Nov 24, 2017

The Little Boy Who Survived the Texas Church Shooting

Ryland Ward is 5-years-old.  A few weeks ago, he was attending church with his family at First Baptist Church in Sutherland, Texas.

As you know, during the service, Devin Kelly, a 26-year-old man, walked into the church and began firing.  Ryland was shot once in the elbow, twice in the stomach and twice in the leg.  He was one of the few survivors and when his uncle carried him out of the church, he was awake, but he wasn't talking.  His stepmother and three sisters, whom he was with in the service, didn't make it out.  

It is hard to imagine the pain and suffering that little Ryland is going through.  As I was praying for Ryland this morning, I had these thoughts...

We are surrounded by kids and families who are hurting.  In most cases, they may not be wounded physically, but they are wounded emotionally and spiritually.  Hurt by divorce, abuse, addiction, dysfunction, financial crisis and more.

They are hanging on, waiting for someone to help them.  We are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus coming to them.  God wants to work Isaiah 61 through your life.

"The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is upon you, for the LORD has anointed you to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent you to comfort the brokenhearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed."
  
Great pain requires great works to help.  The good news is you are anointed and appointed.  You can reach out to the hurting kids and families in your community with a Godfidence that rests upon this promise. 

"Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father."  
- John 14:12

When tragedy strikes, we often feel at loss about what to say and what to do for those who are hurting.  We know anything we say will be inadequate to meet their needs.  That's where God steps in and makes up the difference.  He will work work through you and do what you cannot do.  He will use you to...

bring prayer to the pain

bring hope to the hurting

bring blessings to the brokenness

bring comfort to the challenges

We have a real enemy whose goal is to kill, steal and destroy.  Though it was a human hand that pulled the trigger, we know the originating source was the enemy of our souls.  Satan is a roaring lion, seeking to devour kids and families.  We must stand against him for the kids and families in our community.  We must come against him with prayer and the power of God's Word.  Don't take what you do lightly.  Equip yourself as it says in Ephesians 6.

"Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil.  For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. 

Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm.  Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness.   

For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared.  In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil.  Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God."

Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion.  Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.

We are called to go on a journey with kids and families who have been hurt.  Ryland has a long road ahead of him.  He will be affected by this for the rest of his life.  He will need people to stand by his side and go the distance with him.

Ministry is normally not just one and done.  We must go on a journey with kids and families and be committed to them for the long haul.  We must be there to walk with them on the mountaintops and in the valleys. 
Extraordinary impact is not made in days or months or even years.  It is made by investing in kids and families over the course of decades. 
We must do our best to make church a safe place for children and their families.  The sad fact is we can no longer assume that church is a safe place for children.  We must be proactive in making it a safe place for children.  Children and families should be protected at church.  In this article, I share how to do this.

If you would like to support Ryland, there is a GoFundMe page set up by his family to help cover his medical expenses.

Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/news/nation-world/national/articl

Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/news/nation-world/national/article183088116.html#storylin

Nov 23, 2017

Thankful for You - Children's Ministry Leader

Dear Children's Ministry Leader, on this Thanksgiving Day, I am thankful for you.

Thank you for taking care of the 1000 little details during the week that make weekends, programs and events run smoothly.  Most people don't know how hard you work.  But you and I know that weekend services, events and programs don't happen magically.  It takes a lot of work.  Thank you for going the second mile week in and week out to make it happen.

Thank you for looking beyond yourself and focusing on the next generation.  I know children's ministry doesn't always get the attention, recognition, budget and promotion that other ministries do.  But thank you for not letting that stop you from serving the least of these.  You and I know that the least of these will one day do the most for the kingdom.  And you are preparing them for that day.  You are investing in leaders who will lead strong in God's kingdom long after you are gone.

Thank you for loving.  Loving children.  Loving parents.  Loving grandparents.  Loving volunteers.  Loving students.  Your heart is synced with the heart of Jesus.

Thank you for not giving up.  For continuing when you aren't appreciated.  For continuing when you are misunderstood.  For continuing when you make mistakes.  For continuing when the pay is little to none.  For continuing when you are discouraged.  For continuing when the needs are great, but the budget is small.  For continuing when you are short on help.  For continuing when someone you've poured yourself into walks away.  For continuing when your motives are questioned.  For continuing when the kids don't want to listen and seem to do the opposite of what you've taught them.  For continuing when people resist the change you know is so desperately needed.  Thank you for fighting on...for keeping your faith...for staying on course.

