Listening to God

Prayer Stations

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I LOVE Prayer Stations! They are one of my absolute favorite things to use. Ever. Seriously, if you’ve never used these before, please consider exploring this teaching technique.

No, “teaching technique” isn’t the right description. Rather, prayer stations are mini environments created for the worshiper to encounter God in unique ways that cover all the learning styles. Through prayer stations we are creating guided opportunities for students to spend time in God’s presence. We are no longer saying to them, “Read your Bible and spend time with God,” but we are teaching them how to spend time with God by actually spending time with God. Prayer stations create opportunities for students to speak with God through guided conversations, and, also, listen for His voice.

The Logistics

Prayer Stations as Centers
Each station has a specific theme & activity for the participants to complete. For example, one station might be focused on forgiveness. Short “instructions” are included to unpack what forgiveness is and why we need it or why God offers it. Then there is a simple task for the participant to complete. Perhaps the participants spend some time confessing their sins on an individual dry erase board, asks God for forgiveness, then wipes the board clean and thanks God for His forgiveness. Be sure to include enough supplies for everyone to accomplish the task and not be on top of one another.

Depending on your set up, group size, and time alloted you can generally have anywhere from 4-10 stations set up at one time. These can all fit in one classroom or be spread out throughout your entire church (often depends on the audience size).

Prayer stations are generally heavy on supplies & prep time but don’t always have to be. I’ve done an Easter Prayer Path that took weeks of planning & prep and was supply heavy – think VBS for a one-day Easter Prayer Path – complete with turning classrooms into a tomb and a garden. I also recently did a prayer path for a lesson on David & Goliath which required minimal supplies and set up only took 20 minutes. Go big or go home. Or the simpler the better. Both theories work & have their time & place in the prayer path world.

I generally try to create stations that can be self-guided by the worshipers so that I do not need to have each station manned or hosted by volunteers. However, one time we were trying to get our Youth Ministry more involved so our Youth Minister had different kids lead each station. It worked beautifully!

Prayer Station Themes
Here are 3 Prayer Paths I have used in the past. All include stations I have adapted from various sources or written myself.

  • Easter Prayer Path – This PP was written for families to participate in together prior to our Good Friday service. Prayer paths that include preschool aged children work best when they can do it with their families. After all, someone needs to be able to read the directions to them! Stations were set up all over the building to accommodate a large crowd.
  • David’s Life Prayer Stations – This PP was written for a week at camp with kids who had completed 2nd-5th grades. The version included here is a compilation of some of the stations used throughout the week. Each day we explored a different theme & story from David’s life. The stations offered fit that day’s theme. Incorporating these stations allowed me to do some teaching with the large group first and then students were able to individually respond to God through these stations. Stations were set up in our large group room (with a few being outside). Students were asked to limit the number of people at each station (I think it was no more than 6/station at a time) and to remain silent so as not to distract their friends.
  • Worship Response Stations – These stations are written and designed for our students during their small group time every Sunday. We generally have 5 stations available at a time and we rotate those out periodically. As you can see these are more generic so that it doesn’t matter what the specific lesson is that day. The goal is for our kids to be able to respond to God.

Prayer Stations for ALL ages!
By design prayer stations are intergenerational. A 4-year-old can understand than when his mistakes are written on a dry erase board and he asks God to forgive him that He wipes the board clean like they never happened just as simply as that speaks to my grown woman heart. Parents who struggle to know how to have faith conversations with their young children can practice with guided instructions and activities at a prayer station. I have been using the David prayer path written for elementary kids at a Bible study for moms with only minor tweaks (substituting “school” and “homework” for “job” and “laundry”, etc.). It works not because these moms aren’t smart but because God speaks through these experiences. We all need to be forgiven, to forgive others, to be reminded of who God is, and to know how much He loves us. Regardless of age. Or gender. Or demographic. God speaks when we create the space to listen.

State your expectations.
No matter the age, setting or group size I would highly recommend always having a time of sharing the expectations with your audience whether in written or oral instructions. Do worshipers rotate at their own pace or at your signal? Silence or partner/group work? How many people can each station accommodate at a time? If the station is full what do they do? Do they rotate in a certain order or as they want?

I had one older camp counselor share her concern that our children wouldn’t be able to handle the expectations of the prayer stations. I respectfully listened and then assured her I knew it would be possible because these kids had done them before. She told me after camp she was amazed by how much the kids got out of the stations and that she was glad she had been wrong. When kids know the expectations – and they are enforced – they will operate within the boundaries expected. Well, most of the time. Because they are still kids!

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If you’re new to prayer stations, don’t be scared to give them a shot. Say a prayer or two and trust God to work in powerful ways in your kids’ hearts. God always shows up when we give Him room to speak.

A final note to those who may be new to prayer stations: Many logistic details were not expanded on. Please don’t hesitate to shoot me a message to ask further questions. I’m more than happy to give you more details then you’ll know what to do with! Happy praying!

