Friday, December 21, 2012


One of the best things about Christmas is the music.  From familiar and traditional Christmas carols and songs to more contemporary fare, this season is full of wonderful tunes, many of which stir up emotions, memories, and thoughts.

I don't have the time or room to list every single Christmas song that has this "stirring" effect.  But here are six, in no particular order, that strike me.

C'mon Ring Those Bells! One of the first contemporary Christian artists I began listening to regularly was Evie. Her Christmas album, with "C'mon Ring Those Bells." was everywhere. I liked the nice feel about it, the bounce, the way it gave glory to Jesus. I also evokes some bittersweet memories, as that song was playing at a Christmas party I attended with a former girlfriend. I remember feeling very out of place at the party (in spite of the great music!). Two weeks later, my girlfriend broke up with me. But it also brings up happy memories, as a woman at our church would sing this every year, bringing a smile to everyone who heard it. 

Now Is Born the Divine Christ Child.  This is a good song.  Really, it is.  But like most songs that stir our emotions, memories, and imaginations, the song itself is secondary to remembering where we were and what we were doing at the time.  In this case, I think it was our fourth grade Christmas concert. If I'm not mistaken, there was an international theme that year.  So the boys, wiggling and squirming in their dress clothes, sang "Oh Tannenbaum." And the girls?  Well, they sang "Now Is Born the Divine Christ Child" in French.  And there, I think on the middle riser, was Lisa.  Dark hair, red sweater, great voice singing out  "Il est nĂ© le Divin Enfant."  I could almost see her look at me and smile.  I've never thought of that song the same way again (as for Lisa, my friend's friend assured me that Lisa not only did not like me, but "hated" me.  Tough news for fourth grade).

Oh Holy Night.  This is what I call a "thrill of victory and agony of defeat" song. It's a beautiful song which I have sung many times.  In my car.  Alone. Seriously though, the part where the singer belts out "oh" evokes chills and even tears when done by someone competent.  But I've also heard less-than-talented singers try it, often with disastrous results (such as the attempt by the men's Bible study group. You can still see the hairline cracks in the building foundation). So "Oh Holy Night" produces that moment of anticipation which marks a memorable experience.

The Messiah.  Yes, that Messiah.  By Handel.  And I'm talking about the whole multi-hour performance, not the abbreviated kind where they lift "Hallelujah" out of the middle and tack it on to the end for a big finish. I've cleaned and organized large spaces to this masterpiece, not only because I can't sit still and just listen to a looooooong piece of music, but because I can't sit down.  This composition is brilliant and based on Scripture.  Not saying every portion is my favorite, but there's enough that just makes my heart leap out in worship and adoration.

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. I get the strangest sense of melancholy when I hear this song. It's not that the message is bad. It's a nice, sentimental song, with affirming lyrics. But when I watch a Christmas movie or television show, what happens? The main character arrives at the lowest spot in his life. Things are bleak, he is in despair. The snow is falling. And then comes "Have yourself a merry little pathetic loser you!" It's almost mocking the hero of the show. Go on, watch a holiday drama and you'll see what I mean.

Anything by Andy Williams.  No, that's not the name of the song or album, just Christmas songs by the famous and popular singer.Whenever I hear "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" or even the "12 Days of Christmas" adaptation "A Song for the Christmas Tree," I remember long hours sitting in the living room, listening to our stereo record player (which was the size of some modern home theatre systems!).  Happy memories of growing up on Walton's Mountain...I mean, uhhh, growing up in southern Colorado.

What Christmas songs stir up the emotions, memories, and thoughts in you?  Share them in the comments below or on Facebook.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012


I said it before seriously, I said it before.  Right here in this post.  So I said it before and I'll say it again: I don't have a problem with the expression "Happy Holidays."

There is a cute music video making the rounds that has prompted me to once again lay out my thoughts regarding holiday greetings and the war on Christmas.

Yes, it's a cute song, but it misses the point: if all the decorations and every ounce of atmosphere is connected with Christmas, then how does saying "Happy Holidays" negate that?  The song lists all the fun things that would be eliminated without Christmas, yet I see no loss of the fun things where I shop. Nor do I know of non-Christians who have walked into their local mall, seen the tree, the lights, the ornaments, and a fanciful re-creation of a Christian saint and said, "All these Christmas decorations deeply offend me.  I was going to storm out of this mall in protest until one of the clerks wished me 'Happy Holidays.'  Now I feel better."

I used to work for a retail company owned by some nice gentlemen who were not Christian.  One was a self-proclaimed agnostic, both were fairly liberal in their world view, but they were both members of another faith tradition, which they practiced, uhhh, religiously.  Yet every December, they'd make sure all their stores were decorated in Christmas finery.  They would pass out Christmas bonuses. They would encourage each location to have an employee Christmas party.  I asked my manager (who happened to be a believer) about why our non-Christian owners would push Christmas so much.  The manager smiled and said, "it's good business."

