Barrier #3: Poor Presentation

Jesus told us not to hinder the children from coming to Him. What does hindering look like? What are the barriers in children’s ministry that keep children from coming closer to Jesus? We looked at two barriers so far: No Relationship and Church is Boring. Now we will look at the third one: Poor Presentation.It may look something like this:

Teacher: Today we are talking about… [Looks at her paper, tries to figure out where to look.] Ehm… Jonah… I think. [Fumbles some more with the paper, turns it around.] I mean Esther. Esther, yes, that’s right. She was ehm… a woman… who lived in… [Reads from her paper, holds it up in front of her face, squints] a country. And she was a girl, I mean. Women are girls too, but she was not quite a woman yet. But she was female. She was not grown up yet. She was still a girl. Like you guys. Well, some of you… I guess… Because some of you are boys. So the boys are not girls. And ehm… [Looks at the paper again, smiles reassuringly at the kids. But the kids are not reassured by her smile. They don’t even notice her smile. They are not listening to the teacher-who-doesn’t-know-what-she’s-talking-about. They do know what they are talking about – they are talking to the kids beside them about their new iPad game. And, unlike their teacher, they do have a lot of interesting things to say about them.]

Does this sound a bit over the top? Perhaps it does. Unfortunately, it is probably closer to the truth that we’d like to admit, and it’s all because we often do not prepare our lessons as well as we should, and that does present a barrier – the barrier of a poor presentation.

Honestly speaking, taking down this barrier was a something that I did not learn very quickly myself. I remember that probably the first year that I volunteered in our church in The Netherlands, I always felt defeated after Sunday School. Every time I sighed as I told myself, “I have got to do a better job preparing.” The following month I put in more effort, but it still was not cutting it. Part of the problem was that I did my preparation on Saturday. I had to think of what I was going to do, and that was all I did. I had a general idea, I had a few main points. I kind of envisioned what I was going to do, but in real life, it never turned out that way. I always fell short of what I had pictured in mind. Picturing it was not good enough. So how could I take down this barrier?

Strategy 7: Value Excellence – Excellence from your Heart

When I volunteered some years later in our church in Canada, we started off by using a curriculum called FLIPT from Promiseland, Willow Creek. I learned tons from using that curriculum and it continues to be one of my favorites. I noticed that they did things with excellence. Indeed, the lessons were excellent. But the videos with the stories were done so professionally, so well, so fresh, so child-oriented, so beautifully, that I was sold out on the concept of excellence immediately. The kids were captivated. “If I can teach the kids like that… Wow! That is what I have been missing all this time!”

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There is a catch to excellence. When we have a single focus on excellence, we can easily become somewhat obsessed with giving a perfect performance for the kids. This is a dangerous path, because we shift our eyes from Jesus, and start focussing on having the coolest, best presentation, and it becomes about bringing glory to ourselves instead of to God. How can we avoid this? How can we focus on excellence and still make it all about bringing glory to God? I believe that the Bible gives us the solution. Have a look at this verse:

‘Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.’ Colossians 3:23, 24 (NIV)

When I read this verse, it spells excellence to me. And it spells it beautifully and perfectly, because it shows that true excellence comes from working at things with all our hearts and with a single focus on Jesus. We get in trouble when we want to teach with excellence for the purpose of being excellent and impressing our audience. This is never right. We must teach with a desire for excellence that comes from our hearts and we must do so humbly. As long as we are clearly aware that we work for the Lord and serve Him in order to make His name great, we will bring glory to Him. We teach with excellence not to be cool or engaging, but simply because we are madly in love with Jesus, and because of our great love for Him. We teach with excellence because we want to see Him glorified.

