Tag Archives: Barriers

Barrier #6: I’m SO Smart!

This is the last barrier in the series From Barriers to Values, and it is one that I didn’t discover until after I had started been giving this training module at our church for some time. As I began to recognize the existence of this well-disguised barrier, I started to see that this is a barrier we cannot afford to ignore.

As we get to know the children in our classes, we can easily divide them into a few categories. There are the disruptive ones, who often get in trouble because they always push the boundaries and step outside them in order to see what will happen. There are a few clowns, who may or may not get in trouble, depending on how good they are at staying just within those boundaries. There are some average kids, who are neither clowns nor pushers, and although many of them may not be particularly eager to learn, they do quite well in general. And then there are the smart ones. Some of them are simply very smart, and may not even realize it or they may not think much of it. But there may be some who like being smart and they are proud of it. Some of them want to answer all questions and do so before anyone else does. Some have a need to show off.

This sixth barrier, I’m So Smart, is not a barrier in all kids, but it is a barrier for kids who are prideful about being smart. This barrier is different than the previous ones, as most of those focus on kids who struggle to engage. This barrier focuses on kids who actually are very engaged, but they focus on head knowledge and impressing others, without engaging their hearts with the message. They have pride in their hearts.

The Bible says, “Knowledge puff us.” (1 Corinthians 8:1) Pride is never good. We can be proud of our accomplishments in a humble sort of way, knowing that what we accomplished we were only able to do because God gave us the ability, but pride is not like that. Pride says, “I’m better than you!” In this case it says, “I’m smarter than you and therefore I am better than you!” And, though it may be subtle, it says so with attitude.

Well-meaning teachers often feed into this barrier, perhaps mostly unintentionally. It is fed when we have children memorize verses and hand out prizes to the ones who have memorized the most. It is fed when we only ask knowledge-based questions. It is fed when we always let the same children answer. It is fed when teachers favour smart kids. If left unchecked, the smart kids get more prideful and the not-so-smart-kids feel more and more left out, and will eventually give up and stop trying.

Knowing a lot about the Bible, of course, is great. Memorizing verses is important. Having brains that can process information well is a wonderful blessing. So how do we deal with this barrier?

Strategy 11: Reaching Hearts

Children’s Ministry is not about head-knowledge only, and it’s not about giving perfect answers. What is it about, then? I believe the answer is not so hard to find, although implementing it will require constant watchfulness on our part. Here’s our strategy: we must focus on reaching the hearts of the children.

“Knowledge puffs up,” the Bible says, and then it continues, “but love builds up.” Our answer is love. Focus on love. Help the children discover God’s amazing, powerful, transforming love for them. Help the children to love God above all, and to love others as themselves. As we do this, they will be built up in a healthy way.

hearts

You see, God has always been after our love. He wants us to love Him with all of our hearts, souls, minds and strength. (Deuteronomy 6:5) Although He wants us to know Him with our minds, God does not just want us to have head-knowledge about Him. Neither does He want just an emotional response from us. He wants all of us. No holding back. And the most amazing part of it is that above all He wants our love. He wants us to love Him with our hearts. He wants us to love Him with our souls. He wants us to love Him with our minds. He wants us to love Him with our strength. How amazing that the Creator of the universe longs for my love, for your love, and for the love the children can give Him.

Here are some practical steps:

  • Teach the children from your heart. Let the stories enter your heart as you prepare to teach them, as I described in Strategy 7: Value Excellence – Excellence from your Heart. Let the story change you, move you, penetrate you. You cannot teach from your heart if the story has not entered your heart. If it has only entered your head, it will only come from your head and reach the heads of the children.
  • As you teach, point out things about God’s character and how He demonstrates His love, care, protection and faithfulness to the people in the stories. Focus on things that will help the children stand in awe of God, rather than just focussing on the facts of the things that happened in the story. This will help to strengthen their love for God as well as their faith.
  • Instead of asking “knowledge” questions, include other kinds of questions. Ask questions about how they can apply the stories to their lives. Ask questions that require honesty and openness about the things the kids might be struggling with. Praise kids for giving honest answers, not just the “right” answers.
  • Do not reward answering questions with candy or stickers or other things. This will only motivate the kids to answer by telling you what they think you want to hear, rather than telling you what is in their hearts.
  • Don’t always choose the same children to answer your questions.
  • Don’t treat smarter kids as your favorites, as this can breed bitterness in the other children.
  •  When children give answers that you don’t quite understand, or that don’t seem to make sense, ask more questions to clarify what they are trying to say. Sometimes they have a hard time expressing themselves, and they may actually have a great point hidden underneath their confusing answer.
  •  Encourage children to obey God, not out of obligation, but from their hearts. Teach them about having a positive attitude as they obey. Teach them to obey God because you love Him, not because you want to stay out of trouble.
  • Sometimes doing the right thing is hard. Sometimes understanding what is going on in our lives is hard. Model transparency and honesty. Tell the kids that you sometimes struggle with certain things as well so that they can see that nobody is perfect, and that it is okay to talk about it. Do this in a child-appropriate way. If they ask a difficult question and you don’t now the answer, tell them. You can say that you’ll look into it and will try to have an answer next time. Or you can tell them that some things are a mystery, and we do not have answers to all questions.
  • Model being teachable. Being teachable requires humility, and is the opposite of a prideful “I know it all” attitude. You can tell them about the new things you have discovered in the lesson yourself. Encourage the kids to be teachable as well.

When we focus on reaching the hearts of the children with God’s love, we will work to bring down this prideful barrier in our children. As we seek to build up our children through love, all children, the smart ones and the not-so-smart ones, will be able to know that they are loved and valued, not because of the perfect answers they give, but simply because they were wonderfully created by our God. Let’s show all our children that our mighty God dearly loves them.

Other articles in this series:

From Barriers to Values
Barrier #1: No Relationships
Barrier #2: Church is Boring
Strategy 3: Value Fun
Strategy 4: Value Creativity
Strategy 5: Value Learning Styles
Strategy 6: Value the Uniqueness of Childhood
Barrier #3: Poor Presentation
Strategy 8: Value Storytelling Techniques
Barrier #4: It’s Just a Bunch of History
Barrier #5: I Don’t Understand!

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Barrier #5: I Don’t Understand!

We were asked to do Sunday School at a church one day, and I asked one of the girls in my small group her name.
“Grace,” she answered.
“That’s a beautiful name!” I responded. Knowing about the importance of the meaning of names in her culture, I asked her, “Do you know what it means?”
“Yes,” she said, and she proceeded to tell me something that was completely off.
I hesitated. “That’s not quite right,” I said. “Does anyone else know what ‘grace’ means?”
Several children attempted to answer, but none of them knew what ‘grace’ meant. It was a word they had heard many times in church, but they didn’t know what it meant.

Grace. Mercy. Repentance. Sin. Salvation. All these words are often used in churches, but I wonder how many children have an accurate understanding of what words like these mean. Add to that the fact that young children take things very literally.

“You must be washed by the blood of Jesus!”
“Really? Eeewww. I don’t want to do that!”

We must be careful in how we communicate with our children. Often times kids won’t ask what a word means, especially if they have been coming to church many years, have heard the words many times, and sense that they should somehow have caught on to the meaning of the words long ago. Not understanding “christianese” can be a barrier for the kids in our Children’s Ministry programs.

Strategy 10: Value Child Appropriate Language
Pay attention to words and expressions, and casually explain the meaning to the kids as you teach. Often, when I talk about sin, I just insert a short and clear description: “Sin separates us from God. God does not like sin – all the bad things we do and say and think.” By doing this repeatedly without putting much emphasis on the fact that “I am teaching you is a definition now”, kids will pick up on the meaning of these words, and that in turn will help them understand important concepts that are key to our faith.

What else can we do to conquer this barrier – the 5th barrier we have looked at so far?

Age Groups 
This barrier also presents itself when parents insist on having a child join a group that they are too young for. I have dealt with this issue many times, and tell parents that their child should really attend the class that is right for their age as they will be able to understand what is happening there. Sometimes parents are very persistent, but I choose to be more persistent yet. Children who do not understand what is happening in class will also become disruptive, taking away from the children who are able to understand what is being taught. So I choose to stand up for these other kids, and insist that children should be in their age-appropriate classes.