There could be a million signs saying "Merry Christmas" (and yes, some stores have those signs).  But like the chain I worked for, it did not mean the same thing to me that it did to my employers. Now please don't misunderstand.  I think it is silly and illogical to have all the trappings of Christmas, but not call it Christmas. And yes, people need to be reminded of what Christmas is all about.  But the girl at the check stand making minimum wage is not the enemy in our annual war, anymore than was Bing Crosby as he crooned "Happy Holidays" in 1942.

For me and my house,  "Merry Christmas" will continue to be a theological statement, not just a greeting. And if somebody asks, I will be ready to give a reason of the hope that is in me (1 Peter 3:15). Meanwhile, folks: be nice...let's fight the war on the right front.

Monday, November 19, 2012


You've no doubt heard the news that Hostess is shutting down and that the ubiquitous Twinkie will soon be a rare commodity. A friend of mine lamented about how a part of childhood will soon be gone.  Twinkies could bring a smile to kids' faces.  They were spongy, packed sugar, with a shelf life of a few millennial.  But Twinkies made no pretense of being a "nutritious" snack.  They had one function: to be a sweet treat.  That's it.

Yes, Twinkies were a sweet treat that could bring a smile to a child's face.  Could it be, as we get older, we forget some of these simple pleasures, even to the point of becoming cynical?

What is it about a singing purple dinosaur that proved to be a hit among millions of younger kids? And why did it seem like the adult world was so bent on cutting him down?  Granted, Barney was not high brow entertainment.  The acting would never win an Oscar.  The songs were not the stuff of Broadway legend.  The whole gist of Barney was in its theme song: "I love you, you love me, we're a happy family...."  Grown ups gag.  Little kids love it.  It's a sweet treat.

Have you ever seen a Miss Patty Cake video?  I heard one parent shake her head and say, "I'd go into a diabetic coma if I watched too much of this."  Harsh words, but her kids were mesmerized.  I've had the privilege of meeting Miss Patty Cake.  She is one of the most pleasant, level-headed adults I've ever met. I'm sure we could have a deep conversation on the intricacies of Christian education and the use of media in an increasingly secular marketplace.  But if there are preschoolers around, it's a "Patty Cake Praise day!".

"Yes," you may argue, "They are sweet treats, but at least they have a message.  They're trying to teach something.  Twinkies have no nutritional value at all."

But does that mean they're without value?  I've got to wonder, what is the cost of a child's smile? Is it okay to make a child laugh for no other reason than to experience the joy of hearing his or her joy?
In our children's ministry, we used fun things to illustrate, fun things to teach, fun things to help kids learn.  But we also used fun things for no other reason than fun.  For example, we used video countdowns prior to the kids time.  One of the countdowns (which we used near Thanksgiving) has a goofy cartoon turkey running away for some unknown reason!  The kids laugh.  It's funny. Aside from being a visual transition from one element of the service to the next, the countdown video serves no other purpose than to be funny.

But wait a's a transition from one part of the service to the next.  The kids are learning that a church service has different parts and that there is a particular time to fellowship with my friends and a time to get ready to sing.  I've been in adult services where the leader pleads in vain from the microphone to get folks back together after "greet one another" time.  Perhaps they'd benefit from a running turkey video countdown!

I believe we've lost some of the fun.  We've tried to make kids into young adults, expecting them to conform to the understanding of a teenager or above.  And we've forgotten the joy.  Jesus said to let the little children come to Him.  I've had enough experience with kids to know that, in general, kids don't like hanging around cynical, grumpy, world-weary adults.  There was something about our Savior that children liked.  I won't speculate on whether Jesus would multiply Twinkies for kids, but I'm sure He knew what fun and joy were all about.  May we never take that away from our children.

So grab a Twinkie (if you can find one), plug in an old cartoon, and remember.

(after writing this post, I've learned that some other companies may possibly buy the brand and save Twinkies from extinction!)

Friday, November 16, 2012


After 19 years of periodic children's ministry opportunities and 15 years as a regular Children's Pastor, I've often wondered what I would do differently. Being let go from children's ministries and being ever the student, I've asked myself this question in all seriousness. These are not the final answers, but they do represent a start.
It may possibly go without saying, but what I miss the most about being Children's Pastor is the children (duh).  Their energy, their joy, their laughter, and, yes, their times of sadness, and their sometimes brutal honesty were things I looked forward to each week.  One of our church leaders was puzzled by the whole concept of a dedicated children's minister whose focus was on ministry to the kids.  He concluded by saying, "I couldn't do it." That's right...he couldn't.  But I could..and did.

God has been good to me in the children's ministries in which I've been involved. I enjoyed greeting the kids as they came in, sometimes even loudly announcing their arrival to everyone (which elicited wide grins).  I loved seeing their excitement when I interjected their names on the "Happy Birthday" video segment. I loved circulating through the room during our opening "stations time," asking about their week and often praying with them about a serious situation. I loved to hear them sing their full praises to the Lord.  I've attended school programs and watched their faces light up when they see "Teacher Tim."  I've brought gifts to hospital rooms and homes. And even today, nearly a year after stepping away from "kidmin", it still warms my heart to hear kids excitedly whisper or call out when they see me.  This is the Lord's doing and I have been awesomely blessed. 

