Is It Worth It?

childrens ministry don't be anxiousLast week I was the speaker at a Bible camp for kids ages 9-11. Next week I am speaking at the VBS at our church (where I am also the director). It’s been a pretty busy summer getting ready!! It can be all too easy to get caught up in the details when involved in events like this…I found it happening to me.

Tuesday at camp I shared the gospel with the kids and I shared my testimony. I gave the cabin leaders some material to share with their cabins (the Romans road and some questions to ask the kids about what they understand and believe about Jesus). Wednesday morning a cabin leader told me that a girl in her cabin gave her life to Jesus after chapel!

That moment I knew that all of it is worth it. One child saved makes all of it worth it.

I came home from camp and immediately jumped into all the last-minute details of VBS for our church. When I feel like it’s getting too much, I remember that girl and pray that God would continue His work in the lives of the children who come to our VBS.

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. Luke 15:1-7

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Bigger is Better, Right?

Are you a small children’s ministry? Do you sometimes look at larger children’s ministries and think, “If only we had their budget, their volunteers, their space?”

Bigger has become equated with better. Bigger children’s ministries have more money, more space, and more volunteers. That must mean that they offer more value to the kids who attend their programs. They must offer better children’s ministry.

We all have these thoughts. But is bigger automatically better?

Where does the true value come from in children’s ministry?

Making DisciplesRelationships

The true value in children’s ministry is not in the budget or the space, it starts with the relationships you and your team build with the kids in your care. Do you take the time to get to know the kids in your programs? Do you start outreach programs with the express purpose of getting to know the kids in your community? Building relationships is a key part of children’s ministry.

Gospel

Children’s ministry is important because it is an opportunity to share the gospel in an age-appropriate, targeted manner with kids that you have been building a relationship with. Budgets, space, and a huge volunteer base won’t mean anything if they are not being used to help you share the gospel with the kids who attend your programs. The gospel is key; it’s central to everything we do in children’s ministry. Are you regularly sharing the gospel with the kids in your ministry?

Are you making disciples?

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20

This is what it’s all about: Children’s Ministry is about making disciples. Jesus commands us to make disciples. The true value in children’s ministry is the opportunity it allows us to make disciples of kids. We build relationships, we share the gospel. Why? In order to make disciples. And when children do put their trust in Jesus, we build them up as disciples teaching them how to pray, how to study their Bibles, how to use the gifts God has given them to serve and build up the church.

Are you making disciples in your children’s ministry?

Budget

Whatever your budget is, use it to build relationships, share the gospel, and make disciples.

Volunteers

However many volunteers you have, make it your goal as a team to build relationships, share the gospel, and make disciples.

Space

Whether you have a huge amount of space or one small classroom, creatively use the space you have to help you build relationships, share the gospel, and make disciples.

So, is bigger always better? Not necessarily. The focus shouldn’t be on how big your children’s ministry is. The focus should be on making disciples. It doesn’t really matter what size your budget is, what size your space is, or what size your volunteer team is. What matters is whether you are using those things to help you make disciples.

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My Week at Bible Camp

childrens-ministry-bible-camp
I recently returned from a week at Bible camp. I was the speaker for a group of 80 9-11 year olds. I haven’t been to camp in over 20 years, but my church is a huge supporter of this camp and they needed a speaker, so I agreed to help. I had never been to this camp before but I have spent lots of time at camp as a camper and as a cabin leader. I think Bible camp is a hugely important ministry.

I arrived on a beautiful, sunny Sunday afternoon. The camp is situated deep in the heart of a provincial park. There are lots of trees, huge rocks, and a gorgeous lake.
First up was staff meeting. I met those I would be serving with and we were given instructions and a job for while parents and kids were arriving. I was sent to the main gate to direct traffic (interesting job considering I had never been to this camp before!! But no one got lost!)

The kids started to arrive and the week kicked off.

I spoke every morning in chapel and three times in the evening at campfire. During my free time I read, napped, and wandered around the camp and hung out with the kids.

One afternoon I discovered the path to the archery range. The path wove through the woods and it was lined with lampposts. For a minute, I imagined I was in Narnia!