Thank you for loving the kid that everyone else is down on.  Thank you for looking beyond what he appears to be and seeing what he can be.  Thank you for believing in him when no one else does.  Thank you for not turning your back on him when he disrupts your lessons and acts out the turmoil he is experiencing outside of church.  Thank you for looking beyond the symptoms and doing everything you can to help him overcome the cause of his actions.

Thank you for embracing the messiness of ministry.  You didn't know it would be this messy when you started.  But now you know...because you're right in the middle of it.  Thank you for embracing families who are dysfunctional.  Thank you for walking toward messy conversations rather than avoiding them.  Thank you for being the friend of sinners.  Thank you for reaching out to kids and families that no one else wants to embrace because of the time and attention that will be required to help them out of the mess they have gotten themselves into.  Thank you joining Jesus in the mess.

Thank you for being a good shepherd.  Thank you for the prayers you've prayed for volunteers who are going through a difficult time.  Thank you for helping hold up a mother and father who have lost a child.  Thank you for the hospital visits...for the minor ones like "tonsils out" to the major ones like someone who is battling cancer.  Thank you for gathering some people with you to help a single mom who needed help moving.   When you got into children's ministry, you didn't realize that you would become a shepherd to the kids, parents and volunteers.  But now you are.  Thanks for shepherding well.

Thank you for who you are.  A servant.  A friend.  A counselor.  A prayer warrior.  A protector of children.  An encourager.   A dreamer.  A planner.  An organizer.  An innovator.  A mentor.  A role model.  A vision caster.  A communicator.  A motivator.  You are all this and more.

I thank God for you my friend.  Your best days of ministry are ahead.  You are anointed and appointed by God for such a time as this.  You are going to be amazed by what God is going to do in you and through you over the next few years.

God keeps great records and great is your reward in heaven.  One day you will see the totality of what God has done through your life and it will be worth everything you have given of yourself to reach and disciple kids and families.

Have a great Thanksgiving!  You are loved!  I thank God for you!

Nov 22, 2017

Will the Next Generation Know What Truth Is?

Remember this verse?

"You will know the truth and the truth will set you free."  John 8:32

One of the most important things you and I do as children's ministry leaders, is to help kids know the truth.

But that is becoming more and more challenging, isn't it?

Truth is perceived as relative.  Postmodernism has led us to the point where society says there is no "absolute truth."  What is right for you is right for you and what is right for me is right for me.  Everyone does what is right in their own eyes.  A 2016 study that analyzed 376 million Facebook users’ interactions with over 900 news outlets found that people tend to seek information that aligns with their views.

Fake news is mingled in with truth.  Kids are bombarded with hundreds of stories and information bits each day.  Anyone can report anything they want and spread it online to thousands of people with just a click.  This results in fake news being mixed in with the truth.  If it's online, then it must be true, right?  Often it's hard for adults to know the difference, much less kids.  Truth has become very murky.

Kevin Kelly, co-founder of Wired magazine said,  “Truth is no longer dictated by authorities, but is networked by peers.  For every fact there is a counterfact and all these counterfacts and facts look identical online, which is confusing to most people.”

Truth is rejected.  Relative truth leads kids down a pathway that rejects moral absolutes.  This means a fixed moral code is not accepted.  Claims of truth are met with "You are intolerant."

Truth is being replaced with personal emotion.  In late 2016, Oxford Dictionaries selected “post-truth” as the word of the year, defining it as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”
People don’t want to BE informed, they want to FEEL informed.  -Roger Ailes
So how can we prepare the next generation of believers to know and walk in the truth of God's Word? Let's look at a few ways to help them know and walk in the truth.
Misinformation is not like a plumbing problem you fix.  It is a social condition, like crime, that you must constantly monitor and adjust to.  -Tom Rosenstiel
We must renew our commitment to helping kids identify and adhere to truth.  We must equip them to examine everything through a Biblical worldview.  Does this line up with God's Word?  Does this reflect the heart of Jesus?  

We must show kids the real truth.  The best way to know fake truth is to know real truth.  When kids know the teachings and doctrines of God's Word, they can then identify false truth.  Kids will see and know that things that are different are not the same. 

