Show Them Jesus: An interview with Jack Klumpenhower

Jack Klumpenhower’s book, Show Them Jesus, challenges the culture of low-stakes, low-expectations teaching. It makes a radical pledge to do nothing less than champion and treasure the gospel. Jack is not a pastor, but he has more than thirty years of experience creating Bible lessons and teaching children about Jesus. Back in 2014, I published a series of questions and answers from Jack. Here they are all together in one post:

Jared: Why not just say, “Teach them the gospel”? How is “Show them Jesus” different?

Jack: My wife came up with the title Show Them Jesus, and I immediately liked it because it feels broader than “teach the gospel.” For many people, teaching the gospel has come to mean telling what Jesus has done for us so that kids will be motivated to serve him out of gratitude rather than guilt. That’s a good principle and the book is partly about that, but by itself that’s too small.

Looking at what Jesus has done for us should also cause us to look at him—the whole, marvelous person he is. This adds the motivations that flow from wonder and awe: love, admiration, hope, and even a healthy dose of reverent fear. Kids not only learn that they should be grateful, they also sense the majesty of God. They see holiness. They discover divine love. They come to shudder at the ugliness of sin and to gasp at the lengths Jesus goes to rid them of it. They learn to cling to him. They treasure absolutely everything that’s part of being found in him. They yearn to be for Jesus, like Jesus, and with Jesus forever. That’s the Show Them Jesus vision. It’s a big vision, but big fits Jesus.

Jared: Won't kids get bored if we're teaching them about Jesus every week. Is this approach setting us up for failure?

Jack: They might get bored if we’re teaching the same thing about Jesus every week in the same, tired way. When I get lazy and just tack a bland mention of the cross onto the end of a lesson to make it “Christ-centered,” I deserve students who yawn. But Jesus actually is the most fascinating, best topic in the universe. God the Father is delighted with Jesus: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). To notice and love Jesus is a way to imitate the Father. So if kids are bored, it’s not because we’re looking at Jesus too much, but rather because we aren’t looking enough. Skimming over Jesus leaves us with only moralism or self-help or spiritual warm fuzzies. That stuff is what gets old.

To help myself get a big view of Jesus, I try to keep in mind the many blessings that make our salvation in him so big. God’s people are chosen, called, renewed, made alive, bought with a price, forgiven, adopted, made holy, given an inheritance, brought home… and much more. Remembering these things helps me look at a lesson, notice the particular way God is blessing his people, and then apply it to life with Jesus in a new way that has its own richness with each lesson.

Another thing that helps, especially when teaching from the gospels, is to slow down and notice details in the text. We in the Western world are so used to light, fast reading that we often pass over fine points that ought to amaze us. As a teacher, I need to look at the text and think about it long enough that I come into the classroom truly excited over something I’ve already noticed about Jesus. Only then am I ready to teach, because kids will catch what I’m excited about.

Jared: How did you come to make your own teaching more Christ- and gospel-centered?

Jack: I learned it from others. Like many teachers, I grew up knowing only one approach: I looked at how we should or shouldn’t be like the various characters in a Bible story. It’s fine to do some of that, but eventually I met a few teachers who were particularly good at noticing the main character. They first of all taught what Jesus did and how God helped his people. Since I heard preaching that did the same, it was easy for me to see how that was better.

I’d also been in a church that was on the leading edge of what we now call the “grace movement” already in the 1980s. So I understood discipleship that’s grounded in believing all that we are in Christ—justified, holy, adopted children of God. That fit nicely with the focus on Jesus. So in short, I had good teachers. I think most big strides in learning how to teach come from observing other teachers and picking up ideas.

Jared: The Bible is not a G-rated book. Can you give us some pointers for how to approach the sex and violence in the Bible when teaching kids?

Jack: I seldom shy away from sex and violence. Even younger kids understand fighting and killing and that it’s bad to hurt others, so I include it if it’s part of a Bible story—because it’s important to be true to the story.

Kids also understand adultery if you explain it something like, “They behaved with each other like they were married even though they weren’t married.” That’s all the detail necessary for kids to understand that it’s a betrayal and is wrong. The only topic I usually avoid is sexual violence. Most young kids don’t have a place for that in their thinking, and I feel it’s fine to let them stay innocent until they’re older. Not every Bible passage is well-suited for the youngest kids.

The overwhelming majority of Bible stories are good for them, though, even if those stories include violence and evil. It’s important for kids to know, from a young age, that God is at work even when life is brutal and sad. In fact, this is why Jesus came to save us. If every kid’s first exposure to murder, for instance, were in a Bible story where they also heard how Jesus entered into the evil and suffering of this world in order bring healing, that would go a long way toward producing kids who’re well prepared spiritually for whatever they may face in life.

