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Hi, this is Pastor Tamera Kraft for the next few weeks. I’m going to share excerpts of a podcast site interview I did with my publishing company about my curriculum, Building Pentecostal Foundations. Today’s curriculum is The Christmas Tree Advent. If you would like to buy The Christmas Tree Advent, I’m going to give you a code to get 20% off until the end of November. The code is CHRISTMAS1 (all caps)
Michelle: This is Michelle Levigne,
Tamera: and this is Tamera Lynn Kraft.
Michelle: This week, and for the next several episodes of Books on the Ridge, I’m going to be flying solo because our special guest to be interviewed is none other than our beloved Tamera Kraft, fellow guilty party at Mount Zion Ridge Press. We’re going to be talking to Tamera from the other side of the desk as an author of children curriculum. Welcome, Tamera.
Tamera: I’m so excited to be on this podcast. It’s just a dream come true.
Michelle: OK, let’s get started. Tamera’s biography: Pastor Tamera Kraft has been a children’s pastor for over 30 years. She’s the director of a ministry called Revival Fire for Kids where she mentors other children leaders, teaches workshops, and is a children’s ministry consultant, and children revivalist. She’s a recipient of the 2007 National Children’s Leaders Association Shephard’s Cup for Lifetime Achievement in Children’s Ministry. Tamera hosts a children’s ministry podcast called ignite Kidman available on most podcast providers and provides coaching and resources for ignite Kidman patron subscribers. Find out more about this at http://revivalfire4kids.net/ignite.
In this first episode, we’re going to be talking about Tamera’s newest curriculum, The Christmas Tree Advent. Maybe we should back up a little bit. Tell us a little bit about Building Foundations Curriculum. Why did you decide we needed another children’s church curriculum, and how has Building Foundations different from the others.
Tamera: Most curriculum nowadays is either behavior modification or let’s go to Disneyland in children’s church because it’s more one-size-fits-all. It fits whatever denomination, whatever belief, whatever doctrine you have so, basically, what they do is they water things down and teach kids how to be good. They don’t really teach kids how to have a relationship with Jesus Christ. My building foundations curriculum was written because I don’t adhere to that, and I never have. We teach discipleship and doctrinal foundations, and because I am Pentecostal, I also emphasize the presence of God and the relationship with God, not head knowledge. I create the curriculum to fit Pentecostal services which sometimes are longer than the average evangelical church service.
Michelle: You mentioned not being Disney. What exactly do you mean by Disney. I can imagine considering how Disney is changing things like the Marvel Universe, but what do you what do you mean by not Disney.
Tamera: Sam Luce who is a children’s ministry Blogger summed it up really well. Basically, the mentality of church nowadays is we have to bring kids in, and we have to make sure they have fun so they want to come back. So we do things big and over the top like Disney does. That’s what I mean by Disney, not the bad stuff even about Disney, but the over the top stuff. We want to make things over the top so kids will have fun, and basically, the only thing they learn by the time they’re 12 and get out of church is God loves them. Truthfully, they should know God loves them when they get out of the preschool department. Children Church as a time to learn doctrinal truths that go deeper in their faith. What they’re doing is creating an illiterate group of children. When they graduate from children church, all they know is a few Bible stories like Noah’s ark and Jonah and the Whale, and maybe David and Goliath.
Michelle: Absolutely, they need to be able to apply the things that they’re going to need. When you and I were in high school. we learned things like that, and we should have been prepared for when we went to college because we’re going to be attacked in college our beliefs. We’re going to be attacked if we didn’t go to a Christian School. The kids are getting their beliefs attacked in elementary school now. It’s absolutely necessary, and unfortunately, we can’t depend on the parents to teach the kids because the parents might not know the basic foundations. They’re depending on the Sunday School to teach them the foundations.
Tamera: If all they know is that God loves them, they’re going to be hurting when people say, “Well, God loves me too even though I’m not following Him, even though I haven’t given my life to Him. What makes me any different.”
