Tuesday Tip: Training – It’s Importance and Mistakes I’ve Made

Serving on the ministry team of Awana Missionaries and running CommanderBill.net, I am involved in several trainings, from Regional Basic Trainings, to individual church trainings, to conferences, to being a consultant to churches and individuals. So you would think that I’ve got it down and run the perfect club, right? Well, I wish that was the case, but it isn’t and that allows me to help illlustrate why training is so important.

As I’ve noted, our club has had quick growth which required us to gather additional volunteers to serve. I held training for the original base group, but as we’ve added a few others, it was “on the job” training and because I was focused on logistics and getting things moving, I did not have the proper time to train them well, and I do not have anyone in place to train them properly. One of the logistical things I need to work out.

So why is it so important to train people properly? In this case, it is recordkeeping and here are a couple of reasons why:

1) The child’s name. Sounds simple enough, but leaders are used to just putting the clubber’s first name on the forms we use. Well, as we exploded with clubbers, we now have two or more children with the same first name and so to just put the child’s first name makes keeping proper records difficult. I am currently training someone to handle the admin stuff and enter the data into the recordkeeping software we use and except for knowing where they are in their handbooks, there would otherwise be no way of knowing which clubber completed what for the night (except checking their handbooks which adds time to inputting data).

2) Recording acheivement. One of the new volunteers was briefly trained on what is required for a child to complete a section, but not how to record it so we would know what was completed. As we enetered records this past week, we noticed that some clubbers had apparantly skipped some sections only to find out (upon checking their handbooks) that the “new” leader had signed the books but had not recorded them on the forms we use for recordkeeping.

These are small training issues and I will be able to correct them quickly and easily, but left unchecked, can cause long term problems and confusion/frustration within the club causing it to be less effective for the Kingdom.

So provide proper training which will allow the club to run smoother and help retain volunteers.

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I was completely clueless :-O

Several years ago I began doing something to try to reach some boys in our Awana club, reaching out to let them know that someone cared. I do not know if it impacted those boys, but the subsequent result still amazes me today. I was completely clueless as to the impact it was having on children and their families.

We frequently hear that ministry is about building relationships, but not many will take that outside the walls of the church. We had a couple boys in the church who had a rough home situation and were seen as “bad kids”. In an attempt to reach out to them, I attended a couple of their baseball games. No agenda, just there to watch and show that their lives outside of the church were important as well.

I began to attend sporting events, martial arts belt tests, school plays, graduations of all kinds, recitals, band performances and whatever else the children were doing. I honestly didn’t think anything about it, I was just there showing the kids I cared. Little did I know the great impact of my simple gesture.

I began to hear of children looking forward to “Commander Bill” being at their game, performance, or whatever. I even surprised some parents and kids by going to watch their play, or band performance (I forget which), on a club night! I could tell you countless stories of how children responded to my being at their event and the relationships that it fostered.

I realize that families are busy with children’s activites so visitation can be difficult. By attending their activities, I am meeting them on their schedule. As the child is involved in the activity, it allows me time to be near the parents, where sometimes there is great interaction and othertimes, not as much. Again, because there is no agenda, just being their for the child to support them, extensive verbal interaction is not always necessary.

Honestly, I am still amazed at the impact this small gesture has on families. The hardest part of all of this is getting a schedule for the child’s activity so I can plan to attend. I try to attend at least one activity for each child/youth under my ministry care and I never promise that I will be there. I generally tell the parent that I am planning on being there so if something changes, the activity is cancelled or they will not be there, they can let me know. I don’t want to promise to be there and then something comes up that causes me not to attend. That could be seen as another male adult breaking a promise. I don’t want to “hurt” a child in that way if I can avoid it.

What are you doing to reach the children/youth in your club (ministry) outside the walls of the church, beyond Sunday morning and club night? Are you doing anything? If no, why not? You will be amazed at the impact it will have and you can be completely clueless, just like me 🙂

Mistakes I’ve Made – Part 2

My first article about a mistake I made was so popular, I will share with you more of my imperfections (which I had planned to do anyway).  Again, my prayer is that you learn from mistakes I made (as I have) and avoid the in the future.

Good communication is vital! A few years ago, as we planned for our closing program, I was approached by the Sparks Director (who was a fairly new director) who wanted to have a fellowship for the Sparks and their families after the awards program, or so I thought. We had let the Cubbies leave after they received their awards for a few years so they wouldn’t get “antsy” in the pews. When the Sparks Director asked me, I said sure, thinking that he meant after the entire Awards night activities. Well, I was mistaken. After the Sparks were presented their end of the year awards, he proceeded to lead them out to a fellowship hall for a time of fellowship taking a large portion of the audience with them. Consequently, they missed seeing the older kids getting their awards and the PowerPoint presentation I had developed showing the need for children’s mnistry and thinking all who serve in it. It was pretty powerful if I do say so myself (others did as well).

