Friday, December 30, 2011

What Is "Ministry" Anyway? - Part 2 of 2

Photo: Microsoft Images
God wants us to know what gifts of ministry He has given us (I Corinthians 12:1).  "There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.  There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. . . . it is the same God who works all in all" (I Corinthians 12:4-5).   Clearly, these gifts come from God.  As Christians, we are to be actively involved in doing God's work.  I Corinthians 12:11 tells us, "But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills."   It was with purposeful thought and divine wisdom that He gave us the spiritual gifts we possess.  Each of us have been gifted with a specific purpose of ministry in mind.

If we seek to glorify God, we must do so by using the gifts He has given us to minister to others.  "As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another.  If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God.  If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.  To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever" (I Peter 4:10-11, NIV, NKJV).

God is not waiting for His Kingdom to be established before He uses the body of Christ.  In John 4:35, Jesus rebukes his disciples for the false belief that the work God wants them to do is sometime in the future.  He urges them to look around them and see the work that needs to be done.  God's expectation is that we minister to others in the here and now. 

Photo: AnnettVauteck
One of God's purposes in creating us is to be involved in His work.  "For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do" (Ephesians 2:10).   What an amazing privilege and blessing that God wants us to actively participate in His ministry!

Let's take to heart the admonition given to Archippus, "Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord and fulfill it" (Colossians 4:17).  In the end, "each of us will give account of ourselves to God" (Romans 14:12) whether we have fulfilled His will for our lives.  Are you ready to do the work that God has created you to do?  Will you hear Him say, "Well done, good and faithful servant.  You have been faithful over a few things; I will make you ruler over many things" (Matthew 25:21)? 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

What Is "Ministry" Anyway? - Part 1 of 2

Photo: Microsoft Images

Occasionally on this blog, I will use the term "family ministry."  What exactly does "ministry" mean anyway?  Often when we hear "ministry," we think about people who have been ordained to office and therefore have authority within the structure of a church organization.

But what is the Biblical definition of "ministry?"  Part of the confusion may be that there are different words translated as "ministry" or "ministering."  The most common meaning of "ministry" in the New Testament can be translated as "service" and is used in the context of helping others meet their spiritual or physical needs.  Indeed, Ephesians 4:11-13 tells us that the primary purpose for offices within the church is "for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry."  The Bible clearly assigns the work of ministry to the lay members of the church body as well as to those formally ordained into the ministry.

Photo: Microsoft Images

Ideally, there is a reciprocal relationship between those of rank and general members to encourage one another so their faith is mutually strengthened.  As Paul stated, "I want to encourage you in your faith, but I also want to be encouraged by yours" (Romans 1:11-12).  One of the purposes of the church is to "consider one another in order to stir up love and good works" (Hebrews 10:24).

Please stay tuned for Part 2 of "What Is 'Ministry' Anyway?"

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Movie Nights: A Technique For Teaching Biblical Worldview

How can we equip our children for adulthood?  What skills do they need to avoid being deceived and losing their faith?   How can we prepare them to recognize subtle spiritual attacks?  When Christianity requires that they swim against the tide of the rest of our culture, will they know and be ready to do so?

Photo:  Mitja Ribic
With each successive generation, young people are spending more time as consumers of media.  Their attraction to this form of communication makes them particularly vulnerable to its messages which shape and infuse the culture around us.   As George Barna states, "God's enemies have adopted the media as a means of exposing children to ideas and images that are harmful to their development as servants of God."  How can we mediate this powerful influence on our children?  Can discernment be taught?

A fun and effective way to teach Biblical worldview and critical thinking skills involves using movies, the form of media most likely to elicit a strong emotional reaction.  Movie Nights are mentioned as a technique in Revolutionary Parenting, a book which reveals extensive research into the common principles and methods used by parents who have raised spiritual champions.  Want to know more?  I highly, highly, highly recommend this entertaining and informative Movie Night Chats podcast by Kurt Bruner where explains how he has used Movie Nights with his own family.  (Did I mention that I highly recommend you listen to the podcast?--Yes, it's that helpful!)  Also included are some amusing video clips from interviews with other parents and kids who use Movie Nights.

Benefits of Movie Nights include:
  • Stimulating discussion about spiritual matters
  • Learning to perceive subtle messages or bias
  • Understanding the underlying belief system of writers
  • Strengthening Biblical worldview
  • Evaluating these influences in the light of eternal truths

The critical thinking skills that it hones can be applied to music, other forms of media, books, news coverage of current events, and lectures given by college professors.  Not only will your child gain clarity in their thought processes and reinforce their faith, they will also be learning how to communicate these beliefs to others.