Was I the perfect model of what the online social media calls "kidmin?"  Of course not.  If there is a consistent theme I've been trying to get across, it's that I'm always growing, always learning, always trying to do things better. The key word has been "deliberate."  A friend of mine, seeing the outline for this series, suggested I had nothing on which to improve upon with kids. I am touched by her observation.  To quote a line in time for the holidays: "I really have had a wonderful life."  But if I was doing it over, here are some ways I would make things more deliberate, purposeful, and organized:
  • Keep a master kid file with birthdays, school info, favorite things, etc.  While I found out this information through interaction, I really needed a coherent system to track things better.
  • Get a master event list from the school and be diligent to attend concerts and sporting events in which the kids are participating.
  • Make it a point to call or visit each child on a regular basis if for no other reason than to say, "I care."
  • Work harder and better at remembering names and details.  I have to confess that, when our children's ministry had three sets of blond haired older/younger sister duos, I got confused at times. Name tag systems, regularly reviewing attendance sheets, or even asking a colleague to jog a few memory cells will help.
Thanks for dropping in to this series on "Doing It Over." I'd love to hear your comments and questions on this, or any part of the series.

Thursday, November 15, 2012


After 19 years of periodic children's ministry opportunities and 15 years as a regular Children's Pastor, I've often wondered what I would do differently. Being let go from children's ministries and being ever the student, I've asked myself this question in all seriousness. These are not the final answers, but they do represent a start.
Children's Ministry as we know it today is a relatively new development.  Pioneers in the field remember 30 years ago when few, if any, churches had an actual children's pastor.  The first INCM Children's Pastors Conference in 1980 brought out a whopping 35 people! Today, many Bible colleges are offering programs in children's ministries and the CPC attracts participants in the thousands.
Unfortunately, one of the testimonies among children's ministry professionals is that the leadership of their church doesn't "get it."  It doesn't mean they are opposed to children's ministry or they don't see its importance.  It's just that the idea of a dedicated professional or formal program just for children is an unusual idea to them.
But church leadership, no matter its configuration (pastor and elders, deacon board, whatever), must be on board for a children's ministry to succeed.  As the Children's Pastor in our church, I tried various ways to inform the board of the church about what we were doing.  Like all the areas in our series, it was an area of growth; meaning, I didn't do everything consistently or deliberately or always effectively.  But if I was doing it over, here are some principles I'd put into practice.
  • Find out what the leadership's expectations are for children's ministry.  If, for example, they are envisioning a glorified babysitting service and you're thinking interactive 3-D surround sound Bible adventures, there could be a lack of communication.  Make it clear.
  • Cast vision.  Make sure the leadership can see, smell, taste what the children's ministry will look like.
  • Be accountable. Depending on the leadership structure, make sure there is someone to report to and who will serve as your advocate and champion to the rest of the leadership (there is nothing lonelier than standing alone).
  • Ask for remuneration.  This sounds  crass and unspiritual, but hear me out.  Not only is it Biblical to pay those who labor in the Word (1 Timothy 5:17-18), but we tend to place a higher value on what we have to pay for. If the subject of pay has never come up, the services provided may not be worth that much in the leadership's thinking.
  • Regularly relate the activities and successes of the children's ministry programs to the other ministries of the church. Touch bases with other ministry leaders, not only to get excited about what they are doing, but to find out connecting points with children's ministries.

What is the relationship between children's ministry and your church leadership?  How can it be better?  I'd love to hear your feedback.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


