Children’s Ministry Nightmares

gordon ramsey meme

One of my favorite shows right now is Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares…in fact…I may be slaughtered for this…but I love anything Gordon Ramsey! On my last two vacations I have visited Las Vegas and eaten at two of Gordon’s restaurants there…the Pub & Grill and Steak. BOTH the meals I had were incredible.

For those who don’t know, the premise of the show is that each episode Gordon tackles a failing restaurant and tries to work with the staff to turn it around. Without fail every week there are arguments and fall outs as Gordon Ramsey tells the owners and chefs just how bad the restaurant and food are!

And without fail EVERY episode either the owner or the Chef is in denial…they are often caught saying, ‘I would rate my food 9/10’ or ‘my restaurant is one of the best in the area.’ The truth is the owners of these businesses become BLINDED by their PRIDE.

In fact, although the general staff ALL knew how bad things were, the owners never heard their complaints. They were always deaf and blind to those close by them. Each week it took Gordon Ramsey, an expert from outside, like a bull in a china shop, to force changes and show the owners a better way!

Last year I invited a children’s pastor with tons of experience to visit my children’s ministry and give feedback on what he saw. We were looking at the best way to renovate our facilities and he had experience in this area. What I received was a ‘Gordon Ramsey’ style review of my children’s ministry that knocked me off my perch. In many ways it was like salt was being poured into my open wounds.

Although the critique was harsh and painful I learnt a lot from it and it gave me the kick in the teeth to get things moving!

So here are some things we can do to keep pride outside:-

 

  1. Always ASK questions
  • It is never the ‘learners’ who are full of pride
  1. Be your biggest critique
  • Remember nothing is perfect and changing is always necessary
  1. Remember where you were without God
  • Its hard to be prideful when your thankful.

 

What are some ways you safeguard yourself from Pride?

 

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The Neglected Necessities

I have noticed recently that across the children’s ministry circles I am involved in that a huge area of concentration for most ministries is CREATIVITY. As children’s pastors I think we try as hard as we can to find ways to make the message of the gospel penetrate kids minds. I think the dream of EVERY children’s leader is that their message each week would STICK and that kids would remember it!

A few months ago I began a journey that has slightly distanced me from this though. Don’t get me wrong, I highly value creativity in children’s ministry. We have to work hard to be relatable and relevant to the kids in our ministries. However, I’m fed up of trying to penetrate a kids mind when they primarily need the message of the Gospel to hit their heart.

I strongly believe that kids need to find wholeness through Jesus. They need to experience God in a way that will stick with them forever, but I don’t think that comes through just information but through relationship.

I grew up in a small church Sunday school…every week I learned more about God…I knew of God…but I never KNEW him…until he penetrated my heart with his love. You see we can try hard and work with incredible creativity to help capture kids attention…but if it ends up in their heads and not in their hearts then it’s all pointless.

I believe there are two things, that we often overlook and neglect, that can help move the message of the Gospel beyond the head and to the heart…

  1. Pastoral Ministry

When kids enter our ministry often they come guarding their heart. Especially kids who had been bruised a little by life. God can work through any barrier but I believe that there is something powerful about pastoral care that enables kids to open their hearts for us to speak life into. Too often this falls into the background…but don’t forget we are called to be ‘CHILDREN’S PASTORS!’

  1. The Work of the Holy Spirit

I finally realized a few months ago that I can’t change a child with my words. I can’t teach them to be a better Christian and then just watch them magically do it. It never worked like that for me and it won’t for them. Instead the Holy Spirit is the true teacher and the one who enables us to do that which we couldn’t do on our own. Sometimes I think we ‘save’ the Holy Spirit for camp or special times of the year but I think its imperative that we make space for him to minister to our kids each week in our services.

How do you incorporate these important elements to your children’s ministry?

Summer Outreach Ideas

Children’s pastors today have more resources than ever before to reach children who live in the shadows of the steeple. However, based on the stories I hear children’s pastors tell about their summer outreach, I get the feeling we are missing the mark by only reaching kids who are already attending another church.

There are 22.7 million[1] elementary children within the US. Certainly there are more children to reach than those who are already churched.

Since there is no shortage of “outreach” resources available at the local Christian bookstore, what’s missing? I’m glad you asked… It’s strategy.

Even the best outreach resources will fail at truly reaching the lost if a few key strategic questions are not answered.

 

  1. WHO do you want to reach?

If you want to do outreach, you need to know who you want to reach. Different events will attract different people. For instance, if you’re interested in attracting the local Muslim population, you’re best not hosting a pig roast. Just saying!

We are located in a university town, which means a huge percentage of our parent population is drooling at the thought of their 5 year old child one day receiving a sports scholarship…so in the past we have hosted a sports camp VBS and saw 350 kids attend.

