Children’s Ministry Forum Returns in 2015

As I look back over my 17 years of ministry with children and their families, I am overwhelmed by many memorable and life changing experiences. I have been blessed to be in ministry with amazing children, youth, adults, professors, congregations, and communities. My ministry has, is, and continues to be shaped by many people, places, and events.

Taking this stroll down memory lane, I find myself stopping as I remember 2006, 2007, and 2008. During that time I was serving a large church in Austin, TX and was given the opportunity to attend the Children’s Ministry Forum. As I think about these events and the way they impacted me as a pastor and leader in the local church, I remember:

  • breaking bread with new friends as we discussed the joys and challenges of our work with children and families,
  • excitedly taking notes as I participated in a workshop that presented new ideas, tips, tools, and approaches to try when I returned home,
  • and participating in life giving worship that renewed my soul and sent me back home energized and determined to continue living out my call.

I often would spend evenings and early mornings in my hotel room going over my learnings from the day, outlining a plan for the months ahead, and thinking about all the possibilities that ministry with children and families creates.

Some of my fondest memories include (and for those of you who were also present- you too may remember):

  • hearing the stories of conference participants being sung back to them by Ken Medema in worship,
  • driving a minivan full of new friends and colleagues back to the airport as we learned that we were in the middle of a tornado warning,
  • sitting outside in a church garden praying and pondering where God was leading me next,
  • and participating in numerous conversations with new friends as we brainstormed, shared ideas, and excitedly made plans for our work when we returned home.

Children’s Ministry Forum is a conference for children’s ministry leaders in large United Methodist congregations (over 300 in worship). This event offers opportunities for worship, spiritual renewal, continuing education, fellowship, networking, and support. It was at these conferences where I was equipped, challenged, and encouraged in my work as a minister with children. Being in community with other United Methodists from around the connection made my heart sing as we exclaimed: “We are not alone! Someone understands what I am experiencing! There are others who are with me on this journey!”

Matthew 18 reminds us of the importance of gathering together, journeying together, holding each other accountable, forgiving one another, and supporting one another. In this chapter the author reminds us of Jesus’ promise: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

We are called into community. God moves in and through us as we laugh, share, cry, learn, wonder, play, imagine, and grow. Children’s Ministry Forum offers an amazing opportunity to participate in this work together as we pay attention to all that God is doing in and through our ministry. Will you join me and others from around the country in Little Rock, Arkansas this November?

Wondering together

I wonder…

  •         What you might discover at Children’s Ministry Forum 2015?
  •         What you might share at Children’s Ministry Forum 2015?
  •         Who you might meet at Children’s Ministry Forum 2015?
  •         Who you will bring to Children’s Ministry Forum 2015?
  •         How you you will experience God at Children’s Ministry Forum 2015?

Practical Application

Next Steps

  • Mark your calendars and save the date: November 17-19, 2015

  • Confirm with your staff, team, and budget regarding your plans to attend Children’s Ministry Forum
  • Watch for the Children’s Ministry Forum Website to go live on February 2nd, 2015 (this will include workshop proposal applications and hotel information)
  • Register for Children’s Ministry Forum starting May 1st, 2015
  • Invite your staff, leaders, a friend to join you at Children’s Ministry Forum
  • Make your advent plans early so all will be prepared and ready when you attend Children’s Ministry Forum
  • Join us for this event as we wonder, discover, and grow together. 

Continuing the Celebration: Christmas Isn’t Over Yet

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage. (Matthew 2:1&2)

kings with star

Although Christmas Eve and Christmas Day have come and gone, we are still in the season of Christmas. Whether you think of it as Christmastide, the twelve days of Christmas, or Christmas Time, we have several more days of celebration in front of us.

The liturgical season of Christmas lasts two weeks. We have two weeks to celebrate and give thanks for the gift of the Christ Child. These two weeks include epiphany (The celebration of the Magi coming to Bethlehem) and Transfiguration Sunday (The Celebration of Christ’s Baptism).

During this season of Christmas- I wonder:

“How are you celebrating and giving thanks in your homes and church communities?”

