The “Pastor’s Pal” Lesson – Incorporating Children In Corporate Worship

The two girls, their brother, and their parents were about 10 rows in front of me. During the first worship song, the dad realized his young son was seated, distracted, and not singing.

What happened next is one of the best things I’ve seen in a long time. The dad got his wife’s attention and, by pointing, communicated his concern. She gently helped their son to his feet. Then she guided him to switch places with one of his sisters. His dad gently put his large hand of security and love on his shoulder when he arrived next to him. I believe he communicated, “You’re my son. I want you here by me.”

All of this took place in just a few seconds and I bet most people didn’t even notice. Everyone in the family was calm. The boy wasn’t shamed. Rather than the dad communicating, “you are bad” he communicated “God is worthy to be praised.”

That dad impressed me.

When this church service began, the pastor explained that children are welcome in the service. In fact there’s no other place for them to be. They discontinued their children’s church program a while ago. The leadership want children to worship and learn alongside their parents.

To help him make the point that it is possible for children to handle a church service well and benefit from it, he asked us to raise our hand if that was our experience. Of course, many of us raised our hands.

As the pastor acknowledged that church might be challenging for some children, he held up a bright lime green “Pastor’s Pal” bag that doubles as a backpack. Children who had one stood and waved and we clapped because they were in church. I wanted a bag!

The church is self-publishing quarterly books for their children to use during church. There are fun things to do, a place to write notes about the sermon, and questions parents can ask children after church.

Everything in me wanted to applaud what this church was doing:

  • The church leadership wondered if something they had been doing a long time was the best thing to do.
  • They asked God for guidance.
  • They decided, planned, and bravely made the change, losing some families in the process. These parents didn’t agree that “adult church” was in their children’s best interest. They were unwilling to guide their children and risk being occasionally distracted. They were sad to lose some families, but I’m impressed that these pastors knew this might happen, and didn’t get discouraged. They kept the big picture in mind.
  • They created the Pastor’s Pal program to help children be successful.
  • They’ve checked with parents to see how it’s going and have collected great testimonies.

During the pastor’s “Pastor’s Pal” announcement and then throughout the service, I thought about these fortunate children. Might they be less apt to leave the church and their faith later because they’re experiencing more of church now? Might worshipping as a family help everyone in the family? Might parents’ modeling help children see their parents as their authority?

I am still smiling as I think about this. I’d love to know what you think.

Listen Now So They’ll Listen Later


Listening to your children matters. Really listening. Listening to understand, not listening until they go away or until it’s your turn to talk.

Responding matters. Not treating them as unimportant. Not making them feel like pests.

Be with them. Be fully present.

What’s your motivation? Hopefully, you love your kids and enjoy being a parent. Great!

I respect that many parents today are busy and easily distracted by legitimate pressures. Yet, here’s what I know. You have to make time for your children. If you’re waiting to find time to spend with them, you may never develop a close, trusting relationship. Or, you may lose the one you have.

If your children approach you and you regularly say “not now,” your children may say “not now” later when you want or need them. They want or need you now. You’ll want or need them later.

You earn the right to be heard later by listening now. You earn the right to lead later by sometimes following now. Go to the tea party your daughter wants to have. Play a game together now even though you have cleaning to do. Build a tent in the living room with the sheets and blankets you were going to wash and wash them later. Ask your son to demonstrate his favorite video game. Listen to your daughter’s favorite music.

Be with them now so they’ll want to be with you later.

You’re Bored? Good! (Guest Post by Jerusha & Jeramy Clark)

Today I’m excited for you because you’re going to understand more about your preteens and teens when you read this guest blog post from Jerusha Clark and her husband, Jeramy. I met Jerusha when we spoke together at a convention and I instantly loved her and definitely have come to respect her as I got to know her work. I wrote a bit about the adolescent brain in my book, Screens and Teens. Their book is brilliant. They clearly write about very important applications of significant brain research in ways you can understand. As they say, understanding some of this will make you a better parent. Yes, it’s true! Read this and then share it with your friends. You’ll want to!