Figure out WHO in your community you want to reach and decide where exactly those people are located. The more specific you are about who you want to reach, the more effective you can be at reaching them!

Keep in mind, that sometimes to reach the WHO in your strategy may mean you need to go to them instead of trying to get them to come to you.

 

  1. What are their NEEDS?

Once you identify your target, you need to get to know your target. Learn their population makeup, their routine, their likes, dislikes, wants and most importantly their NEEDS.

The greatest outreach you can do is one that meets a need. This past summer our church began a summer long kids feeding program in an especially under privileged part of town. Why? It was birthed out of a need. The local school has an extremely high percentage of kids on the free lunch program, so when summer hit the parents of those kids didn’t buy more food for their kids to eat lunch at home. Through that summer we would feed up to 60 kids a day.

By getting to know the people you want to reach, you can decipher what you can do to reach them effectively.

 

  1. What is being MISSED?

A good question to ask yourself in prayer is “What are the needs of kids in my community who are most overlooked?” Consider crafting a special outreach just for them. Find creative ways to show them the love of Jesus and build a relationship.

Sometimes I get the feeling that churches are in a bubble & are blinded to what is around them! It is important to understand what is already being offered for families when strategizing your summer outreach.

VBS is the most commonly used summer activity. While there is nothing wrong with a church doing a VBS, we often fall into a rut of doing the same activity each year simply because it’s known and easy.

I would challenge you to think about where the children are who truly need Jesus this summer and find ways to go to them, throw a party in their honor, and let them see just how much Jesus loves them.

 

  1. What comes NEXT?

If your outreach has been a success and children have made a profession of faith in Christ you will need to be ready for the next step — integration into your church family.

Don’t forget to think about what the child/family’s first service experience will be like. Will their outreach leader be there to greet them at the door? Will they need a ride? Who will go out of their way to ensure each and every child continues to feel special? What if they do not have a Bible, or a friend?

 

I could of written a blog full of ideas for you and your ministry, BUT without a strategy you won’t find your niche and you will never be truly effective at reaching the people your church are called to reach.

 

Now it’s your turn…what do you think? What have I missed? What has worked for you?

[1] http://www.childstats.gov/americaschildren/tables/pop1.asp

Lessons from a Karate Kid

karate kid

One of my FAVOURITE hobbies is to watch some of the classic movies of the 80’s and 90’s. Born in 1990 I missed out on being an 80’s kid BUT having 3 older sisters definitely meant I was forever enchanted by movies from that era.

Last night I had a lazy night at home and as I scrolled through netflix one movie stood above the rest…The Karate Kid…the original of course!

There is so much depth to that movie…and Mr. Miyagi is just so freaking cool…although sadly I only just realized the actor who played him died in 2005!

I want to look at 3 key lessons that we can learn from that film:-

 

  1. Never take ‘disciplines’ for granted

Clearly Mr. Miyagi was a man of focus. At times in the movie he is seen praying, meditating, balancing and even trying to catch flies with chop sticks. Mr Miyagi knew it wasn’t about being the greatest fighter but the best person he could be.

Too often I think Kidmin can take ‘disciplines’ for granted. Prayer, reading our bibles and fasting are KEY to the Christian life. We must remember its NOT about being the greatest children’s ministry but about being the greatest Christian we can be. This is most important.

 

  1. Real lessons are learnt out of the classroom

I love how Mr. Miyagi uses the sanding of the floor, the waxing of the car and the painting of the fence and house as training for fighting.

Anyone can pass a degree in a classroom but the most important and deep rooted lessons and skills can never really be taught in a ‘classroom’ setting. Character is forged through discipline and unfortunately the struggles of every day life. You can’t shortcut God’s growth plan for your life by going to seminary….just saying!

 

  1. Don’t ever assume your Leaders intentions

In the movie Daniel was instructed to do some pretty crumby jobs…from his perspective it probably felt like he was being marginalized and used as a slave to get Mr. Miyagi’s odd jobs done. There is a turning point in the movie (probably my favorite part!) where he challenges Mr. Miyagi about the things he is making him do. At that point Mr. Miyagi reveals his full intentions/motivations behind getting him to do those things…and all of a sudden the tables are turned and Daniel is shocked that he has the makings of being a great Karate fighter.

Sometimes as Kidmin we can feel marginalized by our senior pastors. We feel like we are given the difficult jobs or are treated unfairly by our pastors. Sometimes we may just feel their expectations/critiques are too intense. However, its important we don’t make assumptions about their intentions, because often they are working for you rather than against you! Speaking to your pastor about your struggles will always bring more clarity.

