Category Archives: Resources

Big Picture Parenting

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By Patrick Showers, Associate Elementary Pastor

Woodland Hills Church

In the midst of parenting, I tend to focus on the here and now. Between my wife and I, our idea of getting a big picture in our parenting is to update our calendars with all the events, practices, programs, and activities that people in our family have committed to for the next few months. Even this simple task feels like an amazing feat.

Early in our marriage, however, my wife and I were fortunate to have a group of friends that were intentional about creating a big picture of what they wanted of their marriage and their family as well as what they wanted their kids to be like as adults. We were amazed at this idea, but in the midst of diapers, late night feedings, and making sure we didn’t lose any kids it seemed beyond our reach.

A short time later, my wife’s grandfather passed away. Through the stories from friends and family members, we began to see how his purposeful life created a vision for his family and the long-term effect was a lasting legacy that continued in the grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

So, we began to create a simple vision statement, first for our marriage and then for our family. Every few years we go away for a few days to pray and reflect on this vision. Sometimes it needs modification, and sometimes we need to modify our life choices.

How would you answer the question: “What do you want your child to be like as an adult?” What parts of your identity, life, values, and faith do you want to ensure continues in the life of your child as a lasting legacy?

It’s too easy to get caught up in the daily busyness of life and miss opportunities to train, invest, and encourage our children.   Maybe now is a good time to step back for a moment and reflect on the big picture.

I’ve provided a few tips and suggestions I’ve gleaned over the years. There is a lot of info on the web, as well. First, though I would suggest you start with a few ideas and then flesh them out without worrying about formatting or cohesiveness. Afterwards, post it somewhere in your house as a reminder to be intentional and to take in the big picture. Here are a few questions to help you get started.

  • What values would you like to instill in your children?
  • What Biblical truths does your child need to be a life long Christ follower?
  • What do you want them to be like?
  • What will their faith look like?

Create a Vision Statement: Write out a statement that expresses the whole of what you want your child to be as an adult. Details can be added later, but this is a simple word picture.

List: Think of faith skills you want your child to have and how you want to integrate their spiritual growth into your family’s daily routine. Consider what elements of spiritual formation are most important for you to focus upon during the time you have available as a family.

Example: We started by listing spiritual and faith elements we wanted our kids to have, know, or have integrated into their daily life with our family.

Our kids would…

  • Have a thriving and active relationship with Jesus
  • Be able to know and hear God’s voice, discerning it from other voices
  • Desire to obey God when they hear His voice
  • Obey God through the power of the Holy Spirit, not just on their own.
  • Love and serve God with all their strength, hearts, minds, and souls (Mark 12:30)
  • Discern that the Bible is true, relevant, and that its words can be applied to our daily lives
  • Know that the Bible and God are exciting!
  • Shift from self centeredness (sin) to others-centeredness (right related/living out God’s agape love)
  • Know how to study God’s word, pray, worship, share, and serve.
  • Reflect God’s love in all their relationships: school, friends, family, and daily interactions in the world.
  • Value being surrounded by faith-filled peers who can speak into each other’s lives (accountability, community, and growth)

Creating a Vision Statement for your children’s spiritual growth not only gives you as a parent a goal and focus, but it also provides a lasting point of reference you can continue to use and adapt as your kids grow.

Creating Memories This Christmas

By Teresa Sayles, Children’s Creative Arts Director

Woodland Hills Church

This season is prime making-memories time. No doubt, your family has some Christmas traditions of its own this season, but if you’re looking to add some new ideas this year, here are some fun and creative suggestions that might just become new traditions for your family for years to come!