You’re Bored?  Good! by Jerusha & Jeramy Clark

It’s late-July and the novelty of summer has probably worn off for students who, seemingly moments ago, couldn’t wait to shout, “School’s out for summer!”  Now a different refrain resounds throughout homes from the Florida shores to the misty peaks of Washington State.  Tweens and teens everywhere have been groaning, “I’m soooo bored.”

We’ve worked with adolescents for over two decades.  We’re raising two teenagers of our own. Still, this “I’m bored” issue is difficult for us to understand.  Perhaps it’s because neither of us has been bored since roughly 1990.  Maybe it’s because we’d like for our teens to actually use the sports equipment, art supplies, books and “toys” we’ve bought them.  Perhaps it’s because boredom seems lazy and selfish to hardworking parents who battle overflowing email inboxes and file folders, laundry and dishes.

“You’re bored,” many parents want to respond, “Great!  I’ve got work for you to do.”

If you’ve ever felt this way, we absolutely understand.  We’d also like to share with you some astounding scientific research that’s helped us reframe our thoughts.  Understanding what’s going on in your teenager’s brain doesn’t excuse bad behavior sparked by boredom, but it can certainly give us greater compassion and equip us with keener discernment.

Start by picturing your tween or teen’s brain like a massive construction zone.

No, really; this is how neuroscientists describe it.

At approximately 11 for girls and 12½ for boys, a dramatic neural shift takes place; the adolescent brain transitions away from the explosive growth characteristic of childhood and toward the dual processes of neural pruning and myelination.  Very long story short: your teen’s brain trims unused neural pathways and strengthens those that remain. This means what your tween or teen does on a daily basis literally changes his or her brain.  It’s absolutely wild to consider…an adolescent’s choices shape the brain he or she will enjoy throughout life. And this brain renovation lasts more than a decade, so keep your hard hats handy, parents!

How does this apply to adolescent boredom? Should we enroll teens or tweens in a zillion summer activities to ensure that their neural pathways stay open and healthy rather than being trimmed away?  Gasp!  Do we have to become our kids’ cruise director, providing them with constant excursions, educational or entertainment options?

By no means!  (Huge sigh of relief there, right?)

Instead, we need to approach boredom in new ways.  Here are some essential things to remember and put into practice when your tween or teen laments, “I’m sooo bored.”

  1. Your teen’s changing brain is super-sensitive to novelty. Your adolescent craves new and exciting opportunities because novelty brings particular pleasure to tween and teen brains (much more so, neuroscientists discovered, than either young children or adults!). Parents: this is not a bad thing! If your adolescent never wanted to try anything new, he or she wouldn’t pursue a career, start a family, or move out (ponder that for a scary moment). God created tweens and teens to push forward, to be movers and shakers and even world-changers, precisely so that they can eventually launch into adulthood with confidence and joy.  Trust us; you want and even need this!  And—try as you might—you cannot hold back the veritable tidal wave of novelty-seeking in your teen or tween’s brain.  You can only help channel it in healthy ways.  To do that…
  2. Fuel the fire of curiosity. Some parents we talk to think their tween or teen isn’t curious about anything.  Adolescents just mindlessly “click” or “like” or “post,” parents think; they don’t really want to know anything.  My friends, this just ain’t true.  Teenagers actually have high levels of curiosity.  Adults often don’t appreciate or feel excited about what they’re interested in, however.  Your tween or teen may be curious about coding or gardening or baking elaborate cakes.  Are you willing to invest the time (and possibly some resources) in fueling the fire of curiosity?  The dividends this yields can be tremendous.
  3. Don’t assume this is forever. If you tween or teen is curious about something for a season and then decides it’s just “not for me,” don’t despair.  This is a good time for your adolescent to “try on” different interests. Your tween or teen should learn to uphold his or her commitments, but if they do so (say for a season) and then decide they don’t want to continue, allow their developing brain to stretch in new ways.
  4. Embrace the spiritual reality behind this. God commands us five times in the book of Psalms to sing a “new song” to him.  He populates the world with a one-of-a-kind design in every single birth.  In other words, God isn’t afraid of novelty.  In fact, he loves both the traditional and the innovative.  Your tween or teens’ boredom is a gift from God in that it compels them to do something differently.  Don’t “solve” your kids’ boredom issue; instead, let it propel them into finding more of who God created them to be.  When our kids were toddlers, we gave them choices and structured their time; that season is mostly past by the time a kid reaches adolescence.  In the second decade of life, tweens and teens need to feel bored and parents need to let them feel it.  We have to trust that God will use that boredom as part of His grand design.  And we can thank Him when we see the great things He does in our kids.

For lots more on adolescent brain development, how understanding the physiological changes in your tween and teen can make you a better parent, plus spiritual truth that undergirds it all, check out the resources available at

Your Teenager is Not Crazy: Understanding Your Teen’s Brain Can Make You a Better Parent is available online and at local retail stores from Baker Books.          

7-20-16 JeramyClarkDr. Jeramy Clark received his Masters of Divinity and Doctorate of Ministry from Talbot Theological Seminary.  He served as a youth pastor for 17 years before becoming the Pastor of Discipleship at Emmanuel Faith Community Church.  His role includes overseeing Men’s and Women’s Ministries, Care and Counseling, and Small Groups.  Jeramy roasts, brews, and savors coffee of all varieties, plays pickup basketball, is a drummer, and enjoys surfing.

7-20-16 JerushaClarkJerusha Clark co-authored four books with Jeramy, including three bestsellers, prior to launching her own writing and speaking ministry, focused on helping others glorify and enjoy God, one thought at a time.  On quiet days, you can find Jerusha body-boarding, reading, or singing around a bonfire at the beach, her absolute favorite place.  Jeramy and Jerusha have two amazing teenage daughters and love ministering together at churches, retreats, schools, and conferences.

Life-Giving Opportunity: End of Academic Year Conversations

Depending on where you live, the school year has already ended, it’s ending this week, or it soon will. What messages and goals do you want your children to be thinking about now?

Even if it wasn’t an excellent academic year, I hope you want to encourage them. With a negative tone of voice, you could proclaim, “Next year better be better!!” Will that make it be? No. It will just remind children they disappointed you again.

I’m not suggesting you lie and announce, “You had a terrific year!” if your children didn’t. This can communicate to them that you really don’t know them very well. This will sadden them and weaken your influence. Or, if they believe you, they won’t think about working smarter and doing better next year because you appear more than satisfied.

So, what can you do?

Asking your children how satisfied they are with how the year went may be a good first step. You’ll find out if their ability to self-evaluate is growing. And, you’ll discover if they’ll agree with any positives or negatives you’re thinking of bringing up.

For instance, if your son is relieved he earned a B in algebra and you were about to indicate your concern it’s not an A, you might want to wait. Or, you might want to ask a few questions before sharing your disappointment. You might determine it’s best to not say anything negative at all.

If your daughter is very excited with her A in science, it’s not necessary to talk about her C is history in the same conversation. Celebrate her A!

As a part of these conversations, you might want to talk about possible goals for next year. What do they want to accomplish? What do they want to be involved in? Therefore, what, if anything do they want to do this summer so they’re ready for the next academic year? What do you believe would be wise? (Some children will do well with this conversation immediately after the school year ends. With others, they’re so grateful their summer has started that you might want to wait a week or two to have this conversation.)

When you do share compliments and joy about what went well, be specific and accurate. In what ways did your children genuinely improve? Their perseverance for long-range projects? Their responsibility for their own learning? Their creativity? Their accuracy in math? Their completeness on essays? Their acceptance of children who are different? Their attitudes toward music?

