I just finished a book by Reggie Joiner, and in his book Zombies, Football, and the Gospel, he says,
â€œIn pre-internet generations, information was scarce. Those who succeeded were the ones who could gather it the fastest. The company with the best data and the library with the most books won. But today, the rules have changed. Collecting information is no longer the goal. Now the greater need is to connect information, to sort ideas, to filter concepts and give content a better context. Those who win today are not as focused on collecting information as they are on connecting information.â€
It is interesting that there has always been mankindâ€™s passion to tell and to hear a story. In my lifetime I have seen a swing in fascination of seeking to gather limited information to the next generation seeking to connect with limitless information.Â This generationâ€™s challenge is to sift through seemingly limitless information that has not been edited, is biased, and cannot for the most part be verified. Â I still do not like to read a book on my ipad. I like the feel of the paper, the smell of the printed page, and the weight of it on my hand. But I know that my kids will end up not valuing my library as much as I do because they can access the same information on the internet for free, without having to dig through books, and without having to store them on space wasting shelves. The entire library of the world fits in palm of their hands.
Think of how our children engage in activities, especially when seeking new information. They have never lived a day where information has not been a couple of clicks away. They had some kind of information gathering device in their hand since they were old enough to hold it. Information about how to work a yo-yo, fold a paper air plane, or answer their questions like â€œwhat is dark matter?â€ is instantly available â€“ complete with a high definition video, commentary, viewer comments and suggestions of how to do it differently or better.
So how do we reach our children who have access to limitless information? If they have an interest, couldnâ€™t they just look it up?
Tell The Story Well and With Imagination
1)Â Â We reach them with what mankind has always loved (and still does today) â€“ a good story. We donâ€™t teach and tell the story for the passage of information alone, but for showing how characters dealt with context. Todayâ€™s teachers must drawn them with curiosity and imagination. The Bible is so powerful because it reaches to the core of who we are and how we were made. But the storyteller must be prepared and put their heart into the telling. Â We can deal with real life situations and put ourselves there to learn how to live.
We have all had a teacher who made us care, or cry with compassion, or dare to dream what we thought was impossible. And we have all had the teacher who had taught the same class, at the same desk, the same lesson, for so many years. The lessons felt dusty, stale, and inspired no one to greatness. The difference between the two was a good storyteller.
We live in a day of Disney, Pixar, ipads, and 3D televisions. People expect the story to be told with conviction, power, and careful thought toward details. Most of us do not have a Disney budget, but it is amazing how much imagination can be sparked with just a little experimented effort and boldness.
But we must also understand that how we tell the unchanging story must change. Jesus looked around and used grain laying on the ground, pointed to pilgrims walking in their white garments, and countless other teaching illustrations right there in front of the crowd. He was able to use their culture and surroundings to illustrate an abstract idea.
We must reach out into modern culture and into their worlds to teach them timeless true principles. Our childrenâ€™s worlds involve books they are reading at school, movies they watch, video games they play, and technology they hold in their hands. As a teacher we must enter their world, not expect them to enter into ours.
Show Them How To Use Godâ€™s Word As A Truth Filter
2)Â Â We use the Word of God as a filter to this limitless information. The word of God speaks to me as I take in (or should avoid) certain information. It throws up â€œred flagsâ€ within my spirit that alerts me to falsehood and deception.
Psalm 119:105 â€œYour word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.â€ Godâ€™s Word allows us to take our steps in this life with confidence, and with clear direction. Our children must understand that not everything they encounter on the information highway is true, right, or worthy of their time. They must know that Godâ€™s Word is paramount to anything else they may â€œlearn.â€ So we take all gathered information and when it does not align with Godâ€™s Word it is thrown aside as falsehood.
2 Timothy 2:15 â€œDo your best to present yourself to God as one approved,a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.â€ One of the most challenging tasks of a teacher is to show students how to use the entirety of Scripture to focus the entirety of life.
Teach Them in the Context of a Loving Relationship
3)Â Â Starbucks discusses the importance of a â€œthird place.â€ There is home, work and the â€œthird placeâ€ that Starbucks hopes will be where you buy their coffee and hangout. It is there that you laugh with friends, meet with business associates, discuss a book, etc. The church should meet peopleâ€™s need for a â€œthird place.â€Â We have to design our times together so that relationships can be fostered and developed, not simply a dumping of information with little interaction with each other.
Our ability to tell the story and to teach Godâ€™s Word is in the context of relationships. The old saying, â€œthey donâ€™t how much you know, until they know how much you careâ€ is very true. When your students, children, neighbors, etc. know that you genuinely care for them then they will listen to what you have to say.
So how do we reach our children who have access to limitless information? We tell the story with excellence, showing them how to properly use Godâ€™s Word, in the context of a loving relationship. All of these three tasks have their own challenges, but the saints of old have overcome them and so shall we. The good news is that even if you need a pre-teen to set your DVR, that preteen still needs and desperately desires to be loved. Even though the children can access information and communicate via social media they still have been designed by their Creator to need actual loving relationships with other people. Let’s make the church the people and place where children can learn the truths of God and discover an eternal love from God.
 Reggie Joiner, Zombies, Football, and the Gospel (The ReThink Group; Cumming GA, 2012) 143.
At a Ministerâ€™s Family getaway the lead speaker Tom Rodgerson used the metaphor of a virus and how it can sometimes be like church life. The over all big idea was that you canâ€™t control the issues that other people have (the virus), but you can control how you respond to them (the immune system). He suggested that pastors/leaders should focus on the immune system and making sure it is healthy instead of trying to track down and get rid of all the viruses.
So just by way of continuing the discussion and how leaders can stay healthy, letâ€™s push the metaphor of the virus a little further.Â In nature in order for a virus to attach itself to the body, it has to have a host cell. And the connection between the host cell and the virus has to be â€œa perfect fit.â€ So the bodyâ€™s condition must be in such a â€œshapeâ€ so that the virus perfectly matches the virus. If it is healthy, it is less likely to connect to the virus. If it is unhealthy it far more likely to â€œmatch upâ€ with a virus. So the following are some ways the leader can stay healthy and deal with “viruses.”
1.Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Focus On What You Can Control.
Leaders only have so much time, energy, and emotional fortitude, so focus on what you can control â€“ the immune system. There are ways to control exposure to viruses. One could live in a bubble, never go around â€œvirusesâ€ and focus on avoiding â€œsickness.â€ But Christ has called those who call on His name to â€œGo therefore and make disciples of all nations. . .â€ The world is a very messy and sick place.Â Viruses are all around us, every moment of every day. To try and avoid them is not practical.
In church life, â€œvirusesâ€ (i.e. people who donâ€™t know how to have a biblical healthy relationship, and default to unhealthy behavior when anxiety arises) can not be avoided. But the leader who is â€œhealthyâ€ will be far less likely to be affected by the illness. Remember, there has to be a perfect match between the two in order for the virus to spread.
2.Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Constantly Reinforce the Mission of the Organization.
Know the Mission. One of the main tasks of the leader is to keep people focused on the mission and values of the organization. If the body as a whole knows the mission, vision, and values of the organization, when viruses attack, the healthy body will be able to fend off attacks that try and get it off task and engaged in ungodly behavior (infighting, gossiping, jumping to false assumptions, etc.).
3.Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Recognize Unhealthy Patterns (and Change Them).
It wonâ€™t be very long in leadership before the leader will encounter an issue that causes anxiety in the â€œbody.â€ There are different ways that people deal with this anxiety; some people emotionally distance themselves from the leader, they may pull new people into a two person disagreement, they may pull up old issues that have already been dealt with, or just leave the organization all together.
But when the anxiety comes to the surface and the tension begins to build, leaders will have a default pattern that they conform to in order to deal with the issue. Remember you only have so much time and energy; focus on developing the immune system, not fighting the virus. Part of developing the immune system is to recognize patterns in your own life that are unhealthy.Â How do you typically handle stress and anxiety? Is this pattern healthy?
In default mode, in reaction to anxiety, we tend to be reactive. We have a certain way we react to the stimulus (or virus). One may retreat, attack back, get quiet, lash out, loss oneâ€™s temper, etcâ€¦ but instead of reacting the way one typically has always defaulted to (assuming it is unhealthy), one should become curious as to why they react this way.
It is as if one is in pain from an injury â€“ do you ignore the problem, cover it up, or explore getting medical attention?Â Be curious about why you are injured. Â Why does the virus so easily become attached? What is it about the immune system that keeps letting this virus in and perfectly attaching to it?
When a person learns something new, or even does something new, the brain creates new thinking pathways. Remember we react to certain stimulus in a default way. If we change how we react enough, our brain will actually change in order to adapt to this new behavior. Romans 12:2 says, â€œDo not be conformed to this world,Â but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.â€ The most significant part of dealing with unhealthy patterns in our lives is to change them, then our brains will change, and this will become a new default way of dealing with anxiety and stress.
4.Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Prayer and Bible Study.
So how do I change how I react? â€“ through prayer and Bible study. It always amazes me at people who want to lose weight some other way than exercise and eating healthy. This is the tried and true way of having a healthy body (eat right and exercise). But every year there are constant â€œnew discoveriesâ€ that always prove to be worthless because they donâ€™t involve exercise or eating healthy.
The same is true for followers of Christ. If we are to be healthy (and fighting off â€œvirusesâ€) we have to study the Bible and pray. Itâ€™s as easy or as hard as that. There are no shortcuts or easy methods for changing our own sin nature and depravity â€“ other than taking in Godâ€™s Word and praying to our Creator.
There is a way to think about this process. Imagine you sit down for dinner and putting the food in your mouth (reading), then you chew on the food (reflecting/meditating). Next, you swallow it and it becomes apart of your body because it is absorbed and the nutrients are taken in (responding to the Word, it becomes apart of who you are). Then one has a sense of satisfaction and can rest in the fullness of Godâ€™s Word. It does satisfy (and change) the soul like nothing else can.
 Tom Rodgerson can be found at http://bcmd.org/staff-directory
 Matthew 28:19ff.
 see Lectio Divina.
