Connecting with Bible culture

Catherine and I recently visited two wonderful museums.

Two museums

One was the site of the remains of a Roman fort in Northern England, near Hadrian’s Wall. Here, at Segedunum, North Shields, we saw outlines of the stony foundations of the soldier’ barracks, the stables, groom’ quarters, a granary and the central praetorium, or commander’s house.

We were guided round the ancient ruins by means of an audio explanation, which seemed to bring it all to life. We were also fortunate to see a reconstructed bath house and a mock up of a stable, so we got a glimpse of what life was like in the barracks for the weary soldiers returning from patrol.
Inside, the museum presented artefacts which the archaeologists had found on the site. Among them we saw pieces of cavalry tack and equipment, and religious items. One very interesting room was given over to medical instruments. We were told what operations they were used for and how various ailments were treated by the doctors. It all made us think of our lives today, and we compared our situation with the Romans of a thousand years ago. Somehow we felt connected with them.

In contrast, some months later we visited another eminent museum. It also housed Roman artefacts and some stunning medieval pieces, including jewellery. But this time, there was only a limited effort made to set the find in context. There was no audio guide and the labels on the cases were not sufficient to satisfy our curiosity about what we were seeing.

Wonderful as the displays were, that second museum seemed to miss what the first one had given us – a sense of connection, the ability to identify with some of the items and the people behind them. The Roman culture was very different from ours, yet we felt affection for these people.

Four questions:

  1. How do we relate the gospel of Jesus Christ to the children we teach, and to their families?
  2. How do we show that the message of the Bible is relevant for today, for their lives as well as for those of a people who lived over 2000 years ago?
  3. Do we engender a sense of reality about the characters we talk about?
  4. Do the children feel a connection, an affection even, for them?

We can make the connection between two cultures:

  1. If we ensure that our teaching is not only “a Bible story” (good as it is to convey a true narrative) but something more.
  2. If we explain the life-principles behind the narrative, not in a dry, legalistic way, but in a way that engages the children’s interest.
  3. If we ask God to help us see situations and scenarios that the kids are familiar with, and use them to help the children connect the Bible principles with their own 21st century youth culture.

Apart from covering everything in prayer and trusting God to anoint our ministry with the power of the Holy Spirit, is there anything else you would suggest which would help us to put Scripture into today’s context for kids?

Taking time to prepare

Abraham Lincoln was supposed to have said something like:

If you gave me six hours to cut down a tree I’d spend four hours sharpening the axe.

In other words, he planned to take twice as long preparing for a task than actually doing it. So, what constitutes preparation for a Bible lesson or task in a class or meeting?

  • Gathering together all equipment – visual aids, demonstration items, snacks, whatever you are going to need to fulfil your responsibility. If your memory is as bad as mine ;) make a list and check it off physically as each item is bagged and taken to your transport.
  • Becoming thoroughly familiar with what you will be doing – how you will teach the lesson, how the skit will run, or the sketch-board item, how the song visuals and actions will work, etc.
    I find it very helpful to “run a video” through my mind of how the meeting/class will progress. Ever seen the downhill ski competitions? The cameras often pick up an athlete waiting for his or her start, eyes closed, hand in front of them dipping and swooping, bending and stretching, as they replicate in their mind the run they are about to do, with all its turns, dips and leaps.
    By “running the video” of your club meeting ahead of time, you may realize that you have not planned for an important element. You might, for example, imagine yourselve organizing the pre-schoolers hand painting project. Then, as you “fast-forward” to the end of that session, you realize you have not planned a vital ingredient… and you would really regret it if you didn’t take the wet-wipes and paper towels for use after the hand-painting!
  • Relying on Christ  – At the end of the day, all your planning, list-making and forward thinking will be of little value if God is not in what you do.
    I realized at one point in my ministry that I was, in reality, relying on my familiarity with the lessons and visuals, human personality and even past spiritual successes. But “without Christ we can do nothing”. Breakthrough in kids’ understanding of spiritual matters can come only as the Holy Spirit does his work. I need to always rely on Christ to anoint me, flow through me and open young eyes and hearts to Bible truth. And that is essential preparation.

What does “fun” mean?