If you believe it’s necessary, do the same for what didn’t go well – be specific and accurate. When pointing out the negatives, do so in such a way that you communicate realistic expectations for the future. But, think about whether it’s necessary to even talk much about your concerns now. Children know where they’ve struggled. It’s rare that they’re not aware how they’ve disappointed you. So, if you want to talk about these things, think first about your goals. Can you encourage them while talking about your concerns? If not, wait.

Make sure to talk about strengths and concerns, as appropriate, in all areas. Spiritual growth. Academics. Fitness/Health/Athletics. Artistic endeavors. Clubs and activities. Behavior. Friendship. Character. Emotional health.

If you share personal strengths and concerns for some of these areas and any goals you have for the summer, the conversation can go better. Try it. How do you want to grow? Could you grow together? That would be great!

Hard Working Parents Are My Heroes!

HandsUpLeftSideWhat are you willing to work hard to accomplish? Who are you willing to persevere for?

As you might know, I wrote in “Screens and Teens: Connecting with Our Kids in a Wireless World,” that the character qualities of perseverance, effort, and diligence seem to be disappearing. Because technology has made things easy, many young people think everything should be easy. Do we? Ouch!

Don’t get me wrong, I like that much is easy now. Research on websites. Copy and paste. The undo button! Phones we can have with us all the time. Cameras on our phones. The DVR. The GPS. iTunes. So much more.

We can’t afford to believe that everything is easy nor can we allow young people to believe that. It makes giving up way too easy. Stopping rather than starting. Sitting down in the valley, rather than walking through it to reach the victory (Psalm 23).

Maybe this is why these two pictures are deeply encouraging to me. As you know, if you’ve heard me speak to parents, those who are doing it well are my heroes. It’s not easy today, especially to parent with a standard for truth and for putting Christ first.

Parenting well is essential. Life. Necessary. God-glorifying. Obedient. Life-changing.

I took these pictures of one of my audiences at the recent Greater St. Louis Homeschool Expo. I asked them to raise their hands if the hard work of homeschooling well was worth it. Look at their response! Look at their smiles!

If I would have asked just about parenting, I would have gotten the same response. If you had been in the audience, would you have raised your hand? I know parenting can be hard, lonely, exhausting, frustrating, overwhelming, scary, and new. Your children are depending on you. You know that and it’s why you work at it and don’t give up even though it’s hard.

There are many parents doing hard work in the trenches to love, like, and raise their children. To persevere, be diligent, use effort, and get help. I bet you’re one of them!

YOU have not sat down in the valley. YOU have not given up. YOU attend seminars because you recognize there’s much you can learn. YOU read books and blogs to help you. YOU humble yourself. YOU put your children first. First. First.

YOU are my heroes!

Meet The People-Centered Generation

Many young people truly care for other people and inspire us to do the same.

The good our young adults and teenagers accomplish is rarely reported on by the national, state, and local media. It can be so discouraging. Collectively, they’re a wonderful generation concerned with people. Of course, as with our generations, that’s not true of everyone, but as a whole they care. They do more than care.

For example, did you hear how much 40,000 college-age youth contributed at the Passion Conference over New Year’s? They were challenged to contribute toward the building of a hospital in war-torn Syria. $995,128!! This came from “poor” college students!

I can almost guarantee you that they didn’t give to build a hospital. They gave to the people who don’t have medical care. See the difference? This generation is people-centered.

We need to understand that this generation wants their “caring” to show up. To do something. Make a difference. Change things. Matter. Solve problems.

And, they also want our caring to show up with action. They’re not satisfied with platitudes, genuine statements of concern, and just prayers. They can get angry when we don’t seem to know or care about the people involved with the crisis we’re talking about. Youth have told me they wish people in their church would stop just praying for something and “do something.”

We need to listen to young people. They’re intuitive, creative, and solution-focused. Ask the ones you know what people they’re concerned about and what problems they’d like to solve. Ask them for their ideas and don’t dismiss them. Not quickly. Not later. Listen longer. Tell them you’re available to help them think and research. Ask if they’d like to talk with people, observe somewhere, find a mentor, volunteer, travel, …. Don’t force yourself on them, but let them know you’re there for them.

