It’s happened many, many times now.
The venue has filled with the steady, riding buzz of anticipation, a 20 minute slow-boiling kettle of kids, parents and grandparents. The MC steps to the microphone and leads a hearty, deafening chorus of “5, 4, 3, 2,1…Colin!”
And we’re away, the music fires up, I enter (often from the back of the venue), announced by curling, corkscrewing streamers; microphone in hand; waving and high-fiving my wide-eyed, excited friends.
The Colin Formula
All of which has proven to be a tried and tested way to kick off a “Colin Concert.” In terms of what follows over the next 40 minutes or so, I’ve followed what I’ve chosen to call an entertainment template. The show—and it clearly is a show—has evolved over 20 years. The early “Remember The Lord” concerts were a lot “straighter,” but I’ve always been pretty dependent on backing tracks, freeing up my hands for actions, a key to involvement and participation, especially for pre-school and infants aged children.
If you’re going to attempt to engage little ones for three quarters of an hour you need light and shade, slow moments, fast moments, whispers as well as shouts, a pinch of suspense, easy audience participation, anticipation and perhaps a surprise or two. It all works up to a climax: the barely-contained chaos of gigantic beach balls, confetti canons and a big, energetic song—all garnished gossamer white by my home-made toilet roll blower (The Dunny Blasta™!)
The content—themes, tone, lyrics, stories, key phrases, bible truths—are absolutely fundamental to what I’ve sought to do right from the start. And I’d hope to have that in common with anyone engaged in gospel-hearted kids ministry. But the templates definitely vary. Take two enduring memories from my own childhood memories of children’s ministry.
My first recollection was of our weekly protestant scripture class in P11, Year 5/6 at Lugarno Public School, 1974. Mrs Woolfe would come in and faithfully teach us bible stories, explain the truths behind them and lead us in prayer. I have no memory of singing any songs and I don’t remember specifics of the content. But I remember the tone—deliberate, biblical, sincere.
But it wasn’t all plain sailing for Mrs Woolfe. One day, the whole class responded to her quiet, “Good morning P11” with a pre-plotted chorus of “Good morning Mrs [INSERT HOWWWWLLL!]” Unfortunately for us, our class teacher, Mrs Shand, was still within earshot and returned, extracted a full-class apology and kept us in for a week of lunchtimes. But despite our prank, Mrs Woolfe was genuinely liked and respected. I actually sensed real remorse among my classmates. She certainly didn’t ask for it, as some teachers seem to.
The second childhood recollection is of attending the Friday evening wrap up of a holiday Bible club at Mortdale Baptist Church. After 5 mornings of music, games, stories, songs and paper maché fun, parents and children gathered for a special concert. Again, I don’t remember the theme, but I recall the fun, energy and colour (dress ups, guitars, puppets, big crafts and drama skits). The joy in the faces of our leaders—many of whom would have been teenagers—was indelible. I vividly remember thinking (and feeling): “Being among the God People—this is where the action is!” (My song, “Ak-shonn” was inspired by this experience).
Those two memories reveal two very different templates. Solid content, Bible truth, the understanding of human nature, what drives authentic gospel ministry—these are the shared non-negotiable foundations. Whichever template you employ is clearly going to shape the way those fundamentals are delivered.
But (like so much of what we do) ignorance doesn’t indicate absence. We all, deliberately or not, employ a template. Mrs Woolfe took the traditional, educative, content-driven lesson plan template and wrapped it in a memorable grace, gentleness and dignity. Mortdale Baps holiday club ran a special event template, theme-driven but shaped for a five day, special ops, shock-and-awe, snatch-and-grab extravaganza. The holiday club happened once-a-year and involved lots of visitors and one-offs. Mrs Woolfe had a weekly, three-term-year captive audience.
Colin's Bad Example
I found my “Colin Concert” entertainment template very effective, but I'm not sure I set a helpful example to follow those whose week in, week out ministry to kids requires a different template. The husband-to-be who takes the intensity of the skywriter, flash mob, Mexican mariachi band wedding proposal into the day-to-day world of marriage is going to burn it out. The entertainment template works in limited doses. Special events are special events because they don't—and can't—happen all the time. Mrs Woolfe in a clown suit, juggling chain saws and breathing fire every week wouldn't have served the kids, or her gospel purposes.
I hope that those of us in ministry—any ministry, for that matter—can be inspired by seeing the truth behind our templates. It takes wisdom to choose the right golf club for the shot at hand, to pick an appropriate template. It takes patience to enjoy the normal and hold off on the special, trusting that God does enduring, eternal, Word and Spirit work in both. And it’s a relief to realise that, in the end, God works mainly in the normal—the regular gathering of God’s people is no different.
If a kid’s worker walks away from one of my concerts - or any entertainment-shaped event - thinking, “That's how our ongoing kids ministry should pop and snap!” then, take it from Colin Buchanan: Colin Buchanan is a bad example for your weekly kid’s ministry.
Pictures from colinbuchanan.com.au