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Small Group Leading 101

Small Group Leading 101

The first few weeks of a new Sunday school year can seem overwhelming, but I found several things that have helped me over the years to be well prepared and have a smooth running Sunday morning.

At the Beginning of the Year

I read the curriculum introduction and found very practical suggestions. I checked out the appendices that provided even more help. And I printed out the scope and sequence of the curriculum so that I could see where the curriculum was heading.

As I prepared for my role as small group leader it was good to remember that my job was not to re-teach the lesson that the teacher teaches but to:

  1. Guide the children
  2. Help them discover answers
  3. Bring them to application truths they have been taught
  4. Make connections with previous lessons’ themes or chronology
  5. Work on Scripture memory
  6. Pray for concerns on their hearts

…all for the purpose of their growth in Christ-likeness and the glory of God.

Small Group Leading 101

During the Week

It helps tremendously to read the Scripture text on Sunday night so my mind can mull over the next week’s lesson and ask the Lord for personal application. Reading it multiple times prior to actually looking at the lesson enables my heart to be impacted with the truth we hope to communicate to the students. Then I read the teaching material and the application section to know the content and possible applications I can help the children apply to their own lives. Looking at the student workbook (or journal) helps me know what we will work on during our small group time and how it connects with the application questions. Writing out the specific questions I want to ask the children keeps me on task. Finally, an essential part of preparation is praying for the volunteer team, students and their parents. After all, only God can change hearts and empower the ministry.

May the Lord bless your preparations and interactions with the students He has placed in your sphere of influence, for His glory and their good (and yours as well)!

Sunday Morning

I make a habit of getting to the classroom early which makes a huge difference. A great way to start the morning is to spend time in prayer as a team. Then I could look at the classroom space and think about how I might:

  1. Minimize distractions to help the kids focus
  2. Make sure all needed materials were easily accessible (Student Workbooks or Journals, crayons/markers, pencils/pens, a notebook to record prayer requests…)

This allows me to focus on the kids as soon as they show up BECAUSE…Sunday school begins when the first child arrives! Greet the children with a smile and use their names—it truly makes a difference and they notice. Engage in conversation as soon as they come in. Sit with your small group during the worship and teaching time. Model the behavior you expect. Be alert for distracting or inappropriate behavior and support the teacher by intervening if necessary. Take notes on the lesson as it is taught so you can adjust questions you have planned to line up with what has been shared.

In Your Small Group

  1. Open in prayer.
  2. Introduce new children.
  3. State your expectations (especially at the beginning of the year and as a periodic reminder).
  4. Try to involve each child as you work through what you have prepared.
  5. Work on Workbook/Journal pages. This is key to applying what they have learned.
  6. Practice the memory verse and teach age appropriate Bible skills (i.e., Books of the Bible), as time permits.
  7. Take time to pray with your group at the end of your time together and encourage children to pray aloud.
  8. Make sure to record the prayer requests and follow up later on possible answers.
  9. Thank God for His help and ask Him to work in the students’ hearts.
  10. Have students help clean up your area and be sure to send home the GIFT page for parents to review.

As a small group leader I love connecting with “my” children on a regular basis. I get to know them, hear their thoughts and learn what is important to them. I pray for them and with them about their understanding of God and the concerns on their hearts. It is a privilege and joy to be used by the Lord in their lives. May your experience be so!

 

8 Ways for Parents to Partner With Sunday School Teams

8 Ways for Parents to Partner With Sunday School Teams

Sunday school is a primary means for building intergenerational unity in the body of Christ. Discipleship on any level tends to knit hearts together, but Sunday school has the unique ability to partner all generations to bring the gospel joy of knowing Christ to the youngest in our churches. A strong partnership of parents (and grandparents) and Sunday school teams can begin now in your church.

If you are a parent, here are eight practical ways for you to partner with your child’s teaching team.