Mother Tongue
Some churches also face language barriers in terms of dealing with different languages. The church may be an English speaking church in a place where most people speak another language. Sometimes parents want their children to learn English, and send their kids to Sunday School for that reason. Whenever I sensed that this was the case in the church I used to be at, I gently told the parents that Sunday School is not the place to learn a new language, but it is a place to learn about God. And since we want the message of God’s Word to reach our hearts, it is best to learn in the language that will most easily reach our hearts – our mother tongue. Therefore children should attend a class in their own language if possible. If more than one language is spoken in a church or the area, consider having small groups in these different languages. For example, you may have a group for Spanish 6-8-year-olds and a group for English 6-8-year-olds. In this way, when they interact with the story and talk about the application, they can do so freely as they can do it in their own language.

Coming Soon – Barrier #6: I am SO Smart!

Read the articles in this series:
From Barriers to Values
Barrier #1: No Relationship
Barrier #2: Church is Boring
Strategy 3: Value Fun
Strategy 4: Value Creativity
Strategy 5: Value Learning Styles
Strategy 6: Value the Uniqueness of Childhood
Barrier #3: Poor Presentation
Strategy 8: Value Storytelling Techniques
Barrier #4: It’s Just a Bunch of History

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Barrier #4: It’s Just a Bunch of History

Our youth group leader once asked us this question: If someone were to observe you live your life, but he would never actually talk to you, would he be able to tell that you are a Christian? Frankly, this question scared me. I thought, “Oh, no! What if this person couldn’t? How is a person supposed to be able to tell that I am a Christian through the way I live anyway?” I started to look for answers by listening carefully to pastors on Sunday mornings. For years I sat in church on Sunday mornings, waiting for them to tell me what I should DO with the things they preached. But sadly, they never did. They preached wonderful sermons, and I agreed with most of the theological things they talked about, but then, as they neared the end of the sermon, and I was waiting for them to tell me how to apply this to my life, the sermon came to an end. They never did tell me. I was not able to find an answer in church.

I wanted to know how I should live my life as a Christian. I wanted to know what it should look like on Monday at 6:23 AM and on Thursday at 11:35 AM and on Friday at 8:56 PM. You see, I knew most of the Bible stories. I had heard them in Sunday School, at the Christian schools I had attended, and at home every evening after supper as we read the Bible together. But somehow, hearing the stories and understanding how to apply them to my life were two different things, and they were disconnected. No one taught me how and therefore, when I was 26 years old, I still didn’t know how to do that. For the most part, the stories in the Bible were stories, and that was it. They were historical accounts of things that happened to people a long time ago. But I did not know how to move on to the next level.

So if I, as a 26-year-old, having gone to church all my life, could not figure it out, how do we expect children to know how to do it? The answer is that they won’t know, unless we teach them how to do it. If we don’t, we leave a major barrier in place. This is Barrier #4: The Bible is Just a Bunch of History, and we must implement a value to conquer the barrier.

Strategy #9: Value Relevance, Practical Application

Years after the challenge that was given by our youth leader, God intervened in our lives. I read books written by Floyd McClung and Loren Cunningham and other authors from YWAM. Praise God, those books did provide the answer to my question. God totally changed our lives around during that season. We also started to use the FLIPT curriculum from Promiseland (Willow Creek) in Children’s Ministry in our church in Canada. Each and every single lesson had a clear, practical application for the lives of the children. Each week the kids learned how to apply a story from the Bible to their lives. I was super excited. I had been struggling with this for years, and here these kids were, in church, learning how to do this, every single week! I saw this value in action, and I strongly believe that this is a vital strategy as we reach out to our kids.

I wholeheartedly believe that we must give our children clear, relevant, practical examples to show them how the stories connect with their lives. The more specific our examples are, the easier it is for the kids to understand what we mean. Instead of saying “When someone is mean to you, you should show kindness”, make it specific and say, “When your sister says, ‘Leave me alone, you little brat!’ and you feel like saying something mean back to her, don’t give in to the temptation. Be kind instead.”

Let me give some examples from our Joseph – Living for God lessons to show what I mean. In our lessons we call it “The Connection”, as it connects the story to the lives of the kids.

Joseph is Tempted – Genesis 39. The connection: Joseph said ‘no’ to temptation, and so can we. What kinds of temptations do the children in your group face? Here are some possible questions:

You are upset with your brother because he read a secret note you had in your notebook and he told his friends about it. You feel like telling your friends something embarrassing about your brother to get even with him. What can you do to say ‘no’ to temptation?