  • If your kids have a flair for the dramatic, why not have them reenact the Christmas narrative! Costumes and props can easily be made from things found around the house. You could even get your extended family or friends involved and do a whole production in your living room!
  • Draw it out! Grab some large paper to create a mural of the Christmas story together to hang on the wall or create a book by stapling papers together and working as a family to write out the story and draw the pictures.
  • Many families have a tradition of baking cookies and giving them away to family and friends, but what if you handed them out to people serving in our community such as police officers, firefighters, librarians, janitors, and even trash and recycling collectors instead? Encourage your kids to think about people who might be overlooked who play an important role in our lives.
  • Visit a nursing/assisted living home. Encourage your kids to make cards to hand out or have them work on singing some Christmas carols together. It’s probably a good idea to talk with your children beforehand about things they may see that might confuse them or even make them feel a bit uncomfortable, such as a resident who doesn’t respond to their greeting or why so many are in wheelchairs.
  • Reading the Christmas story together as a family is a tradition for many, and one fun version to use is The Jesus Storybook Bible. With beautiful illustrations and kid-friendly wording, you can celebrate the story’s message together and talk about the incredible love of God shown through the birth of Jesus. It’s told in three separate stories (four if you include the story just beforehand) that could be read in the nights leading up to Christmas.
  • Write your own Christmas carols! Work together to compose your own Christmas songs that celebrate the birth of Christ. You could reword a familiar Christmas tune or even create your own original song!
  • If you have upper elementary children, you might want to make watching The Nativity Story (2006) a tradition. Grab some popcorn and cookies and enjoy together this compelling version of the Christmas story that could be a great springboard for conversation. (Note on content: The film is rated PG for violence. For details, check out: http://www.pluggedin.com/movie-reviews/nativitystory)
  • Be secret agents of love! Christmas is a great opportunity to help your kids notice those in need around them. Encourage them to be on the lookout at school/daycare/home/with friends to see if they can spot someone who could use a little extra love this season. Then, brainstorm with your kids what that person might find helpful as a gift, and go get it or make it! You can choose to give the gift in person or, if you want to be super sneaky, you can leave the gift as an anonymous surprise!

Christmas is a season when memories are made and remembered, when nostalgia fills our senses and recalls us to Christmases past. This year, we encourage you to take time away from the hectic holiday schedule to make some truly amazing and meaningful memories together as a family. Whatever your holiday traditions may be, make the most of them and celebrate together the reason for this season: the incredible love of God come to us through the birth of Jesus!

Giving Back

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By Paula Bowlby, Associate Early Childhood Pastor

Woodland Hills Church

Giving back is important all year long, but the holiday season seems to bring out that spirit more than other times of the year. It is wonderful to model to our children that giving to others is important. To help you out, we have come up with a few ideas and links. Have fun with it!

Operation Joy– grab an ornament off the tree in the Heroes Gate area and help a family in need celebrate Christmas by providing a gift and/or a meal. Gifts are due back to HG no later than December 11th.

Operation Christmas Child- shoe boxes for kids in need. You can find more information at https://www.samaritanspurse.org/what-we-do/operation-christmas-child/

Create a Christmas bucket list- here are some fun ideas! http://www.thedatingdivas.com/printable-service-bucket-lists/

Christmas Service Advent idea- this one is good if you are feeling creative! http://www.thedatingdivas.com/printable-service-bucket-lists/

Sign up to ring the bellhttp://salvationarmynorth.org/volunteer/bellringing/

Other ideas:

Caroling in your neighborhood or in a nursing home

Serving at a shelter

Play “secret Santa” for a neighbor in need

Serve at Feed My Starving Children

Drop a donation off at the Ronald McDonald house

Shovel snow for a neighbor

There are so many fun ways to give back. Some cost very little but require your time. Some cost a bit but will be a huge blessing. Giving back is living out the Kingdom and modeling God’s love to those around you. Be blessed and be a blessing this Christmas season!

The Importance of Community in the Spiritual Formation of Our Children

By Patrick Showers, Associate Elementary Pastor

Woodland Hills Church

Our identity has a big impact on the way we live and the choices we make. What we believe about who we are impacts our lives for eternity. This is where community really comes in for our kids and us. A faith community is meant to be a source of strength. According to C.S. Lewis, “The next best thing to being wise oneself is to live in a circle of those who are.”