Photo:  Bmaksym
The effort for these benefits is minimal--watching a movie with your family and talking with them!  If you feel you need some help getting started or just want a little more guidance, you may want to check out these resources.  Kurt Bruner hosts Movie Night Chat blog which gives a synopsis of suggested films, points for discussion, and relevant Bible scriptures.  He also shares some tips for screening offensive content.  Heritage Builders also has two books: Movie Nights for Kids and Movie Nights for Teens.  These books provide the same information as you will find on the Movie Night Chat blog but contain more detail and examine different movies.  I particularly appreciate the meticulous focus on "cautions" for each film where they describe anything in the movie that could be potentially scary or offensive.  In addition the books provide some follow-up activities and suggestions for making this an effective technique to use with your family.

Movie Nights can create wonderful family memories.  Through Movie Nights, you initiate dialogue about topics that are hard to discuss.  They can also provide a training ground for skills that will serve your child for years to come.  Some families do Movie Nights on their own.  Others have group Movie Nights with other families.  However you choose to do Movie Nights, have fun!

If you use this technique, please share your experiences.  I would love to hear about it!

Oh, and don't forget the popcorn!
Photo: Microsoft Images

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Why Family Is More Effective Than Children's Ministry

As a parent, I'm a little skeptical of these numbers.  For parents of school-age children, I'm pretty sure that some of those 3,000 hours are spent sleeping. :)  However, the basic principle is still solid.  Research confirms that parents are far more influential on their child's faith development than any church program.

But there's more than just numbers and time at work here.

I am a parent--and I am involved in children's ministry.  When I am working with a group of children at church, I don't know the personal fears of those children.  I don't know what sins they are struggling with.  I often don't know who has been fighting with their siblings that week or been disrespectful to their parents.  I may not know if they have been the subject of gossip or bullying at school.  Frankly, if I did know those things, it wouldn't be very wise to bring it up in a group of their peers.

But in the family, we already know these things about each another.  We can talk about them.  We can drive home the practical application of Biblical lessons to fit our children's personal lives.  We can make it real for them.  As a parent, I'm very aware of my child's character weaknesses and can foresee potential stumbling blocks.  As a parent, I can tailor our talks about God to specifically what my child needs to grow spiritually.  They can receive customized spiritual instruction and coaching in the home in addition to the lessons they are learning at church.

I love youth ministry.  There is no question that is extremely valuable and important.  My own involvement as a young person left a lasting and powerful impact on my future.  Nevertheless, we can't rely on church programs to pass the faith on to our children.  That's not the model of passing on the faith that God set forth in the Bible.

Here is a challenge for you!  If you can find a scripture that clearly states that the church has the primary responsibility for passing on the faith to the next generation, I would love for you to share it in the comments.  I've searched and haven't found it.  I have found numerous scriptures that lay this responsibility firmly at the feet of parents.  I'll share my favorite here:
   He commanded our ancestors
      to teach them to their children,
  so the next generation might know them—
      even the children not yet born—
      and they in turn will teach their own children.
  So each generation should set its hope anew on God,
      not forgetting his glorious miracles
      and obeying his commands.
Psalm 78:5-7

So the question becomes, what do our lives reflect?  Do our priorities reflect the belief that WE are God's primary tool for impressing the hearts of our children with a love for Him?  Do our actions reflect the belief that WE are responsible for planting seeds of faith in our children and nurturing those seeds as they blossom?

Friday, November 11, 2011

A Gift for My Children: Scripture Memorization

I am preparing a gift for my children.  One that will have immeasurable worth.  One that will serve them for the rest of their lives.  It is the gift of scripture memorization.

I have never met a Christian adult who doesn't wish they knew more of the Bible.  Did you know that most of the Bible verses or poems an adult can recite were learned by age 10?  Memorization is a natural skill for young children, and what they learn tends to stick in long-term memory.  It's as though God has given us a window of opportunity for filling our children's minds with His word.

Pathfinder Bible Achievement 2008
Photo:  Vicki Ashton

Two tools have been very helpful as we focus on memorizing Bible scriptures.

1. Charlotte Mason Scripture Memory System
We spend far less time on memory work since we've started using this system, yet the time spent is far more effective.  We've made it part of our daily routine.  During breakfast, out comes the file box with memory cards.  By reviewing consistently each morning, we only spend 5 minutes per day (or less!) and see amazing results.  I simply printed out this PDF file to use as dividers for our index cards, though I'm considering adding new dividers for quarterly review for those scriptures that have been mastered.  I print out the entire Bible verse on one side of a 3x5 index card and then write the scriptural reference on the other side.  Since my son is an independent reader, he has been able to take charge of his Bible memory file box on his own. 