We must help kids be able to defend the truth.  We must help kids know why we believe what we believe.  Apologetics are more needed than ever before.  Kids must be able to contend for their faith. 
The crisis we face about ‘truth’ and reliable facts is predicated less on the ability to get people to believe the *wrong* thing as it is on the ability to get people to *doubt* the right thing.  -Jamais Cascio
It's time we start teaching with the goal of giving kids a solid faith foundation.  Fluff must be replaced with a focus on the foundational truths of God's Word.  This can be done with teaching series like this one - Pranksters.   

We must show them how to live out the truth.  Truth must be lived out for it to become an integral part of a person's life.  Head knowledge alone will not suffice.  We must help kids apply the truth to their everyday lives.  Then and only then will we see it stick.  Information must have application if we are going to see transformation.

We must empower kids to be bearers of the truth.  We must empower kids with truth, not so they can "hide it under a bush," but so they can "let it shine."  The light of the truth is not meant to be hid, but rather to be shone in the midst of the darkness.  We must raise up bold bearers of the truth whom God will use to spread the truth throughout the world.

Can I remind you of how critical what you do is?  You hold the baton of truth in your hands.  And God has called you to pass it the generation that is behind you.  You are in the hand-off zone right now.

Teach the truth.

Read the truth.

Hold on to the truth.

Live out the truth.

Invest your time in passing on the truth.

Be passionate about sharing the truth with the next generation.

Defend the truth in love.

Equip the next generation with the truth.

Nov 21, 2017

The Greatest Show on Earth's Last Show

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus was billed as the "Greatest Show On Earth."

It was founded in 1919 when the Barnum & Bailey's Greatest Show on Earth, a circus created by P. T. Barnum and James Anthony Bailey, was merged with the Ringling Bros. World's Greatest Shows.

The show traveled across the country and became a staple of family entertainment.  It was a huge draw for millions of families.  I remember, as a child in the early 70's, going to see it.  I was mesmerized by all the exotic animals performances, flashy costumes, funny clowns, death-defying acrobats and incredible jugglers.

But as time passed, kids became less and less enthralled by the "Greatest Show on Earth."  Kids became more interested in movies, television, video games and the internet.  More and more kids preferred to engage in online entertainment and technology rather than going to see a circus.

Kids' shrinking attention spans also became a factor.  In 1967, the show lasted just under 3 hours.  By 2017, the show had been cut back to 2 hours and 7 minutes - with the longest segment being a tiger act that lasted 12 minutes.  Even with a live tiger show, it was hard to hold a child's attention for 12 minutes.

The greatest show on earth also became a target for animal activists.  Activists said that forcing animals to perform was cruel and unnecessary.  Continued pressure caused the company to remove the elephants from the shows in 2016.  The elephants had been a big draw for families and removing them caused the downward attendance spiral to continue.

Ringling Bros. tried to remain relevant.  They tried to reflect the diversity of the country by hiring an African American ringmaster and a female ringmaster as well.  They brought in motorbike daredevils and ice skaters. They even launched an interactive app. 

Bu their efforts were too little, too late.  The "greatest show on earth" was still not a draw for a generation of kids who have apps like Pokemon Go, games like Xbox One, access to 100's of shows on demand, spend hours watching YouTube and live online.  

And so on May 19, 2017, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus held its last show at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York.  

There are some important takeaways from this for children's ministry.  Let's look at a few of them...

Past success doesn't guarantee future success.  

What worked yesterday may not work tomorrow.

Changes made too late may not be effective.  When it comes to change, you must stay ahead of the curve. 

Today's kids are not yesterday's kids.  By default, we teach kids the way we were taught as kids.  The problem comes when we don't realize there is a difference and we don't adjust.

Kids' (and adults) attention spans continue to shrink.  We must honor kids' attention spans if we want to engage them. 

Technology is an integral part of kids' lives.  If you want to connect with them, technology is a key way to do so.

Constant evaluation is necessary to avoid elimination. 

We must be aware of the changing culture around us and adjust as needed.  This doesn't mean we compromise the truth, but it does mean adjusting the methods we use to present it when needed.

Don't get comfortable.  Even the "greatest children's ministry on earth" can become irrelevant if necessary changes are not made in a timely manner.