Friday, April 6, 2012

A Young Evangelist

Kids are our most valuable resource when it comes to reaching other kids.

A few years ago I was doing some children’s ministry in the Bronx, New York.
One Saturday we were invited to be a part of a block party. We set up a
book table and made gospel bracelets with the kids.

Toward the end of the day, a girl, about 11 years old, came to the table. Her
name was Mary*, and she wanted a Bible. It happened to be the last one on
the table. Before she took it, I asked her what she knew about God. She
told me she only ever went to church for weddings and funerals.

The Holy Spirit gave me a nudge, and I asked Mary if I could share with her
a story about Jesus. I used my Evangecube (a really great tool for sharing
the gospel with kids, or anyone) and shared the gospel story with Mary. She
listened intently and eagerly received Jesus as her Savior. I prayed over
her and then watched as she disappeared into the crowd.

About 20 minutes later, Mary returned to the table. This time she had a friend
with her. She asked me if I would share the story of Jesus with her friend.
I did, and her friend, too, received the Lord.

But that wasn’t the end. Fifteen minutes or so later, Mary returned… with
her older sister! I shared the gospel with her, too, and though she didn’t
receive Christ, she was interested in the story.

Before Mary left this time, I gave her my Evangecube and walked her through
how to use it. I also showed her the paper which explained each picture
and what it meant. I told her next time she didn’t need to bring her
friends to me - she could share Jesus with them on her own. What an
amazing thing to witness her become a daughter of the Kingdom and an
evangelist all in the same day!

Kids are our most valuable resource when it comes to reaching other kids. In
an hour after she was saved, Mary shared Jesus with more people than some
adult believers do in a lifetime. How can we continue to equip and release
our kids to serve in the Kingdom? Keep checking the blog for more ideas.

*name has been changed

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Community outreach assessment

When someone catches the vision to work for the Kingdom of God in their neighborhoods, very often the first question they ask is "What can we do?" This is natural when we eager to do something for God and for the people in the community. However, if we want to do effective, lasting ministry, this is not the first question we need to ask.

Photo by woodleywonderworks
In training sessions with children's ministry workers, we use a tool called the community outreach assessment. This activity has been very helpful for understanding the communities around us. It is centered around a few questions.

First, who are these people in the community? Where do the children gather? What do they do? How do kids group themselves? By age? By gender? What are their family situations like?

Second, what are their needs? Do they have basic physical needs, such as food or health or clothing? Do they have social and emotional needs? Do they have mental needs, such as education, or practical skills? What is their spiritual condition?

Third, what are the barriers in the community that we need to consider? Are there culture and language issues? What are the family attitudes? Are their other religions and beliefs? How can we work with other ministries and groups?

With these three questions in mind, we create "maps" of the communities. These are not geographical maps, but maps that show the answers to these questions. We draw where kids gather, what the family life is like, what social life is like, any other issues and attitudes in the neighborhoods. The image below is an example from a Seattle area zip code.

Only with the answers to these questions in mind do we move on to the final question: What can we do to reach the community? What resources do you have?(People, materials, facility, skills, programs) What methods could be used? What role should the church play? Who else can you invite to participate in this project? How will you organize the team in prayer?

One important thing to remember is that we need to keep our ears open to the community, to hear from the people who they are, what they want and need (on that topic, here is a blog from Missional Church Network about meeting the neighbors). We also need to keep our ears open to what God is saying and how he is leading.

Is there anything that has surprised you as you have learned about your own community?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

All Around Us

I was coming home from the local Target when I saw the odd scene. Several cars were parked along the side of the street, and a group of people were huddle together. As I scanned the street, I saw what had made them stop. A boy, around the age of 10, was walking down the sidewalk alone. He was not wearing a coat or shoes on one of the coldest days of winter.

I decided to see what I could do, so I pulled my car into a nearby parking lot. When I finally caught up with the boy, he refused to stop and talk. Tears and snot were running down his face. I walked along side him and offered him my coat, but he refused. I asked him if I could call someone for him, but he didn't answer. Finally, I asked him where he was going. "Anywhere far away from here," was his gut-wrenching response.

There are children all around us in our own communities who are desperate for the love and healing and salvation that only Jesus can bring. Do you see them?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Creative projects, ownership and partnership

This post is kind of a follow-up to my earlier post about empowering kids as leaders.

I have come across a few videos and stories of kids being involved in group creative projects. I really like this because I think it can be a very effective way to help kids grow in initiative, creativity and leadership. When kids (or anyone) works together on a project where they get to be creative and make something big together, kids definitely take ownership of the process and the outcome. It's also just fun.

Kids Hubs, for example, is an international kids discipleship program that focuses on developing a skill. In most cases this is video. While they go through lessons about film, teams of kids are given cameras and assigned to film a story, usually from the Bible.

And on the internet, it seems that examples abound of kids involved in creative videos. Here is one from an Irish Christian band, Rend Collective Experiment, where kids act out scenes that tell the story of Jesus' life, and join the band at the end.

St. James Music Academy is a music program for kids in Vancouver's low-income Downtown East-side. Leading up to a fundraising event, a number of musicians made videos featuring kids from St. James. This one is my favorite. Called "East Van is my Home," it is a great example of kids taking pride in the creative process and in their neighborhood.