Chapels and campfires were my favorite times at camp. The kids were attentive, engaged, interested, and curious. I loved the questions they were asking!

One day at lunch a girl came to me and said, “You answered all of my questions and I hadn’t even asked them yet!”

After chapel the kids sat on the grass in cabin groups and talked about chapel and what they learned. They were able to ask questions; the leaders were given a chance to see what the kids heard and understood. It was a great opportunity for small group interaction.

One thing that amazed me as the week progressed was the things that hadn’t changed since I was a camper. The prayers prayed before meals; the early morning staff meetings; the skills offered like archery and canoeing; the songs sung in chapel and at campfire; the fact that God uses camp as a significant growing experience in the lives of the kids who attend.

One cabin leader reported at staff meeting that a boy in his cabin admitted that this was the first time he had ever heard that God loved him. Other cabin leaders reported kids choosing to give their lives to Jesus.

I love camp! I believe that it is a valuable ministry that should be supported and encouraged.

Here are 5 reasons why camp is a valuable ministry:

1. It is an amazing opportunity to get to know kids and build a relationship with them.

24 hours a day for a week – that’s a long time!

At camp you have time to talk. There is no rush. There are moments throughout the day to really talk with kids – in the cabin during quiet time or bedtime; at meals in the dining hall; walking to and from activities; during free time in the afternoons.

At camp you have time to pay attention to kids – to give them your full attention. There are some kids who are just waiting for someone to pay attention to them; someone who is interested in the stories they have to tell; the fears they experience; the bulls eye they got in archery.

At camp you have fun together. This is so important when building a relationship with kids. There are many opportunities to have fun. As a leader, you have to choose to get in there and participate. Don’t be afraid to let the kids see you enjoying yourself or even be a little silly!

2. At camp you have lots of opportunities to talk about God.

Chapels and campfires are great opportunities to talk about God, but they aren’t the only ones. Devotionals in the cabins; meals in the dining hall; walks to and from activities; hanging out on a flotation device. This is a chance to show that talking about God can be natural. You don’t need to wait until chapel or devotionals. Make “God talk” a normal part of camp life – a natural event. God is real and involved in every part of our lives. So, talk about Him in chapel, at campfire, during devotionals, walking to archery, while you are canoeing, while you are eating, anytime!

It’s also a great opportunity to share the gospel with kids and to take your time doing it. Kids have time to think through each part of the gospel message and to realize that it is personal.

3. At camp kids have the chance to think about the things they are learning and ask questions.

Sometimes at Sunday School or children’s church, things are a little rushed and kids don’t get the chance to ask their question or even to think about what their question might be. There is so much time at camp. Kids have the chance to think about God and what a life with Him looks like. They have a chance to formulate and ask their questions. They have the chance to really hear the answers and to follow-up. I like the pace of camp and the opportunity it affords kids to think and to express their curiosity.

4. It’s an Amazing Opportunity to Provide Training for Volunteers.

Some camps use this opportunity and make every use of it and others don’t. I was a counselor at a camp that gave its leaders very little training. You applied, were accepted, showed up for your week or 2 of camp, had one short staff meeting before the campers arrived and that was it. The camp that I recently spoke at provides 5 weeks of training for its Cabin Leaders. Training includes leadership skills, first aid, certification in skills, and spiritual training.

I was really impressed with the training offered to staff at this camp. Cabin leaders are primarily teenagers and with the training provided they are given skills that they will use in church ministry and can put on their resume.

5. Time Away

I came back from camp exhausted! It was early mornings and late nights. And yet, I was refreshed. It was time away from my regular schedule. There was no wi-fi at this camp, so I was cut off. I couldn’t check facebook or twitter. It was, instead, an opportunity to rest; to enjoy God’s glorious creation; to re-charge.

Camp is time away whether you are a camper or a staff member. And it is valuable whether you are a camper or a staff member. Rest is underrated in our society, but I believe it is hugely important. I may not have gotten enough sleep while I was at camp, but I did get rest.

Why Do I Take Time to Go to Camp?

