Keeping Up Appearances in the Classroom

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No, it’s not the highest priority in the Sunday school classroom, but appearances do matter especially in the younger ages. What do the children see when they enter the classroom? How might the physical appearance and design of the classroom serve to help or hinder a child’s experience in musical worship, biblical instruction, and meaningful discussion? These are some considerations to keep in mind as you go about preparing your classrooms. Yes, we are limited by many factors. For example, there may be space and budget constraints, the need for multi-use rooms, etc. But here are a few suggestions to implement if at all possible:

  1. Make the room as warm and welcoming as possible. The physical appearance will make an impression in a child’s mind.
  2. Think of the classroom as a type of “sacred” space and decorate it in a manner befitting its purpose: a place where the holiness and majesty of God will be seriously and joyfully proclaimed. The classroom should not have the feel of a playground or game room.
  3. Refrain from decorations, colors, and design elements that may over-stimulate some children. For example, a room with bright red and lime green walls may not be helpful for setting a calming tone in the classroom.
  4. Have a sense of order in the room by keeping clutter and mess at a minimum. If possible, keep supplies and other visuals tucked away in cabinets or bins until needed.
  5. Have clean whiteboards and blank wall spaces available for lesson time.
  6. Arrange the class in a way that minimizes distractions and maximizes visibility. For example, have the “front” of the classroom, where the teacher will teach, be devoid of doors or windows. If this is not possible, cover the windows with blinds or something similar. Use a moveable floor screen to block sight of the door.
  7. Have chairs and tables suited to the age and physical needs of the children.
  8. Throughout the year, make adjustments and changes as needed. Add some new design elements and decorations every now and then to provide variety.
  9. Look for opportunities to include the children in decorating the classroom, giving it a personal touch.

(Image courtesy of atibodyphoto at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

 

Treasured Family Time in Worship

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Many of you have already read or listened to this recent excellent response by John Piper to the question: “Should Children Sit Through ‘Big Church’?” It is definitely a must-read for every pastor, ministry volunteer, parent, grandparent…every church member. Here was one mother’s comment regarding this post:

Thank you, Pastor John & Noel. I was in a panic when our very active son aged out of the nursery shortly after we came to Bethlehem [Baptist Church]. My child has to sit through the worship service? You’ve got to be kidding! But our church family was patient, and we persevered—paper & crayons, church notebooks, sermon quizzes…we used every tool we could. And 23 years later, our son and daughter are Christ followers who love worshipping our great God. Worshipping as a family became a treasured time. You were right.

I heartily agree! This was our family’s experience, too. I know it can feel impossible at first—especially when you have a very energetic, naturally noisy 5-year-old boy, or several young children (in which case the parents are outnumbered by children). But with lots of patience, creativity, and perseverance it can  be done. Don’t give up!

And again, I would like to remind you of these new resources we have available:

My Church Notebook
A guide to help elementary-aged children participate in the service. It teaches them to actively listen to the sermon, take notes, recognize key points, and ask questions. ($7.50)

8 Tips for Helping Your Child Worship
A free brochure!

On a personal note, one tip that I would add to the list is…Choose wisely where to sit in the worship service. For us, this meant sitting in the same general area of the worship service week to week. The familiarity helped our children not become so easily distracted. Also, we sat in the balcony. This location provided our young children with an unobstructed view. Lastly, think carefully about having your children sit within sight of friends. This can serve to either be a motivation to be more attentive or a major distraction.

(Image courtesy of atibodyphoto at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

Our Favorite Parenting Books

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One of the great joys of being a parent is watching your child parent your grandchildren. But it also is a reminder of how difficult parenting is—really difficult! This is especially true for those of us who long to raise a future generation of men and women who love the Lord their God with all their minds, souls, hearts, and strength and are equipped to stand firm amidst the follies of this present age. So parents should make use of as many good, biblical, and encouraging resources as possible. Here is a list of CDG favorites:

Gospel-Powered Parenting: How the Gospel Shapes and Transforms Parenting

Teach Them Diligently: How to Use the Scriptures in Child Training

The Faith of a Child A Step-by-Step Guide to Salvation for Your Child

Your Child’s Profession of Faith

Shepherding a Child’s Heart

Instructing a Child’s Heart

Age of Opportunity: A Biblical Guide to Parenting Teens

Future Men

Special note to children’s ministry workers and grandparents: Don’t feel left out! You can also benefit from these resources. I read each of these books AFTER my children reached adulthood. They have helped me be a better teacher in the Sunday school classroom and in my grandparenting. Additionally, I would even go as far to say that they have challenged me to be a better parent to my adult children, as each book offers timeless truths.

(Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

What We Mean by Gospel-Centered

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What comes to mind when you see the term “Gospel-centered” applied to children’s and youth curricula? For some, this description depicts a curriculum in which every single lesson presents an easy-to-recite, step-by-step overview of the Gospel that students are encouraged to affirm. For others, there is a belief that every lesson must explicitly connect to Jesus’ redeeming work.

At CDG, we believe being “Gospel-centered” entails understanding and committing to the following in our resources:

The central message of the Bible culminates in the Person and work of Jesus—the Gospel—in which He brings sinners near to God. The Gospel is simple, yet amazingly profound, freely offered, yet extremely costly, and should be communicated as such. We believe this is best done by repeatedly drawing attention to essential Gospel truths found throughout Scripture: God is the sovereign Creator and Ruler; God is holy; man is sinful; God is just; God is merciful; Jesus is holy and righteous; Jesus died to save sinners; etc. Every lesson presents one or more of these essential truths, and every curriculum, as a whole, clearly and explicitly presents the Gospel to children.

Note that last sentence for a moment: Every lesson presents one or more of these essential truths, and every curriculum, as a whole, clearly and explicitly presents the Gospel to children. This is a very important distinction that is often misunderstood. We believe that these “essential truths”—found from Genesis to Revelation—are crucial for a right understanding of the Gospel for our children and students. These truths and doctrines anchor the Gospel within the proper context of the whole counsel of God.

So, while there is a place at times for a type of easy to recite, step-by-step overview of the Gospel, it is not the norm in our lessons. And yes, connecting Old Testaments themes and events explicitly to Jesus and His redeeming work is crucial to do at times and in age-appropriate ways, but not exclusively and not at the expense of giving our students a systematic teaching of essential Gospel doctrines.

Here are three free, resources that can help both teachers and small group leaders better understand our approach in our curriculum and its implementation in the classroom:

Communicating the Gospel within the Whole Counsel of God
This six-page handout highlights the key points from my 2016 National Conference seminar of the same title. It provides a foundational rationale for our desire to see the Gospel presented to children within a more comprehensive biblical context.

Sharing the Gospel With Children
This two-page resource (tucked away in the Appendix section of our curriculum) gives some practical suggestions for sharing the Gospel in the classroom setting.

10 Essential Gospel Truths
This is a handy one-page summary of 10 Gospel truths that we believe are essential for children to know and embrace. Each truth statement has one or more accompanying texts. Teachers and small group leaders can use this as a guide for instruction, review, and discussion with their students.

Before You Teach: An Encouragement and Caution

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Here is an encouragement for teachers or those considering teaching children or youth who may feel inadequate because they lack some kind of formal theological training and don’t “know” as much as they would like to:

“The gift of teaching isn’t knowing much, but helping others know more with warranted reasons and clear explanations” —John Piper

I love this quote. Ponder it for a few moments, and then ask yourself: Do I sincerely desire to help children and youth know more about God and His ways? Does my heart long to see children and youth come to saving faith in Jesus and grow in their walk with Him?

But now comes the part about providing students with “warranted reasons and clear explanations.”  That is where many of us can feel inadequate. However, that is where CDG can assist you. Our curriculum resources are written to help even a first-time teacher do just that. Go to our Curriculum link and check out our resources for various ages. Each curriculum provides sample lessons for you to view. Read through a lesson and see how the format simply and clearly guides the teacher through the biblical themes and texts.

Now, here is a caution:

Do you have a communication gifting? Have others commented on how well you speak or write? Do you find yourself dreaming about using your gifts in ministry? Wonderful! We are praying for more herald-laborers in the gospel harvest
(Matthew 9:38). Consider it strongly.

But as you consider, consider this:

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness (James 3:1).

When it comes to people being saved, it all hangs on what they believe. So when it comes to teaching, heaven and hell are in the balance. What you teach people really, really matters. You will be judged by what comes out of your mouth and your keyboard. And you will be judged more strictly than others.

