Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Special Needs: Review

For those who missed it, here are a summary and links for the recent series on children with special needs.  We welcome any questions and feedback.

  1. Overview to special needs ministry.  With more than 15 children in our church who have special needs, we knew that we need to ask God to help us discern what He wants from us.
  2. Why are we focusing on special needs?  To give theology and direction to increasing number of families at Grace Church who have children with special needs.
  3. What do we mean by "special needs?"  We consider a broad scope, from emotional and neurological disorders to physical disabilities.  
  4. Important biblical principles.  Here, we highlight some things that God says about children, parents, and Himself. 
  5. The role of the church.  Read about what we do to come alongside parents. 
  6. The role of the parents.  Be intentional, have expectations, and preach the gospel.
  7. Growing in the gospel.  Other things to consider, especially about marriage and personal growth.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Dad Life

Hilarious video from Church on the Move, in Tulsa, OK.  Enjoy!


If the video doesn't load, try this.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Vision for Preschool Small Groups

Our Preschool Ministry (from 2 year olds to kindergarten) is our largest program during our weekend services for all of Children's & Student Ministries.  On an average weekend, we have about 350 preschoolers in Small Groups on Saturday night & Sunday morning, counting all 6 services.  Being such a large population at Grace Church, and being such a crucial phase in a child's spiritual, emotional, social, and physical development, we recently spent some time discussing and outlining our goals and vision for our Preschool Small Groups.  Here are our thoughts.

Goals.  What do we want to accomplish through Preschool Small Groups?
  1. To teach who God is.  The focus of our volunteer-written curriculum for this age group is the attributes of God, and we want to teach these Biblical truths in a fun and meaningful way.
  2. To model community and the value of relationships.  We intentionally use the term "Small Groups" (instead of "Sunday School" or "classes") because we want to emphasize the importance of consistent relationships, whether between children themselves or with children and their Small Group Leaders.
  3. To equip and assist parents and volunteers.  This is achieved through:
    • Tools, such as this blog, take-home Parent Page, Volunteer Central website, and so on.
    • Opportunities to serve, to use the resources and gifts that God has given them.
    • Utilizing students as helpers, which is a way to equip two generations for a life in Christ.
    • Shepherding, such as through our volunteer Coaching structure.
  4. To provide a safe and secure environment where children feel comfortable and parents are free to attend adult worship without distractions.

Applications.  What are some ways we are working towards achieving these goals?
  1. Teaching
    • We have continued to develop and revise the template we use for our Small Group Lessons, to make it easy for volunteers to use.
    • Adding additional activities to the lessons, to give the leaders more than enough material to help them engage their Small Group.
    • We are exploring adding questions to the lessons that help connect Big Group and Small Group times.
    • One area that we know that we need to develop is with two- and three-year-olds who stay for 2 services.  These children stay in the same classroom and do the same material, which can be a little monotonous at times.  It affects a small number of children (less than 20 each week), but an area that we want to give more attention to.
  2. Community
    • For most areas, especially on Sunday morning on the Pelham Road campus (where we have multiple small groups per age-group), we try to group children together based on if their parents are serving; this grouping helps with moving children to and from Quest.  Furthermore, the children who come more regularly (because, of course, their parents are regular) have the great opportunity to develop deeper relationships.
    • We want to communicate with parents that there is a deep and lasting value in consistent community.  Of course, children cannot control how regularly they attend their programming; for the most part, parents control the development of their children's community.  For a child who stays for two services (because his parents serve) and attends almost every weekend, he will be with his "community" twice as long and twice as often as most of our adult community groups meet.
  3. Equipping
    • We are continually updating our Volunteer Central web page, which gives ministry descriptions and volunteer biographies from different people each month.
    • We recently revised our Parent Page, to include a summary of the crafts and Big Group skit, to go along with the Small Group lesson summary.  
    • We want to regularly update our iMix, to include recent songs we sing in our Preschool Big Group time. 
  4. Safety
    • We have developed and readily-available Safety Plans for all 3 campuses.
    • We run background checks on our regular Small Group leaders, and last year we began to run national checks, not just local.
    • We have staff and volunteer Coaches who check on the rooms during the service (we have windows next to each door in our buildings to allow full view of the classroom).  

 Thoughts or questions about our vision for our Preschool Small Groups?

