My Week at Bible Camp

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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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Tips for Leading Application Time #9

Get to know your kidschildrens ministry girls club

It’s important to know about your kids so that you make the application time as applicable as possible. You don’t want vague responses to biblical truth – you want very specific responses.

Here are some ways you can get to know your kids:

  • Make it a point to spend a few minutes talking one-on-one with a child every Sunday.
  • Plan some ‘get acquainted’ questions ahead of time and bring one with you every Sunday to ask during class. For example, “What’s your favorite movie?” “What is your favorite way to spend a Saturday?” “Tell me about your family.”
  • Play the ‘Hi, my name is…’ game. In this game kids will pull a card out of a bag and finish the sentence written on in. On their turn, the student will pull a card out of the bag and say, “Hi, my name is  ____________ and my favorite ………..” It is a quick, fun way to get to know the kids in your group. Don’t forget to play yourself! Find a small gift bag and some index cards. On each index card write “My favorite _______ is…” (“my favorite food is…” “my favorite sport is…” “my favorite candy is…” “my favorite subject at school is…” “my favorite pizza topping is…” “my favorite Bible story is…” “my favorite animal is…” “my favorite vacation spot is…”)
  • Encourage your small group to share prayer requests.
  • Find out your groups birth dates and send birthday cards.
  • Allow time on Sunday morning for conversation. If you are rushed off your feet, you won’t take the time to chat with your kids. Make some breathing room in your schedule and use that time to talk with the kids in your small group.

 

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Application Time – Free Resource to Help Small Group Leaders

Children's Ministry Small Group Application TimeThe application time is when the kids make the connection between God’s Word and their own lives. Your job is to help kids see the connection between Bible truth and their own life.  By the end you want the kids to respond to what they have learned by applying Biblical truth to their everyday life.

This is done best through questions and discussion. Ask questions that will lead to better understanding and the desire to apply Biblical truth to life.

There are 2 main types of questions during application time. Questions that help you gauge children’s understanding and questions that help kids apply truth to life.

Gauge Understanding

Start with questions that reveal your students level of understanding. Ask students to summarize the main point of the lesson. What do you think was the most important thing from today’s lesson? Find out what they heard and what they understood about what they heard.

The answer to these questions will help you as a small group leader to clarify concepts, and to help kids understand words used during the lesson. You want to make sure that the kids got the main point of the lesson.

To help you figure this out, ask questions like, “If you had to tell a 5 yr. old what the most important thing in today’s lesson was, what would you tell them?” “On your way home today, if your parents ask you what you learned, what would you tell them?”

Resist the temptation to re-teach the lesson. During application time, the kids should do most of the talking.

Avoid yes and no questions – these kinds of questions provide little learning and little interest for the child and only reinforce what the child already knows. Yes and no questions do little to encourage discussion.

Apply Truth to Life

Once you have gauged your students understanding of the main point of the lesson, it’s time to transition to questions that will help kids see how they can apply the truth to their own lives.

The application is about making the truth usable. By the time the kids leave the classroom, they should know how to act on the truth they have heard. The questions offered on these cards will help the kids get there.

When preparing for application time, ask God to show you how this lesson applies to your life. Then ask how it might apply to the lives of your students. How should the students respond to the truth taught in this lesson? Then pray and ask the Holy Spirit to be at work in the lives of your students. Rely on the Holy Spirit to produce change in your class.

Application should be rooted in the central principle taught in the text. Be careful not to make the passage say what it does not say.

“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)

Apply the Bible as God intended. Your job as a small group leader is to recognize Scripture’s relevance to the lives of your students and to communicate that relevance to them.

Focus on Biblical answers to common issues. Encourage your students to think about their attitude, conduct, character.

Write good questions before class. Discussion grows out of questions that ask for opinions, ideas, reactions, etc., not just repeating factual answers. You want to ask questions that will make your students think. What did God want you to learn about Him today?

A good question will help to focus the discussion on the theme taught in the lesson. Good questions will also encourage students to express their thoughts and ideas in their own words. Good questions will also help the students see practical applications of biblical truth. Why do you think God wanted you to hear this Bible lesson today?

Ask follow up questions. “Why did you say that?” “Do you agree with what she said?” One question can lead to another.

Take the memory verse for the lesson and ask, “What situation might you face this week where this verse will help you?” Here you are helping the kids take Bible truth and use it during the week. You are encouraging them to respond Biblically to a situation.

 

Remember, application discussion is hard and it takes time. Kids won’t automatically understand how to think about and respond to the questions being asked. As a teacher, you need to guide them. Kids also don’t have a lot of experience to draw on. This takes time. It may not be until the end of year before you have a significant spiritual discussion with kids, but don’t give up! Make the effort to bridge the gap between Bible knowledge and heart response. Then pray that the Holy Spirit will bring an opportunity in the child’s life during the week where that truth can be applied.

 “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17

To make this really practical, I have created application question cards. These cards are just the right size to tuck into your Bible.

You can download a set of Gauge Understanding Question cards and a set of Apply Truth to Life Question cards. Also available for you to download is the Teacher Instruction Sheet.

Print these cards out on cardstock and use them regularly!

Stay tuned for posts about more creative ways to use these cards and leading small group application time.