The last day at camp I was down at the lakeside watching the kids swim. A girl came running to me, gave me a huge hug, and said, “Thank you for telling us about Jesus!”

That’s why I go to camp!

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9 Tips for Choosing a VBS Program

Choosing a VBSVBS is an important part of children’s ministry. VBS is an opportunity to reach out to the children in your community. It’s a chance to build relationships. Most importantly it’s an opportunity to share the gospel with children. How do you choose a VBS that will help you do that? There are so many options out there. There are options available from major publishing houses; there are new groups putting out VBS material; there are free VBS programs being written and made available.

How do you choose VBS material? How do you evaluate the material available and choose the right one for your kids?

Here are 9 tips:

1. One Stop for VBS Possibilities

In order to evaluate material you have to find the material. There are so many companies that put out VBS programs, it can be overwhelming. It is important to look at a bunch in order to find the right one. Tony Kumner at ministry-to-children.com has for the last few years put out a VBS page on his website where he outlines and sometimes reviews the VBS programs from the major publishing companies. It is super-convenient to have it all in one place.  He provides links to the specific VBS websites so you can check it out for yourself.

2. Always Look First At the Daily Themes and Bible Story

There is a huge temptation when looking for VBS material to get lost in the theme. The theme is important. It’s the hook that draws kids in. It provides the backdrop for decorations and games and crafts, but it’s not the most important part of VBS. The first thing to look at when choosing VBS material is always the daily themes and Bible story. Does this program teach Biblical truth? Does it teach the gospel? Is the gospel clearly, compellingly, accurately, and appropriately presented? Is the Bible significantly used?

3. Look for a Cohesive Program

As a package, how well does the rest of the program support the gospel message? Is the theme continued in the games, crafts, and snack times? Are the crafts made an opportunity for the kids to interact further with the Biblical theme? Will they be a reminder of what was taught? Are the games being played a chance for kids to have fun while interacting further with the Bible story or truth taught? Absolutely everything doesn’t have to be completely connected to the theme. Sometimes, the game is just for fun. But when you are evaluating VBS material, it’s important to look at how well the theme is used, highlighted, and developed in all the areas of the program.

4. Choose a VBS Theme that will Attract the Kids in your Community

A theme should attract the interest of the kids in your church & neighborhood and maintain that interest throughout the program. When looking at themes consider popular trends and fads; TV shows, movies, and video games that are currently capturing kids attention; and don’t neglect perennially popular themes. Look at what themes other churches in your area are using. Get inspiration from what is being offered. If there seems to be a theme that is being used by a number of churches consider doing something different. When looking at VBS programs ask, “Is the theme one that would attract the attention of kids and parents in my community?”

5. Choose a VBS Program That Fits the Size of Your Volunteer Base and Resources

Some VBS programs will look really appealing and exciting, but it just might not be possible to pull it off. Do you have the volunteers necessary to do that particular VBS really well? Do you have access to the resources necessary for this VBS program (game equipment, craft supplies and materials, decorations, and physical space?)

6. Compare the Cost of the VBS Program to Your Budget

Can you afford to purchase the VBS material? Look at the basic material provided and look carefully at the extras. Do you need them? Will you need to come up with your own craft ideas if you choose not to purchase the materials provided. Also look carefully at the games, crafts, and snack suggestions. Even if you purchase materials yourself, will they be expensive? I previewed one VBS program once that was highlighting the fact that all the crafts were made from materials you can get a hold of yourself (you didn’t need to purchase anything from the company). The crafts were all connected to the theme and fun possibilities, but they were all going to be expensive! The materials needed were not cheap! Look carefully at the budget you have for VBS and the cost of the program you want to purchase. Don’t forget to factor in the cost of craft supplies, game equipment, snack supplies, and decorations that you will need to purchase on top of the VBS program material.

7. Music Is Important

If you are going to have music, make sure it’s good. Music can be a way to draw kids in and get them excited. Music is also a great way to develop the theme and teach Biblical truth. We remember what we sing. When VBS is done, it’s the songs that the kids will likely remember most. So make sure the songs sung are full of Biblical truth. Make sure they are fun, kid-friendly, and memorable. As the kids sing the music they learned at VBS, they should be singing Bible and gospel truths.

