Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Safety First...

You probably already know this, but when you are working with children, safety must be your top priority.  Sometimes making an area safe can be a daunting task.  So daunting, in fact, that people would rather just go on as they always have, rather than even try to implement something new.  But, in this day an age, you simply can not be lax in this area.  If parents feel that their children are not being well cared for, they will not bring their children to your department.  So, if you are new at setting up safety procedures for your department, here are a couple of basic things that you probably should start with.

Sign In, Sign Out Sheet
There are lots of expensive software that you can purchase to facilitate the check in/check out area for your children's department, but if money is an issue, then create a simple sign-in/sign-out sheet for the children in your area.  At my church it has basically four columns: Child's Name (We have these already listed alphabetically by last name), Sign-In, Sign-Out, (parents put their initials or name in these columns if when dropping off or picking up their child) and a column for the name of anyone not allowed to pick up the child.  Generally that fourth column isn't used, but it is a good reminder for us to ask if we know of a custody issue within the family.

Once a child is signed in, they can not leave our area until they are signed out.  This will be the most difficult thing you will implement, because so many people are very trusting of those within their church.  That is not necessarily a bad thing, but the Sign Out part of the procedure is much more that just making sure the child leaves with the right person.  After they have signed into your area, you are responsible for that child until they are signed out.  You must know where they are until a parent or guardian signs them out.  This is the best way to make sure that they are not hurt or taken by the wrong people.  Parents do not always want to come back to pick up their children, so you may receive some push back about this at first...especially if the children grew up in the church and feel comfortable there, but be vigilant about this.  The children's safety is more important than the parent's inconvenience.  Our job is to keep them safe. 

There are lots of ways to do Check-In/Out, but this is a simple way to start. 

Background Checks and Training  
Background checks are quite simply a must for anyone who works with children.  This is not just a suggestion.  This should be a requirement and is some cases your church insurance may indeed require it of you.  Also, the law in many places also requires it.  So, if you have not done so already, PLEASE start getting background checks on everyone.  Even those who have been working in your children's department "forever" need to have this done.  It is key to making sure that the children's area is a safe one.  

Also, if you can, you need to offer training for your volunteers and staff in how to spot and how to prevent abuse of those in your care.  Ministry Safe is a fantastic and economical way to do this.  Your volunteers can go through the training in their own homes at their own speed (though it only takes around an hour if you go straight through the videos).  Then they complete a quiz that you will immediately get the results of for your records.   You can also go through the company to get your background checks and all sorts of great tips to keep your children and your volunteers safe.  I highly HIGHLY recommend it.

Never Ever Be Alone With A Child
I really can not stress this enough.  We live in an age where not only do we need to protect our children, but also our volunteers.  Never being alone with a child protects both.  There can be no question of impropriety if you are never alone with a child.  If at all possible, have two adults in every class, or at the very least have glass windows in all the doors of the rooms where you meet with children so that people can always see what is going on.  But never have less than three in a room ever.  Last week another Children's Pastor posted a blog about how this rule literally saved her ministry.  I highly encourage you to read her story HERE.

Safety of our children and our volunteers needs to be a priority in your department.  After all, we can not have the opportunity to teach the children about Jesus, if they are not first safe in our care. 


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Movie Reviews "Woodlawn" and "War Room"

This is a bit different from my normal tips, but recently I was able to attend special previews of both "Woodlawn", which comes out in October, and "War Room" which opens later this month.  And, in my opinion, both of these films could be life changing for the people in our churches.  Not just our churches, but our communities...our world.  Why?  Because both movies are about the power of prayer and how God can and will move, when His people pray. 

"War Room" is coming out very soon.  In fact, it opens on August 28th.  This is the newest movie from the Kendrick Brothers, who brought us "Courageous," "Fire Proof" and "Facing the Giants."  "War Room" is a fantastic look at how prayer can change not just one person, but that person's entire family and life.  It centers on a woman whose marriage is on the rocks and whose daughter is showing the signs of living in a rocky home life.  But then an elderly lady (a spunky and funny woman who is my personal favorite character in the film), takes that woman under her wing and teaches her how to "fight on her knees," and the woman's life is changed.  Changed beyond anything she could have hoped for.  It's not an easy transformation.  Life changes are rarely simple, but when allowed to do His work, this movie shows how God can take our torn up lives and make something beautiful out of it.  Check out the trailer below.