After 19 years of periodic children's ministry opportunities and 15 years as a regular Children's Pastor, I've often wondered what I would do differently. Being let go from children's ministries and being ever the student, I've asked myself this question in all seriousness. These are not the final answers, but they do represent a start.
There is something I need to get out of the way as I start this post.
For years, I believed a lie.  It was a lie I told myself, that ultimately interfered with the whole area of volunteer management.  The lie was this:
"Recruiting is one of my weaknesses."
I would tell myself this and I would tell others this.  But I was really confusing style with skill.  I have never had that charismatic '"x-factor" that propels people to follow me when I ask for help.  I beat myself up with the conclusion that I was "lousy at recruiting."  But the Lord (via my wife and some trusted team members) reminded me of some areas of growth and accomplishment, by His grace:
  • There have been distinct times in which major members of our team were recruited because I personally asked them (personal invites are more effective than public announcements).
  • Most of our volunteers had staying power.  In spite of the commitment, they still wanted to serve.
  • I managed to get 40-60 volunteers each year for VBS. I know how I did it...and the answer is the very reason why I really wasn't such a bad recruiter after all (but that's the subject of another post).
Since this is a series about doing things over, I would want to practice the art of recruiting in order to grow and improve in the area and making the recruiting more systematic.
Okay, now that I've got the volunteers, how do I go about turning them into leaders? Like most of our series, these are things that I either did infrequently or perhaps I was aware of them, but did not implement them.  The key word (as we learned last time) is "deliberate."  As I grow and learn, I want to do more and more things on purpose.  So in terms of "volunteers into leaders:"
  • Invest in one-on-one time with volunteers outside the ministry walls.  Even something as casual as a cup of coffee would be a great benefit to communication (obviously, for appearance and safety, the "one-on-one" time would be modified with female volunteers).
  • Provide regular, systematic training opportunities.  We always had great training times, but they were usually sporadic, more like, "hey, we haven't had a training event in a while." I would develop some kind of benchmark series of trainings, with clear goals for each one.
  • Make sure everyone has the big picture.  It is so easy to get caught up with the minutia of our particular area of service that we forget how it connects with the entire program.
  • Be more organized with the "next generation" of kid servants. I was serious about raising up the pre-teen and teens to serve in children's ministries, but the details of organizing and monitoring the squad often fell to the side. If I did it again, I would delegate their management to one of my other leaders.
  • Develop a select group that knows how to "do the stuff," so that if something happened, everything would continue without major disruption.
  • Program, push, and promote vision.  Just like the big picture shows how everything fits together, the vision shows what the program looks like.
  • Disciple, mentor, train, and invest in one young person who may be interested in becoming a children's minister.
What things do you do in your children's ministry to recruit, train, and develop your volunteers into leaders?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


After 19 years of periodic children's ministry opportunities and 15 years as a regular Children's Pastor, I've often wondered what I would do differently. Being let go from children's ministries and being ever the student, I've asked myself this question in all seriousness.  These are not the final answers, but they do represent a start.
There is little or no question among children's ministers that the parents have the primary responsibility for the spiritual upbringing of their children.  Churches have addressed this belief in a variety of ways, most notably by implementing some form of "family ministry" (a term which, in itself, is not completely defined).  But no matter how it is approached, there is no question that parents are vitally important to a children's ministry.

I believe I had a very good relationship with the majority of parents in our children's ministry.  Hugs, handshakes, high-fives, notes of encouragement, positive feedback, and even negative feedback that some parents brought to me directly in order to deal with it in a constructive way--all these were part of my life as the pastor of these parents' kids.  I feel I was well-liked by most of the parents.

So when I was told that most of the parents didn't like what I was doing, it crushed me.  I found out later that there were actually only a couple of parents that complained, but still!  Being ever the student, I asked "what could I have done better?" Like all areas of ministry, I was growing in this particular aspect.  Two practices come to mind:
  • I quit helping with "take-down" until the kids were gone.  That way I could greet parents and interact with the kids after our Sunday morning festivities were over (I posted about this here).
  • I went out in the main foyer and began to interact with families there.  It was a "chance" happening, but one that I felt exploring on a regular basis (and I wrote about this here).
But if I was starting over, I would find more and better ways to deliberately connect with parents.  Here are some ideas:
  • Call or visit parents regularly.  While I did this, it was way too random. I need a plan to (here's that word again) deliberately contact the moms and dads.
  • Be more purposeful in "outside of ministry" activities. I bypassed a lot of opportunities just because of my schedule.  But I have to ask myself, "was I really that busy?"  Again, I need to deliberately do these things.
  • Family participation events. I have to confess to being a little soured on this, because the last time we held a "family participation event", not only was it poorly attended, but a few parents walked out because they didn't want to participate! But it may be worth exploring some more...after all, I don't know everything! :-)
  • Form a "parent support group."  This is sort of an ecclesiastical PTA.  They would pray for, help, and be the loudest cheerleaders for the children's ministry, as well as deflect criticism that might hurt the ministry.
  • Create opportunities for parent training.  Maybe a once a quarter video series or guest speaker.
If you are in children's ministry, what do you do to connect with parents? And if you are a parent, what do expect from your children's ministry?

Monday, November 12, 2012


There's an old saying that goes, "I'm better than I was yesterday, but not as good as I will be tomorrow."  In other words, life is a journey in which we grow and develop. 

Ministry is the same way (or should be).  When I first began as a regular children's pastor, I already had about 19 years of on-again, off-again children's ministry opportunities.  I knew the basics of what to do with kids, but I didn't know much about modern children's ministry.  Fortunately, there were a growing number of resources becoming available.  I discovered our local children's ministry network held an annual conference, which I began attending.  I became a voracious reader and took advantage of opportunities to pick the brains of the movers and shakers in Children's Ministry. And then I found out about INCM's Children's Pastors Conference, which ignited a firestorm of ideas, wisdom, creativity, and possibility.  I was the Children's Pastor, but I was always very much a student.  And after 19 years of periodic ministries and 15 years as Children's Pastor, I was better than I was the day before, but not as good as I could be the next day.