Michelle: So the big question, why did you write The Christmas Tree Advent? What makes it stand out from other allegedly Christmas themed curriculum for the children.
Tamera: Most Christmas curriculum for kids is light and fluffy and teaches the traditional Christmas story including all the inaccuracies. This curriculum does that too as far as teaching the Christmas story, but it goes deeper and shows kids what the first advent, Christ’s first coming, is all about and how it affects their lives and their relationship with God. We don’t perpetuate the myths around Christmas, but we do teach about why certain traditions are practiced by Christians and how they came about. We teach what Christmas is really all about.
Michelle: I was lucky enough to read this curriculum because I got to edit it, so I know what it contains, and some of it’s fascinating, things I didn’t even know. Part of your curriculum is celebrating Christmas and using the Christmas tree in the decorations to illustrate Christ first advent. Many people think the Christmas tree came out of the druid tree worship, so can you talk to us about that particular question and maybe an objection people might have? A lot of Christians are coming against Christmas now because they say well it’s a druid holiday that we just adopted, and they don’t understand the real history behind the Christmas tree.
Tamera: One thing I wanted to do was point that out so that when people say things like that, the kids would understand why they really use a Christmas tree in their celebration. Druids did worship trees and the winter solstice, and many Christians have been taught that the Christmas tree and even the date of Christmas came from a mixture of the two, but that’s not exactly true. It’s sad that this misunderstanding and history keeps some Christians fighting the celebration of Christ’s birth which we should be celebrating.
First, about the date. It is true Christ was not born on December 25th. When druids became Christians, they wanted to celebrate Christ’s birth, not the winter solstice, so they picked a date, but we don’t know when Christ was born. If we did, we could make sure we picked the right date to celebrate his birthday, but the important thing is to celebrate the first coming of Christ, not what date we celebrate. So to me, that doesn’t even enter into it.
As far as the tree we decorate is the evergreen. The druids worship oak trees. There are many stories about the origin of the Christmas tree. One of my favorites is about Boniface and the Thor’s Oak. This happened around 700AD. Boniface was a missionary to Germany where the druids worshipped So in 725, to stop their sacrifices of their sacred Donar Oak, Boniface chopped down the tree. That really upset them, but the story goes, with one mighty blow, he failed the massive oak, and as the tree split, a beautiful young fir tree sprang from its center. He told the people that this lovely evergreen with his branches pointing to heaven was indeed a holy tree, the tree of the Christ child, a symbol of His promise of eternal life. He instructed them to carry the Evergreen from the wilderness into their homes and to surround it with gifts, symbols of love and kindness.
So that’s why we have a Christmas tree, but that’s just one instance. One thing all these stories have in common is the druids worshipped oak trees, but we use evergreens to symbolize Christ’s birth. We do that for many reasons. First of all, Jesus gives eternal life just as the Evergreen is eternally green, and Christ was hung on a tree to forgive us of our sins. These traditional trees also symbolize that, and every decoration we put on the Christmas tree was started by a Christian, the traditional decorations anyway, was started by a Christian who used those decorations to symbolize something in the Christmas story. So, rather than teach the Christmas is wrong, I prefer to teach why we celebrate. Throughout the Old Testament God commanded his people to celebrate these great events that happened. Christ’s first advent, His birth, is one of the greatest reasons to celebrate.
Michelle: Absolutely. I’m thinking about my brother who teaches younger children in our church, and I have to help him with his read the curriculum to him because he’s dyslexic, but there’s so much that they offer to the children for telling the Bible stories, and there’s so much that the kids need to learn and the application and making the curriculum relevant to the season I think is very important just to fight anything that the children are going to be getting in school or any kind of you know social clubs they might belong to. I know, years ago, there was a trend put Christ back in Christmas. We need to keep doing that so is there anything else that you want to point out about The Christmas Tree Advent that makes your Christmas children’s church curriculum different from what’s out there?
