Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Special Needs Equipping Event

We have already written almost 20 posts this year about special needs, giving both the theology behind and practical application of what we do.  Our goal in communicating these things has been to inform our own church body about what we are doing and to give direction to parents who have children with special needs.  Additionally, we hope to be able to share with other churches what we are learning, to encourage and equip them.  (For churches looking for additional resources and information, we recommend The Inclusive Church, which also profiled our ministry in this post.)

To further equip our Children's Ministry volunteers, we are hosting a Special Needs Equipping Event on Wednesday, November 3.  This meeting is for our Welcome Teams (who are on the front line of greeting families and helping children get checked into Small Groups), and for all our Volunteer Coaches, who may need to help meet specific needs during our weekend programming for a child with special needs.  We will share our vision, helpful information, and inspiration, as we strive to reach the hearts of the parents and children.

This event is by invite only, but if you want to know more or if you have any other questions (or if we mistakenly left you off the invite list), please let us know. 

Additionally, we've launched a couple of additional communication tools:
  1. A webpage summarizing our Special Needs ministry.
  2. An specific email address ( for questions about this ministry.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Preschool Curriculum: God is Sovereign

"Trust in the LORD with all your heart; 
lean not on your own understanding."  
Proverbs 3:5

Starting this coming weekend, we will have a two-week series on God is Sovereign in our Preschool programming, using the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Daniel 3).  Along with teaching children the truth that God is in control, we also want to exhort our leaders to trust in His sovereignty.  Below is our Leader Prep material for these lessons:

One of the greatest desires we face is the desire for security and control.  We want to minimize risk and be assured of the outcome before we launch into a new endeavor.  We want to solve our own problems instead of giving them over to someone else.  But the life that God calls us to is one that often seems very costly and is full of unknowns.
Over the next few weeks we will be looking at the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Daniel 3:1-30).  To most of us (if we're honest), these 3 men seem foolish, if not insane.  But in God's eyes, these men were living out their faith in His sovereign will.  They were demonstrating the total surrender that is required in order to follow God.  While they were uncertain of the outcome, these 3 men were certain that their God was in control and that they could trust in Him.
We may not be facing a fiery furnace, but there are still lots of areas of uncertainty in our lives today -- worries about money, health, our families, etc.  And in the face of those uncertainties, God calls us to trust and worship Him.  He doesn't offer detailed answers of how and when our problems will be solved.  He only offers Himself.  And while that may not seem like a lot,remember that Christ laid down His life for you -- He left all the glory and comfort of Heaven so that you could have the assurance of eternal life.  Your security is not in what you can do to protect and provide for yourself, but in what Christ has already done for you.
As you prepare to share this lesson with your children, think of areas in your own life that you may need to trust in God.  Are you looking for answers and solutions, or are you trusting in God's sovereign plan?  Ask Him to give you the courage to trust in Him instead of relying on "your own understanding" (Proverbs 3:5) of your current circumstances.  

See more of our upcoming Preschool series on our website.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Pointing My Child to Christ

A month ago, my social butterfly floated off to school and returned home broken and angry.  A cherished three-dollar ring had been taken from her.  She relayed the day's events.  A friend had asked for the ring and then would not give it back.  And then she asked me, "Mom, what should I do?"  A million things rushed through my head -- can I fix this, what should she do, and how do I help her respond.  To be honest, i was angry and I wanted justice, too!  As I left for work that afternoon, I prayed, "Father, what should I tell her?"

