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One of the highlights of summer for me is getting to speak at children’s camps.  I love the energy. I love the worship times.  And I love talking with so many different churches and hearing what God is doing in their communities.

This past week, I was at a camp in Smackover, AR.  If’ you’ve never been through this booming metropolis, you’re missing out.  It has one stop-light that is anchored to a cement pylon in the middle of Main Street intersection.  It is definitely a site to see. 

 The town and most of south Arkansas for that matter has been hit really hard by the economic downturn.  And that has greatly affected churches.  But God is still doing some awesome things. As I went through the week, I noticed a few things that were very encouraging.

First, I noticed that these churches have instilled in their kids a high value for the Word of God.  These kids were quick to open to the Scripture that I was speaking from and they were eager to read along and make notes as we discussed.  It was awesome to see this generation so passionate about Scripture.

Second, I noticed that these churches are eager to minister to preteens.  Most of the churches in this region are rural, small, and old.  They average attendance is definitely well under 100, and most of the congregation is probably over 50.  Even if the majority is under the age of 50, the over-50 population is definitely footing the bill for ministry and thus making it tough to try new things.  But even still, these churches were open to new ideas and trying new methods to reaching the preteens in their community.  I sat down with the leadership of one church and discussed their ministry to preteens.  They wanted to ask me some questions and get some advice, but I definitely walked away feeling like they had taught me a thing or two.  Despite their size and their age, they had ventured into preteen ministry and were having huge success.  They were running a preteen worship service that was growing to be about 60% of their church population.  And they weren’t resting on that accomplishment!  Instead, they were asking “how do we take these kids and get them involved in Sunday School/Small Groups?”  It was awesome to see this passion for preteens.

And last, I recognized that God uses all ages to minister to preteens.  The awesome part of camp is seeing those that God has called into leadership at churches.  In one group you’ll have the 20-something college student who is full up bubbling energy that is like a super-hero to the kids, and in another group you’ll have the 80-something grandmother who is pouring out pounds of love on the kids in her group.  And God is using both of them to impact the lives of preteens.  I quickly realized that there is no “target demographic” when you’re looking for preteen leaders.  This age group responds well to young and old, and God will definitely use both to speak into their lives. 

I had an awesome time last week at camp.  I’m still recovering from the camp food, but I can’t wait to do it all over again next week!

My wife, Dana, and I have been having some conversations about how we plan to raise our 9-month-old daughter.  It’s not so much about the “everyday” things (although we have had those conversations as well), but it’s more about the transitions of life that are worth a pause and celebration.  We call these milestones.

We haven’t mapped out her entire life’s worth of milestones.  I mean she is only 9-months-old!  But we have been discussing the first of those milestones: baby dedication. We have absolutely nothing against the way our church or any church does baby dedication. As long as it doesn’t violate Scripture in some way, then I think baby dedication is a great event in whatever format the church decides.  It was just a choice for us that we do something different and unique to our family.  We wanted the event to be a charge to our family, our friends, and ourselves.  We want to be held accountable for the physical and spiritual upbringing of our daughter.  We want those that we feel will have an influence on her spiritually or physical development to be a part of this milestone and future milestones.

We haven’t nailed down all the details yet, but here is the framework so far:

Create a Network
We want to invite family and friends, and recognize their role as an influence on the spiritual development of our daughter.  We want to invite them to take hold of that influence in her life.  We also want this group to hold us accountable to our role as the primary spiritual influence.  The have the right to speak into our daughter’s life, as well the life of Dana and me.

Establish Values for Our Family
We want to structure our family around what is most important and model that for our daughter.  We are placing a high importance on worshiping as a family, praying as a family, and studying Scripture as a family.  Other things that we want our daughter to value are service and giving.  We want to establish certain times of year that we model service for her, even at this young age.  We understand that our service is never limited to those times, but we do want to be intentional about modeling that part of our Christian duty.

Protect our Marriage
I know that the best thing I can do for my daughter and show her that I love her mother.  I want to protect my marriage from the dangers of neglect that often accompany the addition of children.  Again, we understand the need for accountability.  We are committing to spend time, energy, and money on the enrichment of our marriage, and we want others to hold us accountable for that. 

I can’t wait to get together for this milestone.  We’re planning on it being a casual dinner where we will explain our intentions and values for parenting.  Following dinner, we’ll have a time of prayer to thank God for our daughter and to ask for His guidance in he upbringing.  We will also ask others to pray for their role as spiritual influence and an accountability partner.

This event has just been on my heart the last few days, so I wanted to throw the idea out and see if there was any helpful information you could give.  I would love to hear if you have done a similar event at your church or for your own child.  I will definitely post pictures and stories following the event.