Take time each day to recognize the season, to give thanks for the Christ child, and to celebrate all that Christ’s birth means to you and your family. Read the stories again and wonder together as you ponder how Christ’s presence shapes your life, your family, and your church community.

Wondering together

I wonder…

  •         What your favorite part of Christmas is?
  •         What the hardest part of Christmas is?
  •         What you want to give thanks for this Christmas?
  •         Who showed you Christ’s light this Christmas?
  •         How you can share Christ’s light with others this Christmas?

Practical Application

Giving Thanks and Celebrating Christmas Together

  • Nativity
    • Keep your Nativity out in the home/at church.
    • Move the Magi/Wisemen closer to the stable everyday, having them arrive on Epiphany (January 6th)
  • Read and Re-enact the story
  • Create Christmastide traditions:
    • Host an Epiphany Dinner
    • Make a King’s Cake together, eat and celebrate on Epiphany
    • Chalk your door for Epiphany
      • An epiphany tradition that involves marking your door with chalk and asking God’s blessing upon the house and all who live and visit your home throughout the coming year. It also serves as a reminder that the home should be a place of hospitality where Christ’s love is felt and shared.
      • Checkout Pinterest for an explanation of this epiphany tradition:
      • Sample Liturgy: (Involve all persons in this liturgy- assign the numbered readers to each family member)
        • Reader 1: Peace be to this house.
        • All: And to all who live here.
        • Reader 2: Lord, bless this house, this family, and all who might visit us this year.
        • Reader 3: May this home be a place of peace, love, and health.
        • Reader 4: May all who live here seek to follow you.
        • Reader 5: May we be welcoming to all who visit, sharing your love with others.
        • Reader 1: God, we thank-you for the epiphany star that guided the wiseman
        • Reader 2: We pray that we might follow your light as we go into the world to share your love with others.
        • Reader 3: Be with us in our work and play
        • Reader 4: Help us discover you in all we do.
        • Reader 5: This we ask in your Holy Name…
        • All: For thine is the Kingdom, and the Power, and the Glory forever. Amen.Then, use the chalk to bless the house with the sign of the cross.After the blessing,
          the initials of the Magi
          (traditional names: Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar)
          are written with chalk over the main door way of the house, like this:
          20 + C + M + B + 15
  • Light the Christ Candle together: Find time each day to gather as a family, light the Christ Candle from your advent wreath, and say an epiphany prayer together. Take time to pray for your family, your church, your community, and the world:

Lord Jesus, Thank-you for your light. Your light guided the magi to Bethlehem. We pray your light will guide us too.This Christmastide help us as we work to follow you in all that we do, sharing your light with everyone we meet. Amen.

Wondering Together


I wonder is a good word (anonymous, age 8).

 Over the last few weeks I’ve had the privilege of journeying with different families as they wrestle with their questions about God. Two of these questions include:

  • Why would God ask Abraham to kill…isn’t that wrong, why would God even ask?”
  • How do I explain the Trinity to my 5 year old?”

As I struggled with how I might respond to these questions, I remembered what children have taught me: Active Wondering and Active Listening are essential steps in faith inquiry, discovery, and growth. These two tools create a space that honors the questions and provides an opportunity for persons to find meaning and value as they seek understanding.

In my PhD dissertation research project, Experiencing God Together, I worked with 28 amazing children who showed me the importance of wondering and listening in our faith journey process. As one eight- year old boy declared, “Wonder is a good word.” Through active wondering and listening we create a space that:

  • Invites all of God’s children to share their stories
  • Affirms every person’s experience of the Holy
  • Supports persons as they wonder, discover, claim, and respond to these experiences of and with God.

It is no wonder Jesus was surrounded by priests, scribes, Pharisees, disciples, and many others who were constantly asking him questions. Questions are an essential part of our learning and living process. When we pay attention to Jesus’ responses we hear how Jesus did not provide straightforward, easy answers, but instead Jesus stopped and honored the process of wondering with his reflections that often came in the form of parables. Jesus’ wisdom provides us with significant insight as we continue the spiritual discipline of asking tough questions, wondering and listening together, and seeking new understanding as an intentional faith community.

