So I was kept awake by the storms the other night and this thought popped into my head and I couldn't stop thinking about it.
I was thinking about the message John Dickson (who is seriously an amazing speaker and you need to hear his story!) spoke at our church a few weeks ago about equally flexing the muscles of moral conviction and compassion. That the best way to win people to Jesus is by being able to equally flex both. If one muscle is flexed over the other you either get hard headed and hard hearted Christians who take out the 'love' component. Or, you get a bunch of people that are so flippant that the message of sin and its redemption gets lost.
That got me thinking. What about in children's and youth programming? After lots of processing, I came up with: The goal of a children's/youth program should be able to equally flex the muscles of message and experience. When these two work together in equal flex- it will be hitting the 'sweet spot' of reaching these little hearts for Christ, teaching them that God loves them, that they can trust Him. If you look at churches not only in recent history but today as well, you will find that often a church is really awesome at one of these, but it is so easy to lack in the other. That equal flexing is very hard to do. What does it look like when these muscles are flexed and how can the two together make for a powerful ministry for children?
When a program or church focuses on the message the Word of God is evidently displayed. There is no question that the story or activity comes from a biblical source. There is no doubt of its origin. It is clear and simple truth with clear and applicable lifelines. However, when the message muscle is out-flexing itself, the experience can become stale, lifeless, and boring. Even with good intentions, the heart and spirit of God's message gets lost in translation. It can become redundant. I can sometimes fail to connect with the energy and life of young people- the story and content is there, but the message can be quickly forgotten. It is rote. I've been here. My childhood Sunday school memories are of environments like this. I memorized verses and the books of the bible. I stared at the flannel Jesus and learned about his miracles. I learned the stories. But, I was not excited to be there. Nor did I discover the true emotion and excitement that are in these stories and learn how they can apply to my third grade self.
When a program or church focuses on the experience muscle- man is it an exciting place to be! The music rocks. The room is welcoming- no sterile cinder-block walls in this joint! The activities bounce from one to another. It draws out the fun, exciting races, projects, crafts and points to hit every child in a way that they learn best. It knows that not all kids will learn and apply God's word simply by hearing it- but they have to experience it physically, emotionally, musically, creatively. Kids want to be there! Its memorable. But, as memorable as it can be, when the experience muscle is over-flexed- students can walk away remembering more about what they did rather than the why they did it. The message gets lost in the shuffle. The races and projects are remembered- but the reasons for doing them gets interrupted by the fast paced, exciting lifestyle of the room. Entertaining the minds rather than transforming the hearts becomes the end result. I've experienced these rooms too. And I have seen how something can be so awesome and so fun- but you walk away wondering 'what did i learn?, who is this Jesus guy anyways?' Sure these flashy graphics and cool stage get ups are cool- but where is the story, where is the application? What does this mean to me?
As I think about what I would want for my kids when I drop them off at their respective rooms- I hope that they have a blast. I want them to be on fire in their experience with other Jesus followers that worship day. But, I want them to get the point. I want them to not be distracted by the lights and sounds and races and projects but for them to be able to be challenged with a point to take home. I hope that as a storyteller and coach (my roles at church on Sunday Morning) that I can adequately flex both muscles. I want to help bring an awesome experience for each and every kid on Sunday morning. I want them to have fun and want to be there. I want fire and heart. But I also want to clearly communicate the message. I prayed with my small group leaders before asking God to help us focus on the message, not the activities. But this idea of flexing equal muscles for the entire mission, purpose, vision, and morning got me thinking. How can we next year bring about this balance to the Kentwood campus? Is our environment fun? Is it inviting? Are kids walking away with a great take home application? My hope is yes. My fear is that we will get too focused on attracting the minds but failing to engage the hearts. Its a hard balance- but in order to provide the best possible environment with the greatest potential for reaching these kids for Christ- we must try to equally flex the muscles of MESSAGE and EXPERIENCE.