Tag Archives: Children’s Ministry

Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors. And the Children…

It’s the first time there’s been no room for me to sit on the steps with the children as they gather to hear me read.

I look around, at all those little ones peering up at me, and somehow, it feels totally appropriate to kneel, in front of them, under the cross and flame. You’d think, with all those children, I’d be in a huge United Methodist church, perhaps in the big city of Grand Rapids. But I’m not… Continue reading

The Church in the Middle of the Cornfield

It’s Sunday. l’m in the car early on this October morning. I leave the city and all the traffic behind and pretty soon I’m by myself on country roads, heading to this little church where I’ve been invited to share in a special Children’s Sunday. I’m happy to do it… children’s ministry is my passion.

I don’t really know what to expect when I get there, but I’m thinking that that this place won’t be packed. There probably won’t be many kids. But that’s okay, I remind myself. After all, some of Jesus’ most powerful conversations that would result in transformed lives were shared one on one, rather than in the crowd.

I keep driving, and driving, past peach farms and fruit trees, and nothing else, until I arrive at the railway tracks that have no lights. I obediently stop and as I do, I see a faithful little sign beyond, trying its best to stick up importantly out of the grass. It bears a cross and flame. I know that logo.

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Chapel Hill United Methodist Church 1/4 Mile that faithful sign announces, with a little arrow to guide me just in case I get lost. After all, the road I’m on does seem to stretch into nowhere.

But I’m on the right path. And exactly one-quarter of a mile down that road, I get my first glimpse of the church. It’s little. And cute. It looks welcoming. It’s in the middle of a cornfield.

As I pull into the parking lot, I note that there’s even parking spaces ‘reserved for visitors.’ I try not to think about just how many visitors might come here. But the point is, this church is prepared.

It’s just that I’m not… I’m not quite prepared for what I experience that morning…

because inside those doors, something is happening, fueled by the undeniable and inextinguishable presence of the Holy Spirit.

Every pew is full. And there are children… lots of them. The worship is high energy as we gather to celebrate the launch of the re-envisioned Kidz Konnection. And I have to admit this is just not what I was expecting.

So much work, and thought, and planning, and prayer, and preparation has gone into this that I am overwhelmed… and so proud of this little church and all it is achieving.

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And when we make our way up to the altar rail for communion, I get the biggest piece of bread I have ever seen, because, as the pastor says: who wants a little bit of Jesus? Don’t we all want a big hunk of Jesus?

Yes, yes, yes! This little church in the middle of the cornfield is offering a big hunk of Jesus to all who step though its doors. And that is a wonderful thing.

And I guess it doesn’t matter what size our church, whether we’re in the city or the country, as long as we’re preaching the Gospel and welcoming children as Jesus did.

As long as little children return from the communion rail grinning from ear to ear clutching a piece of bread so sodden in juice that it has turned pink, while others kneel at the communion rail, their eyes closed and their hands held high in prayer.

And when I leave that morning, I look out, beyond the cross, over to the cornfield and I watch the giant stalks blowing in the wind.

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I think about that huge field of corn, and all the work and preparation that went into it. Of how a farmer must have planted those seeds, and nurtured them, and fed them, and proudly watched them grow, all the while anticipating a harvest.

And that’s just what this little village church is doing… planting seeds, and nurturing them, and faithfully fulfilling its mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

There will be a harvest.

Snuggle Time Psalms Giveaway!

With just one week to go before Snuggle Time Psalms is released, (did you know it’s at the number one spot on Amazon’s Children’s Inspirational list), we thought we’d celebrate by giving away two copies!

The giveaway will be open for the next seven days.  As long as you live in the USA and you don’t have a PO box, you can enter. All you have to do is fill in your contact details below and tell me who you would snuggle with as you read the book.

And in case you wanted to peek inside first, here’s a sneaky preview. This is my favorite page, because it reminds me of my little grandson…

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ENTER THE GIVEAWAY HERE:

Why Your Church Needs to Celebrate Children’s Sabbath

She could have been at home, watching cartoons or playing outside.

