Monday, December 02, 2013


Image courtesy of Free Clipart N Images
As I've done on previous occasions (here and here), I am going to make a valiant attempt to bring some perspective into the whole "Merry Christmas" vs. "Happy Holidays" debate.  I am convinced more than ever that retailers should absolutely drop this "Happy Holidays" thing and wish folks a "Merry Christmas" instead (huge cheer goes up from the crowd).

I am also just as convinced that businesses shouldn't be forced to say "Merry Christmas" at all (puzzled gasps and snorts of outrage from the crowd).

How can I hold such seemingly contradictory opinions?  The answer is simple: here in America, there are three Christmases.  At times they are distinct and at times they overlap, but if you understand these three, it helps bring some focus on the issue of proper greetings.

The three Christmases are as follows:
  • Trappings Christmas
  • Secular Christmas
  • True Christmas

The first "Christmas" is not really Christmas at all, but the vestiges of some pagan celebrations.  Many of the trappings of Christmas have a distinctly non-Christian origin.  If you don't believe me, either google things like "yule logs," "mistletoe," or even "December 25." Or ask a Jehovah's Witness or even certain Christian ministers and they will tell you the origins of all these things and why, therefore, you should not celebrate Christmas (or Easter, for that matter).

I don't agree with the whole "Christmas is pagan; therefore, we should not celebrate it" argument.  For one thing, the original meaning of many of these trappings has been lost in antiquity (do you anybody who seriously bows down and worships their Christmas tree?).  For another thing,  many of the trappings have been "re-purposed" in meaning (tree points upward to the one true God, lights remind us of the Light of the world, evergreen calls to mind the eternal life He gives us, and so on). While these can be wonderful parts of the season, they are not the essence of Christmas. 

The second Christmas, the secular kind, is especially prevalent in the United States. This is the season of giving, the season of spending time with loved ones, the season of joy, yeah, even the season of peace of earth and good will toward man.  It is also the season of festive parties, raucous music, glittering lights, and unbelievable consumerism. When people say, "Christmas has become too materialistic," they are referring to the secular Christmas.

Here we get to the crux of my split feelings on the phrase "Merry Christmas."  To begin with, let's get our annual reminder out of the way: the phrase "Happy Holidays" is nothing new, nor was it invented to try to undermine the Christian faith. If I've said it once, I've said it a dozen times: the poor clerk who wished you "Happy Holidays" is NOT the enemy. Don't be snide or snotty about it, just smile, say "thank you" and "Merry Christmas," and be on your way. 

Now I happen to think that the retail expression "Happy Holidays" is silly. Think about it:  Stores employ Christmas trees, Christmas lights, Christmas decorations, and pipe in Christmas music, in hopes that people will buy a bunch of Christmas presents in preparation for Christmas day.  Nobody is fooled by "Seasons Greetings." If someone is truly, deeply offended by Christmas, the huge Christmas tree at the entrance of the store cannot magically be transformed into a "holiday tree."

So my advice to retailers is: just say "Merry Christmas." (and the crowd goes wild!)

And that brings us to the third Christmas: the commemoration of the birth of Jesus.  God the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, became a human being, born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, died on the cross to pay the price for your sins and mine, then three days later rose bodily from the grave, so that by trusting Him as our Lord and Savior, we can have everlasting life and a day-to-day relationship with Him.  (try fitting that on a Christmas card!)

I believe that to be true.  I have a lot of reasons for believing it to be true.  It is at once a story simply told and a profound statement of deep personal faith and resounding theology. When I say "Merry Christmas," I'm making a declaration of faith (whether the other guy is aware of it or not).  And I believe this depth of faith is one of the reasons why Christians get so worked up over "Happy Holidays." It's somehow replacing something meaningful in our lives with something that is almost frivolous.  I get that.

But let's think for a second: if a retailer says, "Merry Christmas," there is a real possibility they are acknowledging the secular, consumer driven holiday and not the historical truth of the birth of Christ.  My reasons for saying "Merry Christmas" are different than their reasons for saying, "Merry Christmas." And unless the clerk or manager or CEO wants to make that personal statement of faith in the One whose birth we are celebrating, I'd just as soon they either stick to "Happy Holidays" or give me a few minutes to introduce them to Him (a hush falls on the crowd).

There are so many fronts to the battle.  Personally, I do not believe the banner a store hangs in its window or the greeting the clerks are instructed to give people is a front upon which I want to fight.
You don't have to agree or disagree with me today.  Just think about it.

Oh...Merry Christmas!


Wednesday, November 27, 2013


I love Thanksgiving.  I love the time with my family, the good food, the warmth of an easy chair as I drift into a satisfying tryptophanic coma.

Yet a quiet day of family and giving thanks has been jarred by the retailers who want to push Black Friday into Thanksgiving Thursday.  So between advertisements announcing fantastic "doorbuster" specials and the voices of Christians and conservatives decrying this "war against families," my peaceful holiday is shaping up to be not so relaxing.

So where do I stand on this?  I'm glad you asked.

I will NOT be shopping on Thanksgiving Day.  I will NOT recommend or encourage anyone to shop on Thanksgiving Day. My heart goes out to the employees who have to work on Thanksgiving Day.

However, I do feel compelled to point out a somewhat obvious truth:

No one is forcing anyone to shop on Thanksgiving Day.

For all the rhetoric about how retailers are destroying family values, the fact is, taking advantage of a sale is totally voluntary.  A family makes a CHOICE to abandon the dirty dishes and push, shove, and squirm their way through a crowd of determined bargain hunters. Messy? Yes.  Not very family friendly? Sure.  Mandatory? No.

You see, while I agree in spirit with the outcry against retailers opening up on Thanksgiving, I have a problem with what the outcry says about our values as a family.  If our family values are 1) only manifested one day out the year and 2) easily disrupted by a "doorbuster" ad, then we've got a bigger problem then retailers hoping to turn a profit.  Maybe it's time to re-examine just what "family values" and "giving thanks" mean in our own lives.

Retailers are driven by profit.  So stopping the "Thanksgiving shopping" movement is simple (in theory anyway): if enough people feel strongly about the family Thanksgiving that they will stay home, then it will cease being worth the retailer's time and expense of being open.

Yeah, I know it's a simple solution to a big problem.  But I've got to start somewhere.

Meanwhile, while folks scoop up the last of the gravy, get on their coats, and head out to find some bargains, I'm going to seek out that one comfortable chair and "rest my eyes for just a couple of minutes," while my daughters make fun of me as I start to snore.

Happy Thanksgiving.


Tuesday, November 12, 2013


One question I'm often asked is, "What have you been doing with yourself, now that you're not longer in children's ministries?" That's an excellent question. Of course, I'm still busy. I do a lot of "behind-the-scenes" work in the church office. I still fill the pulpit at my church and in other churches. I even occasionally lend a hand with a local child care center.
     But there are three things that summarize what I've been doing while I'm waiting for the next phase, level, assignment, or calling.