 

So….what lessons have you learned from Mr. Miyagi and the Karate Kid!?

Following Great Leaders

sir-alex-ferguson-hd-wallpapers

 

There are many good leaders in this world but not many do truly remarkable things and leave a long lasting impression in their field. From my childhood I have held one leader in extremely high regard…Sir Alex Ferguson…for those of you unfamiliar with the name…until a year ago he was the manager of Manchester United football club.

 

From humble begins he rose to manage one of the greatest clubs in the world for an incredible 26 years. Through this time he won 38 trophies, many records and of course a knighthood. He is regarded as one of the most successful, admired and respected managers in the history of the entire game of football.

 

This past week I completed reading his autobiography and too fell deeper in admiration for this incredible leader. However, one thing struck me, he wasn’t an easy man to follow. Although many people recognized his greatness and stuck by his side his entire career, there were a number of people who he rubbed up the wrong way. He knew control was key managing a football team, and so he worked hard to keep his. If people didn’t give their best or got distracted he would dock their wages. If football was no longer the first and only priority in a players life…he would get rid of them.

 

In his autobiography, he spoke of a player called Rio Ferdinand, who was growing in popularity. Magazines, radio and television pursued him to do interviews. One season Rio was offered the chance to travel to America to interview P. Diddy for a magazine but when word got to Ferguson he quickly shut it down. In his mind the opportunity would affect the fitness of the player and that would affect the success of the team in the coming games. To Ferguson, everything was about winning football matches…and if something got in the way of his team doing that…he dealt with it. This however often made him a difficult man to follow.

 

This of course got me thinking of other leaders and I began to resolve that the greatest leaders are the hardest to follow. Success brings many responsibilities and many sacrifices and so be apart of a successful team is no easy doing.

 

In a church context I have been privileged to follow many leaders…some of them have been truly great…and I have found similarly that the greatest leaders are often the hardest to follow. Here are a few reasons why:-

 

Great leaders have a higher standard

 

Great Leaders don’t please people

 

Great Leaders act in the interests of the team NOT individuals

The Gathering 14 Review (Chicago)

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As The Gathering 2014 (Chicago) is drawing to a close I can’t but help ponder over the time we have been privileged to journey through family ministry these past two days.

In many ways it has been a fantastic experience for myself. My time in America has only been short, 19 months to be exact, and in many ways I am still adjusting to the American way! However, my journey has been full of great experiences…including this, my first major family ministry conference.

This experience was filled with TONS of great speakers who each brought great knowledge from their fields but also brought something of the heart of God to the sessions.

So…with that said I want to run through about some of things I thought were real highlights of the conference!

  1. The philosophy of TRU ran clearly throughout! – I loved the little things, like how every speaker INTENTIONALLY provided at time for reflection and response after their talk. After every session WORSHIP was a RESPONSE. When leaders see the Holy Spirit at work in their life through this model they can’t help but be drawn to see the need for the Holy Spirit to be at work in their kids!
  2. The Sessions/Breakouts sought to train people the TRU way! – One of the hardest parts about being a TRU outsider is that looking in its easy to buy into the philosophy….but often its difficult to know how to carry out the philosophy in the every Sunday context. The practical breakouts bring lots of clarity to how to make what you do truly transformational the TRU way (eg. Small groups & worship as response).
  3. There is a place for FUN and Laughter – If there is one thing I was worried about concerning TRU it was that it wasn’t as fun as other curriculums. I wasn’t sure if it would work in Urban/Inner City areas….largely because it seems so serious with the Holy Spirit response and drive towards discipleship. HOWEVER, The Gathering helped me to see that although TRU is serious about Discipleship that doesn’t mean Children’s ministry always has to be serious! I love how they included Jeff and Bryan to lighten the mood, make jokes and simply entertain. It was great for me to see that TRU values laughter and fun! J
  4. The resources showed a new side to David C Cook – In exploring Tru I heard a few complaints about how David C Cook was outdated and irrelevant. I can only assume that old curriculums had left a stain on peoples memories. HOWEVER, my experience was that David C Cook along with TRU & Integrity music is taking real ground with its resources for Churches. I encountered some of the best, most relevant music for kids ministry (action bible remixed), a great tool in the action bible and revolutionary resources like spiritual parenting. This was VERY encouraging to see David C Cook now leading the way!

 

My time at the Gathering was truly valuable for my TRU journey. And through it all I only have one major concern with what I experienced….The EXTREME LACK OF DIVERSITY on all levels. In heading towards the conference in one of the most diverse Cities in America I expected to find a gathering of DIVERSE churches….but what I found was a collection of white middle-class churches!

