ministries" which was divided into three Zones--Wee, Wonder and Grow. We'll use September to promote the new name, and then it'll fully launch in October when we get the modular unit (we don't want to have to make and then remake signs).

Fall recruitment is up and running. The past three years we've had a big theme to our recruitment, displays, etc. but received minimal response. This week we just had a bulletin insert with detailed job descriptions of volunteer positions. 16 people signed up to serve! I can't wait to see how many more come in over the next three weeks.

It's a good thing I like busyness and change because it's coming full force. I think what I love the most is that God's hand is so evident in times like this!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Aspiring to New Heights

My cat, Wylie, is obsessed with heights. As a kitten he'd try and jump as high as he could and grab door frames, holding on for dear life. Then he accomplished the mantle over our fireplace, from the floor to the bar in our kitchen, and my 4' tall dresser. His most recent feats were from the floor to the top of the refrigerator, then from my dresser to the top of an open door (which he stood on like a balance beam for a minute!) and finally from the fridge to the top of the kitchen cabinets. Since reaching what I would think of as the highest point in the house, he's become obsessed with finding something higher. He climbs on things and paws around door frames, trying to find footing to stand on. He looks at the ceiling constantly and meows if he can't get to where he wants to go.

I thought he'd achieved it all (except for an awkward ledge that I hope he never discovers--we'd have no way of getting him down). And then this morning, while getting ready for work, I heard a loud crash. It sounded like the blinds were being torn from a window downstairs. But no destruction, or Wylie for that matter, could be found. A little later, I heard another crash. I went downstairs and once again couldn't find any evidence of his mischief. This time I went exploring. I found Wylie in our office, sitting in front of a tall bookshelf with a box of legos lying next to him. The first crash must have been an attempt at the top of the shelf, only to find himself sliding down the window blinds. The second must have been more successful--if only the legos hadn't blocked his way!

Wylie will stop at nothing to reach new heights, and will try and try again despite failed attempts. During my quiet times this morning, I found myself asking God to help me see through His eyes what would make our ministry GREAT. I feel like we've been doing a good job, but I don't want to settle for that. I don't want to ever get comfortable or complacent in a well-working ministry. Just like Wylie isn't content to settle for the top of a refrigerator, I want to keep looking for new heights.

I admire that once Wylie finds a new jumping point, he practices that leap over and over again to become more confident for his next adventure. It's only been a matter of weeks between discovering the refrigerator and this morning's attempt. How often do we accomplish something in ministry and then say "done," and sit at that place for a year, or even years? We need to make sure that when implementing something new we master it, but once it's working well, look for new and additional things to master.

I'm curious where I'll find my cat when I return home. And, I'm curious where I'll find my ministry when we start looking up and diligently checking for new heights.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

I Haven't Been Rubbed Raw

I recently read a collection of rants from various children's ministry leaders here. As I read the passionate testimonies of frustration I was reminded how blessed I am to be here at Morning Star. I've also been following a thread on the Kidology Network where people share situations in which they were "hung out to dry" by the leadership of their church. Either I'm very forgetful (which I don't think is the case) or once again, I'm blessed.

I've seen enough difficult situations through my mom's experiences as a Children's Director to know that sometimes there's just nothing you can do to avoid trials and tribulations in ministry. And because of those trying times, I can recognize that my work situation is unique. But I've also learned that there are things I must do in order to receive the respect I hope for.

As a woman in ministry, I need to remember that the people I serve under are men, and therefore, their minds and feelings work differently than mine. Just as I need to show my husband grace when he doesn't react to a new purchase (like a purse or shoes) the way a girlfriend would, I need to show my boss grace when he approaches situations logically and without extreme excitement.

I also need to show the men I work for a level of respect that goes beyond politeness. A Bible study I've done recently called Love & Respect taught me alot about giving my husband the respect he desperately needs. While my boss is certainly not in the same category as my husband, the principles can translate quite simply. I show respect for his position by presenting ideas for his input and value his ideas rather than coming with an agenda for him to approve. I respect the wide expanse of his job by recognizing that there may be bigger issues he's dealing with than my crisis of curriculum (which, in reality, could easily be solved at a later date). And I respect his time by coming to meetings well prepared and researched, and able to keep it short if need be by prioritizing my points.

And finally, if I want my voice to be heard by our staff and leadership, I need to have a voice people will want to listen to. If every situation is a high-drama case, I'll just become the girl who cried wolf (or lack of volunteers, or lack of facility space, or lack of recognition, or... you get the picture). I guard my complaints and stress level so when I do say, "I have a problem" or "I'm stressed," the attention I desire will be given. I also need to sound educated and researched, so that when I present an idea, a level of credibility will accompany it.