But late last year, the proverbial wheels came off the trike.  Agree or disagree, our church board wanted to do things differently; thus, nearly overnight, I was no longer Children's Pastor. There's a lot that can be said about the process and claims and reasonings behind the move.  But ever being the student, I always ask myself, "What can I learn from all this?"  "If I could do it all again, what could I improve?"

So the next few installments will contain items I could have done better.  And it's not that I didn't do them at all, nor is it that I did not excel once in a while in an area.  But consistently, over all, what could I have improved?  Here are the four items (I'll add links as the items post):
I look forward to your input and ideas as to practical applications to make these items a reality.  Remember, we're all learning.

Friday, November 09, 2012


Now that we've had a few days to catch our breath and calm down from either crushing disappointment or unabashed elation, let me throw a couple of thoughts out there for your evaluation:

I did not vote for President Obama, but he remains my President.

Notice I said "my" President.  Agree or disagree, support or not, the fact is that President Barack Obama is my President.  And if you are a citizen of the United States, he is your President too

Do you want a humbling attitude check? Try this:
  • There is no authority except from God, and President Obama was appointed by God (ouch!)
  • President Obama is God's minister to you for good. (double ouch!)
  • Therefore, you must be subject to the President, not only because of wrath , but also for conscience' sake. (enough...enough...!)
Where did I get this from?

Romans 13:1-5 says: Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.  For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same.  For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.  Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake.

It may help to realize that the Apostle Paul wrote this under the brutal reign of the Caesars. If the people in his day were to have this attitude in the face of such an offensive government, how much more should we exemplify respect and submission in our modern land of the free?

But as we pray for, submit to, and respect the authority of the individual occupying the Oval Office (by virtue of his position), we are wonderfully blessed in this country with the right and freedom to disagree with our government. We can speak out and protest and work for change because of the freedoms we have. 

So if Election 2012 did not go your way, let me challenge you to do the following:
  • Pray positive for President Obama.  Pray for his health, his safety, his well being.  And pray that he have wisdom, especially the wisdom that flows from above.
  • For thirty days, force yourself to refer to him as "the President", "President Obama", or "Mr. Obama." It's a simple exercise, really.
  • For thirty days, do not tell any negative jokes about the President, don't engage in wild conspiracies about the President, and don't make up any funny names.  Another simple exercise.
  • Celebrate wins.  Truly, if and when the President does something or says something right, it's a victory for everyone, not just one party.  You don't have to go overboard, but even a brief tweet saying, "Good job, Mr. President on those remarks" will help.
  • Write letters.  Post blogs.  Email the White House.  Write your congressmen. Be respectful, but engage in your right to disagree.  Be specific in your disagreement.  Tell others why you disagree with certain policies.
Okay, these are "me and my house" suggestions, but I have found them helpful in focusing my own political energies.  We've got way too much to do and way too many problems to solve  to cross our arms, rail against perceived futures, or threaten to leave the country. As many a believer has mentioned leading up to the election, no matter who wins (or won), the Bible is still true, God is still on the throne, and the church triumphant is alive and well.

Comments or dialog are welcome, but if you get too cranky or abusive in your response, I will exercise my right to delete your post.  Thanks.

Monday, October 22, 2012


There I was in a fast food restaurant.

The workers were scurrying around like ants.  Counter people were taking orders.  Food preparers were busy squirting condiments, wrapping burgers, and dipping hoppers of fries into scalding oil. Some of the personnel wore headsets, talking to invisible people in the drive through and running back and forth between the window and the "food is ready" station.  It was all very efficient.  Run it in slow motion with a little chamber music, and it would have looked like a carefully choreographed dance routine.

I woman behind the counter (I deduced that she was a manager) walked back and forth between the drive up window and the screen that the workers look at to track the orders.  She glanced back at something else and then announced something to the crew.  I couldn't make out what she said, but suddenly the staff let out a collective cheer.  Food workers were high-fiving, counter staff had energized smiles on their faces, and everyone seemed to work a little faster and a little more efficiently, and a little....I don't know, happier.

Later, I found out what had happened.  There are standards as to how fast orders have to be filled, especially in the drive through.  The manager discovered that her crew, on average, was accurately filling the orders for the drive through faster (by a matter of seconds) than the standards.  She shared the news and everyone, whether they were directly connected with the drive through or not, shared in the excitement and accomplishment.

When leading teams of fellow servants, whether you are a children's pastor, director, lead teacher (or any other position in the local church for that matter), it pays huge dividends to share the victories.  A spiritual victory tends to encourage and energize.  You might say, "Hey, everyone, Lori shared the gospel with little Kenny in class today and he professed his faith in Jesus!"  Suddenly, everyone is pumped up, whether they have any connection with Lori's class or not.  Or maybe three more kids visited your program this week.  That's something to cheer about.

Not all victories are so obvious, so it's up to you to look for things.  "Hey, the deacons said we could use the left over paint for the classrooms!"  "The air condition is working again!" "One of our moms brought us donuts just because she appreciates what we do."  Sometimes, it's the little things that bring the most excitement.

