What this Leader Learned about Life from 10 Kindergarteners

Several years ago I visited the pre-school that my church ran. It included a kindergarten class. The morning I peeked in I noticed that all 10 kids were sitting in a circle holding hands. Their teacher, Autumn, invited me in to join them in their morning prayer. Delighted to do so, I sat between two dainty girls, one with long curly blond hair, the other with glasses and a patch over one eye. As the children prayed, God reminded me about some important life lessons.

Autumn prayed first and then each child prayed around the circle, one after the other. Out of their tiny voices came these prayers.

Thank you Jesus.

I pray for my tadpoles.

Jesus, please help my fish. I have two fish and the fins of one fish are coming off and the other one has spots.

I pray for my grandmother who has cancer.

Jesus, I pray that my puppies will live and that my parents will let me keep one.

And then this one really touched my heart.

Jesus, my mom is off tomorrow. I really want to spend time with her. I know she is busy, but please let her spend time with me.

In five minutes after listening to 10 six-year-olds, God reminded me of these simple life lessons.

  • When we pray, God looks not at the eloquence of our words, but at the honesty of our hearts.
  • No subject is off limits when we pray.
  • Kids want time with their parents more than anything else.
  • I must never allow a busy schedule to trump such significant moments as holding the hands of six-year-olds while they pray.
  • I wish I had more of the simple faith of a child.

Today, look for opportunities for God to teach you about what’s truly significant, even from a child.

Related posts:

Is This the Most Important Time on Sundays for a Pastor?

I’ve been in full-time vocational ministry 35 years and have always believed that the most important use of my time on Sunday was when I brought the message. I still believe that, but now also believe that the second most important time is right before and right after the service. I call it my ‘ministry of presence.’ My high visibility as I chat with people, shake their hands, and give them a listening ear provides a tiny “one-on-one” window into their hearts. I believe those brief interactions may affect some people more than the sermon itself. Here are four simple choices we can make to maximize that time.

  • Look for the “deer-in-the-headlights” faces.

This look often telegraphs new people. I look at peoples’ eyes and I can usually catch their, “I’m new here and have no idea what to do or where to go.” I will introduce myself and try to make them feel that I really care. A touch like that from a pastor can make a profound impact on a new person.

  • Seek out those in wheelchairs, those with canes, or those with other physical or mental challenges.

One guy, Robin, came to our service years ago in a motorized wheelchair while attached to a ventilator that kept him alive. I intentionally reached out to him several Sundays in a row. The relationship grew and I had the privilege of later leading him to Christ and baptizing him. He’s now with the Lord. Had I missed those touch points, I may have never gained his trust to share the Gospel with him.

  • Give your full attention to people to whom you talk.

Avoid communicating, “I’m talking to you now but I am looking over your shoulder to get ready to talk to the next person.” People will quickly sense a half-hearted listener.

This may sound harsh, but some people will hog the entire time before and after a service as they talk about themselves or some problem they’re facing. Sometimes I’ve even walked up a different aisle to avoid getting cornered by a monopolizer.

These simple practices have made many lasting spiritual deposits in others as I offered them my “ministry of presence.”

What have you done to increase your ‘ministry of presence?

If you are not a pastor, what advice would you give to us pastors to help people feel special on Sundays?

Related posts:

A Counter-intuitive Way to Manage Ministry Pain

Pain and ministry go together like peanut butter and jelly. Once you make a PB&J sandwich, there’s no separating the two ingredients. Neither can we isolate successful ministry from the pain it inevitably brings. I don’t like rejection, disappointment, or criticism. I don’t know any pastor who does. Sometimes, however, I do everything I can to avoid them. However, this woman approached pain in a counter-intuitive way.

A French nun who lived in the late 1800s, Thérèse of Lisieux (known as “the Little Flower”), practiced a simple way to draw closer to Jesus.

It is, in short, to seek out the menial job, to welcome unjust criticisms, to befriend those who annoy us, to help those who are ungrateful.

Thérèse didn’t allow those experiences to help her grow only if they came her way; she actually sought them out and embraced them. As difficult as that seems, perhaps the Lord would want you to consider this unusual tool to help you become a more effective pastor and follower of Jesus.

What are your thoughts on what Thérèse did? Does it seem too ‘out there’ or was she onto something?

Related posts:

What Unforgiveness Does to Your Brain

We’ve all been deeply hurt in some way…a betrayal by a spouse, a behind-your-back criticism from a friend, hateful judgment from someone at church, a false accusation by a co-worker, unfair treatment by a boss or a parent. And the deeper the hurt, the harder it is and the longer it takes us to forgive. But sometimes we simply don’t forgive. We harbor a grudge. Resentment builds in our hearts. We nurse the offense. As a result, we remain prisoner to our pain and we harm our brain.

When someone hurts us, it’s natural and normal to feel pain. God created our brains to help us survive when we feel threatened. It’s called the fight-flight-freeze response generated in our emotional centers, primarily mediated by two almond shaped clusters of brain cells called the amygdalae.

When the amygdalae are activated, a series of bio-chemical processes begin. The adrenal glands that lie on top of our kidneys release the stress hormone cortisol into our bodies and the brain releases neurotransmitters into the brain. Those in turn activate part of our nervous system called the sympathetic nervous system. When this system is activated, among other things, our attention gets highly focused on survival, our digestive system stops, our pupils dilate, our saliva glands slow, our blood pressure and heart rate increases, and our muscles are readied for action. Our body prepares itself to fight, flee, or freeze.