She could have been out shopping with her mama, or enjoying a pancake breakfast in the restaurant on this Sunday morning.

But instead, she’s here, this little girl with the blonde hair and the big pink bow. She’s here, breaking the bread, and smiling, holding it out at arm’s length well before we’ve even reached the altar, as if it’s really important, as if to say:

Come and get this! It’s just for you! Its special!

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And it was.

In fact, my whole morning was special.

It was Children’s Sunday in this United Methodist Church, a special day set aside to celebrate the children in our midst.

Everything about this service said: We love children. Children are special to us.

From the bulletin cover,

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to the Call to Worship…

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From the prayers of blessing,

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to the benediction…

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everything involved children, and told them, over and over again:

You’re important here.

And so it’s not really surprising is it, that the little girl with the blonde hair and the big pink bow should be here at all? Because isn’t this the place where she knows she’s welcomed, and loved, and needed, and important?

I’m watching this little child.

I notice how she crouches down to one who is smaller than her.

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I see how she fixes her eyes on one who is older than her.

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And when it’s my turn, she gives me the biggest smile and tears off the biggest piece of bread, and she tells me, quite confidently and with no doubt in her voice:

 Jesus loves you.

I don’t know how many people received communion from this little girl.. but she managed to make me feel like I was the only one who mattered that morning.

I don’t know how she did that.

But she did.

No wonder that the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.

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Eight easy ideas to include in Children’s Sabbath:

  1. Have a child design the bulletin.
  2. Use the Call to Worship included in this post.
  3. Have children read the scripture.
  4. Invite them to extend their hands during prayers of blessing.
  5. Have children lead the benediction, ‘Go in peace to love and serve the Lord’ in sign language.
  6. Let children serve communion.
  7. Decorate the altar with balloons and toys.
  8. Before the service begins, hand musical instruments out to every child and invite them to play along whenever music is heard.

My thanks to Pastors Mary Ivanov and Erin Fitzgerald for these wonderful ideas, and for reminding me in powerful ways to whom the Kingdom of God belongs.

I’m Going on Tour!

To celebrate the release of Little Love Letters from God, I get to go on tour…without ever leaving my home!

Little Love Letters Cover

For the next six weeks, I’ll be making stops at eight different websites…visiting with authors and pastors, home-schooling moms and children’s ministers…. wonderful colleagues who will help to launch my newest title, from now until February 15th.

We’ll explore ways of using love letters in children’s ministry; there’ll be author interviews, book reviews; new ideas for family Valentine’s Day traditions and crafts, and best of all, a Little Love Letters from God giveaway at every stop.

I hope you’ll come on tour with me! It starts today, with Vanessa Myers, where I’ll be sharing Five Ways to Use Love Letters in Children’s Ministry.

Here’s the schedule for the next six weeks…..join us, and win yourself a copy of Little Love Letters from God… just in time for Valentine’s Day!

Jan 4:    Vanessa Myers: Five Ways to Use Love Letters in Children’s Ministry

Jan 11:  Jenn: Treasuring Life’s Blessings: Book Review

Jan 18:  Children’s Book Author, Diane Stortz: Author Interview & Book Review

Jan 21:  Pastor Traci Smith:  A New Family Tradition for Valentine’s Day

Jan 25:  Noelle Kirchner, The Ministering MomFive Ways to Bless Your Family With Love Letters Beyond Valentine’s Day

Feb 1:   Kelly: Our Everyday HarvestBook Review

Feb 8:   Laura Sassi, Children’s Book AuthorAuthor Interview & Valentine Craft

Feb 15: Christina Embree, Refocus Ministry: Book Review

Why You Might Want to Listen to that Little Voice that Prompts You to Action…

On a crisp autumn morning one year ago, I drove to Kalamazoo, a little town in Michigan, on my way to present a workshop at a Children’s Ministry event. Nestled in the back of my car were two boxes holding treasure:  hot, off-the-press copies of my newly published children’s book, Love Letters from God.

box of books!

That autumn day would be the first time I would sell my book; the first time I would read a story out loud to an audience; the first time I would sign the inside cover; the first time I would meet Jess.

