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I received a text message from a colleague in ministry regarding judging the amount of Biblical support and relevance provided in a particular curriculum. They were concerned about the reviews of this curriculum discussing its “lack of Bible” and Biblical shallowness that doesn’t seemingly answer life’s tough questions. Let me say here that I love the Bible, I believe the Bible is God’s inerrant word and is the most important document we can use to teach our young people about the redemptive work of God through Jesus Christ in our lives and the world. The Bible is a tool to help us understand the love of God and His relationship with humanity throughout the ages of the world. With that said, how we use it becomes critical in helping the next generation build authentic faith.

What would happen if our next gen ministries read the Bible prioritizing the God behind the story? What if the Bible was used as a tool to help us learn and understand God’s love for us shown in His activity with and through us? How might the God behind the Bible make the Bible real for their lives now? As we look towards 2017, it is essential that we design children and youth ministry that focuses on the God of the Bible and the relevance of the Bible.

The Bible only matters in so much as the God behind the Bible matters. I have often heard people say “even Satan knows the Bible.” While this saying might be trite, there is a considerable amount of depth in it. Satan knows the Bible but his faith is not in the God of the Bible. We want the next generation to have faith in the God of the Bible. Faith is born out of a knowledge of and dependence on the love of God. The love of God that is so real to us that we believe in the God from which it originates. Then we read the Bible because we believe in the God behind the Bible.

Our relationship with God makes the Bible, God’s word, matter in our daily lives. Our relationship with God makes us care about what the Bible says. When we disciple a generation to love God because God first loved them the Bible becomes more than a collection of stories. The Bible becomes a way to get to know God better and how His story connects with their story to give them a great life. We want God to matter! Then the tools of the Bible, prayer, worship, and church will be something they gladly do because it connects them to Him.

The Bible only matters in so much as they can use it now! The Bible has to make sense and what we teach from the Bible on Sunday has to be something they can use on Monday. While everything in the Bible matters, it is important that we focus on what matters now! And “what matters” is an idea that is relative to experience. In other words, the Bible “really only matters if is matters. Actually, it really only matters if it matters to them.”[1]

What matters for a three-year-old changes for a twelve-year-old and again for a sixteen-year-old. During those phases, our children and youth are dealing with real issues that must be addressed within our two-hour teaching time on Sunday morning. We have to be intentional about saying what matters. What we are teaching from the Bible has to have future impact and immediate relevance. It has to benefit them today! The more we can stick to passages that address their immediate needs and questions, the more they will use it and see the value in it. We want them to know the Bible is full of life for them now not passages to memorize for later.

We want our children and youth to love God. We want them to have a relationship with God right now. We want them to build their hope in God through Jesus Christ. And we want them to use the Bible to understand how the love of God and faith in Christ works! Let’s teach like that! Let’s select curriculum that helps us do that! Let’s plan events like that! And watch them experience a real God that brings the words of the Bible to life in the lives.

[1] Joiner, Reggie. 2016. "A New Kind of Leader." 75. Cumming: reThink Group.

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Awesome trainings keep me dreaming all night on Friday and then wake me up at the crack of dawn on Saturday. Whether attending as a participant or communicator, I am in love with the idea of getting better. In the same vein, the one thing that will raise my blood pressure is getting excited about a training opportunity that winds up wasting my time. All of the effective training events I have attended have two common components. They are purposeful and well prepared. Nothing happens by accident.

Purpose is paramount. No one likes wandering around a maze of ideas trying to figure out how they all connect. Give me the purpose and then make sure to deliver on that promise. All preparations align to fulfilling that purpose.

When planning trainings for my context, I direct NextGen ministries, I consider where the ministries are headed, where we are on that journey, and what is the next logical step in that direction. Two years ago, when I arrived at my current congregation, I knew I would implement the Orange Strategy. My team and I discussed where we were, where we wanted to go, and how we planned to get there. For us, the first step in implementing the strategy was moving to the curriculum across grades. We were moving from a Sunday school lecture model to more on-the-floor, tactile and discussion-oriented exercises. The purpose of the training was to introduce, orient, and get buy-in to this new curriculum and way of “teaching” our children and youth. The training was aligned to meet that objective. No projectors and whiteboards. Bring on the supply buckets! The next several training events consisted of hands-on simulations of the small group exercises and discussions.

I had to pick a starting place to the many layers to cover. All the elements of the Orange Strategy are important and essential—partnering with parents, the importance of a vibrant environment, worship hosting and storytelling—but I knew if the scope was too wide I wouldn’t accomplish the first objective. These other items were strategically mapped out for future trainings purposed to meet those objectives. This training stuck to curriculum introduction, orientation, and usage proficiency.