 

 

A few weeks back, I raised the idea of having a “summer reading” with our small group leaders.  It’s been a busy month of wrapping up the school year, but we are finally at a point that we’re ready to launch that idea.

Today, our leaders will receive an email invitation to take part in reading D.A. Carson’s book, The God Who Is There: Finding Your Place in God’s Story.  The book does a great job of explaining Scripture and the foundations of Christian faith. My hope is that it will make our leaders hunger even more for the Word of God as they discover how God has called them to play a part in the story. We have an amazing team of leaders, and I’m really looking forward to this time with them.

As we prepare week to week to minister to preteens, we want our leaders to know why they believe what they believe and why they teach what we’ve asked them to teach.  This knowledge of how we fit into God’s story is what makes their teaching and the Scriptures come alive to the students.  My hope is that walking through this book with them will allow us all to grow in our faith as well as help us to encourage the faith of our students.

Here are some of the things that I want our leaders to contemplate and discuss:

How do we encourage preteens to discover who God is?

How do we lead preteens to discover who God has made them to be?

How does knowing our role in God’s “Big Story” help us to BE the church?

How do we empower preteens to share God’s “Big Story” with the world around them?

I can’t wait to see what God teaches me from this book and the discussions with our leaders.  I’ll definitely be sharing more in the weeks to come.

 

Facebook, the social network that was created as a collegiate exclusive site, has become widely used by teens and preteens.  The site requires users to be 13 years of age or older, but the policy is difficult to uphold and enforce.  Research by Consumer Reports Magazine shows that as of 2011, 7.5 million U.S. users were under the age of 13.  Slightly more than 5 million of those were under the age of 10.  The stats raise the questions, should preteens be using Facebook?

The answers to that question will be different for every parent.  I’m not trying to answer that question for parents, but my fear is that we are not giving it as much thought, as it deserves.  Open communication is always the key to dealing with these issues.  Here are some thoughts that we can encourage parents to consider…some good and some bad:

1. Rules are Rules
The Facebook user agreement states “You will not use Facebook if you are under the age of 13.”  If preteens are allowed to register a profile on the site, then a message is sent that says breaking the rules is ok when it’s something you really want.  While this may seem innocent, it does make future conversations about “required ages” difficult.  If it is ok to lie about age at 13, then why wouldn’t it be ok at 16, 18, or 21?

2. Controlled Environment
Many parents will allow their preteen to create a Facebook profile because the site is a semi-controllable environment.  They can limit the visibility of their child’s profile, as well as reject unknown friend requests.  This feature is a better option than allowing children to freely surf the Internet unsupervised.  There are still risks involved, but if properly managed, Facebook may be a safe alternative to other Internet usage.

3. Increased Risk
Preteens on Facebook are at an increased risk for harmful behaviors.  First, there is a risk of privacy when a profile is created.  Their pictures, daily schedules, school locations, and friends are posted and seen by others.  To avoid this risk, it is important for profiles to be set to visibility by friends only.  Even with the additional security, digital relationships show signs of increased aggressiveness, such as bullying, harassment, and stalking.  The research by Consumer Reports found that 1 million children were subjected to harassment, threats, and other forms of cyber-bullying in the past year.  Preteens may find it difficult to deal with these types of behaviors, especially if they are cannot talk to parents about the issues because they are on Facebook without permission.

4. Increased influence
While most of the stats show an increase of negative influence on preteens through Facebook, the opposite might also be plausible.  Many ministries are finding ways to use social networking to better connect with their congregation, student ministries included.  The 1 to 2 hours per week of influence that the church once had can be expanded to a much greater impact through social networking.  It can promote relationships with other believers, connect students to Scripture on a daily basis, and give students a platform to talk about life issues with ministry leaders or peers.  We have found that this is especially helpful when students attend church together but do not attend the same schools.  It is a way for those students on different campuses to connect with their church friends throughout the week.  The key for parents is to check on their preteen’s use of Facebook to make sure that the influences and interactions are positive for the child.  Sadly, according to Consumer Reports, only 18% made their child a Facebook friend or checked their Facebook use regularly. 

Should a preteen be on Facebook?  This is a tough question.  We know that they’re asking, and parents are under a lot of pressure to respond.  They need help processing the decision and they need tools to help with the communication with their child.  As a preteen leader, I don’t see it as my job to make the decision for the parents.  My role is to equip them and partner with them in making the best out of whatever decision they make.

How are you equipping parents to make the touch decisions?

How do you help parents feel prepared to make the decision about Facebook or other social networks?