Wednesday, March 31, 2010

What Does a "Win" Look Like in Children's Ministry? -- Part 3 (Real Stories)

Here are some comments that we have gotten over the past few months. Stories like these are what motivate and encourage staff and volunteers in this ministry:
“I just wanted to say thank you for what y'all are doing for the children's ministry.  I have cared about children's ministry for a long time but now have an even bigger interest (because [my daughter] is now old enough to "learn").  She LOVES church and her class.  On Sunday morning, we were eating breakfast and she told us "Meshack and Obednego go into the fire and they weren't scarred."  I had no idea what she was talking never occurred to me that she was recounting a bible story!  I knew she was learning about them but hadn't asked her about it.  She is really soaking it up.  She is only a little over 2 and can tell you the story!  So...thank you for working so hard to make sure our kids are taught the truth!  She is learning!” (from a Community Group Leader)

 “[We] were walking around at Trunk or Treat, just looking around at everything and [my husband] said "I love our church!" and I wholeheartedly agreed with him.  Thanks for all you do for the Children's Ministry -- I know it's not always the easiest or most fun thing to do. We have been so blessed by things at Grace Church and we are so happy that [our son] is a part of such a great Children's Ministry!” (from a mom & volunteer)

 “I just wanted to tell you thank you again for allowing [my daughter] and I to be a part of the nursery. We are enjoying it so much. [She] looks forward to it all week.” (From a mom and teenage daughter who serve together)

“I am one of the volunteers that helps with Preschool Quest, and [your daughter] is in my class. I just wanted to let you know how much she encourages and inspires me every week. I missed seeing her last week, and I was so excited to see her today.  After being together for a few times now, I feel that I am starting to connect with her.  It is amazing to see her face light up when she discovers something new or gets excited about being with the group. She is just a true joy to be around!!” (from a single person to a parent)

“Thanks for all of the work you both put in towards making the children’s programs at Grace run smoothly.  We appreciate the behind the scenes work that makes it so easy and enjoyable for us to teach and nothing makes me smile more than to see my kids excited about going to church!" (from another mom & volunteer)

You can watch some other testimonies on the impact of Children’s Ministry on our website.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Future Men Videos

For those who missed it, here's a full playlist of videos that were done in response to questions from our Future Men event last October.  Bill White answers the questions, with Scott Mozingo as the moderator. Some of the topics below are linked to previous posts, where a summary is given. The videos cover these principles:
  1. Stages of Manhood
  2. Developing Son's Leadership
  3. Dealing with a Lack of Male Leadership
  4. Respect for Authority
Any other questions?  Comment below (it can be anonymous). And make plans to attend our Transitions Parenting Conference on April 16-17.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Camp Grace Passover Seder

This past weekend, we had our 5th annual Camp Grace Passover Seder (pronounced “say’ der”) presentation. This event has been a highlight for children, volunteers, and staff alike. For campers who have done this before, it becomes something to look forward to – when else do they get a chance to eat things like horseradish, parsley, or matzah? When else do they get their hands washed by their classmates, and in return wash another’s hands? A couple of years ago, we had a parent tell us that they were planning to miss service, because they were worn out with so many things going on, but that their 3rd grader insisted they go so she wouldn’t miss the Seder. And every year, we have more and more children and leaders who are participating in this event for the first time. There are elements in the presentation that incorporate all five senses, so that we can learn to worship our Lord more fully. Truly, we can “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8).

Not only is this a fun, hands-on presentation, but our leaders have the opportunity to clearly communicate the gospel message. Most of the time, we’ve done our Seder on the weekend of Palm Sunday, as a prelude to Easter. Did you know that what we call the Last Supper (the last meal that Jesus shared with His disciples before He was crucified) was a Passover Seder? Christ was very intentional in this, to point out that He is the fulfillment of the Jewish feast of Passover, which commemorated God’s redemption of Israel from slavery in Egypt (Exodus 12). In our presentation, we specifically highlight how Jesus was the Lamb that was to be sacrificed. For example, compare the Old Testament description of the Passover lamb, with how Jesus met those qualifications:
  • Passover lamb was chosen on the 10th day of the month. It was on the 10th day of the month that Jesus entered Jerusalem (Palm Sunday).
  • Passover lamb had to be perfect. Jesus is the unblemished Lamb (I Peter 1:19), who never sinned.
  • Passover lamb had to be killed and the blood applied to the doorframe of the house, in order to protect from the angel of death. We need to “apply” Jesus blood to our lives by faith in His life, death, and resurrection.
  • At judgment time, God only looked for the blood of the Passover lamb; whoever obeyed in faith would not be judged. When I stand before God at judgment day, He will look for faith in me, and will only see Jesus’ blood, and not my sins.
Jesus is our Lamb who was slain (Revelation 5:12) so that we can have eternal life through faith in Him. If you or your child has any questions about the Passover presentation, please leave a comment or email us at