As I got to work that day, a dear friend asked me how my daughter, Molly Reagan, was doing in school.  I knew that God had prepared that moment just for me.  I relayed the situation to her and how  I felt, how my daughter felt, and how I didn't know yet how to respond.  This woman, a believer and a mother of three grown children, offered me some wise counsel.
  1. First, DO nothing.  The ring was gone . . . it would not be showing up the next day.  So, I didn't not call the teacher, call the parent, or anything like that.  I waited for Molly Reagan to  respond.  Her heart was revealed after days of her asking the teacher for for help and asking the friend who had taken (and then lost) the ring to give it back.  At wits end, she decided she would NEVER let the girl borrow anything again because, "She is a stealer."  
  2. Second, talk to her about forgiveness and about Jesus.  So I did.  After her "stealer" comment, we talked about Jesus' example of forgiveness.  Our injustices cannot compare to Jesus' death on the cross for our sin.  And how did Jesus respond to the people who crucified him?  In Luke 23:34 he says, "Father, forgive them, they don't know what they are doing."  He prayed for them, he loved them, and he forgave them.
  3. And finally, pray with her.  There is only one who can heal Molly Reagan's heart and help her forgive.  And while I want to fix this problem for her, I cannot, for I do not have what it takes.  And so, I directed her to the one who can.  
I wish I could say that this three step process ended all discussions about the ring.  But it did not.  So, we repeat as necessary.  This experience reminded me of two things.  First, my daughter is on a journey too -- a journey of faith -- and my job is to guide, not to fix.  Additionally, I can never provide all that she needs, but I know the one who can and I can point her to him.

--  Laura Moore, Children's Hospitality Coordinator

Saturday, October 23, 2010

We Took a Hike

I really like Table Rock State Park.  Our family has been there a number of times, usually to hike, picnic, and play on the playground.  Since we've always done the hike when one of our kids was toddler-age, we've always stuck with the shorter, 1.8-mile loop, as opposed to going all the way to the top.  I like this trail because you begin by going up, which means it's mostly downhill on the way back.

After doing this hike this past spring, we talked about stretching it a little further the next time.  There is a picnic shelter almost 2 miles up the trail.  We thought it would be a great adventure to hike up there, eat lunch and then head back down.  Surely, a 4-mile hike would be a great accomplishment, right?

A couple of weeks ago, with the nice October weather, we decided to pack up and do this.  As we drove to the park, I remember seeing the view in the picture above, and telling Joanna, "It's hard to believe that you could hike up that far in one day."  It seems so far away, and so high up, but we talked about how neat it would be to do that when our kids got a little older.

We had a great hike up to the shelter, and ate lunch with a great view (see the right).  After a break, we decided to hike a little further up the trail, just to see if we could see some more views.  We hiked a little more, and a little more, and soon Joanna and I decided to see how far we could go.  After all, we had already hiked two hours, and the kids seemed to be enjoying it and doing fine.  Who knows when we would come this far again?

The kids had a blast on the trail.  Hannah kept pretending she was an "Indian guide."  Elijah loved being up ahead as the "scout," and Sender insisted he was "Spider-Man" as he climbed up all the rocks along the path.  Before we knew it, we had reached the summit, and then the end of the trail.

After spending some time on the rock -- ready to pounce and grab one of our kids should they get a little careless, and watching hawks fly and dive below us (what a weird feeling to be above those birds) -- we embarked on the trip back down. 

All in all, we walked and climbed 7.2 miles (in about 6 hours), far more than the originally-planned 4-mile hike.  Hannah talked all the way down the mountain, still pretending to be an Indian guide.  I kept having to tell Elijah to stop ahead, or else he would have beaten us all down by at least 30 minutes.  Sender alternated between being Spider-Man and an Indian guide named "Billy Bob" (not sure about that one).  Joanna was patiently playing pretend with Hannah (for hours mind you).  And I was just beaming with pride about my family.  We just had a great adventure, and we truly enjoyed it together (a couple we saw at the end of the trail commented how neat it was that we seemed to be enjoying each other so much).  The older kids were troopers on this trek, and I carried Sender for no more than 2 or 2.5 miles, so he (at just under 4 years old) climbed about 5 miles by himself.

Elijah summed it up best when he told us that it was great that "our family had a big accomplishment today."  Yes, we did.

Has your family had a big adventure or accomplishment in 2010?

