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.