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Forward to the Future

Randall Hasper

When the fifth- and sixth-graders arrived at class to find a disc jockey spinning hot, new Christian CDs and suggesting that if they liked Britney Spears, they'd also like Stacie Orrico, they knew someone had stirred the mix.

When the giant red and yellow hot air balloon loaded with Sunday school teachers rose up over the kid-covered church lawn, everybody within five miles knew something was up.

When more than 90 percent of the third- and fourth-graders in Sunday school aced their final exam on theology, it was clear that Sunday school had risen to a stratospheric level of expectation and competence.

• • •

Success! Where does it come from? The best things that've happened in our children's ministry we first saw in our heads. Ministry successes are often generated by new ideas. And new ideas are the time machines we ride into the exciting future that God has in store for children.

Seeing the future God has for us and traveling there are thrilling parts of our calling. As children's ministry leaders, we're to move ahead and perceive what our teachers can do before they've done it, see what children can become before they've become it, and scout out the future before others have even imagined it.

FUTURE-PERFECT QUIZ

Our calling is to be visionary. "Open your eyes and look..." Jesus taught us in John 4:35. Let's look past this Sunday's absent teachers and missing supplies to see the future -- ripe with new ideas that can challenge children.

So let's check out where you are right now in your church. Answer yes to the questions in this vision test, and you too are ready to ride the time machine to success.

• Can you see past next Sunday? Being a visionary means looking further than the next educational unit or next problem. Children's education and activities aren't disposable -- things we get through and discard. There must be a forward-looking continuity that ties together our weekly interaction with children. We need a long-range view, like God's.

We looked past next Sunday at our church by envisioning a deeper relational ministry to children. To develop more influential relationships with kids, we grouped teachers by grade level to plan field trips with their children. One class recently toured a Navy ship with their teacher, who was a Navy SEAL. One class met in their teacher's cabinet-making shop and crafted decorative shelves. Another class went mountain biking with their teacher and bonded a la poison oak! These are ties that'll be remembered for life.

• Can you spot what might sabotage your next good idea? True visionaries must have an intuitive eye for how to make new events and curricula work. They must spy potholes ahead, plan a step-by-step process, and see through flighty, unrealistic expectations. Genuine farsightedness helps you ride a visionary time machine into a pragmatic future.

We recently organized a family event for parents and their children to create a Christmas craft together. Each family successfully built a Christmas tree skirt, but only because our leaders saw ahead of time that this activity would be tough to complete in one sitting. The solution? Our leaders pre-cut the material and organized it into kits. Our craft team meticulously prepared the kits, enabling families to create heirlooms in one evening that may touch lives for generations. A good concept, a pothole stepped over, and a workable solution!

• Can you see how to bring others along for the ride? For new ideas to have a future, they must be communicated. We have to move the ideas out of our heads and into other people's minds so they can own and shape them also. This requires selflessness. Howard Hendricks has said that "there is no limit to the good we can do in the church if we don't care who gets the credit."

We have a good model of this in our church. We run a communitywide Fall Festival each year for hundreds of young people and their parents.

Who came up with the idea?
Who remembers now?
And who cares?

Whoever it was successfully passed the idea on to others, who passed it on to others. Hundreds of people in our church now own this event, having added to it and made it better year after year.

LOOKING AHEAD

So you've taken the test. How perfect is your future? Just thinking about the importance of seeing ahead sharpens you and reminds you to use your spiritual sight.

But this brings us to a much-needed question: What are you going to do next in your church?

Let's go beyond maintenance. Let's discern the exciting new things God has next.

Not sure where to start? First pray. Then consider traveling to a better future through these areas of rich potential.

• Fresh curricula-Discover new curricula. We children's ministry leaders  -- not just the publishers -- are responsible for discerning what our children need to learn. While still continuing to use and benefit from our published materials, we should also ask: What's missing from our children's education? Where could we find additional curriculum? Could we create it?

We noticed that most of our Christian- educated children couldn't give sufficient answers to some of the most basic questions of Christianity, such as Who is God? Why did God make us? So we wrote a Christian catechism for them and called it The Cat. It's original and effective in filling the gap we identified.

• New momentum events-Organize big children's events, concerts, camps, field trips, musical productions, family gatherings, or holiday events. These build steam and a shared history.

We managed to host performers such as Mary Rice Hopkins, Nana Puddin', and Dean-O at our church before they became nationally known figures. You also can latch onto the talent around you.

New events equal new momentum. At one point in our ministry we created a Disney-like character named the Grouchy Lion that showed up at all our children's events.

• High-tech ministry-The church now exists in a digital, video, wireless, and Internet information era. These technologies are creating a new future, so the church can't ignore technology. We can minister the truth of God to our children through computers, Web sites, and video projection machines.

At our church, we just bought a digital camera so we can post pictures of children's ministry events on our Web site immediately after the event. Kids love seeing themselves on the Web.

• More eyes-Your two eyes aren't enough to dream the whole future. Every children's ministry needs several visionary leaders hanging around. You need people who are often asking excitedly, "What if we try this?" Find these people, and you'll thrive. Which teams of creative people can you get together to playfully imagine and plan in areas that need attention?

Our preschool program didn't take off when the same person oversaw it and our grade school. So we hired a preschool expert who was a visionary preschool mom with great organizational skills. Then our preschool program rocketed to success. More eyes!

The bottom line is this: New vision can help us risk and succeed in new areas. Think it up in your head today, and watch it become an exciting spiritual reality for your children tomorrow.

Children's ministers, hop in your time machines. Power up a new idea. Forward to the future!

Randall Hasper is a pastor in Chula Vista, California.

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