Of course, there needs to be balance.  The key to this is do it often enough that it provides the shot-in-the-arm that your team needs, but not so often that it produces a little sigh.  But if you make it a point to share and celebrate the big and small wins together on a regular basis, you'll inject some renewed energy and enthusiasm into your team.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


I came across a video on YouTube which reunited the stars of the Broadway musical Phantom of the Opera. Although we could slice and dice and chop the whole genre of musicals apart, there is no question that some songs have entered our artistic culture.  Plus, I love a well-sung song.

During this video, there are a couple of significant points.  At the beginning, famed composer Andrew Lloyd Webber introduces the actor/singer who originated the role of the Phantom: Michael Crawford (who also starred in one of my favorite movies: CondormanYes, I am a geek). He is obviously touched by the response of the crowd as he is recognized for the trails he has blazed. The other point comes during the performance of "Music of the Night" (it starts at 7:40 is you just want to skip to it).

On stage during the video are four of the actors who have played the role of the Phantom over the years.  They take turns singing different portions of the song, to the enthusiastic reception of the crowd. And then, as the music draws near to its climax, out walks the man who is the new Phantom. He is greeted by his predecessors as together they finish the song.  But just as we think this deep moment is enough, Michael Crawford returns to the stage to both honor the new Phantom and be honored by the new Phantom.

I know you're all waiting for the "deeply significant or ultimately practical" point to all this.  Here it is:

Never underestimate the power of transition.
Did you ever wonder why there is so much pomp and pagentry as Presidents are sworn in? Because it shows an orderly transition of power. It's done slowly and deliberately, with Inaguration Day events that seem to never end! Can you imagine the outgoing President simply leaving without a farewell or the new President taking the oath of office and then dismissing the crowds?  Citizens would wonder, "What just happened?"
Sometimes the turnover in ministries is so rapid as to leave people bewildered.  Of course, there are times when a volunteer or staff member has crossed an unacceptable line and needs to be shown the door as quickly as possible. But at other times, the best thing that can happen is that the new and the old let the class, the group, or the congregation know that there is an orderly change, a passing of the proverbial baton. 
There are various ways to accomplish this.  Here are just a few:
  • Going away and welcoming parties
  • Formal introduction of the new staff member by the outgoing staff member
  • Slide show acknowledging the accomplishments of the departing staff
  • Passing on some symbol of the position: a gavel, a big stick (yup, been in that kind of ministry!), or a hat.
  • Leaving notes with tips and advice in unexpected places.
There are no doubt other transitional techniques, but you get the idea.  Whatever you do, if at all possible, harness the power of the transition.  It quiets anxieties, helps get everyone on board for the upcoming changes, and lets everyone know that the ministry will continue.  After all, U.S. Presidents do it and Phantoms of Operas do it.
What things have you done or been a part of doing to ensure a great transition?

Thursday, September 27, 2012


I love the way music tends to stimulate our perceptions, speak to our inner being, and provide context to our memories.  There have been dozens of songs that bring back thoughts of days gone by: what I was doing and how I was feeling. There isn't a blog big enough to list every single song that has a significant memory attached to it, but I thought I'd share a sampling that come to mind and why they stick out in my brain.
  • "The Warrior is a Child" (various) It's very common for those in ministry to create a shell, an invulnerable shield that no outsider can pierce.  I've been there (and yes, I still tend to do it!): not letting people see my failures, my weaknesses, my seasons of self-doubt.  This song is a reminder that I don't have to hide these things from the God Who knows everything there is about me.
  • "Just Over the Horizon" (4 Him) This song spoke to me during a season of struggling to make ends meet (one of many such struggles) and wondering if the church I was pastoring at the time would continue.  At that time when I had no clue what the future held, what better reminder than an upbeat jazz-style song that speaks of eternal hope.
  • "Islands in the Stream" (Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers). Several songs from the early to mid 80's come to mind, mainly because I was working in a shoe store at the time and they played a pop station in the background. But I could count on "Islands" playing at least twice a day and knew that the second time it came on, that my afternoon shift was almost over.
  • "Frankenstein" (The Edgar Winter Group). This had heavy play during my youth. I remember waiting by the transistor radio with my portable reel-to-reel tape recorder waiting for it to come on so I could record it. I also remember long summer afternoons at the popcorn stand, which my aunt and uncle set up for me so I could earn money. Frankenstein was the highlight of my day.
  • "The Trumpet Shall Sound"  from Handel's Young Messiah: this selection is done by the legendary Phil Driscoll.  The Messiah is, of course, in the proverbial class by itself and the famous "Hallelujah Chorus" is one of its better known arrangements.  Interestingly, in the usual multi-hour arrangement, the Chorus is past the middle, not at the end, as often performed.  But I digress...Young Messiah is performed by contemporary (at the time) Christian artists.  But when Mr. Driscoll takes trumpet in hand and growls out "The Trumpet Shall Sound," it is like being part of a ride.  As the trumpet sounds and the tones escalate, I feel like my body is straining to leave my shoes.
  • "The mystery song" I don't know the title, I don't know the artist. I know the tune of the chorus and most of the song, but I have forgotten most of the lyrics. As for the tune itself, I wish I had a trained enough voice to reproduce exactly. You'd think after listening to it nearly every morning for the better part of nine months, I'd remember more of it. Hurtling through the early morning darkness in the southern Oregon fog, this haunting melody promoted peace (I contacted the local Christian radio station that I listened to. They have no idea what I'm talking about. No other Christian radio station knows either. I'm not crazy...really, I'm not...this was an actual song. Honest!)
  • "Building His Kingdom, Reaching His Kids" (Alan Root). You never forget your first...CPC, that is. This was the theme and theme song of the 2003 Children's Pastors' Conference, the first one I attended. Whenever I hear this song, vivid memories of the sheer impact this week had on me and on the ministry I had with children come flooding back.
As I said before, there are many, many, many more songs of which I have deep, significant, or fond memories.  What are some of your songs that have hit you in the past or present?