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Application – Moving from Head Knowledge to Heart Transformation

The goal of our Sunday School programs should always be transformation.

Although Bible knowledge is important, we don’t want our kids to just learn Bible knowledge. We want our kids to be transformed into the image of Jesus.

Sunday School should be primarily about discipleship. Application time therefore is a very important part of Sunday School. If we just taught the Bible lesson, we would be growing kids with a lot of head knowledge and likely little heart transformation.

Application time is the part of Sunday School where the 1 thing you have focused on in the lesson is made personal for each child.

Here’s an example. You are teaching a class of kids in Grades 4-6. The lesson is on Jesus, the Son of Man. The theme you have chosen to focus on, the 1 thing, is “Jesus Became Fully Human.” You have completed the lesson – shown the kids from the Bible that Jesus was fully human – and now it is application time.

1st – Application time is the kids opportunity to talk.

Design this portion of the lesson in such a way that your students feel comfortable talking. This could mean changing places. If your lesson was at a table, you may want to move to chairs in a circle. Also you may want to split the kids into smaller groups (if you have enough adults). Once settled, remember to let the kids do most of the talking. Your responsibility is to guide the conversation and keep the kids on track. You can do this by learning to ask good questions.

2nd – Build a bridge for the kids between the Bible lesson and the personal connection to their lives.

Kids don’t automatically see the connections. Your job as a teacher is to help them see it. There isn’t one response to one theme. There are infinite directions application time could be taken in. Ask the Holy Spirit for guidance, trust your knowledge of your kids, and then choose a direction to head. It may change during the discussion, so be open to that.

Once you have chosen a direction, plan some questions to ask that will help the kids see a connection between your 1 thing and their own lives. Continuing our example, the direction you choose to take with your theme of Jesus being fully human is that because Jesus is fully human He understands and can sympathize with us – when we struggle to resist temptation and when we feel confused and scared.

3rd – Ask questions that cannot be answered with just yes or no.

Ask questions that will force your students to think. “Tell me about a time when you were really scared/troubled/sad. Can you think of a story from the Bible that shows Jesus feeling the same way? How does it help you to know that Jesus understands?”

4th – Finish application time with an opportunity for the kids to apply this truth to their lives this week.

Make it personal and immediate. Always take time to pray. Give the kids the opportunity to talk to God privately and as a group. Encourage them to ask God to give them chances to practice what they have learned this week.

Transformation is the work of the Holy Spirit. So, pray. Pray while you are preparing your lesson, pray during your lesson, and pray throughout the week that the Holy Spirit would be at work in the lives of your students – softening their hearts, helping to apply truth to their lives, transforming them into the image of Jesus.

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4 Tips on How to Handle Questions During a Story

Handling Questions During Story TimeYou are in the middle of the Bible story and you suddenly hear, “Did you know that it’s my birthday tomorrow?” All of a sudden, little voices are vying for your attention, “My birthday is in February.” “My Mom says that I can have my birthday party at McDonald’s Playland.” “Why can’t I have my birthday tomorrow?”

It only takes a second for our kids’ minds to change direction and suddenly the focus is off of your story and on to something else. Knowing how to deal with these kinds of disruptions can help to turn you into a great storyteller… and can keep the kids’ minds focused on the real reason for Sunday School.

Here are 4 tips on how to handle questions during a story:

Tip #1: Make it a rule that children must raise their hand if they have a question.

This behavior needs to be taught to young children. Explain the rule carefully and let them practice. Tell the children that if they have a question, they need to raise their hand and then wait for you to acknowledge them. Practice this a few times before story time. Depending where are you in your story, you may choose not to acknowledge a child whose hand is raised.

Tip #2: Work with another teaching partner to split the questions.

If you have a teaching partner or helper, make sure they are part of story time. You can acknowledge and answer questions related to the story but let your partner handle unrelated questions (i.e. bathroom requests or managing unrelated questions) so that you can focus on the story.

(If you don’t have a teaching partner, keep reading because Tip #4 will help).

Tip #3: Know your story really well and be comfortable with visuals.

Be familiar enough with the story so that you can continue smoothly after a disruption. You may need to practice telling the story at home. Familiarity with your story will not only help you handle questions during the story but it will also make you a better storyteller. (It’s much easier to get back on track after a distraction if you know the story compared to reading the story).

And, if you practice the story at home, practice with your visuals so you can be comfortable with them and have them ready to go before your story starts. This will keep you from creating your own distractions during story time!

Tip #4. Discern which questions to address.

Some questions during story enhance the story and the theme you are teaching. Some questions do not.

  • If the question asked is related to the theme of the lesson or the Bible story you are telling, then answer it simply and continue the story.
  • If the question is a Bible related question, but unrelated to the story you are telling then tell the child you’ll talk about it after story time.
  • If the question is completely unrelated, encourage the child to tell to you about it after story.

Ask God for discernment. Sometimes His Holy Spirit will direct the class in a completely new direction and you need to follow it.

It’s all about focus!
Children learn best when they can remain focused on a single topic… and what topic is more important than learning about Jesus? Part of becoming a great storyteller means handling distractions that can easily take the children’s focus away from the most important thing.

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