Wednesday, December 21, 2011


The following post does not necessarily reflect the views of the leadership, staff, and congregation of my church, nor of the conservative, Christian, evangelical community in whole and in part.

In other words, I'm about to "step in it."

I have no problems with the expression "Happy Holidays." And I really don't think a lot of people have a problem with "Merry Christmas" either. I do think, however, that by making these expressions the nexus of the so-called "war on Christmas," we are missing the entire point.

Why do people say "Happy Holidays?" While I'm sure someone has a sinister motive and I'm sure some (especially in the retail industry) have a desire not to offend potential customers, I think most people say "Happy Holidays" out of a sincere expression of peace and goodwill. In this increasingly hard-edged, selfish, and cynical society, it feels good to have someone take the time and wish me well. Why squelch that by rebuking the greeter?

Why do people say "Merry Christmas?" For me (and many Christians), it is a theological statement, a way of saying, "Let's celebrate the fact that God the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, came to earth as a baby, born of a biological virgin, lived a sinless life, died to pay the price for your sins and mine, and rose again on the third day, so that by trusting Him as your Lord and Savior, you can have everlasting life and a day to day relationship with Him, even as you look forward to His return!" For others, it's merely a nod to the "religious" nature of December 25. But I think a surprisingly large number of people say "Merry Christmas" for the same reason they say, "Happy Holidays": it's nice to say and it's nice to hear.

Puh-leese don't tag me with the label of "politically correct" (them's fightin' words, pard!). I think some of the things that schools, government institutions, and businesses do during December are silly and illogical. I don't know how many have nefarious motives, but a lot of them are just not thinking this through. Hanukkah is not the "Jewish Christmas." Thanksgiving and New Year are not Christmas. They put up all the decorations and trappings and lights of Christmas, then stick up a banner that says "Happy Holidays." As the governor of one state responded to the move to call the state "Christmas tree" a "Holiday Tree": "what other holidays celebrate using a decorated fir tree?" With prolonged use, the whole political correct thing collapses under its own weight.

But I think by insisting that folks utter "Merry Christmas", we are imposing a kind of "Christian political correctness" on the landscape. We gladly proclaim the "Reason for the season", but we must not forget that the Reason goes a lot deeper than a greeting. There is a war, but it's a war on Christ Himself, not just His birth. It's a war that is fought every single day in the hearts and minds of human beings. It is a war in which Jesus is the ultimate victor and in which one day every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord (Philippians 2:10-11). And that is greater than any mere December greeting.

Happy Holidays
(yeah, I said it).

Monday, December 19, 2011


Effective December 31 (my birthday, by the way!), after 15 years of service, I will no longer be the children's pastor at my church.

To say I have mixed emotions is like saying Shakespeare was a good writer. It is the epitome of understatements. On the one hand (trying to look for silver linings here!), there is less on my plate now, freeing me to finish some other projects in the church office (I'm employed as the administrative assistant for the church. I did the whole children's ministry gig for free), giving me a little more couple time with my wife or releasing me to get some badly needed yard work finished. Plus there's the whole lack of stress thing, which anybody in ministry can tell you is a part of the whole ministry package. Okay, silver linings, check.

But then there's the other side. How do I just walk away from something that has been life and passion for a decade and half (and actually longer, since I regularly did children's ministries in high school, college, and other churches before coming to this current situation)? "Building His Kingdom, Reaching His Kids" was the theme of the first Children's Pastor's Conference I attended, but it's also been a theme of this ministry. I sincerely, honestly, truly want kids to learn about Jesus and have tons of fun! Since I'm officially on the "older" side of the age scale, I've been impressed with the contagiousness of kids' energy. I don't know how to explain it, but for some reason, any aches, pains, and lack of energy vanish from the time I walk in the door to the time I leave. I'll be doing dance moves and goofy characters during the ministry time, only to feel like every bone in my body has been twisted out of shape when I leave. How can I leave a ministry that constantly demands the very best of my adaptability and creativity and gives me avenues to exercise and apply infectious joy? And then there's the smiles, the laughs, the tears, the high fives, handshakes, and hugs. Why am I leaving all that?

I will not bore or trouble you on a public blog with the internal matters of church politics and demographic targeting. Let me be general for a moment (understanding that nearly all churches encounter this with any ministry, not just kids): when the leadership of a church does not share or support the vision for children's ministry, there are few options left. Children's Ministry is a function of the local church and, as such, is under whatever board controls the vision and direction of that church. That's the way it is and that is the way it should be. That does not mean I agree with the specifics of the board's actions and reasonings. I have expressed the specifics to my pastor, but there are very few others with whom I will share the proverbial "nitty gritty." If you are local and curious, I will direct you to the elder board for their take. Causing a ruckus will serve no one.

So I'm resigning. I'll still be at my church for the foreseeable future as I'm still employed in the office. And just because I'm leaving my unpaid position does not mean I'm leaving "children's ministry." I will still be in San Diego for the 2012 Children's Pastors' Conference. I may even have time to blog more and share at least some of the thimble-full of knowledge and experience I may have gleaned over the last 15 years. I may make myself available once again for pulpit supply and guest speaking, seeing as my Sundays are not as tight as they once were. I don't know yet specifics yet, as I'm still in the praying, grieving, and "what's next" stage. But one thing that has been resounding around my brain is this: as important and integral as children's ministry is to my life, it is not God. Think about that--in whatever area of your life is important--that area is not God. God is God...and I serve Him.

Thank you for your prayers and support. And as rule #3 says in our Sunday morning kidmin: "Learn about Jesus and have tons of fun!"

Monday, December 12, 2011


Quick disclaimer: it would not surprise me in the least if someone else has already written on this; particularly those who are in the music field. I didn't do an exhaustive search for this theme, I just wrote what was on my mind at the time.

I love music and I love to sing and I know enough to distinguish good music from bad music (I know enough to know my own singing voice is highly untrained and undisicplined. In other words, no American Idol for me!). Within the whole allowance of personal taste and opinion, I can tell when a note is missed or a rhythym is out of place. I don't enjoy the kind of heavy metal screaming type of singing, but I can appreciate the guy who can play his guitar at a zillion miles per hour in something that resembles a melody. I have favorite songs in dozens of genres and styles. I love music.

