Archive - April, 2016

Gospel “Poles” and the Whole Counsel of God

Gospel "Poles" and the Whole Counsel of God

My family enjoys camping…old-fashioned tent camping. We have a very large tent that my children affectionately call the “Taj Mahal”. The frame of the tent is a series of poles that must first be assembled and then threaded through the proper sleeves of the tent fabric. This takes time. There is no short-cut. But when every pole is properly in place, you simply pull on the guide ropes and the tent goes up and takes its proper shape.

This illustration can be helpful in demonstrating the importance of communicating the Gospel within the whole counsel of God. There are “poles”—key doctrinal truths—involved in properly understanding the significance of the Person and saving work of Christ. As parents and teachers, we should consider how to carefully and intentionally walk through and explain these preceding doctrinal truths with our children. In doing this, the full extent of who Jesus is, what He has done, and why He did it, will make more sense to our children. The Gospel of Jesus will take on its proper “shape” so to speak.

This tent illustration was a feature in my recent seminar “Communicating the Gospel Within the Whole Counsel of God” at the National Conference. In the near future, the entire seminar will be available online for you to listen to. But until then, you might be interested in this seminar handout which outlines 9 key doctrinal themes for communicating the Gospel.

(Note: If you attended this seminar at our conference, please download the handout noted above. The handout distributed at the conference had a section missing.)

 

 

You CAN Do Catechism!

Children Desiring God Blog // You CAN Do Catechism

One of the new seminars at this year’s national conference was on using catechisms for teaching children—especially in the home. In the future we will have this seminar by Sally Michael available on our web site. But until then, here is an excellent article for parents (take note fathers!!!) to encourage you to get started: “The Importance and Practice of Catechism: Fathers-Instruct Your Childrenby Dr. Kim Riddlebarger. He concludes his article with these practical reminders:

First, be consistent. The best way to learn a catechism is simply to keep at it! Take “the tortoise” and not “the hare” approach. You cannot teach your child a lengthy catechism in a couple of weeks! But over time—if you keep at ityou’ll be amazed at how much children will remember and comprehend.

Second, be creative. One of the greatest obstacles to catechism is boredom. Simply reading the question and then expecting your children to recite the memorized answer is no fun for them, and they’ll come to hate the whole idea. Go ahead and stress memorization, but whenever you can, relate the catechism to the Scriptures. Most catechisms give Scripture proofs. And if you discuss the question and answer with your kids, and then relate the catechism to real life situations, current events or to movies and TV, your kids will get the sense that theology is of great value in navigating their way through life…

Third, don’t panic. Many people tell me that they are new to this and there is always the pressure to make up for lost time. Go slow. Quality time is always better than rushed and tense sessions where the kids are tired and the parents are frustrated. Do what you can when you can and have realistic expectations. Even a small amount of catechesis is better than no catechesis.

Last, the more that you know about the catechism the easier the whole process will become. You may have to get a commentary on the particular catechism that you use, and you may have to spend some time preparing to catechize. Being an effective teacher means being a faithful student. You cannot teach what you do not know…

1. (“Fathers, Instruct Your Children” was originally published as “The Need to Recover the Practice of Catechism” and was revised for use by Christ Reformed Church. Re-printed by permission, © 1995 Modern Reformation / ACE)

Running the Race Set Before Us

Children Desiring God Blog // Running the Race Set Before Us

I have never run a marathon–nor at this age, do I ever plan to–but I have heard from others that setting the right pace is key. It’s not a quick sprint in which you expend all your reserves in a mere minute or two. There is no quick and easy path to the finish line. You must keep your eye on the prize and keep moving with a steady, disciplined pace.

This is a helpful illustration for children’s and youth ministry workers and parents. Especially for the many of us who have recently returned from our national conference in Indianapolis. The topic, “Persevering in the Whole Counsel of God: What’s at Stake for the Next Generation,” was a weighty one. Speaker after speaker encouraged and exhorted us to rise to the challenge. In some ways, those three days felt like running a race–overwhelming and tiring! But the real race has just begun in our homes and churches. If we are to finish this race well, we need to set about it with a long-term perspective…a marathon perspective and not a sprint perspective.

Over at The Christward Collective, Nick Batzig has posted a helpful article titled, “A Marathon Mentality for Ministry”. Although written specifically for pastors, his main points are applicable to parents and other ministry workers as well. Here are the five things he highlights in his article:

A Marathon Mentality for Ministry

1. Learn to be content.
2. Learn to sit at the feet of Jesus.
3. Learn to diligently seek the Lord in prayer.
4. Learn biblical measurements of faithfulness and fruitfulness.
5. Learn to persevere with diligence and zeal. 

I highly recommend reading the entire article. It’s short but extremely encouraging!