Saturday, June 26, 2010

God Speaks to Hannah

The other week, our daughter Hannah determined that she wanted to clean out a bunch of stuff from her room, to give to Goodwill.  Part of it was just for the sake of clearing out clutter, but she also wanted to give to others in order to be a blessing.  For example, I asked her if she wanted to give her Barbie set to a younger girl that she knows, and she asked "Does Goodwill help people?  Like when you buy things there, what do they do with the money?"  I said that I think they provide job training, so that people can have jobs and provide for their families.  She said that she'd rather the toys be sold so the money could help people.

By Tuesday evening, she had collected a laundry basket FULL of clothes, toys, and stuffed animals, and was planning to gather more on Wednesday morning.  Before breakfast on Wednesday, she and I were reading our Bibles (she joins me three days per week at the table, as she does her ROAD Map Bible study).  As soon as she read her verses for the day, she said, "Hey!  This is exactly what I've been doing!"  The verses were 2 Corinthians 9:6-7, which encourage us to give freely and generously, in order to bless others.

Hannah thought it was a neat coincidence that what she had already been doing (collecting things to give away) was what she read about (and she was happy to have an easy application for the day's reading).  I told her that I thought what happened was a big deal.  How?  I explained that I think that it was the Holy Spirit who had spoken directly to her heart days earlier, and that this reading confirmed that it really was something that God wanted her to do.  Sometimes when we have thoughts in our head, we may not always know if they are from us or from God.  For the majority of us, most of the clear direction we receive from God is from Scripture and from a community of believers, not from Him speaking directly to us.  I rejoiced with Hannah and encouraged her that God spoke to her heart, and that she obeyed, and then God confirmed His words to her.

I have shared with my children the few times in my life that I heard directly from God, when He wanted to give me specific direction.  These include:

  • During the closing days of my athletic career at Furman, in a difficult losing season, I asked God, "Why should I continue working hard?  I basically all finished here."  Immediately, I heard a voice in my head saying, "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men" (from Colossians 3:23).  I later discovered how God used my time on the team to be a testimony for Him to others.
  • More than 10 years ago, I was serving in a ministry that required hours of work every single weekend (Saturday night and Sunday afternoon), and could often get very monotonous.  I asked one evening as I was cleaning up, "God, how much longer will I be doing this?"  I heard Him say, "Just pour yourself out.  This won't go on forever."  Within a year, that ministry opportunity was completed.
  • Two years into my marriage, I felt like God was wanting something more from me, to be able to pour myself out for a short period of time.  The immediate thought was "Mission Trip," which I had always been set against me doing.  But I took steps of faith and God kept opening doors.  In March 2003, I went on my first overseas mission trip to Nicaragua, an experience that such a blessing for me.
Have you ever heard God speaking to you to give you specific direction, which you obeyed, and then it was confirmed later to be exactly what He wanted you to do?

--  Joey Espinosa

Friday, June 25, 2010

Is Your Son a Bully?

Here's another video of Bill White answering a question submitted at our Future Men event.  He explains that bullying is not leading; it is actually a form of passivity, which is the core struggle for all men.  We need to teach boys that "there is a greater reward . . . by engaging in a loving matter," not by being either passive or controlling. 

Watch the full video here, and see the other related videos here.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Thoughts from Elementary Camp - Part 2

In yesterday's post, we heard from our Elementary Coordinator (who makes Camp happen each year for 3rd & 4th graders).  For me, what I have enjoyed more and more over the past few Camps is the group of leaders that we have had.  This year, 26 men and women sacrificed a weekend's worth of time and sleep, in order to help reach the hearts of the next generation.  I saw them having fun with the kids, teaching Biblical truths, engaging kids on a heart level, and even addressing behavior issues clearly and directly.  I was especially thankful for the example that the men set; as Nicky pointed out yesterday, it is so crucial that men and boys take a leadership role.  I told our leaders that it was interesting that it was Father's Day weekend; the culture tells us that Father's Day is about being served and receiving gifts, but here were 26 leaders (dads, moms, and men and women without children of their own) who poured out for the sake of Christ's name.  That, in my opinion, is what Father's Day should be about.

Additionally, I love seeing how leaders from different campuses and services come together for one purpose.  It gives a chance for leaders to meet other leaders and connect, which helps to show that even with multiple campuses, we really are one church.