2. Scriptures In Song
Ever get a song stuck in your head?  As long as we are playing music for our kids, why not add a few albums of Bible scriptures set to music.  Some of our favorites are Hide 'em in Your Heart Vol. 1 by Steve Green and Seeds of Worship.  If you like the Seeds of Worship music, there are free printables for them at their website or at Bible Story Printables.  Another classic starting point for memorizing Bible verses is using the ABC Bible verses.  26 Alphabet Bible Verse Chorus Songs are a great companion to the ABC Bible Verse printables at I Can Teach My Child.  When we find an album of scriptures in song that we like, I print off cards for each scripture and add them to our Charlotte Mason Scripture Memory System.  Covenant Life Church has made free songs of Bible verses available online here so you can get started without spending a dime.  This same method can be used when memorizing entire chapters of the Bible by using resources such as those available from Thy Word Creations..

Wanting to use technology to help with the memorization of scripture?  Fighter Verses includes apps for the iPhone or Android.

What has helped your children with the memorization of scripture?  


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Breaking Down the Barriers to Family Discipleship

Here are some fast facts for you:
  • 85% of Christian parents who regularly attend church believe the primary responsibility for teaching their children about the faith rests on their shoulders.  
  • 10% of church-going families talk with their children about spiritual matters.  
  • 5% of church-going families participate in any kind of family worship (separate from a corporate worship service).
 (Are you scratching your head at these numbers?  Doesn't add up?)  The discrepancy between these figures is staggering, and it speaks to the barriers that families face in doing spiritual training in the home.

Here are just a few of the many barriers that can prevent us from following the Biblical model of discipling our own children:
  • Shifting of responsibility.  In our culture, it is very easy to shift the responsibility for the spiritual training of our children onto the church.  Yet God never intended for the church to be primarily responsible for passing the faith on to the next generation.
  • Lack of know-how.  Most parents--even if they grew up in a Christian home--have not seen family discipleship modeled.  We know we need to be doing more for our children's spiritual development than just taking them to church.  But we simply don't know what more to do.  What does family discipleship look like in everyday life?
  • Lack of support.  Parenting is not for the faint of heart.  When we are discouraged, we need someone to lift us up.  When we feel overwhelmed, we need emotional support.  And sometimes all we need to stay on track is someone else there telling us that we're doing the right thing. 
  • Time constraints.  Need I say more?  This is a huge challenge for families today!
These are very real barriers.  I won't minimize them.  The good news is that every one of these barriers can be overcome.

This video is less than two minutes long, but it is a powerful motivator for making the spiritual training our children a priority.

Discipling our children on a day-to-day basis requires absolute dedication.  This blog is about breaking down some of the barriers to making our homes the place where our children's faith is nurtured.  It's about equipping you, encouraging you, and inspiring you in this great endeavor.  Feel free to comment or send me an email telling me what would be helpful to see on Turning Our Hearts.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Small Group Bible Studies

We all have an inner need to connect with other people.  We were created to need fellowship within a faith community.  It's no coincidence that Jesus Christ and the early church focused on small groups.  They can be a very powerful vehicle for transforming lives and forging strong relationships. 

Today I'd like to share some of my favorite resources for Bible study or group discussions.
When They Turn Away: Drawing Your Adult Child Back to Christ

The mission of parenting doesn’t end after your kids become adults. Visionary Family Ministries has been overwhelmed with the number of people we have met around the country who are hurting because their adult children are struggling in their faith…or who have rejected faith all together.  In these four video sessions, Dr. Rob Rienow will encourage you with biblical principles which will inspire you to reconnect with your adult child and give you practical ways to encourage faith in their hearts.

This is available as a 4-part DVD series or in the book When They Turn Away: Drawing Your Adult Child Back to Christ.  Free downloadable participant guides are on the Visionary Family Ministries website and can be printed and given to members of your group.  Want to learn more about this program?  This inspiring video is a must-see!

Visionary Parenting

God has entrusted you with children for a reason! The biblical purpose of parenting is to do all in our power to impress the hearts of our children with a love for God. The souls of our children are our most important Great Commission calling. Visionary Parenting was created to encourage and equip you for this mission.

This is available as an 8-part DVD series or on audio.  The same information is contained in the book Visionary Parenting: Capture a God-Sized Vision for Your Family. This makes it easy to choose the format that best fits your group and budget.  On the Visionary Family Ministries website, you can find descriptions for each of the 8 sessions as well as free downloadable participant guides that can be printed and given to members of your group.  Still not sure if this is the right resource to use for your group?  Listen to the first session free on the website.  Below is a promotional video by Dr. Rob Rienow, the creator of Visionary Parenting.