 

 

Beginning a Special Needs Ministry

My sweet friend, Whitney Hardy, joins the conversation today. I am so proud of her for following where God called to meet an important need in her church. I’ll just let her tell you her story…
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Last year, I embarked on an adventure that I never saw coming. I, along with a good friend, started a ministry. Now this was way out of my wheelhouse- God calls unexpected people to accomplish His will sometimes! I am a mom, a foster parent, and a good, southern, church going girl. But ministry leader? Um, maybe not.

However, when you are called, sometimes you can’t help but go. So began my journey from apprehensive and reluctant “helper” to co-leader of a church ministry.

It started so simply, so sneakily. I was walking to the sanctuary from checking on my youngest daughter in the nursery (helicopter mom to the rescue!) with my friend and we walked past another mom with her precious little boy. He had on noise-cancelling headphones and a harness with a leash and he was on the verge of a meltdown. He has autism, and his mom spent a lot of time walking the halls with him because there was nowhere else for them to go. My friend innocently said to me after we passed, “That is exactly why we need a special needs ministry.” I was intrigued because I had almost no awareness that a special needs ministry was even a thing that churches had. I told her, “And you’re the perfect person to start one!” This is true- she’s a pediatric occupational therapist and she works with special needs kids every day at work. Her husband is even a special education teacher. Obviously she was the perfect candidate. Obviously. And yet, she was as willing to volunteer as I was. Neither of us is a person you’d pick out of a lineup as a natural born leader. Or public speaker. Or ministry starter.

Some time passed after that Sunday, and the idea kept nagging at me. I randomly sent her a text message about it and she, in essence, said, “I’m in if you’re in.” So, for some unknown reason, my unqualified self agreed to help start and lead a ministry. To this day, when someone has to make announcements or lead anything, we have to coin toss over who will have to do it. WE ARE NOT LEADERSHIP MATERIAL, PEOPLE. But God calls who He calls.

We started by just planning and dreaming and shaping our vision. We talked about it, read about it, prayed about it, and pinned every single pin on Pinterest about it. Eventually, we decided we needed to talk to the Shepherds of our church about it to see if they would even go for it before we got in too deep. We set up a meeting with two men who are part of the leadership at our church that deals with the children’s ministry. We went in expecting to pitch our idea, be heard, and then have them get back to us after it had all gone through the proper channels (weeks, months, never?). What we got was these leaders saying, “This sounds in line with the vision and mission of our church, – our motto, after all, is ‘Helping People See Jesus’ – and the need is already here. Let’s pray about it and get started.”

Well, that was way more than we bargained for! What now?!

We decided to prepare ourselves. We went to conferences, we read ALL the books, and we visited other churches who had functioning special needs ministries. When we visited a local church that has a HUGE special needs ministry, we got the courage to finally take the plunge and BEGIN. The minister there told us that we were ready, and it was time to let go of our fear and jump. No more doubting, just trusting and doing. So we did.

That very day we asked the leadership for a room. A room that was near the Children’s Ministry (not off in a corner, not hidden- a room in the midst of the children’s classrooms) that we could use as a classroom, a worship area, a decompression room, and a safe, familiar place for these kids to unwind after a very overstimulating Bible class time. While our dream is for these kids to stay in classrooms with their typically developing peers, we know that sometimes they need a quiet and calm space to get away and reset. Real estate is in high demand at our church- we are not very far from outgrowing our facility- even so, our request was again granted on the spot.

We have intertwined our church mission with starting a special needs ministry. That mission is to make our church a special needs church. This means that not only do we have a space for special needs kids to learn, but we are also building a church culture of acceptance and welcome for these kids. We lead a panel during the Bible class hour of people who are advocates for people with special needs- nurses, advocates for vulnerable children, mothers of children with special needs, siblings of special needs kids. This panel addressed the things they have experienced at churches relating to their loved ones with special needs (good and bad), opportunities to involve yourself in the special needs community and serve them, how to talk with your children about people with special needs and myriad other topics that help to raise awareness and tolerance and acceptance within the church.

We are a fledgling operation, and we by no means have it all figured out, but we heard the call and we responded. Everything that has fallen into place since then is totally God moving through His Church. We have been blessed by this ministry and by the people that it serves. I personally can’t wait to see what God has in store for us!

It is easy for those of us without training in this specific area to feel overwhelmed and unsure of how to meet these families’ needs. Please share in the comments below how you intentionally include those with Special Needs in your ministry.

Discerning with Children

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A Pastor friend recently asked me to come work with him & build that church’s Children’s Ministry from the ground up. It was an extremely difficult decision for me to make. On one hand, I’d love the challenge of beginning a new ministry. On the other hand, we are beginning some amazing new spiritually forming ventures at my current Children’s Ministry & I’m at the beginning of a high-risk pregnancy with my first child. The timing is terrible. Without going into all the details, friends & mentors helped me discern that the wisest decision is to stay where God already has me. When I shared my decision with my Pastor friend he was gracious & understanding & said if he’d only known it was a high-risk pregnancy he wouldn’t have even asked me. But the truth is if he would have known & assumed the answer (even though he would have assumed the right answer) he would have denied me the opportunity to pray & seek God’s wisdom in this matter. He would have denied me the chance to come to terms with how life changing this new baby is & that my identity & priorities will & should change.