She was young, and quiet. We didn’t get to talk much. She was in her second year of children’s ministry. She listened intently. She made notes. She asked questions. And she bought a book.

She would tell me, later, that she didn’t have much money that day. But a little voice inside whispered that she should buy a book anyway.

Who is it for? I asked, as I always do when I sign the book.

Jess didn’t know. Perhaps she would give it to a niece, or perhaps she might use it in her children’s ministry. She left, with the book tucked under her arm. Inscribed on the inside cover, I had written the words: May the one who turns these pages be blessed.

And the rest of the story belongs to her….

Well later that day, my husband and I had a sweet surprise. We had been trying to get pregnant for a few months, waiting on the Lord’s timing… I was a few days late – so off to the store I went (to buy another pregnancy test.) Sure enough, the Lord’s timing had arrived. We were almost in disbelief. To be honest, my husband didn’t believe me right away. We were so excited!!!

Lo and behold, God had wanted me to purchase “Love Letters from God’ for my very own son, Josiah!  What’s so cool is that this book walked with us through our entire pregnancy. Mr. Josiah and I read the stories together over the next 9 months as we waited to meet each other. I would flip through the pages, usually reading one or two stories at a time. We would talk, and pray together – I’d fill in the blanks with “my precious child.” I’d describe to him the pictures on the pages (that’s the Art Teacher in me)…

I remember one specific day, maybe 21 weeks in – I read “The Little Boy Who Listened.” We had just found out we were having a son and we couldn’t for the life of us decide on a name… I’d ask my little man what he wanted to be called, I pleaded with the Lord to give us the perfect name… My husband and I just couldn’t decide. It seemed that the pressure was too great!  I read this story about 3 times, all in a row. Something about it stood out to me. It was the last paragraph:

“What a wonderful night for Samuel!” It read. “God knew his name. As the candles flickered and the shadows danced, a happy little Samuel closed his eyes and finally fell asleep.”

It was that paragraph that brought peace to my heart — God knew my son’s name, just as he had known Samuel’s name! I opened my bible and highlighted Isaiah 43:1: “I will send for you by name. You belong to me.” My son, my Josiah, was already named by my Father in heaven, and soon, very soon, I would get to meet him and know his name too!

Called by Name

My husband ended up naming our son, Josiah Thomas, just moments before he entered this world. He said God had just put it on his heart! It was, and is, the most perfect name for our little one.

Here we are, 11 months later, and my little man can just start to see. We flip through the colorful pages of the book, and talk about the love that God has for him, and for me, and for our friends and family! It’s something very sweet. “Love Letters from God,” was just as much a gift for me, as it was to my son!

The inside cover of my book is signed by Glenys: “May the one who turns these pages be blessed.” We were blessed. We are blessed, by the truth on these pages, and with a beautiful son!

baby Josiah

Jess & Josiah

Why a Dead Flower Pod Might be Better For Our Kids than an iPod….

So his little four year old legs are pedaling fast, and his yellow helmet leads the way. I’m almost running with the stroller, trying to keep up. When suddenly, my grandson stops pedaling and jumps down from his bike. He has seen something that interests him, something so ordinary that most would pass by without a second glance. But not him.

He’s mesmerized by a dying flower garden.

Look at this Grandma! He shouts in excitement.

He’s holding a brown stem, with a fat pod at the top. It’s just a dead flower head. Most would think that all its beauty has long since faded. But he knows something different. He knows that inside that pod, a secret is hidden. Something is waiting in there. And no one knows how many seeds it contains. No one knows what color they are.

We stop. Because this is the beauty of being a grandma: we have time.

He collects. Lots.

Back at home, we spill the pods onto the table, where he proceeds to prise open each one, slowly and carefully. He will not miss a single seed. They all go into his bag.

Xander opening seeds

His favorite ones are those that are perfectly black and round, like teeny tiny bouncy balls. And when one accidentally rolls on to the floor, he’s on his little hands and knees, searching for it like it’s missing treasure. He doesn’t stop until he finds it.