1. Resting
     I never realized how much of my mind and body went into children's ministry until I wasn't doing it anymore. It's not that the work was bad or anything.  Like a lot of folks in kidmin, I thrived on it. The first Saturday after my resignation took effect, I kept thinking I needed to finish up the music mix and power point presentation for Sunday morning. But reality hit and I realized I had nothing to do for the first time in many years.
     Since then, I've learned to enjoy the rest. My mind is free to concentrate on other things. When the worship service is over, I can leave and go home instead of staying an extra hour for take down. If I'm sick or not feeling well, I can stay home and rest. It took a while, but my mind doesn't drift to "the back room" during the service anymore. It's very liberating.

2. Re-equipping
     Just because I'm physically out of kidmin doesn't mean I'm done with kidmin.  I don't know what the Lord has planned for me in the future, but I still have a heart for children's ministry and, therefore, I want to stay sharp. I'm continuing to read the literature, explore the websites, and listen to the recordings of dozens of children's ministry experts. I made a list of all the workshops and seminars I've attended over the years and have started to review the notes I took.
     When I worked at a child care center, we were mandated to have 15 hours of continuing education each year. In a way, my current regimen of review serves as continuing education in the world of children's ministry, training me for whatever the next phase will be.

3.  Re-inventing.
     I've always been a student at heart, but during this current season, I'm taking it to the next level. Finances and time are always problematic, but I have always wanted to return to school and finish some advanced degrees. I'm not sure when that will happen, but I'm on the lookout for some good extension programs that will allow me to do most of the courses on line.
     But in the meantime, since I've been out of a formal classroom for awhile, I've created my own course of study, utilizing text books, online lectures, and syllabi.  The purpose is to discipline myself to regular, systematic study for when the door opens to a more formal program.  There are no tests, of course, and I'm moving at my own pace, but it's amazingly stretching to sit and take organized notes on a two hour lecture (okay, no smirking comments from you doctoral students!)

If you find yourself in a transition period, an interim time, a "between seasons" phase, then take advantage of the change to re-charge your soul, mind, and body, so that whatever the next level is, you'll be ready.


Thursday, September 26, 2013


A short time ago, I had the privilege of speaking at my church's morning worship service about dreams. It wasn't about the esoteric, subconscious, whimsical kind of dream, but rather the kind of dreaming related to goals and desires. As often happens, I felt there was a lot more that could be said on the subject than I was able to share.

A couple of years ago, I was forced to resign as children's pastor (after 15 years).  It was nothing of a moral nature, nothing scandalous, just a matter of politics and marketing. Since children's ministry was such a huge part of my life for so long, I suddenly found myself in a time of transition between what I knew and the great unknown.  I believe God used that to steer me toward the message about dreams.

As I thought further, I came up with three totally random principles that I'd like to share. I'm sure there are more (and for the benefit of those of you in management, motivation, or career building fields, I'm well aware that there is a strict technical difference among dreams, vision, goals, and so on.  I'm sort of lumping everything together in this post and I'll leave it to you to fine tune the definitions).

1.  Seek counsel that will help you, not discourage you. Surround yourself with people who will be your biggest cheerleaders and supporters.  Now here's the caveat: wise counsel can and should let you know if you're not ready, not able, or not suited to a task or ministry. But there is a difference between the critic who doesn't "get it" and thinks it's his duty to let you know that he doesn't think you're the man or woman for the job and the wise counselor who will help you define, refine, and adjust your dreams and goals.
(if you are in children's ministry, you might invest in some "coaching" services, such as Kidology, Jim Wideman, and others).

2.  Surprise people with the best.  Remember Susan Boyle? She had a dream to perform on stage and got her chance on Britain's Got Talent. The judges rolled their eyes and the audience snickered...until Ms. Boyle sang. Jaws dropped and eyes widened as this powerful and beautiful voice rang out. Go to YouTube and search for "emotional" or "surprising" auditions for shows like America's Got Talent, X-Factor, or the Voice (make sure you grab some tissues!). What these videos have in common is the total shock and amazement of the judges and audience when the least likely candidate nails a performance.
   In like fashion, we should always put our best proverbial foot forward in everything we do, especially matters pertaining to our goals, aspirations, and dreams. Go beyond what is expected and do the unexpected. Polish that presentation, dress a notch above the standard dress code, make sure all the elements of your lesson are ready and in place, practice and refine that song. And when your best comes out, the observers will be amazed.

3.  Patience and flexibility go together. One of the most profound sayings in pursuing our objectives is this gem: "Lather, rinse, repeat."  Actually, it came from a shampoo bottle, but think of the implications.  If you work up the suds as you follow your dreams and desires, but somewhere along the way, you get knocked off course, what do you do? For me, it was (and still is) a time of evaluation, re-equipping, and enrichment.  It's a "rinsing" time.  Maybe the Lord wants me back in a different children's ministry.  Maybe He wants me to return to a broader teaching ministry. And maybe He just wants me to write books and articles.  At this point, I am patiently waiting until time to "lather" again.
   By the way, do not confuse waiting with idleness. Sitting around doing nothing is a dream killer. Read, study, take a course, keep your mind active with a hobby, and keep your eyes open for new opportunities.

What would you add to the list?  I would love to hear your feedback and comments.


Thursday, August 22, 2013


Low prep!     Easy prep!     No prep!

There are many curriculum companies that advertise the absolute easiest in lesson presentation.  And there is an appeal to the increasingly busy volunteer base that is consumed each week with work and school and extra-curricular activities. Who wouldn't want something that doesn't require extra time out of an already packed schedule?

But I fear the whole low/easy/no prep movement is missing some fundamental points. This isn't necessarily the fault of the curriculum companies, but rather the interpretation and expectation of the consumers. Let's take a look at these (warning: major ranting ahead!):

1. Curriculum has always been easy to transfer and present.  At the whopping age of 17, I was asked to teach a 5th grade Sunday School class. The kind lady in charge handed me a packet of curriculum from a major publisher.  You know what was in it? Colorful posters to illustrate and enhance the lesson, handout materials so the kids can read and apply stuff through the week, worksheets to do with the kids, and a teacher's manual that presented the lesson word for word. If I had only been given this material fifteen minutes before class, I could have read the lesson out of the manual, pausing at the appropriately indicated times to show the poster or have the kids fill in the blanks.  Easy prep is nothing new. Even today, most published curriculum lays out everything or even puts it all on a dvd, so all a teacher has to do is press "play."

2. Somebody had to prepare the "low prep" curriculum. Somebody had to do the study and research in order to create the lesson plan and content. Some places even "field test" their curriculum in order to iron out the bugs. A lot of hard work goes into creating curriculum, because the message is important. And the fact that we are communicating this message to children makes it even more so.

And that leads us to the key missing point...

