Adventures in Sunday School

I’m married to a pastor. I work on the church staff. I lead small groups for both women’s and student ministries. I wasn’t looking for more ways to serve.

But they needed teachers, and Tween has been a student helper with the 4-year-old class. Which is better for me than the 2-year-old class; the only time I can recall leaving a service opportunity in tears of failure was when Tween was 2 and I was conscripted as Teacher–give me middle schoolers any day, but I lack the gift for 2’s.

So I said Yes, I am willing to serve as Teacher when Tween is helper. But the day of the month they needed me, of course, Tween is already committed to Scout camp outs. I said Yes anyway.

I accompanied Tween last month just to watch. The other teachers didn’t mind one more set of hands, especially because the craft that day involved way too much cutting for 4-year-old hands. The Bible lesson emphasized, “God loves me,” and I realized:

Preschool Sunday school is truly about welcoming children, helping them to have fun and feel loved by God and others. If that’s all they get, that’s a whole lot already.

Today was my first time actually teaching. Fortunately I had a more experienced partner, though she confessed to having relied on the teacher whose spot I filled. Our “student helper” was yet another mom filling in for her tween while he played sports. The curriculum didn’t make as much sense as I’d hoped (what 4-year-old needs a bookmark?) so I made up new connections (We share because we love others, so we’re making bookmarks to share with our parents). Roughly following the curriculum, the three of us cobbled together a lesson–music complete with hand motions, activities, DVD lesson, Bible story, and snack, with free play at beginning and end.

Here’s the thing: it mostly worked. The kids mostly seemed to have fun, and so did we. And the hour wasn’t endless. I could do this again.

The story was the poor widow who gave her two coins, all she had, because she loves God (Mark 12:41-44). The point: I can love everyone. [Point to your heart and say, “I.” Cross your arms over your chest and say, “can love.” Point to others and say, “everyone.” We did that A LOT.]

So we practiced loving everyone. We love the precocious little girl who, as I entered the room, was spelling T-Y-L-E-R for another adult.
“Is that your brother?”
“No, he’s my baby.”
“Oh, your baby brother?”
“Yes.”
“Do you have an older brother?”
“Jake.”
“Can you spell Jake?”
“J-A-C-O-B!”
“You bet! That’s the formal spelling of Jake!” Wink, wink.

We practiced loving the little boy who never spoke a word. We practiced loving the kid who wanted all the stickers. We practiced loving the little boy who admitted that he hates sharing, but when we said, “Right, because sharing can be hard,” replied, “No it’s not!”

During our combined music time with all the preschool classes, a little girl from another class whom I’d never seen before asked to sit on my lap. In her hands, she proudly held a pink construction paper heart on which she’d glued pom poms and drawn a smiley face. I complimented her craft yet she was concerned that it was missing a long Popsicle stick with which to hold it. And the smiley face she’d drawn only had eyes and smile, no nose.

I did the hand motions while she sat on my lap, then she scooted away, returning when she’d drawn a big yellow oval nose and yellow eyelashes on her smiley face. I told her I liked the improvements.

She looked at it, looked at me, then said, “It’s for you!”
“Thank you! But you should give it to your mommy.”
“Yah, it’s for Mommy. But I can give it to you.”
“Please give it to your mommy. She’ll be so happy to have it.”
(mumble…)
“Sorry, what did you say?”
“Did you brush your teeth?”
“Yes, I brushed my teeth.”
“Did you really?”
“(Hmmm…) Does my breath smell bad?”
“Yes.”
“I’m sorry. Does it smell like coffee?”
“Yes.”
“Well, yes. I had a cup of coffee after I brushed my teeth.”
“Okay.”

So I also practiced loving the honest little darling who called me out on coffee breath and gave me a small pom pom so I can remember her craft forever.

Leadership can be funny. Every person you lead is different, with different ways of being and thinking and loving and understanding God. Every age and stage is different, too. The 4-year-olds need something different than the 6th grade girls different from the mamas. While maintaining authenticity, leadership seems to require chameleon-like color-blending skills–I will be who you need today so that you can meet Jesus.

Because, while every person and every age is unique, what we all need at the core is the same: to know that we are loved by God.

