children’s ministry

The unbusy pastor

The title of this post is taken from the book, The ContemplatCalmive Pastor, by Eugene Peterson (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993). This is one book I find I must reread at least once a year. Peterson says things that my heart responds to with an eager, “Yes! Yes!”, but that my ego and my schedule stubbornly resist.

For example, Peterson says that the word busy, when applied to pastors,

is the symptom not of commitment but of betrayal. It is not devotion but defection. The adjective busy set as a modifier to pastor should sound to our ears like adulterous to characterize a wife or embezzling to describe a banker. It is an outrageous scandal, a blasphemous affront.

He goes on to say,

…if I vainly crowd my day with conspicuous activity or let others fill my day with imperious demands, I don’t have time to do my proper work, the work to which I have been called. How can I lead people into the quiet place beside the still waters if I am in perpetual motion? How can I persuade a person to live by faith and not by works if I have to juggle my schedule constantly to make everything fit into place?

But isn’t being busy what our culture rewards? Aren’t hard workers busy? And if I’m not busy, won’t my parishioners have proof that pastors work just one day a week and are paid too highly?

Eugene Peterson is trying to get us to redefine the work of a pastor. Our “proper work,” he says, is the cure of souls. That work, according to him, has been replaced by “running the church.”

I so agree. Over the years, my vision for pastoral ministry has moved from “trying to get my church to grow” to “helping people experience the gospel.” There’s a big difference between those two things. The former vision demands that I be super busy. I must pack my daily schedule with tasks and meetings and appointments: can’t waste a moment. I must always preach a better sermon this Sunday than I did last Sunday. I must master the art of motivational speaking and be highly relevant to every segment of my congregation. And tragically, my marriage and family must take a back seat to the higher goal of pastoral success.

A vision for helping people experience the gospel, on the other hand, demands very different things:

  • I must slow down, observing and processing the people and events taking place around me.
  • I must commune deeply with God, listening carefully to his Word and speaking honestly and often to him in prayer.
  • I must allow the gospel to surgically explore and heal my own heart.
  • I must really listen to and care about people, not just use them to prop up my own ego and make me successful.
  • I must be available for whatever inconveniences broken people may bring my way.
  • I must maintain a vital awareness of my own limitations, and depend upon others in the body of Christ to advance the gospel in the world.

One last quote from Peterson:

I can’t be busy and pray at the same time. I can be active and pray; I can work and pray; but I cannot be busy and pray. I cannot be inwardly rushed, distracted, or dispersed. In order to pray I have to be paying more attention to God than to what people are saying to me; to God than to my clamoring ego. Usually, for that to happen there must be a deliberate withdrawal from the noise of the day, a disciplined detachment from the insatiable self.

As I said earlier, it’s so easy to say “Amen!” to all this and then get caught up in the whirlwind of pastoral duty. But maybe we can remind each other to slow down, to be more patient and more prayerful, to focus more on the cure of souls
than the “business” of running the church.

What do you think?

Sin bubbles

Here’s an object lesson for kids that may help them understand “the fleeting pleasures of sin” (Hebrews 11:25).

Title: “Sin Bubbles”

Scripture text: Hebrews 11:24-26

Materials you need: Bubbles

Opening question: “Does sin make you happy?”Bubbles

Message: Sin may make you happy for just a few seconds. It might feel good to get away with a lie, or to hit your little brother because he did something mean to you, or to dump your dinner plate on the floor because you don’t like broccoli.

But after a while, does sin make you happy? (No!) How does sin make you feel later on? (It makes me feel bad, guilty, and sad.)

The Bible says that sin’s pleasures are fleeting. Do you know what fleeting means? It means short-lived. I brought along some bubbles. Let me blow a few bubbles. Look! It’s fun to blow bubbles, isn’t it? It’s fun to pop them too. But then they’re gone, aren’t they? And then all the fun comes to an end.

That’s like sin. Sin’s pleasures last just a few seconds, then you have to sin again and again and again to feel the same way. That’s not how God wants us to live. He loves us and wants us to be happy because he loves us. His kind of happiness lasts forever.

Jesus came to live a perfect life. He never sinned. He only did what made God happy, and he was always happy in the love of his Father. When we sin, we should trust in his death on the cross and ask God to help us obey. Then we will find true joy.

What Does Jesus Smell Like?

I recently needed a children’s message on peacemaking, so this is what I came up with…

Title: “What Does Jesus Smell Like?”

Scripture text: 2 Corinthians 2:15

Materials you need: a spray bottle of air freshener; a spray bottle of Deer-Off (or something else that smells terrible!)

Opening question: Are you a peacemaker or a peace-breaker?

Message: God tells us to make peace whereverimage and whenever we can. But sometimes we get into fights, don’t we? Sometimes we complain, and whine, and fuss, and demand we get our way. In James 4:1 God says, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?”

When we lose control and let our passions take over, we become peace-breakers. It’s like we spread an awful smell. Take a whiff of this, boys and girls. (Spray some Deer-Off into a bowl and let the children smell it. Careful! Don’t spill it on the floor or let anyone put their fingers in the bowl! If you’ve never smelled Deer-Off, it’s horrible!)

But when we try to make peace with others, it’s like we spread a nice, sweet smell, like this (spray some good air freshener around the children). 

What are some ways you can spread peace? (Help the kids think of being a peacemaker at home with their siblings, or at school with friends, or in the neighborhood with people they may not like). 

Every time you’re a peacemaker, you spread the aroma of Jesus. It says in 2 Corinthians 2:15, “For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.”

Jesus died on the cross so that we could be at peace with God. He calls you to make peace with people around you. When you fail, confess your sin to God. The blood of Jesus will cleanse you from sin and help you spread the pleasing aroma of Jesus wherever you go.

Listen to Jesus!

Need a children’s sermon on the Transfiguration? Try this one…

Title: “Listen to Jesus!”

Scripture text: Mark 9:2-13

Materials you need: A soccer ball and, if possible, a photo of a famous soccer player like Tim Howard

Opening question: How many of you like to play soccer? (interact with the children’s answers)

download (1)Message: Let’s pretend for a few minutes. Let’s pretend we’re at soccer camp. Soccer camp helps you become a better soccer player. And let’s pretend it’s the last day of soccer camp, and the coach says, “Today, boys and girls, a special guest will be joining us. He happens to be one of the best goalkeepers in the world. In fact, in the 2014 World Cup game against Belgium, he made 16 saves–a World Cup record! His name is Tim Howard!” (show photo) 

What would you do if Tim Howard were to show up at soccer camp? How would you behave? Do you think it would be OK to cut up and joke around with your friends while Tim Howard was telling you about playing soccer? (No, of course not!) What if you got scared and nervous and started saying all kinds of bizarre things. Suppose you said, “WOW! Tim Howard! This is amazing! I’m going to run to Wal-Mart right now and buy a tent, and I want to put you in the tent!!”–would that be a good way to react to Tim Howard? (No!)

Well, let me tell you a story that happened in Jesus’ ministry. One day he took Peter, James, and John up a high mountain. The Bible says that there Jesus was transfigured before them. That means his whole body was suddenly lit up like the sun. Mark 2:3 says “his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them.” Two men from Old Testament times–Moses and Elijah–suddenly appeared with Jesus and talked with him. And Peter got so afraid and nervous about what was going on that he started saying the craziest things. He said, “Rabbi, it’s good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” The Bible says Peter did not know what to say, he was so terrified. I suppose he was scared and nervous and puzzled and amazed, all at the same time.

All of a sudden, a cloud came down and overshadowed Jesus, Elijah, Moses, and the three disciples. God the Father spoke from the cloud and said, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him!” And with that, the cloud disappeared, along with Moses and Elijah.

That’s a really wild story, isn’t it, boys and girls? But it shows how important it is to listen to Jesus. He is much, much greater than a sports hero like Tim Howard. He’s greater than Moses and Elijah. And guess what–he’s here with us this morning. He’s right here in our church. Of course, his body is not with us, but he is here in the person of the Holy Spirit. He’s also here in his Word, the Bible. We’re about to hear from him in the sermon. So I hope each of you will listen carefully to the reading and preaching of the Word of God. God loves us so much that he sent Jesus to earth 2,000 years ago, and he’s still speaking to us today through the Bible. Jesus is God’s beloved Son. Listen to him!