3.  Low/easy/no prep curriculum requires prep! This may not be popular, but I believe that a volunteer who gets the teacher's book should open their manual, turn to the lesson, note the Scripture passage, close the manual, and spend some time in pure study of the passage before returning the teacher book. They should be thinking of how the lesson fits in the flow of the series, the individual needs of the kids in their class, and maybe even how to do the lesson better than the teacher's manual explains it. In short, the wise teacher needs to prepare, not just "look over" the lesson.

Now let the record show that I am not against "low prep" stuff in general.  I'm sure most children's workers have had to "wing it" with the teacher's manual once in a while. Low prep curriculum can help simplify concepts and lay out creative strategies for presenting the lesson.  Many outfits include video segments to help reinforce the lesson being taught. I'm all in favor of making volunteer's lives easier as much as possible.

But I have seen far too many volunteers say, "I love this curriculum, because I don't have to do anything to get ready for Sunday."  I've watched the "teacher of the week" get his or her materials on Friday during lunch hour so they would be ready on Sunday. And I know a certain percentage of teachers look over the teacher's manual during commercials on Saturday night. It costs the teacher NOTHING and the kids get shortchanged. Most pastors I know (including my own) spend hours prayerfully laboring  over the text and how to present it to their adult congregations. Yet the most important congregation of all gets the time it takes to read over the lesson manual on Saturday night (or in the car on Sunday morning!).

How much time is enough time for preparation?  That may be the subject of another post, but for me, I ask myself, "if my low/easy/no prep curriculum got lost in a fire, could I still do the lesson on Sunday?" And maybe a more fundamental question is, "Are the kids worth what is most convenient to me or are they worth my very best?"

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this subject in the comments below.

Related post: Easy to Use and Transfer?


Wednesday, August 14, 2013


For the introduction to this series, click here

For part one of this series, click here

When I think about the face of the church, what it looks like, and how it presents itself to its members and to the community in general, I like to think of two levels: the level of personal interaction and the level of external presentation. These aren't scientific, sociological, or demographic distinctions, they are merely my attempt to categorize what I've observed in my limited study of local churches. In part one of this series, we looked at the importance of personal interaction, how a congregation relates to newcomers and one another.

I began with that level because the temptation (or trap) some churches fall into is to make today's level, the level of external presentation, the primary element in their picture of the church. So let us agree in principle that people, not programs, are the key component to the portrait of a local church. Amen and amen.

All that being said, understood, and established, there is most definitely a place for external presentation within the local church. Most people come to church via personal invitation and most people are "won over" by the warmth and friendliness of the congregation, but quite frequently, it is the building and programs that initially get their attention.

It is surprising how many churches have warm, friendly congregations, but their buildings are in need of paint and yard work. A visitor wanders in, but there is no signage to direct him or her to the nursery, the children's area, or the sanctuary. They get a church bulletin that looks like it was typed by a grade school student. When they pick up their hymn books, they have to blow the thin layer of dust off.

The church's programs and the mechanics of how the church operates are also noticeable. What is available for my kids (four empty beige walls in the kids' area doesn't look very inviting!)? How do they do music? Who "runs" the church? Certainly not all of these questions are going to be explored in depth, but they do lead to some initial impressions. The kids area is a big one that will become very evident.  Church government will usually take some time to explore. Even elements such as technology will make an impression: do you project lyrics or announcements on a screen? Is your lighting and sound an enhancement or distraction?

None of this implies that every single church should have the latest gadgets, the most efficient, business model of leadership, or the most professional praise band. Budgets and giftedness within the congregation will play a huge role in this level of our portrait of the church. I have a feeling that, in this day and age of mega-churches, that a good many people might be looking for the smaller, simpler church.

Here's a great exercise when looking at your church.  Periodically pretend that you know nothing about your church and you are visiting for the first time. Write down your impressions of the parking lot, the building, the foyer, the sanctuary, the coffee, and the people. Try to look at everything as if you were there for the very first time. It's quite revealing and might help in some decision making regarding external presentation.


Tuesday, August 13, 2013


For the introduction to this series, click here

When I think about the face of the church, what it looks like, and how it presents itself to its members and to the community in general, I like to think of two levels: the level of personal interaction and the level of external presentation. These aren't scientific, sociological, or demographic distinctions, they are merely my attempt to categorize what I've observed in my limited study of local churches.

Today, I want to look at the personal interaction.  In my opinion, this is the most important piece of the portrait of the local church.

Personal interaction is vital to the portrait of the local church. How a congregation relates to one another and to those who are visiting speaks volumes about the church. In an attractive church, people are talking to one another, there are lots of smiles, and handshakes, hugs, and high-fives are being exchanged. People seem genuinely glad to see each other.  It looks a lot like a family reunion, full of folks who have been apart for a week and can't wait to get caught up.
Image Credit: Western Saloon Clip Art from VECTOR.ME

This warmth comes across in how visitors are treated. Have you ever watched an old western movie where the hero walks into the saloon and the piano suddenly stops, poker players put their cards down and stare, and the barkeep nervously wipes the counter? Though not quite that severe, I have been in churches where a newcomer is treated like "the visitor (cue dramatic music)." The members were polite, but guarded, conversations ceased, and there was an overall formality in place. I'm sure if you asked its members, they would all describe their church as friendly, but the truth is, they were friendly to one another, but not necessarily to the stranger in their midst.

Contrast that with the church where a visitor is given a warm (but not overwhelming) welcome. A church where the newcomer doesn't have to guess where to go or what to do, because one (or more) of the members are right there to walk them through it. Oh, and these members aren't necessarily serving in an official capacity, they're just being themselves.

Obviously, this warm, inviting atmosphere has to start from the inside. The church is made up of Christians: men and women who have the Holy Spirit living inside and therefore, have a genuine faith that manifests itself on the outside. This is cultivated by deliberate fellowship, prayer, and solid Bible teaching. It also comes from the realization that we are all on a faith journey, meaning that I have struggles, you have struggles, we all have struggles, so let's help each other along.

Now because we are human, no church is going to display the warm, caring, friendly, joyful attitude one hundred percent of the time. But as the old saying goes, if someone is looking for a perfect church, they shouldn't join because they would ruin it. But since the church is comprised of people, this level is important to emphasize, grow, and develop as the local church presents itself to its community.

Unlike its secular counterparts, the local church does not grow primarily through advertising or programs. It grows through people...people sharing their lives, sharing their faith, and living it out on a personal level.

.Part 2

Monday, August 12, 2013


I am not an expert on church structures, but I like observing local churches and seeing how they present themselves to people and their communities. I like seeing the details of church life.  I collect church bulletins, I check streaming services from around the country, and I read books and articles. What a church "looks like" is of great interest to me.

As I indicated before, I am not an expert (if you are an expert on "organized ecclesiology", feel free to weigh in), but I like to think of two levels while thinking of the public face of the local church:

Level One: personal interaction. This is how the people behave toward each other and to newcomers. In many ways, it is based on a lot of intangibles, such as love, caring, compassion, welcome, acceptance, and so on, but it is really the most important element of the local church presentation.

