Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Prayer Mail

One thing that can easily happen in children's ministry is that we can get separated from the rest of the church body.  Especially when it comes to the senior adults and others who may not have children currently in the department.  If the children are not in the sanctuary, those two demographics of the church simply may not have contact with them.  This week we are talking about one way to keep the Children's department connected to the rest of the church. 

Today I want to talk about PRAYER MAIL. You may already be familiar with this concept, but if not, it's easy to do, costs very little to start up, and the rewards are far reaching.  Prayer Mail is a way to connect the children to those outside the children's department by giving the people in your church the opportunity to pray for the children. The first thing you want to do is start a Children's Prayer Team.  The easiest way is to take a sign up sheet to all of the adult Sunday School classes and explain what you are doing.  Generally I will go into the classes and say something like the following:
     "We are starting a Children's Prayer Team and we would like to give you the opportunity to be a part of it.  If you sign up, please know you are agreeing to do two things.  First, you will receive a list of prayer requests in the children's handwriting each week.  Please make a point to pray over those requests and praises at some point during the week.  Second, we would ask that you keep the children's requests confidential.  They are told that no one outside the prayer team will ever see them and we would like you to help us honor that promise."

You will notice that I make a point of mentioning the confidentiality of the prayer requests.  This is important because when children know that no one outside the prayer team will see the requests, they are more free to write what is really on their heart.  I have found over the years that children will write things that they have difficulty saying.  In fact, several years ago I was even been made aware of one abuse situation through the prayer mail requests and was able to contact CPS.  If you would come across such a notification, obviously you must take action, but do not include such requests in the copied lists that are handed out.  Perhaps simply put in a note to pray for such and such a child, but do not give details. 

 The picture on the left shows our prayer mail slips.  As you can see, they are pretty simple.  During our prayer song each week, the children are given the opportunity to fill out a slip if they would like to do so. The children can write their name, but do not have to.  They circle whether it is a prayer request or a praise and then write out their request or praise.  We have adults at the Prayer Mail table that will help those who have difficulty writing.  After they are done, the children fold the request and put it in the mailbox.  The one above was made by a teenager in my church in Missouri, but you can also use a regular mailbox.  In my current church, we have a simple plastic mailbox with the words PRAYER MAIL on the side.

Each week I take out the slips, read through them, and add any clarifications that might be needed so that the words or request can be better understood.  Occasionally, many of the children will be praying for someone they know, but is not known by those on the prayer team.  If that is the case, I might add a note that says, "Bobby is a classmate" or "Jenny is on the local basketball team."  I will also make note if a word or phrase is difficult to make out.  For those I include a "Translation" on the paper.   Then I copy all the requests (usually 3 to a page like shown), fold them, and staple each set so that no one outside the intended prayer team member can accidentally read them.  Our secretary prints off labels for me of everyone on the team.  Then, I distribute them to the different Sunday School classes each week so that the Team can pick up their lists.  If you make labels, I would encourage you to put dates on them so that if someone is absent one week and picks up two the next, they know which list is the most current.

Prayer Mail has been a great way to connect many generations at our church.  It gives our older adults and those without children a way to learn about what is affecting the children in our church and it gives those who are already helping in the department the opportunity to better understand the things that weigh on the minds of the children in our services.  And it reminds us all to pray for our children...and that is a huge benefit for everyone.

Until next week!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Be You!

I am blessed to have some friends who are amazing Children's Pastors.  In fact, these friends are literally spread all over the country.  They all have wonderful ministries and do all sorts of inventive things to reach the kids in their communities and I have learned from all of them.  But perhaps the most important thing that I have learned from them, is that I can not BE them.

All of us are unique.  We all have different gifts and talents and while we need to connect and grow and learn from others, we must always remember to be true to the way that God created us to do ministry.  Let me give you an example of what I'm talking about.

My Mom is gifted at telling a story with flannel graph.  All growing up, I watched her tell stories and seamlessly move from through different parts of the story and while changing the brightly colored flannel graph pictures and she kept the attention of every kid in the room.  There are not many people anymore who use flannel graph the way they used to.  Most of us, prefer to use video clips or some sort of live action drama instead. And that's to be expected because few of us really have the gift to be able to tell a story in that medium.  But I'm sure that if I asked my Mom to come and do a flannel graph story for the kids at my church, that even my media driven kids, would be riveted until she was done.  She simply has that gift.  I, however, do not.  And I know that if I tried to tell a story with flannel graph I would lose the children by the second sentence.  I admire my Mom's ability, but I can not duplicate what she does. 

Some Children's Pastors are great a doing magic tricks that teach kids about Jesus.  Others write their own music to go along with their programming.  Still others use ventriloquism or puppets in their services.  And for them, it works great.  But, while I find it amazing that there are those who have those gifts, I do not.  And that's okay.

What I'm saying this week is to not try to be like someone else.  Be the minister that God created you to be.  Study other children's ministries and pick and choose things that you can integrate into your services and make your own, but don't try to do something just because So and So does it.  God chose you to minister to the children in your church.  So be YOU.  Don't ever stop learning from others because that is how we grow, but always take what you learn and fit it to you.  Don't try to fit into someone else's ministry box.  That will only leave you frustrated.

