Days of Elijah

Close-up of fire and flames on a black background (Huge file)

Summertime. People in most other occupations are scheduling time off, looking forward to some downtime, preparing for vacations, but for those of us in children’s ministry, we are ramping up for Vacation Bible School, summer camps, park or outdoor ministry and other summer events.
These can be times of great joy as we work to fulfill the Great Commission as best we know how, using our God-given talents, and following where the Spirit is leading us.
Seeing the fruit of our labors when a child really “gets” the Bible point through a lesson or experience we have expended great effort on, being there as a child comes to Christ, helping a child take the next step on the road to salvation, building relationship with kids, parents and volunteers – these are some of the things that lift our spirits and make us want to do the happy dance!
I have found that whenever I have a “mountain peak” experience like that, soon afterward will come a time of slogging through the valley.
It reminds me of Elijah, who, in 1st Kings 18:1- 40, confronted King Ahab and the 450 prophets of Baal in a dramatic showdown on Mt. Carmel, in a literal mountaintop experience where God sent down fire from heaven at Elijah’s request.
In the very next chapter, Queen Jezebel threatens him and Elijah runs away and hides and begs God to take his life, in utter depression.
Have you had this experience of feeling on top of the world, only to end up sad and depressed by others’ actions or words?
It’s common knowledge that we can be given positive words many, many times, but the negative words are the ones that we most focus on. You may have just rocked out an amazing VBS that changed the lives of many children and had wonderful positive comments from parents and kids, and then have someone drag you down by an ugly comment or critical judgement couched as “helpful criticism”. You may be reaching out to the kids in your community in ways you never could before, only to have a negative person accuse you of not paying enough attention to “our kids” at “our church”.
Whatever it is, it is helpful to know it’s coming. Satan’s tactics are the same now as they were in Elijah’s day – make you want to run and hide, feel defeated and depressed.
Just like Elijah, though, it’s good to know that God will not leave us alone in our despair. He gives us a time of rest and strengthens us, then sends us forward into the ministry to which he has called us.
He also lets us know that we’re not the only ones. Elijah needed to know that God had 7,000 other Israelites ready to stand for God with him. Sometimes God helps us see that we’re not standing alone by other ministry leaders or volunteers coming alongside us, or through the greater kidmin community in online groups who give us words of support and encouragement when we need it.
So take a deep breath as you come off the mountaintop, remember the tactics of the enemy, get some rest, stay in the Word, and remember you are not alone!

A Review of The ICB – The International Children’s Bible

On the cover this Bible states that it is “the translation that children can read and understand.” In the preface, it says that this is the “first translation of the Holy Scriptures prepared specifically for children.” This Bible is supposed to be on a grade 3 reading level. This is great news for those of us endeavoring to teach God’s Word in an effective, understandable way to young kids.

The publishers (Tommy Nelson) have worked diligently to make sure that things like ancient customs, figures of speech, connotations, and idiomatic expressions have been simplified for a child’s clear understanding. For instance, in Genesis 1:1, it says “In the beginning God created the sky and the earth.” We are used to hearing it as “the heavens and the earth”, but a more concrete thinker might wonder “Heavens? I thought there was only one heaven?”   The Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6 comes out as “Our Father in heaven, we pray that your name will always be kept holy. We pray that your kingdom will come. We pray that what you want will be done, here on earth as it is in heaven. Give us the food we need for each day. Forgive the sins we have done, just as we have forgiven those who did wrong to us. And do not cause us to be tested, but save us from the Evil one.”

The ICB has many helps for the young Bible reader. It has key verse highlights to help kids read and learn key passages of Scripture. These are literally highlighted in the text. In the front of the book is a topical index for these key verses, so kids can find verses on things like friendship, guidance, the Holy Spirit, etc. There is also a dictionary in the back of the Bible for words, terms, and names with which children may not be familiar. These same words are emboldened in the text, so that you know it’s in the dictionary if you need the definition. There is a section, also in the back, called “Where Do I Find It?” This tells where to find Scriptures about Daniel, or creation, for instance, giving the reference.   Next, there is a section called “What God Promises About..” Children can see the promises of God clearly laid out by topic. Wisdom, Salvation, My Happiness, are a few of the headings. Finally, there is a section called “Memory Verses for My Life.”, which is exactly like it sounds – a list of verses that are easy to memorize and great for learning.

The ICB has really nice graphics. There are a number of maps in the back, showing Abraham’s Journey, the Desert Wanderings, Jesus’ Last Week in Jerusalem, and Palestine in Jesus’ Life. There are vibrant illustrations interspersed throughout the whole book. These are lively, modern looking, clean-lined pictures with vivid colors that kids will be drawn to.

I do think the publishers of the ICB have accomplished what they set out to do, which is to make not a storybook or paraphrase, but a real translation of God’s word for young readers. It would make a great resource for a Sunday school classroom. It would also be a wonderful gift for a young child, especially if you sit down and read it with them!

For Such A Time as This

poor child

The kidmin world has been much engaged of late with the idea of and need for Family Ministry. As we know, according to Deuteronomy 6, the primary responsibility for spiritual training belongs in the home and with the parents. We want to see parents passing on the love of Jesus to their children and working together as a family to be in God’s Word and walk in his ways. We know that this is God’s mandate to parents, and we as children’s ministers are there to help and support them.

But what about the others? You know them. Some are “bus kids”, some are seen at sidewalk Sunday schools, some walk to church on their own, others are dropped off. They’re the ones whose parents are never or rarely seen. They’re the ones who live in turmoil caused by addiction in the family, or whose parents are simply absent from their parenting role, or who see other people or things (a boyfriend, a job) as more important than their kids’ spiritual lives. What about them?