  1. Before coming to Sunday school, ask your child to pray for their time in Sunday school. Taking time to pray together will help strengthen their faith in God as they see His answers to their prayers. It also builds a bond with the class members in your child’s heart.
  2. Pray for the class with other parents. Ask the teacher if there are specific ways you can pray for the class. When you meet in your church community or life groups during the week, pray together for the Sunday school classes represented in the group. Ask your pastor to remember the Sunday school classes in prayers from the pulpit. Pray for the teachers as they prepare during the week and for the teaching on Sunday morning. Pray asking God to give wisdom to the Sunday school team, as they impart His Word, and soft, receptive hearts for the children.
  3. Meet your child’s teachers and small group leader. Spend time getting to know who will be teaching your child. Share with them about your child, their spiritual condition, and those things that especially affect how they behave in class (i.e. shy, energetic, not comfortable in front of a group, struggles with reading, needs help focusing, disabilities, medication, allergies, struggles at school). It can also be helpful to impart family situation information such as death in the family, chronic illnesses, divorce, or an upcoming move to a new neighborhood. Share your prayer requests. Your child’s Sunday school team will be blessed to know how they can be praying for your family.
  4. When the Children’s Ministry Director sends you an invitation to visit your child’s classroom, take them up on it. Young children are usually ‘busting their buttons’ when mom and dad or grandparents visit their classroom. It gives you and the class a connection and builds a memory for your child. You will also have the benefit of firsthand knowledge of the class schedule and what is being taught for discussion at home.
  5. Bring your child to class on time. If needed, make sure to take them to the restroom, have a snack between services or get a drink of water. Attention to these simple needs will help your child be comfortable and the class to stay on schedule.
  6. At home, review GIFT Pages and Memory Verses with your child. The weekly Growing In Faith Together (GIFT) pages give parents the tools they need to reinforce the biblical truths their child is learning in Sunday school. Take time to discuss the lesson, do the action steps together  and apply at home what is taught in class. Then, help your child memorize their weekly verses through repetition, discussion and application.
  7. Offer to help. Ask the teacher if there are practical ways you can help as a substitute, bring snacks, prepare a craft or decorate the classroom.
  8. Let your child’s Sunday school team know you are grateful to God for them and appreciate their ministry for the sake of the gospel in your child.

 

8 Ways for Parents to Partner With Sunday School Teams

 

 

VIDEO: “Declaring the Whole Counsel of God to the Next Generation” by Mark Vroegop

Persevering in the Whole Counsel of God

We are excited to be sharing the content from our 2016 National Conference. Check back each Wednesday to view a new plenary session (along with discussion questions and action steps) to help you better understand how to persevere in teaching the whole counsel of God to the next generation. 

Declaring the Whole Counsel of God to the Next Generation

In his message, “Declaring the Whole Counsel of God to the Next Generation,” Pastor Mark Vroegop encourages us to declare the whole counsel of God to our students and children. In the first portion of the message, he urges us forward by explaining what is at stake and why this is such a crucial issue for parents and the church to address. But how do we actually go about teaching the whole counsel of God? Pastor Vroegop goes on to highlight and explain six “how’s” that should characterize our teaching.

We must declare the whole counsel of God…

  1. Personally
  2. Seriously
  3. Faithfully
  4. Thoroughly
  5. Urgently
  6. Confidently

 

 

His message is a timely and urgent call to parents, teachers, ministry leaders, pastors, and elders. Pastor Vroegop provides us with a wealth of biblical and practical wisdom. I was so encouraged by this message! Here are some follow-up questions for pondering.

For Further Thought

  1. Does our current children’s and youth ministry vision and philosophy include an emphasis on teaching the whole counsel of God? How might we go about evaluating this? (Recall his explanation of unified, balanced, and comprehensive teaching.)
  2. Does my own heart and life reflect the importance of knowing and embracing the whole counsel of God? What areas might be “weak” points for me, and what steps can I take to begin to grow in these areas?
  3. How would I rate myself on his six “how’s”? How would I rate our children’s and youth ministries? How could I appropriately and helpfully address any concerns?
  4. Are there teachers, parents, or other ministry leaders who would be blessed by this message? What could I do to graciously encourage them to watch this?