Level Two: external presentation. These are things like buildings, worship service structure, church government, advertising, and other tangible items. While not the most important factor in what a church looks like, the external presentation can play an vital role in the picture of the church.

For the next couple of posts, I'm going to take a brief look at both of these levels and why neither has to be sacrificed for the other. I welcome your comments and ideas.

Part 1                Part 2


Wednesday, July 17, 2013


If you look within the various conferences, books, and blogs about children's ministries, you will eventually come across a piece about getting along with the pastor and church leadership. Workshops and articles with titles like "Getting the Support of Your Church Board" and "How to Turn Your Pastor Into a Raving Fan" dot the landscape of notebooks and podcasts. These are great lessons, because they demonstrate that the children's ministry leader is ultimately part of the larger church ministry and not some rogue operation on the fringes of Sunday morning.

But there are times when church leadership does indeed regard children's ministry as an "outside" work. It's not necessarily deliberate, but there is a sheer lack of knowledge and understanding about what goes on in "the other part of the church." Sometimes, a disgruntled parent comes in with a complaint and the pastor or board, assuming the gripe is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg, deal harshly with the kidmin leader. Or maybe there is just a general lack of response, a benign nod of the head and smile as the children's pastor tells the head elder about how the kids really liked the puppet presentation and slime craft last week.

The following are five suggestions for senior pastors and/or ruling boards on how to support your children's pastor.  Maybe we could even call it, "How to Turn Your Children's Pastor Into a Raving Fan."

  • Learn what is going on in your children's department. What are the programs, curriculum, songs, and so on. Who are the volunteers? How is the program structured. If you are a senior pastor, maybe you can get a speaker for a Sunday in order for you to "hang out" with the kids to watch, observe, and take notes (you may even be pressed into service!)
  • Find out why these things are done. It's not enough to merely observe the elements of children's church or Sunday School, the wise leader will find out why these elements are the way they are. One of the biggest gaps adults have in understanding children's ministry is the fact that children's ministry is framed in the culture of kids. It does no good to criticize bright colors, silly song motions, and goofy puppets by adult standards. So it is important to ask why the music is the way it is, why do we arrange classes in that fashion, why do we put the teaching in that spot in the service, and so on.
  • Help the children's leadership in meeting the vision of the church. Submitting to the church's mission and vision is practically part of Children's Ministry Leadership 101, yet in some churches, pastors and church boards are not always forthcoming in helping the kidmin in lining up. Take your children's pastor out to lunch, listen to how he feels about the church and its ministry, and offer to help him blend his vision into yours.  You might be surprised at how close the two ministries really are.
  • Be honest, but kind in evaluations. Legitimate problems need to be addressed in a clear, but gentle way. But while praise is always a good thing, heaping on generalities like "Good job," or "Way to go," while ignoring matters that need to be addressed, end up causing more harm than good. When the problems do come out, the children's ministry leader will feel blindsided.  If you are building a relationship with the kidmin leader (as suggested above), sharing a challenge or difficulty will be much easier.
  • Be generously flexible in dealing with difficulties. There are some situations in which the pastor and/or church leadership should swiftly and decisively remove someone from children's ministry leadership: clear immorality, blatant disloyalty to the church, doctrinal deviation, and, of course, harming a child. Most anything less can be worked out amicably. "We don't like the logo on that particular curriculum, so you're fired!" is unnecessarily harsh. On the other hand, saying, "There are some people who are uncomfortable with that logo. What made you decide to do it this way? Is there a way it can be modified to soften the objectionable parts?" preserves the relationship and strengthens the ministry...and the minister.

What advice have you offered to your senior pastor or board?

Monday, June 03, 2013


I'm waiting.

I'm waiting for the day someone comes up to me and says, "Hey, buddy, can you give me a reason for the hope that is in you?"  And with meekness and fear, I'll give an answer or defense.

Yup, I'll be ready.

One of the most heart pounding verses I have ever read was 1 Peter 3:15: "But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear."  This verse and Jude 3 ("contend earnestly for the faith") get my debater pulse pinging.  I love the study of apologetics. It has strengthened my faith, sharpened my reasoning, and enabled me to help others discern truth from error. At one time, I wanted to get my Masters in Apologetics ('cuz, after all, it looks great on a resume when looking for a second job!). I will not give up examining Christian evidences, reasons for faith, answers to skeptics, Biblical principles on today's societal issues, and life applications in light of Scriptural truths. Christianity is a reasonable faith: I know what I believe and why I believe it.

But lately, I've come to the conclusion that sometimes the best defense may be no defense at all. It's not that there is no answer available. It's not that I cannot or will not lay a Bible perspective on a social issue on social media, or respond with a letter to the editor when items which touch on Biblical matters are trashed. But amazingly, not everybody is asking for my opinion. Some people and groups are hostile to the historic Christian faith.  Some are frustrated by hypocrisy, both real and perceived. And some people and groups just don't care, settling for a blissful ignorance. And while I am fully prepared and willing to use Christian evidences (and will continue to do so), I'm finding that, to an increasing number of people, such tactics are like foam darts on a steel hull.

You see, something I tend to miss is that sometimes, instead of waiting for someone to ask me about the hope that is in me, I just kind of lead off with the debate. I miss the fact that in the 1 Peter 3 passage, I'm giving a defense because someone asked me about the hope that is in me.  So I have to ask myself: is my Christian life authentic enough that people see hope oozing from the cracks to the point they want to know more? Few people have asked me for 10 reasons to support the inspiration of Scripture or a list of the many infallible proofs for the resurrection of Christ. But even fewer have asked about the hope that is in me.

As I've reassured folks in this post, I'll still use evidences whenever I can.  But I'm thinking too that sometimes, it might just be better to be silent and let my life be my apologetic.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


I've recently been going through all my children's ministry stuff in an attempt to get better organized for my next exciting kidmin adventure. In the process, I've had time to reflect, remember, and smile over the stuff I've gone through. Today, I want to take a look at...CPC Notebooks!

Long time readers of this blog know that I am an unapologetic, raving fan of INCM's Children's Pastors' Conference. I'm sure I can find things to pick apart--and there is a time and place for that--but I still believe it is the largest event of its kind that is dedicated to children's ministry. When I return home and unpack my bag, one of the things I like to pull out and wave in front of my wife is my notebook from the conference.  I'm really like a little kid who says, "Look what I got!" Ooooh.  Aaaah!

Whenever I thumb through these notebooks, my mind replays theme songs, set designs, speakers, and friends.  So here is a gallery of my seven favorite CPC notebooks (and you'll have to wait until the end to find out why I chose these seven).

2003..My first CPC. We used the "Building His Kingdom, Reaching His Kids" theme in our children's ministry for a while afterwards.

2004...I still have the hero puppets!

2007...after a two year absence, I returned.  Cool theme song.

2008....a reminder that it's "all about kids"

2010...instead of a snazzy 3-ring binder, we got a vertical spiral notebook. I confess: I prefer the 3-ring binders. However, it's what's on the inside that counts, content over cover, substance instead of surface, etc. etc.

2011....I can still hear the trumpet fanfare and sounds of Go Fish and Denver and the Mile High Orchestra reminding me that "we do what we do 'cuz we're solid to the core!" (1000 Teacher Tim points to any attendees who can remember what C-O-R-E stands for.  And Michael Chanley is not eligible to enter!)

2012...smaller spiral sporting the new logo (notice "Red"?). This was a bittersweet conference because it occurred after I left a 15 year stint as CP. But I have so many fond memories of people praying for and encouraging me.  One of the many things I love about CPC is the assurance that you're not alone.

So why are these my seven favorite notebooks?  Because these are the seven CPC's I've attended!  Yup, the rather simplistic answer to the question, "What is your favorite CPC?" is: "the one I'm at!"  And as the Lord leads and provides, I will be able to add another notebook to the gallery.

Monday, May 06, 2013


Our journeys this weekend took  us to the high desert of central Oregon, to the resort community of Sunriver. While I have visited the famous Village Mall of Sunriver, and while our high school youth group holds an annual winter retreat here, this was the first time I actually stayed in Sunriver. It's like a developed campground, only instead of tents, yurts, and rustic cabins, there are very nice one and two story houses within the tall pines and brush. I don't know what the base population of the town is, but it likely balloons during peak vacation times.

Not that we spent a whole lot of time indoors.  Our daughter, who celebrates her birthday this week, set the agenda for our travels. So after a power brunch at IHOP in Bend, we stopped by an incredible Christian bookstore, then the local Walmart so I could buy a cap (necessary equipment for long walks in the outdoors). And then came our first tour of the day:
The High Desert Museum is an expansive, indoor-outdoor museum featuring wildlife, Native American culture and history, and real life critters of all shapes and sizes.

My amazing photographic skills captured this fish making a jump upstream! Actually, this is a display just outside the doors of the museum.  The water is real, the fish is fake.

On outdoor tours, as in life, this is a good reminder
We attended a talk about Birds of Prey, then we visited the Birds of Prey Center

Thanks to a camera problem, I was only able to capture one bird of prey.  But see the American Bald Eagle that close was exciting.
The next day, with fresh batteries in the camera and another power breakfast to fortify us, we made our way to a local volcano.  Lava Butte is actually part of a whole volcanic system in the area. A narrow road that swirls around the mountain takes you to the top of the cone.

We're here!

It's hard to believe this magnificent vista resulted from such chaos

The gray strip is the highway. According to the literature, an eruption could have devastating effects on transportation.  Ya think?

Who's up for a ski trip?

Looking down the rim.  Lots of evidence of destruction, yet, the trees are still making a comeback.

Parking lot at the top of Lava Butte,  looking up at the lookout tower.

This is the parking lot, taken from the upper deck of the lookout tower.

This is tasteless and crude, but I laughed when I saw it (zoom in if you can't read the sign).

Our next stop of the day was a few miles away.  The Lava Cast Forest is a looping trail that takes you through an actual lava flow.

What makes this an interesting place is not only the sheer magnitude of devastation, but the number of "lava casts" along the way.

In simple terms, lava surrounds a tree and begins to cool.  Over the years, the tree dies and decomposes, leaving a tube like cave.  This one still had snow at the bottom of it.

This one was one of the deeper ones. My pictures don't do the tubes justice..they're actually quite interesting to look at.  And, of course, I get lessons from these "lava casts." First, the tree's ability to endure in spite of being surrounded by lava illustrates our standing in the midst of trials. Second, when the tree is gone, there is something ruggedly beautiful left behind.  What is our legacy when the trials have passed?
There was far more than sight seeing, of course.  Laughter, relaxation, reading (finished an entire book over the weekend!). It was a great weekend.  Thanks to my daughter for inviting us on a wonderful trip.

Saturday, April 27, 2013


Today, we made a day trip to Winston, Oregon, home of "Wildlife Safari." This was my first time to this southern Oregon attraction.  In fact, it was my first time ever to a drive through a wildlife park.  As we passed the huge entrance, all I could hear in my head was Sir Richard Attenborough saying, " Jurassic Park!"

Of course, we didn't see any dinosaurs.  But we did see..



AND LAWN DECORATIONS (just wanted to see if you were still reading!)
Many times, as I go places, I tend to spot principles and concepts.  Today was "Children's Day" at the Safari, a fact we did not take into accout when planning this trip.  As we toured the "Village" (the combination visitor center and small animal exhibits and more), we saw kids constantly squeeling in delight and exitement over God's creation. I believe places like this are a great opportunity to help our kids see the hand of our Maker.
And in a more practical vein, Wildlife Safari knows how to do signs well (a lesson from Kidmin Facility Management 101)
If you're planning a trip to Oregon, Wildlife Safari is worth a look.



Friday, April 05, 2013


I'm really trying not to sound like I'm bragging, but I used to do children's ministries in one of the largest churches in southern California. If I mentioned this church, you would probably recognize it.  I'm fairly certain you've heard of the pastor (both the current one and the one before).

But to put this in some realistic perspective, I was involved with this church as one of hundreds of volunteers. Being a large church, there were many different children's ministries besides Sunday School, and so the volunteer base was quite large.

But here's "the thing": I was treated like the most important member of the volunteer team! When
Yeah, it was a long time ago!
we had our weekly training meeting, our team leader acted as if every single person in the room was a vital part of the ministry. If I was sick or had an unavoidable conflict, I would get a note of encouragement, prayer, and support, as well as a reminder of how crucial my participation was to children's evangelism. And when I finally moved on to other ministry opportunities, the team leader not only expressed how much I'd be missed, but also her sincere congratulations and blessings on my new adventure.

To be honest, at the time, I never contemplated just how significant this was. When I became a regular children's pastor, I also became a student of children's ministry leadership, and I began learning and growing in leadership principles set forth in myriads of  books, blogs, and podcasts. But it was only then did it all dawn on me: This team leader in this huge church was doing effective volunteer management before children's ministries became a "profession" in most churches. She never wrote a book, there was no personal computing back then, and her weekly volunteer newsletter was a hand cut and pasted affair. Yet the things she did could very well be the chapter titles of a popular volunteer leading handbook.

Let's take a quick look:
  • She valued each volunteer's input.
  • She kept in regular contact with each volunteer.
  • She affirmed that each volunteer was an important part of something big (not just a warm body to fill a slot).
  • She cast vision.
  • She let God direct the volunteers' paths, even if such a leading took them away.

I'm sure there are more principles, but you get the idea. I don't remember her name and I'm not quite sure she would even remember me, but I'm grateful for this children's ministry pioneer who was "doing the stuff" before there were ever websites to lay it all out.

Saturday, March 23, 2013


Ahhh, spring is here and with it comes thoughts of wandering the back roads and highways, experiencing the grandeur of nature, and enjoying the warmth of sunshine and family, new growth, and the melodious call of creation's splendor.

But those thoughts will have to wait for another day.

Today (Saturday), we went on a picnic to Union Creek Campground, just north of Prospect.

View Larger Map

While it's hardly a backroad, Highway 62 snakes through tall, majestic pines

We drove a little ways up the road and parked in front of Farewell Bend Snow Park. As you can see, the ground was not filled with fresh green, but packed snow
Finally, the Union Creek Campground.  Or, more accurately, the Union Creek Day Use Area.  Well, technically, the parking area. Campground closed, although if you want to trudge through the snow to the picnic areas, go for it.  We chose to eat in the van.
If you look very carefully, this sock and scarf left on a post looks like a grumpy face.
There's a little foot bridge at the day use area.  Snow wasn't bad getting to the bridge, so I decided to get a picture of the little island sitting in the creek. Anyone for a swim?
Fortunately, the parking lot was plowed, making a rather large barrier to access the rest of the camping and picnicing and putting a slight chill in the air. But that's okay, because I have the INCM long sleeved black t CORE shirt from CPC11 (product placement from a kidmin..whoot!).
And thus our first official spring outing was done.  I'm grateful for the laughter and the chance to just enjoy the day.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013


The third installment of The Bible mini-series has just aired. Jesus has been born, tempted, and calling disciples, even as John the Baptist is being beheaded (oops, sorry, spoiler alert!).

Some "off the grid" folks wanted me to give them a bottom line, thumbs up-or-down evaluation of the mini-series. Apparently, my previous review confused them.  Did I like it or not?  And as I re-read my review of part one, and as I monitor the countless comments and reviews on Facebook and other sources, then yes, there is a mixed reaction, a confusing set of approvals and disapprovals, sometimes in the same post!

So why the confusion? Let me share my gut feeling.

There are really two "Bibles" here (before you take up stones to stone me, let me explain!). As a Christian, I believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible, authoritative Word of the Living God, sufficient in all matters of faith and practice. But to others, the Bible is a collection of morality tales. A producer can easily portray the latter, but will never be able to accurately portray the former.

Media transfers are difficult. I ended my previous post with the phrase "The Book is better;" that is, I find the source material far more superior than most derivatives. This actually holds true for most publications that have been adapted into a movie or TV show. A movie maker has maybe 30 seconds to show a scene that took up 12 pages in a novel. Even the most "faithful" of adaptations take certain liberties. So when people say The Bible series is not like the Bible, they're right.

But furthermore, no matter how well intentioned a producer may be, they're not going to get it all down. One of the critical reviewers was upset because, not only does the series leave out a lot of material, but it does not explain how the events of the Old Testament tie in to God's redemptive plan revealed in the New. In other words, "why can't The Bible be more of a complete expositional message?" When I think of the many hours spent in Bible survey and introduction classes in college, the answer is obvious: it's not realistic to have a 45 hour mini-series!  With all due respect to those who wonder why The Bible isn't more like the Bible; well, what did you expect?

But I also believe that the positioning of this mini-series was off.  "Positioning" is a marketing term referring to the image or identity of a product in the minds of the consumers. The Bible was pushed and promoted as a way to introduce people to the Book of Books so they might read and study it more. There were whole curriculum packages made so churches could ride this wave. I haven't seen the materials, but I suspect that, in the end, if Bible studies were launched, they were focused more on correcting the unfortunate portrayals in the mini-series and filling in the expository blanks.

The Bible mini-series is what it is: an adaptation of stories from the Bible. Marketing aside, it is entertaining and well produced.  But in the end, it's not that different than dozens of other adaptations of stories from the Bible. If people are drawn to the Scriptures because of what they saw, I'm okay with that. My hope is that they follow up in a good, Bible-teaching church. Not only will they discover the real Bible, but they will also get to personally know the Author of the Book.

Friday, March 15, 2013


One of my dim memories from my elementary school days was the Wacky Races fundraiser. The classes competed against each other to raise money for a special project. And there, on the giant bulletin board in the hallway, were several straight racetracks, each one marked with a graduated dollar amount. And on each track was a cartoony race car and driving crew from Hannah-Barbara's hit children's program Wacky Races (sigh, I'm dating myself). The campaign was a hit. Kids got excited as they followed their cars' progress, seeing the characters they knew on Saturday morning come to life in their environment. Even parents and teachers got in the act. I don't remember a lot from my elementary school days, but I remember that fundraising theme, because my mom came up with it.

I don't know what her exact role was on the committee, but I do remember her asking me once what my friends and I liked watching on Saturday mornings. And one of the hit shows at the time was Wacky Races, featuring an around-the-world competition among several colorful cartoon characters. So she bought a few Wacky Races coloring books and carefully colored and cut out each car and crew. Making the tracks was easy and before you could say, "start your engines," the fundraiser was off and running.

Naturally, this was a secular environment, but my mom understood something that seems so basic now to children's ministries: to reach kids, you have to understand a kids' culture. For six days, children are immersed in a maze of pop music, video games, the internet, and, partially thanks to cable, day by day cartoons and other children's programming. Then they go to church and are exposed to grown ups who live in an adult world, walls that appeal to adult aesthetics, and technology that seems dated and drab. This sheer disconnected irrelevance communicates that the safe Jesus is a great part of Sunday mornings, but not ultimately integral to the rest of the week.

There is a lot more to this, of course. We are in the world, but not of the world, after all. But just as a general, broad principle, I believe we need to do what my mom did: ask the kids about their world. Then maybe we need to go out and get a couple of coloring books, video games, or action figures. Log on to some children-oriented sites and watch a little Nickelodeon. It's a cliche' but it's applicable: be a kid at heart!


Monday, March 04, 2013


This is a review of The Bible mini-seies, part 1.  It contains details and plot points about the show. If you have not seen it yet and/or you do not want details about it, don't read any further.

Last night (March 3), the History Channel rolled out The Bible, a mini-series brought to us by Mark Burnett (Survivor) and Roma Downey (Touched by an Angel).

First of all, I applaud the effort to increase Biblical literacy. Mark Burnett and Roma Downey have been very public about wanting more people to get into the Scripture. In this day and age of increasing hostility to Christian ideas and values, this is a good thing. I also liked the production values.  Although not necessarily epic in its depictions, it does show life in the desert as dirty and sweaty and man's relationship with God as sometimes challenging.

Most of the instances of "creative license" can be overlooked.  For example, the Bible doesn't depict Sarah figuring out that Abraham was going to sacrifice Isaac, whereupon she dashes up the mountain to stop him. On the other hand, it doesn't say she didn't do that and the scene does not change the event itself.  The announcement to Sarah that she would have a child was a little eerie to my mind, with a shadowy figure whisping through the tent and disappearing while talking to Sarah. But that doesn't ultimately hurt the Biblical text either.

But the part that got me was (wait for it!)...the Ninja Angels! In Genesis, we read that the men of Sodom were struck blind, so that they grew weary trying to find the door. whereupon the two angels led Lot and his family out of the city.  But in The Bible version, the two angels cast off their cloaks to reveal armored warriors (okay so far).  They then strike the men at the door with some painful condition (I always imagined a bright light, but okay...struck it!).  And then the angels pull out their swords (no problem necessarily, since the Bible does speak of some angels having swords) and then engage in an extended, martial arts style fight sequence with the armed men of Sodom as they lead Lot out of the city.  It was a neat scene, it was an exciting scene, but one that made me both laugh and shake my head at the same time.

Again, I do not want to disparage any sincere effort to introduce people to the Book of Books. Even the inaccuracies can prompt teachers and students to dig in the Scripture and say, "Hey, this is what the Bible really says...". But ultimately, for me, there's nothing really new here. There have been dozens of dramatizations of Biblical events over the years. Some are high budget, epic depictions (The Ten Commandments), some are evangelistically motivated (Jesus), and yes, there are a few that were so inaccurate and awful that I have to wonder what drug the producers were using at the time (NBC's Noah's Ark). But as good and positive as The Bible mini-series is; frankly, I've seen it all before.

The Bible mini-series is sincerely motivated, respectful in it subject matter, and better than most made-for-television productions. I have not seen any of the accompanying resource material (study guides, curriculum, and so on), but it is being pushed heavily within the evangelical world. But for me, the shortest summary is the one that holds true to a host of adaptations from literature:

"The Book is better."

Friday, February 22, 2013


Regular readers of this blog know that I'm not a big fan of rotating teachers (if you want to know why, here is a link to the introduction to that series). I'm sure there are circumstances in which rotation works well (and I'd be happy to examine each one), but overall, I believe the practice of making a schedule and having a different teacher each week for the main kid's worship time is actually counter-productive to effective children's ministries.

Aside from the inconsistencies in preparation, presentation, and participation, I think weekly rotations are actually a "distraction from the best." I know a very humble, very godly man who oversees children's ministries in his church. At least twice in the last year, he has expressed the need for "more volunteers." In fact, this last time, he has described it as a "dire need." The problem isn't that they have more kids than ever before. The problem is that children's ministry has been replaced with getting enough volunteers to fill the slots on the schedule. It has grown to the point that the focus is no longer what is best for the kids, but what is best for the volunteers.

Image courtesy of koratmember/
I imagine the process started with the innocent desire to make sure volunteers did not get too burdened with teaching week after week. So they created a schedule with Mrs. Jones teaching the first week, Mr. Smythe doing week two, Miss Looly on week three, and Mr. Grober on week four. That way, each teacher only has to teach once a month. But then Mr. Grober announces that he would rather teach every other month. So we either have to ask one of the other teachers to teach twice, or we need to get another teacher. Miss Looly is willing, but only temporarily until we find someone else. Meanwhile, Mrs. Jones calls on Saturday night to let us know that her family is going on vacation, so we ask Mr. Smythe if he can fill in. He can, but he doesn't really want to do two weeks in a row. We manage to plead and cajole and finally recruit enough volunteers so that nobody has to be stuck with the kids more than once every other month. All our slots are filled and all is well. Until we get a phone call from Mr. Grober....

A weekly rotation sounds like an ideal solution to "spread out the work," but it doesn't take much to derail the schedule. It requires us to recruit two or three times more volunteers than we actually need on a given Sunday, plus it does not guarantee freedom from burn-out. And before long, most of the energy is spent on getting warm bodies and figuring out how to schedule them. Soon, you have a volunteer or even the coordinator herself filling in for two, three, or more Sundays in a row and all they can think about is, "I'm tired of doing this every week. I haven't been in church for the last four weeks!"And, of course, there is the idea that Mr. Grober is here only because no one else wanted to do it that Sunday. That is the best we have to offer our children?

I have a testimony about my journey out of this cycle.  One day I will share it.  But for now, here are a few suggestions:

  • Recruit to vision, not to need. Iimagine if children's church was regarded as "real church." Imagine if there were dedicated, sold-out volunteers who look forward to bonding with the kids week after week. Figure out what your ministry is about, what it looks like, and find volunteers that will buy in to that vision.
  • Have a dedicated teacher.  Normally, that would be the Children's Pastor or Director, but in any event, find a consistent teacher whose "job" is to prepare and present to the kids each and every week.
  • Watch your language. The phrases used in our scenario above are actual quotes from volunteers and leaders: "don't want volunteers over burdened," "stuck with the kids," "haven't been in (real) church for a long time," etc. Don't talk about children's ministry as duty or obligation. "If nobody else comes forward, then (deep sigh) I guess I'll do it" (doesn't that just bless your heart?). Instead, tell the leadership, volunteers, the congregation, and yourself about this great adventure called "children's ministry."

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


When it comes to recruiting, I'm a simple, rather naive kind of guy. I think if a person hears about a need and they have a way to meet that need, they should meet that need. Simple, huh?

For years, I believed a self-imposed lie that I was "lousy" at recruiting. But I found that there are plenty of helps in this area and that, chances are, you are better at recruiting than you think. Let's take a look at six principles of recruiting (there are probably more). There is nothing new here, but it may serve as an encouraging reminder of some of the nuts and bolts behind recruiting children's volunteers.

  • Bulletin announcements for volunteers are the least effective means of recruiting. If you use a bulletin announcement, make most of the announcement about how much fun and exciting your children's ministry is. End with contact information for any who might be curious enough to ask.
  • Ditto with public announcements. 98% of the out loud announcement should be about how cool the children's ministry is. The last little bit should be something like, "And if you want to know how to get involved, see me after the service."  And whatever you do, don't beg, don't threaten, and don't bring sad faced little kids up front and talk about these poor children who don't have a teacher.
  • Personal invitations are the best, most effective way to recruit. Some of the best children's ministry volunteers I've had the pleasure of working with are the ones I walked up to and asked if they would help. The downside of the personal ask is that a lot of people will also say "no." But for the "yesses", it is exciting.
  • Don't confuse personality with technique. You can practice solid recruiting methods even if you don't have one of those winsome, charismatic personalities (you know the kind I'm talking about: the gal who, after one short conversation about the latest fashion, can get Mrs. Jones to help with crafts after you've tried to recruit her for the last ten years!). Effective recruiting can be learned and practiced no matter how socially awkward you may feel.
  • Recruit recruiters. The beauty of recruiting is that you don't have to do it by yourself. Contact people who know people. Ask the leader of the mom's group to help you recruit nursery workers. Get in good with the high school leader to see if there are some on-fire teens who would like to get involved.
  • Pray.  Yes, this should actually be first on this list and part of every other point!

What kinds of recruiting principles would you add to the list?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


You've got questions? I've got answers! They're in the link above that says "A Little Bit About Teacher Tim" (right next to where it says "Home"). Approach with caution.