--  Joey Espinosa

Thursday, October 21, 2010


For some Christians, Halloween is a time for kids to have fun, and probably the only day each year when dozens, if not hundreds, of your neighbors knock at your door.  For others, the holiday's roots in the occult leads them to not participate in trick-or-treating and decorating.

What's your take?  What will your family be doing on the weekend of October 30-31?

For more thoughts, you can read last year's blog post on this topic and a post from Growing Kids Ministry.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Elementary Camp 2011

In our Camp Grace (1st - 4th grade) programming, we showed a video with the highlights from this year's camp experience (see this post for some other highlights, and read thoughts from Nicky Darling and Joey Espinosa).   Check it out:

Now, it's time to start getting ready for next year's camp experience.  If you have a current 3rd or 4th grade, be sure to reserve June 24 - 26 for them.  They won't want to miss out on the fun, food, and fellowship, as well as a great opportunity for us to expand on our normal weekend programming -- with singing, skits, and solid teaching.

Also, you can read our answers to common questions that parents asked us before this year's camp.

Monday, October 18, 2010

How Can I Get Automatic Email Updates?

We know -- sometimes it's hard to remember to come check the blog for updates.  Would you prefer to get an email any time the blog is updated?  Check out the "Subscribe Via Email" tool to the right, provided by Feedburner.  Just enter your email address, click "Subscribe," and follow the directions.

Of course, you could always still come back to the blog to read the posts, and you'll still need to do that to search for specific topics.

(PS -- Thanks for the tip, Sara!)

Volunteer Appreciation

We are so thankful for the 750+ volunteers that we have serving in Grace Children's Ministry.  We have Welcome Team members that work to create a safe and welcoming environment, Small Group Leaders who show love and teach Biblical truths to children, and Big Group Leaders who sing and perform funny skits.    These volunteers pour themselves out, with the goal of reaching the hearts of the next generation for the sake of Jesus Christ.

As a small way to show our appreciation, we will have some light refreshments available on the weekend of October 23 & 24.  We hope all our volunteers can stop by to grab some snacks after or in between services.

 To learn more about what it looks like to serve in our Children's Ministry programming, see our Volunteer Central.  Any other questions?  Leave a comment here, or email us at

Saturday, October 16, 2010

5 Books for Dads of Daughters

My daughter (and oldest child) Hannah just turned 9 last month.  Growing up with just an older brother, I had no idea what it was like to have a little girl in my house.  So, I have searched for instruction and direction.  I regularly seek out men with older daughters, I listen to teachings such as A Man and His Daughter (Men's Roundtable), and I read books about parenting in general and about parenting girls.

Here are some recommended books for Dads of daughters.  The first two books are recommended by Justin Holcomb in his post called Daughters Are a Gift from God. The second two are books that I've read and enjoyed, and the last one is on my bookshelf waiting to be read.
  1. Why a Daughter Needs a Dad: 100 Reasons
  2. The Love Between Fathers and Daughters
  3. She Calls Me Daddy
  4. How to Be Your Daughter's Daddy
  5. Bringing Up Girls
What about you?  Have you read any of these?  What did you think?  Any other books or resources that you'd recommend to a Dad of a precious girl?

--  Joey Espinosa

Friday, October 15, 2010

Proverbs 23: Wisdom for Parents & Children

Parents are commanded to discipline their child for their child's sake. Children are called to humbly receive instruction, which for young children comes primarily through their parents.  The wise parent knows that foolishness is innately in the child's heart (Proverbs 22:15), and it is the parent's God-given responsibility to work to drive out that folly.  When you read this passage (from Proverbs 23), notice the tone of pleading in the parent's voice.  We all need this same sense of urgency and focus.

Try this:  read this passage and substitute the words "child" and "my son" with your child's name. If you do this, let us know by leaving a comment on this post (even anonymously).