Here are quotes from some of the leaders (some of whom, like me, had a child at Camp) about their experience from this past weekend:
"[My son] has a much better understanding of Jesus as the "Substitute" for his punishment and only way to salvation. . . .  As his father, I can never tell you how much I appreciate what you have done to help my son get to this point in his young life."  Tim B., Worship Leader
"It was an honor and privilege to be part of ministering to those kids.  It was like a recharge for the soul."  Joe L., Small Group Leader
"I had an absolute blast with my girls! They loved worship time as well and it showed on their faces. . . .  Just like my girls, I wish we didn't have to wait a whole year to come back; however, that is part of what makes camp so special."  Kathe G., Small Group Leader
"The childrens worship was amazing this year!  My girls were practicing their moves to "Ain't No Rock" before bed on Saturday. . . .  Also, they were all hoping to get to sing "Prince of Peace" on Sunday and were talking about it before breakfast.  They were so excited when we sang it."  Tresh C., Small Group Leader
"I really enjoyed being a part of so much -- being in funny skits, catching frogs with boys, sitting under a tree and talking with a group of girls that I know from Quest."  Jeremy W., Small Group Leader
"I truly enjoyed being with the kids and getting to know quite a few of them.  I see many of them on Sunday morning, but don't have a lot of time to talk or even learn their names.  I felt like all of the adults really came together and were able to relate to one another."  Shylah P., Coach and Big Group
 "The girls in my cabin said their favorite part was small group time.  They all asked a lot of good questions, and they seemed to be soaking up a lot."  Maggie E., Small Group Leader
"I got to build community with other leaders. . . .  It was great to hang out with kids one-on-one."  Dan W., Small Group Leader
"First, it was great to see some of the kids really thinking about what we were talking about and asking really good questions. . . .  Second, I really enjoyed getting to know several of the counselors that I had not met or spent much time with before.  I did get the sense of "team" with the focused purpose of loving and shepherding these kids.  It reinforced the emphasis Grace puts on shepherding the next generation and the lasting impact that it will have."  Scott W., Small Group Leader

This was my first year as a "Camp Dad," as Hannah had her first camp experience.  I loved being able to see her be with her Sunday morning Small Group for 2 full days.  She enjoyed every bit of camp, which she has been anticipating for about 20 months now.  I asked her if it was as good as she expected, and she replied, "Better."  I'm thankful for the staff and volunteers that made this experience possible for her.

--  Joey Espinosa, Pastor of Children & Families

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Thoughts from Elementary Camp - Part 1

99 kids. 26 leaders. 3 days, 2 nights.  Look Up Lodge.  This is how our 3rd & 4th grade Camp would look to anyone on the outside.  But for the 125 people who spent a weekend away at camp, they would have an entirely different perspective to describe to you today.  This was our first year going to Camp with over 100 people, with almost 40 more people than last year.  I wasn't sure what to expect, but I knew what there would be:  chaos, as there always is when you take a bunch of elementary-aged kids anywhere; energy, with our crazy camp competitions and skits; home-sickness, since it was most kids' first time away from home, and that children would be challenged in their faith, through the teaching that was given.

I did not know how great it would be to see our leaders come alongside these kids to encourage them to live as God wants them to live.  One concept that has been a focus at Grace is how God created us to be male and female -- equal but unique.  I saw it played out at Camp in how our leaders connected with the kids.  For examples, the boys were told to allow the girls to go first at each meal, not because of common courtesy, but because this was an opportunity for them to lead through sacrifice.  On the other side, the girls were told to not rub it in the boys' faces that they went first, but to respond with respect and thankfulness.  I think incorporating this kind of language at an early age is huge in encouraging kids to learn how to express the masculinity and femininity in the way God created us.

Another thing I did not expect was how much the boys were engaged during the Big Group time, as they sang loudly and did the motions.  Many of the boys were at the front of group.  Normally at this age, boys tend to fall back and disengage during worship time because they feel too old or "cool" to do the motions.  But, rather than being passive, our boys were leading through responding to God in song.

Lastly, I did not know just how powerful the teaching would be. Our two teachers, Brian Darnell and Stephen Fowler, were clear and direct in talking to the kids about our condition before God and need for a Savior (our "Substitute").  During our last Big Group session, Tim Bosier (who led worship) told the kids how he wished he would have received this teaching when he was their age, since it would have changed a lot of the decisions he made in life.  I completely agree with him.