This process can happen whether or not we are in real danger or whether or not someone really hurts us or we simply perceive that they did.

Unforgiveness can keep our bodies and brains in this state of high alertness and leads to these unhealthy results.

  • Rumination: we nurse and rehearse the hurt which reinforces our negative emotions and burns the event and pain even deeper into our neuropathways. When we’re not focused on a task, our inner self-talk will often default to rehearsing the painful situation.
  • Diminished memory: when we remain stressed for longs periods of time (i.e., we refuse to forgive), cortisol actually causes our brain to atrophy, especially our memory center called the hippocampus.
  • Amplified negative emotions: prolonged stress also amplifies our amygdalae’s sensitivity making us even more susceptible to further hurt and pain.
  • Schadenfreude: this concept describes the secret pleasure we feel when we see those who have hurt us experience misfortune themselves. It actually causes our brain to produce the pleasure neurotransmitter dopamine. It actually feels good to see bad things happen to those we don’t forgive. It’s the opposite of praying for your enemies which Jesus commanded us to do.

So, unforgiveness not only keeps us chained to our offender but it profoundly affects our bodies and brains.

So what can we do? Consider these insights to forgive those who have hurt you.

  1. First, admit the pain. When we name a painful emotion (not stuffing or rehearsing it) we actually decrease that negative emotion’s intensity.
  2. Journal. Processing our pain through writing it down can lessen the pain and help us gain better perspective. However, don’t let journaling become another way to rehearse and reinforce your pain. Through journaling seek to gain God’s perspective and healing.
  3. Begin to choose to forgive the person. Notice that I used the word ‘begin.’ Some offences can be quickly forgiven. Some may take a long time to fully forgive. Forgiveness is a process. The deeper the pain, the longer it takes. It’s not so much forgive and forget. Rather, true forgiveness is more like remembering it less and less.
  4. Draw deeply from God’s grace. At the root of the Christian faith lies grace, receiving God’s grace and extending it to others who have hurt us.

The Apostle Paul reminded us in Colossians 3.13 to forgive others as Jesus has forgiven us.

Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

What insights have you learned about forgiving others?

Related posts:

What I Learned from Kids who Survived Cancer

My youngest daughter, Tiffany, has survived a brain tumor and multiple brain surgeries. As a result, she has a heart for hurting people. A few times a month she takes her dog LuLu to hospice care to visit patients.  A few years ago for several summers she served as a counselor at a camp for kids who survived cancer. Each year that camp would invite the kids, counselors and family to a dinner/dance the day after U.S. Thanksgiving. That year I took Tiffany. After dinner, Tiffany, the other counselors, and the kids took to the dance floor. That’s when, as I fought back tears, I jotted down these insights that I learned from these kids who survived cancer.

  • We all yearn for a place where others accept us “as is.” All these kids had this in common, they battled cancer. Many that night carried the obvious evidences of that battle–bald heads and puffy faces due to chemo, wheelchair confinement, or visible scars from surgery. But these things didn’t matter to them. It was as if they were oblivious to each others’ physical limitations. They accepted each other “as is.” (Jer. 31.3, I have loved you with an everlasting love.)
  • We all need moments when something transports us away from thoughts about our problems. One rule the camp rigidly enforces is, “We will not talk about our illness.” That same spirit carried over into the comments by the director that night as she spoke of joy, hope, and future. That same spirit pulsated from the dance floor as these kids jumped, danced, and twirled to the beat of the music and the direction of the rotund DJ. (Phil. 4.8, Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.)
  • God’s image that He implanted into every human heart shows itself when we sacrificially give ourselves away to others. Each camper is assigned an adult that spends 24/7 with that child during camp. At this dinner the adults sit next to their ‘companion,’ as they are called, and they joyfully dance with them on the dance floor. One counselor Tiffany introduced to me had served 15 years straight. Her effervescent personality oozed love for these kids. (Gal. 6.2, Carry each other’s burdens and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.)
  • God wants us to celebrate each other’s milestones with great joy. Each year at the dinner they play Pomp and Circumstances as the camp’s high school seniors march to the podium. This year only one made it. Two others couldn’t attend due to their illness. The high school senior whom the group celebrated that night had attended camp 13 years straight. Although surgery scars marred her face, she walked across the room and held her head high for she had not only survived, but thrived. After she received her ‘diploma’ the DJ began the dance music and this senior, dressed in her graduation robe, became the center of attention. The kids rushed into a circle as they danced and celebrated her milestone. My thoughts drifted back to when Tiffany graduated from high school. We weren’t sure that she would make it that night because the effects of her brain surgery often left her unable to stand on her own. The teachers had assigned a big football player to stand at her side and help her if needed. But, with a sense of great accomplishment, she walked across the platform on her own and received her diploma. I rejoiced. Then I cried. (Rom. 12.15, Rejoice with those who rejoice.)

I never expected to learn about acceptance, thinking about the good, sacrificial service, and celebration from kids who had cancer. Yet that night I committed, for Tiffany’s sake, to stay as long as she wanted so she could relish those magical moments with people who accepted her unconditionally.

Modifying the line from My Fair Lady, “I could have danced all night,” I could have stayed all night as Tiffany danced all night.

Related posts: