Friday, January 17, 2014


With the upcoming debate between creation scientist Ken Ham and evolution scientist Bill Nye, I thought I'd share a few thoughts and opinions.  Just a couple of disclaimers before we begin: these are working opinions, "thinking through my keyboard" if you will. I'm always asking questions and pointing out things in an effort to get everyone to think, so before either side blasts away at what I say here, just calm down, read carefully, and respond constructively. Second, I am neither a professional scientist, nor a professional theologian, but I admit I've spent more time in the latter field than the former. If you want to parse Hebrew verbs and ancient Semitic literature types at me or you want to pick apart a cell or DNA strand, I'll need a bit of time to look it all up.

The debate has been heavily reported as a contest between "science" and "religion."  I think that is misleading for a couple of reasons.  First of all, this is hardly the first epic debate on this topic.  I had the privilege of attending a college that shared the campus with a prominent creationist organization.  We had a front row seat to see the so-called "creationist movement" in the early 80's, when names like Morris, Gish, and yes, even Ham were engaged in debates with evolutionary scientists. At first, the evolution profs would try to debate the merits of the Scripture, laying out alleged Bible contradictions and seeming moral inconsistencies, while the creationist profs would carefully bring out their arguments from biology and geology to show the inconsistencies of evolution and the strength of the creationist model.  After a short time (and widespread public response), the universities quit sending their scientists. 

Phase two (which I look upon as the golden era of debates) was when the scientists decided to get serious about debating science and not the integrity of the Bible.  These were great evenings of direct clashes between the champions of evolution and the champions of creation. And using the criteria of formal debate, I have to honestly say that sometimes, the evolutionists did a better job presenting their case.  But at some point, the evolutionary scientists decided that creation was only about religion and debating creationists about science was as absurd as an aardvark playing in the NBA.  Since then, the mantra of evolutionary scientists has been "science equals evolution. If it isn't evolution, it isn't science." Case closed.  So the reason the Ham/Nye (Hy? Nyam?) debate is getting so much attention is that we've forgotten the good old days.

The second reason the "science vs religion" moniker is misleading is because it suggests that science and religion are incompatible. They're not incompatible, they simply deal with two different world views.  Trying to line up the two to compare is well nigh impossible (no pun intended).  If Ham sticks to the articulation and examination of verifiable scientific facts and if Nye does the same, we're going to have a good debate.  If Nye trots out a list of Bible difficulties and how Christians are responsible for war, slavery, and the Tea Party movement, it will end, at best, as an exercise in condescension, and, at worst, a total confirmation of what the press is calling it: "science vs religion." If you want a good debate, it has to be "science vs. science" or "religion vs. religion."

While I feel the hype between "science and religion" is misleading, I think there is a more fundamental point that is being overlooked in this great, grand event.  You see, Ken Ham is what is known as a "young earth creationist." But as other Christian pundits have pointed out, there are other models of creationism besides "young earth." Theistic evolution, progressive creationism, day-age, gap--all of these are touted by some pretty knowledgeable people who maintain that evolution and the Bible are not in conflict.  Would not a debate between Bill Nye and a creationist scientist who is actually trying to make peace with evolution be a more interesting discussion? Maybe, but it ignores a pretty big difference.

Aside from the young earth model, most of the other theories of creation tend to focus on how to explain evolution in the context of the Bible.  It's almost as if the scientists who are Christians woke up in a cold sweat exclaiming, "the fact of evolution is so overwhelming, how can we possibly accommodate it?"  Solution: God used evolution to bring the universe into existence. Whew...problem solved! Yes, I'm grossly oversimplifying and I intend no disrespect to those scientists who hold to these models, but all of them, to one degree or another, inject an evolution element into their view.

The problem I see is that committed evolutionists are not as accommodating with creation. I can almost guarantee that the evolution scientist is not sitting up in bed saying, "the Bible is so compelling, how can we fit it into evolution?" To put it even more simply, evolution does not need God.  There is no mechanism of evolution that requires a Divine Being. You can assert that "God used evolution to create the world," but a committed evolutionist will just nod and smile and think, "evolution did just fine on its own." Even the hint of God is rejected, as we saw in the whole "Intelligent Design" debate  a few years ago. A theory as innocuous and watered-down and generic as I.D. was still soundly rejected because it included somebody bigger than you and I.  Evolution works just fine without any intelligent Maker, thank you very much.

Just for the record, I believe in an actual 6 day creation and world-wide flood (I no longer hold the view, however, that a young earth is the dogmatic essential to Christian faith. I may lean toward it, but I don't think it's a hill on which I want to do battle). And I am convinced, that even though evolutionism doesn't need God, so too God doesn't need evolution.  And maybe, in the long run, the debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye isn't so much about science, but about competing world views: one in which God is irrelevant in life, the universe, and everything, and one in which He is central and supreme.