 

We must declare the whole counsel of God

 

View Other Plenary Sessions

“Exploring the Fullness of the Whole Counsel of God” by Bruce Ware

 

 

Some of the Best Advice I Can Give Teachers

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Many of you have recently received your new curriculum for the coming year—or you will be getting it very soon. Whether this is your first time using CDG curriculum, or even if this is your 10th time, I have the same advice: Read through the entire Preface and Introduction! Yes, all of it, every single page. Why? Here are a few reasons:

  • The preface and introduction convey the “big picture” of the study.
    Knowing this ahead of time will give you a better perspective from which to prepare and teach the individual lessons. Each study has a particular focus and flow, which serves to build biblical concepts precept-by-precept. Think of the preface and introduction like the picture on the outside of a puzzle box, showing how the final picture should look when all the pieces have been joined together.
  • The introduction answers the most commonly asked questions ahead of time.
    If you were to simply pick up a lesson and try to teach it, you would probably have quite a few questions: How long does this lesson take to teach? Why are some questions in italics? Why are some Bible references in parentheses? Does each child need a Bible? etc.
  • The introduction provides important guidance regarding classroom structure.
    The curriculum was written to work best within certain requirements. While these may need to be adjusted to fit your particular situation, some requirements are more crucial than others. Knowing these will help you plan and structure the most optimum teaching situation.
  • The introduction explains the format and layout of the lessons.
    The lessons all have the same basic structure. The introduction explains this structure so that teachers and small group leaders can fully understand and make the best use this structure. This will help you as you prepare for each lesson.
  • The introduction provides an overview of all necessary curriculum components.
    More than a few times our customer service has received calls from teachers who are confused because something seems “missing” from the lesson material. They are surprised to find out that a crucial component has not been provided (e.g., a classroom poster). The introduction outlines all necessary components and suggestions for using and storing them.
  • The introduction provides teachers and small group leaders with helpful goals and practical tips.
    The lessons are written and designed with an underlying philosophy that we believe serves to actively engage the heart and mind of the student. The introduction will give you the basic pillars of this philosophy and the associated teaching methods employed.

Just as a personal note of how important it is to read through the introduction: This year I am going to be teaching my grandchildren The ABCs of God. I am very familiar with this curriculum because I wrote it. Yet, this week I am reading through the entire preface and introduction. Why? As a helpful reminder and overview of the purpose, flow, and structure of the study.

So, my advice: Read the Preface and Introduction! You’ll be glad you did.

(Image courtesy of zirconicusso at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

Hope-filled Labor in the Classroom

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I have given up. The white flag has been raised. I worked so hard to keep away the pests, disease, deer, and other harmful critters. The weather didn’t cooperate either. It feels as if my efforts to prepare, plant, and harvest produce from my garden have been in vain. Why even bother with gardening anymore?

Sometimes it is tempting to have a similar attitude as we face another year in the Sunday school classroom. So much labor is involved—preparing lessons, worship songs, special activities, and more. And yet, even in our pray-soaked diligence, we know that some children and youth will seem uninterested in the truths of Scripture. They may even appear indifferent to our earnest calls for them to “repent and believe in the Gospel.” Or, while demonstrating a genuine trust in Christ, we may feel disappointed by their lack spiritually maturity and slow pace of growth. Does that mean our labor is in vain?

Here is a verse filled with hope:

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:58, ESV)

…in the Lord your labor is not in vain!

“In the Lord”—

  • Trusting in His sovereign goodness
  • Being confident that He loves our students more than we do
  • Believing that He alone has the power to bring about new life
  • Knowing that we are called to be faithful to “sow and water”—faithfully teaching and explaining the truths of the Bible—while depending on God to give the growth
  • Teaching from a heart that is filled with joy in Christ
  • Prepared to share the hope that is within us
  • Always mindful that everything we say and do in the classroom should reflect the greatness and worth of God, His majestic holiness!

Will any of us demonstrate this perfectly in our classrooms this year? No, but the God who calls us IS perfectly faithful to complete His sovereign will. That difficult, uninterested, indifferent, 8-year-old boy might just grow up to be an extraordinary man of faith 30 years down the road.

So, labor hard “in the Lord” in your classroom this year, and don’t give up. In the Lord, our earnest but imperfect teaching skills, worship leading, and small group discussions are not in vain. I fully believe that in the future—maybe not until heaven—we will be amazed to see the harvest that God was pleased to bring about through the grace-dependent efforts in our Sunday school classrooms.

(Image courtesy of radnatt at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

Why Students Workbooks?

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Here is a frequent question we get at CDG this time of year:

Do I really need to buy student workbooks that are recommended for each curriculum?

First, let me tell you why we developed workbooks to accompany each study.