We all have questions that drive us into a quest for understanding. It is the questions that lead us into a deeper relationship with the Holy. One question I will never forget- asked of me by a four year old boy- “How do I know I believe in God?” My response, “You know I wonder about that too… maybe we can learn together.”

I am praying for fruitful conversations, new discoveries, and strengthened relationships. Blessings on you and your ministry.

Wondering together

  • I wonder what questions children have asked you?
  • I wonder how you responded to these questions?
  • I wonder what you learned about God in these experiences?
  • I wonder what you wonder about?

Practical Application

How to actively wonder with children and other people in your faith community

  1. Honor the question: (You might choose to say)
    1. That is a really big question
    2. That is a really important question
    3. Note: If you do not have time to engage in a wondering session immediately after the question is asked you might choose to say: “That is a really important question. I need some time to think about it and I wonder if we can wonder together about this…[insert another time/day].” Remember- this is important work- make sure you keep your wondering date and help the child know that you are not just dismissing their question.
  1. Affirm the value of the question (You might choose to say)
    1. This is a big question. I think other people probably wrestle with it too.
    2. You know, I wonder about that too.
    3. That is such a big question many people have wrestled/struggled to understand/answer that question
  1. Remember that there is not always a simple “right” answer

Note: Take time to wonder with the child leaving the conversation open- try to avoid giving concrete answers immediately.

  1. Recognize children have often thought about the question before asking it (You might choose to say)
    1. I wonder what you think?
    2. I wonder what you know?
    3. I wonder how others have answered the question?
    4. I wonder how you might answer the question?
    5. Note: This will help you understand what is behind the child’s question and what thinking he/she has already done.
  1. Research
    1. Ask: I wonder if there’s anything we can read/look up/listen to/watch that might help us with this question
    2. As you research together ask:
      1. I wonder how this helps us answer the question?
      2. I wonder if there is other information that we need?
      3. I wonder where you want to look next?
    3. Note: This “active wondering” process honors the child and creates a space for you to wrestle with the faith together. Sometimes there are not easy answers and we have to work together to form our own understanding.
  1. Conclude this time together by saying
    1. Thank-you you for wondering with me
    2. I now see…(insert your own ah-hahs here)
    3. I wonder what you discovered
    4. I wonder if there are any steps we are missing?
  1. Affirm and Summarize
    1. Note: You can conclude with something that affirms the wondering process or summarizes what you discussed/learned/discovered.
    2. Ex: Thank-you for wondering with me. I love how wonder helps us think together as we grow in our faith and learn more about God, each other, and the world around us.

Table Moments: Experiencing God when we gather together


Magic happens when we bring the generations together. It is not neat and tidy; rather it is chaotic and messy

(Martineau, Faith Formation Across Generations, 2).

As an aunt and godmother to six beloved children, some of my favorite moments with them are spent around the table talking, praying, laughing, and catching up with one another. Since I live in a different state, the opportunities to sit at the table with these precious children are few with much time in between visits. Therefore, the moments when I do find myself sitting around the table with their families are extremely valuable and life giving. It is in these rare moments that I experience the gift that God gives through the breaking of the bread and the sharing of a community meal.

Gathered around the table, we share stories, laugh, cry, and reconnect as we break bread together. I often find myself holding one of my godchildren, leaning over to grab the fork that fell on the floor, while trying to explain something I am working on to my brother-in-law, sister, or friend. In these moments we vie for each other’s attention and an opportunity to share what we are thinking and feeling.

Of course there are moments when someone decides they do not want to eat the broccoli on their plate so it gets thrown to the floor in disgust, another remembers there’s food still in the oven and jumps up to save the dish, the baby screams out of hunger and frustration, and someone realizes we forgot napkins and jumps up to get them. It is during these times that my sister looks at me and says, “Welcome to the craziness!” I always reply, “I love it!” I ponder how this chaos makes me feel alive, brings me joy, and creates a deep and overwhelming sense of gratitude and give thanks to God for my family and friends. It is in these moments that I squeeze the child I am holding a little tighter and I thank God for the gift of life, love, and relationships that sustain us through the chaos of life.