 

From the platform there was one black guy and throughout the whole two days that was it. On top of that I couldn’t see or find a single person of color on the TRU staff. As a white guy from an extremely diverse Church community…it really made me question if I really wanted to be apart of a community that didn’t seem to value diversity at all. After all if the curriculum and Homefront is produced by white middle class people…then will it relate to the full diversity of the families in my church or to the huge diversity of the American public.

 

I say all that to challenge the system. We become so content with the status quo that most people wouldn’t have seen the lack of diversity. FOR me, I can’t take my mind off it! I will still pursue and try TRU but I would love to see them reach WAY beyond where they are at to embrace the fullness of the American community! The Church is SO VAST and TRU’s philosophy is revolutionary…it needs to be exposed to ALL cultures.

Lessons from my first year in Full-time ministry…

As I approach the last few days of my first year in full-time ministry I wanted to reflect upon a few of my experiences and the lessons I have learnt from them.

It was a year ago this month that I left my family in England and I jumped on a plane with all my possessions in one suitcase to start a new life in America as a Children’s Pastor in Urbana, IL at Stone Creek Church. I had just finished Bible College, was turning 22 years old and yet I was somehow favored with an incredible opportunity to run the Children’s ministry of a large church with a monthly attendance of around 250 kids!

This has definitely been a crazy year, a rollercoaster of ups and downs. I have had some great wins and yet made some big mistakes too. There have been times I have loved my job and times when I wondered if I was really even called to ministry!  Through it all I have learned a few things; but working along side some seasoned Veterans…I am constantly reminded I have a long way to go and lot more to learn!

Here are my thoughts….

1.    God Equips who he calls!

As you can imagine when I came to America I was taking on quite a role…I definitely don’t think I could be accused of dipping my toes into full time ministry. I was entering a different culture, taking on a lot of responsibility…and entering a Church where I would be the youngest pastor taking on the least healthy and most important ministry in the church. It was a mess and quite frankly I was out of my depth….It was in this mess that I soon realized that God’s grace was made perfect in my weaknesses…I began to see that through my first few months God was equipping me for the task he had called me. He didn’t just call me and leave me high and dry!

2.    Find a Rhythm…doesn’t take 20 years to get burned out!

In Bible College we were often warned of the difficulties of full time ministry…especially the dreaded ‘burn out’.

I always thought it would take years to reach such a place; but in hindsight a year in ministry has been hard enough and there have been a number of times when I couldn’t have even imagined the possibility of lasting 1 more year…let alone another 19!

When I came to America I came with many ideas, plans and strategies…and as a single guy…I had plenty of time on my hands to implement them! I worked long hours 7 days a week and I didn’t bother taking my weekly days off because I was excited and ready to go! My work schedule led to choosing fast food over cooking and relaxing over exercising in my spare time. Although I soon felt the effects in both my effectiveness and my fatigue! Balance and a work rhythm are the key to success!

Slow and Steady might not win you the race…but it will ensure you finish it!

3.    Don’t forget to Love people…

In my first few weeks at Stone Creek we had our annual ‘trunk or treat’ kids event which I helped partially organize…that event over two locations was a huge success drawing around 1700 people…throughout the year we have had some great events and made some great strides forward with the children’s ministry services…but the biggest wins for my ministry have been the relationship I have with my families and my ministry to the kids.

Events are great and improving systems is important…but my primary role is to be a minister to kids.

Some of my greatest moments have been praying for my sick kids in the hospital, talking to my kids whose parents are going through divorce or visiting my kid’s sports games or schools. In essence those are the things I am called to do…in order that my kids will know God’s love…the rest is just a bonus!

4.    Ministry is more than just Loving people…

With all that being said…Ministry isn’t all about loving people…in fact most of your week isn’t spent around people at all…unless your one of the lucky ones!

Ministry is actually more to do with leadership than anything else. One of our main roles as ministers is to recruit and equip people to do the work of Christ. Full time ministry has been just as much about managing a team of volunteers as it has been about ministering to children….this is especially true for Children’s ministry! You will organize events, clean up messes, move furniture, organize teaching, arrange volunteers and much more…Pastoring people is important…but to be successful in ministry you have to do a little more than love people…

5.    An open door in difficult times doesn’t equate to God’s will…

My first year in full time ministry has definitely been a rollercoaster. There have been some incredible moments…and some moments I would rather forget. However naturally it has only been in the difficult times when I have questioned if I was really meant to be where I am.

The funny thing is that opportunities only seemed to arrive in the difficult times and never in the successful times. It is easy to think that an open door should be walked through…but its immature to believe every available opportunity is a God opportunity…and its worse to think that just because things are difficult God is moving you on!

I’ve often found that great favor comes when we are faithful to God and his purpose for your life!