  • Workbooks for younger children provide them with opportunities for “hands-on” activity—coloring, pasting, taping, stickers, stamps, etc. This helps students focus as the adult leader reviews key lesson themes and asks children follow-up questions.
  • Workbooks—especially in our revised curricula—are integrated into the Small Group Application found at the end of each lesson. Therefore, students need the workbooks in order to complete certain portions of the application section. These exercises are meant to reinforce important truths taught in the lesson.
  • Workbooks for older children provide the students with a variety of opportunities for note-taking, class activities, personal application, and further study.
  • Workbooks provide students and parents with a resource that summarizes the precept-upon-precept study, in its entirety. In other words, if a student misses lessons during the year, he or she will still have a complete outline of the study from beginning to end.
  • Workbooks provide the students with a tangible, interactive resource through which the truths presented in the lesson can be reviewed and remembered.

In order to accomplish these outcomes, we strongly recommend purchasing the printed, bound workbook for each student or printing out a corresponding number of licensed copies of the electronic edition of the entire workbook and then binding it in some manner for the students.

What about one–time visitors or sporadic attenders? You’re welcome to print copies of workbook page for occasional visitors when needed, but if any of those visitors becomes a regular attender, then we suggest giving that child his or her own bound workbook.

In summary, Student Workbooks serve a two-fold purpose:

  • They help students synthesize the information that was learned during the lesson and cement that knowledge in their minds.
  • They are a tool to enhance the application process, whereby the students are encouraged to move from head knowledge to heart application—responding to the truths learned.

(Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

Where the Bible?

(This article was originally posted March, 2013)

I began teaching Sunday school more than 25 years ago. I currently teach first grade. What’s the biggest difference I see in my classroom today compared to 25 years ago? Bibles. Bibles everywhere. A Bible in the hands of every child. Bibles being opened, and eager faces and busy fingers trying to find Isaiah 44. And when they find it (and many still need extra help), you would think that they had just won a great prize. In reality, they have found a treasure greater than anything they could imagine: God’s own Word!

It wasn’t that Bibles were in short supply 25 years ago, or that first graders couldn’t read back then. No, it was something more significant—an unspoken philosophy embracing the idea that: The Bible is too difficult for young children and too boring for older children. The Bible itself—the actual text—isn’t really all that necessary or clear or sufficient for contemporary culture. So Sunday school curriculum adapted itself to this new way of thinking and, for the most part, the Bible disappeared from our Sunday school lesson times and was replaced by a sheet of paper that gave teachers an “easy to prepare” scripted, summarized Bible story.

But somewhere along the way, many of us started to notice something. There was no longer authoritative power in our teaching. Many children were entertained, but not many seemed changed. And the weekly “easy to prepare” lesson became a chore for the teachers who longed for something deeper and more soul-satisfying.

At CDG, we have a vision for the next generation—a vision of sponges, soaked full, super-saturated. Not, real sponges of course, but children. Children soaked full and super-saturated with the Word of God. Children who see the Bible being read and hear the text explained. Children who learn how to read the Bible for themselves and know how to properly study it, and then interpret its meaning. We long for a generation of Bible-saturated children who come to embrace God’s Word as sweeter than honey, more precious than gold, more exciting than any game or activity, more powerful than anything in their lives, more long-lasting and life-transforming than any new electronic gadget, and more soul-satisfying than the closest friend.

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus(2 Timothy 3:14-15 ESV)

Getting practical: So what steps can we take to make the Bible more “visible” in our classrooms? Here are a few suggestions to start:

  • Always teach with an open Bible, even if you are summarizing a story for preschoolers.
  • Whenever possible read directly from the Bible. Even preschoolers should hear the actual text read at times. Where the Bible uses simple, straightforward language, read it.
  • In kindergarten, start to teach children the books of the Bible through song.
  • Beginning in first grade, encourage each child to bring his or her own Bible to class. Make sure it is a “real” Bible and not a storybook or paraphrased version. Communicate with parents and, if necessary, assist them in purchasing a Bible for their child.
  • Offer small incentives (candy, prizes) for children who remember to bring their Bibles to class.
  • Require children of reading age to look up selected texts and read them aloud during the lesson. Do this according to their age and skill level. Most first graders can, with some help, look up and read one short and simple text per lesson. By third grade, most children can handle multiple texts of varying lengths.

Want some additional tips for specific age levels? Print out this free handout from Children Desiring God: The Importance of Biblical Literacy for the Next Generation.

You can also watch this delightful illustration as Pastor David Michael envisions of the effects of a Bible-saturated generation:

 

 

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.)

 

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.)

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