Granted, I know I'm not the perfect employee, and while it's easy to make a list of qualities and practices to make my job a lot more pleasant, I recognize that I'm not the only party involved. The pastors I serve under are very supportive and are clear about showing their appreciation and support for what I do. I never want to become so accustomed to this that I forget to appreciate it.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

It's almost over!

I can't believe we've already passed the half way point for VBS. This week has been such an incredible blessing! I just have to share some of my highlights from the week so far:

-Decorating on Friday went so well that I didn't have to come back on Saturday to finish.

-Set up on Sunday was done in record time--my husband had help from 7 other guys (as opposed to the one helper he's had the past two years)!

-We have 125 volunteers working each day to care for, serve snacks, lead games, register, etc. the 185+ children.

-19 wonderful ladies in the church have made sure our volunteers are fully fed each morning.

-I went to warn our activity station ladies that the kids were coming soon and found them praying for the children's hearts, the volunteers, the families of the children, and our leadership.

-After each game ends, Aaron (our elementary game guy) has the kids circle up to pray.

-Our preschool kids can't get to their classrooms fast enough--one little boy even clapped his hands and tapped his foot to encourage his dad to catch up.

-Volunteers are building relationships. People who are new to our church are developing friendships with others who have been here for years. Old friends are catching up. I've joked that I'm glad we can provide a week to catch up on socializing!

-All the volunteers are showing up early or on time. Everything's running on schedule!

-Our teen counselors are amazing!

-Besides leading worship, I don't have anything to do!

And to think, I still have two more days that I'm confident will be full of blessings!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

It's even closer...

VBS is now 5 days away and I'm ready. Weird. But this sense of calmness I feel would only be a dream and a wish if it weren't for the number of volunteers we have signed up. Over the past few weeks I have been repeatedly blessed by the people in my church. All of our adult roles are filled and people are still signing up! If it weren't for the Corriene Thompsons and Wendy Rogers of our church, we'd be up to our eyeballs in cutting and sorting projects. If it weren't for the Lisa Nelsons and Lisa Munsons of our church we'd be scrambling to come up with "plan b" for making sure kids are cared for. From our breakfast bakers to our snack makers to our kid caretakers, the volunteers are the heart of Vacation Bible School. It doesn't matter what kind of lesson planning and program developing we do as a staff if we don't have the volunteers to make it happen. And now, 5 days away, I'm excited because I KNOW it's going to happen!

Friday, June 6, 2008

VBS is Almost Here!

Vacation Bible School is 17 days away an we only need 2 more adult volunteers! (Granted, we still need 28 high school and middle school kids, but they always come through for us!) I don't think we've ever been so set so far in advance! That's something to celebrate. I'm getting excited...

Monday, June 2, 2008

Learning from The Learning Channel

I've become a huge fan of the show, "Jon and Kate Plus Eight" on TLC. It's about a family in Pennsylvania with a set of twins and a set of sextuplets. I love watching the family interactions, the antics of the kids, and the relationship between Jon and Kate. And what I love beyond all that is that they're Christians.

In last week's episode, they showed the family taking the kids to church (it had been referenced before but not actually shown). In Kate's interview, she said explained why she loves the Children's Ministry at their church, "They don't always do what's easiest for them--they do what's best for the kids."

I hope that's what can be said about our ministry. Maybe I should make a plaque and hang it on my wall... "Don't do what's easiest for you. Do what's best for the kids."

Oh, and Jon and Kate take their kids to the bathroom before checking them in!!!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The 4th & 5th Grade Experiment

We're working on developing a new ministry for our fourth and fifth graders. If you'd like to follow our process of creating a new program, curriculum, etc, check out our new blog here!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