Thursday, September 13, 2012


Ever feel like saying what goes without saying, but you want to say it anyway because it's so good? This is a short post, but it's been going through my brain this morning:

Christians have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ (Ephesians 1:3). God has given believers all things that pertain to life and godliness, as well as exceedlingly great and precious promises (2 Peter 1:3-4).

Please note:
  • Nowhere in these passages (or anywhere) does it say that there is a "child's plate" of God's blessings.
  • Nowhere in all of Scripture can I find a 4th Person of the Trinity: the Junior Holy Spirit that is assigned to and indwells kids.
  • When Jesus gave an illustration of the Kingdom, He didn't hold up Billy Graham, He held up a child.
Though it's been said many times, many ways, I'll say it anyway:

Kids are not the church of the future, they are the church of the NOW.

Monday, September 10, 2012


A few weeks ago, I wrote about "stations":interactive, fun, and/or educational tables that allowed the kids to play, learn, and build relationships (you can read about "stations" here).

As I was clearing out some things from my home office/man-cave area , I came across something that is a good example of an "educational" type station we used during a series on the life of Abraham.

 Just how far is it from our church in Eagle Point to the land where Abraham walked?  Let's find out!

 Middle and older elementary kids could do this very easily.  We mounted a colorful calculator with large buttons on a stiff piece of cardboard for the calculations. Of course, adults were there to help...and to talk more about Abraham!

The kids got to stretch a string between Eagle Point, Oregon and the Middle East. This exercise helped the kids realize that the events in Scripture happened in the real, geographic world.

 Some pictures helped illustrate what Abraham's world must have looked like.  Again, it illustrates the reality of the Bible.

This was inexpensive to make and was one of our more popular stations when we had it up.  It was well worth the time we spent at the beginning of our children's church hour.

What kinds of props, lessons, or materials do you use to bring the Bible to life?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


It had been a long of "those" days of which children's workers speak in hushed, sympathetic tones.  The kids in our church daycare had been playing with all manner of toys and games, but it was time to clean up and do something calm. And quiet.

As the children were putting items in their proper places (more or less), one of the older girls (3rd grade, I think) approached me and asked why were we putting all the toys away.  While the un-spiritual side of my being wanted to snap, "Because I said so!", I just smiled and said it was time to do something else.  To which this wise young lady replied, "You know, kids gotta play!"

It was convicting, because my own fatigue was trying to overrule something I've known for a long time:  Kids need to play.  And giggle.  And laugh.  And have fun.

During my time as a children's pastor, we would set out "stations" for the kids.  Some of the stations were educational or related to the current lessons (activity/craft tables related to Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication; a measuring line to see how far two Biblical cities were on a map, and so on).  Other stations were just there for fun.  We had board games, toys, and even a paper airplane station once in awhile.  Our stations time went on for about the first 15 minutes or so of our "children's church" time (along with a snack station called "Snack Shack").  Beyond the time constraints and minor, common-sense rules (walking feet, take turns, etc.), there was no structure or apparent organization (although the geek in me set things up with a very exact pattern and flow in mind...but, shhhh, don't tell anyone).

A few parents got a little cranky with us.  They would observe the beginning and complain to the board that children's church was too "chaotic." But the reality is that most of the children were doing exactly what they were supposed to be doing; namely, playing with games and toys, or talking amongst themselves.  Granted, there were always a handful of kids that were, well, a handful and in need of some redirection, but for the most part, stations time went exactly as planned.  It was fun.  It was goofy at times.  And I'm sure that more than once, a parent asked a kid what he liked best about his children's church experience and that kid said, "I got to play Operation!"  And I can see that some folks might be concerned that there is no spiritual content.