Revolutionary Parenting

If you're like most parents, you think you're doing an okay job - and you probably believe you're doing better than most. But if your goal is to raise kids with a life-impacting faith, that may not be good enough.

Determined to learn the secrets of those who've raised spiritual champions, world-renowned researcher George Barna conducted a series of surveys and thousands of personal interviews with both young adults and their parents.

In the process, he was able to uncover a number of common denominators to parenting success. Some of his findings will encourage you; others will surprise you. But be forewarned - raising a spiritual champion takes Revolutionary Parenting.

Audio CD, parent workbook, leader guide with DVD, and the book Revolutionary Parenting: Raising Your Kids to Become Spiritual Champions are available from The Barna Group website or Amazon.  Small group packages are also available.  Want to know what makes this book different from other Christian parenting materials?  Check out this interview with George Barna:

Family Time Training

Are you enjoying using Family Time Training with your own family?  Consider sharing this idea with other Christian parents.  They will appreciate learning about it also!  For suggestions about how to present the material, go to Family Time Training's self-led training page.

Photo: Microsoft Images
If you are already part of a cell group, parent group, or small group Bible study, these resources are fantastic material for stimulating thought, discussion, intentionality, and motivation.  If you are not currently part of a small group, consider inviting some friends to discuss some of these materials with you.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Family Time Training: An Effective Tool for Passing On the Faith to Your Children

Is it your desire to make your home the place where your child’s faith is planted and blossoms?  Do you want your child to know a living and dynamic God?  How can you make spiritual training the most exciting part of their week?

Through "Family Night" activities (or "Family Time Training"), parents and grandparents utilize the same teaching techniques that Jesus Christ used, creating memorable and engaging spiritual lessons.  This teaching strategy is practical for today's busy families because it requires little or no preparation time.  Though lessons are completed in only 10-20 minutes, the activities provide a springboard for spiritual conversations long after the activity has ended.  This video, by Kurt Bruner of Heritage Builders, explains how Family Night activities work:

A famous Chinese proverb states:  "Tell me and I'll forget; show me and I may remember;  involve me and I'll understand."   These activity-based lessons increase children's understanding of spiritual matters and strengthens their connection to God.  Additionally, we don't just form a theoretical analogy.  The object lessons used are made very concrete because that is the way children learn best.

Family Time Training is an incredibly versatile strategy to use.  You can do this with children from age 2 to age 18.  As a parent, you know your child's character weaknesses and potential stumbling blocks.  Whatever spiritual goals you have for your child-- increase their knowledge of the Bible, develop specific character traits,  gain a better understanding of the plan of salvation, understand the basic gospel message, learn about the attributes of God, etc.--you can probably find a Family Nights activity to address those goals.

Photo: Microsoft Images
The real beauty of Family Nights is that it creates a natural way to incorporate spirituality into everyday discussions.  After you have this fun common experience, it becomes very easy to refer back to it.  By doing so, you will drive home the real life application of the spiritual principle that was taught.  Family Nights are fun for all and make the goal of Deuteronomy 6 attainable for busy families today.

Looking for resources to help you get started?  Family Time Training posts a free activity every month.  Additionally, you can find activity books in their online store.   Heritage Builders also has an excellent series called the Family Nights Tool Chest.  Both organizations have lesson books for families with preschoolers through teens.  Mad About Jesus has some fantastic object lessons for teens, and the lessons can be easily adapted for use in the family setting.

If you live in the Cincinnati area and would like me to do a workshop, sharing this technique with your small group, please email me.

Please share your experiences using this teaching technique.  I would love to hear your stories!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Favorite Christian Picture Books for Children

Photo:  Microsoft Images
What could be cozier than cuddling on the couch together or snuggling under the covers at bedtime to read a book with your child?  In those sweet moments, your child’s heart is open and receptive.  Some of my fondest memories of childhood are memories of my mother reading to me.  I sincerely hope that someday my boys will reflect on the memories of our time reading together with as much tenderness.

I thought it would be fun to talk about some of our favorite picture books with Christian themes.  Please comment and share your favorites as well.

Any discussion of favorite Christian authors seems incomplete without including Max Lucado.  Many of his children’s stories are so rich that the content is very appropriate for older children as well.  (If your older child thinks that picture books are too babyish for himself, you may want to suggest that he read some of these books to a younger sibling or friend.)  Max Lucado has written so many beautiful children’s stories that it is difficult to distill our collection down to our absolute favorites.  Here are the ones I chose:

The Oak Inside the Acorn (Novel) by Max Lucado
Little Acorn sees other trees as something special.  Despite his fears and inadequacies, Little Acorn does his best and in the end finds the truth in his mother’s words: “Within you is a great oak.  Just be the tree that God made you to be.”