Tamera: First, we teach the meaning of advent. Advent means coming, so Christmas is the first advent or coming of Christ to the earth when He was born, and so we’re celebrating his first advent. Too many evangelicals stay away from the advent word and the advent candles and celebrations. They don’t understand the symbolism, but it’s an important part of celebrating Christmas as Christmas.
Also, we talked about the different traditions for celebrating and teach what they represent. That way the children know why they put different balls on the Christmas tree, why they put an Angel or a star on top, why they use an Evergreen tree, all these different things. We teach them to understand the Christian symbolism. We also teach the real Bible story.
For instance, the wise men didn’t show up until a year or two after Christ was born. They were not at the Manger scene, although it makes a pretty nativity, and the Bible doesn’t say how many there were, only that they brought three types of gifts. It’s important to teach children the true story and not add all these fables because if we only teach half-truths, when they find out the real truth, they’ll think of the Christmas story as a fairy tale. We don’t want to do that. We want to teach them the truth, but most importantly, we teach how Christmas affects these children and their relationship with Jesus Christ.
Michelle: Absolutely, I remember getting in arguments with people who were adamantly against having the wise men in the nativity scene and other people who are like you’re gutting the Christmas story. It’s right there in scripture says, and somebody pointed out that with the shepherds, it’s the baby, but with the wise men, it’s the child and his mother in the house which means they moved. I mean do you take a newborn child and move him.
Tamera: Absolutely, and you know, I have wise men in my nativity too, but what I do is I put them outside of the Manger scene where the shepherds are. They’re coming toward the Christ child, but they’re not there yet. Not quite there yet.
Michelle: How long did it take you to put the curriculum together? Did you do a lot of research ahead of time or was this research you already had maybe waiting that you? Did you put it aside saying this is going to be useful someday? Did you set out doing research, and did you learn anything that you didn’t know as you were putting the book together?
Tamera: First, about how long it took, I have blogged and taught all of this so long because before I was a children evangelist, I was a children’s pastor for 20 years. I researched and taught this constantly. So, I did research years ago. So when I actually sat down to write, it only took me about a month, but that is not the norm. As far as what I learned that I didn’t know, one of the most exciting things I learned was about the Wisemen. the wisemen were from the East, so many people think China, or the Orient, or something like that, but it’s more likely they came from Persia. I read somewhere, many years earlier, the prophet Daniel was in charge of these wise men and probably taught them to expect the King of Kings that was born going to be born in Bethlehem. That may not be true but it it’s more likely then some Chinese people just figured it out. So it’s fun to speculate.
Michelle: I can imagine people over the years coming up with different ideas. So we need to get down to the little technical details the people who are interested in using this curriculum which is available now. We have it available in PDF and in book form, and buying the book will give you access to all the resources. So what can you tell us about the downloadable resources and the crafts that go along with the curriculum.
Tamera: As far as the downloadable resources and crafts, I do that in all my curriculum because it’s very difficult to put it all in one bundle where they can buy So what I will do is I will have a link and in this curriculum I even have a QRL code they could use to get the downloadable resources that are on DropBox. In those downloadable resources, we have family devotion handouts that they can give to their students to take home so their family can do devotions based on what they’ve learned that week. We also have different media JPEG images that they can use with the different verses on them, rules, a JPEG image they can use as their opening slide if they use video presentation program like ProPresenter or PowerPoint. Whatever they use, this will work. They could even print off the color photos.
To listen to more of this episode, check out the Ignite Kidmin Podcast.
In this insightful interview with one of the foremost children’s ministry revivalists and mentors, we will discuss a variety of topics about The State of Children’s Ministry in the Church.
You can contact our guest, Becky Fischer, at Kids in Ministry International at this link.
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Tamera: I am so excited today to have my special guest. She’s an Apostolic minister, a writer, a public speaker, a graphic artist, and the founder and director of Kids in Ministry International. She’s been in children’s ministry over 30 years and has ministered in 29 nations. She’s made appearances in places like Good Morning America, CNN Primetime, and Chrisma magazine.
I am just so excited to welcome Becky Fischer. I met Becky at a Focus Conference where we were both teaching about leading children into the presence of God and felt an immediate connection with her. Becky, I feel like we’re kindred spirits.
