6 More Children's Music Resources

UncategorizedJared Kennedy1 Comment

In 2009, I posted about 5 great children's music resources. Here are a few more that I've come across since that time: Big Stories for Little Ones by Rain for Roots is my favorite album of this bunch. It combines the writing talents of Sally Lloyd-Jones with the music of Sandra McCracken, Ellie Holcomb, Flo Paris, and Katy Bowser. The result is a record of God-centered folksy lullabies that you'll love. The album is only available for download at their website.

Since 2009, Sovereign Grace Ministries has added two albums to their collection. Walking with the Wise is the their latest. It joins  To Be Like Jesus (June 2009) and Awesome God (Aug. 2004). The latest CD unpacks truths from the book of Proverbs. It teaches us that being wise is more than just knowing a lot and being smart. It involves fearing the Lord and believing that Jesus is the Son of God who died for our sins and rose from the dead so that we could be forgiven and follow Him. That kind of wisdom is more important than anything in the world. The CD contains lead sheets, guitar charts, and accompaniment tracks to all the songs. You can buy it from the Sovereign Grace online store, or download the MP3 album.

I'm a big fan of the Ask Me Whooo catechism CDs from Diana Beach Batarseh. Catechism is simply using a question and answer format to teach basic Bible truth. One of the most famous catechisms is the Westminster Shorter Catechism, written in the 1600s by English and Scottish Divines. In the late 1800s, Joseph Engels adapted this body of work into what we call the Children's First Catechism. More recently, Great Commission Publications adapted Engel's work to make it more accessible to moderns, and Diana has used GCP's wording in 74 catechism songs.

Jesus Saves Sinners by Village Kids. In 2010, the Village Church released their  a Kids EP containing 5 original songs that teach children about the character and nature of God and His plan to save sinners through Jesus Christ.  These songs correspond with the five foundational truths taught as a part of Village’s preschool ministry, The Little Village--(1) Jesus Came to Save Sinners, (2) God is Good, (3) God is in Charge of Everything, (4) God Wants to Talk with Us, (5) God Made Everything. It's a great little gospel-centered Texas/Country/Rock album for kids. Here is the link on iTunes.

The Rizers is a group of musicians from Mars Hill Church in Seattle who have created a bunch of scripture memory songs from the NIV, set to synth-heavy, punk dance sounds. The “band” is Gracie, Matty C., Ayo, Mei Mei, and Johnny Danger. Like Gorillaz, The Rizers are a made-up cartoon band with invented personalities for each member. They have two albums currently: Meet the Rizers and Rise Up!  Check out Tyler Ratliff's review of the second album.

Finally, Jesus Wants My Heart by Daniel Renstrom is a CD written for the Treasuring Christ children's ministry curriculum. The music is contemporary and gospel-centered. It is also available on iTunes.

6 Steps for Leading Change

UncategorizedJared Kennedy1 Comment

Several weeks ago I posted twice about how the recent release of new children’s ministry curriculums has sparked controversy in the children’s ministry community. In my posts, I suggested that major philosophical shifts are impacting the way ministry leaders think and talk about curriculum. It's not surprising that such major shifts have lead to conflict, because change is hard. But how can we lead through these changes with Christian wisdom and love? Here are a few thoughts on leading change (or leading through changes) with grace.