With any strategy, a teacher must have some way of knowing when she is reaching or has achieved her objectives. The church must, therefore, have a simple way of acknowledging whether it is being successful or not. Barna suggests three such standards for defining success and the author will give another. The first is â€œwidespread parental involvement in the spiritual development of the children.â€ This is a simple way for determining whether the childrenâ€™s ministry is successful or not. One could simply take the parents of the participating children and determine how many of them are involved. The second is â€œstrategically equipping parents.â€ One could observe how many equipping opportunities are available for parents, and of those available opportunities, how many parents took part in the training. A third measure of success would be â€œthe transformed life of the child.â€ This measure is very subjective because it is hard to determine what is going on in the heart of a child by watching the behavior in the limited time a teacher has with the child during a class or other activity.
Proverbs 4:23 states, â€œAbove all else, guard your heart, for it is the well spring of life.â€ The way a person acts is an expression, a wellspring, or overflow of the heart. The heart determines behavior. Mark 7:21â€“23 says, â€œFor from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean.â€™â€ Luke 6:45 says, â€œThe good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.â€ A strategy of the church must address the heart (what is going on inside) along with expressed outward behavior.
In addressing a similar issue Tripp says, â€œA biblical approach to educating children involves two elements that you weave together. One element is rich, full communication. The other is the rod or correction (See Proverbs 23:13-19, 22, 26.)â€ The didactical writings of the Bible, specifically the Law of the Old Testament were given to make the people of God see the impossibility of keeping it and to cry out to God for mercy. The law must be followed (telling the truth, honoring oneâ€™s parents, etc.), but it is only when oneâ€™s bend is toward God that they can keep the intention of the law which is a dependence upon God. If that bend is away from God, a person becomes like the Pharisees. Matthew 23:27â€“28 references this type of outwardly religious but inwardly rebellious person; â€œWoe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.â€ If a church focuses only on correcting outward behavior, but does not communicate enough with the children to determine what is transpiring in the heart, they have not successfully ministered to children. This is not a suggestion that the church should â€œbear the rodâ€ of correction but only that the church should emphasize relationship and communication in its educational endeavors with children.
The Pharisees looked religious and obedient to God on the outside, but their hearts were far from God. The measure of success should not be proper behavior alone (sitting quietly in their seat, saying â€œyes maâ€™am or no maâ€™am,â€ etc.) but a heart reliant upon and sold out for God. Discipline in the classroom and the home must be carried out to show specifically where the child has displeased God. It is this process of showing the child, according to the Bible, why what they have done is wrong that the child makes the decision to follow God and not the world. If the parent or church stops at only correcting behavior alone, and giving no explanation of why a standard of behavior is required, then they are raising Pharisees not true worshippers of Christ. Again, the earlier this process begins, the easier it is for the childâ€™s heart to be bent toward God and away from their natural heartâ€™s desire to sin. This is the heart of Deuteronomy 6 where it discusses a constant conversation with the child. This ideally is to be accomplished by the parents during their daily living, not one hour on Sunday morning by a teacher.
Romans 1:18â€“20 states, â€œThe wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness,Â since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.â€ In the language of Romans, a child will either respond to God by faith or they suppress the truth in unrighteousness. In his rebellion, he will actually hide the truth from himself. It is the parentâ€™s and the churchâ€™s responsibilities to guide the child toward faith in God (through teaching and correction) and to point out when the child is worshipping something other than God, thereby suppressing the truth in his life.
A fourth way of defining success is to have a diagnostic test of some kind that would effectively measure the knowledge of the child as he progresses through the years and stages of the ministry. One such test could be a life application challenge given in the classroom. For example, if the lesson is on â€œSpending Time with God,â€ the life application challenge could be for the child to have a daily devotional time. The teacher could then ask the child in a nonjudgmental fashion, â€œDid you have a devotional time this week?â€ When this information is received and reviewed, it can become the goal of the church to increase the total average over time by trying different strategies. Actual numbers and data give the leadership and parents something to work with as a basis to project realistic goals. Regarding this issue Barna has said,
In order to meaningfully operationalize these (or other) desired outcomes, we start by tying our search for clues (for spiritual growth) to the means of measurement. Here are some means through which we can evaluate outcomes:
- Formal evaluation tools â€“ written tests, oral tests, essays, competitions andÂ homework assignments.
- Self-report evaluation tools â€“ surveys, inventories and profiles.
- Conversation and dialogue â€“ language used, reasoning skills, foundationalÂ worldview expressed and interactive engagement.
- Observable behavior or perspectives â€“ attendance, volunteerism,Â invitations, donations, professed beliefs, memorized beliefs, physical condition and body language.
- Inferences from choices â€“ character of friends, media preferences,Â spending habits, social activity, attire and appearance.
Assessment can be formal or informal. At the more formal extreme are written tests of ability and knowledge. On the informal extreme would be casual observation.Â Both of these measurements can be used together to give an administrator a more complete picture.
 Barna, Transforming Children Into Spiritual Champions, 101.
 Tripp, Shepherding A Childâ€™s Heart, 74.
 Rom 3:20
 John 4:24
 Ps 51:5
 Barna, Transforming Children Into Spiritual Champions, 130.