You broke you sister’s shoelace when you borrowed her shoes without asking. No one knows you did it, and you put them back where you found them. A little later your sister asks if you know how her shoelaces broke. What do you do?

Here is another example from Joseph in Prison – Genesis 39 and 40. The connection: Joseph served God no matter where he was, and we can serve God too. The children will think about situations in their lives in which they can serve God and serve others. Kids can serve God at home, at school and in their neighbourhood. Here are some possible questions:

Your mother is sick. Name three things you can do to help.

What could you do to help your teacher?

You walk to school with your younger sister. She forgot her notebook at home and she needs to bring it to school. What could you do to help her?

In the He Loves Me curriculum, there is the story of the Good Samaritan. During this lesson the kids think about ways in which they can show compassion to others. The story about Bartimaeus will help the children to think about what it looks like to call out to God and how God answers our prayers. After hearing the story about Jesus feeding 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish, they think about what it means to surrender everything to Jesus, and how He takes care of us when we use what He has given us.

Connecting the stories to our lives is of huge importance for the growth of our faith and our relationship with God and others. No matter what story we tell or what lesson we teach, we should always show the kids how the story is relevant to them and how they can live out their faith in practical ways. Then they will see that the Bible is so much more than just a history book!

Read about the next Barrier: – Barrier #5: I Don’t Understand!

Read related posts:

From Barriers to Values

Barrier #1: No Relationship

Barrier #2: Church is Boring

Strategy #3: Value Fun

Strategy #4: Value Creativity

Strategy #5: Value Learning Styles

Strategy #6: Value the Uniqueness of Childhood

Barrier #3: Poor Presentation

Strategy #8: Value Storytelling Techniques

Barrier #5: I Don’t Understand!

 

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Strategy 8: Value Storytelling Techniques

A room full of children. Eyes are on the teacher. No one makes a sound. The kids are not even aware of the fact that they are in the room. Hearts are fully engaged. Their imagination has transported them into the story. The story captivates them. They may have heard the story before, perhaps even many times, but this time the story is fresh and new once again.

Telling a story. When I started to realize how much I enjoyed telling stories from the Bible, I didn’t really want to learn about storytelling techniques, because I was worried that it would make storytelling mechanical and take away from the experience of engaging with the beauty of the story. I figured that beauty should not be reduced to a bunch of techniques, because it will come out damaged and harmed and it will never be as beautiful. But as I discovered storytelling techniques and tested them, I realized that I was wrong. Storytelling techniques can greatly improve the delivery of the story, do greater justice to it and help the listeners engage at a deeper level. The beauty of the story will actually shine through in a more powerful way.

So what are storytelling techniques? There are a bunch of interconnected things we can focus on as we figure out how we want to tell the story in a powerful way. Storytelling techniques are skills we can work on and improve and take to a higher level. Storytelling techniques help us conquer the Barrier of a Poor Presentation. This blog does not allow me to elaborate on them, so I have created some separate pages with training videos.

training

I’ve done storytelling workshops in different places, and honestly, of all the training sessions in Children’s Ministry that I have done, these are the ones that I enjoy the most. My favorite part is when, after struggling to make it clear, suddenly “the light goes on” and the faces of the participants suddenly shine with joy as they discover the beauty and power of the story! Such joy it brings – to them and to me!!

Check out these pages:
Storytelling
Step into the Story
Switching Roles
Step into the Narrator’s Role

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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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Strategy 5: Value Learning Styles

Some years ago, when I was a volunteer in our church in Winnipeg, Canada, I was asked to do a short training about learning styles. I actually knew very little about learning styles myself, but I guess they figured I knew about this. So I looked into this subject, and made some eye-opening discoveries. I have been tailoring my lessons to these learning styles ever since. It has given me a tremendous motivation to make my lessons much more interesting and engaging for all children, and for myself as well!

God has created each of us in different and unique ways, and just like the colour of our eyes and the shape of our noses is different, we also have different ways in which we learn best. There are different ways to classify learning styles, but I want to look at three basic ones that will help us understand our kids better, and will help us strategize how to reach all the children in our classes, and not just a few of them.