When I had a fellowship for the Awana leadership later the next week and replayed that presentation, the Sparks director said, “WOW!, we probably should have stayed in the service to see that” (paraphrased).

So while not a “major” mistake, because of a lack of communication, this occured and several missed the message and impact of the presentation.

Some may call it “micro-managing” (I dislike that term), it is important to understand and know what others are saying and doing so the Awana ministry & its leadership is on the “same page”, working in unison to reach kids and their families.

The Handbook Time Controversy

I am going through some evaluations from one of many fall conferences. As I am reading them (and I’m still going through them), a comment made by a workshop leader that was noted on the form really stood out to me. The workshop was on Handbook Time Ideas and I won’t name the workshop leader, that is not important.

The comment on the evaluation form was this, “#1 Priority in handbook time is passing sections, it is not explaining them. Thank you for making this clear.”

Handbook time often raises questions on “how” to do it properly. I even attended back to back conference workshops (years ago) on handbook time that expressed different views on how to “do” handbook time. There are concerns that children do not understand the verses and are just reciting them from their short term memory, which is a valid concern.

Now I cannot know for sure the context in which the previous statement was made, but I think I understand the intent. So this response is my view of handbook time. I’m eager to hear your responses and comments.

I would agree that the #1 priority of handbook time is passing sections – with a disclaimer – that isn’t the only reason.

From my perspective, the 2nd priority of handbook time is discipleship, helping them understand the verse and why they are memorizing it.

And third, building relationships with clubbers.

If anyone of these takes too much importance, then handbook time is unbalanced.

Let’s look at these individually:

The 1st priority is passing sections, but if the sole focus is on getting clubbers through the handbook to share about how many awards have been earned, that is the wrong motive.  At that point we are placing a greater emphasis on what we do and the importance of completing a book. Now don;t get me wrong, we should try to have clubbers complete a handbook each year, but that is not always possible. There will be clubbers who are unable to complete a handbook each year, or keep pace. If our sole purpose is to complete books, then we leave the clubbers who cannot in the dust, discouraged, and possibly walking away and never returning.

Second, discipleship, making sure they know why they are memorizing what they are saying. If this part was not important, Awana would not place definitions in the section to help the child understand. Yes, I know, they are not required to know to complete the section, but take a moment and see what the child knows and explain it briefly if they do not. Now if too much emphasis is placed on the explanation, then clubbers cannot progress through the handbooks. It is our hope and prayer that parents are working with their child, teaching them these things, but we all know that is not always the case. That is why it is an important part of handbook time.

Finally, building relationships. We are people, we should care. If building relationships was not a part of it, then Awana could sell voice recognition software and clubbers could say it, or just type it into a computer to verify the accuracy. Again, building relationships should happen all night, not just handbook time.

So all three aspects are important, just as all three main parts of a club night are important, but they each have their place, and they overlap. Don’t over emphasize one to the detriment of the others. Keep a good balance and handbook time will be all it should be.

Success & Failure with a Special Needs Child

This is an example of working with a special needs child and how communication is key for the success of reaching the child and the family.

Several years ago, a young boy who we’ll call “J” came to our church and Awana Club. “J” is on the autism scale and though he is what I would call “highly functional”, there are nuances and things that will set him “off”.

He would not always participate in gametime and we sometimes allowed him to “play” off on the side. As we noticed that he was picking and choosing what games he wanted to play, we began to not allow him to play some games and not others. His mother wanted him to participate in all areas of Awana, and so by doing this, we were working with and supporting her goals.

“J” did well in Awana and then one year, he had a TSS (Therapeutic Support Staff) helping him during Awana. I knew the person would be there, but I never knew her role and how to interact with her as she did her job working with “J”. Consequently, “J” began to regress because I, and the leaders, no longer interacted with him as we normally would and yielded that to the TSS. The TSS also had no knowledge of Awana, or how we normally interacted with him.

After a few weeks, a month or so, my wife and I invited the mom to lunch to talk about her son and how we could better minister to him and what the role of the TSS was and how we should be interacting with her. It was a good lunch meeting and the TSS stopped assisting shortly thereafter. “J” would have trouble sitting still during council time (large group time) and so we provided a coloring sheet for a few weeks until he re-adjusted to the night.

Being detail oriented, “J” was used to how the typical night ran and so any deviation (especially backwards night) would be difficult for him, which we experienced at times. I learned to let the mom know ahead of time if there would be any variation to the night so that she could prepare “J” ahead of time to make the night go smoother for him and for the Awana leaders.

TIP: You can post a schedule of the night on a board at the entrance for all to see each Awana club night. The child will get used to looking at the board for potential changes to the night. Place a star or something indicating what will be different. This way, even “changes” become “normal” for the child.

By letting the parent know that we cared about their child and seeking their input, we were able to open up lines of communication to work together to better minister to the child. “Buzz words” that the parent used to teach “J” we began to use, like “space” (he had his personal space, etc) . If we did something to try to help “J” learn a verse, we shared what we did before they went home so the mom could continue that style to keep consistency.