Jared: Kids learn more from what we do than what we say. What can children's ministry leaders do to have a good-news environment in their classrooms?

Jack: My very best classes have been those where everyone felt it was safe to confess sin and seek help from Jesus.

That’s basic Christian living, but it’s still hard to foster that kind of environment. American kids are taught to be achievers, and they come to Bible classes thinking they need to look like the best Christians—memorize the most verses, give the smartest answers, and above all hide their sin. Even bratty kids have the idea that Sunday school is for good kids, and being good or bad is how you fit in or stand out.

Kids desperately need a classroom where that kind of pressure melts away as everyone rests in the only truly good person we know, Jesus. I’ve never gotten it to work as well as I’d like, but I’ve found a few things that seem to help.

First, I as the teacher have to be open about my sin. Within appropriate bounds, I need to talk now and then about shameful things I’ve done, show my sorrow, and share my confidence in Jesus both to forgive me and to help me do better. When it’s clear that I’m a sinner in need of grace, the kids start feeling it’s okay to admit the same about themselves.

Second, I must be quick to pray in class about anything and everything. Prayer is the chief way we practice faith in God. When concerns lead to prayers for help, and sins lead to prayers for grace, and successes lead to prayers of thanks—then it’s hard for anyone to get too self-focused about their goodness or lack of it. Constant prayer keeps us looking to Jesus. Where it thrives, self-pride dies.

Finally, I need to celebrate repentance rather than false perfection. Instead of acting shocked when kids misbehave (“We don’t do that in Sunday school!”), I need to treat the classroom more like a doctor’s office. Everyone is there because we have sin problems, but we expect to make progress and to leave more hopeful than when we walked in.

I’m so thankful for Jack Klumpenhower sharing his time and thoughts with the Gospel Centered Family blog back in 2014 during our first month online. If you’ve enjoyed this interview, share your thanks with Jack in the comment section below.


Be sure to check out more from Jack at his blog, jackklumpenhower.com

Prepare Him Room: An Interview with Marty Machowski

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a list of Advent resources that our family has used during the season. One we've used and enjoyed a couple of times now is the  Prepare Him Room: Celebrating the Birth of Jesus devotional by my friend, Marty Machowski. Back in 2014, I corresponded with Marty and asked him questions about the devotional, storytelling, and the message of Christmas. Here is how he answered my questions.

Jared: Why did you decide to write an Advent devotional? 

Marty: Prepare Him Room started as an Advent devotional for Covenant Fellowship, to help our congregation focus on Christ in the Christmas season. After receiving good feedback I decided to rewrite the devotional for families beyond our church and added the Christmas short story and a few more activities for families. 

Jared: Can you tell me a bit about the format of the devotional?

Marty: Prepare Him Room provides three devotions for each of the four weeks of Advent. The first devotion explores an Old Testament prophecy. The second devotion highlights an announcement of that same prophetic message, like Gabriel appearing to Mary to announce God’s plan to bring her a son. The third devotion explores the Scriptural fulfillment of the prophecy and announcement. 

In addition to these Bible devotions, there are family activities, outreach ideas, and a four-part short story, designed to be read on the weekend.

Jared: We've only read the first chapter as a family at this point, but my kids are already asking--is the Bartimaeus story true? Where did you come up with the idea?

Marty: I love telling stories to my children. I just make them up as I go along. That is how Bartimaeus started out. I even put the song the children in the story sing, "A Grueling Life," to music. When our home school ministry was looking for a story line for a Christmas musical, I gave them my rough story and the song.  The director changed the story a bit to make it work and gathered a host of songwriters to turn it into a musical. 

After that, I decided to polish my original storyline and added details and set the story in history. The California Gold rush left a lot of orphaned children back east in the big cities. There were 30,000 orphans in New York City alone. That is the setting I chose for the story. 

It is my hope families will read the Bartimaeus story each Christmas building a family tradition that will go on for years.

Jared: What helps you grow as a storyteller? What is your system for recording stories? 

Marty: Recording stories is easy with today’s smart phones and voice memos.  All you have to do is open an app, and start talking. Most of my stories, while enjoyed by my own children, are not that great.  But every now and then, I come up with a winner – a story that my children want to hear again and again.  If you tell enough stories, you bound to create a good one now and then. Even if you never publish a story, your kids will absolutely love listening to the recordings later on.

Jared: Christmas is a season for giving, but often we have a tendency just to think about ourselves. How can your devotional help a family that is more inwardly focused to be more outward? 

Marty: One of the most frequent weaknesses of a solid Christian family is reaching out to friends and neighbors. Even though most Christians agree that evangelism and outreach are important, the busyness of life often robs us of the opportunity.  When you consider that Christmas is the one season in the year that most people are open to coming to church, it provides a perfect chance to invite folks to church. 