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Engaging Silence in a Loud World

Shannon Rains might arguably have the craziest summer of anyone else I know right now. While completing her final summer at Kingwood Church of Christ as Children’s & Family Minister, she is also a D.Min student at Abilene Christian University and in the middle of that she moved to Lubbock Christian University to begin working this fall as the Assistant Professor of Children’s Ministry. 
It seems appropriate that she joins our conversation again today sharing the importance of practicing silence not only in our own lives but also with our children. 

I have a keen interest in engaging with children in the spiritual disciplines of silence and reflection. This concept seems counter-intuitive to most philosophies of children’s ministry. But, it is not counter-intuitive to centuries of spiritual practice or the witness of Scripture. The process of spiritual maturation needs silence and reflection on God. This is as true for children as it is for adults.

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Our children live in a very busy world. Their days are filled with noisy and activity: morning news, music in the car, school buildings full of kids, sports and music practice, multiple electronics are always on and with the average family. Parents, how many times a day do you ask your kids to do something? Kids receive constant input of stimuli.

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Love Letters from God

This year during VBS we scheduled some “Digging Deep” time: group time after Opening Worship. Digging Deep was designed for children to have some quiet, centering time with God at the beginning of their day.

On the day we were learning that “God is Love” their Digging Deep activity was to write a love letter from God to themselves. What did they think God wanted to tell them? What did God love about the way He created them? Why does God love them? Children entering kindergarten through 5th grades wrote & drew letters from God.

For most, this was the first time they had ever done anything like this before. But God showed up and spoke to the hearts of our children. Here are some of their letters.

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“Dear Liam, You are good at defense. I love you. You are cool. God”

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“Study” doesn’t have to be a 4-letter word.

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Caleb looked at me with furrowed forehead and whined, “I’ve been at school all day, do we really have to ‘study’ anymore today?” The same Caleb who a month later would beg for time to ‘study’ during class. Because study isn’t about memorizing facts or lectures from the teacher. It is about diving into God’s Word and learning to listen for what God has to say to my heart, today, right here & now.

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Praying with Kids: Permission. Play. Praise. Practice.

There are few people I’d be willing to lead me up Masada, sail the Sea of Galilee, crawl through the FullSizeRender-290x300aqueducts at Qumran, and climb Mt. Carmel with than Cayce Harris. Cayce is a woman with a deep faith & love for God and a heart of wisdom that knows no ends. I’m grateful for her friendship & leadership. Cayce is the Director of Ministries at Christ Healing Center. She and her husband, Joel, have 4 children with another on the way. The fruits of Cayce’s prayer life are evident in her work, her family & in all of her life. I’m so grateful she is willing to share with us even in the midst of morning sickness. May you be blessed today by Cayce Harris. Welcome, Cayce.

I love it when kids bow their heads and say amazing sweet, simple prayers with their hands folded and their bodies still. But let’s be honest, while it’s tender when it happens – most kids are all over the place most of the time. Activity and noise define what my kids are doing almost always.

I want my kids to learn to be still and listen – and they will learn that, there’s time for that. Even more so, I want my kids to live a life-style of prayer. I want them to know that because of Jesus’ incredible love for them, they have access. Access to GOD – the God who made it all. They can access Him as much as they want – there is no limit. There’s no such thing as too much or too often. There are no boundaries when it comes to their relationship with God and by extension, their prayer life.

How do we foster this as adults who sometimes require stillness and a 3 point lesson to feel connected to God?

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Pray

Growing up, I learned that praying was for dinnertime, bedtime and for boring, old, long-winded men in church. At dinnertime, my Daddy was the only one who prayed. At bedtime I prayed the same words every night: Dear God, thank you for Mommy, Daddy, Sissy & Jamie. In Jesus’ name, Amen. And in Church? Prayers must last at least 10 minutes and the man praying must use only big, flowery words too intimidating to teach & foster in me a desire to talk to a God whose demands for prayers seemed too lofty and dull.

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Listening to God’s Voice

Suzetta Nutt taught me how to Come to the Quiet with children. Here is a sample lesson plan to implement this with your children. This lesson will take you about 10-15 minutes max but don’t rush it. I have done this with children as young as 3 years old. And they can articulate what God told them after they took the time to listen.


 

I use the story of Elijah in the cave from 1 Kings 19. Depending on the audience, I tell the story or we read it together.

There [Elijah] went into a cave and spent the night.
And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
10 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”
11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.
Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
1 Kings 19:9-13

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Come to the Quiet

Mixing things up today with a guest post from the amazing Suzetta Nutt! I’m grateful for her introduction to Come to the Quiet.

Come to the Quiet
Encountering God through the Spiritual Discipline of Silence

Not too long ago someone asked me, “How do you think children will remember you?” Great question for a children’s minister, but one I had never considered. As I thought about it, this scripture immediately came to mind.

“Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10

These words have shaped my ministry with children in ways that continually amaze and challenge me. These words laid the foundation for change and gave us the courage to try something new that seemed unlikely – entering into silence with children.

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