Have a great week and a worshipful Easter! We hope to see you at our Good Friday service (which will include Communion), on April 2, with services at 5 and 7 PM on our Pelham Road campus.  If you haven’t read it yet, you should read our previous post that helps answer the question, “Can my child take Communion?”  Also, we look forward to having over 30 people being baptized during our weekend services, including Saturday night and across all three campuses.

Friday, March 26, 2010

We (Wii) Went There

Over Christmas and New Years, our kids got to play a Nintendo Wii at the homes of family and friends, and they had been talking about how great it would be to have one. So, in the beginning on January, I promptly informed our kids that if they came up with half of the cost of a Wii, we would cover the other half. (Joanna was just as surprised as the kids.) They went right to work counting up what they had, and had over $40 (mostly money from recent birthdays and Christmas), plus a $15 gift card to Target.  It was well short of the $106 they would need (they, of course, had to pay for half of the sales tax), but not a bad start. At our bank, I started a separate savings account that we called the “Wii Fund.” By early March, they had enough, and we purchased our system at Target one Sunday afternoon.

How did they earn the rest of the money?  Here were their main avenues:
  • Set up a lemonade stand on a surprisingly-warm February day
  • Making and selling very creative Valentine’s Day cards
  • A little bit of money as gifts for Valentine's Day (from grandparents)
  • One tooth for the “Tooth Fairy"
In this process, we were really excited to see their character and attitudes, particularly with Hannah and Elijah. Probably the greatest part of this “project” was seeing them display honorable and Christ-like character.  For example, they . . .
  • Didn’t whine or bug us with questions about when they would be able to buy it.
  • Worked together as a team. Not once did any of them consider any portion of money more critical than another one’s contribution. It was always our Wii Fund.
  • Earned money by working (lemonade stand, homemade cards)
  • Turned down additional money from grandparents.  Hannah said, “My Daddy probably won’t let me take that.” Maybe that was true and maybe not, but I loved how she thought to honor me.
  • Continued to tithe and save in long-term savings when they received money (versus just putting all the money towards the Wii Fund)
  • Reacted with pure joy and gratitude when we took them to Target to buy it (they had no idea why we were there)
They have shown to be faithful with the little money that they have. Even with birthdays and Christmas in 2009, they expected to and had no problem with spending money out of their own piggy banks to buy gifts for others, and to give and tithe. We are now considering giving them more to be faithful with, and more responsibility (Matthew 25:21; Luke 16:10).  Specifically, we’re thinking of giving them a small amount of a monthly allowance, and see if they continue to be faithful to give and save, along with having an allotment to spend. But we know if they prove unfaithful, we will remove even the little that they have. 

Do you give an allowance to your children?  What age were your children when they started?  Are there any strings attached?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Transitions Parenting Conference

We are having a parent equipping event on April 16-17, called Transitions Parenting Conference.  (You can read about more of the details on our website.)  You may be wondering if this is going to be similar to last year’s conference, or you may be wondering why we are calling it “Transitions.”  We’d like to explain our purpose in having this equipping event.

It is crucial that we are always looking ahead as we lead our children, not just over the next few months, but over the next year, and 2-3 years, and even 10 years.  We need to have a long-term vision for our children, instead of merely parenting in the moment.  For example, if you have a 2 year old, you need to be thinking about what you want him to be like at age 4 or 5.  If you have a 3rd grader, you need to be parenting her to be a 5th grader.  And if you have a young teenager, you had better be thinking about what it looks like to prepare him to leave the house.  This is what it looks like to shepherd your child from a kingdom-perspective. 

