More than Bible Stories & Memory Verse!

I was that child who attended church since birth! I knew many Bible stories… I memorized many verses. I was even in every church play starting from kindergarten. I was your model church child. But in my 30’s I had an epiphany. Nobody sat me down and explained the gospel to me! Of course, i heard stories of Jesus dying on the cross for my sins. But nobody made it personal for me. Somehow I actually came to believe in Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior along the way (by the grace of God!) but nobody from the church asked me if I believed in Jesus… they all just assumed that I did because I was a model church child. Sure… it worked out for me… but this isn’t going to work for every child, I know… because I have friends and cousins that went through the same “program,” and they don’t have a personal relationship Jesus today!

DSC02836I just spent 2 days with three of my aunts. One aunt is an overseas missionary, and she told me this story which left a lasting impression. She had a 5th grade boy come to her church for three months from the next town. She loved him and his personality. She was so please to see him come to church regularly. But one day, he stopped coming… and almost a year later, a new girl from the same town started coming to the church. When my aunt inquired about the boy who had stopped coming, she was told that he had died due to drug overdose at the age of 11! My aunt’s heart sank. She wasn’t even sure if he had heard the gospel. She knew that he had been taught lots of Bible stories… but she didn’t know if during the time he had attended, if he had been personally introduced to Jesus Christ. From that day forward, my aunt decided that they needed to share the gospel with every new child that comes to her church…

This applies to churches in the US too. We need to seize every opportunity we have with the children in our ministries. In most of our churches, kids are dropped off by their parents… they come whether or not they want to come (yes, I know some kids absolutely LOVE coming to church to the point that they make their parents bring them…) But we have this unique opportunity that most adult ministries don’t. Kids come to us (I know this isn’t the case in all churches)… and if we don’t seize the opportunity to share the gospel with the kids that come to our ministries, then what are we really doing? i’m not saying that we have to talk about the Easter story every week… but we need to create opportunities to share about God’s greatest love and grace because you never know who has never heard, especially when you have new visitors. Bible stories are important! Memory verse important! Having fun is important! Building relationships is extremely important! But the most important thing is their salvation… our children’s ministry MUST be about teaching more than Bible stories and memory verses… it must be about the gospel!

I DON’T make parents volunteer in KidMin…

epic-fail-photos-volunteering-fail

I have met many children’s pastors and directors from around the country, and I have yet to meet anyone with a thriving ministry that says “I have a volunteer waitlist!” Whether it be a small church or a large church, everyone is looking for more volunteers in their children’s ministry! Recruiting is a 12-month job… it never ends!

In the past few years, the most asked question from other children’s pastors and directors is… (drum roll, please…)

Do you think it’s okay to make it mandatory for parents to volunteer in children’s ministry?

And my answer is… NO! It’s NOT okay! Making parents rotate is a temporary solution to an ongoing issue. I know that as a children’s pastor myself, I’m trying to get through one Sunday at a time. However, if my goal is to set up our children’s ministry for further success, I can’t have people (even if they’re parents) that are not passionate, gifted, nor bought into the vision rotate week in and week out to sustain ministry. Not all parents are wired to work with kids. Not all parens even like kids (except for their own–hopefully!) I’ve also had friends tell me that their church makes them volunteer in children’s ministry every 3rd week (or whatever the rotation is) and they dread it because they don’t want to serve in children’s ministry!

Some parents are awesome volunteers for children’s ministry! Some of my all-time best volunteers have been parents of kids in our ministry. But just as not all parents are gifted for children’s ministry, there are many college students, singles, married couples without kids, parents of teens, and even grandparents that may have the giftings and passion for children’s ministry. Ultimately, my goal is to find people that are good fit for our children’s ministry – who understand the vision, who have the heart for specific age groups, who loves pouring their time and energy into helping kids grow, and who are gifted in working with kids!

I won’t lie… There are days when it feels painful when you have to rely on every single volunteer to even show up… but I believe you have to put in the work if you want to build a healthy children’s ministry… and yes, with much prayer, diligence, and perseverance, it can pay off! And don’t forget to build a substitute list even if you don’t have enough consistent committed volunteers!

There are plenty of ministries in the church that need volunteers… so unleash your parents to serve where they can best serve and grow! Mandatory volunteerism is just an oxymoron, don’t you think?

God Knows What We Need

Last Sunday, we talked about how God knows what we need… and how God provides for our needs! Well, I got a first hand experience in God providing for my needs on Sunday, the very day I taught this lesson!

To start, our projector hasn’t been working and we had to do without! Since our lesson was on the Israelites wandering in the dessert and complaining to God during that time, I decided to make the kids act as Israelites… and each small group was to be a family. It felt pretty chaotic having kids walk around in circles (and few that just couldn’t walk but felt the need to run) and their whining and complaining getting louder and louder. Well, when our time was over, I had both leaders and kids come up to me and say: “that was so fun!” “i had so much fun today.” “i wanna come back here.”  Initially I was just thankful to get this feedback and felt encouraged despite all the technical issues we had that day.

When I went out to the foyer to get lunch, I happened to be standing across from a parent that I talk to once in a blue moon. I, of course, started with a small talk: “How are you? How’s work?” Then she proceeded to tell me how much she appreciates our children’s ministry… and she said, “I can’t wait to read this months’ parent newsletter. I read it cover to cover… In fact, I save it every month! Thank you so much for putting that together for us. I absolutely look forward to reading it. In addition, I just want to tell you that my kids tell me what they have learned every Sunday… and I love that they get excited to tell me about it. We love coming here. Thank you!” To be honest, I was caught off-guard because my church doesn’t have a culture of giving feedbacks (positive nor negative) and sometimes I wonder “does anyone read the newsletters? why do parents like bringing kids to our church? why do kids like coming?” I actually told her that her feedback meant so much and her words were my God Sighting for the day because it was one of the most encouraging things i had heard in awhile at the church.

By now, I’m feeling pretty encouraged… and feeling like I’m on Cloud 9, filled with gratitude and great joy for getting to do what I do! Well, that feeling was quickly changed that afternoon as I met with few leaders. Don’t get me wrong… I believe some of our leaders do the best they know how… but I found myself feeling flustered and discouraged in the middle of our meeting. People often tell me that I think very differently about children, youth, & family ministry… and most churches are not ready for that paradigm shift. I always think “how different could I be?” Well, I finally really felt it… and I started to feel crazy trying to explain how I feel about children, youth, & family ministry (I won’t go into too much detail since this isn’t the point of this blog but if you’d like to hear my thoughts, I’m always open for discussion–i just love talking about KidMin, Student Min, & Family Min… so just message me!)

Anyhow, I left that day very deflated. This one incident had erased my joy and excitement… and all of a sudden, I found myself asking a bunch of unhealthy questions. That evening, two of my pastors texted me with encouraging words… When we came into the office on Tuesday, my campus pastor said, “I actually left that meeting feeling more thankful for you and your heart and your vision. As challenging as it is, I am so glad to be doing ministry with you.” Those were the words of affirmation that became medicine to my soul.

Often times, discouraging words and experiences can completely erase all the highs of emotions. As I spent some time processing through the events of this weekend, I was reminded that God bookended that meeting with encouraging words of affirmation that I usually don’t hear for a reason! God knew I needed to be reminded of my calling. God knew I needed to be affirmed of our kids transformation. God knew I needed to hear that parents are in this journey together. God knew I needed to hear that I was an integral part of the team. That moment, I was reminded that the truth of the lesson came real and alive to me!  How cool is that???

One more thing… if you’re a parent or a volunteer or even an attendee, do practice giving feedback to your leaders… both positive and negative (but negative should be done in love and with careful words)… encouraging feedback means so much to a weary soul… and constructive criticism will only help your leaders and ministry grow in a good way!

Kindred Spirits at KidMin

“Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.” ― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

That’s exactly how I feel about KidMin people! They’re my kindred spirits! Perhaps that’s why I look forward to conferences or gatherings where I get to be with KidMins! I say this over and over… but they get my life! There is so much comfort and joy in being with people who get your life…

*****

It’s been a full week since I’ve been back from KidMin 2014 in Columbus, Ohio, and I spent some time reflecting on what God taught me last week. Well, to start… God taught me how selfish I am! Ugh, I know.. not a great start! Well, let me explain. One thing I was so looking forward to doing at KidMin was just to sit with my friends and just gab, gab, gab… gab about life, gab about ministries, and laugh a lot! I have so much fun with my KidMin friends that I have made in the past… and it’s always a big reunion to be with them! The biggest thing I was looking forward to at KidMin was to just sit, relax, and laugh a ton with my friends!