8. Make Sure there is Enough Material for a Considered Evaluation

There must be enough theme and bible content to evaluate. Are you able to see the Bible point, Bible verse, and Bible story for each day? Do they offer samples of the Bible story? Are you given enough material to make a considered evaluation? If it’s not there to preview, don’t choose that program.

9. Crafts/Games/Snack – Don’t Get Too Caught Up In This Section of the VBS Material

Games, crafts, and snack are an important part of VBS and if you are purchasing a program, then you want most of the work to be done for you already. Look at what is on offer for crafts, games, and snack. Make sure that you have the physical space and resources to use the ideas provided. But remember, it is easy to supplement crafts, games, and snack. Don’t let the fact that a VBS program doesn’t have games and snack provided to stop you from using it (especially if it has a particularly good Bible story section and gospel presentation.) Crafts, games, and snack shouldn’t be the deal breakers when choosing a VBS. However, you need to look at the program as a whole. If you will have to change or supplement too much (games, craft, snack, music, missions, story, gospel presentation)  then it is might not be worth purchasing the material, even if you love the theme.

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Book Review – Rock-Solid Kids by Larry Fowler

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. Matthew 7:24

What attracted me most to this book was the tag line on the front cover – “Giving Children a Biblical Foundation for Life.”childrens-ministry-rock-solid-kids

Biblical literacy is very important to me so I was interested to see what the book had to say about it.

In the introduction, Larry Fowler outlines the purpose and format of his 142 page book.  “Those involved in children’s ministry must also build on the right foundation—and that is the primary concern of this book…Each chapter of this book starts with a Scripture passage—a ‘rock’ for your foundation. The Scripture passage specifically refers to children or ministering to them. Each chapter contains a thorough discussion of implications and applications. Together, the eight core chapters will give you eight ‘foundational rocks’—fundamental principles from God’s Word upon which to build your ministry.”

Larry Fowler discusses the importance of children’s ministry, the responsibility for children’s ministry, the content of children’s ministry, and the pattern for children’s ministry. He highlights a warning about ministering to children, allowing children to serve, the message for children’s ministry, and the opportunity of children’s ministry.

I loved this book! I would highly recommend it.

In his chapter on the content of children’s ministry, Fowler discusses the battle for balance. He discusses Biblical truth and application. I agree that a balance between these is really important. Start with Scripture and follow with application. He talked about Biblical truth, application, and relevance. He defined relevance as being how closely the biblical truth applies to a person’s life.

Although I agree wholeheartedly with the need for balance in our teaching, I did not agree with what he said about relevance. I think we need to be very careful about how we discuss relevance in relation to the Word of God. The Word of God is always relevant; we just may not see it. “The teacher’s task in application is to recognize and communicate Scripture’s relevance, rather than to make it relevant.” (Walton, Bailey, and Williford; Teach the Text)

I wonder if I just misunderstood Fowler’s use of the term relevant in this situation. I do agree with his ‘foundation rock’ for this chapter: “Scripture is the foundation of our content; relevance follows.”

My favorite chapter was chapter 7—A Clear Focus: The Message for Children’s Ministry.

“From infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” 2 Timothy 3:15

Fowler clearly defines what the gospel is and how we should share it with children. I appreciated his discussion about how we call children to respond to the gospel. “If we understand what the Bible says, then we won’t need a formula. Children, and everyone else, are saved by God’s grace through faith.

He goes on to say, “As presenters of the gospel message, we must focus children’s faith on the person and the work of Christ on the cross. Faith must be in Jesus’ death and resurrection…as presenters we have a responsibility to be as clear and biblically accurate as possible…So what do we do? Repeat the gospel over and over again. Reinforce it regularly. Let your awe of it show through.”

Building a children’s ministry on the foundation of God’s Word is vital and it can be done, whether you are starting from scratch or have been involved in children’s ministry for years. I recommend this book for parents, children’s ministry leaders and volunteers. I was encouraged when I read it and I think you will be too!

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