Too often Christmas is about getting – gifts, food, parties, vacation time, and more.  But the message God ordained is one of giving.  God gave up his Son for us, the most amazing gift of all.  When we consider what a great salvation God provided, completely all of grace, it should move us beyond study to action. 

I wanted to help families do more than study Scripture; I wanted families to live the Scripture they study.  When it comes to Christmas, the message is clear – it is all about proclamation.  Whether it is the prophet Isaiah, “For unto us a son is given,” or the angels, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people,” the message is meant to be spread.  The celebration of Christ’ birth was never intended to remain within the four walls of our homes.

I'm really thankful for Marty's kindness in sharing his time with us. If you found this interview encouraging, please leave Marty a note of thanks below.

Interview with the Illustrator: Talking to Trish Mahoney about The Beginner's Gospel Story Bible

Over the past month, I've been writing about my new book, The Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible, a gospel-centered, Bible storybook for toddlers and preschoolers. One of the things I love most about the book are the engaging illustrations by Trish Mahoney. I recently had the opportunity to correspond with Trish about the book as well as her work as an illustrator and graphic designer. I love learning about the process of how things are made. It's fascinating for me--like watching Mister Rogers' trip to the crayon factory. This conversation was no exception. I think you'll enjoy it too. Here are Trish's answers to my questions.

Jared: Can you tell me how you first got involved with illustrating and layout for New Growth Press? 

 "I work side-by-side with my husband, Patrick, in our home-based studio. We collaborate on most branding projects, but tend to do illustration projects independently (aside from lots of feedback for each other)."

"I work side-by-side with my husband, Patrick, in our home-based studio. We collaborate on most branding projects, but tend to do illustration projects independently (aside from lots of feedback for each other)."

Trish: I went to the same church as Justin and Lindsey Holcomb, and Justin approached me about their book idea God Made All of Me before he had even pitched the idea to any publishers. I put together a sample sheet of some of my past illustrations, and he started submitting them with the manuscript. Landing an illustration job that way is pretty unusual unless the illustrator is pretty well-known, which was not the case for me. Usually, the publisher will match an illustrator of their choosing with an author. I’m so glad New Growth Press was willing to take a chance on me! 

It’s also a little less common for the illustrator to do the interior layout of a book, but since I actually have more experience in graphic design than illustration, it seemed like a natural fit to do both. After completing God Made All of Me, I did a handful of book cover designs for New Growth Press until the Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible project came along. 

Jared: Designing children's books seems really different from designing logos for Reach Records or local businesses. What differs in your approach when you are designing for a primarily adult audience verses design for children? Which one is harder?

Trish: I love graphic design, especially branding/logo design, and I actually approach both logos and illustration in very similar manners. Whether it’s a book cover, an interior story spread, or a logo, it all comes down to communicating a main idea in a clear and interesting way. 

Trish Mahoney.jpg

When it comes to designing for children, I like to create connections to familiar things. I found that to be especially important in the Beginner’s Gospel Story BibleThat’s why I focused on imagery kids could easily recognize. For example, instead of showing people in robes on every page, I focused on objects children could call out that would connect them to the story. So in the story of Noah, there is an emphasis on the hammer and saw, and in the story of Jacob and Esau, there is a picture of the stew with vegetables kids can point out and name. 

I’ve also found kids tend to pick up on details more than adults. When I would look at books as a child, I would feel like I was entering the picture and in my imagination I was walking around in the scene. It’s a fun challenge as an adult to try to create a picture in which kids can get lost. I tried to sprinkle as many of those throughout the Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible as I could. The one I had the most fun with is in the story of Mary and Joseph searching for a place to rest. 

Jared: Tell me a bit about the medium you use. What kind of design software are you working with? Do you work at a desktop, laptop, or pad? Are you freehanding some of the illustration with a stylus? Approximately how long does each layout take?

Trish: I always start by reading the manuscript and jotting down notes on the first imagery that comes to mind. Then I go back and create thumbnail sketches, a few inches large, for each page to get an idea of the general layout and flow. Sometimes that’s all I need before moving to the computer, but most of the time, I need to sketch out some of the details a little more clearly. Then I scan those and move to working digitally. 

 "I use a lot of tracing paper in my sketching phase. It allows me to make quick revisions without redrawing the entire thing."

"I use a lot of tracing paper in my sketching phase. It allows me to make quick revisions without redrawing the entire thing."

Once in the computer, I redraw everything in Adobe Illustrator, which is a vector-based program, and gives me the most flexibility to make changes, incorporate type, and explore color. All of the textures in the illustrations were done with vector brushes in Illustrator.

