My beef with the Children’s Story

I don’t like children’s stories during worship.

It’s probably not because of the reasons you think. Sure, there are countless examples of misguided storytellers. Here are some:

*The unprepared one in a church on the West Coast: “Hello children, I haven’t read this story, they just asked me this morning, so sit and be quiet”.

*The Vegan Bible in a church in the south: “Jesus took the loaves and ___________ and He gave the loaves and _______________ to the people and they ate the loaves and _________________”.  (she took out the word fishes every time, ‘cause you know, diet matters more than the bible)

*The weird one in a church in the Caribbean where every Sabbath they have children’s story but there are no kids in attendance, only 60 year olds.

Sometimes it takes too long, many times its absolutely irrelevant and the seldom portray grace, just a “do this kids, or you will lose your meal like little Johnny” sort of stories fill the Sabbath morning landscape.

The reason I don’t like it is not because of any of those reasons. The children’s story is a small bone we throw to kids that are bypassed in most of the worship services. We use adult themes with adult language geared for adult issues and then wonder why kids disconnect as soon as they are teens. If the children in your church are so important answer me this:

If you are pressed for time what part of the service is the first to go?

Here are some suggestions to creating a kid friendly worship service.

To do:

  1. Illustrations: use ones that kids can relate to. Most of the ones I hear aren’t.
  2. Visual: In a visual generation talking heads garner as much interest as a game between the Jets and Jaguars.
  3. Shorter: The gospel is eternal but the sermons don’t have to be. One hour sermons are unnecessary.
  4. Think of them: When you are constructing the message. Can a six-year-old get what you are saying?
  5. Ask them: Go to the children’s divisions and ask them what they are afraid of, what they wish for, what would they like to hear. Then build messages around that. If you are afraid of not engaging adults because you go too young, don’t. Most adults are ecstatic that their kids and grandkids are paying attention!

Here is to better worship services for kids! Any other ideas? Leave them in the comment section.

 


The debate whether it is or not rages on. Let me add my contribution to this discussion with a story that is not unique or rare.

Last year in Lexington KY I held an evangelistic meeting for 3 area churches. One young man, let’s call him Edgar, in his early teens that attends our only Adventist school in Lexington came every night. He wanted to get baptized but since his family were not Adventist, he was not able to.

Fast forward a year.

I just finished a caravan of hope for the family, where we preached in 6 states in 8 days. One of the stops was in Lexington. To my delight, after I preached about God’s plan for the family, we had the privilege to baptize Edgar. With his whole family! Mother, aunts and cousins. They even had special music at the end. Their family filled the platform. The dad who has not yet made a decision even won the Tablet we gave away and that was the first time he ever attended.

Is Adventist Education evangelism?  You decide.

These are some recommendations to make an evangelistic school even more intentional:

1. Ask.  A significant amount of schools I have known over the years offer Bible classes but no invitations to follow Jesus by deciding to be baptized or take Bible studies. If we hadn’t asked, we might have one less family at the Lexington Adventist Church today. Don’t just preach. Ask for a decision.

2. Follow up. Weeks of prayer, weekly chapels and other events are places people make decisions. Local pastors have an opportunity to study with these young people and their families. Sometimes the school doesn’t communicate it to the local pastor, sometimes the local pastor doesn’t follow through. We can do better.

3. Advertise. You can be persuasive without being pushy. Do your bulletin boards have invitations to the local Adventist church evangelistic event? Do parents receive in their materials an address for local church and contact info for pastors?

Let’s pray for our schools and more importantly, the children that attend them. It’s the reason we have them open.

Do we love them enough to introduce them to the savior?

“Love, the basis of creation and redemption, is the basis of true education.”

Ellen White, Education, page 16.

One of the most common questions people in the church are asking these days is: How do I present a timeless and unchanging message in a way that is relevant to a changing culture?

My friends Dwight Nelson and Rodlie Ortiz at Pioneer Memorial have taken their time engaging people and have developed a series called:

HOPE TRENDING.

This has four characteristics:

Innovative- it was birthed not out of a board meeting but with people that live outside the walls of the church.

Daring- taking the gospel and engaging younger people is both daring and necessary.

Excellent- from the graphics to the watch parties, this does NOT have 1992 written all over it.

Adventist- that’s what we are. We don’t hide it, but we proudly proclaim it in a contextualized way.

If you want to participate, please know its not too late.

Here is the info:

1. Training event and Q & A session for those considering being Watch Party leaders. So if you know anyone in your church that might be open to lead, send them the link and ask them to catch it online available at hopetrending.org/pastors so they can view it any time.

 

2. We’ve been hearing that some churches are planning to use Hope Trending as a follow up for Shadow Empire, the series from Voice of Prophecy. The reason why they’re able to do this is because people can easily host a physical Watch Party in their homes, or they can invite their friends to an online Watch Party.

