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Heart Matters

Larry Shallenberger

Our children's ministry has many strengths -- evangelistic fervor is not one of them. When I came here five years ago, I banned all rewards programs. The days of "invite a friend, earn a sticker" were over. For seven years as a case manager at a children's mental health facility, I saw the hold that a token economy system could have on children's behavior. Using bribes to change a life is like holding a screen door open. Once you let go of the handle, the door swings shut again. So I kicked the props out from under the main force that was getting children to invite their friends to church.

Truth told, I allowed evangelism to take a back burner on my priority list because of the other problems it would create for me. A sudden tsunami of children would draw a circle around our inadequate classroom space and create a new volunteer shortage. I let the value of evangelism sag. And sag it did.

I soon faced the challenge of lifting up evangelism to its rightful importance in children's hearts. As I looked at this next Everest, I had to admit that the lure of a quick-fix behavior modification program tempted me. However, the goal is getting children to have a passion for introducing their friends to Christ, not merely teaching them to earn prizes.

I decided to teach on spreading the good news, so I went to the story of how the angels and shepherds told the good news of Christ's birth to everyone. At one point during the story I asked, "Why do you think God chose the angels to spread the good news?" The children lined up the usual suspects of "churchy" answers. Then a 3-foot-tall sage added, "Because angels are joyful!"

Joy! We were discussing angels, and the boy handed me an epiphany of my own. How will I elevate my kids to be evangelists and disciples? By placing passionate, joyful "angels" in front of them. And I need to radiate joy that sparks those angels.

One small problem -- I'm an introvert, sort of. I need to ratchet up my passion index a little higher than most people for that joyful energy to spill out of me. But extroversion can be learned, just like other necessary skills for ministry.

My son and I take taekwondo classes together, and one of the most foundational skills is footwork. We bounce up and down on the balls of our feet constantly. The motion never stops -- even when our calves burn. When I look around at the class and see 25 people bouncing in place, operating imaginary pogo sticks, it looks ridiculous.

But once you get the hang of the bounce, you relax. Your movements flow out of your bounce. You strike faster and harder. Your countermoves and traps all spring from your perpetual motion. Abandon your bounce in an attempt to deliver a crushing blow or rest from being exhausted, and your opponent will capitalize on your flat-footedness and clock you.

I'm learning the joyful footwork of leadership. In ministry, joy is the bounce that keeps you moving. To paraphrase the prophet Nehemiah, "The bounce of the Lord is your strength."
Our worship leader, Bill Mason, penned these words for our children...

When I am so tired,
When I am half asleep,
I look down at my body
And end up at my feet.
The Spirit says, "Keep moving now.
Your hope is in the Lord."
I will walk another mile,
For him I do adore.
B-b-b-bounce.

Let's bounce! May bounce infect our ministries and draw others to our joyful God. cm

Larry Shallenberger is a children's pastor in Erie, Pennsylvania, and a Children's Ministry Magazine Live workshop presenter.

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