Sing It Forward - The Boom Booms with The Saint James Music Academy from Vancouver Is Awesome TV on Vimeo.

And finally, a fifth grade class from Quinhagak, Alaska made this video with the people in their village (Sorry if you've seen this one already, it's kind of a youtube hit).

Have you done something creative with kids in your area?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Happy New Year! The World is Ending!

Pools of crocodile tears filled her big dark panic-filled eyes.  The joy and peace of the season evaded this 2nd grader at our homework club. “Miss Annie, the big kids said the world is going to end this year.  They heard it on the radio!”

Carla is not alone.  Later that week my friend, shining for Jesus in a non-Christian divorcing family shared, “Their FIFTH-grade SON is totally freaked out.  Not just because of the divorce. He really believes the world is going to end this year!”
Photo by Worakit Sirijinda
So how do we handle the real fears of 2012 to those in our Zip Codes?
I can’t say I handled Carla’s fear very well!  I wasn’t prepared, so I did what I always do in my churchy circles: I shared my cynicism. “Jesus says no one is going to know the exact time except the Father so I place my bets on any year except this year!”  My church kids would have been cracking up.   Carla’s tears flowed harder.  My smart-alecky attitude gave NO comfort!

This was real to her!

I finally got down on her level, put my arm around her and LISTENED to what she’d heard and how she felt, while I PRAYED silently for her.

Finally, when it seemed like the right time, I felt the need to share truth. “Carla, the truth is someday the world IS going to end.  It could be tomorrow or it could be in a thousand years.  But the Bible also tells us that Jesus loves us and is coming back for those who love him…”  It was a great segue into the gospel.   Carla left homework club with a SMILE on her face!

Jesus was real to her!

ZIP CODE CHALLENGE: What are your experiences or your ideas of how to share Jesus in this YEAR of FEAR?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Welcoming Children

This reindeer is the newest addition to my holiday decorations. It was created at a Christmas party I recently had in my home. For the first time in ten years of children's ministry, I invited families from my community into my house for a night of food, games, and fun.

My house has never seen so much activity! Kids ate platefuls of cookies and cheese for dinner. We competed in a fierce game of Christmas Play-Doh Pictionary and then made crafts using odds and ends from around the house. Finally, we ended the evening with a white elephant gift exchange and lots of laughs. (One girl went home with a ceramic chicken that quite possibly weighed more than she did!) Each family left with kids on a sugar high and a book about the true meaning of Christmas. Each
person left knowing they were welcome in my home.

Welcome. We often hear that word at Christmas as we talk about welcoming Jesus, the newborn King, into our world. But when that little baby grew up He said, "Whoever welcomes a little child in my name welcomes me." All around us are children and families who are in need of being welcomed in the name of Jesus.

What are some ways you could welcome a child and his/her family into your life? Do you know a single mom who would be encouraged by an invitation for coffee and some adult conversation? Is there a family you could invite to join you in your home for a night of games and pizza? What about your local school? I'm sure they would love for you to volunteer and work with a child who is struggling in reading or math. Are there children in your neighborhood who you could invite to take with you to church? You just might be surprised by how eager they are to come!

A few days after the party at my house, one of the kids who attended called me and left this message, "Hey, I'm learning about Jesus right now, and I just wanted you to know." I'm glad he knows he is a welcome part of my life. And I'm glad that Jesus is a welcome part of his.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Empowering children as leaders

For those of us who work in areas where poverty is an issue, we often express the reasons we do so by talking about the poverty, struggles and needs of the people and the community, whether physical or spiritual. This is usually the most compelling story to tell. It is also how most charities and agencies operate, with a needs-based approach.

Robert Lupton recently published a book called Toxic Charity that deals with this very subject. Through over 40 years of inner-city charity work Lupton found that most agencies practice needs-based ministry. This means ministry that addresses and tries to meet the needs of an individual or community through one-way giving. In doing so this often creates a disempowering dependent charity relationship between the haves and the have-nots. This can unintentionally do more harm in good by perpetuating poverty.

Lupton argues that charities, ministries and churches should adopt what he calls Asset-Based Community Development. This requires looking at people and communities not just for needs to be filled, but for potential that can be harnessed. People and communities often change by initiative that comes from within. In a blog post, Lupton writes about how a church in Atlanta turned its food bank program into a food co-op where low income families pay a low cost membership and have control over what foods are distributed.
"No longer must they stand in dignity-depleting lines waiting for handouts. They have their own, self-managed association, under-girded by the church, that multiplies both their grocery dollars and their self-esteem. Little wonder that their homes are filled with thanksgiving this season."
What does this have to do with kids?

How can we apply this idea when working with kids? One idea is to develop children in leadership and ministry.

Jesus said that the kingdom of God belongs to the little children. Often they are the best workers in the kingdom, sharing the good news of Jesus with friends and family. Very soon after they were called, Jesus sent the twelve disciples out into the land of Israel. Empowering kids to participate in the work of the kingdom is an important part of their discipleship process.

Kids often have an easier time having faith than many adults. They do not come jaded or cynical. There are certainly a lot of things children naturally have that we could consider assets. It would be wise to encourage and foster these things, and give kids a chance to participate in leading and serving.

What are some ways you have seen this play out in your work with children? How can we involve kids in helping and leading in ministry?