I Support My Leaders

Our church staff has gone through some changes over the past 6 months. While I know many churches are used to seeing leaders come and go, ours saw little change for quite a while. The latest "goodbye" was particularly painful for me as my husband had really connected with this pastor. After an emotional evening on Tuesday, I went into a staff get away/work day/vision casting/whatever else we may call it wondering how I would feel about the general direction of our church. What I saw from my Executive Pastor and Senior Pastor was honesty, genuine desire to hear from the staff, and an urgent hope to see our church to move forward. The more we discussed, critiqued, and brainstormed as a ministry staff, the more I respected those who lead us. When I returned home that evening, I was pleased to tell my husband, "I support Scott and Ken."
I think it's very important in ministry to remember why we support those who lead us. It seems like the times that I go through heart-wrenching questioning and seeking I find the most affirmation in where God has me. It is in the times of defending my church and its leaders that I am most passionately secure in my position. And it is often because of these times of affirmation and passion that I am able serve the Lord better.
In his book, "Lead the Way God Made You," Larry Shallenberger said that if your vision for Children's Ministry does not fall in line with that of your church, you need to evaluate whether your vision can change, or you need to change which church you serve in. I whole-heartedly agree. Our Executive Pastor's wife once said that the Senior Pastor is the caster of the vision for the church, and it's the duty of her husband to be the carrier and keeper of that vision. I'll take that point a step further by saying it's also the duty of ministry leaders in the church to carry and keep the vision.
And after questioning, pondering, evaluating and praying, I am happy and honored to carry and keep the vision of my pastor. I support my leaders.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Last night I was cutting the hair of my friend Robyn's 4-year-old daughter. "Miss Jill, do you have children?" Leeann asked.

"No, I don't. And probably not for a few more years," was my response.

"But if you just pray to God, like Sarah and Hannah did, God will give you a baby."

I love the innocent thoughts of a child! I love Leeann's reminder of these women who sought God and were blessed with sons. Each weekend I see mother after mother who are raising children (some sought and prayed for, others a surprise that brought on prayer) and doing everything they can to bring their children up to be godly men and women. I so admire what these mothers do. So in honor of Mother's Day, I'd like to give a little shout-out to some moms in our church.

Molly Nemecek and her husband Jeff are raising three boys. That in itself deserves a round of applause! This week it was precious to watch the boys in their matching blue-camo fleece jackets. While I'm know there are times when Molly is exhausted by the energy, challenges, and tears of three boys under the age of 4, she still has a beautiful joy in loving her boys, and seeks with all her heart to see them become strong men who can be leaders in their families and the world.

Heidi Jensen blesses me each week with sweet encouragement. All the while, she and her husband have raised one of the fifth grade boys that I will HUGELY miss when he moves on to middle school. She has raised Halden to be respectful, polite, and a genuine servant. I don't blame Heidi at all for the tears that spring when she talks about her son growing up.

Erin Chung has brought her children to church on an average of 3.5 times a month! She has her three (6th grade, kindergarten, and 3-years-old) put together and in the building on time on a regular basis. Her kids are eager to enter their classes and excited to learn. It is a blessing to see the way she and her husband lead their family.

Wendy Rogers brings her boys faithfully as well. Her preschool and elementary aged sons have a joy and enthusiasm as they walk through the doors of their classes--completed take-home sheets in hand and memory verses ready to be recited. Once getting her kids in place, she greets and checks in the rest of our first-service elementary boys and girls.

These women are just a few of the many, many women I am honored and privileged to serve. I am thankful for them and hope that when I am blessed with my own children, I can be the kind of mom these women are--honest mothers who have their own struggles, but are blessing God in the way they parent their children.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Don't Forget the Heart

Amy and I are blessed to be staying in Linda's home while we're at the Conspire Conference. Being here is a gift. Not only is staying here part of what made it possible for us to attend this year, but it's also shown me so much about what to look at when I walk through the doors of Willow Creek, or any church for that matter. Linda moved here (to Illinois) eleven years ago when her granddaughter was born. Her daughter is on staff with Promiseland, and Linda has a small position in the ministry as well. She also volunteers as a small group leader, and takes people on tours of the church.
When Amy and I arrived at her home late Tuesday night, we were greeted with hugs and love. The next morning we were served a beautiful breakfast of cheerios, sliced strawberries, Pennsylvania Dutch cake, and coffee. As we told her about how we were looking forward to seeing Jared and Roni's reactions to the church, as well as the excitment over meeting some of our heroes in ministry, Linda was quick to tell us about what really matters--the heart. "It's not about the big building, or our programs. It's about what God is doing in people at Willow, and about how He works in people's hearts."
Then, during one of the breaks at the conference, I took Jared and Roni to meet our sweet hostess. Once again, she talked about what's so important is the heart. To recognize that it's not about the size or the number of people, but what God is doing in people.
So I started looking at the heart. I've always been impressed by the number of volunteers who give of their time to make the church work. But now it wasn't just how many of the them were around--it was the smile on their faces as you walked by. It was their eagerness to point you toward the closest restroom. It was the guy handing out candy to people as they waited in line to purchase books. It was the lady taking coffee orders and making a point to give you a genuine smile and eye contact. It was the couple we ate dinner with--the wife who came to know the Lord through a ministry of Willow, and now takes every chance she gets to tell her non-believeing friends about Jesus. None of these people are paid for what they're doing. None of them have incomes dependent on their friendliness or desire to help. Instead, they have beautiful hearts and a passoin to serve God and His people.
Linda has blessed me with more than a bed to sleep in. She's reminded me to look at the heart behind the people of a church.