Becky: We really are I was thinking about that too the very first year that you came to Focus and when we discovered that we were teaching almost identical workshops. At first, I was a little startled. I thought how is this gonna work, but then I just realized the more voices that are out there saying the same thing, the more impact that we’re going to have, so yes there’s got to be more more of us who are are talking about these types of things, ’cause it’s just not the norm.
Tamera: Absolutely, and there sure enough classes on how to have zany games, discipline, and how to teach Bible stories, and all of that stuff, so there needs to be more voices out there about teaching children to operate on the Holy Spirit.
Becky: Absolutely, it’s really a strange thing because I have had the opportunity to minister in a wide variety of Pentecostal/charismatic churches, not just in the United states but around the world, and what we’re talking about right now is almost nonexistent in the church. In fact I have a school that I called the School of Supernatural Children’s Ministry, and after our students graduate I ask them to send in a testimony. How did you like to school? What impact did you see? I thought these statements were very revealing.
This came from one of my students that said, “For the past 18 years I’ve learned so much as a children’s minister. However, I began to notice that something was missing. The children didn’t seem to be experiencing Jesus like I did, in a way that captivated them and gave them a desire to live for Him. I went to several other children ministry trainings and other types of classes during that time, and I was told to appease their short attention spans and become a great entertainer. I was told that I needed to have a Disneyland mentality when it came to my classroom and to make sure that my class was fun above everything else. So, I strived to do that. I strived to be an entertainer making the lessons as fun, and short, and appealing as I could, and while that was good for a while, the kids were leaving the church, and they were still following paths that lead them away from Jesus as they got older. I just said there has to be more. There has to be a way to make Jesus real to them.”
I don’t know what your experience has been but I find this a very common feedback from those who really are interested in taking kids into the deeper things of God.
Tamera: I find the same thing. I find that many children’s ministers that, if they do you want to take kids into deeper things, they don’t know where the resources are. They don’t have the mentors because there aren’t many of us out there who are experienced in teaching them. Then there are the ones who don’t even think about it. I mean I get shocked looks when I talk about young children being baptized in the Holy Spirit, like how can a child be baptized in the Holy Spirit.
Becky: It is that amazing you can be in a Pentecostal denomination, and the teachers don’t even realize that kids can be filled. I ran into this in fact. I ran into this at a with a couple of the ministers at the Focus Conference. One guy wrote to me, and he said, “I sat in your class that talked about children being filled with the Holy Spirit,” and he said, “no way.” He said in that all he had been in children’s ministry, 15 years or something, and he said never once in that amount of time had he ever taught on the baptism with the Holy Spirit or offered the experience to the kids at his church, but after hearing me talk even though he was skeptical, he decided to go ahead and give it a try. He said, “Lo and behold, several kids in my church got filled with the Holy Spirit. I never dreamed that children could be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
I’m thinking are you serious. What’s going on in our Pentecostal churches. But honestly, Tamera, if we’re going to really be frank, many of the Pentecostal churches don’t even teach their adults on this topic anymore.
Tamera: That’s true. That’s absolutely true. I moved, so I visited a lot of Pentecostal churches, and I can’t tell you the number of churches where I never heard anyone speak in tongues. I never heard any teaching about the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and I’ve even been in churches where they say, “Well, we relegate that to the backroom, so we won’t scare visitors.” I even heard people using this catch phrase that the Holy Spirit is not weird, and when I heard that, I was shocked because in my life every single thing the Holy Spirit has done has always been weird.
Becky: Right, yeah, I mean speaking in tongues is weird. Let’s face it, absolutely, people weeping under the power of God is weird. If you’ve never seen it before, and so it’s very strange. What I have discovered traveling on various levels of Pentecostal charismatic dreams in the body of Christ is that some handle this better than others, and one of the things that I’ve discovered is that churches that don’t have what we might consider weird, and I can talk about some weird things that I’ve seen over the years, go outside the boundaries of even good etiquette, but a lot of them that the secret is really teaching on it and teaching about the excesses and teaching just like Paul did. I mean he put boundaries on what was effective or protocol in the church and what was not.