One thing I love is a good, tight harmony. I just finished listening to Celtic Woman sing "Oh, Holy Night." Incredible. I enjoy the GoFish guys as they let loose with "Little Drummer Boy." Plug in some of the gospel quartets out there and you'll hear such a seamless blending of voices, it sends chills up and down your spine. I love great harmony.

You know what I like the most about harmony? If you listen to each individual voice, they're singing something different. Each voice is making a distinct sound. But put them all together and it sounds like one smooth voice singing the song.

But here's the part that gets me: next time you hear a really close harmony, notice that the voices sound like an unbelieveably rich single voice. But if you concentrate really hard, you can actually hear each individual voice come through. Distinct voices (I can almost hear them) blending together into one voice (I can hear it).

I got to thinking about the Trinity as I was listening to "Little Drummer Boy" by GoFish. Listen, there is not a single earthly illustration of the Trinity that can fully explain the Godhead, so please do not read too much detail into this. It's just that each Person of the Godhead is distinct, but are also, at the exact same time, one voice! Just like an incredibly tight harmony, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct, but one.

Once again, don't take the illustration beyond where it is supposed to go. The theologian in me can already pick this apart. But the music lover in me is in awe.

Listen to the music and glorify God.

Thursday, December 01, 2011


What if you woke up one morning and there were no calendars? Why, how could you tell when it was....Christmas?

Do not despair, oh Gregorianally challenged friend, for I now bring you: The 7 Signs of the Holidays, in no particular order:

1. McDonald's eggnog shakes. Of course, these started earlier this year, but no problem...nothing says the holidays like a thick eggnog shake (minus the cherry).

2. The end of Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. Yup, when Santa rides in on that unbelievably tall float, it's time for the season to begin.

3. The Santa hat. I have a friend who wears a Santa hat and puts the image on Facebook. When I see that profile pic, I know that Christmas can't be far behind.

4. Activity begins at the Christmas light house. There's a house in town that decorates with spectacular music synchronized lighting. When I pass by and see extra people crawling on and around the building like industrious ants, I get excited because I know that the holiday season is getting close.

5. Steve's 25 Days of Christmas music. Mr. Steve Tanner, who must have enough vinyl in his record collection to supply protective gloves to every hospital on the eastern seaboard, shares a rarely heard Christmas offering every day. This year, in honor of his impending fatherhood, Steve presents Navidaddy. And the neat thing, it's free. Give it a listen here

6. Mannheim Steamroller. 'Nuff said

7. Christmas decorations in the stores. Now this one can get out of hand; I mean, who needs ornaments next to the Halloween masks? But I notice that each day the decorations get more and more pronounced, until after Thanksgiving when everything lights up! It's like a great big party (now if all the guests would just realize who the party is for!).

Monday, November 21, 2011


Some days the lessons come by accident.

It was a typically busy Sunday. Kids were already starting to come in before the service, and I was greeting them, talking to them, saying "hi" to the parents, and attending to a few dozen other things. I then had a moment where I needed to go to the foyer to give a message to someone.

As I made way past the hallway, the little girl with the cute ribbon in her hair broke away from her parents to run up to me and give me a smile and a hug. She had been absent for awhile, so I talked to her and told her how much we had missed her. After our conversation, I walked a few more steps and heard, "Hi, Teacher Tim," "Hey, Teacher Tim," "Mom, there's Teacher Tim!" Another hug, a couple of high fives, handshakes, and knuckle bumps later, I finally delivered my message. I turned and met a family who was there for the very first time. I spoke with them for a few moments, then spoke with a fairly new family who had been coming for a couple of weeks. They said how much they're kids enjoyed our program and they were thinking that maybe they had found their new church home. As I turned to go, I met a parent who had some questions and a volunteer who wondered when she was scheduled.

In the course of 12 minutes, I had more exposure then I usually have on a given Sunday. You see, I always try to be visible to the parents. In fact, one of the changes I made in the "way I do things" was to quit doing take down tasks and instead talk to parents at the door (I describe it here). But this last Sunday, I was struck by another fact: people expect "Teacher Tim" in the children's area. But "Teacher Tim" in the main foyer is a treat! It was an energizing, affirming experience.

So as I continue to grow and build as a children's pastor, I want to make my "out of the box" appearances more deliberate. I want to be even more visible, so that kids and parents can identify someone who watches out and cares for children at our church.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


September 11, 2011 marked our children's ministry's sixteenth annual "Celebration Roundup." Part pep rally, part family reunion, Roundup is a kickoff party to the new school year. It's kind of loud, with lots of laughter and games and singing. Roundup is the embodiment of one of our weekly rules at Sunday Morning Celebration: "Learn about Jesus and have tons of fun."

And September 11 was also the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Thousands lost their lives in the assaults, as well as in the war that followed. It was most certainly a solemn day.
Getting ready for Roundup was difficult. I spent a good portion of the day assembling props that, for some reason, would not stay assembled. I attempted to scale a 12 foot ladder to hang some streamers, only to discover that my knee and my own lack of height would not allow me to go to the uppermost rung (hooray for a very tall high schooler who fastened the decorations for me). That evening, I went home to put together some video for the next morning, but my video camera was not working. The next morning (talk about last minute!) I discovered some songs that would be perfect, only to have another equipment malfunction ruin that idea. And as is the case every year, I didn't get to the church as early as I would have wanted.
Yet in spite of the obstacles and setbacks, Celebration Roundup went great. The kids sang. Some of our teens jumped in and led songs. We played games. We laughed. We talked about the coming year and where we would be in the Scripture. No question about it: we learned about Jesus and had tons of fun. All the hard work, all the preparation, and even all the setbacks were worth it. Roundup 2011 was a success.

But in the midst of it all, I was wondering if anybody would ask the question: should we be doing something as fun and light hearted as Roundup on such a day of deep solemnity and remembrance as 9-11? I imagined a gathering of leaders who would be asking how they planned to commemorate the attacks: a moment of silence, a sounding of bells, perhaps a solemn song? Our roomful of kids would be spending the time playing assorted games and dancing to upbeat music. How respectful is that?