We want to help you in this process.  We will discuss some major concepts, and give guiding principles about how it applies to the specific “transitions” in your child’s life.  The three main transitions we will focus on are:
  • Around age 5-6 (about the time the child begins school)
  • Around age 11-13 (middle school years)
  • Around age 16-17 (about the time the child gets a drivers license)

As you can see, this is a joint Children’s & Student Ministry event.  If you have a child anywhere from age 1-17, you should make it a point to be here.  This event is open to the public, so feel free to invite friends, neighbors, and family.  You can find more information and find a link to register on our website.  

What Does a "Win" Look Like in Children's Ministry? -- Part 2 (Children)

Previously, we looked at some indicators of a healthy Children’s Ministry, focusing on seeing growth in parents and volunteers. Today, we will look at what are “wins” for children themselves. 
  • Children are coming. It’s hard to have Children’s Ministry without children! Our goal has never been about getting more children to come to our programming, but we believe that growth in attendance is a by-product of a healthy ministry. Over the past 3 years, we have nearly doubled our attendance in our Children's Ministry programming.
  • Children love coming. We hear so often from new families how much their children love our programming. In fact, for many families, the children have begged to come back to Grace Church. This surely is a testimony to the loving and engaging volunteers that we are blessed to have.
  • Children taking steps of faith.  Throughout the year, there are children who are professing their faith and demonstrating it through baptism. How moving is it to see so many dads baptizing their children! Another big step of faith for many children involves going to our summer camp. We have had more and more children go each year, and for most of them, this is their first overnight camp experience.
But more than any numbers can indicate, what we value the most are notes and emails from parents. Nothing can express meaning and value like a real life application. Come back next week to read some of these stories.

Monday, March 22, 2010

What Does a "Win" Look Like in Children's Ministry? -- Part 1 (Parents & Volunteers)

This is always the “million-dollar” question, isn’t it? After all, we all want to know if what we are doing is meaningful and productive, no matter if we are in paid ministry or whether we serve as a volunteer. Of course, the ultimate goal for Grace Children’s Ministry is to equip the next generation for a life in Christ. We want children to know God intimately, and to grow spiritually.  But of course, this is something that is hard measure in the moment. Only God knows the hearts of each child, whether they truly are growing in faith.

So, is there some way to determine if we are equipping parents, volunteers, and children, as God has called us to do? (You can read about our mission here.) While spiritual growth per se is not easily measured, we do watch some indicators to help us gauge the health of this ministry. These are not determinants for our ministry; rather, they are signs that things are going in the right direction.
  • Attendance at equipping events.  You can see a summary of our parental equipping events on our website.  In April 2008, we had 135 parents in attendance, as we taught on the subject of salvation and baptism. At the Intentional Parenting Conference (January 2009), we had 240 adults, and in the fall we had 392 at the “Future Men” equipping event. We are looking forward to Transitions Parenting Conference (April 16-17), and “Future Women” (this coming fall).
  • Utilization of take-home materials.  Since January, we started collecting Smore Cards from the kids in our Camp Grace programming, to see what spiritual activities their parents were leading them in. We were most of all excited about the number of families who were using the ROAD Bible reading plan to help their children learn to become Biblically-oriented.
  • Increasing numbers of volunteers. With an ever-growing ministry, we are always in need of more and more volunteers. Three years ago, we had 250; now we have around 650, and we expect to need 700+ by this fall! Last summer, we had over 120 people who were either brand new to serving in Children’s Ministry, or they stepped up to an increased role in serving.
  • More volunteers being equipped. During the past few years, we’ve been tweaking how we do our summer training. One goal that we’ve accomplished is to orient our training schedule to give the maximum opportunity for volunteers to attend the training; this past summer, over 90% of our volunteers attended a training session, and most of the break-out sessions at these events were led by volunteer Coaches (another huge win!).
  • Volunteers feel like they have contributed. We have worked to format our curriculum so that it is easy to use by our small group leaders, even for substitutes. Furthermore, through our Coaching structure, volunteers have an easy way to get feedback and insight from our experienced leaders.
Come back later in the week to read some more “wins” for Grace Children’s Ministry.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Pigeonholing the Preacher's Daughter