Preparation is everything past establishing the purpose—including determining content, location, time, equipment needs, communication regarding the event, and anything else that is needed to accomplish the purpose. Preparation will either hinder or further the realization of the purpose. Using the same example, I use the five W’s to assist in my preparation:

Q1: Who am I trying to attract? How can I make these individuals aware?

A1: I would love the entire ministry but I really NEED my small group leaders. Everyone was contacted via email. The small group leaders were also called the week before.

Q2: What am I trying to accomplish? What do I need to accomplish it?

A2: I want the SGLs to buy into the new curriculum and be excited about its direction. I need all the materials from the lesson that will show my SGLs that this curriculum will help us build our kids faith through fun and authentic relationships.

Q3: Where is the best place to hold this training to assist with meeting its purpose?

A3: I love holding meetings at my house but I need the SGLs to be in their environment in order to get the closest simulation. At the church, in the classroom, on the floor it was!

Q4: When should this be scheduled? Is there a day of the week, time of day, or season of the year that works best?

A4: I work at a commuter church and a lot of my volunteers are parents. Weekdays are horrible! Saturdays would be the day feasible to the largest number of people.

Q5: Why is this training important now? Is this part of a long-term plan or short-term goal? If this is part of a long-term plan, is this the next best step for this group and this time?

A5: This is one-piece of a long-term plan. If I can get them to buy into a curriculum that works, then it will be easier to get them to later buy into the entire strategy.

Unequipped teams are frustrated teams. Training is essential to the recruitment and retention of volunteers and our success as ministries that walk alongside families that help kids build authentic faith. Let’s be purposeful in our training times and put in the preparation that will help them reach their optimum potential.

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Arborists, people who work with trees and plants, understand that pruning is not something just done for the look of a tree but it is necessary for the health of the tree. Pruning is done with the end-result in mind: making the tree healthier and a better fit for the environment that it is growing in. This principle can be applied in many of the churches we serve. Pruning is done to keep our congregations, and the individuals that make up the entire group, growing in a healthy trajectory.

When it comes to people, pruning is not always easy. The people we serve matter, and pruning seasons are not always easy. While the tree branch does not have a voice, emotions, traditions, and opinions, the people we are called to serve do. Pruning is a necessary part of ministry work but it is the heart of the spiritual arborist who determines the difference between effective pruning or a botched job!

More often than not, our issue is not lack of desire for growth, but the willingness to do the pruning to achieve it. I seldom look forward to making decisions related to ministry growth that involves cutting. Several questions come to mind during a pruning season:

  • What needs to be minimized in order to experience maximized growth?

  • What am I willing to let go of so something else can grow in its place?

  • Would the people in the ministry be healthier if this change is implemented?

  • Will this change bring us closer to the ultimate amount of fruit that the ministry and the laborers were created to produce?

In 2014, I started a program at the church where I serve as director of children, youth, and young adults. The program was an initial great success! At the seventh month, several things occurred that resulted in an attendance and quality decline. I had to choose: Cut the program or find another way to fulfill the program’s objectives. We revamped the programming day and the original function was revitalized. We have seen great results this year simply by pruning the day. Healthy ministry growth requires pruning. This does not always result in eliminating a particular ministry but ensures that ministry is productive.

When the pruning season begins, as leaders, I believe we should keep this one principle in mind: Be loving in everything we do, (1 Corinthians 16:14, NIrV). The love used in First Corinthians 16:14 is the same love described more thoroughly in First Corinthians 13. Agape. L-O-V-E!

Agape Pruning gives people time to mourn when there is loss and a ministry that they have been serving in for years is no longer part of the church’s direction. Agape Pruning will not eliminate a ministry, position, or person just because they have the power to, or because the person made them angry, or just because . . . whatever reason fits our sometimes selfish motives. Agape Pruning looks for ways to keep others whole during the pruning process! Agape Pruning is purposeful and undergirded by love. Agape Pruning moves beyond the initial change to ministering to the person most affected by the cut.

Agape Pruning considers:

Placement – ensuring that people are working in their area of giftedness and passion

Reinvigoration – thinking outside the box in order to take dated methods and give them relevant meaning

Urgency – prioritizing what is the most immediate need, not pruning everything at once

Nudging – having several conversations that cast vision and possibilities before making any changes; planting the seed and

Excitement – emphasizing the possibilities that the change will create; consistently verbalizing the gains and redirect hesitant conversations in this direction

An agape pruner loves first. When we cut without loving, the possibility for damage becomes inevitable. Agape Pruning is motivated by love and a desire to see God’s people grow through healthy ministry.

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