Declaring the Whole Counsel of God to the Next Generation

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We were honored to have Mark Vroegop launch our Children Desiring God conference with his message on Declaring the Whole Counsel of God to the Next Generation. Mark guided us through six ways we can model our ministry after Paul’s ministry. Video of the conference keynotes will be available at a later date.

Acts 20:17-38

This passage is important because in the final moments of a person’s life, you hear the distillation of his ministry to a people. What do we hear from Paul in these moments? How do his words relate to ministry to children and youth?

Six Ways Our Ministry to Children and Youth Should Be Modeled After Paul’s Ministry

1. Personally

Teaching in a life-on-life context. Declaring the whole counsel of God is a personal, life-on-life issue. The word of God transmitted through the life of another person is not just a tool, but the foundation of personal ministry.

2. Seriously

Teaching has culpability because James says that those who teach will be judged with greater strictness. Paul’s ministry was of such a character that he would know he was innocent if any of them were eternally lost. This suggests that innocence on the part of a teacher is possible. But, there are many people who have never considered the question of how to declare the whole counsel of God in teaching. Because of this, some teachers are guilty.

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3. Faithfully

Teaching with courageous consistency. To “shrink back” from the whole counsel of God would be to not have faith in the entirety of the message of the Bible. To faithfully teach the Bible is to teach every part of it, not just the parts we like.

4. Thoroughly

Thorough teaching is the kind of teaching that encompasses biblical Christianity in a unified, balanced and comprehensive way. Nothing important is left out. Unified teaching connects the content of the Bible to the redemptive arc of the Bible, and demonstrates that all of those things relate. Balanced teaching helps children to know what it most important. It means that you teach the “ands” in the Bible; that the paradoxes of God’s character matter. Comprehensive teaching wrestles with big-picture questions that span the length of the canon.

5. Urgently

Paul was aware of the dangers all around and he urged teachers to be on guard. He knew what the human heart was capable, and he knew the devices of the enemy, which made teaching the whole counsel of God all the more important to him. Today, we live in a postmodern culture, in which truth is under attack. Knowing the whole counsel of God helps us stay grounded in truth in the midst of this culture. We must declare the whole counsel of God urgently because the voices in our culture are getting louder, and more distinct from Biblical truth.

Confidently

We are in good care when God is sovereign and the Word of God is a part of our lives. God is sovereign and his word still has power. The Word not only gives life, but helps us persevere to the end. The grace of God and the Word of God guarantees that our children who love Jesus will persevere to the end.

Assessing Before You Spring Forward

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Spring time is a super busy season for those of us who garden. But before I begin to plant, there have been weeks of assessment: thinking back to what I planted last year—what worked, and what didn’t work. Why didn’t a certain plant grow well? What changes will I make this year?

In a similar way, spring time is also a great time to assess your children’s and youth ministry programs, curriculum, etc. What in particular needs assessing? Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Is there a stated, coherent vision and philosophy from the leadership driving the current structures and programs? If asked, would your teachers and other ministry volunteers be able to succinctly articulate this vision and philosophy?
  • Curriculum (scope and sequence from preschool to high school)—As a whole, does the curriculum used over time reflect the six disciplines of teaching the whole counsel of God? (The six disciplines are: Bible study/chronological stories; biblical theology; systematic theology; moral instruction; explicit Gospel; and Bible study skills.)
  • Does your scope and sequence present these disciplines in a balanced way (not all “biblical theology,” not all “systematic theology,” etc.)?
  • Does the scope and sequence present biblical concepts to the targeted age group at appropriate age/learning levels?
  • Classroom time and structure—What time frame is available for formal teaching on Sundays, midweek, and other avenues? Does the time available prioritize formal Bible instruction?
  • What age groupings compose each classroom? Are these groupings conducive to the learning needs of the age group? Were these groupings arrived at based on necessity or convenience?
  • Were ministry volunteers provided adequate training and encouragement during the year?
  • Church and home instruction—Are there opportunities to partner together with the home in order to enhance and supplement the formal teaching of the church?
  • Is your plan accomplishing your stated goals? Do you have a means to assess this?

Answering the above questions—assessing the current structures, programs, curriculum etc.—can serve as diagnostic tools for planning ahead. It could very well be that your children’s and youth ministry is “on course” with your stated vision. But these questions may also reveal some weaknesses and areas that need to be addressed. Addressing these issues now, before you implement a strategic plan for the coming new school year in the fall is crucial.