Last night, I was able to see "Woodlawn" and this movie is amazing.  I'm not a sports fan, but I love sports movies and I love true stories.  This movie is both, so from the outset I knew I would enjoy it, but it is so much more than I had hoped for.  This movie follows an African American High School Football player and his coach as God comes in and changes not only their lives, but the lives of their team, their school and even their town.  But it starts with a movement of God on nearly the entire football team.  It was written by people who lived the story and the families of those who lived it.  So, it is a story that is close to the heart of the filmmakers and they have done their best to make it an accurate depiction of what went on.  And what went on is simply amazing.  You really have to see it to fully understand. It opens on October 16th. I simply can not recommend this film highly enough! Here the trailer for "Woodlawn."

Why do I think these films could be life changing?  Because they both deal with prayer.  God moves in such amazing ways even in the release of these two films.  The first reminds us of HOW to pray and reminds us that we must start with our own families if we want to see change.  Then the second reminds us of the far reaching effects that prayer can have on our communities if we would just do it!  Our Country is in a mess in many ways, but our God is so much bigger that our mess.  My prayer is that people would see these films and be reminded that prayer is powerful and then go to their knees and fight for our families, our churches, our communities, and our country.  And then we can watch the work the Lord will do and marvel at His greatness. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Writing Curriculum

They say necessity is the mother of invention and that is a statement that is often true in children's ministry.  Money seems to be always very tight, so there are not always the necessary funds to purchase all the curriculum that is needed.  What to do?  Well, sometimes you have to write your own.  I LOVE writing my own curriculum, but it is important to point out that just because you enjoy a thing does not mean that it is easy to do.  So if you decide to take on this task, allow me to give you a few hints that have helped me over the years.  Keep in mind that I am, by no means an expert at this process, but the following things have proved useful so I am sharing them with you.

Pick a topic you find interesting.
I know that probably sounds too basic, but it is important.  Whatever passages of Scripture you choose, you will be spending a lot of time in them.  So, it is helpful if you choose something that you would like to study for your own growth and learning as well.  Personally, I tend to choose the lesser known stories of the Bible simply because they are lesser known.  Not only, will they be new and interesting to the children, but I get to spend time learning and growing as well.  And I get to dig deeper into those Scriptures than I might during my devotions.  I love learning new and interesting things about Scripture, and this gives me an opportunity to share the things I am learning with the children.  For example, I wrote a series out of Judges and we focused on the 7 Judges that we have the most information about.  But for the series, I needed to look into the historical time period and the culture of the day as well.  See, in my series, we put those Judges on trial in a courtroom and I wanted my "defense attorneys" and "prosecutors" to understand the Judges they were defending/prosecuting as much as they could.  These "lawyers" were people who did not normally help in children's ministry.  I gave them basic scripts that they could bring to life however they saw fit.  Doing the research and writing was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed learning about these Judges.  The kids loved the series and every week looked forward to who we were going to put on trial and who would be defending and prosecuting them.  

Pick a topic that applies to the kids in your department.
One series I wrote literally came about because I noticed that if you asked the kids in my department how you could serve God, the only answers you got back were that you had to be a pastor or a missionary.  So I wrote a series called "Extreme Faith" that highlighted people of all sorts of backgrounds and careers that God had used to do amazing things.  People like Fanny Crosby, Joni Eareckson Tada, Billy Sunday, Truett Cathy, and more.  I wanted them to see that God uses all sorts of people in all sorts of ways for His glory.  That all they needed to be was willing to be used.  

Each week another picture was added.
Edit, edit, edit.
You may find that when you write your lesson that it looks great on paper, but when you get in front of the kids...it's not working as well as you had hoped.  That's ok.  Take note of where you had difficulty and then work on that for the next lesson.  Nearly everything I've ever written got tweaked a bit after I used it once.  In a series, there are probably 6 - 8 lessons.  I guarantee that there will be one that, for whatever reason, just doesn't mesh as well as the others.  It happens.  Don't beat yourself up over it.  Learn from it, make changes, and keep writing.  