Jesus: Our Shepherd
Restored: Jeremiah 23

Connect
Whose leadership do you admire, and why?

Study
Read aloud Jeremiah 23:1-4.
What have the shepherds done, and what are the consequences?
God’s response includes both judgment and promise. Explain.
Read aloud Jeremiah 23:5-6.
Describe “the righteous Branch.”
Read aloud Jeremiah 23:7-8.
Why would people have said the statement in v. 7? Why would they replace it with the statement in v. 8?

Live
Who do you shepherd? What does this passage say to your practice as shepherd?
Some use bad church leadership as an excuse for their lack of participation in the church. How could you use this passage to encourage them?
Jesus is our Shepherd. How does this picture of Jesus give you hope in hard times?
How can Jesus’ model of leadership help you be a better leader?
What is Jesus saying to you through this study, and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray that you will be a faithful follower of Jesus as you shepherd others.

 

Wild Child in Bow Tie

Dapper!

Dapper!

Teen wore a bow tie for his Confirmation.

He chose to participate in Confirmation, a five-month process for high school students during which they met monthly with their leader and peers for teaching/study and with a one-to-one adult mentor to discuss life and faith. At the end they publicly professed their faith in Jesus Christ through a written and presented personal statement of faith, received baptism if they hadn’t previously, and became full members of the church. And then were honored with a celebratory meal and a verbal blessing from their parents while a packed Fellowship Hall watched.

We were thrilled he wanted to participate, although we didn’t push it. We even suggested he wait a year. He chose to forge ahead.

And then he chose to wear not just a shirt and tie but a three-piece suit + bow tie!

He didn’t have anything nicer than a shirt and tie so Guy took him shopping the night before. Then he showered and, wearing only his boxer shorts, he carried every piece of nice clothing from his closet to my bed. While I watched he tried different combinations before settling on the fanciest. He felt good. He looked good. He couldn’t suppress the satisfied smirk on his face as he examined himself in the full-length mirror.

Meanwhile I wavered between incredulous laughter and teary eyes. What happened to my Little Elf? Who is this Gorgeous Giant in fine clothing?

We have never made a big deal about our kids being pastor’s kids. A parent’s occupation certainly influences family life, but why should pastor’s kids in particular feel pressure to define themselves by or against parental occupation? Why has the church allowed this stigmatization of pastor’s families?

Thankfully Tween doesn’t feel that pressure, though Teen always has.

He literally crawled under pews to avoid the burn of judgmental laser beam stares his Pastor’s Kid Radar told him were aimed his direction, which of course backfired and drew even more negative attention. As he read from his faith statement during the worship service, “Every week I either impressed my Sunday school teachers with my knowledge on God or annoyed them to the point that they emailed my parents about my bad behavior. I was a wild child.” That bit of stinging truth got a hearty congregational laugh.

He was a good-hearted wild child, but yes, he was wild.

Still is, sometimes. He’s not perfect, as none of us are. He is impulsive, energetic, passionate, and sometimes takes sharp turns into the wrong lane.

But still, look at him up there on the chancel, that dressed-up good-looking young man, owning his faith as his own, no longer hiding under pews but standing up for Jesus because Jesus first stood up for him. Watch out, world, as Jesus starts to do His work through that impulsive, energetic, passionate child of His!

As each confirmant’s name was called, as they walked across the chancel to receive their new Bible with gold-trimmed pages and red letters, the pastor said, “Welcome!”

Twenty-five confirmants. Twenty-five welcomes.

Regardless of Teen’s behavior, and sometimes despite the consequential pain and conflict we managed as a family and as a church family, Teen has been welcomed.

Isn’t that the church’s job? To welcome in the name of Jesus not just those who sit quietly and behave properly in the pew but also those who don’t? Those who wiggle, or better yet dance, because they can’t sit still. Those who talk during prayer. Those who don’t feel like they’re good enough or deserve to belong. Those who act like they don’t want to be there, because maybe they truly don’t. Yes, all of them.

Jesus calls us to love, not just the one anothers we like, but the world for which He died. Every person He created and called by name. No matter how unruly or annoying they might be. No matter how inconvenient loving them might be.