In all the very important conversation about Family Ministry, we need to make sure that these kids, who don’t have family support, have our support. I actually heard someone say that we don’t really need Children’s Ministry anymore, just Family Ministry. The logic was that for thousands of years there was no such thing as Children’s Ministry, that God uses the family for that.

To a point, that is true. But I’d like to suggest that in this day of rampant drug and alcohol abuse, child neglect, child abuse and parental lack of involvement, that God may have literally raised up Children’s Ministry for such a time as this. I believe that He has placed us here at this moment in history to help show these kids that He loves them and has not forgotten them, and that they are part of His family.

Get Behind to Get Ahead

As I was preparing lessons, planning for VBS and summer camp talks, and the many other tasks which occupy much of my time, I began to reflect again about whose agenda am I using – mine or God’s?  I had to remind myself again about my role.  Maybe you could use that reminder, too, so here’s a devotion I wrote about that for CMConnect Conference on the last day, where the keyword was “Advance”.

As I was praying and thinking about writing this devotion, God gave me some very clear pictures to help describe what He would have me say. I believe it is the first time He ever talked to me about NASCAR.
No, really.  It’s like this: when we seek to advance the Kingdom of God, sometimes to move forward, we have to get behind. And here’s the NASCAR part. Have you ever seen how a race driver will get within inches of another car as they’re rounding the track at nearly 200 mph?  This is called drafting, which is basically using the power of the car in front to break wind resistance and allow the car behind to stay steady at a really high speed.
In the same way, the Holy Spirit is that “lead car”, breaking resistance for us and helping us advance more quickly, as long as we stay close to Him.
God also gave me the picture of a bobsled team. (God is very creative – one of the reasons I enjoy hanging out with Him!). He showed me how the number 2 guy on the bobsled tucks right up behind the first guy, the driver. Then, he leans over when the driver leans over and forward as the driver leans forward. They work in tandem to advance through a difficult, slippery course.
Been there lately? Do difficult and slippery sound like good words to describe recent ministry or life experiences? Take a look at how close you’ve been to your “driver”.
As I said (or actually, He said), sometimes to move forward, you have to get behind. We all want to be part of advancing the Kingdom, but we have to relinquish the driver’s seat and get on board with the movement of the Holy Spirit.
Step back today, as you leave the conference, and assess your ministry’s programs. See where you’re driving, and where the Holy Spirit is moving. Make plans to get behind what He’s doing, and watch as you advance to places you never imagined!




Every Little One

“We can connect kids to the Creator when they’re 8, we don’t have to rescue the when they’re 18”.  As children’s ministry leaders, this is something we all know, but often struggle to get others to do more than pay lip service to this truth.

Tuesday night’s main session at CMConnect Conference gave us all the encouragement to “rise up” and keep going in the power of the Holy Spirit to reach all His children.

Gregg Johnson spoke passionately about the importance of reaching pretend, those kids on the cusp of moving into a grownup world.

Pastor Alex shared with us some of the moving stories of the many thousands of orphaned children in the Ukraine.  He is trying to mobilize churches to simply pray for these children who have no one to care for them.

Heidi M. Hensley gave a great message, partly about preschoolers, but more than that, about the families of our children. She asked the question “are we just sending parents down the road, or are we walking with them?”  She described how in times past, there might be 5 generations living together, so if one thread snaps there’s still a net to hold the child.  She encouraged us to “rise up, connect and tighten that tapestry.”

I was struck by the fact that each of our speakers had a ministry that focused mostly on type of kids, but what I came away with was the understanding of the urgency to reach them all, every little one.

Something Old, Something New

Variety is the spice of life, they say, and this is never more evident anywhere than in children’s ministry.  Although children crave routine and boundaries, they love exploring the new.

Every year as we begin thinking and planning for Easter, we are faced with the challenge of presenting the Gospel in a way that is fresh and winsome for the kids.  Same glorious message, many different methods.

I think all of us are happy to share our ideas with each other, that’s one of the greatest things about the kidmin community, so I’d like to share my most recent Easter event.

We called it “Easter in Living Color”, and it is basically a giant version of the Wordless Book.  For those of you who may be unfamiliar with that term, the Wordless Book is a way of sharing the Gospel using colors, rather than words.  This is used on mission  fields where there is a language barrier.

Our facility is a gym with some classrooms upstairs. We set up a room for each of the five colors – gold, black, red, white and green.  Each room was fully decorated in its color and for the idea that it represents.

The Gold Room – represents heaven, where our God and King reigns.  This room is decorated in shiny gold streamers.  We taste candy wrapped in gold and talk about the sweetness of heaven and being in the presence of God.

The Black Room – represents our sin.  Luckily for me, our Youth room has no windows and is black as pitch with the lights off, so we didn’t have to decorate.  Our tour guide brings the kids into the room and talks about how our sin separates us from God.  They are led to a large tray of black rocks, where they pick one up in each hand and carry them upstairs with them to the next room.

The Red Room – represents Jesus’ blood and our salvation.  This room is decorated in red, and has a large wooden cross in the middle of it. They lay their black rock “sins” down at the foot of the cross, then they write their names on heart-shaped stickers to place on the cross. This is a reflective moment.

The White Room – represents having our sins washed away by Jesus’ sacrifice.  We wash our hands in here to symbolize that cleansing.

The Green Room – represents growing in our faith after we become a Jesus-follower.  We used a hallway decorated with fake foliage and fruit.

At the end of our tour, kids can choose a variety of activities using the five colors.  We offered face painting and painting their nails in the five colors, also loom bracelets, legos and playdough.

The last half hour of the event was the (inevitable!) Easter egg hunt.  But having the rest of the activities made me feel that the Gospel was presented to each child that day.

I hope you enjoyed our event, and I hope you are inspired to create some fun, fresh ways to reach kids with the good news of the God who loves them!