As I discovered the importance of the Value of Excellence from our Hearts, I started to ponder about the great honor it is to teach God’s Word. God, the Almighty Creator, all powerful and glorious, who is in charge of the universe… He reached down into our world. He decided to make Himself known to us. He did not just give us a sign to show us that He exists somewhere, but He actually made Himself known through His Word. He did not just give us a few pages, but He gave us a Book with sixty-six books, written by different authors during different centuries in different countries. And this Book is all one great big story – the Story of how God reveals Himself to us and rescues us from an evil, horrible mess that we chose ourselves. It cost Him dearly. It cost Him His only Son. And His Son decided to obey and follow God’s plan to rescue us. And rescue He did. Not only did He save us from hell, He also restored us, redeemed us, and continually transforms us so that we can now have a relationship – a deep, strong, beautiful love-relationship with Him. Incredible. Unbelievable, and yet we must believe it. How could I ever give anything less than my very best, my excellence, as I share this Story with the children God has entrusted me with?

Prepare

Excellence, not perfection, means that I pour my heart into preparing to the very best of my ability. It means that I pray as I prepare. I seek God’s guidance. I ask Him to open the hearts of the children. I ask Him to use me as a humble vessel. I ask Him to speak through me.

And then I memorize my lesson. Yep, memorize. I take time. I do not memorize word-for-word necessarily, but I do memorize sentence-by-sentence without giving myself too much freedom in how I change the sentences. The meaning of the sentences must remain the same, although sometimes the order of the words or the order of sentences may change slightly. I memorize lessons paragraph-by-paragraph. I take hours to prepare so I will know very well what I am going to say. Memorization brings your teaching to a whole new level, guaranteed. I didn’t believe in memorization at first, but I accepted the challenge to try it, and I have never gone back. You see, if you do not have your lesson memorized, as you speak to the kids your mind will think, “What is coming next again? I hope I remember…” And while you teach with a worried mind, you teach from your head. If you teach from your head, you’ll likely only reach the heads of the kids. In order to reach their hearts, you must teach from your heart. So let the story enter your heart. You must know it, and know it very well. Memorization is a crucial key to excellence.

As I prepare, I let the message sink into my own heart. It is easy to skip this in our preparation and focus on the listeners and how this message is so important for them. But we must apply the truths to our own lives first and let the message change our own hearts before we teach it to the children. As you prepare, take time to let it sink deeply into your heart and spirit. Pray that God will reveal the depth of the message to you, and that He will help you see how He wants you to apply it to your own life. Ask Him to reveal things to you that you may not be aware of yourself.

After that, I practice teaching out loud. Now that I know the words, I want to figure out how I am going to say them. Because I memorized the lines, I am now able to focus on “how”. So I practice, usually in my bedroom. I tell people not to disturb me and I practice it several days in row. I test-drive my lesson, and try different ways of saying different things. I try out different ideas I have for body language, I play with volume and I figure out how to bring across the emotions in the story. As I do this, I get to know the story in a new way, and (I smile as I write this) that is actually one of the most powerful Bible study methods I know. As I practice, God reveals things to me. This is often when the story enters my heart. I get excited about how God reveleals Himself through the story and it touches me in a deep and personal way. Sometimes I cry. Sometimes I just savour the beauty. Good stuff.

So I encourage you to prepare and prepare well. It takes time, but this investment is well worth it. Then, as you teach with excellence, let your message flow from your heart. Then your teaching will be genuine. You will see that you will be much more passionate about the stories and the truths you will teach the children. The blessings that flow through this will take your breath away. It will take down the Barrier of a Poor Presentation.

Coming up next – Strategy 8: Value Storytelling Techniques

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Strategy 6: Value the Uniqueness of Childhood

I’ll never forget this one Sunday when we watched a Veggie Tales® movie in our church in Canada. The children were seated according to their grades, and girls and boys were separated. At one point during the movie, the grade one and two boys started laughing loudly. I looked around the room. Clearly, they were the only ones who caught on to the funny part in the movie. That amazed me. The makers of Veggie Tales® were experts when it came to understanding grade 1 and 2 boy humor!