For the record, we did have a moment during Roundup to talk about 9-11 and its significance. As I spoke to the children, many of whom were not even born on that terrible day, I emphasized that they live in a country where they are free to worship and that no matter how many things bring us down, we still live in a great country. And with a little boy holding the American flag and an older boy leading us, we said the Pledge of Allegiance and prayed for our country. It was a simple, but moving moment.

That brief "mini-devotion" on 9-11 was the reconciliation of any concerns about the appropriateness of the day. You see, I'm a children's pastor. I work with kids. And I sincerely want kids to be kids: to laugh, to sing, to dance, to praise with whole hearts. In short, I want them to "learn about Jesus and have tons of fun." But as I reflected on 9-11, there are groups and cultures where kids most decidedly do not learn about Jesus and do not have tons of fun. Some roadblocks are environmental or economic, but some are man-made, by those who want to teach their children early on how to kill and hate in the name of whatever belief they embrace. How unbelievably sad.

9-11 was a tragedy, but it would be worse if we allowed it to stop reaching kids as kids, if it would still one foot, or quiet one small voice from worshipping the Lord.

Monday, August 08, 2011


9 year old Ethan Jostad went home to be with the Lord on Monday, August 8, at 1:58 p.m.

To see a community rally around one of its children has been heart warming. To expand that care and concern to the entire nation has been incredible. The "Team Ethan" Facebook page has been "liked" over 15,400 times. Ethan's personal page shows nearly 5000 friends.

And now our community will be mourning. But the sadness we face here on earth at the loss of an incredible young fighter is nothing compared to that first full deep breath of heaven that Ethan inhaled this afternoon. Ethan is more alive now that he's ever been and in that we can rejoice and be comforted.
Please continue to pray for the Jostad family.

Thursday, July 14, 2011


Yes, my blog has an international following. Okay, one of the readers was from Australia, so I know that someone outside the U.S. reads my blog. Since many of my friends have no other connection to me but through this periodic writing hobby, I wanted to talk about a kid named Ethan.

The Jostad family was part of our church’s day care operation for several years. I was always impressed with the infectious smiles the family had when they dropped off and picked up their children each day. Mom, Dad, and the kids always seemed to be upbeat. After a while, they had found other child care options, but they still kept in touch with the daycare and some of its staff.

And then one day, the Jostad’s world flipped over. This is how their website describes it:

"In August 2009, Ethan Jostad (7yrs old at the time) was diagnosed with Stage IV Rhabdomyosarcoma (“RMS”), which is a cancerous tumor that originates in the soft tissues of the body. Ethan had a large tumor in his chest and a few smaller tumors in his abdomen. RMS is very rare and occurs in roughly 40 kids annually in the United States."

What followed next was a wellspring of support from the community…local, state wide, even nation wide and around the world. And then, earlier this year, Ethan’s scans were clear! It was as though the sunshine had broken through the black clouds that had hovered over the family for months.

But the relief and rejoicing was to be short-lived. Again, from the website:

"…the cancer has come back with a vengeance….on June 21st we discovered Ethan had relapsed and once again he was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer that had spread throughout his body"

It sounds so simplistic to say “pray for Ethan and his family.” Yet we know that this is the most profound thing we can do. And yes, the family can use financial support. Unable to work, having to maintain two places to live (home in Oregon and again in New York where the treatments are held), travel expenses, and medical costs. You can find out how to donate through the “Team Ethan” website.

There are many children and adults who are struggling with life-threatening diseases. I wanted my friends who read my blog to learn about one of them. Thank you.

Thursday, June 23, 2011


They say the secret to a business’ success is location, location, location. But there are also those who suggest, for the small or medium sized church, that in order to have someone present the lesson to children each week, the secret is rotation, rotation, rotation. In other words, get a bunch of volunteers, put them on the schedule to teach each week, and then no one person has to miss out on the “main service” all the time.

But as I stated in the introduction to this series, it is my humble opinion that such a weekly rotation is counterproductive to effective children’s ministry. Today, I want to sum up my thoughts, clarify my points, and lay out some suggestions both on how to have a consistent teaching structure and how a rotation could possibly work in some circumstances.

As we’ve been discussing, the three drawbacks to a weekly rotation are Inconsistent Preparation, Inconsistent Presentation, and Inconsistent Participation. To phrase it in a more positive way, during our Sunday Morning Children’s Church hour, there should be an expectation of consistency. Let me illustrate: when my daughter was in middle school, she had the opportunity to go to Japan. While there, she went out to eat at McDonald’s. I asked her what kind of food they served at the Golden Arches in Japan and she replied matter-of-factly that they had the same food there as we do here. Sure, they also had some options that were specific to their country, but overall, the McDonald’s experience was the same. And that’s true wherever you see a McDonald’s: the food is going to taste pretty much the same (which may or may not be a good thing in your opinion). That’s because McDonald’s is big on consistency. I believe that the Children’s Church experience should be a consistent one each week. The children should come in knowing that they will have a certain type of music, a certain atmosphere, a certain connection with an adult or older teen that they know will be there each week.

Now consistency does not mean “boring.” I remember Ronnie Caldwell once saying that we need just enough variety in our service to avoid the “routine ruts.” Having the same presenter each week does not mean the presentation has to be the same thing for 52 weeks out of the year. Rearrange the chairs, introduce a new character, flip the order of service…there is variety available within a kind. What we want to avoid is the pitfall of having a high-impact, multi-media experience one week and faded flannelgraph and stale cookies the next week. That’s not variety, that’s quantum shock. That’s McDonald’s serving French fries one week and porridge the next.

Besides creating a consistent atmosphere for the kids, having a consistent presenter also helps with relationship building. A caring adult who comes in and ministers to the children week after week is in a better position to remember their needs, their prayer requests, their spiritual growth. The kids get accustomed to the personality of the teacher, instead of having to adjust to a different individual and way of doing things each week.

As strongly as I feel about consistency in children’s church, I am not 100% against all kinds of rotations. In fact, if you are in a church that has a rotational schedule, here are some ideas that will help make it more workable.

1. Make the rotations longer. Instead of weekly, try monthly. Some of your volunteers may enjoy teaching for four weeks straight, then having a few months off. This will also strengthen relationship building.