One of the things that I find in the Pentecostal denominations is that we’re so focused on tongues and so focused on tongues and interpretation that we have completely forgotten about or eliminated the other gifts of the spirit, and part of that is because even our pastors can’t define for you what the gifts of the spirit are, what they look like, and give examples from the scripture as well as their own personal experience of what those things look like and when they operate in present day culture. Because of the ignorance, because they don’t know themselves how to put healthy boundaries, not squash the Spirit, but healthy boundaries in the local church that all they know to do is just squash it down. Let me give you an example. One of the excesses that I have seen many times in our churches is tongues and interpretation, and old-line Pentecostals, this was sort of their earmark if you will of whether or not a church was a healthy Spirit-filled church was if they allowed tongues and interpretation in the in the services.
But there was almost always abuse in that area, and I’m sure you’ve seen instances like this. It was like in the one of the churches that I was a member. Whenever there was a sweet hush of the Holy Spirit at the end of a worship service where the presence of God was really strong at the end of a set of worship songs, there would be this just as stillness a quietness, and without fail, the same guy every single service would give a message in tongues. The problem is there was never an interpretation. No one else in the congregation had the interpretation, so there was even a longer silence after that, and after a period of time, well the scripture says there has to be an interpretation. so it forced the pastor to have to give an interpretation.
Many times, I wondered is this really God or is he making something up because it has to be done. Now that was just my skeptical mind, and I thought to myself many times why doesn’t the pastor teach on this because the scripture is very clear in Corinthians that whoever gives a message in tongues is to pray that they give the interpretation. Not somebody else, but they are the ones to give an interpretation, I thought many times if the pastor would just teach on that verse, not you know trying to point someone out in the audience, but just in the general context of teaching on the gifts of the spirit, we’d cut out a whole lot of hanky-panky, and it would it would really change the dynamics.
I can remember sitting in the services when that hardship the Holy Spirit was there just holding my breath and saying please don’t give a tongues please don’t give a tongue because it was just such a sweet spirit. I didn’t want anything to interrupt that, and so I find that the healthy churches, the pastors have done an excellent job of teaching a lot of things such as this and then, just setting boundaries. In some cases, they had to they would limit it to certain people were allowed, especially the mega churches where you’ve got thousands of people in the congregation, and all they are well known ministry and people are coming in all the time you know you don’t know who’s in the audience so they would have designated people that would be people on the worship team. It would be there pastoral staff and board members or whatever, but there was a designated certain people that were allowed to prophecy or give tongues and interpretation, and if anyone else out in the congregation were to speak up, then the ushers were trained to very politely and very kindly just say not now. So you know there’s things that we can do in our Pentecostal churches to cut out the craziness if we would just look at it from a different perspective.
Now that’s really kind of off the subject of what we’re talking about. We’re talking about kid’s ministry, and we’re not even teaching people about the Holy Spirit in our Pentecostal churches. But I find that that is one of the reasons, and I’ve had several children’s ministers who have been long-term kids ministry leaders in Pentecostal churches who have told me that it never occurred to them that kids can be filled with the Holy Spirit, and they had never ever taught on it their entire ministry career.
Tamera: Well, I do think that even though it’s off the topic, it kind of builds the foundation of it because if adults are taught that this is out of line when you speak in tongues, when you prophecy when you do whatever the Spirit leads the gifts of the Spirit, and you don’t have the boundaries there, and you don’t know what it is, then you’re not going to teach it to the children.
Becky: No, you’re not.
Tamera: I’ve had people go even further where they teach kids to be good and they’re not even saved they don’t even understand salvation I was at a church camp once and, when I was younger in ministry, I was at children’s pastor. I always seem to get the rough girls in my cabin, and I asked why. They said because you always seem to handle them alright. Well, you know why. They bring this group of girls who’d been in church all their lives but had never been saved. So, within a day or two, I’d teach him about salvation, They’d all get saved, and then they’d be wonderful.
