I had the pleasure of catching up with Dr. Michelle Anthony to talk about her soon to be released book, Dreaming For More. It was so great talking with her and you the passion she has for Children’s Ministry, families, and the work of the Holy Spirit is so evident. Her effervescent personality fills the room and the warmth she exhibits towards each person is refreshing. I was both inspired and convicted by her book, and was so glad I had the opportunity to talk with her more about it.
Using the Home Front Papers
I had heard a lot of good things about Home Front, the parent “take-home” paper, but I had my doubts. In Dreaming for More, Michelle spoke of “inverting the take home paper” — giving it to parents ahead of time so they could teach the lesson to their kids and then we, as Kidmin workers, could follow up and support the parents in their role as leader. The trouble is, sometimes it seems like teachers don’t even read the lesson ahead of time (not my workers, of course, they are fabulous!). How could we get parents to make this investment?
Michelle nods in recognition and then explains, “They are pretty easy to get through. There are some activities, some conversations starters, stuff like. It used to be pretty text heavy, but we’ve recently changed the format to make it more visually appealing and I think parents are more apt to read it now. Even if they don’t read any of the lesson stuff, there is a place where we ask them to open the Bible to the passage and read the week’s passage to their kids. It’s just a few verses (and a couple of discussion questions) but it’s getting both the parents and the kids into the Word. I think parents WANT to read the Bible, but they aren’t really sure where to go. I know one guy who just opens the Bible and reads whatever page it lands on. This just gives them some guidance. Once they try it, usually they are hooked. So, that’s what I would say to parents and leaders — just try it one time. Pick a time… maybe when the little ones are in the bath, or when you’re driving an older child to practice. Redeem the time that you’re already spending with them. And tell the kids about it during the week — ask them, “How many of you did your Home Front weekly?” and then the kids start prompting. We don’t want to use guilt, but we want to help them. Baby steps!
Creating a Safe Place
Michelle wrote, when you do away with the obsession with morals and allow the Holy Spirit to be in charge, it creates a much safer environment for the kids. And that’s what we want, a safer place for everyone.
I wondered if created a safe place for kids would lead to more confession and repentance. Do we want that for our kids? Is that something that is meaningful and age appropriate?
Michelle answers, “Especially in the small group time, I would love to see some general confession, like “I’ve been struggling with a bad attitude this week”. It would be great to see small group leaders modeling that a bit, demonstrating the need everyone has for a Savior. As far as specific confession, perhaps one-on-one with a leader, or even with their parents, or maybe alone during the respond time. You have to be careful, because kids can still be cruel, so we don’t want to give them too much ammunition. It needs to be shepherded. Under guidance though, it would be great to see some confession and repentance in the church, and the home. Parents modeling confession could be powerful too.”
Why Isn’t Anyone Talking About the Holy Spirit?
One quote that stood out to me in Michelle’s book was, “many Children’s ministry people are skeptical about promoting the Holy Spirit’s power and position”. I inquired about Michelle’s take on why this occurs.
She explained, “I think Satan likes to take anything good that the Lord has given us and ruin it for everyone. Look at the gift of sex and how distorted that has become. In fact, he distorted it so much, that now people think it’s a bad thing. The Holy Spirit was a gift to us as well, and people have misused and abused the idea of the Holy Spirit and the power He has. As a result, I think people shy away from the Holy Spirit’s power because they don’t want to be lumped in with that abusive theology. We’ve kind of created this new Trinity — God, Jesus, and the Bible!
If you remember the Reformation, it was all about going back to the Word, the Word, the Word. Then the Renaissance was more about the Spirit and the senses. And these things kind of ended up at war with one another. Also, the Spirit can’t be explained, and people don’t like that. We are a rationale generation, and we like to make sense of things. The Holy Spirit doesn’t always make sense.
Brokenness, Sinfulness, and Redemption
Michelle nods enthusiastically. I absolutely think they get it — maybe not intellectually, but on a spiritual level. I’ve had kids who were 3 years old who was upset because she had hurt someone’s feelings and she was grieving over that. God puts his law on our hearts. Intellectually, we might have to wait awhile for kids to get it, but spiritually, they get it from the beginning.
In a home environment, parents can see a child’s heart better. As parents, we can recognize the propensities our child has early on, whether its deceit or selfishness, and we can see where the Holy Spirit is intervening in their lives to break some of those propensities down. So, we can give our children language for what’s going on, even if they don’t really get it all right away. Instead of just saying, “No, that’s wrong”, we explore the heart a little more. Why did you sin? What’s going on in your heart? What do you think is going on in God’s heart?
