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!