Last year, I was joking about something with another pastor on staff, and I referred to my wife, Joanna, as being a “PK” (preacher’s kid). He finally stopped me and said, “You realize that you have three PK’s yourself, don’t you?”  I definitely had not thought about that, and I felt the weight of the moment. Growing up in a small town in the south, it was easy to see the pressures that a child of a pastor could feel. (And I am not the most sensitive person, so if I could see it, it must be true.)  People come with their own expectations towards PK’s.  In light of these thoughts, I really could appreciate this article from a preacher’s daughter. Here's an exert:
“[W]hen it comes to stereotypes, Christians don’t do halfway. Even if you don’t fit neatly into one box, people tend to put you there. Debate evolution just once in science class and you’re bona fide Bible-thumper. Date one questionable guy, and you’re the town harlot.”

What are your thoughts? 

--  Joey Espinosa

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Making Disciples

God reminded of me of this truth, in “Big Truths for Young Hearts” (p. 210):  As a follower of Christ, I am called to make disciples (Matthew 28:19).  I must be careful that I am not making disciples just of myself, but of Christ.  I must direct others to the love, teaching, and grace of the Lord Jesus.  

Even more, I must remember my role of making disciples of my children.  It is so easy for me to focus on making them disciples of how I do things, how I think about things, how I talk about things.  But it all needs to be about the actions, thoughts, and words of Christ.  Even if they follow me, I need to ensure that I am following and reflecting Christ.  I must remember the words of John the Baptist as he refers to Jesus.  “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).  

--  Joey Espinosa

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Can My Child Take Communion?

Communion is an act in which we remember Jesus’ perfect life and sinless body (represented by unleavened bread) and His redemptive sacrifice and blood that paid the price for our sins (represented by grape juice or wine). Jesus gives this ordinance to His disciples (Luke 22:19-20), as a way to remember what He did for us. We should only participate in Communion if we believe and admit that Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was for our sin. Once we personally and publicly identify with Christ in both His death and resurrection, we are part of the family of faith and welcome to partake in the Lord’s Supper. (See our website for our position paper on this and other topics.)

At Grace Church, we typically partake in Communion (also called the Lord’s Supper) on the first full weekend each month. Additionally, we will be having a Good Friday worship service this year which will include Communion, as we did last year. Based on questions we received last year, we want to give direction to parents who will be bringing their young children to the Good Friday service.  As a parent who is the God-given authority for you child, it is your role to determine if your child is able to take Communion. If you are not sure (as best you can discern through prayer and godly counsel), if your child is a true believer in and follower of Jesus Christ, you should not allow him or her to partake in the Lord’s Supper. If your child is a believer, then we welcome him to join us in Communion.  And if he or she has not been baptized as a believer, then you should consider baptism as a next step, maybe even before they take Communion. See our page about baptism for what this process looks like.

As a personal example, our daughter, Hannah (who, as best we can tell, is a follower of Christ and professed this by mouth and by baptism in November 2008), regularly takes Communion with us. Our son Elijah has not take the same steps as Hannah, and we are still discerning the work of the Spirit in his life. He sat with us during last year’s Good Friday service, but we did not allow him to take Communion. This was a struggle and brought tension for him, and probably will this year. But in that tension, our goal is to shepherd him towards the struggle to die to himself and live a Spirit-empowered life for Christ.

If you have questions about whether your child is a true believer, the best thing you can do is seek counsel from your Community Group leader, a pastor, or a respected God-fearing parent who has been through this season. Here are a few starting points that may help guide you in determining whether your child is a true believer or not:
  1. Is your child characterized by knowledge of the gospel message, unsolicited repentance for sin, and an indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit in his life?
  2. Here is a blog post to a similar question from last March.
  3. In April 2008, we had a parental equipping event called “Shepherding Your Child Through Salvation and Baptism.” We encourage you to listen to the audio, and the follow-up discussion questions.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

What Do Our Kids Idolize?

A recent lesson (from March 6 & 7) in Camp Grace dealt with the issue of idolatry (see our curriculum outline). On our take-home Smore Card, we asked our campers to circle the things that they idolize.  Since we started collecting and tracking the Smore Cards that are returned, it is always interesting to see what they say.  So, here are the top responses for when we asked them to identify the idols in their lives:
  1. Toys (such as Barbies and Transformers)
  2. Video Games
  3. tie: Money and TV
What are some of the idols in your kids' lives, which hinders them from following God and loving others?