I'm Conspiring...

I'm not really sure where to start except to say that there's a smile on my face! The Conspire Conference has been more than I even imagined it could be! Amy Dolan was welcoming everyone during one of the main sessions on Wednesday, and made the comment that God had a plan for each of us to be here. There is no way I can deny that fact. I have pages and pages of notes from the main sessions yesterday and the break out sessions today... the best part, though, is that I have so many golden nuggets of practical ways to go back and implement positive change in my ministry. From Christine Yount-Jones asking us where we're at in our storm--seeing it on the horizon, going through the intense waves, resting after a period of exhaustion, or feeling like things are pretty good. To a WONDERFUL worship time with Jon Klinepeter (I must add, our team purchased 6 copies of his CD--we've helped build a house in Indonesia!). Then the reminder of how much more we need to be doing for our fourth and fifth graders wrapped up with some wonderful hope for what's going on at Disney... The main sessions were so refreshing!
Today in the break outs I walked away ready to go evaluate the kid-friendliness of our environment. And not only can I evaluate, I now also know how to DO! And then I was challenged and inspired in so many ways on methods for communicating with and supporting parents. And finally, it became clear that it's not too hard to do more for our fourth and fifth graders!
But above all, what I've loved the most, is the team that does the Children's Ministries for Promiseland. They have shown so much honesty, vulnerability and modesty in the way they've shared what's going on in their ministry. But not only that, it's always inspiring to see the standard of excellence they've set for themselves, as well as the level of professionalism in the work they do.
I feel connected... I feel inspired... what do you know, I've conspired!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

What's Really Necessary

So I'm sitting here, typing one handed while holding a bobby pin with super glue on it, waiting for it to bond to a jack that's stuck in my head phone port. Yeah, it was one of those Sundays. Today was one of the few days of the year where we had several video clips to support the lesson. First the normal sound booth computer couldn't get on the internet. So I figured out how to hook my laptop up to the projector (patted myself on the back... I'm slowly becoming a sound booth pro). Then the input on the sound cord was partially broken. But if you jiggled it just right, the sound came through! Unfortunately, I wiggled it too much during one of the video clips. Thus my superglue situation. So between services, Tim (our media/technology guy) and I spend about 20 minutes setting up his laptop and then improvising--some cables were too short, one was super long, but the screen turned purple, and finally, we found a solution! We still had a couple of glitches during second service, but at least we always had sound!

I was introducing the slow worship song for the kids, and stopped to think about the words... "You're all I need, You're all I need, You're all I need, in this world." While working electronics are helpful, they aren't what I need. While a lack of stress would be nice, it isn't what I need. All I need on Sunday mornings, as well as any other day of the week, is Jesus.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Is This Thing On?

I feel like I've been going through the motions of Children's Ministries but not really feeling the heart behind it. Going into Easter weekend, my prayer was that it wouldn't be my biggest work weekend of the year, but instead, that I'd get to actually enjoy and feel that it was Easter. I had the joy of teaching the elementary kids Saturday night. I loved the way our curriculum wrote out the lesson. The kids were attentive, and I really felt like the message was communicated. After telling kids how they can accept Christ as their forever friend, I invited to the kids to come talk to me or another teacher afterwards if they wanted to know more about making that step. Later, two fifth grade girls approached me. "We want to do what you were talking about!" Both these girls have been at our church for quite some time. I was surprised they'd never asked Jesus in their hearts. So I verified that they hadn't done it before. "No, we haven't, that's why we want to now!" So I talked about what it meant, asked if they believed Jesus died for them, etc. and then lead them through the prayer. I was on the verge of tears at what a blessing this was! We chatted about how we're now sisters in Christ. I told them I was three when I first asked Jesus in my heart. One of them slipped and said, "So was I!"

Both the girls had accepted Christ before. One was even baptized. Why lie? Because they thought it would be fun to spend some one-on-one time with me. I love that they wanted that time... but really? Lie about asking Jesus in your heart?

Sunday went smoothly. I was disappointed by how many families weren't there because of Spring break. And while I loved being in "big church" for one service and watching a wonderful large group teacher during the other, I didn't really feel Easter.