These “table moments” are a microcosm of life. God is the creator who brings order out of chaos. It is in and through the “craziness” that God creates- calling us forth to participate in the work of the Kingdom. We are called to the table. We bring our individual voices, opinions, stories, feelings, and gifts. Sometimes this chaos drains us and other times it brings us joy. Yet, in and through it all, when we pay attention we can experience God’s creative presence. God creates us to be in relationship, equips each of us (no matter our age) for this life together, empowers and sustains us as we work together, and moves in and through our time together. It is in these moments that God moves- transforming individuals, families, communities, and the world.

Wondering together

  • I wonder when your family gathers together?
  • I wonder where your family gathers together?
  • I wonder what you feel when your family is gathered together?
  • I wonder how you experience God during these table moments?
  • I wonder how you can create intentional time to gather as a family?

Practical Application

How to make the most out of your “Table Moments”

  1. Meal Blessing Placemats
    1. Choose a “family meal blessing” (this can be spoken or sung)
      1. Be present at our table lord
      2. A collection of inter-faith table graces
      3. You might want to write your own
    2. Create place mats with your family’s “Grace before meals” (if you choose to have a grace after meals you can put this on the place mats too)
    3. Say/Sing the grace together before meals
  1. Light a Candle (this can be with a real flame or a battery operated device)
    1. Place a candle in the middle of your family dinner table
    2. Light the candle before the meal (family members might want to take turns)
    3. Create a liturgy that you can say every time you light the candle, reminding your family that God is with you during the meal. Example:
      1. Leader: The Lord be with you
      2. Family: And also with you
      3. Leader: We light this candle as a reminder that God is with us as we gather together.
      4. Family: We see the candle and remember- God loves us and is with us.
      5. All: Amen
  2. “I wonder” cards: Place a box of I wonder questions on your kitchen table, give everyone a chance to answer the question during the meal.
    1.  Example Resource: Little Box of Big Questions 
    2. Example Questions:
      1. I wonder what your favorite Bible story is?
      2. I wonder what your favorite color is?
      3. I wonder what your favorite place is?
      4. I wonder who your best friends are?
  3. Practice the Daily Examine/Share highs and lows from the day. 
    1. Example Resource: Sleeping with Bread, Holding onto what gives you life
    2. Example Questions:
      1. I wonder when you felt close to God today?
      2. I wonder when you felt happy today?
      3. I wonder when you felt alone today?
      4. I wonder when you felt sad today
      5. I wonder if anything made you feel better?
      6. I wonder if you made someone feel better?
      7. I wonder what the best part of your day was?
      8. I wonder what the hardest part of your day was?
      9. (For early meals): I wonder what you are looking forward to doing today?
      10. I wonder how you experienced God today?
      11. I wonder how you shared God’s love with others?

Family Faith Formation Resources


  • Garth, Maureen. Starbright: Meditations for Children. New York, NY: Harpercollins, 1991.
  • Garth, Maureen. Moonbeam: A Book of Meditations for Children. New York, NY: Harpercollins, 2000. ISBN-13: 978-1863711425
  • Gilliam, Lynn ed. Pockets Magazine. Nashville: Upper Room Ministries.  
  • Garborg, Rolf. The Family Blessing. Dallas: Word Publishing, 1990.
  • Garland, Diana R. Family Ministry: A Comprehensive Guide. Downers Grove:  InterVarsity Press, 1999.
  • Linn, Matthew, Sheila, and Dennis. Sleeping with Bread: Holding on to what give you life.   Mahweh: Paulist Press, 1995.
  • MacBeth, Sybil. Praying in Color. Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2007.
  • MacBeth, Sybil. Praying in Color: Kids Edition. Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2007.
  • Persky, Margaret. Living in God’s Time: A Parent’s Guide to Nurturing Children Through    the Christian Year. Nashville, TN: Upper Room, 1999.
  • Wigger, J. Together We Pray: A Prayer Book for Families. Danvers, MA, 2005.
  • Wigger, J. The Power of God at Home: Nurturing Our Children in Love and Grace. San       Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass, 2003.
  • Yust, Karen-Marie. Real Kids, Real Faith: Practices for Nurturing Children’s Spiritual      Lives. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass, 2004.