 12 Apply your heart to instruction
       and your ears to words of knowledge.
 13 Do not withhold discipline from a child;
       if you punish him with the rod, he will not die.
 14 Punish him with the rod
       and save his soul from death. 
 15 My son, if your heart is wise,
       then my heart will be glad;
 16 my inmost being will rejoice
       when your lips speak what is right.
 17 Do not let your heart envy sinners,
       but always be zealous for the fear of the LORD.
 18 There is surely a future hope for you,
       and your hope will not be cut off.
 19 Listen, my son, and be wise,
       and keep your heart on the right path.
 20 Do not join those who drink too much wine
       or gorge themselves on meat,
 21 for drunkards and gluttons become poor,
       and drowsiness clothes them in rags.
 22 Listen to your father, who gave you life,
       and do not despise your mother when she is old.
 23 Buy the truth and do not sell it;
       get wisdom, discipline and understanding.
 24 The father of a righteous man has great joy;
       he who has a wise son delights in him.
 25 May your father and mother be glad;
       may she who gave you birth rejoice!
 26 My son, give me your heart
       and let your eyes keep to my ways.

Want some additional parenting resources?  Check out our website for recommended books.  One we recommend in particular for all parents is Shepherding a Child's Heart.  See an summary of chapter 4 from this book, as it relates to this post.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Are You Busy?

Parents are usually so busy.  There's work, household chores, playing with your children, school, sports, other activities, play groups, and the list goes on.  It often seems like you run all day in 5th gear and then crash at the end.  But is this God's best?

In his article Busyness Is the New Spirituality, Dave Kraft makes the case (from culture and from the example of Jesus) that most of us are far too busy.  The tricky part is that we are usually busy with good things.  But this can lead to "a deep, deep sense of exhaustion -- emotional, spiritual, and physical."

Does this sense of exhaustion characterize you?  Here is what he offers as the solution:
  1. Learn to say no.
  2. Intentionally slow down.
  3. Think strategically when you make decisions.
  4. Simplify your life by de-cluttering your busy schedule.
Read the full article.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Meet Our Volunteers: Kelley Haff

With over 750 volunteers serving in Children's Ministry across six services on three campuses, there is no way to know all the faces you may (or may not) see on the weekend.  By doing the volunteer "biographies," we hope to give you the chance to learn about the type of people that desire to equip the next generation for a life in Christ.  Here is an excerpt from this month's biography on Kelley Haff, a Preschool Small Group Coach on the Pelham Road campus (a coach is a volunteer who is a leader over other volunteers in a specific ministry area):

Kelley Haff tried serving in several areas of the Children's Ministry before she settle on being a coach for the preschool hall during the 11:15 a.m. service at the Pelham Road campus.  She started on an audio-visual team for a few years, and then tried working in a nursery room, but it was the third try that was the charm. 
"This area of service definitely fits my personality and gifts the best at this stage in my life," Kelley said.  "Sometimes you just need to commit and try something until you find the right fit." 

Read more about Kelley Haff, and other volunteers, on our Volunteer Central webpage.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

You Be Bowlin'?

Has anyone in your family ever had this haircut?  "From my head to my neck / my greatness is affirmed."  (And did they say that Aaron Keyes has a "Euro Mullet"?  Awesome.)

Monday, October 11, 2010

Preschool Curriculum: God is Faithful

"Your love, O LORD, reaches to the heavens, 
Your faithfulness to the skies."
Psalm 36:5

This past weekend, in our Preschool programming, we began a series to teach that God is Faithful.  We are using the account of Esther to show that God was faithful to her and to the Hebrew nation, and that she responded by being faithful to her call from God.  Here is our Leader Prep for this series (see last month's here):