I am grateful that Teen was given a fresh start each time he showed up. That for every person who wrote him off, enough others cared about him and hung in there with him so that he kept coming. So that as a high school kid, Confirmation felt like his next logical step, not one coerced by zealous parents but a choice he made willingly for his life and his faith.

Thank you, Church, for welcoming a wild child in bow tie.

Where do we place our hope?

I had a surprising and completely lovely conversation with Tween after Sunday school this morning. I asked him about the lesson, and he told me the story commonly called The Rich Young Ruler (found in Matthew 19:16-22 and Mark 10:17-27): a man who has kept all the commandments asks Jesus what else he must do, and Jesus tells him to sell all his possessions and follow Him.

So I asked Tween what that meant practically, did he need to go home and clean out his room? (Horror! This kid thrives in a creative chaos that boggles his mama’s brain).

No, he responded, but this month’s Sunday school theme is “Don’t Get Wrapped Up in Your Stuff, Get Wrapped Up in Christmas.”

Okay, so what does that mean? Are you more wrapped up in your stuff or in Christ?

Christ, he immediately gushed. (A Christmas blessing for my heart!)

So how could your stuff distract you from Jesus? Isn’t that what the story is about?

He explained: it means don’t get so excited about your toys that you sit in your room playing when you could be out on a beautiful nature walk with friends. Or at church.

Because on a nature walk with friends you experience God?

Yes! You get outside, with other people, and you see what God has created and how good God is and how amazing this world is. That’s what we did all summer in Costa Rica. That’s why we went to Costa Rica. Because Teen had been there and he told us how beautiful it is and that God is at work there, and so we went to see what God was doing.

Joy, unspeakable joy! The kid gets it. He understands that getting wrapped up in Jesus is the only place to be, and he understands the point of our sabbatical trip: to eliminate distractions and seek Jesus.

Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things (Colossians 3:2).

And yet we insist on self-focus which leads to stress and distress, worry and fear. Why, when instead we could have hope, joy, peace, and love? It’s not because self-focus is easier, though it is perhaps more natural.

Ann Voskamp writes: “Worry is always belief gone wrong. Because you don’t believe that God will get it right. Peace is belief that exhales. Because you believe that God’s love is everywhere – like air” (Unwrapping the Greatest Gift, p44 – have I sold you on this book yet? I’m loving it!).

Believing it to be so sacred as to be unpronounceable, Jews don’t speak aloud God’s name, YHWH or Yahweh, and instead call Him by other names, Elohim or Adonai, Strong One, Lord, Father. Some argue that the name itself is the sound of breathing, that our every breath acknowledges God the Giver of Life. And don’t we all really need a deep breath, especially in this busy season? We need a change of focus, a change in our very being.

I am making a commitment this week: first, to breathe deeper, and secondly, to pray each time I change my clothes, reminding myself to take off myself and put on Christ.

Advent Week 2 – Where Do We Place Our Hope?
December 7-13

Read Scripture: Colossians 3:1-17

Candle lighting: Light the first and second candles.

Read: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” The first candle represents the hope of Israel. The second candle represents the hope of heaven.

How many times today did you think about yourself: your fears or worries, your wants and needs? We so easily forget the hope God gives us in His Son. Like torn and dirty clothes, take off your troubles and doubts that lead to sin. Put on the hope of your new life in Jesus: the cozy Christmas sweater adorned with compassion, peace and gratitude. Live in hope as you set your heart and mind on Jesus.

Pray: Dear God, help us to let go of everything that distracts us from you. Thank you for the gift of new life. In the name of Jesus we hope and pray, Amen.

 

Throughout the Week// light the candle, read and discuss the daily Scripture and pray together.

Light two candles as you say: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Read & Discuss:

Monday// Psalm 31:24// What does it mean to you to hope in the Lord?
Tuesday// Psalm 62:5// How can you rest in God today?
Wednesday// Psalm 147:11// When have you felt the Lord’s delight in you?
Thursday// Matthew 6:33-34// How can you seek God first and worry less today?
Friday// Romans 5:1-5// God grows our hope when we wait for Him. When have you felt stronger after experiencing something hard?
Saturday// Hebrews 10:22-23// How will you draw near to God today?

Pray: Dear God, help us to let go of everything that distracts us from you. Thank you for the gift of new life. In the name of Jesus we hope and pray, Amen.