  1. Know what is worth fighting for... In other words, lead with the kind of vision that gives your people a clear direction. Sojourn's lead pastor, Daniel Montgomery, has defined vision this way: "Vision is a picture of what could be, matched with a conviction that it must be."  This kind of vision begins with revelation. God's word inspires our vision, and the Spirit convicts us that we must act upon God's word because it is necessary. Connecting kids with Jesus and the life he gives (John 5:39; Matthew 19:13-15) is the main thing for our ministry. And we believe that partnering with parents to capture the hearts of the next generation (Psalm 78:1-5) is an essential part of this mission.
  2. ...and know what's not worth fighting for. I love this Andy Stanley quote that I first heard from Jonathan Cliff: "We are married to the vision, but we just date the models.”  Knowing the difference between the vision and the different models that contextualize that vision is essential. Keeping Jesus first and partnering with families are both deal-breakers for me. I'll die for that vision. But we must be flexible when it comes to models. We use a chronological bible storying curriculum, but we're open to using a virtue-based curriculum so long as we see the virtues as God's grace gifts to us through Jesus. Attractional large group worship gatherings, small groups with games, a classical educational approach for preschoolers, a particular Bible memory program, etc. Those are all models. Don't marry them. Get married to Jesus and the families that he's called you to love.
  3. Know who your enemy is.  When we're passionate about a new ministry initiative (a new curriculum, new program, or just a new idea about how to make ministry better), it's easy to think that anyone who stands in the way of implementing that change is our enemy. If you haven't met opposition yet in ministry, know that it is coming. When you do, keep in mind that fellow staff members, the church board, the finance committee, and ruffled bloggers are not your enemies. "Our struggle is not against flesh and blood,but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" (Ephesians 6:12). Even if you feel like  someone is speaking against the gospel itself, remember that you were once an enemy of God. And while we were enemies of God, we were reconciled to him through the death of his son (Romans 5:10). The way to win an "enemy" is to be like Jesus, a friend to his enemies.
  4. Lead with humility. As a Reformed guy, it's sad to me that our movement is known more for the doctrines of grace than for leading with grace. I saw Scotty Smith tweet recently: "The Calvinist's doctrine of grace is completely antithetical to leading with arrogance." He followed it up by saying: "Calvinism is a dangerous tool when employed by those who are arrogant in spite of the humility and grace the doctrine teaches." Paul said it more simply, "Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up" (1 Corinthians 8:1). This isn't just a problem for Calvinists. When we're leading change, there is a temptation for all of us to act or speak first before listening and considering.. The way of humility listens and asks questions before passing judgment on the church board's motives or  firing off a complaint letter (or worse e-mail). When we speak first before listening, we take a position of self-righteous superiority. Don't get me wrong. It is good to take pride in what the Lord has done in us--including the truth he has shown us--but we should never self-righteously compare ourselves to others (Galatians 6:10). After all, what do you have that you have not received?
  5. Pray. Paul follows up his instructions on spiritual warfare in Ephesians 6 with a section on prayer. He says, "Be alert and always keep praying for the Lord's people" (6:18). My wife, Megan. recently wrote a great series of posts on lies that keep us from praying for our kids. Lie #6 is the lie of self-reliance. While we might not say it, deep down we often think “I don’t need to pray, because I can handle it.” When we do pray, often we are essentially praying, ”Lord, please bless my efforts.” Paul Miller writes, “If you are not praying, then you are quietly confident that time, money, and talent are all you need in life.” What are we saying we fail to pray about change? What are we saying when we fail to pray in the midst of conflict?  How much time do you spend interceding on behalf of your "enemies"? Have you prayed that they will come to a knowledge of the truth? Do you think that your efforts and arguments have a better chance of winning them over than the Spirit of God? Many of us are ready to stand in defense of our ideas or ready to pounce when someone else fails to "get it right." But do we give thanks to God and celebrate when we see evidence of change in our enemies--however small? If not, we are failing to trust that God is at work. And  we've forgotten that he doesn't really need us at all, but we desperately need him.
  6. Do the hard work of putting change into practice. If you've been convinced that your ministry needs to do more to partner with parents... or that Jesus and his grace needs to be more central in your teaching, stop talking about it and DO something. You might begin with a practical conversation with your lead pastor. You may just want to begin by making regular adjustments to the curriculum that you are already using. No curriculum is perfect, and "tweaking" usually doesn't require a board meeting. If you make the decision that you do need to change your curriculum, check out the process we went through a few years back.

Change is hard--particularly when your church is in the midst of wrestling with a major philosophical shift--but the results and the process can be rewarding when we approach changes with prayer and humility. I pray that these few thoughts help you to navigate whatever changes may be coming your way.

Curriculum Wars: 2 Philosophical Shifts

UncategorizedJared Kennedy9 Comments

On Wednesday, I posted about how the recent release of new children's ministry curriculums has sparked an interesting discussion in the children's ministry community. Leaders like Jonathan Cliff have observed how vocal children's ministry leaders are waging battle over which curriculum is best. Jonathan coined the phrase "Curriculum Wars" to describe these battles. In the comments section of his post, he described them this way:

The war I see waged is waged all over the place.  You need only walk through a resource center or read any ministry magazine to see the content aimed at what "they are NOT doing" to see the dig.  It's in conversations at conferences. It's in letters and/or blog postings directed to curriculum developers. It's in the reluctance to embrace the holy convictions between curriculum providers, and it's found in slight digs and rhetoric all over the blogosphere.

The moment I read the phrase "Curriculum Wars," I thought about the "Worship Wars" that have been waged in churches over the last three decades. The phrase "Worship Wars" describes controversies that arose when contemporary worship music was first introduced into traditional churches. The worship wars got out of hand. Church staffs and entire churches split over the issues that were at stake. I pray that nothing like that happens as a result of curriculum wars, but I do think there are helpful parallels between this new conversation and the conversations worship leaders have been having since the 1980s.

Worship leaders can tell you that the "worship wars" were not just about having a drum set and an electric guitar in the sanctuary. Church leaders were having bigger conversations about relevance and contextualization. The musical shifts that were made may have sometimes been stylistic preferences, but in many cases they were related to a shift in vision--a rediscovery of Paul's missionary flexibility ("all things to all people" 1 Cor. 9:22).

The same is true with the curriculum wars.  There are larger conversations going on behind the "curriculum wars" conversation. I'd argue that there are two major philosophical shifts that are impacting the way children's ministry leaders think and talk about curriculum. These are shifts in overall theological vision, not just methodology. This is what I see:

1) A Shift Toward Partnering with Families. What I'm referring to here is a rediscovery of the Bible's emphasis on the home as the front-line of ministry to children. Children's ministry leaders have come to see that if they really want to impact the lives of kids then they must partner with families, because the Bible makes parents the primary faith trainers in the lives of their kids (Deuteronomy 6:7; Psalm 78:1-7). Reggie Joiner and the ReThink group have led the way in this movement with the mantra that "two combined influences make a greater impact than two separate influences." Churches have followed suit, and curriculum writers have followed as well. I'm thankful.