For adults and children alike, spiritual formation occurs primarily in the context of community. Joseph Hellerman sums it up well: “People who remain connected with their brothers and sisters in the local church almost invariably grow in self-understanding. And they mature in their ability to relate in healthy ways to God and to their fellow human beings. This is especially the case for those courageous Christians who stick it out through the often-messy process of interpersonal discord and conflict resolution. Long-term interpersonal relationships are the crucible of genuine progress in the Christian life. People who stay grow.”

As parents we want our kids to have a living and thriving relationship with Christ. We have a huge impact in the spiritual formation of our children simply by living out our faith in their presence. Parents that are intentional about teaching their children about Christ influence the results even more.

Yet, our kids’ spiritual development can benefit from the influences of other Christ followers being an active part of their lives. By partnering with family members, church ministries, and faith community members, you are investing into your child’s faith. Like the old saying, “It takes a village to raise a child,” it takes a church to raise a child into their identity as a Christ follower.

Outside influences are a constant part of your child’s life. They spend many hours in the presence of peers, classmates, teachers, coaches, neighbors, TV, movies, music, and video games. A strong strategy as a parent is to counter the outside influences with Christ followers who can invest into your child’s life in a way that multiplies the effectiveness of your teaching. This can be children’s ministry, youth ministry, FCA, and midweek ministries like Awana.

Since we as parents also benefit from being in a faith community, surrounding ourselves with other believers on a consistent basis not only spurs us to grow in our faith but also gives our children other trustworthy adults to learn from in a safe environment. This can be a small group, a house church, or even an informal group of people that consistently and intentionally stay connected and growing spiritually together.

God designed us as relational beings so that we could build one another up and support each other in spiritual growth. It is especially important for kids as they grow and leave the security of family to know that God’s family is there wherever they go

Having your family be a part of a faith community environment…

  • Offers adults and children a strong sense of identity, security, and belonging.
  • Equips and disciples parents and kids
  • Brings the richness of worship together as a community
  • Provides a reprieve from the temptations and influences of the world around us.
  • Provides help to the family in terms of creating opportunities to grow spiritually by serving others and worshipping in the presence of others.
  • Gets kids connected to a spiritual support system
  • Helps kids understand why they need it.

According to George Barna, parents that relied on faith communities to provide emotional support through difficult times in relationships with other like-minded parents gained perspective, fresh ideas, and were spiritually nurturing their need to grow spiritually. They were more likely to raise kids with a strong identity tied to Christ and a thriving faith.

Another benefit of having children connected to church ministries and faith communities is the opportunity to make friends that are more likely to have Biblical morals and parents who take these matters seriously.

If you are committed to raising your children to be lifelong Christ followers, then take some time to strategize ways to get them connected to ministries within the church and to surround your family in a community of like-minded people, as well. They benefit, you benefit, and the other people connected to you in community benefit, as well. That’s a win-win investment!

 

Growing Changes

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By Teresa Sayles, Children’s Creative Arts Director

Woodland Hills Church

One of the things I love most about my job is that I get to interact with kids of all ages, from infants all the way to tweens. As I’m working with each age level, I need to keep in mind the differences between these age groups. What a toddler can’t conceptualize might be something a kindergartener can latch onto and really get. What needs to be laid out in very concrete, basic terms to a preschooler can be more abstract and detailed for a preteen.

Below are some of the basics to keep in mind about the various age groups as you engage your children in their faith.

 

Infants (Birth to 18 Months)

Age Characteristics: This is the age of discoveries. Over the course of a child’s first year, his or her brain will triple in size, forming millions of neural connections (something like 700 a second). That means that as a baby experiences the world, he/she is constantly learning and taking in new information. Every taste, smell, sight, sound, touch, and relational experience brings with it new discoveries and knowledge.

Spiritual Characteristics: Although an infant can’t mentally understand the concept of Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross or the lyrics to a song of praise, he/she can understand what it is to be cared for and loved, and he/she can experience the delight of joyful or peaceful music. At this stage, the most spiritually significant thing you can do for children is to help them experience unconditional love and pure joy, modeling what their heavenly Father feels for them. Through play and snuggles, music and even dance, you can help an infant know he/she is loved and cared for and that God is good.

 

Toddlers (18 Months to Three Years)

Age Characteristics: We could call this the age of self-discovery. A toddler, having built up months of experiences and learning, begins to separate himself/herself from the world. He/she generally latches onto the idea of possession, which often leads to some issues with sharing, taking toys, claiming things as his/her own, etc. It also means he/she may experiment (to your chagrin) with rebellious behavior and the need to have things his/her way. With this self-awareness also comes the ability to reciprocate relationships. Empathy begins in its earliest stages here where the sight of a sad child across the room can make peers spontaneously burst into tears, as well. They may not know what to do with their emotions yet, but children at this age are definitely aware of them.

Spiritual Characteristics: This age group loves to explore and experience the world as they grow in their ability to understand it and its relation to themselves. Using colorful pictures as you tell a simple Bible story or going for a walk and talking about how God made all that you see can be a great way to engage a child spiritually at this age. Be sure to use very concrete ideas and wording. He/she won’t understand the theological reasons why Jesus came to earth, but he/she can understand that Jesus came because He loves us and wants to help us live His way by making loving choices like sharing with a sibling or giving a friend a hug.

 

Preschoolers (Three to Five Years)

Age Characteristics: The preschool years are the age of seemingly endless energy. These kids are powered by an eagerness and excitement about life. Everything from play and learning to relationships is charged with electricity. This age group loves to jump, dance, sing, run, laugh, and even scream. They have A LOT of questions (some more embarrassing than helpful), and they have a great curiosity about the world outside of themselves. Their emotions are incredibly strong – They LOVE their friend, they HATE broccoli, and they are so MAD they have to go to bed. A child in this age group will want to test out his/her independence and experiment with using imagination in play. He/she begins playing with other children rather than simply alongside them. Although still very concrete in their thinking, this age group is able to piece together basic reason, logic, and cause-and-effect, and they love when their knowledge and abilities are recognized and praised.

Spiritual Characteristics: Preschoolers are at a prime age for recognizing God’s love and reciprocating it. With their brilliant imaginations, they love to hear and create stories in their minds, and Bible stories you read together can become beautiful learning opportunities. With their energetic bodies, encourage them to dance and sing worship songs. And with their simple yet profound ability to believe the impossible, they can believe in a God they can’t see. Encouraging a preschooler to talk about God, ask questions (even if you can’t answer them all), and worship God in a variety of ways (music, dance, art, etc) helps to build a firm faith foundation on which he/she can grow.

 

Early Elementary (Kindergarten-2nd Grade)

Age Characteristics: With the beginning of the school years come a lot of changes for a child. He/she learns what it’s like to socialize apart from parents and on his/her own. He/she, though still very active and energetic, slows down a bit and can sit still for longer amounts of time (even more so as they age). This age group is still very curious with lots of questions and imagination involved. Having grown in their socializing abilities, they are more interested in doing things with groups such as sports or organized activities. They can begin to really articulate their feelings and thoughts and why they might be feeling them. A child in this age group, whether he/she realizes it or not, likes routine. As he/she begins to make more independent decisions on a daily basis, he/she will still need input from parents to help make the best choices.

Spiritual Characteristics: In general, this age group wants to do what is right and good. They’re able to usually know the difference, even if they don’t always choose the wise decision. Talking to your child about why that is – the concepts behind sin and choosing our own way versus God’s way – can begin to happen here, as can the foundational concepts of forgiveness and grace. Where a preschooler can generally understand forgiving someone means you choose not to be mad at them anymore, a first grader can begin to understand we should forgive others because God forgives us when we mess up. This age group also deals with a lot of fear and anxiety due to new things likes school, friend groups, and a broadening understanding of the world. It’s important to bring these conversations about fear and anxiety back to God. Remind the child of God’s role in his/her life, His love, and His promises to be with us no matter what. Reading Biblical stories of God’s love and power are helpful in this.

 

Upper Elementary (3rd – 4th Grade)

Age Characteristics: This could be called the age of logic. Kids of this age group, though still concrete thinkers, are beginning to take abstract concepts and piece things together logically. What they accepted as a preschooler may suddenly come into question as they rethink it. Having watched the “big kids” for a while now, kids at this age often want to be more independent, make their own decisions, and do tasks and activities that are for “big kids.” They may struggle with the idea of being “too little” for something and may need to have a conversation or two around this subject. This age group loves to choose what music they listen to, what clothes they wear, and what games they play. They may also struggle socially as drama around slumber parties, bullying, and a growing self-consciousness emerges. A child in this age group, though wanting independence, still very much relies on parents and other adult figures to know how to perceive himself/herself and in decision-making.

Spiritual Characteristics: With a growing sense of empathy and broadening understanding of the world, kids at this age are beginning to think more globally, which is a great opportunity as a Kingdom parent to talk to your kids about Jesus’ call to spread His love to everyone. Look for ways to help your child serve others and be a light of love in their immediate community as well as the world at large. This age group is able to dig a little deeper into more abstract concepts such as Jesus being God’s Son and how we can make a difference through prayer.

 

Tweens (5th-6th Grade)

Age Characteristics: Here we have the age of perceived independence. These kids feel they’re no longer “little kids” and want more freedom to make their own decisions. They feel ready for bigger tasks and more challenging work. However, this also happens to be the age at which some children begin to experience puberty, and with the shift in hormones and other bodily changes, their decisions may not always be rational or wise. In their desire for independence, they still need a strong parental influence in how to make those decisions. This age group’s social drama is rising to its peak with the preteen and early teen years. Broken friendships, bullying of all kinds, and self-esteem issues rise sharply at this age, which means a tween will likely need time to talk and process things (whether he/she wants to or not) as well as help in figuring out how to deal with these situations.

Spiritual Characteristics: This age group has moved beyond the need for simplistic Bible stories and songs. They’re dealing with real-life drama and struggles, and they need that reflected in their spiritual lives. With all the self-doubt and appraisal that goes on at this age, helping a tween ground himself/herself in the truth of what God says about him/her is crucial. Build with them a firm foundation of God’s love and grace and bring God into the tough conversations. Take time to pray with your tween about it all. Help him/her to see the bigger picture and understand how his/her decisions can impact his/her world for better or for worse.

Family Devotional – Worship

By Teresa Sayles, Children’s Ministry Creative Arts Director

Woodland Hills Church

The thousands of athletes competing in the Olympics this summer have had to do a lot of work to get there. And they each have a lot to be thankful for. Many of them would say a big reason they are even at the games is because of the support and encouragement of friends and family as well as coaches and fellow athletes. Although they may win a gold medal seemingly all on their own, that medal really belongs to many who helped that athlete get to the podium.

If an athlete has a lot to be thankful for, then we who know the love of God have a whole lot more we can be thankful about! We know that God’s love for us is never-ending and never-changing – He loves us no matter what! We know that God is always with us and never leaves us, even when things are sad or scary. And we know that Jesus died and rose from the dead so that our broken relationship with God could be fixed and we could be with Him forever! And, on top of all that, God continues to bless us with family and friends and countless other things each day. We really do have A LOT to be thankful for!

Explain to your kids that God doesn’t want us to worship Him because it’s “what we’re supposed to do.” He wants us to worship Him because we love Him so much and realize how He has blessed us and helped us each day! Read Mark 12:28-34 together and point out that in verse 33, the man Jesus is speaking with says that loving God and others is better than giving offerings and sacrifices, the way they were used to worshipping God in those days, and that Jesus agrees with the man, saying that he is wise to say so. The man and Jesus were both saying that God doesn’t care how we worship – What he cares about is why we worship! He wants us to worship because we love Him SO MUCH!

As a family, spend some time worshipping God in unique and fun ways this week. Perhaps you put on some worship music or find some worship videos online and sing and dance together. Maybe you go for a walk on a nice day and praise God for all the cool and beautiful things in nature that you can see. You could create a mural or different works of art showing things that each member of the family is thankful for, or you could choose to show your worship through serving others in your neighborhood or community together as a family.

You can also download this coloring page for your kids to decorate as they think of ways they can worship God this week.