I'm constantly amazed at the teaching and resources that Grace Church's children and students receive; growing up, I had nothing even remotely close to anything these kids are learning about.  We are blessed
in that our children receive teaching that is not sugar-coated or watered-down, but that gets to the heart of the Gospel and how God created them to live, so that they can live a passionate life for Christ.  I truly believe that our pursuit to equip our kids to become mature followers of Christ is producing life change in a generation that has the ability to change the world around them.  It's pretty neat to look back at Elementary Camp this past weekend and know that it is just one way that Grace Church is ministering to children and leading them to live a life worthy of the Gospel.

--  Nicky Darling, Elementary Coordinator

Monday, June 21, 2010

Special Needs: Growing in the Gospel

Families who have children with special needs are burdened with much higher stress levels, and marriages have an increased rate of failure.  The tendency is to focus an unhealthy balance of time, energy, and resources on the child with special needs, leaving the marriage relationship wanting and suffering.  It is absolutely crucial for the husband and wife to be intentional and diligent to keep their marriage strong.  What any child needs from his parents, more than anything else, is for his parents to love each other and grow in their walk with God.

We must also consider the effect of having a child with special needs on the parent himself or herself.  For most parents, having a child with special needs involves some level of grief, and this is absolutely normal.  With all of life's hardships and challenges, there are unmet expectations and disappointments.  Furthermore, experiencing and working through this grief is not a one-time event, but a process of learning to depend on and trust in Christ more and more.  The key thing is to continually move forward, to move towards God, and not hide or retreat from Him or from the body of Christ.  Our children need us to pursue Christ, and this happens best in the context of true community.

We believe that God wants us to use the challenges in our life as a tool to refine and grow us.  When we encounter hardships and go through grief, we should ask questions like, "What do I want?" and "Where is my hope?"  We must learn that Christ alone is our hope, and that only in a relationship with Him can we find joy and peace.  We must remember that the gospel meets special needs.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

First Things First

In First and Second Things, CS Lewis wrote, "You can't get second things by putting them first; you can get second things only by putting first things first."  Of course, this begs the question, "What thing should be first?"  There are a slew of possible answers as to what people think should be most important: love, happiness, money, safety, marriage, and so on.  With regards to children, our culture tells parents that they should put their children first, making the necessary sacrifices to give them what they need for their well-being and happiness.  This holds true for many "Christian" circles, too.  After all, "Children are a blessing from the Lord" (Psalm 127:3), so it would make sense that we should prize their happiness, right?

But the Bible is clear that we need to put Christ first. It is only by obeying and seeking God that we can have true joy and meaning in life.  Furthermore, God is most of all concerned with our holiness, not our happiness.  He will use our circumstances (marriage, children, other family, job, finances, health, etc) to make us more like His Son Jesus.

As a parent, the best thing you can do to disciple your child is to become a better disciple yourself.  Pursue Christ and live for Him.  Give your time and money courageously and sacrificially.  Be in authentic community.  Seek to know Him more through scripture and prayer.

Our kids may want us to focus on them, but they need us to focus on Christ.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Why Do We Want to Equip Volunteers?

The mission of Grace Church is to make mature followers of Jesus Christ, by equipping them for a life of spiritual passion.  The elders and staff do not merely want to create an event where people can gather and learn, but to equip them to do ministry.  If you've been around Grace, you've probably heard us refer to our church as an "equipping church." 

Grace Children's Ministry operates with the same goal.  More specifically, our three-part mission statement includes the goal of equipping volunteers to shepherd children.  We want to give volunteers the resources they need, so that they can have an impact in the lives of the families in our church.  These resources include our annual summer training (this summer, we'll have training meetings on all 3 campuses), training packets, and Coaches who encourage and support all our volunteers. 