Experts

Experts on kids. Wouldn’t it be great if all of us, Sunday School teachers/Children’s Ministry workers, were real experts on kids? Wouldn’t it be awesome if we really understood what makes kids laugh, what they love, how to capture their full attention and beyond that, how we can reach their hearts with God’s transforming love? We should be able to figure it out – after all, we were all children when we started off in this world! When we truly value the uniqueness of childhood, understand children and see their potential, it will destroy the Barrier: Church is Boring. I could probably write a book on how kids are different from us, adults, (I wrote a blog about this before: “Through the Eyes of a 2-Year-Old”) but let’s just look at a few differences.

The World Through Their Eyes

Yes, kids are different. They giggle differently, they laugh about other things and they love being silly. They look at the world from a totally different perspective. For fun, crouch down on your knees and look at your house from this lower level. What do you notice? But it’s not only their physical eye level that is different from ours.

When we lived in Addis Ababa, I used to take my two children to the shop twice a week to buy groceries. By the side of one of the little streets, lying on the ground was a beam. I guess it was an old electricity post. Every single time we walked down that street, my kids wanted to walk down the beam, balancing as they went. Honestly, I did not have the urge to do this, but they loved it. Kids are different. When we see a street, they see opportunities for play.

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Potential

Kids often have a strong sense of justice and fairness, and can believe strongly things that seem right to them. If we give them opportunities, they will amaze us. My niece, for example, managed to raise a lot of money for an orphan project in Africa. Her school organized a fund raiser, and the kids were asked to sell some of their old toys or other items from home at a school fair. But my niece strongly believed in this cause, and decided to take it step further. And instead of taking a small step, this 10-year-old took a giant leap. She went to the mall with her friend and asked many shop owners to donate items to be auctioned off at a fair. My niece and her friend blew the adults away with how much money they raised. My sweet nice passionately believed in the cause, had an idea and she followed through on it. She did not think of obstacles most adults would have worried about. She just did it. She simply did it for the orphans in Africa. Then, when she came to visit us in Africa a few months later, she became all excited when we drove through a town and saw a sign by the side of the road that lead to one of the offices of that organization. Her passion was still there. Kids have amazing potential. They need opportunities. Don’t underestimate them.

Child-like Faith

On the Yiwedegnal (Amharic for ‘He Loves Me’) kids worship DVD we made in 2012, we included interviews with children from our kids program. One of the questions was, “Who is God to you?” and they responded, “He is my friend” and “He is my everything” and “He is my friend, my Savior, my Brother, He is everything to me.” Many adults were surprised as they watched the children. One lady asked me with tears in her eyes, “Did you tell them what to answer?” When I told her we did not, she shook her head in amazement. “I did not realize that kids can have real faith like this!” she said. Yes, it is true, we often underestimate their faith. Kids are able to have real, strong, beautiful, powerful, child-like faith.

Connect

In order to become experts on kids, we must get down to their level – literally. Carefully observe them as they interact with their friends. Pay attention to the things that get them excited, and use those things in your ministry. Do they like crazy facts? Then find some and use them to point out how amazing God’s creation is. Play with them at their level, and instead of telling them what they should do and how they should do it, let them lead as well. Being fully present is key to this. Don’t let your mind be on your to-do list, and don’t be distracted by what you want. Include opportunities for play and playfulness in your time with them and play games with them. Come up with ways in which they can actively reach out those around them, like my niece, so they can use their potential. Recognize their faith, mentor and disciple them so they can grow in their faith, and live by faith alongside them. As we interact with them, we will discover their uniqueness and it will be delightful. Our programs will not be boring!

Unique

Kids are different. I could tell you many more amazing stories of how I have seen God work and speak through kids! If we value their childhood uniqueness, if we try to crawl into their skin and understand them, we can use those things and figure out how to reach them with God’s love. When we do this, I believe that we will be blown away by the beauty of the uniqueness of our children!

Coming up next – Barrier #3: Poor Presentation

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