But then, on Tuesday, I heard a wonderful story. One of our kindergarten boys comes from a sad home. His grandma loves him dearly and brings him each week to both services. I guess on the way home from church, he couldn't stop talking about the Easter story. He told his mom and grandma all about what Jesus did for him, how much Jesus loves him, and through the entire story, he was full of joy. Grandma said that they've been trying to get him to understand Christ's sacrifice, but it didn't click until this week. He's a changed person.

And yesterday, I got a sweet picture (the purple one in this post) from the mom of one of our 4-year-olds. Her daughter wanted to write out the Easter story. Mom helped spell the words, but Maile chose exactly what was said. If you can't read it, it says, "Do you know that Jesus was dead on the cross and 2 other cosses? Then Jesus was out of the cave and the big rock rolled away. Then Jesus visited His friends before He was in Heaven with God."

While I felt like Saturday and Sunday were spent tapping a microphone, asking, "Is this thing on?" Easter came on Tuesday and Thursday for me. Jesus died for my sins and rose again. It's the reason for all I do. An unresponsive audience doesn't change the story. He is risen, He is risen indeed!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Tip of the Sword

Our team spent last Friday in and out of workshops at the North West Christian Education Conference. (As a side note... it really made me look forward to the Promiseland conference!) One of the work shops I went to was on becoming a volunteer champion. Craig Miles, the speaker, made a great point about recruiting--we should recruit not because of a need, but because it gives people an opportunity to further the Kingdom of God. Give the people in your church the chance to say, "I teamed up with God today."
To help make his point on the importance of volunteers, he showed a clip from the movie, Pearl Harbor. A crew of soldiers was preparing for what, most likely, would be a fatal mission. Two of the soldiers were talking about why they're going, and one said, "We're the tip of the sword." The scene then cuts to the officers, one of which says something like, "We may not win this battle, but I know we'll win the war. Because there's nothing stronger than the heart of a volunteer."
God is the warrior, and the volunteers serving in our ministries are the tip of the sword. While yes, God's power is stronger than a volunteer, but what can be stronger than God using the heart of a volunteer? Hoping to express to our church that volunteers aren't there purely to fill a need, I asked some of our elementary leaders what satisfaction they get from serving. Their answers were wonderful (and you won't see that they only do it to fill a need). Here is some of what they wrote:
"I have seen God use me by being a familiar face—someone who is genuinely interested in the kids. They bless me MUCH more than I bless them. I get hugs, reminders of biblical principles, tugs at the heart when we sing, and I see kids of all ages standing and worshiping God without reservation."

“After trying various ‘jobs’ in Children’s Ministries, I finally found my gifting as a large group leader. God has taught me so much. I love connecting with the kids and teachers as we serve together. God gives us great moments when a child is touched by the Truth, or a teacher is convicted by something that is taught.”

“I was outside my comfort zone when I started teaching in Grow Zone, but God allowed me to be an effective leader from the start because the lessons were easy to teach—even for a simple person like me. God allowing me to play a part in a child’s spiritual growth is not only satisfying, but spiritually grows me as well. I’m closer to Christ because of it.”

“I did not feel capable when I first volunteered. I brought only my love for children and my love for our Lord. The possibility of making a difference in one life draws me back. Being recognized by the children and being their friend for that one hour each week is rewarding in and of itself.”

“I know I’m in the will of God, I’m serving His body, and that’s a joy. I’ve seen several from my first fifth grade class, now juniors in high school, come back and teach! More than ever, kids need God’s truth preparing them to be young men and women of God.”

Our volunteers are ordinary people being used for extraordinary purposes. I'm blessed to serve alongside them.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

A Touching Moment

We were short handed in Grow Zone tonight, so we decided not to do small groups. Instead, after the large group lesson, Jared (our Grow Zone Director) lead the kids through the questions from the stage. I was out of the room when they started this time. My return was met by 40 kids on and around the stage, crowded close to Jared. Never have I seen this many kids, in such a setting, so attentive. The large group actually became small. The older kids had their Bibles in hand and were looking up verses. The litter ones were watching the Bible search. I love how even when we are weak, short-handed vessels, God works.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

We Must Not Assume the Gospel

I grew up in a Christian home. As a child I attended Sunday school weekly. Then in my teen years I was present on Sundays for church, Wednesdays for Bible study, and among the first on the bus for camps and retreats. I read my Bible, I heard my parents talk about the Bible, I heard sermons about the Bible. But it wasn't until I was in a Bible survey class in college that it all came together. No longer were the stories of the Old Testament simply that—stories confined to the first section of God's Word. It all fit together. I not only heard that the Passover was representative of Jesus' sacrifice, but I saw all the elements that demonstrated that representation. Isaiah's popular prophecy of Jesus' birth no longer was the only Old Testament reference to the coming Christ. Finally, I saw the Bible as a whole. I saw how even in the time of Adam and Eve, God knew we'd need a savior.