2. Establish an atmosphere in which all the teachers will present their lessons and make sure the teachers know it. The teachers may be pleased to know they don’t have to re-invent the proverbial wheel each week.

3. Raise the standard for teachers with well written job descriptions. Make sure each of your teachers knows what they should be doing. Spell out your policies for absences and work on instilling a level of commitment among the teachers.

4. Encourage your teachers with training opportunities. Become their biggest cheerleader. And if it becomes clear that some of your weekly rotation volunteers want to exit, find a graceful way to help them transition out.

As for those small to mid-size churches that have discovered the joy of a consistent presenter each week, here are some quick principles, observations, and tips:

1. Have a support team. While you are responsible for the overall hour, the more people you can gather around you to help with songs, crafts, games, and just plain crowd-control, the better.

2. Stay connected with your pastor’s messages. If you have multiple services, this is easy: teach the kids in one and attend the main service in the other. But if you are in a church with only one service, take advantage of any recordings that your church does on Sunday mornings. Find a time to listen to the message and take notes.

3. Link up with other fellowship opportunities at your church. Men’s and women’s groups, Bible studies, and so on provide you with small group contact with “big people.”

4. Have substitutes ready who are trained and able to maintain the expectation of consistency in the event that you are ill, traveling, or just need a Sunday off.

I will not pretend that this series is the final word on rotations. It is based on my experiences, which means (as the commercials say), "your mileage may vary." But I do welcome your insights and observations, as we learn together in this adventure known as Children's Ministry.


They say the secret to a business’ success is location, location, location. But there are also those who suggest, for the small or medium sized church, that in order to have someone present the lesson to children each week, the secret is rotation, rotation, rotation. In other words, get a bunch of volunteers, put them on the schedule to teach each week, and then no one person has to miss out on the “main service” all the time.

But as I stated in the introduction to this series, it is my humble opinion that such a weekly rotation is counterproductive to effective children’s ministry. I believe there are three reasons why this is true. Reason number one was Inconsistent Preparation. Reason number two was Inconsistent Presentation. Today, we present reason number three:


It’s Saturday night. You’re relaxing with your spouse when, suddenly, the phone rings. You exchange despairing glances with your spouse. The tone of the phone grows ominous. You pick up and manage a casual and cheerful, “Hello.” “Hi, it’s Burt,” the voice on the other end intones. “I really hate to do this to you,” he begins. Your shoulders sag. “But my wife reminded me of this commitment we have…and I really can’t get out of it, so I won’t be able to teach children’s church tomorrow.” You put your best smiley voice on, express sympathy for the conflict, and ensure Burt that everything will work out. When you hang up, your spouse’s eyes sum it up: “you’re not going to be able to come to the main service again, are you?”

A weekly rotation looks impressive on paper. And it can even look impressive in practice, as each individual or couple faithfully takes their turn at bat on their designated Sunday. But the reality is, not everyone is as consistent in their participation as the schedule would assume. People cancel their commitment, sometimes at the last minute, leaving their supervisor to scramble for a last minute substitute or even taking it on themselves.

There are many reasons why people cancel. Some are unavoidable, like illness or family emergencies. Some are perhaps avoidable, but certainly understandable, such as a change in vacation time or an unexpected opportunity for travel. But others leave us feeling very cold inside; such as the woman who calls and says, “I know I’m on the schedule to teach tomorrow, but we just found out last night that we’re going water skiing.” (yeah, I watched the weather forecast for Sunday…it’s a beautiful day). Or the teacher who called and said, “Tomorrow is my day, but we’ve got this reunion planned…it’s been in the works for three months now and I can’t cancel it.” (and you’re telling me this now?). And of course, there are those few who don’t call at all.

When someone who should be prepared to present a lesson is absent, it falls on someone who may not be prepared to bring the lesson. And when that happens, the expectation of consistency goes out the window. You may have a talented substitute who can bring a fairly decent lesson at the last minute. Or, you may have someone who is armed to the hilt with VeggieTale videos. There is nothing necessarily wrong with showing a last minute video in a pinch, but when the pinches become regular and frequent, the arm of our children’s ministry starts to show bruising.

By having a regular teacher (or teaching team) whose weekly responsibility is to bring the children’s church lesson, you cut down the frustration of the Saturday night phone calls and bring a consistency to the Sunday morning kid’s work. That’s not to say that the regular teacher won’t be sick or won’t have a day off, but by instilling a week by week consistency, a difference in participation becomes the exception and not the rule.

In our next (and final) installment of this series, I’m going to lay out some yays and nays regarding rotations and consistent teachers. In case you haven’t noticed, I am a strong proponent of consistency, but there are times in which a rotation may work (or may be the only option). We’ll look at a virtual potluck of principles in this last segment. And, as always, I welcome your comments, observations, suggestions, or experiences as we learn from one another and build each other up.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


They say the secret to a business’ success is location, location, location. But there are also those who suggest, for the small or medium sized church, that in order to have someone present the lesson to children each week, the secret is rotation, rotation, rotation. In other words, get a bunch of volunteers, put them on the schedule to teach each week, and then no one person has to miss out on the “main service” all the time.

But as I stated in the introduction to this series, it is my humble opinion that such a weekly rotation is counterproductive to effective children’s ministry. I believe there are three reasons why this is true. Reason number one was Inconsistent Preparation. Today, we present reason number two:


When it comes to making a children’s church hour pop and sizzle, Jan is tops. Every powerpoint slide is synched with the cd player. Because the church lacks a children’s praise band, Jan uses children’s worship dvds, each one cued and ready to go with nary a gap. And everyone remembers when Jan taught Noah’s Ark. The tub of water, the scale model of the ark, all the kids wearing animal masks, and the feel of the spray from the spray bottle as they marched around made memorable impressions.

The following week on the weekly rotation is Margo. As I watched Margo, she was friendly enough with the kids. She sat them down on the floor in front of her chair. And then she pulled out….the teacher’s manual. With little or no eye contact, she began to read the lesson to the children. It’s not that she was a bad reader…she wasn’t. It’s just that it sounded like…..well, like she was reading the lesson. At one point, the lesson directed the teacher to show the kids the particular prop for that story. Margo stopped, set the book down, picked up the prop and held it up, picked up the book again and resumed reading.