Michelle told a really touching story about a mom and her preteen daughter. The daughter seemed to be obsessed with her birthday, talking about it for months ahead of time, planning details, making wish lists and things of that nature. The mom was so exasperated, thinking “It just seems so self-indulgent, I just want to get her nothing because she’s being like that!” Michelle encouraged her to think about why the daughter was acting like that. Suddenly, it was like a lightbulb moment. The girl had been having a really hard time in school that year, feeling like no one liked her, struggling with friends, and focusing on her birthday was a (subconscious) way to feel really special and valued for a day. Once mom realized that, she was able to have a really meaningful conversation with her daughter and together they began to create ways for the daughter to feel valued and special everyday.
Chaos, Control, and the Holy Spirit
I love the idea of leaving room for the Holy Spirit, but I have to admit, I’m a little nervous to let go of that control and let kids “do their own thing with God”. So often, in Kidmin, downtime equals chaos. Certainly, kids can’t hear from the Holy Spirit when their friends are running all over the gym screaming. So, I asked Michelle, how do we leave room (and time) for the Holy Spirit without losing all order?
Michelle laughed and called one of her friends over. Apparently he had been wondering the same thing the day before! She answered, “I think this was the biggest surprise for me when we started to do Respond. We thought the kids are going to go mad. It actually had the opposite effect. When we entrusted to them that time and space — of course, we framed it for them, letting them know it was not time to chat with their friends or play or whatever, but it was time to be with God — I was AMAZED at the respect and reverence we saw displayed. Sometimes you need to help the atmosphere a little bit with lighting and music — even adults are effected by that. Like anything, kids can be trained on how to behave. You walk into a 1st grade class and everyone is sitting quietly and working. Maybe the first week, some extra correction and training needs to take place, but they will get it.”
I wondered, “Are we then training kids to respond in a fake way to the Holy Spirit, pretending to hear from God because they are trained that this is the time where we hear from God?”
We have stations and they go to these stations and then they go straight into small group from there. There isn’t really a time when we ask them “Who heard from God” or “What did God tell you?” We don’t want to make it this performance thing or some kind of measurement of spirituality. Some kids don’t hear from God. Now, if they want to talk about it in small group, they are welcome to do so, but we don’t really make it a big deal, so they don’t feel that pressure to perform. I think if it was a really impactful experience, then they will talk about it, but often times we don’t hear about it. We hear about it from their parents! They will come back and say, “What are you doing?” because the kids will get in the car and talk about something they prayed about or something they wrote in their journal.
Let’s Talk More About Those Parents
Excited to hear more news about the parents, I asked Michelle, “Do you think this is having a ripple effect and changing families?”
Michelle’s eyes light up as she exclaims, “Absolutely! It helps them to be more engaged because they can see a real difference. It’s like they are starting to feel ‘I want to experience God like that’. I don’t think there’s any one way the ripple is headed. The Holy Spirit works when and how he chooses. Children awakening parents. Parents awakening kids. Leaders awakening kids. Parents awakening leaders. Kids awakening other kids.
The other day we had a 1st grader go to the prayer wall, but for some reason, there was no leader there to help him. A 5th grader saw that, walked over, and said “I’ll help you. I’ll pray with you”. You know, that was prompted by the Holy Spirit. That would have never happened before in our ministry. There wouldn’t even had been an opportunity. ”
What About My Volunteers?
Michelle shared a powerful story in Dreaming For More about a time when she and the volunteer team decided they were going to leave room for the Holy Spirit. They asked a questions and then waited. The decided they were going to wait, no matter how long it took. I remember laughing out loud when I read the next part:
“It felt like an eternity waiting. I was uncomfortable. My leaders were uncomfortable. The kids were…well, bored.” (105)
Sometimes I feel like how the leaders feel is as much motivation as anything when it comes to Children’s Ministry. After all, we don’t want to lose volunteers by created horrible awkward moments! (By the way, an amazing story unfolds because of this situation, one that had me in tears two pages later — read if for yourself!) So, how do we deal with that situation?
Michelle gave a great idea. She suggested having a meeting with all your volunteers seated at a table and just go around and ask them, “Why are we doing ministry? Why are YOU doing ministry?” Get people to articulate that they DO want kids to hear from God and be transformed and then explain that leaving room for the Holy Spirit is HOW we’re going to make those things happen. Share the seven pillars of ministry, even if you’re not using Tru, it’s a great philosophy.
Michelle’s friend chimed in, sharing something he had recently read on a blog, “People don’t care what you do, they care WHY you do it.” We’ve got to help people catch the vision!
THANKS MICHELLE! IT WAS SO GREAT TALKING WITH YOU!
Now, the Giveaway!
I was so inspired by Michelle’s not-yet-released book, Dreaming for More, and I want you to be inspired too! Enter the giveaway through Rafflecopter!
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* This post is part of series of live blogging posts from David C. Cook’s “The Gathering” conference in Costa Mesa, CA *
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