Auditory (Hearing) Learning Style

These children learn well by listening. They love to listen when a story is told, and often remember specific words that were used. They love things like sound effects and word jokes. They also may be good at coming up with very specific words to describe situations or feelings. When they tell a story they are expressive and they can mimic voices of different characters. They do well when verbal instructions are given. They may love music and can detect when someone sings off-key.

Since most teachers love to talk and talk and talk, the traditional way of teaching works well for these children. These kids are the ones who can sit still in class without a problem, who listen well and can answer questions the teachers ask. They probably cause the least amount of problems in your class. This is usually a smaller group of children in your class.

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Auditory children are distracted by sounds, so ringing cell phones, whispering children and noises coming from outside your room will be a distraction for them.

Visual (Seeing) Learning Style

These children learn best when they can ‘see’ things. They primarily remember the things they see. If there is something for them to see, that will be the thing they will remember. So if their mom asks them after church, “What did you do in Children’s Church today?” they’ll think, “Eehhmmm… o, yes, the teacher was wearing a scarf over her shoulder… I remember now! It was about Joseph!” When they tell you a story, they may add detailed descriptions of what things look like.

Adding visual things to your lessons will greatly assist these kids in remembering what was taught. Think about using props, science experiments, costume items, puppets, pictures, maps or charts. All these things serve as great hooks for their memory. If you use an illustration of how something works, they will be able to figure it out. Having a visual like a picture, an item, or a diagram helps them to understand and remember what is being taught. They also pay attention to your room, the decorations, the types of building materials used, the furniture and the seating arrangements.

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These kids also pay attention visual things that are not important, like the clothes the teacher wears. Carefully look at your teaching space to discover what they will notice. Decorations can be a great help for them – or a great distraction. If someone moves in your room, their eyes will be drawn to it and they will automatically notice. You can imagine how their thoughts will wander away as well: “What is that person doing?” Minimizing the visual distractions is very important for your visual learners. It’s important to pay serious attention to these things, because the largest group of children in your class will be visual learners.

Kinaesthetic (Hands-on) Learning Style

These children love action! They often struggle to sit still in class, and easily become bored or distracted if nothing “happens” in class. Engaging these children is perhaps the hardest, but if you put an effort into reaching these children, you will have the most creative, interactive and fun lessons, and you can be sure that you will engage all the children in your class.

When you ask for volunteers, the hands of these kids shoot up first. These kids love doing the actions to the praise and worship songs, jump the highest when they are excited and their eyes start to glimmer whenever you say, “We’re going to play a game!” Often these kids loves sports and drama and running. When they tell a story, they move their hands as they speak and, if possible, their bodies as well. When your time with the kids only involves sitting and listening, they will be the first to become bored.

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So how can you reach these active, bouncy kids? It may seem intimidating, but it’s not impossible at all! Include them. Make them part of what you are doing. Make sure your praise and worship includes lots of jumping and challenge them by doing fun, different actions that require their attention. Once they got rid of some of their energy during Praise & Worship, it’ll be easier for them to sit down and engage with a Bible story. When you tell the story, often use Creative Teaching Methods such as Audience Participation so they can channel their need to move in an acceptable way. Let them help out by collecting the offering and when it’s time for things to be handed out, let them be your helpers. Make sure you play games in Small Groups that require doing something, even if it is small like picking up cards or playing a board game (connected to the Main Point of your lesson – not just games to kill time or even have fun only).

Sitting still will push these kids to misbehaviour. They are not bad kids, this is simply how God made them, and so it’s our responsibility to ensure that we teach in a way that will help these kids learn and enjoy learning.

Combinations

Some people may have a combination of two learning styles, and all combinations are possible. Some people may not have a dominant way to learn but utilize whatever learning style fits a particular learning environment. Regardless of your own particular style or styles, it is important to be able to recognize the characteristics of all three, and to tailor your lessons to them so that all kids will be engaged and will enjoy learning.