(Image courtesy of dusky at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

Deep Talks for Strong Faith

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Recently I have been reading through a newly released book for Christian parents by Natasha Crain titled, “Keeping Your Kid’s on God’s Side–40 Conversations to Help Them Build a Lasting Faith.” It’s not often you find a book on Christian apologetics written specifically with kids in mind, so this book has me intrigued. I hope to post a thorough review in the near future. At the end of the book, she gives “10 Tips for Having Deeper Faith Conversations with Your Kids.” I found these to wise and practical—something every parent can be working on. Here are the 10 tips, along with a few quotes:

  1. Commit to continually deepening your understanding of Christianity.
  1. Make spiritual space in your home.
  2. …[a]dedicated time for your family to engage together in growing your understanding of and relationship to God.
  1. Study the Bible with your kids. Really.
    Simply reading the Bible helps kids learn key stories and events. But studying the Bible helps them learn what it all means and introduces them to the importance of interpretation.
  1. Proactively and regularly ask your kids what questions they have.
    …pull your kids’ questions to the forefront of conversation. You don’t need to have all the answers, but you do need to provide the forum.
  1. Ask your kids the tough questions they don’t ask of you.
    …we can’t just react to the questions they happen to have. We need to proactively put all the questions we know are important…right in front of them.
  1. If your kids are struggling with faith, become a detective.
    …find out (1) what exactly they mean when they say what they say, and (2) why they’ve come to that conclusion.
  1. Emphasize critical thinking skills.
     …teaching them how to objectively evaluate the validity of what someone else is asserting and how to draw logically appropriate conclusions themselves.
  1. Work with your kids on how to seek answers to faith questions online.
    Giving your kids research challenges and discussing their process of finding answers can lead to enormously valuable conversations that will benefit them for life.
  1. Teach your kids about religions and worldviews other than Christianity.
     …study and compare the actual beliefs. In addition to other religions, be sure to study the atheist worldview in-depth, given its significance today.
  1. Start today.

(Copyright©2016, pages 249 – 255)

(Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

Welcome Little Children

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Welcoming children into the corporate worship service is such a huge blessing for children, parents, and the congregation as a whole. But we sometimes forget that the word “welcoming” is an active word—not a passive one. It is not merely acknowledging the presence of children in worship. Rather, it is seeking ways to intentionally connect them to the worship experience: singing, prayer, reading of Scripture, offering, preaching of the Word, etc. Writer and pastor’s wife Megan Hill has some great advice—a few, simple things that the church can do to welcome children.

I make no claim that the following suggestions are an exhaustive list of how to welcome children in local church worship. They are simply four things which have been a blessing to my family. These things also have the advantage of being both simple and applicable across church cultures.

  1. Greet children by name. Welcoming children to worship begins at the door to the church building. Here, after being apart for sometimes a whole week, the people of God rejoice to see one another again face to face. And because we are commanded to greet “all the brothers” (1 Thess. 5:26), we include children…
  2. Read and preach from the same Bible version every week. …When my church consistently uses a single version of the Bible, it makes it easier for my kids to read it, to memorize it, and to meditate on it.
  3. Sing from a hymnal or distribute printed words and music. Most kids love to sing. Of all the elements of corporate worship, singing is probably the easiest for them to participate in, the most obvious way for them to contribute meaningfully, and the best opportunity for them to feel a part of the congregation…Having printed copies of the psalms or hymns has helped my children learn the songs by heart and become confident in singing the praises God himself has ordained (Matt. 21:14–16)…
  4. Specifically mention children in prayer and preaching. …Specifically mentioning children in the sermon reminds them that the commands of Scripture are commands for them. What’s more, speaking directly to kids from the pulpit assures them that the offer of the gospel is an offer for them. I am so thankful for every pastor who tenderly says, “Children, here is your great hope! Look to Jesus, the only Savior of sinners!”

(“4 Ways to Welcome Children in Worship,” www.thegospelcoalition.org)

Just a note from my own personal experience with our own children and, now our 2- and 4-year-old grandchildren: Point #3, about singing from a hymnal or printed music sheets, is really helpful. If your church doesn’t do this, talk to your church leadership and see if you can find a way to have printed copies the words to the hymns and songs. Some churches provide these within the printed “Order of Worship.”

Also, if are coming to our National Conference but haven’t signed up for your seminars yet, consider these:

“Let the Children Come to Me” in Worship—David Michael
Like every human being, children were created for worship, and one of the strategies for raising a generation of worshippers is to include them in worship services of the church. Another strategy is to create a separate, more “child-friendly” worship experience for children until there is sufficient maturity and understanding to worship with the adults. In this seminar we consider a biblical perspective on this topic and some practical strategies for welcoming and involving children in the corporate worship services of the church.

Strategies for Engaging Children in the Worship Service—Sally Michael
This seminar will discuss the difficulties in involving children in the worship service and propose solutions to solve those difficulties. Practical suggestions will be given that parents can use to enfold their children in corporate worship, as well as strategies children’s ministry leaders can employ to train and encourage parents to have their children involved in the worship service.

(Image courtesy of phanlop88 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)