Wednesday, July 23, 2008

New Locations for all my Sunday School Essays

Just went ahead today and posted all my essays on Sunday School on

Also, I welcome your feedback and ideas regarding this blog and the Sunday School Experience in general. So please feel free to post comments.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

You Are Not Alone

You Are Not Alone: Persevere
I took a reprieve from writing and creating and spent a year just teaching, leading, and speaking. It was good to be back in the trenches and away from the computer, but recently I’ve been asking God again, “What is it that I’m supposed to say?”
I’m not sure that God has answered me completely, but I’m sure of one message: persevere.
I recently spoke at a conference and looked out at the fifty or so faces in the crowd. They each had the same look on their faces: a combination of exhaustion, expectation, failure, hope, and fear. How can this be? In the midst of what is supposed to be the safest place in our society: the church, these seasoned, and some new, Sunday school teachers were struggling. I’ve been at this game too long now to ignore that we all struggle in the same way, myself included. The routine of the Sunday experience, the lack of teachers and resources, the inconsistent numbers of children, the perceived uphill battle that stretches up a mountain of societal secularism, the battle for minds and souls, the never ending war we wage every seventh day takes its toll. That we cannot change; it will never change, even if we have amazing pastors and support at our disposal for comfort and solace. Even if our church clearly states in its mission and vision statements that children and families are their one and only priority. Even if we pray daily, work diligently, inspire, lead, and create, we still struggle. Even though these are the realities of working in Children’s ministry, that doesn’t mean we have to like it.
I’m no different than any other leader out there; I work every week in a difficult and broken environment where children are the recipients of damaged families and adults that are overwhelmed. I myself can be overwhelmed by life, but on Sundays that all goes away and I have to bring my “A” game. I find that it is not easy, and it is often not fun or rewarding. I don’t state these realities to disappoint or put a damper on your own personal Sunday experiences, I mention them to remind you that you are not alone, and you are understood by the rest of us, in the same place, on the same day. Although we all work in different rooms, buildings, and communities, we share the commonality of being called by God to make a difference, if only for a slight moment, in the life of a child. No one said it was going to be easy, but I do believe that God wants us to persevere.
I was talking to a friend today about perseverance, particularly when politics and personalities disrupt our lives and cause us pain or hardship. She reminded me that no matter what happens, she has an audience of one. I often play to the larger audience, the parents, the teachers, the kids I work with, my team, my boss, my peers, and yet I need to remain focused on just one member of the audience for my strength and my courage: that of the one audience member that created me and loves me most. God is the only one that knows everything about me, the idiosyncratic confusion that I struggle with, the hopes and dreams I have for my program, the desire to change the world without a clue of how that might happen, my deepest secrets and fears, my weaknesses and my strengths. He created me for a reason, and he created you for a reason. He put you in this spot, at this time, for his purposes. He knows how much you can handle, how far you can be pushed, and when it is time to rest. Perseverance, I believe, relies on our trust that God is in control and will guide us along the way. Without God we cannot possibly continue week after week, month after month, year after year.
While bouncing on our very large trampoline, with worship music blasting in my ears, and watching the view of the sunset across the dimming hills, I am reminded that all of this is God’s, not mine. He has a plan that is bigger than me, bigger than my church, bigger than any issue or weekly disturbance that arises. But he also reminds me that I am not alone, and neither are you. He is right next to you, encouraging you and pushing you to lead in a better way, to be a better friend, a better teacher, a better servant of his will. Through him you can and will persevere.
I school my kids at home. Every year at a fairground two hours south of our remote home in the woods the state home school association convenes to encourage one another, and sell curriculum, of course. I usually go to see what the latest and greatest teaching guide has been created to help those of us who have taken on this daunting task. This year I took my best girlfriend and we perused the isles packed with companies trying to sell us products. I never go to the seminars; my years of teaching leaves me restless in classroom settings where I must be quiet (teachers are the worst students- as any teacher will confess!) But this year my friend dragged me into seminar after seminar to listen to, admittedly, very good speakers. I found there speeches and suggestions appealing, even relaxing and reassuring. One suggestion rang true: don’t do this alone.
That is good advice. It is not good to do anything alone, particularly difficult, ego blasting jobs. Flying solo, entering into the spotlight, or taking risks is dangerous business; going into it alone can be devastating. God did not create us to be alone; indeed he made us to have a relationship with him, and following the next greatest commandment, to have relationships with others through love. I’m convinced that one of the hurdles in Children’s ministry is that we are isolated. Like the classroom teacher who after years in the classroom is lonely and bitter, so yields leadership. We work with others, with the kids, socialize with the parents, but at the end of the day, we are alone. Only those leaders who work weekly in the trenches cleaning up the messes of our society and creating preventative care know what it means to be alone. We, as a group, need to reach towards one another and create a community of leaders that support and persevere together. Realistically speaking, there are thousands of leaders just like you out there, probably one just down the street from you.
I have a good friend who has been in the trenches in a small church about ten miles from mine for the past four years. We speak often of the struggles of leadership. I’ve relied on her as a soundboard for issues from curriculum to safety, to dreams. We’ve shared resources and ideas, thoughts and frustrations. I believe that God has put us together for mutual support and I’m eternally grateful! Who is that person for you? I didn’t ask God for my friend, but in retrospect, I believe he was at work even before we met.
At that same conference where I saw confounding looks, I spent an hour talking to a great children’s ministry leader. After the formalities melted away, we talked candidly about our experiences and frustrations. An hour later we were both drained, but also relieved to be heard. It is important to be heard, to be understood, to be confirmed in your thoughts and emotions. There is nothing wrong with emotion, I am reminded by a best friend when I’m being particularly staunch (she tends to be overly emotional, a good balance to my consistently flat line demeanor.) Sometimes I think it is particularly difficult for good leaders to express honest emotion. We are very caught up in the persona that accomplishes our goals; the always positive, calm, non- flustered, non-affected leader who eyes are firmly planted on the will of God. But God gave us emotions for a reason, and he put people in your life who will listen to you. God also wants to listen to you. Honestly, I’m not good at pouring out my emotions to anyone, not even to God. Rarely will anyone see me cry, not even my husband. Somewhere along the way I learned that emotions equaled weakness, and this is in direct conflict to my driven, focused, intense personality. But this leader that I talked to for an hour cried almost the entire time. I found that intriguing, but good, almost admirable. She was able to express herself and vent to an extent that healing was palpable. I’m not so sure that I could do that, even though it is healthy, so for all of you that are the opposite of me: emotional, vibrant with tears, and gifted in the outpouring of love, you are cherished as well. And for those of you that feel the guilt of staunchness, you are not alone.
None of us are, really, it’s time to realize that, draw close to one another, and closer to God. Perseverance is not an easy goal, but it is definitely necessary, at least for as long as we live in a world of broken people, great goals to accomplish, and a lifetime of never-ending Sundays.