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?

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!

How are you training your Child?

In any Christian discussion surrounding raising kids it isn’t long before proverbs 22:6 is eagerly quoted

‘Start a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it.’  Proverbs 22:6

It has become the mantra we claim to build our families by; yet so often when it comes to our practices we seem to be completely out of line with our principles.
Through my experience of children’s ministry across the world I have seen different trends and parental practices. Yet a common Christian trend is that the further you move into Westernized society the more choice is given to a child and the less care/training is given by their guardian.
In a bid to not force Christianity down our children’s throats we have softened so much that we allow Children to choose if we go to Church on a given Sunday. In doing so we say that its ok to put your desires before God’s desires.
Even worse we unconsciously teach our children that Church is just an add on in our lives. They can have basketball lessons, wrestling practice, gymnastics or even music lessons once, twice or sometimes even three a week and we wouldn’t allow them to miss even one of them; but when it comes to church once a month will do.
Much worse we seem to leave no place for faith in our family. God is left at Church on Sunday until the next time we visit. We don’t make God apart of the everyday; we just leave it for Sunday! When we don’t make mention of God in our homes we show kids that faith is just fake.
The reality is that Children aren’t stupid. They may nod their head to what you say; but they will always follow what you do. You train your children by the example you lead; or the example you don’t.
The news flash I want to leave you with is that 30 minutes a month in a Church service won’t change your child’s life. You have a responsibility to do more and to be more for your child. 

Life’s a Happy Song?

It pains me to think how easy my life is and just how smoothly I live through it. I have bumps in my own life, but rarely do they stop me or send me off course. As I drive around and I live my life I see people’s needs but they rarely unsettle me either. But as I think about the World I am slowly exposed to its harsh realities; to the suffering and struggles of people every day. When I contemplate the vast extent of the need in this World; I realize I  should be shaken and it should be difficult for me to live as I do.

I am learning more and more that there is OBVIOUS need and INDISCREET need.

Obvious = We see it & can’t escape it. It slaps us in the face as we live our life; we soon become Numb to it!

Indiscreet = What you can’t see; can’t hurt you! Hidden, rarely thought of and hardly ever considered.

In many ways our role as the Church should be to make the INDISCREET —> OBVIOUS! In the poorest area of our town we are acting to do this; first through our Thanksgiving Big Give and now through ‘Project Angel Tree’. We have identified 30 families (around 66 kids), in one area of the City, where at least one parent is incarcerated and we are seeking to make their life that little bit easier at such a commercial and expensive time of the year!

We are throwing them a Christmas Party; providing them with groceries, Christmas decorations and a gift for each Child. As I rang around and spoke to Parents I began to realize the difference this will make. It’s eye opening to realize that not all people approach Christmas with excitement and not all people expect anything special!

As I asked Parents what their Children would need/want I was shocked when a number asked for ‘sleeping bags’ or ‘diapers’ instead of shiny toys or video games. We rarely appreciate the NEED around us. We are blind and ignorant to what people go through! But we must learn to SEE NEED; not just blind ourselves to it. And we must learn to see the NEED as the CALL.

‘Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed.

Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows.’  (Isaiah 1:17)

We must seek to make the NEEDS of this World Famous and we should Fight to do something about them!

BEING BEFORE DOING

I have been in America a month and already I have experienced so much. In a weeks time I will be in Indiana experiencing my my very first All American Thanksgiving. I’m sure it will prove to be a wonderful time but before it comes we have plenty to do!

Thanksgiving is a massive family celebration in America where food is at the center. Yet as I live in one of the most affluent nations of the World the sheer level of poverty continues to amaze me! In order to provide for the poorest area of our City, Stone Creek Church, set out to host a thanksgiving give away…The Big Give. We are aiming to provide thanksgiving meals for 1000 low income families; which would include a turkey and 1-2 bags of groceries.

Almost 800 families have signed up so far with a week to go and this past week I joined a team which hit the local estate to tell its known disabled residents that we would be personally delivering them groceries even though they hadn’t asked for them. People were so thankful and you could tell the small gesture would make a major difference to their holiday.

When we were signing up one woman she suddenly started to sob as she told us that it must have been God who brought us there at just that moment. She explained that her son had just visited and told her that his pregnant wife, who is 5 months gone, is facing complications over her pregnancy and considering abortion. She was devastated and shaken; and after a short chat we were able to pray for her.

I mention this to say that what Stone Creek Church is DOING is unbelievable but I am learning its easy to pass through life and just get caught up in the doing. But in life it’s important to focus on who your BEING not just what you DOING!

I was so focused on what I was DOING for God; that I almost forgot what I was meant to be BEING for God. I find that when we concentrate on BEING…we can’t help but be DOING! I love DOING social action; but I prefer to be DOING it as a product of my BEING! Otherwise you get so caught up in DOING that we miss the opportunities where we need to be BEING!

Chaos Creates Opportunity

When the world sees the devastating reality of what the flesh can do
they are often shocked to their core.
When we remember the riots across the UK last summer we see that
most people found it completely disgraceful. When we saw terrorists
kill thousands on 9/11 the World stood still in shock that anyone could act
in such a way. Sadly it is often only in these times that we see the true
unattractive and repulsive nature of sin.
Yet through the chaos of these devastating events an opportunity was created and was taken by the Church.
An opportunity to take our light and our Hope to a broken world.
On 9/11 pastors around North America were invited to lead the nation through their mourning.
Through the riots in the UK the Church responded by cleaning up the streets.

I like the idea that for every action from the World, the Church has the ability to give an equally powerful but opposite action that can often restore the chaos that sin creates.

Its a challenge to the Church to take the evil of this world & to show the Love of God.
Chaos creates an opportunity for the Church to Restore & Heal.
Are we seeing & taking our opportunities?

The Hidden Weapon

The hidden weapon the Church holds in this broken World is the Love of God.
When actioned it will lead to restoration and new creation.
But more importantly it radiates everything at the core of the Gospel.
The problem is…it is often hidden.
Do you ever wonder what could happen if we practiced the Love of God in Church community?
Love actioned is loud. Like a fat woman singing at the opera. People hear of it and it takes them by surprise.
We talk a lot about reaching the community. But until we model a community of love for the unbeliever
we will only move them from one mess to another.
When one hurts, we should all hurt. When one rejoices we should all rejoice. When one grieves, we all grieve.
That is the loving community God desires us to model. That is the community which will shine the brightest.
Because whether we hurt, rejoice or grieve. We do it together. We don’t just feel. But we act on how we feel.