Be prepared to spend a lot of time.
This is not a quick endeavor.  Writing an entire series takes a lot of time.  Remember, you're not just coming up with the main part of the lesson, but everything that goes along with it as well.  Make sure you set aside enough time to plan it out thoroughly.  In my case, one lesson can take anywhere from  5-15 hours to prepare (depending on the amount of research needed and if I am starting from scratch or not) and includes the following:
     Music:  Music is an important part of any service and I want the songs to connect with the lesson as much as possible.
     A game: This introduces the lesson in a fun way.  For example, when we studied the life of Joni Eareckson Tada (she is a quadriplegic who, among her many talents uses her mouth to paint beautiful pictures), we played a game where the kids had to draw certain things with a pencil in their mouth.  I often get my games online or out of game books as opposed to creating them myself, but I find them an important part of the lesson.
     The main story of the lesson:  Usually this will be the Bible story, mission lesson, or whatever you have chosen to study. 
     An object lesson:  This can come in many forms.  Perhaps a video clip, a magic trick, a food you've prepared (trying foods from other countries is awesome for missions lessons) or whatever fits your series.
     A memory verse:  I usually use the same memory verse or perhaps two memory verses for an entire series.  That way I can make sure that the children really learn it well.  So the weeks that we are not learning the verse we will often play a game using it.
     A review game:  This is always the last part of the lesson and I do not always use it.  But if the adult service is running long, it is a great way to extend the lesson.

This could have been listed first, but many times, at least for me, the thing we read last sticks with us most and prayer is the most important part of the process of creating and writing curriculum.  Listen to His leading.  Ask God to show you what the children in your department need to hear.  If you feel a check, heed it.  If you feel led to a certain passage of Scripture, use it.  God will show you what you need to focus on and give you the words you need, but you have to let Him lead the process...the whole process.  Without His participation, writing the curriculum is a futile exercise indeed. 
Writing your own curriculum can be a wonderful way to save money in your budget, but it takes lots of time, some creativity, and most importantly the leading of the Holy Spirit. 

Until next week! 


Tuesday, August 4, 2015

When Conflict strikes...

No one likes it.  We all try to avoid it, but conflict will creep into all our lives and ministries from time to time.  It's not pleasant, but it is something that happens.  How we react to conflict says a lot more about us than we often realize, so it is important that we handle it well.  Below are a few techniques that I've gleaned and used from various sources and workshops.  It's not a foolproof plan for stopping conflict, but hopefully it helps me deal with it in a Christ like manner.

When a person is upset with you: 
1)  Pray
       Take the situation to your Heavenly Father first and foremost. Pray for guidance in how to resolve the situation that has presented itself.

2)  Talk to your Pastor
      I have always found discussing situations with my Senior Pastor very helpful before I begin to deal with a conflict.  There are sometimes things going on that I may not be aware of that could change the way I deal with the situation.  He or She is the Shepherd of the church and getting their council is always an important step to dealing with conflict.

3)  Meet directly with the person who is upset
         Avoiding the situation rarely makes it better and often makes the problem worse.  So, when you hear of an issue, meet with the person who has the issue directly.

4)  Do not meet with them alone
        You need a third person in the room.  It is too easy for conversations to become "he said, she said" when it is just two people alone.  The third person should not necessarily take part in the conversation, but should be there to listen to both sides.  Your Pastor or a Board Member would be a good choice for this. 

5)  Listen to them. 
        Sometimes conflict can be sorted out and dealt with simply by hearing out the person who is upset.  Don't interrupt them.  Let them fully tell you what is bothering them.  Once you truly understand what the problem is, it can be dealt with easier.
6) Don't get angry or show offense
        It's not fun to be yelled at or have something important to you torn a part by the words of someone else, but stay calm.  The person who is upset will have difficulty staying that way, if you simply do not reciprocate their anger.   And if they do not calm down, they probably will not hear what you have to say anyway, so let them vent...then calmly respond to what they have said.  Trust me when I say that this is NOT easy, but in my experience, it is the best way to deal with someone who is truly angry about something.  After they have told you what it is they are upset about, an appropriate beginning response might be something to the effect of, "Thank you for sharing that with me.  I was unaware of the situation and I will be glad to look into it.  I'm so sorry it has upset you in this way.  Is there anything else you feel I should know?"
7)  Don't feed the rumor mill
         Along with conflict, rumors often begin to circulate.  Make sure they do not start or continue with you.  When I need to deal with conflict, it is my policy that no one in my church outside the situation at hand needs to know about the situation.  If it affects someone else, then they only need to know up to what it necessary for them to know.  For example, if "Martha" decides, due to a conflict, that she is not going to work in Children's Ministry any longer, then my Children's Ministry Team needs only to know from me that Martha is stepping down and we will need to replace her position.  The details of the situation do not need to be made known unless they are brought up...and even then, give as little information as possible.  Be truthful always, but unless it is truly warranted, details are rarely necessary.  And when possible, squash the rumors you hear.

There is no "one size fits all" resolution format when it come to conflict.  It comes in too many forms and fashions.  The only thing you can truly control is how you will respond to it.  These things have been helpful for me, I hope they will be for you as well.

Until next week!