Monday, March 15, 2010

What is Our Model of Ministry in Grace Children's Ministry?

As mentioned previously, both the Preschool and Camp Grace programming are primarily set up in a Big Group / Small Group format. Though the specific schedule will be different based on age-groups and facilities, in general, the typical Saturday night or Sunday morning has this flow:
  1. Small Group: welcome and introduction to the lesson, in a classroom
  2. Big Group: multiple classes coming together for singing and a short drama
  3. Small Group: back to the classroom for more Bible lesson, in depth discussion, and activities
We like the Big Group / Small Group format (as opposed to all-classroom time, children’s church, or “center” rotation), because we feel it more closely mimics what Grace Church does across all age-groups. For example, adults come together for “Big Group” time on Saturday night or Sunday morning on one of our three campuses. Then, during the week, deep relational connections are made through Community Groups, our adult “Small Group” time.

We interested in the idea of using “centers” for Children’s Ministry, and we have explored the use of them in the past and may revisit it in the future. However, we see the value of having the model of Big Group / Small Group times throughout all age groups, from children to students to adults.

Questions or thoughts?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

New Big Group iMix's

We've updated our Preschool and Camp Grace iMix's, so that you can buy and listen to some of the songs that we're doing during our Big Group times. See our website for the newest mixes, which include some of the songs that we'll be singing over the next few months. 

Friday, March 12, 2010

Have You Messed Up?

Here are some thoughts from Jon Acuff (from this article):
"I love that the Bible is full of mess ups that come back. Abject failures of human beings that through God’s grace are pulled from the pit and do some tremendous things. . . . I don’t care if you’re a bad dad, a fired employee, a divorced parent that feels like life is an island right now. . . . [J]ust like Judah, we are all capable of change in the eyes of the Lord."

We at Grace Church believe that life-change is real. But please don’t think that life change is something that you can make happen. It’s a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit that comes as a result of pursuing intimacy with Christ as Lord and Savior. Don’t pursue life change; pursue God and real heart change will happen. See our website for other stories from folks at Grace Church, of how their lives have been changed.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Free Book!

Do you have a copy of Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die, by John Piper? If you don't, we have at least 70 more copies to give away. We bought these at a special price ($1 each) with the promise of sharing them all for free.

The reasons given are not causes ("Who killed Jesus?") but purposes ("What did God achieve for sinners like us in sending His Son to die?"). Each section is two pages long, and includes scripture references to support the answer, so it's great for devotional reading, especially leading up to Easter.

If you want a copy for yourself or for someone else, leave a comment on this blog with instructions on how we can get it to you. (If you don't live in the Greenville area, we should be able to ship it no problem.) First come, first served!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

New Plan for This Blog

From someone who, 15 months ago, totally resisted the idea of having a blog, I've really gone overboard. In 2009, we had over 100 posts. Already in 2010, we have over 50.  I realized (with the help of some loving and "brutally honest" friends) that maybe we need to cut back a little.  I'm going to try to have shorter and less frequent posts. Additionally, we'll be more strategic and organized in the types of posts that we give throughout the week. This way, if there are particle types of posts that you are interested in, you can be sure to know when they'll appear, and just skim the other types. Here's my proposed plan:
  • Monday and/or Wednesday: Topics related specifically to our programming
  • Thursday: Miscellaneous thoughts (such as from books or articles we're reading)
  • Friday: Quick summaries and links to outside articles (you can peruse and read more on whichever interest you)
  • Sunday: Specific examples that our family is learning, thinking about, and doing
In this, the plan is to have no more than 4 posts per week (on a stretch we'll have 5, but we'll keep it short). We hope to still get out adequate information to help assist you in leading your children, while not making you feel guilty for not reading so much.

Let us know what you think. Happy reading!

-- Joey Espinosa

Monday, March 8, 2010

What is the Focus of Our Curriculum?

As we said in the beginning of this series, our Camp Grace (elementary) curriculum was implemented about 5 years ago. The scope is a 2-year walk-through the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation. The focus is on main people in the Bible – not just the people themselves, but the Biblical principles that we can learn by studying their lives. Furthermore, we seek to delve into applications that are relevant for these 1st – 4th graders.  If there is one thing we want these children to see over and over again, it’s that they are sinners in need of a Savior. We don’t want children to merely "grow up in church," doing lots of "good things," and thinking this is what Christian life is all about. We want them to know that it is only by the grace and mercy that God has shown us through His Son Jesus Christ that we can have life and fulfillment. 

