All That Glitters May Be Gold

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Mined nuggets of truth from a national conference to
help you understand today’s kids.

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Years ago, our family took a tour of a gold mine somewhere in the
Rocky Mountains. Of course, I had to leave the mine early because
our youngest child was screaming louder than the seasoned tour
guide could shout-and the guide’s crusty looks threatened a cave-in
if I stayed. After my family emerged from the mine, we panned for
gold in a trickling stream. We scooped up and sifted through the
silt, hoping to strike gold. No such luck, but we didn’t leave
before buying the little vials of gold flakes at a tourist-gouging
price.

Truth is like that much-treasured and much-sought-after gold. You
can’t buy truth, of course, but you have to search for it .

Back in the early ’80s, I interned at what is now Mosaic Church in
Los Angeles. Tom Wolf, the pastor at the time, taught me an
important lesson that has followed me to this day. That lesson: All
truth is God’s truth. If it’s true, Tom reasoned, then it belongs
to the Author of truth.

Perhaps that’ll help explain this article.

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When it comes to effective ways to communicate with children, I’m
an avid miner. I look almost anywhere to sift out the best
Christ-honoring ways to communicate God’s eternal truths to this
generation. In truth-seeking among our worldly culture, I’ve found
that most things must be discarded as murky silt, but if we look
often and hard enough, we’ll strike it rich with precious truths
that’ll revolutionize our understanding of kids today.

Last September, that quest for truth took me to New York City to
the KidScreen magazine Break Through to Kids and Teens conference.
I was eager to join the ranks of communicators such as Nickelodeon,
the Cartoon Network, and The Walt Disney Company to learn the
secrets they know about today’s kids. In addition to these
companies, the conference participants included:

–product developers such as Boys’ Life magazine; Hasbro, Inc.;
and Bandai America;

–entertainment companies such as The WB Television Network; YTV
Canada, Inc.; Fox Family Worldwide; Teletoon Canada Inc.; and
Children’s Television Workshop;

–Internet companies such as America Online, Inc.; The FreeZone
Network; and Nikolai.com Inc.;

–and production studios and advertising agencies who’ve created
such winning commercials as the M&M’s candy commercials; the
Barbie “Be Anything Anthem”; and Gatorade’s “Michael vs.
Mia.”

Did I strike gold? I wasn’t disappointed, and I’d like to share
with you the nuggets of truth that I believe are redeemable for the
kingdom of God.

PUSH VS. PULL
None of us would argue with the fact that the world of
communications has changed, and the Internet is one of the primary
change-initiators. Take a look at
these statistics:

–Of all the households in the United States, 11 percent are
online.
–At least 60 percent of households with kids under age 16 are
twice as likely to be online.
–Over 20 million 5- to 12-year-olds are online.

According to Kate Baggott, a youth media analyst and specialist in
how children and teenagers use interactive technologies, the shift
to the Internet Age has moved kids from a broadcast mind-set to an
interactive mind-set and from being a passive audience to being an
active user. We’ve moved from “push” where the media pushes
information to an audience, to “pull” where the media pulls
involvement from the user.

Baggott cited four things children seek on the Internet:
community, choice, context, and content. These insights into
children’s needs have an important application for us to understand
what kids want. When kids come to church, they’re looking for
things that are REAL (Relational, Experiential, Applicable, and
Learner-Based.) Here’s what I mean…

COMMUNITY-There’s only one thing kids are universally interested
in, according to Baggott, and that’s each other. Kids are using
e-mail less in preference of ICQ (I Seek You) and America Online’s
Instant Messenger (IM). With these services, kids can build an
instant community with a contact list containing only the people
they want. The ICQ Web site says “you can chat; send messages,
files, and URL’s; play games; or just hang out with your fellow
‘Netters’ while still surfing the Net.”

*TAKE-AWAY NUGGET
Kids seek out and need relationships at church. In their book The
Dirt on Learning, Thom and Joani Schultz write, “Relational
ministry devotes substantial time to positive learner-to-learner
talk. Students in these settings hear not only what the teacher has
to say, but what their peers have to say, and they have a chance to
share their own thoughts.”

That sounds a lot like the pull of the Internet-where kids find
meaning as they discuss issues with their newfound online friends.
In addition, getting kids talking to one another builds
friendships, and the Schultzes point out that “if learners make and
strengthen friendships at church, they’re more motivated to come to
church. And, incidentally, they’re more motivated to bring new
people to church-because it’s a friendly, relational place.”

CHOICE-Interactivity to kids is about the ability to build an
environment. The best Web sites for children are those that allow
them to make the site their own. FreeZone.com, for example, allows
kids to play games where they build a creature, build their own
Lunch Makers by catching falling snacks, or play the Robotix game
by racing to assemble equipment or test their skills in the Tarin
Light Maze.

*TAKE-AWAY NUGGET
For kids, the Internet is more than downloading information; it’s
about having an experience. And that’s what we need to understand
and create for children in our Christian education programs.
Children today crave meaningful and active involvement in the
learning process.

Last year, our church launched KICKS University (KICKS stands for
Kids In Christ’s Kingdom Service). Throughout each nine-week unit,
children contributed to an end product, such as creating the Living
Moses Museum or making music videos for the Jesus Rock Cafe. Some
children latched onto the projects, called me at home for help, and
engaged in learning as they never had before. Some kids did the
bare minimum.

The point is, though, that they each had the choice of bringing as
much — or as little — of themselves to the process. It was
experiential learning at its best, and it was amazing! We must move
from the push of simply delivering a lesson plan to the pull of
involving children in the learning process through active and
meaningful involvement.

CONTEXT-Kids engage in context-seeking on the Internet. They want
more information about what they already know, and they want to
apply new
information. Children are looking for something they can
use.

*TAKE-AWAY NUGGET
Christian education must be applicable to children’s lives today
– not just in the future. Christian education without application
is like the Internet without a modem. Not much is going to get
transferred!

With each lesson, ask yourself: What are kids going to do with the
lesson-point this week? How will it change them to be more like
Jesus today? If you can’t answer this question, try this exercise
that’ll help you touch the points of a child’s life. (By the way,
this is something I learned from Harold Bullock, my pastor while I
was in seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.)

Create a pie chart. Label each piece of the pie chart with a
different area of a child’s life, such as classroom, playground,
home, church, friends, sports, leisure, and other. Think through
how your lesson point could be applied in each area. You may not
have an application for each area; that’s okay.

For example, this last Sunday I taught about Daniel. The point was
that God gives us courage. The application, in my mind, was that
God wants us to take a stand for our faith. As I thought through
each of these areas, these were the application possibilities I
brainstormed and then shared with the children:

–Friends-If a friend is doing something wrong, are you going to
say something and risk losing your friend, or are you going to keep
silent?

–Sports-If you’re on a team with a coach who cheats to win, how
are you going to handle that? What will you do if the coach or your
teammates swear?

–Leisure-When you’re watching television with friends and a show
comes on that wouldn’t be honoring to God, will you switch the
channel or not?

We can give children the context by helping them apply God’s Word
to their lives.

CONTENT-The Internet and television are places where creators have
only a ew seconds to capture kids’ interest. If they miss, kids
surf on to the next option. Youth media analyst Baggott emphasizes
the empowerment model, which means that content is only meaningful
if it meets the learner’s agenda.
     

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