 

3. Hope Trending will be offered in Spanish. Esperanza TV, the Spanish arm of HopeTV, is providing the technology for live simultaneous translation into Spanish during the event. All of the resources available are also being translated into Spanish and will be available within a few days on hopetrending.org/recursos.

Lets pray for this!

Ministry is awesome. Except when it isn’t. After 26 years pastoring, leading pastors, and helping pastors lead I have seen more than one quit, burn out or just explode. The ending is never pretty. Can it be avoided? Here are three things I have consistently seen people in ministry ignore to their peril:

  1. Can’t outwork, out-plan or overcome prayerlessness.

I can hear the groans. The excuses. The reasons why prayer is not the all-encompassing solution. I don’t know if this is an egg or chicken type of situation, but I have seldom seen a pastor crash and burn that had an intimate, personal and robust prayer life. I know there are examples. We call those exceptions. Here is the truth. Just like you can’t outwork a bad diet, you can’t out work prayerlessness. Its tiring. Think kite. You can fly it when the wind is blowing or you can run and make your own wind. Here are three questions:

How long are you praying every day?  How many times a week do you fast? When do you study the bible to eat, not to feed?

  1. Secrets.

We all have them. Everyone you meet is dealing with something they hate about themselves. Some just are better at masking it. The thing is, unattended private struggles tend to become public spectacles.

Weight.                Sex.        Mental illness.   Family.                Loss.      Whatever.

Trace it. Face it. By God’s grace erase it. The devil thrives in secrecy. Unleash the power of the gospel that says its ok not to be ok when things are not ok. OK?

  1. Impact in our life of the dysfunction around us.

For some reason, and for the life of me I don’t know why, we tend to give dysfunctional, hurtful people passes. People have explosions in board meetings or church business sessions and we use phrases like “That’s just Anna” (made up name). We learn to cope with dysfunction. What we don’t confront we confirm. We just bid our time, untill we get another call and pass along the dysfunction to the next victim, er, I mean pastor. Dysfunction, like stress, is a silent killer.

So, what do we do? There are no easy solutions, but here are some suggestions.

Pray. Go on a retreat ASAP. Step away from the madness and the conferences and the planning and spend 3 straight hours in fasting and prayer, then get back to me.

Talk. Share your pain, talk to a professional. Kill the secrecy monster.

Brave. Prayer and counseling will prepare for the confrontation that needs to happen. Be brave. If God is for you, those who are against you are wasting their time.

 

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This week I posted a simple question on social media. A non-scientific poll, if you will. Here is the question:

Are seminaries preparing future pastors to serve in a post-Christian society?

Yes.

No.

Somewhat.

The responses were very interesting. You can read them here: https://www.facebook.com/roger.hernandez.526/posts/10210309424232504

There are several blog topics in that thread for sure! I decided to make it a three part series:

What schools can do.

What students can you.

What we can all do.

Some of these items I have personally observed. Some are observations and comments from others. I welcome your input and a conversation that is productive, not just a “its all bad” attitude.

Here are some short concepts, questions, ideas:

  1. Seminary repeats some of the same classes, or at least a large segment from a class from undergrad. Why is that? I have good friends that took both classes and the teacher didn’t even change the power point presentations.
  2. The world has changed significantly with the Rise of the Nones, especially in the last 10 years. Is the theological education reflective of that seismic shift in culture? Here’s a comment that resonated in different ways several times:

“Sadly pastors are rarely trained to serve society period. We are trained to serve the church…”

While we did have some that said that seminary training is relevant to the current culture, the comments were mostly that improvement is needed.

  1. Evangelism is alive in a good number of churches, with different models. Are students being exposed to all models? How can we? Here is one way: https://hopetrending.org/ Here is another: http://www.helphopehere.com/
  2. Are we making sure that students have led at least one person to Jesus before graduating. I thought this was a given. It isn’t. I have encountered seminary graduated students who haven’t. How and why does this happen? Instead of hating on the short-term Independent Ministries and the short term schools like AFCOE or ARISE, shouldn’t we instead implement more of the practical elements in traditional denominational theology schools.
  3. I would like to explore the possibility of students spending a year of undergrad as an intern in a church. Not next to the school, but outside the bubble where most theological schools are located. The church must be:

Evangelistic.

Church Planting Friendly.

Healthy.

This will help in three ways:

It helps the students to affirm their calling.

It will expose them to healthy churches, not the ones many are assigned as a young pastor.

It will provide valuable training in the real world.

 

A final word. I have deep friendships with some theological professors that are passionate about the future of the church, our impact in the world and new ways to share Adventism. So I don’t want this series to become a “lets beat up on the teachers” event. Let’s affirm what is working and question was isn’t. Anyone can criticize. What are we doing to improve?

Next week, what the students can do. Get ready, it will be spicy!

Give a car, change a life

This month, as a part of Compassion 100k we held an End it Now rally. Hundreds of Adventists from Atlanta gathered at Berean SDA Church to declare our opposition to the sinful practice of Domestic Violence and Human Trafficking.