IMG_3134During Presenter & Staff dinner on the first night, we prayed over this verse on the left and for all the attendees as we colored outside the lines. I also specifically remember Chris Yount Jones telling us to be open to the Holy Spirit’s leading to those that may need a friend, a hug, or someone to listen to. Yeah, yeah… I know…

Well, that was Thursday night… and before I knew it, it became Monday, the last day of the conference… And i had barely seen my friends! I thought I would be up late with my friends every night just laughing our heads off, but that barely happened as I was busy getting ready for my next workshop or I was meeting with certain individuals, etc. I was bummed… super bummed! This is where God said “Gloria, stop being so selfish! I know you love being with your friends… but you’re not here just for you to be with your friends. You’re here to connect with others and to encourage them! Remember when you first started out in KidMin and how alone and lost you felt?” BAM–a total rebuke! Yup, I was selfish… (I never seem to learn that lesson well).

As I was confronted with this rebuke, I took a look back on my KidMin weekend, and I realized what a blessed time it was! I did get couple meals with some old KidMin friends that refreshed and encouraged me… but the bigger blessing was in connecting with new attendees, connecting with KidMins in my workshops and getting very encouraging feedbacks from them, getting to know new people through “Here Alone” connect group, and being a listening ear and praying mouth at The Shelter. A lot of these conversations took me back when I was a newbie, when I was struggling in ministry, when I felt like I didn’t have anyone to talk to, and when I felt like no one understood my life. I honestly don’t know if anyone I talked with really felt like they got something out of our time… but I was reminded that there are many that are still looking for their kindred spirits and I hope they realize that there are many in this KidMin World. My prayer is that everyone at KidMin left with at least one more kindred spirit in their lives… and that God would continue to use me to bless those that are discouraged and struggling in their roles as a KidMin because without my kindred spirits, I wouldn’t be where I am today!  Thank you God for last weekend and this great reminder!

Kid & Youth Ministries… More than Bible Lessons…

therapy-counseling-familyIt’s a general assumption that Kid & Youth Ministries is all about teaching Bible stories, lessons, and planning activities to the kids that come to church on Sundays! Yes, we do a lot of that… However, that’s not all we do! In fact, that’s not probably not the most significant part of what we do… Gasp! (I can just hear the echo of shock from some reasons…) Yes, it’s true… teaching Bible stories and lessons aren’t the most significant part of what we do! If you ask me, the most significant aspect of our ministry is loving them unconditionally as we journey with the individuals.

We, at church, may have the challenge of not having enough face time with the children (in an average church, an average child will only spend 39-45 hours the whole year in Sunday School… that’s barely 2 full days worth!). However, we have the unique opportunity to journey with them through various life stage as long as the family continues to come to church. Lately, I’ve been reminded that a lot of our kids come to church with baggage from home life, school life, social life, etc. While we give priority to teaching the Bible truths each Sunday, we also make sure each small group leader connects with their students on a more intimate level. Most of the times, that’s where true ministry takes place. We hear about a fight the child had that morning with a sibling, about how he/she got in trouble, about how the child misses a parent who is no longer living with her/him, about feeling lonely and sad, about their hurts, and more. Also in small groups, the kids get to discuss Jesus more in depth with their small group leaders, share good things that happened during the week, and how God answered their prayers. We have the privilege of talking through these challenging and good times. We have the privilege of crying with them and celebrating with them.

Don’t get me wrong… everything we do is because we have deep desire to help kids know and experience Jesus in tangible ways… but people often think kids and youth ministries are all about activities, events, and lessons! We plan activities and events to provide more opportunities for draw more kids. And of course, we want the kids to learn the Bible. But our job doesn’t end there!

As we come to the end of academic year and we also prepare for Promotion Sunday at church, many of the small group leaders tell me that it’s their desire to stay with their small group kids! This makes me happier than I can express… because they realize that they don’t teach a grade, they don’t just teach Bible lessons, BUT they’re investing in the lives of the kids that have been entrusted in their small groups. The relationship and journeying with the kids through the good and bad times is what we really do… and we do this by sharing the unconditional love of Jesus! Kids are experiencing Jesus through their leaders! It can’t get more tangible than that in Sunday School!

All the volunteers and staff are privileged to journey with these kids and youths… because we get to experience God’s grace and redemption in their lives when they make decisions to follow Jesus. We get to develop relationships with the whole family and become a part of their extended circle of influence in the lives of the kids. We get to see them grow and mature!