Becky: I read a statistic in this past year, and I read so many of my can’t tell you where I got it. More than likely it was from Barna ’cause I’ve studied his stuff more than anybody else, but the statistic that I saw said less than 1/3 of the children who attend our Sunday schools and graduate at the age of 12 are born again. So I’m thinking, are you kidding me, because most of the kid’s ministers that I know give frequent altar calls for salvation, but I wonder if it’s how we present it. I wonder if we just surround it with nothing but ask Jesus into your heart, and you’ll go to heaven when you die. Is that the bulk of what we are what we do? I know I’ve heard children ministers say ask Jesus to forgive your sins, but there’s no further teaching beyond that. Well, is this is a one-time thing, or is this an ongoing relationship. There are so many things that we leave out, and a lot of the reasons that I have discovered that kid’s ministers don’t go beyond the real basics is because they don’t think kids can handle the deeper things of God. I think probably you have experienced the fact that yes, they can, and that is what I based my ministry on.
We have three core values, and the first core value is giving kids the meat of the Word instead of just a constant merry-go-round of Bible stories in typical kids’ ministry. We build our lesson around the Bible story and everything that we do and say all of our games all of our scriptures all of that, the crafts that we put together, all relate to that Bible story, but very seldom do we go beyond that in our ministry. We took a different approach. We would start with a biblical doctrine or concept, and then we would bring in the Bible story to compliment that, but we didn’t build our lesson around the Bible story. We built a lesson around the meat of God Word, and there’s a dramatic difference when you teach kids the meat of God’s Word.
The second core value that we have is equipping the little saints for the work of the ministry. Now, what I mean by this is not only do we tell them that Jesus healed the sick, we get them up out of their chairs and demonstrate how to lay hands on the sick, how to pray for them, and we release them to practice healing the sick in our children’s ministry. Then, over a period of time, we would invite adults into the service who actually needed prayer for healing, and we would let the kids practice laying hands on them as well. We began to notice how they would then go out, they would go home, and it was automatic for them to lay hands on the sick and whatever you’re teaching on, whether it’s hearing God voice, whether it’s healing the sick, whether it’s the gifts of the Spirit, whatever it is we gave them an opportunity. We call this equipping.
Another word for equipping is training, so core value number one was giving the meat of the Word. Core value #2 is equipping them for the work of the ministry ’cause that’s what Hebrews says that we are supposed to do as church leaders. We are to equip the Saints for the work of the ministry, and if we’re leaders in in children’s ministry then we are to equip the little saints. God, Jesus never put a age limit on the things that kids can do.
The third core value that we had was we made it a practice in every single service to reserve time at the end whether it was 10 minutes or 15 minutes to reserve time at the end to ushering children into the presence of God, teaching them what it, and allow them to just bask in that presence, to get used to what it feels like, so that they began to actually have a relationship with God.
If you eliminate any of those three things, Tamera, what we’ve got is we have given our kids religion with no relationship. We’ve give them a head knowledge with no heart knowledge.
Tamera: I knew we were connected for some reason and when they’re basking in the presence of God and a bunch of different things are happening in the service, I will take time afterwards what I call it as a debriefing. I will talk about what happened? What did you hear? What did you feel? I’m sure you do the same. I’ll say how amazing it is, and then then I say something like isn’t it fun being in the presence of God? Isn’t this so great? This is better than playing games?
Becky: Yes, and one of the things that I would do is is I would encourage them to try to express what it was they were feeling or sensing so that the other kids in the room could hear what they were saying, and they would sit there and go oh I felt that too. So that’s what God feels like.
Tamera: Exactly, and once they realize that what they’re feeling isn’t just a warm fuzzy, but it’s the presence of God, then they crave more.
Tamera: Join us next time ’cause we have more to talk about with Becky about the state of children’s ministry in the church. If you’re interested in hearing more about Becky you can go to Kidsinministry.org.