The part that was most special to me was the ending. We gave a car to a domestic violence survivor, a mother with three children that is visiting one of the local churches. I am not an emotional person, but even I was moved to see how a mother that has a job, but no reliable transportation, kept repeating over and over to her kids: “look, this is for us, this is for us!”

These three things I learned:

1. Just because we can’t help everyone, doesn’t mean we can’t help someone.

One of the questions people ask is: “wouldn’t this create requests that will be overwhelming?” The short answer is not. This isn’t the first time its happened and we haven’t seen it happen. There are many Domestic Violence survivors in Atlanta. We just changed the life of one. We are grateful to God for the resources for that.

2. Unity maximizes impact.

During 2016 the city churches have been participating in an initiative called Compassion 100k. It was great to see Korean, Anglo, African Americans, Hispanics, Rumanians and many more gathered together. Some had never been in that area before. In a country sometimes deeply divided, the gospel shows that unity maximizes impact.

3. This is part of a process.

The next step is to provide free health care on Sunday August 28th. (volunteers needed, ask me how or wrote khernandez@southernunion.com) Then an evangelism initiative. Compassion needs to become a lifestyle not an initiative.

 

Thanks for praying for us!

Do we believe black people?
This week was a tough one. The loss of life, from different walks of life, was difficult and painful for all, but especially for the African American community. Since I am an Adventist pastor I will share one question from an Adventist perspective that has been on my mind for a while:
Do we believe black people? Specifically, black Adventists?
Do we believe them when they tell us that they live in fear of the police? Do we believe them when they say they experience racism on a regular basis? Do we believe them when they share their anxiety at the judicial system? Do we believe them when they talk about their life experience? Do we believe them when they say that typing #blacklivesmatter does not mean others don’t? Do we believe them, period?

I wish I could say we did.

The silence in the pulpits, deflection online, calls for patience when justice is warranted and negative reaction on social media say otherwise.
A good example is the call for prayer from the NAD Administration. I am so proud of my NAD leadership showing compassion in a time of grief. The reaction on social media was varied, mostly split by racial lines. Go check it out. Statements like (I paraphrase)
*Slavery was good because it made black people more spiritual
*I am ashamed of my church
*Stop stirring race wars
*This is part of the liberal agenda
So the question is, again, do we believe black Adventist or not?

Here are three final thoughts:
1. You can use your platform to express your condolences, and acknowledge that the pain is real. They need to know we get it, we grieve with them, and we love them.

2. Supporting a grieving community does not mean you are anti-cop, a follower or George Soros or pushing a political agenda.

3. The black community cares about the murders in Chicago. Stop using that as a deflection. When my wife comes to talk to me about a problem she had at work that day that caused her pain, I don’t tell her: hey but what about the problem you and your mom had last night? I listen and acknowledge the pain THIS problem is causing, RIGHT NOW. Let’s believe them when they say this is a problem!
Take some time to listen to our African American brother and sisters. I just want to say, at least from me and my house. We love you. We hear you. We believe you.

Unless your name is Andy Stanley, you probably don’t hit home runs every time you speak, but there are things you can do to bring that batting average up from the Mendoza line. Let’s start with things to avoid:

  1. Don’t go on forever.

I know, we should start with the beginning but frankly this can disengage people more than you know. Land the plane. Even if you don’t finish strong, please finish. I’m absolutely sure you can add information to your talk, but good speakers are dexterous with the scalpel. Dexterous. Now there’s a word for you.

  1. Don’t chase rabbits.

Stay on point. That’s why I preach with points. Since I am prone to wonder in more ways than one, it makes me stay focused. I strongly suggest you listen to yourself. When I recommend to pastors I always get push back about not liking to listen to yourself talk. Ok, but you want everyone else to? Doesn’t make sense to me. If you can’t summarize in a phrase what you are speaking on this weekend it’s not ready.

  1. Don’t delay your departure.

Come out like a boxer, swinging. No one cares about all the people you are thanking and all the small talk you’re making because you’re nervous. Miss me with all the preliminaries. If you don’t get to it, people get going. They might not leave the building; they just leave you. Also, see #1.

  1. Don’t try to be funny.

In fact, don’t try to be anything. I believe that humor can lower defenses and appropriately used will be helpful. The best humor is natural, its self-deprecating and not at the expense of other. The great evangelists like E. E. Cleveland always used humor, in the context of the message and it flowed. If you are not a funny guy, you’re not a funny guy. The pulpit doesn’t change you, it just squeezes out what’s inside of you.

  1. Don’t miss the gospel.

If you can’t connect the gospel to your message, you don’t need to be preaching it. I can get good advice from people much better qualified than you. I need the good news. Since the main purpose of a gospel message is heart transformation, not just behavior modification, there is only one thing that can do it: It’s called the G.O.S.P.E.L.

 

Share what your thoughts about things not to do.