This past week, I got another invitation to a high graduation of a kid who was in my ministry when he was in elementary school… and I was filled with gratitude as I thought back on his life… I’ve been able to witness him growing right before my eyes… and from a cute little 2nd grader to a tall, handsome, and God-loving young man!

If you ask me, the most significant things that all the volunteers and I do isn’t teaching Bible stories and lessons… but it’s really investing in growing relationship with the kids and families… It’s not easy at times, but I absolutely love what I do!

A Tale of Three Boundaries…

This past weekend, I had the privilege of leading a workshop on teaching preteens and teens about helping them to say YES to God’s plan for dating, marriage, and sex!  I know, God’s crazy sense of humor in that…  🙂

As we’re discussing setting rules for teens, we shared a lot of stories from our own teen years.  Three distinct stories stood out to me:

  1. One attendee shared that his parents set strict rules, very strict boundaries without explaining them to him.  He had questions upon questions.
  2. Another attendee shared that while she was given distinct boundaries, her parents never brought God into the equation.  They were rules for rule-sake, and she still rebelled.
  3. Another attendee broke out in tears as her friend next to her shared the hurt she was recounting as she thinks about lack of boundaries she had growing up.  She had many, many regrets of the mistakes she had made simply because there were no boundaries in her life.

boundaryAll of these stories made my heart hurt and yet rejoice in God’s amazing grace.  Yes, I believe without a doubt in my mind that kids and teens need boundaries at every age.  However, we also need to explain to them why these boundaries exist.  Boundaries without why’s only lead to confusion, questions, and even rebellion.  No boundaries lead to lack of discernment and sometimes even conscience to do what’s right.  We give kids and teens boundaries because we love them.  We gives kids and teens boundaries because we want to protect them.  We give kids and teens boundaries because we want to help them make good decisions.  We give kids and teens boundaries because we want to equip and develop them to be responsible, God-loving, God-fearing, and wise adults.  Boundaries are needed… but they cannot be given without the why’s… and the biggest and the most important why is because of our relationship with Jesus.  We make our life-choices based on God’s leading because of our relationship with Him.

What’s also beautiful about these stories is that regardless of the questions, confusions, rebellion, and mistakes, God redeemed all these beautiful people.  I don’t even know their names… but their faces are super clear in my mind.  I just remember thinking–wow, they’re here!  They’re at a Christian Conference, and they’re sitting in a workshop that talks about helping teens commit to Jesus Christ and making life choices that reflects growing relationship with Jesus!  What a beautiful picture of redemption!  God is so cool like that!  God uses our past experiences and even hurts to help others… and these faces were so beautiful to me!

Set boundaries for kids and teens but explain why!  And regardless of what decision kids make, know that God can redeem even the worst questions, confusions, rebellion, and mistakes.

monkey see, monkey do…

monkey see monkey do

Yes, it’s been a very long time since I last blogged… The last few months have been crazy non-stop… Well, last week, I stopped by my friend’s house because I was in the area.  I got to spend some time w/ her 2 kids.  Her older one just turned 3 years old.  As I was trying to talk to my friend, he kept wanting to play with me.  We started building a tower on his colorful pegboard.  Once we finished our tower, he took the four pegboards and started quizzing me:

pegboardB:  What color is this?

Me:  Blue!

B:  Greeeeaaaaat Joooooob!  Now what color is this?

Me: Red?

B:  Veeeerrry Niiiiceeeee….  How about this one?

Me:  Yelloooooow.

B:  Yesssss!  Gooood.

This quizzing continued for about 15 minutes.  I couldn’t stop laughing.  First, it was ridiculously cute.  Second, I was dying because I could definitely hear his mom’s tone and and intonation in the way he said “great job,” “very nice,” or “good.”  He was talking to me as if I was the child. He was only repeating what he hears from his mom and other adults… We often talk about how scary it is “what kids pick up from adults.”  They pick up words, actions, context, attitude, and even intonation.  They truly observe everything…. and often repeat in the right context!

I was reminded how important it is for us adults to model for the little ones around us!  I’m also guilty of not being the best model around kids at times.  But if you’re around kids often or all the time, you really need to think twice about how kids are catching your behavior, actions, words, and attitude.  As they say, monkey see, monkey do!

How can you change what your behavior, actions, words, and attitude to be a better model this week?