And while the world bombards our children with screens, and sounds; with toys that light up, and buzz and flash in their efforts to entertain, I get to share my days with one who is delighted by simple seeds, and mushrooms, and the sound of cicadas in the trees.

And I’m reminded of a dark summer’s night, long ago, when the evening sky was pierced with a zillion twinkling lights, and how that same little boy took my hand in his and said, in his wonderful three year-old way:

Grandma, look at the stars. Aren’t they marvelous?

And these days, these moments, these precious times, they are marvelous to me.

How are you fostering a sense of wonder in your children, your grandchildren, or your children’s ministry?

What Happens When You Let God Sit in the Teacher’s Chair, Instead of You…

So I’m sitting in the teacher’s chair at Central Michigan University.

It’s my first time here- at Mission u, an annual event sponsored by United Methodist Women, where people come together to explore the mission of the church in the current world context. My role is to teach the children about Latin America.

They’ve already discovered and labeled the Amazon River, the rainforest, and the mountains of Peru. They know all about the Mayans, the Aztecs, and the Incas.

Latin America map

We’ve started to talk, a little, about how some of the children there have no homes, and no toys; how some have to work all day, and don’t get to play.

And now it’s time for the Bible Story. The children lie on colorful rugs at my feet.

Close your eyes as I read. I tell them. See the pictures in your mind.

I’m using a book authored by Barbara Bruce, a veteran Christian Educator who has written extensively about learning styles. The story we share is one of my favorites. It takes place on the hillsides of Lake Galilee when the disciples, in an effort to protect Jesus, try to send the children away.

So my little ones close their eyes. And lie. Their feet, adorned with the Caribbean jewelry we made, are still.

Take three deep breaths. See a hillside with many people. See Jesus sitting on the ground talking to the people….what does he look like? What does his voice sound like? See mothers come through the crowd with their children…how old are they? Are they quiet or noisy? Are they boys or girls?

Now hear some men yelling at the children to go away….how do the children look now?  Are they frightened?

Now hear Jesus say ‘Let the children come to me; do not stop them because the kingdom belongs to such as these.’

Now see Jesus take all the children in his arms, hug them, and bless them. How do the children look now? How do the men look now? How does Jesus look now?

When you are ready, open your eyes, and slowly come back to the room.

I barely finish talking when up jumps one of our youngest. He cannot contain himself.

I saw the WHOLE thing! He says excitedly. I saw every page!

Well tell us. I say, laughing.

Well I saw all these children, playing on the hillside……in Peru.

I’m confused. This is the moment when, as a teacher, you feel like a failure. This little guy is mixed up. The story didn’t take place in Peru. The story took place in Galilee. But I don’t say anything. (Thank goodness.) I just nod, and wonder where he’s going with it.

And so all these children just wanted to have fun in Peru. And all of a sudden, these men said  ‘you can’t play here. You can’t have fun here. Go away.’

And then Jesus comes.

Jesus comes and he says ‘no, that’s not right. The children can stay here. I want them to be here…because children everywhere should have fun. Children everywhere should be able to play. And Jesus hugs them. And that’s it. That’s the whole thing.

It’s quiet in the room. For a moment, I don’t say anything. The other children listening- they don’t say anything either. I look at my co-teacher as sunlight streams in through the window and we shake our heads in wonder…. at this eight year old boy, who has just demonstrated perfectly the upside-down kingdom of God, where a child becomes the teacher, and the teacher becomes the learner.

I am the one who is mixed up!

Don’t I know by now that Jesus is meant to be lifted out from the pages of the bible and moved from the hillsides of Galilee to the mountains of Peru? That Jesus belongs, not simply in a story, but in the streets of Haiti, and in the marketplaces of Mexico, and in the fields of Guatemala, where he yearns to welcome every child who comes to him?

‘Children everywhere should have fun. Children everywhere should be able to play.’

I’m back at home now, thinking about what I learned from an eight year old boy in the last few days. And I just can’t help but wonder…

When Jesus called the little children to him, was it really so that he could bless them, or instead, was it so they could bless him?

Caribbean Foot Jewelry