Thursday, January 16, 2014


The category is Hard Lessons to Learn.  The final answer is, "Without this element, your children's ministry will likely go downhill."

What is, "The Support and Backing of the Church Leadership."

It's true.  You can attend all the classes and conferences to learn all the latest techniques, you can have a blast with the kids, you can be well loved and well admired by parents, and you can have the best, most dazzling program that the church has ever seen.  But if the elders, deacons, pastoral staff, or other governing body isn't behind the work, you will face a tough road.

When you sense that maybe you are not getting the support of the church leadership, what can you do?  Here are a few suggestions:

1Be the best.  It's tempting when you learn that the board doesn't back you to respond by cutting back your efforts.  Don't.  Your job is to glorify God and reach kids and that requires our very best, no matter who notices, doesn't notice, or even works against it.

2.  Make sure your program lines up with the church's mission.  It's important that your pastor and leaders know that the children's department is a vital part of the church, not a competitor.

3.  Share the wins with the leadership.  A testimony of how little Toby trusted Jesus in Sunday School, or how five pre-teens expressed interest in the mission field will often encourage the board as the vitality of the work.

4.  Meet regularly with your pastor. Make it a part of your schedule. If you can turn your pastor into a raving fan, he can become the biggest cheerleader before the board.

5Be willing to change. Read between the lines of the comments and mine the beneficial nuggets that will help propel your ministry further.

6.  Ask.  The apparent lack of support could be a matter of misunderstanding or lack of communication.  You may just have to lay your concerns before the board and trust for a turnaround.

7.  Be prepared for rejection.  Sometimes, a lack of support is just that: the board doesn't support you. It could be driven by church politics or marketing, or it could be a lack of understanding about what children's ministries is all about.  Sometimes you can't do anything.  It may be that the Lord is directing you into another area of ministry at your church or another church.  Be ready.

Above all, throughout all, pray.  Keep your eyes on Jesus.  Sometimes it sounds trite, especially when you hear the whisperings from the leadership about what you're doing.  But the Lord's peace will embrace you through the difficult decisions.

Lack of support from the church leadership is a hard lesson to figure out.  But even when your ministry appears to be in jeopardy, you can always lean on the Lord as you go through the storm.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014


It's that time again.  You've received your copy of the teacher's manual.  There is the passage of Scripture and several pages of teaching notes, object lessons, life application stories, and maybe a craft or two.  What do you do next?

Sadly, there are teachers who pick up "easy to prepare" lesson manuals and read them over on Saturday night during commercials.  After all, it's all laid out so the teacher doesn't have to "do" anything, right? I once observed a teacher reading the lesson right out of the teacher's book! She only paused long enough to pick up the prop that the book indicated (at least she didn't actually read the words, "pick up prop").

 There is a lot of hard work and preparation that goes into writing these manuals and I appreciate the role they play in children's ministries. But it has been my observation that some teachers are intent on "teaching the curriculum" instead of actually teaching the Bible. I believe if the publisher's lesson is the sum total of preparation and presentation, it is actually shortchanging the kids in the class.

Assuming you've picked up the lesson guide in plenty of time to prepare, what is a good way to approach the upcoming lesson, to take advantage of the work of the experts, but not rely on that work as the final answer on how you do your class? Here are some steps that may help:

  • Read your lesson book through once, making note of the main passage of Scripture
  • Read the main passage of Scripture repeatedly in different translations. If it is only a verse or two, read the verses surrounding it to get the context.  This allows you to be comfortable and knowledgeable about what the passage says.
  • Seek to understand what the passage means and how it connects to the whole of Scripture.  There is a plethora of commentaries, study guides, printed, audio, and video sermons available to aid you in your study.
  • Ask yourself the point of the passage for your life today. Does the passage command something, give you an example to follow (or avoid), or teach you an attitude to emulate?
  • If you had no other resources, how would you present this passage to the children in your class?
  • Open your lesson book and see how the publisher does it.  Go over it until the lesson is not only familiar to  you, but actually "fits" the personality of your class.
  • And then, if possible, leave your teacher's manual at home! Nothing brings more energy to a classroom than the teacher directly interacting with the students instead of reading them a lesson.  The only book you should actually be reading from is the Bible.
I'm not suggesting you have to be a Bible scholar, conjugating Greek verbs and looking up comments from the anti-Nicene fathers.  Nor am I suggesting reinventing the proverbial wheel: if the manual has a great illustration, activity, or turn-of-phrase, by all means use it.  But in the end, remember, you are not teaching a curriculum, you are teaching the Scripture.  The lesson guide is a tool to help you do it.

What kind of methods do you use to prepare your lessons? I'd love to hear your ideas in the comments section.