2) A Shift Toward Centering Teaching around the Gospel. Of the two shifts, I believe this one is much more important. What I'm referring to here is a rediscovery of Jesus's central place in the message of the Bible. A key passage that defines this shift is found in John 5:39, where, while speaking to the religious leaders of his day, Jesus said , "You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me." The deepest concern of people who are part of the gospel-centered movement is that Christians can have biblical teaching but miss Jesus. At the beginning of the Jesus Storybook Bible, Sally Lloyd-Jones describes this concern simply:

The Bible isn't a book of rules, or a book of heroes. The Bible is most of all a Story. It's an adventure story about a young Hero who comes from a far country to win back his lost treasure. It's a love story about a brave Prince who leaves his palace, his throne--everything--to rescue the one he loves.

Back in 2008, Dr. Russ Moore critiqued the creative minds behind Veggie Tales and other children's ministry resources. His critique is one of the harder and more straight-forward ones that I've seen in print. I appreciate Dr. Moore's boldness. He sees the same issue that has been observed by Sally Lloyd-Jones:

They take biblical stories, and biblical characters, but they mine the narrative for abstractions–timeless moral truths that can help children to be kinder, gentler, and more honest. There’s almost nothing in any episode that isn’t true. But what’s missing is Jesus... When you see through Jesus, you see the interpretive grid through which all of reality makes sense.

The young, restless, and Reformed crowd (with names like Tim Keller and Matt Chandler) has led the way in this movement with mantras like "Jesus + Nothing = Everything." But the shift in focus isn't limited to members of the Reformed movement. In the launch video for What's in the Bible? Phil Vischer explains why he's changed focus in his new project:

When I first started working on Veggie Tales, I discovered it was a really great way to re-tell key Bible stories and teach Christian values, but it wasn't such a good way to explain the entire Bible, how all the stories fit together to tell just one story--who wrote this book? How did we get it, and why do we think we can trust it? And, most importantly, what difference does it make in my life? ...The Bible tells the story of God and what he's done for us.

I don't know Phil Vischer personally, but his shift in focus from Christian values to "the story of God and what he's done for us" has made a world of difference in the depth and, I believe, the longevity of what he is teaching.

Now, I would argue that these two philosophical shifts are hugely important. But why are they causing conflict? Why has this led to digs and charged rhetoric? How can we avoid the sins and disasters of the worship wars? Recognizing that there are shifts taking place is just the beginning. How can this recognition help us lead and relate to one another with Christian love? I'll post some thoughts next week. In the mean time, join the conversation and tell me what you think.

Making God Famous for Kids! - Pt. 2

UncategorizedJared KennedyComment

In my previous post, I wrote about the central role God’s fame must play in the formation of our children.  In this post I want to show you how we seek to apply this truth both in our children’s ministry and in our homes.

In our children’s ministry:

Lesson Summaries: We train our teachers to summarize each Bible lesson in three or four sentences. We keep God at the center of these lessons by making him the main character in these story summaries (e.g., Goliath hated God’s people.  God chose David to fight Goliath.  David trusted God.  God saved His people by killing Goliath.). Our preschool teachers are encouraged to review these sentences at every point in their class schedule—welcome, story, snack, craft, etc.

Singing to God: We sing to God every week, and we choose music that praises God for his attributes—his goodness and greatness. Kids need to praise the mighty Creator for all of His dazzling greatness!

Excellence in Everything: We strive for excellence in everything we do — to the glory of God.  We want our teaching, singing, and administration to be done with excellence because it is a reflection of God’s excellence.This means listening to one another and providing regular, godly critique. We communicate a lot not just in what we teach, but in how we teach, lead and organize.

In our homes:

God Moments: Teaching moments happen all the time. They can happen while driving down the road, walking through the zoo, or sitting around the kitchen table. As parents, it is a part of our nature to capitalize on opportunities to tell our children what they should do or how they should grow in character. But we often overlook opportunities to teach kids about God’s fame. “God Moments” are those opportunities in the course of everyday life that we can redeem by turning our kids’ attention toward the beauty of God and his work in our world and lives. These “God moments” aren’t something to be scheduled, but instead must be discovered while going through life with your children. Therefore, we must always be on the lookout for these moments and be willing to take time and redeem them when they arise.

Family Worship: Scripture is clear that parents should be their children’s primary source for biblical teaching (Deuteronomy 6, Psalm 78). We encourage family worship (or family devotions) as a practical means for fulfilling this God-given role. By family worship, I don’t mean a rote one-hour worship service in your living room every night. I just mean setting designated weekly time for the family to gather to pray and study the Bible together. In our family, that means being intentional about having excellent children’s music in our minivan, reading a Bible story around the dinner table once each week, and praying blessings over our kids before they go to bed at night. I’m encouraging weekly family worship, because most families have a regular weekly routine based around their work and school schedules. So, designating a weekly time and putting it in your weekly calendar is the easiest way to make teaching your kids about God regular and consistent.