Learning Style Barriers

As we looked at these styles and how we can tailor our lessons to help them learn, we already saw some of the specific things that make it more difficult for children to learn – the barriers. Here are a few more possible obstacles to consider:

  • Have the teaching area on the opposite side of the door if possible. Anyone who comes through the door will be a distraction if the door is on the same side as your teaching area. If people enter the room from behind the children, it is less likely for them to be distracted.
  • Avoid having more adults in the teaching area than necessary. It is distracting for children if there is a second or even third teacher who is just standing there. The problem is that the teacher won’t just stand there, but moves and has facial expressions. Every movement will be observed and will distract from the actual teaching. Every facial expression sends a message, and even a blank expression communicates, “This is boring”.
  • Make sure cell phones are switched off, and do not let teachers answer their phones. If a teacher starts to answer a cell phone or text a message where children can see it, they will immediately think, ‘I wonder who she is talking to!’ It inadvertently sends the message that the phone call is more important than what is happening in the room.
  • The other teachers should move around as little as possible during the lesson, because whenever someone gets up and starts to walk, heads of the children will turn and they will be distracted easily.
  • Children often bring things into the room. Have a rule about where they should put their stuff. You may tell them to put their things underneath their seats so that they cannot see them and cannot touch them – and won’t be distracted by them.

The goal of this strategy is simple: we need to design our lessons in a way that will engage children with all these different learning styles so that learning will be fun for all of them. We want them to enjoy coming to our Children’s Ministry programs. Let our lessons be fun and engaging for kids with all learning styles, so that each of them can grow in their faith!

Coming up next – Strategy 6: Value the Uniqueness of Childhood

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Strategy 4: Value Creativity

Another way to conquer the Barrier of Boredom (Barrier 2: Church is Boring) is to highly value creativity. Present each lesson, each week creatively. There are tons of ways to do this. In our lessons we always use at least one (but usually several) Creative Teaching Methods. These methods can include using props, drama, audience participation, drawing, puppets, science, special messages, games, and more. Lessons are never just a delivery of information to be deposited in the brains of the kids. They always, always use creativity in the delivery. This keeps kids engaged and curious. They want to discover new things in new ways or even old things in new ways. Creative Teaching Methods are like a hook to draw the children in. Once they are ‘in’, once you have their attention, you can speak into their lives.

Let me give you a few examples. One of my favorite tools is drama, and one of my favorite ways to use drama is to step into the role of one of the characters in story, and “visit” the classroom as that person. This can be done in several ways.

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First of all you can simply visit the kids. “Hi, kids! My name is Matthew and I am one of Jesus’ followers. Let me tell you what happened to me the other day. I lost my job! It was awesome! Maybe you think I’m crazy for saying that losing my job was awesome. Let me explain….”

A different way is to conduct an interview. Have another teacher interview you and ask you to tell the kids about the event. You can change this by having the teacher interview more than one person from the story to get different sides to it, let’s say Matthew and one of the taxcollector. Or the teacher may interview a person who was present but was not actually mentioned in the Bible, for example one of the servants in Matthew’s house who served the food at the dinner party and overheard the different conversations that evening.

Another really fun and engaging way to present the story through drama is by playing all the roles in the drama yourself and switch between the roles as the story continues. You move to the different places where the characters are, and show the emotions of all the people involved.

Props are also an easy way to add interest to your lesson. And they do not need to be complicated or expensive. Our lessons only use easy-to-find materials. Scarves are great, because you can use them in many ways as a costume item. Wrap it around your head, drape it over your shoulder, tie it around your waist, or hang it over both shoulders like a cape. Look for items you can find around the house and outside. Use a stick as a walking stick to add something visual to your presentation.

Many children love to participate in your lesson in some way. They can become characters in your story, each with one very short line that is repeated throughout the story. Or perhaps you give them very clear, specific instructions on what sound effects they will add as you tell the story. You can also let them participate in games, activities, interviews and contests. There are tons of options.

One last note on this subject. It may sound like I am the expert on creative ideas, but I am not. As I have been writing these Children’s Ministry lessons, I have come to realize that my ideas and creativity are very limited. But God is our Creator, and He is full of creativity. He is the One who gives us creative ideas. I often think, “O, I am not sure if I can come up with anything for this story…” So I pray that God will give me an idea. Usually I leave it and go do something else, and very often, while I am not thinking about it and I am doing this other thing, suddenly an idea pops up in my mind. “Thank You, God!” is all I can say. I believe God enjoys it when He sees the desire in our heart to teach creatively, and He is always there to guide us and give us the ideas we need. So when you draw a blank and your creative juices seem to have evaporated altogether, pray and He will help you.