The Way Home: A Princess Story by Max Lucado
Here is one princess story that both my boys enjoyed!  Full of danger and adventure, it tells the tale of a princess who is lured by deceit and her intrigue about the Lowlanders.  Her father comes to rescue her, and she needs to put all her trust in him.  This is an allegorical tale that will have richer meaning for an older child but can still be enjoyed by a young child.

The Crippled Lamb by Max Lucado
The little lamb in this story feels inferior to the other sheep because he walks with a limp.  He is removed from the pasture and put in a barn, which makes him very sad.  At the conclusion of the story, he realizes that his bad leg allows him to do something that none of the other sheep can—welcome baby Jesus.

Other favorite picture books for our family include:

The Squire and the Scroll: A Tale of the Rewards of a Pure Heart [With CD (Audio)] by Jenie Bishop
A boy is sent on a dangerous quest to help save his kingdom.  As a guide, he is given a scroll of ancient words to help him.  He follows the instructions on the scroll, keeping his heart pure and avoiding many perils.  This allegory is innocent enough to read to a very young child, though an older child will better understand the symbolism and deeper meaning.  The Princess and the Kiss: A Story of God's Gift of Purity [With CD (Audio)] is a parallel story written for young girls. Companion books are available: Life Lessons from the Squire and the Scroll (Revive Our Hearts) and Life Lessons from the Princess and the Kiss (Revive Our Hearts).   We enjoyed this story when my son was 5, but we are planning to make a fun study out of it again in a few years by using the companion book and these printables from the Guesthollow blog. Printables for The Princess Kiss are available from Homeschoolblogger.

What is God Like? by Beverly Lewis
A father tells his children, "Even when I'm not here, God is always with you."  As they go about their daily routine, the brother and sister remember things know about God.  This book communicates how awesome and powerful God is while also conveying His concern for the small details of our lives.

God Gave Us Love  by Lisa Tawn Bergren
The God Gave Us . . .  series is told from the perspective of Little Cub, a curious polar bear.  A particular favorite is God Gave Us Love in which Little Cub is irritated by some annoying seals.  Grampa Bear explains that we need to share God’s love with others—even those who are annoying.  It’s a very cute approach to a spiritual lesson about a situation that every child faces at one time or another.

If Jesus Came to My House (reillustrated) (HarperBlessings) by Joan Gale Thomas
A boy imagines what it would be like if the boy Jesus came to visit.  He would no longer be afraid of the shadows at night.  He would pick flowers for Jesus and share his toys with him.  Of course, he realizes that the boy Jesus cannot visit him.  But he knows that he can talk with Jesus and that Jesus is with him so there is no need to fear the shadows.  This picture book is a sweet gentle way to teach your children the meaning of the verse “What you did unto the least of these . . . you did unto Me. (Matthew 25:34-40).

Five-Minute Devotions for Children: Celebrating God's World as a Family by Pamela Kennedy
This is really a devotional rather than a picture book, but I couldn’t leave it out because has read and re-read it with so much delight.  Children seem to be naturally drawn to animals.  On each page of these books is a paragraph about a particular animal and their unique characteristics.  A second paragraph draws a parallel to a specific character trait we need to develop or to God’s own nature.  There are fun colorful illustrations, a relevant Bible verse.  The questions provided for you to ask your child are well designed to help the child see the real life application of the Biblical lesson without feeling put on the spot.  If you enjoy this book, you'll also want to read More Five Minute Devotions for Children: Celebrating God's World As A Family.

His Mighty Warrior: A Treasure Map from Your King by Sheri Rose Shepherd
This is another book that is closer to a devotional than a story book.  It’s a collection of letters from God to a young boy.  The first letter begins “My Son, I have chosen you to do something great for my kingdom.  You are not just a boy—you are the child of the King, and I am your Father in heaven.  I want you to know that I am the same God who chose King David when he was just a little boy, and I have chosen you to show the world who I am. . . .Never forget who you are or who I am, and you will become a strong and mighty warrior for me.”  The illustrations are pirate-themed, and most of the letters center around a particular character trait.  What makes the book so special is the intimacy conveyed in the letters.  Beside each letter is a Bible verse and a short prayer.  Each letter is about a paragraph—very quick bedtime reading to help your child develop a deeper connection with God.  His Little Princess: Treasured Letters from Your King (His Princess)is a parallel book written especially for girls.

What are some of your favorite Christian picture books?

Photo: Bennewitz