While I'm certainly not a man of mystery (international or otherwise), I tend not to say a lot about me. A little over a year ago, some folks were asking about my background because they didn't know anything about me or my relationship to Children's Ministries.  I suppose for a steak dinner, I could lay out more details about myself than anyone would ever want to hear. But I'll settle for this for now (although the steak dinner is not out of the question, mind you).
This is not a resume (although if you and your church is looking for a children's minister, I will be happy to send you one). It's not even a decent cover letter. It is merely and over-simplistic summary of stuff that has made me me. And as always, all that I've been able to do as been by God's grace and mercy.  It's not about how cool I am, but about how incredible and awesome God is.

So go ahead.  Click on "A Little Bit About Teacher Tim."  Go ahead.  You know you want to.  And if, after you are done, you are curious about anything, just ask.  There are no off-limit questions, but I reserve the right to not always give you a complete answer.

Meanwhile, thanks for dropping by my blog.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


Songwriter Bill Gaither once sang, "Let the church be the church. Let the people rejoice." While he was exalting the One True Church, there are many folks in local congregations today who are saying, "Let the church be the church, but what exactly does that mean?"

Even though the vast majority of churches in the United States have fewer than 100 members, the attention seems to be on the so-called "mega-churches" with attendance in the thousands each week. Smaller churches by the score have adopted some of the techniques and practices.  Many churches use (to some extent or another) contemporary arrangements in their music.  Their pastors have shed the suit and tie look.  There is a greater emphasis on looking, feeling, and being a church for the 21st century, where Christians and unsaved "seekers" alike can feel comfortable.

Already, the readers are taking sides. Let me state for the record, that I have no problems with "mega-churches." Obviously, those that reject the Word of God or otherwise clearly teach false doctrine need to be examined closely, but as I've read commentary about mega-churches, it's clear that a lot of criticism is based on envy, not on substantiated fact. A common observation is "since they've grown so large, so fast, they must be a cult." That's not the case. One could just as easily say that the small church is small because they are not being blessed by God. Bottom line: the size and style of the congregation is irrelevant to this discussion. Having been in a mega-church environment and having served in a small church environment, I can testify that both have very similar challenges, albeit on different scales.

Yet in spite of the whole "seeker sensitive", contemporary church movement, some studies have shown that people are leaving the church in droves. As Group Publishing's Thom Shultz observed in a recent blog,
"Over the last year, while working on a major documentary film that examines America’s state of faith and the condition of the church, I’ve talked with hundreds of people. Many of these are de-churched. They’re done with the organized church. In some cases, they’re wounded. In other cases, they’re simply disinterested."("The De-Churched: Why They Left," Holy Soup with Thom Shultz)
I'm certainly no expert, nor do I claim to have all the answers.  In fact, my thoughts today may very well be different a year or two or ten from now. But at the moment, I'm wondering if the very things that have attracted people to church might also be the things driving them away. I had a friend who professed no real faith and didn't care much for church.  But one Sunday, at the invitation of a friend, he visited a "seeker sensitive", contemporary church. I asked him later what he thought.  He said everything was good...good music, good atmosphere, nice people.  Even the speaker was engaging. But he would not go back, because it didn't feel like "church."

I believe, deep down inside, we want to connect with something bigger and grander than ourselves. I'm not defending the ultra-ritualistic church, mind you (and high worship is not my particular preference), but at least they've nailed the basic premise: God is bigger than us. Although my friend confused style with intent, his memories told him that church music was grand and a little hard to understand because God was grand and maybe a little hard to understand. The pastor wore a suit and tie because he represented the King of Kings. And when the pastor spoke from the Bible, it was eloquent because the subject matter was exalted.  There seems to be a need for tradition, for ritual, and for "deepness" in our hearts. We want to be overwhelmed by majesty.

Once again, this is not a criticism of the contemporary style of worship, for there is an equally legitimate purpose for this as well.  We do need to be sensitive to seekers and visitors, and we need to be aware that not everyone we're trying to reach speaks "church-ese." On the other hand, we need to figure out how not to alienate those who want, need, and feel comfortable with ritual, tradition, and the whole language of the church. This is the challenge of the 21st century church.

So to answer the original question: "Let the church be the church, but what does that mean?" I believe the answer is "yes."

Just thinking out loud....

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


Let's establish something up front: there is no "s" at the end of Awana!

For those who don't know what "Awana" is, it is a club (actually several clubs) that emphasizes Bible memory in a format filled with neat games, cool uniforms,  plenty of badges, and fun.  The letters in Awana stand for "Approved Workmen Are Not Ashamed" (taken from 2 Timothy 2:15).  And even though it is an acronym, it is not written A.W.A.N.A. or AWANA (unless everything else is capitalized too), and it is certainly not "Awanas," (unless you are speaking of something that belongs to Awana, such as "Awana's legacy", in which case it requires an apostrophe to show possession). It is simply "Awana," and I still get that clenched-teeth feeling when I hear the word "Awanas." What does the "s" stand for? "Approved workmen are not ashamed sometimes?" "Approved workmen are not ashamed significantly?"  "Approved workmen are not ashamed, silly!"

No "s" at the end of Awana.

Now that we have that out of the way, I salute Awana and all it has done to reach boys and girls with the gospel of Christ and train them to serve Him.  My Awana experience began with listening to verses in Sparkies and then developed into becoming a leader, a director, and eventually Commander for five years. It was an incredible rush, working with outstanding volunteers, and watching our club increase each year.

But the strength of Awana can be seen in a kid I'll call "Bryan."  Almost from the beginning, Bryan stood out from our group for one reason: he would not say the Pledge of Allegiance!  I'm sure nearly every club has those kids who either don't know what they are supposed to do during the flag ceremony or who need some reminding not to goof off during the ceremony.  But Bryan did not fit into either category.  He wasn't being rebellious or silly.  He stood there, quietly and respectfully, but with his mouth closed and his right hand down at this side.

After observing this for a couple of weeks, I took Bryan aside and asked him why he didn't do the pledge.  He said, "My mom said I couldn't."  A few questions later, I found out that Bryan's mom was a member of a certain religious organization that did  not believe in saluting the flag.  I conferred with our leaders and we decided (right or wrong) that we would allow Bryan to continue to stand there, lest we alienate him and his mother.

A few weeks later, Bryan passed his entrance book.  When I congratulated him, he said, "My mom told me you didn't believe what I did.  But I showed her my book and said, 'Look mom, they use the Bible too.'  She helped me learn my verses!"  I inwardly jumped.  A couple of weeks later, Bryan told me that he liked coming to Awana more than he liked going to his own church.  Although overjoyed that Awana had struck a chord in Bryan, I started to feel a little nervous that this could lead to a terrible wedge between him and his mother.  But that faded when he added, "My mom said she might start coming to church here."

I heard that Bryan and his family moved, so I never got to meet Mom at church.  But I can just visualize this boy, entrance booklet in front of him, feeding words of truth to his mom.  That is one of my favorite memories of Awana and why, even though I'm no longer actively involved in the program, I remain a fan.

Just don't add that "s" at the end.

Awana display booth from the 2011 Children's Pastors' Conference in San Diego