FUN! We use the word all the time in kids’ ministry.  We want our kids to have a fun time, doing fun activities.  This is because when they are happy and absorbed, they will learn more quickly and remember more effectively. And, of course, they will want to come back next week.

Never wanting to over use any word, I was looking recently for alternatives. But somehow they didn’t seem to work the same! Congenial, amusing, diverting, jolly – none of them seems to hit the nail completely on the head. And none of them would be clearly understood by children.

I came to the conclusion that “fun” is a word kids understand very well. They may not be able to define it, but they surely know when they are enjoying it!

Naturally, there will be solemn times as we teach our clubs and classes. There will be rules and responsibilities for the children. But if the overwhelming thought they have as they leave our care is not  “What a fun time I’ve had!” can we expect them to return of their own accord?

A fun time means :

  • A pleasant, friendly atmosphere where each child knows he or she is  welcomed, appreciated and valued.
  • Activities which engage their interests and gives them space to stretch their creativity and hone their skills.
  • Children learning something without necessarily feeling it was an effort.
  • No boredom, but a varied program with some surprises.
  • Friendship and fellowship at a spiritual as well as a natural level.

What would you add to the list? How would you define “fun”.

What suggestions would you have for ensuring that the time the children spend in your care is a fun time?  We’d love to know your thoughts! So feel free to add a comment below.

Conversation with Kids

Catherine and I have always felt that there is incalculable benefit in listening to kids and hearing about their interests, worries and joys. So it was with great interest that we read an excellent article by Wayne Stocks (aka Dad in the Middle). He  asks the question : “Does Quality Time Always Have to Be Spiritual Time?”

In his article for Ministry-to-Children.com, Wayne writes about the value of talking and listening to kids, whether or not you speak of the gospel.

  • What sort of things do kids like to talk about?
  • Is ordinary, “non-spiritual”  conversation of spiritual value?
  • Should we always try to weave in the gospel?

In an account of a recent real-life experience, Wayne answers these questions in a practical way. If you would like to see how relationships can be built and opportunities to bring healing into young lives can be grasped, you can read Wayne’s article here.

The last 10 per cent

Entrepreneur, author and public speaker Seth Godin blogs regularly about business issues. His posts often touch on matters which are relevant to us, as communicators of the gospel. In a recent post, Seth challenged us all to pursue excellence.

In most fields, there’s an awful lot of work put into the last ten percent of quality. Getting your golf score from 77 to 70 is far more difficult than getting it from 120 to 113 or even from 84 to 77….

The last ten percent is the signal we look for, the way we communicate care and expertise and professionalism. If all you’re doing is the standard amount, all you’re going to get is the standard compensation. The hard part is the last ten percent, sure, or even the last one percent, but it’s the hard part because everyone is busy doing the easy part already.

Of course, we are not in the business of monetary compensation. But, need this principle be confined only to the commercial world? Dare we, as those ministering to children, be satisfied with the ordinary, the 90% effort. Dare we stop when the cost starts to bite?

Seth Godin speaks of the last 10%, even the last 1% effort, which sets apart one businessman, marketer or entrepreneur from all the rest. He asks, what message does that last 1% send out? We, too, could ask ourselves that question.

Seth said: “The last ten percent is the signal we look for, the way we communicate care and expertise and professionalism.”

Yes, it costs in time and effort:

  • To prepare fresh and attractive visuals that make teaching memorable for the children.
  • To dig deep into the Word of God, and into background study in order to present the Bible lesson in historical and cultural context.
  • To ponder the Bible truth and, with the help of the Holy Spirit, recognize illustrative stories and personal experiences which will help the children identify with the principles you are sharing.
  • To prepare leaflets, letters and other communications with parents which convey the relevance and quality of teaching and attention to detail in your care of the children.
  • To read books, study blogs and attend training sessions in order to open ourselves to new insights and encouragement from others in kids’ ministry

Indeed, in every aspect of our work for God we are challenged to press through to produce that final 10% of effort beyond the ordinary. We do it, not because we crave kudos and admiration, but because the cause of Christ deserves it, right to the last most costly 1%, because Christ gave nothing less.

Let’s not be satisfied with the ordinary. Let’s pursue excellence in all we do, for the sake of Christ and for the sake of the children we serve.

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