Volunteers have mixtures of talents and gifts. No two teachers are going to teach or present a lesson the same way. And I am certainly not advocating that we make them. But as we pointed out in the previous post, there should be an expectation of consistency. If a multi-media enhanced, upbeat music infused, participatory lesson is followed next week by faded flannelgraph punctuated by 30 year old camp meeting songs, it creates a massive disconnect in the overall children’s ministry plan. And it doesn’t take too many rotation cycles before the kids notice that certain teachers do a great presentation and certain ones don’t.

I believe the best place for rotations is with support roles. Unless your children’s church is so small that one person is all that’s needed, you still need folks who can circulate among the kids, help with games, crafts, or snacks, or lead a song or two. This is where a rotation is useful. But if you want a high level of consistency each week in the overall presentation or lesson, there needs to be a consistent teacher who is responsible for bringing the same level of presentation each week.

As always I welcome your comments, observations, suggestions, or experiences as we learn from one another and build each other up.

Next time: Inconsistent Participation.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


They say the secret to a business’ success is location, location, location. But there are also those who suggest, for the small or medium sized church, that in order to have someone present the lesson to children each week, the secret is rotation, rotation, rotation. In other words, get a bunch of volunteers, put them on the schedule to teach each week, and then no one person has to miss out on the “main service” all the time.

But as I stated in the introduction to this series, it is my humble opinion that such a weekly rotation is counterproductive to effective children’s ministry. I believe there are three reasons why this is true. Today, we present reason number one:


In many ways, Elaine is an ideal teacher. Before the teaching volunteer schedule is even typed, she has left three messages and an email wanting to know as soon as possible when her weeks are. She gets the teacher’s manual, makes copious notes, and does a careful verse-by-verse analysis of the Scripture that would make seminarian proud. She then turns her attention to crafting the lesson. Leaving nothing to chance, she rounds up her props, making sure they are functioning properly. She jots down notes on 3x5 index cards, which she will rarely refer to while teaching, as she has the lesson already committed to memory by the time her Sunday rolls around. And when that Sunday comes, Elaine is there an hour early, making sure the room is ready to go.

Back when we had teaching rotations for children’s church, I had a couple of Elaines. I wish I had had more Elaines, but actually, some of my teachers were like Doug. Doug is a likeable fellow and enjoys kids well enough. He was asked to be part of the rotation and readily agreed. He is especially grateful for the teacher’s manual, which lays out the entire lesson for him. On Wednesday, Doug looks at the schedule and sees that he is teaching on Sunday. He puts the teacher’s manual on his desk as a reminder to look it over. After showering on Saturday night (following a long day of ball games with his office league and yard work), Doug spots the manual right where he left it. Slapping himself on the forehead, he plops down on the couch, turns on the television, and begins reading over the lesson for tomorrow (“multi-tasking,” Doug calls it). Thirty minutes later, his wife finds him sleeping on the couch. The next morning, as Doug hurriedly dresses, he asks his wife to drive them to church so he can look over the lesson again.

Truth be told, most of the weekly rotation volunteers I had were somewhere between Elaine and Doug. And yes, there were some Dougs that really stepped up and made sure they were well prepared and some Elaines that slipped up and remembered their responsibility at the last minute. And while we’re at it, there are Sundays in which I am less prepared than I should be. But since children’s ministry is a week by week experience, there should be the expectation of consistency when it comes to preparation. Sadly, there isn’t. I realize good training and clearly spelled out job descriptions can alleviate some of this problem (and that’s a subject for a whole other blog), but in the small to medium church that is tied to curriculum, it becomes a challenge to convince folks who work hard all week and who “tend to the kids” once a quarter to invest even more time in study and preparation for their lesson. After all, it’s all spelled out in the teacher’s manual.

But if someone knows it is his or her responsibility to have a quality lesson ready each and every week, then it becomes “the thing to do.” Someone can dump an ill-prepared lesson on the kids once every three or four months and no one will necessarily remember. But one cannot go unprepared week after week, because then everyone will notice. Inconsistent preparation is one of the weaknesses of a weekly rotation. Having a consistent, primary teacher whose responsibility is to prepare the lesson each and every week goes a long way into building a quality children’s ministry.

As always I welcome your comments, observations, suggestions, or experiences as we learn from one another and build each other up.

Next time: Inconsistent Presentation.

Monday, June 20, 2011


One of the questions (aka “veiled suggestions”) that has often come up in my years as a children’s ministry director/children’s pastor is: “why don’t you get a bunch of volunteers and rotate the teaching each week, so you don’t have to do it all the time?”

On the surface, it seems like a reasonable solution to a common problem. If you rotate the teachers, you won’t overburden any of them. And if you do it weekly, your teachers won’t be out of the “main service” too long. It seems entirely logical; indeed, many churches have a weekly rotation of their teachers. In fact, our church used to have a weekly rotation.

But I have become convinced that this kind of weekly shuffling of teachers is counter-productive to effective children’s ministries, because it works against the expectation of consistency. We will deal with the three main difficulties of weekly rotations: Inconsistent Preparation, Inconsistent Presentation, and Inconsistent Participation, and then we’ll wrap everything up with some final thoughts and suggestions.

Now let me throw out some clarifications, caveats, and disclaimers:

1. I’m assuming a large group, children’s church type of setting, and not a separate, dedicated, graded Sunday School type class.

2. The teacher is the main presenter of the lesson. We’re not primarily talking about helpers, song leaders, support volunteers, and so on.

3. The church is a “single service” church; that is, there is no opportunity to teach one hour, then attend the main service the next hour (“ah-hah”, my larger church brethren are saying.“That’s why this is a problem!”)

4. There is a backstory as to how and why I have come to these conclusions. I’ll be sharing it at a future date (it won’t be as dramatic as the E True Hollywood Story, but there might be a few children’s pastors who can relate).

5. The views expressed in this blog are mine and mine alone. They do not necessarily reflect those of the leadership, staff, or members of my church.

And of course, I welcome your comments. I would be particularly interested in how your church handles rotations, particularly if you have just one service. My word is certainly not the final one on rotations. When all is said and done, I'm a still a student of children's minsitries, so we can learn from one another.