Why do we think it is so important to equip volunteers?  Here are some reasons:
  1. We want volunteers to have an impact.  This has to start with giving them the tools, training, and resources which give them the best chance for success.  
  2. The volunteers have the opportunity to reach people that we, as a staff, never could.  Grace Children's Mministry affects over 1500 people (children, parents, volunteers), and we cannot rely on staff alone to minister to them.
  3. Volunteers need to grow.  We don't look for or expect "perfect" volunteers.  Instead, our goal is to help volunteers grow; we want them to not only improve in their role, but to mature as followers of Jesus Christ.  We love seeing new volunteers grow over months and even years, becoming more comfortable in their roles, and even taking on bigger challenges and responsibilities. 
We are in the process of revising and developing our training materials for this summer.  Beginning with Promotion Weekend (August 14 & 15), we expect to need over 700 volunteers (for all 3 campuses and 6 services) to serve in Children's Ministry.  If you have any questions about what it means to be equipped as a volunteer, leave a comment or contact us at children@gracechurchsc.org

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Promotion Weekend & Registration


Every year at Grace Church, just before the new school year begins, we promote all children to the next grade level. This year, Promotion Weekend will be August 14 & 15. In preparation for this event, we need all families who have children from infants through rising 6th graders to register for the upcoming school year, and this applies whether you've been at Grace for many years or just a few weeks. With Children's Ministry programming on 3 campuses, plus a Saturday night service, and with about 500 families that will register, it is crucial to know how many children to expect on each campus, so we can work to allocate the appropriate resources. To give us time to prepare, please register your chil(ren) by July 25.

You can find out more on our registration page, including which programming will be offered during which service times. Also, when you register your child(ren), you will also have an opportunity to sign up to be a volunteer. Since we expect to need over 700 volunteers, we know that there is a place for everyone! You can find out more about serving in Grace Children's Ministry on our Volunteer Central.

See the video below (from last year) for a humorous take on why you need to register your family.


video

Monday, June 14, 2010

Special Needs: The Role of the Parents

In all that we discuss about the role of parents or the role of the church, we must be clear that the spiritual (and mental, and emotional) growth of our children is never ultimately in our hands.  It is always about the Holy Spirit.  There are plenty of principles that we should live out, but we must never substitute those action steps for a trust and hope in the gospel.  Above all else, we parents should be continually crying out to our God for His mercy and His power to be manifested in us and our children.

Because of the stress and complications of having a child with special needs, we know that it can become easy to become either passive or reactive to what our children need in order to grow.  We must not forget to be proactive and intentional to shepherd our children, to meet their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs.  Even if they do not grow in these areas as fast as other children, all that we do to be their leader (not just care-giver) will pay off dividends.  Furthermore, we have seen that for families with multiple children, those that are intentional for the sake of their child with special needs also reap the benefit of learning to be more intentional with their other children as well.

Parents must have realistic and biblical expectations for their children.  As we previously noted, all children are called to obey their parents (Ephesians 6:1).  However, parents must consider each child's level of functioning, not just their chronological age.  Parenting children with special needs requires distinguishing between sinful, foolish, or childish behaviors which are common to all children, and behaviors which are the result of the child's disability.  Therefore, forms of discipline and training may vary for each child.

At all levels of training, it is important for the parent to communicate using biblical language (such as "image of God," "sin," "obey," etc.), no matter what the child's age or functioning level.  Isaiah 55:11 promises that God's word will not return empty, but will produce fruit.  Do not hesitate to preach the gospel to your child, as we must preach it to ourselves every day.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

"How Do We Know That God Is Real?"

Last week, we returned from vacation, after seeing some family in the Midwest.  We took advantage of this opportunity to visit some attractions that we had some free passes to (and yet we still wind up spending nearly $50 at each place on small lunches and rides).  We went to the Creation Museum in northern Kentucky, where we enjoyed great exhibits, a planetarium show, a nature walk, and hand-feeding a camel.  On the trip home, we stopped at the Knoxville Zoo for a day (it's free admission with the Friends of Zoo membership).  It's a great zoo, with camel rides, a great kids area, and a nice variety of animals.

My favorite part of the trip was when we were walking through the Creation Museum, learning about and discussing history from a biblical perspective.  At one point, my always-inquisitive 6-year-old son Elijah asked, "Dad, how do we know that God is real?"  I paused and asked him, "Do you think God is real?"  He replied, "Yes, but only because you say He's real."  What a great, honest answer, and it reminded me of how much he looks up to me, and how much I need to set the spiritual and leadership tone in our house. 