But what is missed is the sheer amount of ministry that happened during stations time.  Our teen and adult team members were also playing foosball, checkers, or even making (or demonstrating how to make) paper airplanes, but they were also asking the kids, "how was school this week?", "what do you like to eat for dinner?", "how'd you like that cartoon the other night?" and so on.  As they were building rapport and relationships with the kids, they were also ministering.  It always warmed my heart to see a team member in prayer with a child who had just shared a deep need or watching a kid's face light up when presented with a Bible after telling one of our volunteers over a game of checkers that she didn't have one.  It was unstructured, but not unplanned.

Kids are wired for fun.  Stations time was a fun time. And we had games that existed for no other reason than to get kids laughing.  Songs like "Making Melodies" were absolutely silly, but memorable.  And yes, I love to have kids laugh during the lesson.  Obviously, we aren't advocating unhinged, careless, free-for-all mirth.  There is a time to be serious...and if you work with children, you learn how to modulate your voice and tone and signal those serious times.  But while the fun and the laughter may look "chaotic" to some adults, don't forget that joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit too..  And like my friend said:

"Kids gotta play!"

Monday, August 06, 2012


When I was a Children's Pastor, one of the tools I like to use was "Playtime Parables."  I would act out a Bible story or Biblical truth using action figures.  I used to do them live, plugging a video camera into the projector so all the kids could see it.  When some of our equipment changed, it got too awkward to do these tales live, so I began putting them on video.  The kids enjoyed them.

Whenever I get into details about Playtime Parables, I'm always careful to give credit where credit is due.  In this case, the idea, the inspiration, yea verily the genesis of this teaching element was something called "Toybox Tales."  Toybox Tales was the brainchild of Mr. Karl Bastian, a children's pastor..  Using his incredibly diverse collection of action figures, Karl presented a lesson nearly every week to the the kids.  And then, as an added bonus, he uploaded these lessons to his website, Kidology.  And not only that, he even provided a "how to" segment.  Being a bit of an action figure collector myself, I had to give it a try.  Thus, the birth of "Playtime Parables."
(and before I go any further: if you're involved in Children's Ministry in any way, I encourage you to check into Kidology by clicking the link. It is a membership site, but there are enough free areas to give you a taste of the plethora of resources available to members.  And if you want to see the art of using toys to teach at its finest, go to Toybox Tales.)

While some of our Playtime Parables are in a digital format, I haven't had the time or ability to get them in an easy to access format.  Plus our earliest ones are on an ancient medium known as "video tape", so those aren't totally available yet either.  As soon as I get them into an easy to transfer mode, I'll either upload them or put them on a dvd for others to enjoy.

So what did we do with a typical "Playtime Parable?"  Sometimes our stories would fit the theme for that Sunday.  Sometimes it would illustrate one of the Biblical principles we were trying to get across.  Others would be adaptations of Biblical stories.  I would make a rough script (which gave me room to ad lib), then pick the "cast:" the action figures that would star in the segment (between my own purchases and the figures I got out of Happy Meals, I had quite a few).  My "stage" was a purple storage bin.  I cut out the bottom and one of the long sides, then put backdrops, furniture, or whatever I had on hand to decorate it for the story.  The camera was focused on the stage while I moved the figures and provided the dialogue (using different voices, of course).  Made sure the kids could see and hear and awaaaaayyy we go (uhhh, "away we went").

So what kind of stories did we do?  Here's a sampling:
  • Spider Man learns that Jesus is not only real, He alone is more powerful than any imaginary character.
  • The crew of the Starship Enterprise learns how to be thankful.
  • Little duplo/lego characters want to join a club, but have to be slimed first.  They find out they already meet the requirements and so sliming is unnecessary (we could actually show the sliming, as opposed to acting out the Gentiles being compelled to be circumcised!)
  • A multi part series that crossed over Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz with the Chronicles of Narnia, the Pirates Who Don't Do Anything (from Veggie Tales), and a couple of other universes.  Faith, courage, and dependence on the Lord were taught.
  • A retelling of the life and ministry of Elijah, featuring the characters from the GI Joe movie.
  • The familiar Christmas story about the little boy whose birthday is trumped by a celebrity (in this case, Iron Man); and the parallel of Santa upstaging a Christmas celebration.  This one was so popular, we repeated it a few years later.
"Isn't this a little trivial?" some might say.  Maybe, but some of Jesus' parables seemed to present some strange situations, like trees that grow at an phenomenal rate and becomes a haven for birds, or two blind men trying to lead each other around, with both ending up in a ditch ("how mean!" some would say). Some people "got it" and some people didn't. 

A Playtime Parables (or Toybox Tale, or whatever it may be called) is simply a tool.  It's not the centerpiece, I don't build the lesson on the presentation.  It's a short illustration using items that some of the kids probably have in their bedrooms.  I had a kid tell me once that he went home and began acting out his own Bible story using his action figures. And that blessed my heart.

Take advantage of the tools at your, funny skits, video...whatever you can use to fire up the delight of children and point them to the things of God!