Monday, June 06, 2011


Sometimes the basics of education get reinforced in unexpected ways.

This past Sunday, we had a less than normal turnout for our Large Group (Children's Church) time. As we sang in worship, I looked out and, of course, I knew who would be sitting, arms crossed, maybe talking with a buddy. And I was right. I mean, I've gotten used to those I call the "less than engaged." We all have them. Kids who just sit there with blank or no expressions. We do not have a large ministry on Sundays, so it's easy to spot them. It becomes painfully easy to spot them when our numbers are cut by half. Sometimes, these children will offer their unsolicited evaluation of the kids' service by breathing a heavy sigh and saying (loudly), "this is boring."

After our singing and games, I launched into the lesson from Daniel 1. I began describing the Babylonian captivity of Judah and how Daniel and his friends were swept away to a strange land. And out of the corner of my eye, I spotted...the hand. It belonged to one of my "less than engaged." And I knew it was probably a request to use the bathroom. At first I tried to ignore it, but the hand was still up. And so I said (with my best Teacher Tim smile), "hold on one second and then I'll get your question." The hand went down and I continued the section of my lesson. But when I mentioned "Babylon" again, the hand went back up. So I called on the boy with the hand.

"ummm, yeah," he started, "Isn't Babylon like where Iran is today?"

My jaw dropped. I recovered enough to affirm what he had said and did a little Bible geography (which was for a later lesson) on the spot. I knew his parents were very Biblically literate and had no doubt taught him this at home. But in spite of what I saw on the outside ("less than engaged"), this young man was actually tracking on the lesson enough to connect Babylon with modern Iran.

This wasn't the first time I have been surprised by one my "unengaged" kids. I did a lesson on prayer that seemed well received by most of the kids, but not neccesarily by one of the guys who was "too cool" for this. The lesson had 4 points about how God answers prayer.

Three days later, I came across one of the "unengaged" with a group of his peers. I walked close enough by to hear one of the kids ask about how God answers prayer. I was about ready to launch into my presentation, when the unengaged kid began rattling off the four points (along with the illustrations).

It's a basic of education: kids learn in different ways. I believe it was singer Rob Biagi who said that the kids who don't sing in our church are probably singing at home. Lessons that you think aren't going anywhere are probably getting absorbed on a variety of levels. Obviously, it is our goal as teachers to try to hit as many buttons as we can. But even if we aren't consciously doing that, it is encouraging to know that, often times, even those who seem "less than engaged" might very well be connecting with the worship or lesson on a level of which we are not aware. And when that connection manifests itself, prepare for more jaw dropping moments.

Saturday, May 21, 2011


One of the few stations we were allowed to listen to in college was Family Radio. Back then, like many Christian radio stations, it had various programs. Most of the students woke up with the uber cheery sounds of Omar Andeel reminding us that the "early bird gets the what...? So come on now...time to get up up up up UP!" And in the evening, provided we weren't studying, some of us tuned in to one of the programs featuring station founder Harold Camping. I confess that even then, most of the students listened in order to find the potholes in Mr. Camping's theology. As Mr. Camping spoke in that low, monotone voice, his exposition of the Scripture was quite lengthy. Why? Because he believed that nearly everything in the Bible was symbolic of something and so he picked apart each verse with painstaking detail. He accepted an allegorical interpretation of the Scripture. We also found out that he was an amillennialist, meaning that he did not believe in a literal, future 1000 year reign of Christ on the earth (contrast that with the widely held pre-millennialist position, in which Jesus will return just before setting up His literal 1000 year reign). Good times, good times.

I kind of lost track of Harold Camping and Family Radio after college, until 1994, when questions began surfacing about the possible end of the world. I was stunned to hear that the procrostinator was none other than Harold Camping! I was shocked. I was familiar with the sensationalistic "pre-mills" who sometimes bordered on date setting for the rapture of the church, but an for an "a-mill" to declare the day and hour was unthinkable! Of course, his timeline was a little different. The rapture of the saints was a means to get them off the earth before it is destroyed. Forget the entire "Left Behind" series of life during the great tribulation. Nope...if a fiction novel is to be written by Camping, it would be two chapters: chapter 1: rapture. Chapter 2: destroyed. However, 1994 came and went without incident. Camping explained it as a slight mathematical error and moved on.

And that brings us to today. There are few people who have not heard about the prediction that May21, 2011 would be judgment day. The believers would be raptured off the earth, while a great world wide earthquake would begin the destruction of all life on the planet, leading up to October when the final destruction would come. And unless you've been asleep today, you know that judgement day did not come. So what are we to make of all this? Here's a few things I've been thinking about:

1. There are 365 days in any given year in which Jesus can return. So May 21 is still a possibility. But it won't be on the basis of Harold Camping's calculations (which I believe are flawed.)

2. The thought of the rapture should bring joy to the community of faith. Instead it brought a certain amount of worry and anxiety. On the other hand, the unbelieving community had a proverbial field day with this whole episode. So the prediction had somewhat an opposite effect than I'm sure was intended.

3. The "religion reporters and commentators" made several errors about Harold Camping in the course of this story:

  • Harold Camping is not a "pastor" or "reverand"

  • Harold Camping has no church

  • Harold Camping is not an evangelical

  • Harold Camping did not believe in the literal interpetation of the Bible, but an allegorical one.

4. Briefly (because theologians and scholars have no doubt sounded off on this in crushingly exact detail), Camping's "building blocks" were off, which made his prediction shaky:

  • We cannot fix the date of creation and the flood with certainty. Since those dates are vital to Mr. Camping's calculations, we are already facing a problem.

  • I've read and re-read Mr. Camping's explanation as to why we are now allowed to know the date and time. I still don't follow it.

  • The Bible does not teach that one day equals one thousand years. In trying to demonstrate that God is not bound by our human constraints of time, Peter writes that "one day is with the Lord as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day." It's a simile, a grammatical device to compare two unlike things. Peter could have said "five minutes with the Lord as one month and one month as five minutes" and it would have meant the same thing. It's not a mathematical formula; thus, it would inaccurate to apply that to the seven day countdown given to Noah.