Coming up next – Strategy 5: Value Learning Styles

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Strategy 3: Value Fun

We just talked about Barrier #2: Church is Boring. And we talked about Strategy 2: Value This Opportunity. Isn’t that just so exciting? So… what do we actually do? How do we go from having a boring program to having a non-boring program? Beside never losing our excitement about This Opportunity, the second thing we must highly value is FUN. We must have fun with our kids! Our kids love to have fun. In fact, learning is easy if it is also fun. But mostly we have fun because we want to show the kids that we enjoy being around them, and that we appreciate and value them.

So what do you do to have fun? There are so many ways to have fun! Joke around, give out random prizes for crazy things (Who has the most orange in his clothes today? You will receive today’s prize!). Use fun, cool actions in the songs that you sing with them. Do the actions with them and do them BIG, even if it initially feels weird or uncomfortable. Make them giggle and laugh. Do not be serious all the time. Play fun games. Use water, balloons, magic tricks – kids love these things. Celebrate with them. Have fun!

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I do want to bring a word of warning about fun. Sometimes fun becomes the only objective in ministry settings, and that is not a good thing. Our main objective is not to have fun. We simply have fun as we are building relationships and learning about God and growing in our relationship with Him. We must balance fun with our other values, so that we do not become “just another entertainment option”.

Coming up next – Strategy 4: Value Creativity

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Barrier #2: Church is Boring

When I was a kid, our church was boring. Was it ever boring. It didn’t matter if we were in church with the adults, or if we went to the kids program. It was just plain boring. I remember this one day that I went to Sunday School, and this guy showed up whom I had never seen before. He sat down, put his feet on the table, leaned a bit more to the back and said, ‘So… what do you guys wanna do? I don’t have anything prepared. I was just told to go here. The person who was supposed to be here never showed up. So they told me to go and keep you guys here, in this room. What do you guys normally do? Do you want to color or something?’ The rest of the 20 minutes in that room were pretty rowdy. Kids were running around and playing with the curtains on the stage, inventing a new version of tag. You see, we didn’t want to be bored, but it was terribly boring. So because the adult was not doing anything to make it less boring, we took matters into our own hands, and we came up with things to do that made the boredom go away. If we needed to choose between boredom and misbehaving, we’d choose misbehaving. Every time. Guaranteed. I truly believed that this guy did not care. He didn’t care about us and he didn’t care about what we thought of church. So why would we listen to him?

I believe that many behavioural problems in children’s ministry settings have much to do with the fact that the program is actually boring. Kids don’t like to be bored, so if they are, they’ll find a way not-to-be-bored, and they’ll misbehave or become disruptive if that is what it takes.

It’s actually really sad that Children’s Ministry programs can be quite boring. I do not believe for a second that the disciples were ever bored when they were with Jesus – ever. Something seems to have gone wrong in how we approach this thing called Children’s Ministry, and much of it has to do with how we see this ministry and how we see the kids. As you could tell from my story, the people in my church did not take Children’s Ministry seriously at all. They saw it as a babysitting service, and the only people benefiting were the parents, because they could listen to the sermon without wiggly kids around. And the kids did wiggle if they sat with them, because – you guessed it- they were bored. So how do we change this? How do we move away from having a boring ministry? What should we be seeing?

Strategy 2: Value This Opportunity
I strongly believe that if our eyes can be opened to the opportunity God has placed before us, the passion that then grows in our hearts will be so strong that we cannot ever and will not ever allow ourselves to have a boring program for our kids. Ever! THIS is our opportunity. THESE one or two hours per week are our opportunity to reach the hearts and lives of these kids. An hour or two, that’s hardly anything! So grab hold of it! Don’t let anyone take this opportunity away from you!! It is your chance to show the kids God’s incredible love for them. We are the ones to tell them that God has a plan for their lives. That He longs to have the coolest, most amazing relationship with them. That Jesus died on the cross for them to forgive their sins, and that His resurrection power is available to them! They can live their lives for Him! They can serve the Most High God! They can experience His presence and His gentle love in their lives! He wants to transform them and make them grow strong and loving and kind so that they can reach out to those around them. God has adventures in store for them. There is so much… and then so much more… THIS is our opportunity!

Coming up next – Strategy 3: Value Fun

 

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