Over the next few weeks, we will be exploring the life of Esther and her example of faithfulness in the midst of uncertainty.  This remarkable story of an orphan girl who was chosen to become queen almost sounds like a fairy tale.  But in reality, her story is not that different from our own.
Very early on, Esther was faced with the harshness of life when both her parents died.  And yet she also saw God's unfailing love through her cousin Mordecai, who brought her into his own home and raised her as his own daughter.  It was this love -- God's love shown through Mordecai -- that would later give Esther the foundation to act with such courage and bravery.
Esther also learned that great blessing also comes with great responsibility.  Though unexpected, Esther's position as queen allowed her to enjoy a very privileged life.  But more importantly, it allowed Esther to save an entire nation.  Esther realized that her blessings were not meant for her alone, but to be used to bless others.  
Just like Esther, we area all orphans spiritually and in need of a loving Father.  Through Christ, we have been adopted into God's family and are now called His sons and daughters.  And just like Esther, we can be faithful with the blessings God has given us in response to the limitless and never-ending faithfulness He has showered on us. 
As you prepare to share this lesson with your class, take a moment to read through the book of Esther in the Old Testament.  Then ask yourself what blessings God has given you and how He might want you to use those to encourage, protect, and provide for those around you. 

To see our curriculum outline, see our website.  To see our take-home Parent Page, where you can read a summary for each week's lesson and songs, click here.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

7 Ways to Grow in Christ

You Can Change: God's Transforming Power for Our Sinful Behavior and Negative EmotionsI have been reading You Can Change, by Tim Chester.  We all have areas of sin that we would rather not have, but we are powerless to change on our own.  And that is the author's point -- we cannot change on our own.  We are dependent on God's transforming power, that is available solely through faith in our Savior and Redeemer, Jesus Christ.

Much of the book outlines basic theology and principles of sin and sanctification, along with guidance for the proper perspectives and motivation for change.  But there is also a lot of practical application.  Chester has the reader focus on an area that he calls your "change project."  At the end of each chapter there are specific assignments for the reader.  This book would be a great resource for a Small Group or a Bible study.

In chapter 8, Chester gives seven things that reinforce faith.  He is clear to point out that these should not be thought of as personal achievements or a checklist, but should be a means of how God is growing us.  Our role is to repent and have faith; God strengthens our faith through these areas:
  1. The Bible.  "The Bible is the source of truth that counters the lies of sin that the world perpetuates." 
  2. Prayer.  "Praying and sinning will never live together in the same heart."
  3. Community.  We are to remind each other of truth, serve each other, provide accountability for each other, and more.
  4. Worship.  "Worship isn't just an affirmation that God is good. It's an affirmation that God is better."
  5. Service.  "Sin is fundamentally an orientation toward self. . . . Serving God and other people can help redirect us outward, taking our attention away from ourselves."
  6. Suffering.  It "reveals the true state of our hearts. It's God's diagnostic tool, preparing the way for the medicine of gospel truth."  And it gives us the choice to either get angry and bitter, or to find joy and peace in God.
  7. Hope.  We should spend time thinking about our future life in heaven.

Want to read more?  Buy a copy of You Can Change.

--  Joey Espinosa, Pastor of Children & Families

Friday, October 8, 2010

Reflecting on the Day

At the end of a difficult day, I often sit back and think through all of the things that happened and try to figure out what went wrong.  All too often, God uses these times to gently reveal to me my selfishness.  As I think through the events of the day and what it was that frustrated me so much, I come to the realization that I'm upset because my agenda for the day was not completed.  The things that I had planned to do, whether they were purposely scheduled or just something that I wanted to get done, took a back seat to other things that typically centered around my children in some way.

A friend once told me that parenting is a personal refining process because it reveals what is deep inside of our hearts.  I totally agree!  Whenever I am impatient with my children, grumpy when my son wakes up at 5:30 AM, dismissive of them, or a number of other things, I feel the Spirit reveal to me how selfish I am.  It all boils down to a feeling that I am entitled to pursue and attain certain things, like sleep, a hobby, a job, or relationships.  These things are not bad; in fact, I believe God has put desires in my heart for them.  However, my attitude towards these things often tends towards idolatry; no desire of mine should be more important than worshiping God and serving others.  When I think about how each of my personal desires compare to the awesome blessing of raising my children, these other things seem so foolish.