The focus of our Preschool Curriculum is on the attributes of God. We want our young ones to first off learn who God is, and then we can get into application of how we respond to Him. For example, it is by the fact that God is holy that we learn to respond by repenting of our sin. It is by knowing that God owns everything that we learn that we should freely give to others. Usually, each divine attribute is presented in a 3- or 4-week unit.

On our website, you can see our current outlines for both Camp Grace and Preschool.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Fearing God

Not too long ago, I was reading through Matthew 10 to my older two children. When we got to verse 28, I asked them who Jesus is talking about that we should fear. They thought it was Satan. I explained that it's God alone who can destroy the body and soul; therefore we should fear Him. Elijah (always trying to rationalize) said, "Oh. I thought I was supposed to love God and fear Satan. I guess I'm supposed to fear God and love Satan." Right then, I knew I had my work cut out for me!

I tried to explain that loving God and fearing God actually go together. (They both gave me puzzled looks.) First, we turned to Proverbs 1:7, to see that fearing God is the key to wise living. Second, we discussed how none of us deserve to have eternal life, that we all deserve to receive eternal punishment in hell. (See last week's post on how God chooses some.) And without God's initiative, we can't even believe in and follow Him. So, we need to fear Him, knowing that from the beginning of time, our salvation has been completely in His hands.

I know I could not fully explain this concept of fearing God, and they don't have a full understanding of why it's a good thing to fear God. But then again, I'm not sure if I completely understand it either.

-- Joey Espinosa

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Our Adventure

As explained over the last few days, our Adventure is to equip the next generation through serving and exhortation, in our family, our church, our culture, and our world. I want to be clear that we are trying hard to make sure that this is not just some “good deeds” that we are doing for our own desire. Rather, we feel that this adventure has already been set in motion by our Lord, and we just want to join His plan and do our part. This is all about the gospel of Jesus Christ; we want our lives to be a reflection of the grace and mercy that He has shown us. In our adventure, we want to grow in our trust in Him, and to spread the message of His gospel.

Does your family have a central and driving vision? What is your adventure about?

-- Joey Espinosa

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Adventure: Our Culture & Our World

I’ve already discussed how we want to equip the next generation in our family and our church, as part of the adventure that God has for us. Now I’ll discuss two other areas.

3.  Our Culture. Not only should we pour into the children in our family and our church, but we feel that God has given us tools and experiences that we can share with others. From a staff perspective, we want to help other churches’ children’s ministries. We have had a significant increase in the number of questions and contacts from other churches (across the country and even from other countries!) over the past year. With regards to our own family engaging the culture, we are trying to prayerfully discern how we can make our resources (time, money, “stuff”) available, such as by mentoring young singles and couples, giving, opening our home, and possibly fostering and/or adoption.

4.  Our World.  How can we impact and disciple children of the world? This is more challenging logistically than the other three areas, and is an area that we’re still trying to figure out how to be involved in. Mission trips through Grace Church have been a great opportunity; I have been to Nicaragua (March 2003) and Kenya (November 2007), and Joanna is about to go to the Bahamas in May. We have also supported overseas missionaries, given money (as a family activity) to organizations like Samaritan’s Purse, and have supported a child through Compassion International for over 10 years.

I’ll summarize all these thoughts tomorrow.

--  Joey Espinosa

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Adventure: Our Family & Our Church

The Adventure for our family involves children.  Yesterday I laid out the overview of what this looks like, and over a series of posts, I want to go into more detail on the different arenas that we can equip the next generation for a life in Christ, namely our Family, Church, Culture, and World.