I told him that he's right in that I believe in God, but that one day he would have to believe in God for himself, not because his Daddy believes in God.  He again asked, "But can I know that He's real?"  I told him the reasons that I believe in God:
  1. Creation.  It just makes sense that everything in the universe exists because there is a Creator.  It all could not have happened by itself.  As a former scientist (B.S. in Biochemistry, and M.S. in Organic Chemistry, and working as a chemist for almost 10 years), this is a topic that I have questioned and studied a lot, since I became a follower of Jesus at the age of 19 (my 15th "spiritual birthday" will be on July 31). 
  2. Jesus' Resurrection.  Historical evidence shows that Jesus' tomb was empty, and the best explanation is that He came back to life.  When someone dies and comes back to life, I'm going to pay attention to everything He says. 
  3. My Experience.  I told Elijah that even if the proof of creation and the resurrection didn't point to God being real, I would still believe in God.  I believe in Him based on everything He has done in my life, especially over the past 15 years.  This last point is huge for me.  As a scientist, I don't like to make decisions without empirical evidence, but I cannot deny the grace and power that He has shown in my life. 
He seemed satisfied with my answers (though, honestly, I felt like I fumbled through it).  I gave him a big hug, and praised him for asking such a great question.  I pray that he would always be comfortable asking me questions like that. 

-- Joey Espinosa

Friday, June 11, 2010

Seeds Music & KIDMO Curriculum

Here are some links to resources that we have been introduced to:

On Justin Taylor's blog, Between Two Worlds, there is some information about and a link to Seeds Family Worship, including a code for 20% off of their CDs.  "Seeds" is a great resource that sets scripture to music, which a number of families at Grace Church have found useful for family devotion times or just enjoying in the car.  If you have heard or used this, please let us know your thoughts by leaving a comment here.


The past few summers, we have taken breaks from our volunteer-written preschool curriculum, and utilized KIDMO, which has a DVD-based teaching.  Using this curriculum (the preschool version is called Lil' K) has given our writers a much needed break, while also giving us a nice change-of-pace in our programming.  We start this coming weekend with a 5-week series called "I Can Be Brave." 

Questions or comments about either of these resources?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Elementary Quest Programming

A previous post gave an overview of what the Quest programming is all about.  Now, we want to give some more thoughts on the Quest programming that involves elementary-age children (on our Pelham Road campus, we have a separate Quest program that is for 4k/5k children who stay for two services).  Staff and volunteers have spent time thinking about what God wants from us in this program.  Overall, we know that we want to be intentional in all we do, even in a program like this. 

The goals and core elements of Quest are as follows:
  • Provide a time relationships to be built and deepened.  This involves both adult-child relationships, and child-child relationships.  When children are together for 3.5 hours each week, and 40-50 weeks over the year, that is about twice as long and twice as often as our adult Community Groups meet!  We have seen how children bond together after being together so often year after year.  Quest helps children see the importance of consistent relationships, and they benefit from them as well.
  • Be a reward for children who are on campus for two services.  We want Quest to be fun for them, with fun activities, occasionally having special snacks, and so on. We have had parents ask us about serving, specifically because their children want to participate in Quest.
  • Give supplemental instruction for children.  We do not want children to only go to Quest; they need their regular Small Group time, to help them grow in Christ.  However, we can add to their growth by discussing bible passages or reviewing what they are learning in Camp Grace.
  • Equip adults and students for service.  We have had a number of volunteers who are perfectly suited for serving in Quest, as shown by their love of children and desire to connect with them through play.  Furthermore, in Quest we have a high proportion of volunteers who are in our Student Ministry.  This opportunity to serve is a great way for them to feel connected to the local church.  
In order to be intentional about achieving these goals, there are a number of ideas that we plan to implement, or have implemented already, including:
  • More of a set schedule, instead of a loose organization of where the children need to be.
  • Having a short "Huddle Time" each week, with a lesson and discussion questions that tie in with the Camp Grace curriculum.
  • Using Quest as a time for occasional review days (for the Camp Grace curriculum).
  • Be purposeful in our crafts, including specific days to have planned crafts and having crafts that have a focus of being culturally-engaged (such as for ministries and organizations that Grace Church partners with).  Of course, we still think it's OK to have "free craft" days, where children can choose their own crafts or games to do.
  • In order to better equip our volunteers, we work towards a more planned out schedule and calendar of events.  
Thoughts or questions?

Monday, June 7, 2010

Special Needs: The Role of the Church

As we have already mentioned in the previous post in this series, we believe that parents must have the primary role in training and discipling their children.  (This concept will be expanded on in the next post in this series.)  We also believe that God can work through the local church to encourage, support, and equip parents.  In light of this principle, Grace Church desires to be an instrument in God's hands to minister to families who have children with special needs.