In these times of struggling, I constantly need to go to God and have Him remind me that He has me exactly where He wants me during this stage of life, and I need Him to help me re-order my priorities and change my heart.  When I have these things in check, I find myself being more patient with my children, excited about our crazy days and enjoying building them up and loving on them.  I can also notice a significant change in my children and their attitudes when I have my priorities in order.  I can't say that I'm excited about waking up at 5:30 AM, but at least I'm greeted by a very cheerful and adorable little boy.  That definitely helps!  And sometimes, like a special little bonus, those other things -- like hobbies, relationships, or a glorious afternoon nap -- fit into my days.

Right now, my focus needs to be on the things that God is calling me to do at this stage in life.  I know there will come a time when I will have more time to do other things, but in this season I'm supposed to relish the time that I have with my kiddos, be thankful that I have the opportunity to stay at home with them, and hopefully, and most importantly, show them the love of Christ and build in them a solid foundation.

--  Jenn Davis

Image courtesy of chappy14 via

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

New iMixes

We've recently updated our iMixes for both our Preschool (2 years old - 5k) and Camp Grace (1st - 4th grade), to include some of the songs that we've been singing during our Big Group times.  See our website to buy one or more songs, via iTunes.  Enjoy it with your kids!

Do you have any recommendations for kids music that would fit well into our Big Group programming?  Leave a comment here with your suggestion.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Recognizing & Worshiping Jesus

In Camp Grace, we just completed our second week of our study through the New Testament.  If you are not familiar with our curriculum for our Camp Grace (1st - 4th grade) programming, we go through the entire Bible -- Genesis to Revelation -- over two years.  Our goal is to not merely teach "Bible stories," but to teach principles that these children need to apply, as a response to God.

Each week's lesson also includes a small section to help the leaders prepare.  We know that if our volunteers are growing in Christ, they will be better equipped to lead their Small Groups as well.  As an example, here is the leader preparation material for this coming week's lesson, as we study about recognizing and worshiping Jesus:
Before this weekend, read Luke 2 and Matthew 2.  As you read, think through the significance of Mary and Joseph following the law and sacrificing two pigeons to redeem Jesus.  Jesus not only followed the Law (even as a baby), He also fulfilled the Law. 
As you look at what characterizes the lives of the Magi, Simeon, Anna, and King Herod, think about what characterizes your life.  Do you regularly move from recognizing Jesus to worshiping Him?  Compare and contrast King Herod's response to Jesus, with Simeon's and Anna's responses to Jesus.  We are so often wrapped up in ourselves and our own "kingdoms" that we fail to recognize Jesus for who He really is, just as Herod did.  Are you filled with joy each day because of Jesus' death and resurrection, or are you too wrapped up in your "kingdom" to take the time to recognize and worship Jesus for who He is?

To see our curriculum outline, see our website.  If you want to know about the goals of our curriculum, see this post for a summary.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Our Elevator Pitch

Based on a suggestion from Growing Kids Ministry, we will be working over the next few months to improve this blog.  The first assignment is to create and communicate our "elevator pitch," that is, an overview of what we are trying to accomplish, which can be given in about 30 seconds.

So, what are we trying to do with this blog?  This blog exists to assist and equip parents to lead their children.  We do this by:
  • Providing information about our Children's Ministry programming;
  • Answering parenting questions;
  • Giving links to other parenting resources; 
  • Encouraging and exhorting parents to grow in Christ; 
  • Sharing personal thoughts from staff members.
We would love to hear from you.  We started this blog almost 2 years ago, and we are averaging about 700-800 views per month.  While we are not, by far, the most popular blog out there, we are glad that God has given us the chance to be used by Him.

But we know that we can't rest now.  What else can we provide to assist and equip you?  What can we do to improve this blog?  A different focus?  A better name?  Let's hear your thoughts!