5. I cannot help but wonder what Harold Camping is feeling at this moment. Although many cynics have brought up the same tired observation that "he's just in it for the money," I'd like to assume that he was sincere. There has got to be an unbelievable weight on him at this time, as well as upon all his associates who gave up everything to spread the word about judgement day. We may rightly label Mr. Camping a false prophet and strongly denounce what he has done. But what is our responsibility for those who were led astray? I cannot determine the eternal state of Harold Camping or anyone in the Family Radio company. But there are bound to be "loose lambs" scattering around. What am I going to do to help round them up?

Sunday, March 20, 2011


One of the blessings and curses of our modern era is the overwhelming abundance of materials available for children’s ministry. Much of it is creative, innovative, and fun. But let’s face it: some of it is like a chocolate Easter bunny…very appealing on the outside, but nothing really on the inside.

In my humble opinion, What's In the Bible by Phil Vischer and Theo by Whitestone Media's Michael Joens represent two of the most significant resource developments in children's ministry in the last couple of years. They are fun and entertaining, to be sure, but you will not find any hollow recesses. Instead, under their whimsical entertainment is something that few children’s ministry resources have attempted to do: educate children in Bible survey and (gulp) theology!

Take Mr. Vischer’s What’s In the Bible for instance. This video series features Buck Denver and the other puppet stars of his popular Jelly Telly webcast as they examine each book of the Bible. The kids love the silly characters and their interactions. And there are just enough grown up level jokes to keep the parents tuned in. But in between the laughter and the memorable songs, the viewer is led through a discussion of the writing and major themes of each book. Strip away the puppets, humor, and music, and you’d have the syllabus for an “Introduction to the Old Testament” course.

The newest entry in the dvd market is Theo, a kindly old man who lives in a cottage with two pesky mice. I received a preview dvd at a conference and showed it to some kids at our church. It was an instant hit! The animation is superb and the mice, who serve as the comic foils and unwitting object lessons, bring in the visual chuckles that keep kids entertained. The style is reminiscent of the old McGee and Me and Adventures in Odyssey (which is no coincidence, since creator Michael Joens produced and directed both). But again, the method of fun animation is a means to teach systematic theology. In this day when adult church goers tend to recoil at the very word “theology,” the Theo series is like a breath of fresh air.

Now both What’s In the Bible and Theo have their weaknesses (and I’m sure they have their critics). Sometimes the narrative portions of the Jelly Telly gang are a little long. A couple of times, as Phil was explaining something, I wanted to raise my hand and ask a question challenging his statement. But the fact that I wanted to engage on an intellectual level shows that the series is not mere fluff. As for Theo, I only have the sample to work with, but the segments were very short, making me wonder if there is more (a full scale curriculum is in the works). Appropriate parental interaction is encouraged, not that there is anything bad in either series, but because there is so much that is good (plus doesn’t every parent long to learn about soteriology alongside their six year old?).

What’s in the Bible has been on shelves for about a year or so. I don’t know (as of today) if Theo is in wide release yet, but keep checking.

If only my professors in college taught like this…..

Friday, March 18, 2011


Just to give you a flavor of the Children's Pastors' Conference, our friends at INCM just uploaded the official San Diego CPC Highlight Video. Not much to say about the video, so enjoy
If the video does not play correctly, just follow this link:

Thursday, March 17, 2011


Another full day of learning, inspiration, and refreshment here at the Children's Pastor's Conference. I enjoy some of the games they play here, like this one called, "Retrieve the Coconut!" Just kidding.

Seriously, there is a lot of fun and laughter here, punctuated by a depth of worship and challenge that is hard to describe. So I thought I would share some "nuggets in photos":

This is the Justin Graves Band, an incredibly talented dad, mom, and 5 year old daughter who ministered during the lunch time Ministry Showcase. Also performing in the Showcase was Jana Alayra, whose cd's are popular within our children's ministry.
The Resource Center is always a beehive of activity. Sure, the people who exhibit there want to sell products. But what is such a blessing is that they are also there to answer questions, give insights, help clarify thoughts, and so on. It's not just material resources, but information and idea resources. Plus it's one of the main social hubs of the conference. You can feel the energy when you go there.

Group Publishing always has an impressive layout.

Awana (which recently re-launched at our church) is a regular at CPC But one of the neatest things about CPC is the opportunity to re-connect with friends and colleagues in the ministry. Last year, I failed to get a picture of Mike and Karen Pucket, with Amazing Truth Ministries. The Puckets are very talented illusionists who use their skills to point people to the Savior. My wife and I attended college with Mike and Karen, so it was good to see them again at CPC and to FINALLY get a picture.
Old friends, new friends, new ideas, new's all part of the package of CPC.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


I just returned from Dinner on the Town. It was a wonderful dinner, shared at a table with a another children's minister from my home state of Colorado. I didn't get done in time to attend the Kidology gathering, which was going to be held in the parking lot of the Fashion Valley Mall (get a map of San Diego if you want to know where all this is!), but knowing my friends at Kidology, it was probably a great time.

Today was a day of challenge, laughter, and a tear or two. The workshops I attended were top-notch, with practical ideas and challenges to take back with me. The general sessions were incredible. Britt Merrick spoke in the morning about how Christ needs to be our Source. Some of the nuggets he shared were:
"Either Christ is everything or He is nothing."
"We are not loved because we are valuable; we are valuable because we are loved."
"Anything that pushes us toward Christ is actual gain."

Our late afternoon session featured Miles McPherson. With humor and straightforward talk, he laid out for us five elements of God's plan: Preparation, Purpose, Pain, Power, and Passion.

And then there was the incredible singing talent of Jana Alayra. In the world of children's ministry, she is one of the shining stars. But she switched gears in our conference to lead us in worship with more "grown up" style songs that helped us focus on the greatness and goodness of our God.

So now I'm going back to the Resource Center to a) pick up dessert and b) see if I can find the next "can't live without it" resource for our children's ministry. As the old saying goes, "having a great time, wish you were here."

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


Just a brief blog entry before heading to bed. Have you ever seen the effects of a few sticks of explosive on a pile of old dead wood? That's about how I'd describe tonight's opening session concert entitled "Family Fight Night". No, it wasn't a fight of a family, but rather a fight for the family. I will not go into details as to the different elements of the evening. Instead, I'll just talk about the music.