It's scary to put so much of yourself into what you do, but it's the only way to really be the kind of children's worker that God has called you to be.  So be bold.  Be passionate.  Be forever learning.  But always be you!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

A Free App and a Conference You Need to Know About

A few weeks ago I went to this amazing Children's Ministry Conference in Louisville and while I was there, I found out about an awesome free app that I am now loving and using in my ministry.  Today I want to tell you about both of them.

First, the App.  It's called YAKIT Kids and it is available for Apple devices and I think for Android as well (but since I don't have an Android device, I'm not certain about that).  It is totally free and it is fantastic.  It can take any picture and make it talk...turning it into a short video.  You can change the pitch of the voice and even add fun cartoons like talking bacon or a talking penguin.  There are super simple step by step instructions so, even if you are not the strongest technology person, you can easily use this app.

I showed an example to my kids at church then had them line up if they wanted their picture taken and used in an upcoming announcement!  They loved it and every week now watch to see if it will be their face on the big screen.  As you can see, I've included a couple of examples.  Above is a silly one of a friend and fellow Children's Pastor, Jill Waltz (I gave her a beard and huge eyes as well as a friend), and the other I made using a picture of the bobble heads of John Wesley and Phineas F. Bresee  that sit on either side of my District License (both were important men in my denomination).  I hope to be ordained next year so I thought it would be fun to make an encouraging YAKIT for me.

Seriously, this app is a lot of fun and since it is free, fits into any budget.  I hope you have as much fun with it as I do.
Now, about the conference that I mentioned.

One of the wonderful Breakout sessions.
It is called the CMConference and it is sponsored by CMCONNECT which is an online community of Children's Pastors, Directors, and Leaders from all over the world.  This conference is simply amazing.  First it is incredibly affordable.  The cost is $139, but if that is too much for you, they have scholarships available that you can apply for.  This is a four day conference packed with dozens of breakout sessions, wonderful services, and tons of resources to be checked out.  I loved walking through the exhibit hall and learning about new things that I hadn't been aware of before as well as getting a chance to talk with vendors of programs and curriculum that I often use.  But the best part was being able to connect with other children's workers from all over the world.  I met people from several states and even other countries.  You can get more information about the conference by clicking here

Worship at CMConferece 2015
And if you haven't checked out CMConnect, I highly suggest you do.  It has lots of great resources that can be helpful to churches of every size and denomination.  And it's free to be a part of as well! 

That's it for this week. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Planning a Service

Sometimes there is nothing more frightening than looking at a blank page and wondering how you will fill it.  If you are just starting in ministry, or even when you've been doing it a long time, when one is planning a service for children, it can be just as daunting a task.  You know that you will be in trouble if what you plan goes too long, or worse, if it finishes too fast.  You never want to have much unplanned time because that can lead to discipline issues. And starting from scratch with all that in mind can seem a little overwhelming.

Over the years, I have changed many things I have done, but one that seems to stay about the same is the way I plan a service.  So, I thought this week I would share what one of our Sunday Morning Worship services looks like.  I literally plan out every minute.  Below is a sample of one of my service agendas.  We were studying the importance of the Altar in this week's lesson.  I have put explanations of certain sections in blue so that it can be better followed.

 I. 5 Minute Warning (10:30-10:35)  (Morning worship actually begins at 10:30, but we start 5 minutes later so that all the children are checked in should anyone be running late.)
           Play DVD Countdown Wild Animals

II. Opening/Announcements (10:35 – 10:40)
           Announcement Slide

III. Music (10:40– 10:55)
          a. Song 1
          b. Song 2
          c. Song 3
          d. Prayer Song

IV. Prayer and Prayer Stations (10:55 - 11:00)

V. Testimonies (11:00-11:05)  (We give the children opportunities to give God praise for what He is doing)

VI. Dismiss Preschool

VII. Game (11:05-11:15)  (A game is chosen that will help to get the kids thinking about the day's topic even before we start the lesson)

VIII. What is Sacrifice? (11:15-11:17)  (This is a lesson opener)

IX. The Altar (11:17-11:30)   (Main lesson section)

X. I Give Up (11:35-11:40)    (Application point of the lesson)
XI. Review Quiz (11:40-11:50)

XI. Free Play until Parents arrive.

In my agendas, I always make anything that is media related RED.  That way it is easy to see and makes the program easier to follow for whomever is running the computer.  I also have a time listed by each activity or lesson section.  This is not so that those items will last exactly that long, but so that I can quickly see if I am running behind or ahead of schedule.  For example if I am ready to play the game and it is already 11:10 before we start, I know that we will probably have to play a shortened version of the game.  Or if it is only 11:00, we might be able to play an extra round.  It's simply a way to help me stay on track, but it is super helpful to me.

This is the way I have been putting together services for around 10 years and it generally helps to keep things running smoothly. But everyone will have their own way.  You're service plan will have you're own stamp on it.  I simply offer this outline as an example, and if you are looking for ways to put together your own services, perhaps you will find it helpful.  

Until next week!