The two following examples are profound. That’s my opinion. See if you agree. Have your teens and young adults read about these entrepreneur inventors. Let these people inspire yours!

Veronika Scott invented a coat for homeless people that becomes a sleeping bag and just a bag when it’s not in use. Brilliant! Her non-profit is based in Detroit. She now employs formerly homeless people and pays them a living wage. In fact, her mission focuses on them and not the product.

Doniece Sandoval is another person who observed a people group with compassion and chose to do something even though it had never been done before. Because of one woman’s tears and frustrations she overheard, she started a non-profit that turns busses into mobile showers for homeless people in San Francisco. (She hopes to expand.) I love what she says on her site about “radical hospitality.” If you take the time to read the mission statement, you’ll see that her company is about restoring dignity, not just helping people be clean.

For our younger generation, it’s about the people. We’d be wise to remember that.

Okay, I must add … don’t just read this and respond “interesting.” Do something! 🙂

The Gospel According to a Five Year Old

The five-year-old son of friends drew this insightful picture (full picture below.) He showed it to his dad who asked him, “What does this mean?”

The boy answered, “This is Jesus lying in the manger thinking about the cross, and this is Jesus on the cross thinking about the manger.”

He gets it. I hope you do.

Enough said.


caden_s drawing full

A Child’s View Of God’s Glory

What do children think of God’s glory? Diminishing it? What’s the opposite?

“A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word “darkness” on the walls of his cell.”
– -C.S. Lewis

A while back, I posted this quote on my personal Facebook page. I knew it resonated with people based on the number of “likes” and “shares.” So, I decided to share it here.

I encourage you to discuss it with your children. What do they think it means? God’s glory? Diminishing it? What’s the opposite?

Are there other truths/phrases they can suggest? I wonder if they’ll use their smarts when filling in the blanks? Would you?

“A man can no more diminish God’s glory by                                                              than someone can                                                                                                 .”

Or take it out of the context C.S. Lewis used, and discuss statements like these:

  • A friend or classmate cannot make me dumb by telling me I am.
  • No one can convince me I’m not creative when I know I am.
  • If someone doesn’t remember my name, it doesn’t mean I’m unimportant.
  • If a lot of people don’t like my Instagram picture, it doesn’t mean it was bad or I am ugly.

What’s going on with you or your children lately? Would creating a statement like one of these help you have a meaningful discussion? I think so.

Helping Children Develop Healthy Friendship Skills

Authentic friendship is life-giving, nurturing, and worth stewarding well.

Have you asked your children why they don’t have more friends? Or, are you concerned they have too many? Have you questioned their choice in friends? Have you had to pick up the pieces when they’re broken by how some “friends” treat them?

Many parents and educators are concerned about children’s relationships and how children treat their peers. Rather than listing the reasons here, since you probably have your own, let’s look at some solutions.

Understanding friendship skills increases the likelihood that relationships and friendships will be healthier. This means belonging, the third of five core needs, will be healthier. In last Monday’s blog, I explained its value and shared some ideas for meeting the need in healthy ways.

When you take the time to talk with your children and teach core principles of friendship to them, your children will also have healthier security and identity. If you take the time to read those two blogs, I believe you’ll see what I mean.

Christian Library Journal Reviews “Screens and Teens”

I’ve had the chance to teach about technology’s effects on children’s attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors several times in the past few weeks. It’s such a joy to help parents and teachers connect the dots between children’s behavior and the technology we let them use.

My book about this topic has been out for seven months already. It’s very encouraging to know it’s helping many parents and children connect better. Parents tell me it’s helping them understand their children and compassionately respond to their tech use.

If you’ve been wanting to help friends understand my book and why it’s beneficial, I thought this review from the Christian Library Journal might help. Please share it widely. I’d appreciate that. Thanks.