The mission of Grace Children's Ministry is to assist parents in leading their children toward a Gospel-centered life, to equip volunteers to shepherd children, and to encourage children to grow in Christ by teaching them biblical truths in meaningful ways.  Here are some general thoughts on how this mission statement is fleshed out for children with special needs:
  1. We can assist parents by helping them feel comfortable leaving their children with capable and loving volunteers, so that they can feel free to attend our corporate worship services.  Additionally, we can provide support and equipping during the week.  We know that parents who have children with special needs need to not just "manage the situation," but need to help their children move towards God, as best they can.  We have a number of families who are striving to lead their children in the context of the Gospel.  We can help by connecting parents, so that they can talk about what it looks like to shepherd children with special needs.
  2. Our goal with our weekend services is to allow children to participate in the appropriate programming, so that they can fellowship and build relationships with their peers.  Therefore, we need to equip the volunteers who will be serving them, so that they can feel confident in how to minister to each specific need.  We have parent-teacher liaisons who communicate with both parents and volunteers, to help ensure that children with special needs have meaningful and enjoyable experiences in our Children's Ministry programming.
  3. We already have noted that we want children to participate in our weekend programming.  We all have an innate need for community and acceptance.  Of course, there may be situations that will hinder this goal for mainstreaming children into the classroom, but we hope that this will always be the extreme exception.  It is a blessing for the child with special needs to be with their peers, as it is equally a blessing for the other children in the class to learn that every person is uniquely created by God and is deserving of love.
We can give more specific information of how mainstream children in our weekend programming, such as related to initial communication, safety, and volunteers who serve as "shadows" or "buddies."  We will discuss that later, perhaps in a post about Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ's); you can help us by letting us know what specific questions you want answered by leaving us a comment below.

There is a lot that we are already doing well, but we also have much to learn about how to minister to families who have children with special needs.  We are imperfect in both our understanding and execution of this ministry area, but if parents are willing to partner with us and help us learn, we would love the opportunity to come alongside them.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Children Are Like Arrows

This is the passage that you will see painted on the balcony if you walk in the front doors of the Children's Center on the Pelham Road campus:

"Children are a gift from the LORD; 
they are a reward from him.
Children born to a young man
are like arrows in a warrior's hands.
How joyful is the man whose quiver is full of them!"
Psalm 127:3-5

How are children like arrows?  Here are some thoughts, from a post on The Resurgence blog
  1. Need to be carefully made.  Someone, or some thing, will shape them.  It is just a matter of who or what.
  2. Weapons of war.  God wants to use them to advance His kingdom and gospel, but this will not come easy.
  3. Go where we can't.  There is potential for a huge future impact.  When you shape a child, you not only bless him but you are also helping to shape every person that that child will interact with.
  4. Should obediently go.  Character issues are rooted in disobedience, and disobedience is rooted in being proud and self-centered.  Children cannot lead unless they learn to willingly submit to authority. 

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Special Needs: Important Biblical References

In our discussion of special needs, we need to give a brief theology about children, directly from Scripture.  Here is a representative sample of biblical principles and references that should shape our worldview:
  1. Children are created in the image of God, so that His glory can be reflected and made known (Genesis 1:26-27).
  2. Children, like all people, are innately sinners, not innocent (Romans 3:23). 
  3. Children are a blessing from the Lord (Psalm 127:3).
  4. Children are commanded to obey their parents (Ephesians 6:1).  For a child to disobey his parents is equivalent to him disobeying God.
  5. It is primarily the role of parents (not culture, government, school, or church) to shepherd and train their children (Deuteronomy 6:6-7; Hebrews 12:7-11).  However, we should take advantage of other resources, but always knowing that the main direction and energy must come from God empowering parents to lead their own children.
  6. God is sovereign; He is not surprised by anyone having a special need, nor does He see special needs as an "accident" (Psalm 139:13-14).
It is important to note that in all biblical references to humanity and children, there are no qualifiers.  For example, God does not say, "Some children need to obey their parents;" all children are expected to obey.  Additionally, He does not say, "Only children without autism are a blessing from Me;" He says that all children are blessings and created in His image.  In our perspective and lifestyle, we need to respond to God's revealed Word, and live out the principles and commands that He has clearly given.