In a word: WOW.

While waiting to get into the session,we were treated by a mini-concert by Dean-O. But that was just the beginning. Kicking us off in the session was the Go Fish Guys. Yes, their cd's are great. And yes, we can rock out to their dvd's. But seeing them in person is just phenomenal. To have everyone on their feet, waving their hands in the air, and doing the motions was a sight to behold.

Later on, we were treated to the musical stylings of the Lads. We use Lads music and their dvd comedy program periodically in our Sunday Morning programs. They have a very hard driving beat and style that's a little hard to describe. But then came the surprise of the evening. You see, the opening session of CPC is always a bit emotional for me, particularly during worship time. But I figured, hey, it's the Lads. Rockin' out to "My Best Friend is the Creator of the Universe." is fun, right? And then....they effortless merged into "How Great is My God". I was startled from the power of the transition. The emotions followed.

Phil Joel, formerly with the Newsboys, followed up with some more hard, driving songs, including some of worship which again swept me away. Yes, it was loud and no, I don't think that style is for everyone. My ears were still ringing, but my heart was soaring as I left the hall.


My Children's Pastor's Conference experience got started early this morning with the church tour. This year's journey took us to Orange County, California, specifically the bustling communities of Huntington Beach and Fountain Valley. Since my wife and I used to live around there, it was neat to travel on familiar streets once again.

Our first stop was Seabreeze Church. In spite of their size, their building was fairly simple, having been converted from a raquetball club. It was nice to see the easily identifiable check in areas outside, which is something you can get away with in southern California.

Stop number two was First Christian Church of Huntington Beach. I had been to FCC once before, but they have built and remodeled their areas. Each room has a particular theme: Treehouse, TechHouse, Lighthouse, etc.

The third stop was Beachpoint Church. This location was memorable for two reasons: first of all, the tour bus had difficulties navigating the difference in height between the street and the driveway to the church. There is nothing quite like hearing the "rumble, rumble, scrape" sound of bumper on pavement. But the second reason Beachpoint was so memborable is that the facility is so incredibly simple in design, but the children's pastor can instantly rattle off names, likes, dislikes, and interests of the individual children in her ministry. And the point is's not the wow pizzazz of facilities that counts in children's's relationships!

Monday, March 14, 2011


I’m in San Diego, California for the Children’s Pastors’ Conference.

No, the conference hasn’t started yet. Long time readers of this blog (and those who know me and have heard the story) know that I try to book a “travel day” to avoid missing the pre-con check in. Plus, the extra time gives me a chance to become acclimated to everything (southern California is very acclimatable—and don’t look up that word, it’s likely not a real one).

I’m blessed this year to have two children’s ministry conferences in a short amount of time. On March 5 was our regional Rogue Valley Children’s Ministry Conference, put on by the great folks of the Rogue Valley Children’s Ministry Network. We brought some of our children’s ministry volunteers as well as some our daycare workers for this day of equipping and encouragement. The keynote speaker was the one and only Karl Bastian, founder of Kidology, one of the largest online resource networks for children’s ministry in the country. Karl and I have been internet buddies for a long time. We’ve bumped into each other at the San Diego conference on various occasions. He is a true servant, as authentic as they come, and I’d have to say one of the many influences on my own children’s ministry. His presentations are still being referenced and used by our team. Thank you, Karl, for your ministry in Oregon earlier this month (and though I’m not signed up for this particular one, Karl is doing an entire pre-conference session on Kidology at the San Diego CPC).

Karl and me clowning around

Our team for RVCMC '11

So here I am…a little over a week later, at the (deep breath) International Network of Children’s Ministries Children’s Pastors’ Conference (CPC for short). This is my 6th trip (though not in a row). The leadership of my church graciously allowed me to go this year, for which I am grateful. Like a lot of children’s ministers, there is a unique joy and energy that comes from serving kids, a joy and energy that sometimes defies human logic. But even the strongest of batteries needs regular re-charging. CPC does that. Plus, quite frankly, the last 30 plus days have been a tad bit more stressful than usual (I’m working on a blog entry about that as well). I won’t be so dramatic as to cry out in anquish “I need this conference!”, but it’s pretty close. I’m thankful for the down time, where I don’t have to be or do anything or be anywhere…I can just “veg out”, “be a flake,” etc. And I’m thankful for the actual conference coming up…the workshops, the general sessions, the opportunities to network, the resource center. I will benefit greatly in more skills and ideas. My church will benefit. My co-workers will benefit. And the kids will benefit. So CPC 11 is here. And so am I.

Sunday, January 09, 2011


Sometimes children's ministry security boils down to one alert person.

One of the many programs that make up our total children's ministry "umbrella" is Awana. This mid-week club attracts churched and non-churched kids and is quite popular. Although I'm the Children's Pastor, I am not directly involved in the "front line" of Awana. We have a couple that runs with the ministry each weeek and are doing a fantastic job. And if they need a guest speaker, I'm available. And that's where our little tale begins....

I was asked by the Cubbies (preschool) leader if I would tell the story for a couple of weeks, since they would be out of town. So I dug out an Awana church staff shirt (that remarkably still fit me!) and headed down to the church. This was my first opportunity to see first hand what I had heard so many glowing reviews about. It was a while before my turn to tell the story, so I asked the Commander if I could wander around. I peeked in the Sparks room and was greeted by several kids waving and saying hi. Essentially, I disrupted the group. Bowing out with an apologetic look on my face, I headed for the "big room", where the T&T clubbers were doing games.

After chatting with a few kids, I noticed the woman who was serving as secretary staring at me. I did not recognize her, but some of our Awana volunteers come from other churches, so I wasn't surprised. I smiled and said hello. She was pleasant, but reserved as she point blank asked me, "Who are you?" After introducing myself as the children's pastor, she eased up and began sharing her joys about serving with Awana. It was a wonderful conversation.

What impressed me the most about this woman is that she saw someone she did not know (me) and did not brush it aside, but very simply and directly asked who I was. Even though I had a shirt that said "Awana", she didn't know if I was a first time visitor, a parent, or a nefarious ne'er-do-well. I was an individual that she had never seen before and she cared enough to ask who I was.

And that is the foundation of security in children's ministry programs.