  1. Our Family.  God has called us to disciple and shepherd our own children. We want to equip them to become mature followers of Jesus Christ. Of course, this is ultimately a work of the Holy Spirit, but we have a responsibility to share with them the grace of God, and to teach and model to them what a spiritual life looks like. God has given that call primarily to parents, not to the church, school, or anything else. One day, if God wills it, we desire to come alongside our own children as they disciple their own children (our grandchildren). What a joy and reward it would be to have a godly lineage!
  2. Our Church. There are two main ways that we want to reach the hearts of children at Grace Church: through equipping parents and through our weekend programming. (You can read about our church’s tension between these areas here.) We can help equip parents through our personal relationships, and through leadership over and participation in equipping events and conferences. As for our weekend programming, Joanna and I have been serving with children at Grace Church since even before we dated. Then we served together for years, and after a while, we were asked to take on more and more leadership roles. And by January 2007, I joined the church staff as the Pastor of Children & Families. We have been continually passionate about how our church can reach the next generation through Children’s Ministry programming and volunteers.

Tomorrow, we will look at the other two areas through which we want to equip the next generation.

--  Joey Espinosa

Our Philosophy of Learning

We've been in a current series on this blog about our curriculum. We've already discussed our mission (on Feb 15-17), and our values (Feb 22 & 24). From the post that prompted this series, the next topic to discuss is "What's our philosophy of learning? What elements should be incorporated in our programming?"

To be honest, this is a difficult area for us as a staff. We are far from being experts in childhood development and curriculum. That's why we are so glad to have had talented volunteers who have contributed so much to our curriculum writing process over the years. We could not be where we are without them!

For Camp Grace (1st - 4th grade), here are the main elements that we use:
  • Big Group skits that teach the principle of the lesson mostly use "camp"-type characters (lifeguard, lunch lady, janitor, etc) 
  • Occasionally, we have videos of the skits, depending on how well the skit can be performed live
  • Big Group music with a live band (sometimes we may just have a guitar player, based on our volunteer availability; at times we have just had everyone sing with tracks)
  • Big Group competitions, just to have a little fun!
  • Small Group lessons that are Bible-centered (see an outline and a sample lesson on our website)
  • Small Group crafts and activities that reinforce the Bible lesson
  • Take-home activities (Smore card and ROAD Bookmark) to help parents engage their children in what they learned, and to help children apply what they are learning
For Preschool (2 years old - 5k), the main elements are very similiar:
  • Big Group skits or puppet shows, that either re-enact the Bible story or show a real-life application of the principle
  • Big Group music that involves singing with tracks and using hand-motions and dancing
  • Sometimes we will use things like shakers or scarves during the music
  • Small Group lessons that are Bible-centered (see an outline and a sample lesson on our website)
  • Small Group crafts, songs, and activities
  • A Bible memory verse card sent home on the first week of every series; we also can provide magnetic holders for these cards so that parents can put the verses on their refrigerators
  • A take-home Parent Page to give parents tools to engage their child in the lesson we taught
(Note: During the past few summers, we've used a curriculum called KIDMO for our preschoolers.  This curriculum uses a DVD teaching for Big Group time, and has provided a nice change-of-pace for our children and volunteers during the summer months.)

As you can see, we try to incorporate visual, audio, and hands-on elements. Not only that, we want to help families apply what they are learning.

For those of you who are educators or have experience in childhood development, we would love to hear what you think are important elements in learning for each age-group. More specifically, what would you consider crucial and what would you consider good options and ideas?

Monday, March 1, 2010

Summary of the Holy Spirit


Last fall at Grace Church, we had a teaching series called "One."  A key focus of this series was for marriage relationships, but the principles are definitely applicable for whatever season of life you are in. The areas taught were: singleness, oneness, uniqueness, redemption, adventure, and intimacy. (See our website for the audio and notes. If you are interested in purchasing the series as DVD's, email us at

Personally, the most powerful and life-changing topic was that of Adventure. I wouldn't consider myself a nature "visionary" leader by most standards, but this concept resonated with me as something that can help give direction and purpose to our lives.

Joanna and I began talking about what we think is the Adventure that God has for us. This is requiring multiple conversations, prayer, lots of introspection, and reflecting on our experiences. Earlier this year, on a 2-night retreat / get-away, we came up with what we believe our adventure is: children. We are not parenting our child-development experts by far! But God has given us experiences, tools, and a passion to equip the next generation through serving and exhortation. We're not exactly sure what all the specifics look like, but here are the arenas that we think God wants to use us in:
  1. Our Family
  2. Our Church
  3. Our Culture
  4. Our World
I'll go into more detail about these over a series of posts. In this, I hope to help you see our thought process to encourage you to think about what your adventure is.

--  Joey Espinosa