“J” has since moved away, but there will always be a special bond between us. I’ll keep in touch, pray for him and see him when able.

With good communication with the parent, things may not have always been perfect, but they went a lot better than when we did not communicate. So if you’re not sure how, or are struggling, reaching a child with special needs, invite the parent out to lunch or dinner, then ask, “How can I better minister to your child?” and then most importantly, listen and open the lines of communication.

Mistakes I Have Made #1

No one is perfect and the reason for this series of posts is to share mistakes I have made in ministry in hopes that you will learn from my mistakes, as well as my successes. If we do not learn from the past, then we are bound to repeat it. I pray that you never have to repeat this mistake I made.

Years ago, we had a young man in Sparks bring a friend and so naturally, the leaders placed him in Sparks with his friend and I guess no one asked him what grade he was in at the time. After he attended for three weeks and completed the Gate entrance booklet (now the entrance booklet is Flight 3:16) he was told he would receive his handbook. The young man was so excited that he would receive a handbook and vest.

Shortly after that happened, one of the Sparks leaders came to me and let me know that they had promised the child a handbook, but that they were in 3rd grade and should be in T&T. What should we do?

I mentioned that the child really should be in T&T since they were in 3rd grade and to talk to them and the parent to explain it. Well, that did not go over well at all as the child started crying and was very upset. I did my best to talk to the child and parent at the end of the night and I thought I did okay. I talked about T&T, showed the boy the book he would get in T&T and even let him keep it. I thought things were good when they left, but I was wrong.

The child calmed down because he got a book like he was promised earlier in the night. The parent was upset at the way it was handled and the child never returned. My heart still breaks today when I think about it.

See, in this case, it was a “young” 3rd grader and an “old” 2nd grader. While not suggested, I would have better ministered to the child and the family by allowing the child to stay in Sparks for the year, but instead, I caused them to not return. I was more focused on rules and procedures than I was on reaching the child.

Now I do still recommend that a child be in the club per their appropriate grade, but in certain situations, I would waive that aspect to reach the child.

Don’t be so focused on the “How” of club night that you forget about the “Why” of club night. Why do we have Awana? To rush through handbooks to proclaim how many children completed them? To make sure we follow routines exactly each week? To keep the children busy while the adults do the important stuff? or is it to reach the child where they are?

Each situation needs to be evaluated on its on circumstances. In a future post, I will share about how not sticking to procedure has been one of my “big” mistakes.

Awana is “Dumbing Down” Their Curriculum

When Awana changed their 3rd – 6th grade program a number of years ago, some said that they were dumbing down the material. Then Awana revised that material, moving some verses to the extra credit Silver sections. Again, the comment by some was that they were dumbing down the material.

Next came the long overdue revision to the Sparks program and once again we heard the cry that Awana was dumbing down the material.

DISCLAIMER: I am not employed by Awana and these are purely my own thoughts and views from my experiences and what I have heard as I travel in “Awana circles”.

I often wonder what people mean when they say the material is being “dumbed-down” and I am intrigued by the statement. I find that generally people who say that the material is being dumbed down are those who looked at the graphics of the handbooks and commented, or counted how many “new” verses were being recited compared to the previous material. I do not recall anyone comparing the message that is brought out with the material. The message that Jesus died for our sins, rose again and desires that fellowship with Him. The T&T program also lays a foundation that teaches the child how to defend their faith which was not present in the previous material.

The other thing that I have noticed is that these comments generally come from families that homeschool their children and the Awana program is used, in some form, as part of the homeschool curriculum. I know a missionary who received a phone call from someone vehemently complaining that Awana had “dumbed down” the program and the missionary shared that Awana is not designed to be homeschool curiculum, but rather to reach children for Christ and also to help them grow in Him.

Often people making these claims are looking at the material through the “eyes” of a child who was raised in the church and is versed in the basics of the Christian faith. But Awana is not just for the “church kid”. In fact, it is for the “unchurched child” who does not know Jesus. Try looking at the material through the eyes of a child who has never been to church, who struggles in school because of “issues” at home. Is the material “dumbed down” for them, or do they see it as difficult?

So while there are those who will continually say that Awana is dumbing down their materials, I would tend to disagree. I see Awana working to reach that lost child while trying to build a strong faith in the children who know Jesus. Do not just look at the number of “new” verses a child learns, or the graphics to judge the material. look at the content. Has the Gospel been dumbed down? Personally, I don’t think you can “dumb” the Gospel down, God made it very simple, eventhough we sometimes complicate it.

So to conclude, do not just look at the graphics, or the number of verses being memorized. The graphics are a tool to help reach the children, and God does not care how many verses we know, but rather how we followed Him. Look at the content, the message, and evaluate if it reaches and teaches children where they are. If you truly believe that Awana is “dumbing down” the material, I would be interested in knowing why you believe that, specifically. Feel free to respond to this post, on my FaceBook page, or via e-mail. I look forward to your thoughts.

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