And last week, challenged by a speaker, Art Azurdia, at a children's ministries network, I realized I'm doing the same as was done to me—teaching the Bible in segments. Telling children God loves them, showing them God loves them, teaching them about the Bible. But in all of this, as Art Azurdia said, "Divorcing the little stories from the big story."

I love that God can and does save children. What a privilege to be able to share that Good News with them! But wait, how often is the Gospel actually presented? At Easter, of course. And once a month we give an opportunity to accept Jesus as their forever friend. I know we cover quite a few stores from the four gospels. But is Jesus really the super hero every week?

Art challenged me by saying, "Do not assume the gospel. Bring it into all teachings of the Bible. The gospel is what changes people." Weekly, we have children coming into our program who have never attended church before. Who am I to ignore that fact and teach as though every little ear in the room has heard the story of Jesus? Who am I to assume that simply hearing the story of God's deliverance of Daniel from the lions will turn a heart toward accepting salvation? Who am I to teach about Paul, Silas, Barnabas, Peter, and the other great heroes of faith in the New Testament without also teaching why they were in the position to become that?

As we were planning our VBS yesterday, we changed out perspective. Rather than teaching the token two Old Testament stories, two New Testament stories and finally a "salvation day" at the end, we wanted to bring the Old Testament side by side with the New. We wanted to make sure that our children are able to grasp the Bible as a whole—to see that in the Old Testament God spoke through the prophets and in the New Testament, He brought Jesus and spoke through Him. To show that the Bible shows us what true love is—through Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac, and then through God's gift of His son Jesus. We want to teach that even though the Bible is a finished product, God’s story isn’t done yet. We can become a part of His story through Jesus.

When I was little, it was a great honor to be sent to the china cabinet on holidays. My mom would have us use her special dishes, and entrusted me with the task of setting the table. I knew how precious these dishes were and didn't want to break them. Carefully I would remove one plate at a time and then cautiously move my clumsy feet the few steps from the cabinet to the table. And one by one, I'd arrange the plates at each chair. God has entrusted me with a task far more honorable than setting the table with my mom's china. The children in my ministry are far more valuable but just as breakable. So as God's Word is opened each week and taught each week, Jesus must be our focus. We must not assume the gospel.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Thank You Amy Dolan!

My husband just pointed out that in all my excitement, I forgot to mention a BIG thanks in my previous post. So THANK YOU to Amy Dolan and the Conspire committee for giving us this truly wonderful gift. This act has brought so much excitement and joy to not only me and Amy, my Early Childhood Director, but also to our entire staff. It is an affirmation that God is working and He has some great things in store for us. When I was telling our Women's Ministries Director about the phone call, she commented on how God is using Amy Dolan to not only be answering her call to ministry, but have a tender heart to help people like us. So thank you.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Even More Unexpected Answers

Two weeks ago I posted about how God had a different answer to my request to go to Promiseland. Since then, we've been happily planning our trip to Seattle and continued with ministry as usual. But then, I got a phone call. I was in my office chatting with Amy about... I don't know, something. And our receptionist buzzed me that Amy Dolan with Willow Creek Association was on the line for me. I just assumed it was a phone call to check up on ordering curriculum. But then, as I picked up the phone, it clicked. Was this Amy Dolan as in Lemon Lime Kids Amy Dolan? The Amy who my mom heard speak at a breakout session at the conference two years ago? The Amy who brought Krispy Kreme donuts and left such an impression my mom still makes references to it here and there? The Amy who's blog I read and love? The Amy who is on the planning committee for the conference? So, of course I asked, and yes! It was that Amy Dolan. Now before I get on with my story I have to say that there are four people in Children's Ministries who are like celebrities to me. They are people that I would LOVE to sit down and have a conversation with--maybe even get an autograph. These four are David Staal (Promiseland Director), Larry Shallenberger (I love his blog and books), Jim Wideman (Children's Ministries revolutionary, writer and speaker) and Amy Dolan (I think I described her well enough above). So yes, one of my celebrities was calling me!

Now back to my story. Once we clarified who exactly I was talking with, Amy went on tell me that she had read my blog about not being able to go to Promiseland, and would like to make it possible for me and a guest to go! I couldn't believe it! We could stay with a host family even. All we'd have to figure out is a way to get there! I keep using exclamation points because that's the only way to show just how excited I was. After we hung up, I went yelling down the hall to Amy's (my Early Childhood Director) office... "YOU WON'T BELIEVE IT!" I told her the story. She screamed. We ran up the stairs, told Joanne, she grinned. We ran down the hall and told Ken, he shook his head in disbelief and said "Well, I'm not standing in your way." I called my mom, she was happy for me. But I hadn't spread my joy quite enough yet, so I called my dad (woke him up because he just got back from Budapest). And the list goes on, I told everyone I came in contact with (even sent Brett a note through Facebook).

All this to say, I LOVE the way God works. Here I thought He'd already given his answer regarding conferences. I figured His plan wasn't to provide the remaining $2000 and instead send us to Seattle. But His plan didn't stop there. He's taking our team to Seattle and taking me and Amy to Chicago. Oh, one other amazing thing--plane tickets are actually cheaper right now than they were when I priced things out a month ago! Oh, God is good.

And... Amy Dolan reads my blog!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Unexpected Answers

The past two years I've gone to the Children's Ministries Promiseland conference at Willow Creek. The first year was with my mom, the second with Amy (my Early Childhood Director). Both years were refreshing, challenging, encouraging, enlightening and energizing. Unfortunately, both years were also expensive. This year my resources are a little more limited. Amy and I have been praying that somehow God would provide the $3200 needed to take the two of us and two other team members to Chicago. In November, an unexpected gift of $1300 came our way. I was certain this was a word of encouragement from the Lord that we were on our way to Promiseland.
But these three months have passed with no increase to the conference fund. We prayed and prayed, and prayed some more. But over the last month I've felt the possibility of our time in Chicago slipping away. I struggled with this. After all, we need this conference. Why couldn't God provide the money? With a new service added and an increase in attendance, I can feel myself physically, emotionally and spiritually needing a get away, a refreshment, a retreat.
This week I met with Ken, our executive pastor, and it became clear that a trip to Willow Creek wasn't a possibility this year. I had to fight off emotions and accept what was going to be. But then, as I walked down the stairs to my office, I remembered something. Just a few weeks earlier I'd received a program for the NW Christian Educator's Conference. At the time I just flipped through the booklet and threw it away--after all, I was going to Promiseland. But now, with my precious dream thrown out the window, NWCEC sounded like a silver lining. And guess what! I figured out that with the money already sitting in my account, we can take the four of us original conference attendees, plus one more, with money left over!
While the retreat won't be what was expected, I'm sure God can work through it just as much. And, it comes a month and a half earlier. Probably at just the time when I'll be ready to run away due to exhaustion.
And as though this new discovery wasn't encouraging enough, I also received affirmation for the change. Last night, Nolan and I were at our college/career group and the speaker was teaching out of John 4--when the government official went to Jesus to heal his son. He made a long journey with a request and a hoped for answer. In his view, Jesus needed to touch his son for healing to happen. But Jesus had a different answer. He told the official to go. His son was healed.
Who knows what God has in store for us at the NWCEC. All I know is I came with a request and an expected answer, but Jesus responded with another. He's telling me to go in faith. Who am I to argue?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Importance of Good Advertising

My husband and I love our TV shows. Which is why our evening life has been somewhat sad since the writers' strike postponed all hope of new episodes after the Christmas break. So this evening, after finishing a movie (Netflix is now our best friend), we were scrolling through the channels and noticed Chuck was scheduled to play after Celebrity Apprentice. Last time we'd seen our favorite Buy More employee we were told Chuck may or may not be around in 2008. So we checked the info on the show to find out which episode would re-run. Imagine our surprise upon reading that it was brand new!

We've watched commercial after commercial introducing new sitcoms, dramas and game shows. We've watched movies to avoid the sadness felt from not seeing our favorite friends of TV land. And we've even ventured as far as playing board games and trying something old fashioned called "talking." Wouldn't you think at some point in the midst of our desperate search for new episodes, NBC and the producers of Chuck would have promoted a new episode non stop? We're so glad to have happened upon a random listing (and I just discovered there was another episode even earlier) allowing a reunion.

And as commonly happens, a TV show I enjoy got me thinking about ministry. How often do we have something great to offer, an event we've intensely invested in, or a valuable thing to share, yet neglect the important aspect of good advertising? How many times are we saddened by poor results, while parents, children, families are sitting at home, finding other things to fill their time, all the while unaware that they're missing what they've been waiting and hoping for?

And a final thought (as the episode of Chuck just came to a close with the statement of "new episodes coming soon")... when you do satisfy that need/hope of the people, make sure that you offer concrete, upcoming options. We must be careful not to excite and give hope, yet lack future follow through.

I'm happy to have unexpectedly spent an hour with our television friend, and I look forward to seeing him again. And while I watch carefully for upcoming episodes, may it be a reminder and a caution to make sure the families in my ministry don't have to be so attentive.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

We Survived!

Tonight was our first Saturday evening service. Considering we just announced it to the church last Sunday (by the way, if you weren't there, we now have a Saturday evening service), the response was incredible! Attending adults, children, and volunteers totaled about 525, almost three times what was anticipated. While our classes were over crowded and under staffed, the evening lacked the chaos that could have easily ensued. Clearly, we were covered by God's grace. I also know there were several things that helped us in the process. So what helped tonight go so well?

-While this addition has been a topic of discussion for a few years, three months ago we were warned of the possibility of a Saturday evening service in the near future. We began researching like crazy! Thanks to some wonderful, helpful Children's Ministry leaders on Kidology (a forum I'm a part of) we had a rough idea of what to expect--volunteer response, possible attendance, and even advice for avoiding burn out. Without their words of wisdom and experience our team would have been lost.

-After researching, we had a long meeting to hash out what was needed, expected, to be avoided, and much much more. We talked through the pros and cons of starting such a service, and methods for simplifying our program on Saturdays.

-We were told to wait. We thought a Saturday service had become a distant dream. But then, when it was put on the calendar with only a few weeks notice (with Christmas in the middle of those weeks), we were ready to go with our notes from before.

-We held things loosely. We accepted that flexibility would be our motto. We planned well but were prepared to change.

-And finally, we trusted. Trusted that God was guiding our executive staff. Trusted that God would bring the volunteers. And trusted the Lord would bless our efforts.

I'd like to say a HUGE thank you to Geary Furukawa, Molly Cotter, and Nolan Nelson. Three volunteers who came tonight and will return in the morning. Thank you for your willingness to help us get this new ministry up and running.

So here we are, one Saturday service down... countless to go!

Friday, January 4, 2008

Honoring God's House

So many of my childhood memories took place at church. I can still picture rehearsals for a Christmas musical and being told that our choir’s stage laugh sounded like a bunch of machine guns. Or singing “Our God is an Awesome God” and doing sign language to accompany it. Or playing hide-and-seek in the large cupboards that held folding chairs. My best friend and I (probably in third grade at the time) even fought over a toy in the preschool class once after an evening service. I look back fondly on my early days of serving—starting in the 4’s and 5’s class, then the nursery and toddler rooms, and finally leading a 3rd grade small group. But even more lasting than these memories were the lessons taught by my parents through our presence at church.

I can’t name which creative method was used to first communicate the story of David and Goliath, and the words to the song, “The Perfect Ten” (about the Ten Commandments), now escape me. But I weekly live according to the example set by my parents. Church was a priority. Any time a service or program was offered, we were there. Even when invited to a sleep-over on Saturday night, I only stayed for the evening. After all, we had church in the morning. For the most part, my brothers didn’t participate in sports that required Sunday involvement, but, for the occasional church-conflicting game, my brother went with a friend, and the rest of our family filled the stands once church was over.

Sure, there were Sundays when we were tired, the house was a mess and company was coming soon, or life had been busy. But honoring God through our attendance at church—being a part of the church—was a priority.

2008 is a year for Morning Star to remember the point that rang so clear in my house growing up. The leadership has chosen Nehemiah 10:39 as a theme verse for the year—“We will not neglect the house of our God.” While it’s a valuable and important verse to put at the forefront of our minds when coming and going through the doors of the church, isn’t it even more essential to be teaching this within our own homes? So how can you teach the lesson of not neglecting the house of God to your children?

--Place church attendance as a priority. As a family, look at what distracts you from attending each week. A scheduling conflict? Filling your weeks with so many activities that you’re too tired to show up on the weekend? Is it just hard to wake up? As a family, talk about how you can change priorities. Ask your kids to keep you accountable by being enthusiastic about church attendance.

--Place serving as a priority. By modeling service within the church, your actions will speak louder than any lesson we could teach in any of the Zones. Service could be anything from teaching a small group, manning the Information Center once a month, or making photo copies mid-week.

--Place giving as a priority. Tell your children why you give to the church, and then teach them to tithe their allowances.

While the lessons we teach here at church from week to week are valuable and can help shape a child’s relationship with the Lord, they pale in comparison to the impact of a parent’s example. As a family, do not neglect the house of God. Honor it. Follow Joshua 24:15, “Choose you today whom you will serve… but as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.”

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