Sunday, February 15, 2015

Keep Our Focus So We Are Not Distracted By Anything

The other day I asked if we have lost our focus in Children's MInistry and a number of you read this post. So, today I want to think about Children's Ministry, why we serve in it and why it matters.

My background is fairly conservative when it comes to church. I grew up in a church where children sat and listened to their teachers, wrote in their student books and memorized Scripture. In High School I participated on a quiz team and loved everything about it. I wanted my children to experience the same "church" as I did, so when they were little I had them involved in a mid-week program with lots of Bible memorization. My children excelled at Bible memory, moved through their books quickly and amassed their pins and badges. I was sure all of this was how it "should" be until something happened during one awards ceremony which began to completely change my opinion. All the little four year olds were waiting to receive their awards for the progress they made in their books . . . all except for one little boy. This boy had great difficulty memorizing. He did not receive an award that evening . . . and went home in tears. When I saw him crying I wondered what his "view" of God looked like. Did he see God as Someone Who would only be pleased with him if he were able to memorize Bible verses? Was this the view of God I wanted children to have; or more importantly, which God wanted them to have of Him? Of course it wasn't.

A few years later in a different church we made the choice to utilize Group's "Hand's-On" Bible curriculum for our mid-week elementary program. Of course on Sundays we utilized a more traditional curriculum, but thought for the Wednesday outreach a more active format might be effective. I taught the 5th grade girls one week and they looked at pet rocks, lava lamps and hula-hoops. They talked about how, "fads come and go, but my relationship with God matters most and lasts forever". At the end of the evening, while I was sure they thought their parent's and grandparent's fads were silly, I wasn't sure how much Bible had actually been "taught". 

The next Wednesday one of the girls from my class ran up to me and excitedly told me she had been saving to buy a "Beanie Baby" and went to the store to make her selection. She said when she looked at the toys she realized, "fads come and go, but my relationship with God matters most and lasts forever"! She told me she realized Beanie Babies were a fad and decided they weren't important, but she was glad to know her relationship with God was! 

I was stunned! Over the years I had taught many, many Bible lessons, but had never had a child return the following week and tell me how they - on their own - thought about the Bible lesson during the week and applied it - on their own - to their own life! Maybe some of the activities in the lesson were silly, but through the intentional engagement built into the lesson, this girl was able to take what she learned out of the church, think about it, apply it and live it in her own real life! Isn't this what we want children to do with the Bible? Take it out of the church, think about it, apply it and live it in their everyday lives? 

Don't get me wrong. I absolutely believe we may very well be at a place where we have been distracted by "activity" and "fun"; but I do not believe the "answer" is to go back to a more traditional teaching model. 
 I do believe the days of children sitting around a table and listening to their teacher talk need to be part of the past of teaching children.  I believe children learn by activity, by being engaged in the learning but, I also believe it is far too easy to become so focused on the activity, we end up emphasizing the wrong thing . . . the activity over God's Word. We must teach from God's Word and be intentional about exercising caution in regards to activity. Caution the activity doesn't overshadow the teaching of God's Word, so while the children will remember what they did, they won't remember how the activity tied in to God's Word. We need to intentionally engage children in the Bible lesson so we are able to capture their attention and give them something to take with them, out the doors of the church and into their everyday lives, not to just entertain them.

And isn't this why we are in children's ministry? To see children come to know Jesus and understand His Word so they can take it out the doors of the church and live it in their everyday lives? While we want children to enjoy their time in our ministries, it is more important for them to build a real relationship of their own with God. They need to be able to learn how to know and walk with God and this is what we need to hep them with. We need to keep this in focus and not be distracted by anything else.

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