Too many Christian leaders working with children these days still think it’s 1980. As a result, the children’s ministry in most churches is one of the most boring experiences in the life of a kid. And if a kid isn’t happy with your Sunday School, the parents seldom return.
So, how do we address this horrible situation? We wake up to the fact that it’s 2006 going on 2050! And that scares the bejeebers out of many leaders.
I remember back in 1982, while still pasturing a church, we hit the wall in our children’s ministry. Nothing seemed to work. Our kids were bored stiff sitting at a table reading from a textbook. They weren’t learning and were acting out their frustrations, causing our teachers major pain. To make matters worse, many of our new children had never seen a Bible or heard a Bible story. Our teachers were beside themselves. Our children’s ministry was still growing, but we all knew we weren’t reaching the kids much less transforming them.
The discussions in the Children’s team that year were intense. Our mission to children was failing and feelings were mixed and passionate. Our kids weren’t learning the Bible and they weren’t experiencing Christ. Some leaders blamed it on bad teaching and chastised one another for not doing better. Other leaders felt it had to be something else since our teachers had been doing a fabulous job over the years.
Even though our discussions were heated we pressed on with the issue. No way was my team going to allow our leaders to duck the issue. Nor were we going to lessen their pain. Our staff fanned their discontent and egged them on because we knew people change in direct proportion to their discomfort. We fanned their discontent instead of sweeping it under the rug.
Change Principle Number One: When leaders are discontent with the way ministry is going the pastor or staff person should fan their discontent.
After some serious soul searching and studying the emerging culture, we took two huge gambles. We threw out the traditional Sunday School curriculum, brought in twenty-four Apple 2E computers (remember those green-eyed monsters and remember it’s 1982) and began to write our own Bible-based software (we were fortunate to have several members on the cutting edge of the developing technology).
Some leaders were furious. Others were afraid we had destroyed the Sunday School. Some were confused. Some parents took their children out of Sunday School and left the church. Some teachers resigned. All of the leaders were concerned about the future of our children’s ministry.
It’s at this point the pastor or staff member in charge has to be the spiritual leader and focus people on who the mission is all about – Jesus. Fear isn’t present if people really love Jesus . Fear comes from a shallow relationship with Jesus. People fear change because they don’t love Jesus enough.
Any form of significant change requires the end of ministry as we know and the birth of new direction. Such change creates fear in most people. But it shouldn’t in Christians because perfect love drives out all fear (I John <time minute=”18″ hour=”16″>4:18</time>). When fear is present we need to call it what it is – sin, and take our leaders deeper in their faith.
I know, some will say this point it is too simplistic. Not so. I’ve found when people are deeply in love with Jesus fear flees their presence. So the role of the leader is to focus the people on Jesus. Those who still fear change need to be replaced. It’s that simple. Place spirit filled people in leadership roles and fear disappears.
Change Principle Number Two: Fear isn’t present when leaders love Jesus.
We learned two important lessons from these two changes. First, we realized that children were becoming wired to learn best through participation and interaction in digital curriculum. After the change, the kids enjoyed Sunday School and didn’t want to leave until they finished their games.
Second, we witnessed the birth of team based learning in our children’s area. Teams of three children would gather around a computer and play the game, each child participating in the game either by typing or kibitzing. We dubbed this learning method “digital participation.”
Change Principle Number Three: If you’re passionate enough about your mission, you will make whatever changes are necessary to effectively continue your mission.
I remember how rough things were in the initial stages of our transition to digital participation. We made lots of mistakes and lost some very effective teachers who couldn’t make the transition. Some of our leaders thought we were crazy and wanted us to discontinue the experiment. Eventually our struggles paid off– our Sunday School and weekday children’s ministries exploded with kids who actually learned about and experienced God.
Change Principle Number Four: Addressing the movement of God in history requires being persistent and willing to take enormous risks without having a clue about the outcome.
That same year I began to notice my preaching wasn’t getting the same results as it had in the recent past. My method had been to write out my sermon, commit it to memory, and then deliver it. It was fairly good oratory. But I noticed people didn’t seem to be as engaged as in the past. Some even said I wasn’t preaching the Gospel anymore (At this point I had been their pastor for thirteen years).
So I made a decision to throw out the manuscript and preach without notes. The transition took almost a year and was one of the most painful changes I ever made. But the spark reappeared in the eyes of the worship participants and once again our growth exploded.
Change Principle Number Five: To affect change and overcome fear people have to see their leaders challenging their own personal comfort and personal opinions.
Over the years we experienced a number of challenging ministry changes that would result in a highly fearful state in many congregations. Like the time we threw out traditional worship and instituted praise music and video. We lost half of our choir, but we gained twice as many new converts to Christ. A great trade off, we thought. Or the time we decided to become heavily involved in community organizing and were branded on the front page of the paper as a communist organization. Again we lost people, but the number we gained far outweighed those we lost.
Change Principle Number Six: Leaders have to keep the big picture in mind or fear of the present will stall the momentum.
I’ve shared these few stories with you so you can see the human element in the change process. One thing is constant throughout each of these incidents – someone has to be the spiritual leader who keeps people focused on the bottom line which is ALWAYS a deepening relationship with Jesus Christ. It can be the pastor of the team leader, but someone has to lead.
Change isn’t above instituting something new or eliminating the status quo. Change is about our growing relationship with Jesus Christ. If it’s growing and deepening, we will be also. And so will our ability to face the future and respond to change in positive ways. Remember – “Perfect love drives out fear … The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (1 John <time minute=”18″ hour=”16″>4:18</time> NIV).
Don Tapscott, Growing Up Digitally: The Rise of the Net Generation (McGraw Hill, 1998)
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