…So if you want to be a teacher, wonderful! Teachers are precious gifts to the church (Ephesians 4:11). But take Paul’s warning very seriously: “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:16).

(By Jon Bloom, “What You Teach Really, Really Matters,” at www.desiringGod.org)

Again, ask yourself about your motivation for teaching: Do I sincerely desire to help children and youth know more about God and His ways? Does my heart long to see children and youth come to saving faith in Jesus and grow in their walk with Him? Then it is also imperative to teach sound doctrine. Again, CDG is committed to helping churches and families in doing this. Here is something we want you to know about each and every curriculum and teaching resource we publish:

Doctrinal Depth, Accuracy, and Clarity
We believe deep biblical truths and doctrines can and should be taught to children. Doing so requires teaching truths in an accurate, clear, yet child-friendly manner. To that end, every lesson in our curriculum is carefully reviewed by a highly qualified and experienced theological editor.

(Image courtesy of winnond at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

Impressing on Our Children the “OAUUK” of Truth

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No, “OAUUK” is not a typo. It’s an acronym for five characteristics of God’s truth that we need to teach and impress upon our children and students.

“O”—Objective
Truth is determined by a source outside of us and is independent of us: God. God alone is the source of all truth. Therefore, truth is not measured or determined by our personal thoughts, feelings, or desires. Something is not true simply because we want it to be true (Isaiah 45:18-19).

“A” —Absolute
Because God is the source of all truth, and because His authority is fixed and immovable, truth is fixed and immovable. Truth does not bend to suit our own personal preferences.

“U” —Universal
Because God is God over all His created universe and everything in it, truth applies to all people everywhere—young and old, rich and poor, men and women, different ethnicities, etc. (1 Timothy 2:3-5).

“U” —Unchanging
Because God is unchanging in all His perfections, His truth will never change over time or with new discoveries by man. His truth can always be depended upon (Psalm 33:11).

“K” —Knowable
God has communicated the most essential truths to man. He has done this most clearly through His Word, the Bible. God’s Word is truth! (John 17:17). The most essential truths made known in the Bible regard who God is, what He is like, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Why are these five characteristics so important to teach and impress upon our children and students? Here are a just few reasons. (There are so many more!):

  • God’s truth is authoritative over our lives, whether we acknowledge it or not—truth will have the final say. Every single person is accountable to God and His truth (Hebrews 4:12-13).
  • We live in a world in which sinful man is actively opposing God’s truth. Truth opposition has catastrophic consequences (Romans 1:18; 2:8). Sinful man seeks to redefine truth as being subjective, relative, individual, changeable, and uncertain. As Christian parents and teachers, we need to diligently proclaim and explain the truth to our children and students so that they might be discerning (Romans 12:2).
  • Knowing, loving, and embracing the truth of who Jesus is and what He has done is necessary for salvation (John 14:6; 1 Timothy 2:3-5).
  • Submitting to and walking in the truth is Christ’s pattern for His people—for our sanctification and joy (John 8:31; Colossians 2:6-8; 2 Timothy 3:16-17).
  • Knowing and embracing the authority and trustworthiness of the Bible provides our children with an unshakable confidence no matter what situation or opposition they may face in life (Ephesians 6:10-20).

(Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

Tools for Teachers

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In the coming weeks, we will be making available some new training resources for teachers and small group leaders, including video, audio, and printed handouts from our 2016 National Conference. Additionally, here are two resources that I believe every teacher and small group leader would benefit from:

Book
Teaching to Change Lives: Seven Proven Ways to Make Your Teaching Come Alive by Dr. Howard Hendricks.
Excellent, short (150 pages), practical, and highly encouraging. I love this book!

Booklet
The Inductive Bible Study Handbook: Learn to read, observe, interpret, and apply the Bible by Sally Michael.
Teaching and small group leading is best done with a heart that has first studied, meditated on, and applied the truths being taught. This short and practical guide will help you do just that as you prepare your lessons.

(Image courtesy of nirots at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

Is CDG Opposed to “Fun” in the Classroom?

The above title came to mind after watching a recent “Ask Pastor John” installment over at Desiring God regarding the question, “Does John Piper hate Fun?” Apparently, some people believe he does indeed hate “fun.” And the question, in general, peeked my interest since “fun” is often advertized as a key component in many children’s and youth ministry resources.

In looking over our stated mission, vision, philosophy, and distinctions of our children’s and youth resources, I noticed that the word “fun” is completely absent. So, one might ask, “Is CDG opposed to children and youth having fun in the classroom? Are our resources written in a manner that is meant to squash fun?” Well, we are not opposed to fun per say, but we more concerned about pursuing something much more satisfying and lasting. There’s something our children need more than fun—serious joy! In pursuing serious joy, “fun” may be a by-product—especially in the younger grades—but it is merely a foretaste meant to point our students to serious joy.

Please listen to or read Pastor John’s response to “Does John Piper Hate Fun?” Here is a portion of his answer that I think we would do well to apply in age-appropriate ways our Sunday school classrooms:

We are all, myself included, infected with the vocabulary of entertainment, the vocabulary of amusement—infected. “Having fun.” “Having a blast.” This is where we are at home. We are at home with entertainment. This is our default vocabulary resource. This is our native air. The vocabulary of earnestness and gravity and depth and weightiness and substance, these are foreign. They make us feel awkward. They are not natural to us. And that is my lament. It is not about words. We have borrowed the language of entertainment to describe sacred, weighty, serious, holy joys. And the best thing we can say to being an ambassador of the King of kings is, “It is a blast.” I regard that as tragic—and not just a vocabulary tragedy, but a spirit tragedy, a life tragedy, a huge loss in the church and in life.

…If anyone thinks that I want ministers to become boring or somber or gloomy or melancholy, let me close like this: Unbroken seriousness of a melodramatic or somber kind will inevitably communicate a sickness of soul to the great mass of people, and rightly so…The real battle in life is to be as happy in God as we can be, and that takes a very special kind of earnestness…

So, my lament is not a lament about the word fun. It is a lament about the loss of the capacity to feel and express the fun of cotton candy and roller coasters at the fair with our kids and the tear-stained joy of soul-saving ministry in the service of a crucified, triumphant King. There is a difference, brothers. There is a difference. And it would be a good thing to use words that help people feel the difference.

(by John Piper, © Desiring God Foundation, desiringGod.org)

Strategies for Engaging Children in the Worship Service

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Sunday mornings are “all hands on deck” for our family. My husband and I are actively involved in helping our daughter and son-in-law engage their four young children in the corporate worship service. I’m happy to say that progress is being made with the 3- and 5-year-olds. The 1-year-old twins have a long way to go, but they are observing and benefiting from the experience in more ways than we can imagine. Much of this progress can be attributed to a partnership of church and parents—a church that encourages, assists, and welcomes children in the worship service, and parents who actively prepare and train their children.

That is why I am so excited that we now have these resources available to share:

For the church—“Let the Children Come to Me in Worship” (video), in which Pastor David Michael lays out a biblical vision and philosophy for encouraging children to be in the corporate worship service.

For parents—“Strategies for Engaging Children in the Worship Service” (audio), in which Sally Michael gives very practical advice for parents.

8 Tips for Helping Your Child Worship—a free brochure.

MyChurchNotebook_Cover_TNAnd last but not least a special resource for children:

My Church Notebook is designed to guide elementary aged children to participate in the service. It teaches them to actively listen to the sermon, take notes, recognize key points, ask questions, and discover more about God and His ways.

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Introducing a NEW Resource for Families: My Church Notebook

INTRODUCING

My Church Notebook

My Church NotebookChurch services give us the opportunity to come into the presence of God with other people of God, both young and old. As children observe the example of their parents and join believers in worship, they learn to concentrate on God and see His greatness.

Children are more likely to cherish and delight in the worship of God if they witness that heart for worship in the church. When they see their parents and other adults bow their heads in earnest prayer, or lift their hands in praise, the genuine worship they observe can stir their hearts to worship. Children can observe parents listening intently to the sermon, taking notes, and processing the truth they are hearing. They observe this hunger for the Word of God which can stir the same longing in their own hearts.

My Church NotebookMy Church Notebook will guide your elementary aged children to participate in the service. It teaches them to actively listen to the sermon, take notes, recognize key points, and ask questions. In response to what they hear, children can determine what God wants them to think, be, or do. With God’s help, children can discover who He is, understand more of His Word, and grow in their love for the truth.

My Church Notebook helps children to concentrate on God as they come into His presence.

Learn More

Order a My Church Notebook for your children today and discover the vision for including children in the worship service!

 

 

 

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