I’d like to say I use a stylus and have a giant monitor, but I’ve been working on a laptop and trackpad for so long I’m really used to it, and frankly, I’m a little stubborn about learning new things. This project definitely tested the capability of my MacBook Pro, and I know it’s time to finally upgrade my setup. I’m sure once I make the switch I’ll be kicking myself for not doing it sooner!

Jared: Do you have a favorite illustration? (Is that allowed? Mine are Moses with the bronze snake and the disciples and Jesus with the 'Stop' and 'Go' signs).

Trish: I do have a few. I really enjoyed making the map of Africa, and John’s plate of bugs. I also really liked making the scene of the inside of the house in the Nativity story. I used to draw and imagine dollhouses like that when I was a little girl. 

Jared: The Beginner's Gospel Story Bible is a really big book. What was the illustration process like for you? Specifically, how long did it take overall? In the acknowledgements, you also mention your kids' brutal honesty during the process (My kids were pretty brutal about the writing too). What were some things you learned from them and from others who offered feedback? 

Trish: It was a huge undertaking! I started the illustrations in April of 2016 and the book was scheduled to be released Fall of 2017, which meant the whole thing needed to be to the printers in June of 2016. That gave me fourteen months to produce over 300 pages of illustrations, but if we missed the deadline, we would have had to push the entire project out a full year.

 "I’m very picky about my pencils! I almost exclusively use a  Blackwing Pearl by Palomino . They are so fabulous that they tend to wander off my desk and into my kids' hands all the time."

"I’m very picky about my pencils! I almost exclusively use a Blackwing Pearl by Palomino. They are so fabulous that they tend to wander off my desk and into my kids' hands all the time."

We broke the book into smaller sections and worked on each of those for about three months at a time, starting with sketches and moving to final artwork for the particular section. Once those were approved, I would receive the text for the next set of stories and start over with sketches for that section. This rhythm worked really well for me because I didn’t have to spend month after month doing sketches for the entire book, and I think it kept me from getting burned out. The only challenge to working that way was some of the details in my illustrations evolved over the course of the project, and in the end I needed to go back and refine some of my earlier work to match the style of the later sections.

My kids were really curious about the project, and were always excited to see which stories I was working on. My daughter was thrilled when Ruth’s story was added! It was interesting that they had very specific imagery in their minds of how each character should look, especially because they have been hearing these stories since before they could talk! 

In the story of the Nativity, they were really bothered that some of the beds inside the house didn’t have heads showing, even though the text said all the beds were filled. I had implied people in the beds with a bump under the blankets, but they were insistent on heads. It wasn’t until the very last minute, when my editor mentioned your kids had also commented on the same layout that I conceded and drew them in. Kids are often time very literal, and it’s easy as an adult to falsely assume that they will understand the inferences. Of course, there were a few “that hair looks like noodles,” and “his head is way too tall,” comments.

 Beds Before

Beds Before

 Beds After

Beds After

Jared: As a writer working with an illustrator, here's something I'm really interested about. What kind of feedback is most helpful? What kind of feedback is less helpful?

Trish: As an illustrator, I really like working from a blank canvas in my mind. My preference is to read the text without any suggestions of how the illustration should appear. It’s not that I wouldn’t agree with those, or take them into consideration, but once those suggestions have been made, it is much harder to envision something else. Typically, as soon as I start reading, my mind is already designing the page. If I see there are notes from the editor or author on the manuscript, I usually wait to read them until I’ve had a chance to jot down the key visuals, or make a quick thumbnail sketch. 

Jared: If other illustrators or authors are reading, what are the top things illustrators should remember when working with authors? What should authors remember when working with illustrators?

Trish: I think it can be a tricky thing for illustrators and authors to work together on a story. I would imagine an author is picturing things a specific way as they are writing, but it’s not necessarily the same way the illustrator would see it. I think it’s important for illustrators to listen carefully to feedback and dig deeper into what might be causing any snags. Sometimes it’s as simple as color preference that could be affecting the way an author feels about an entire illustration. 

 "TheSe dragon sketches are a good example of how a sketch evolves."

"TheSe dragon sketches are a good example of how a sketch evolves."

It is helpful if an author understands it’s not necessary to put every detail of a story into an illustration. That’s especially important for book covers. The purpose of the cover or illustration is to pique the interest of the reader, give visual clues to the main ideas, and set the stage for the story. I was so thankful everyone involved in The Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible was on board with doing very simple illustrations that were often very object focused. 

Jared: What did God teach you through the process?

Trish: I was constantly reminded that the simple truths of the gospel that we teach preschoolers are just as jam-packed with meaning, power, and comfort for adults. The story of Moses and the bronze snake was one that surprised me. I have skimmed that passage many times and hadn’t made the connection to the foreshadowing of the cross. I love that God’s word is constantly revealing new things that once discovered, seem so amazing, yet so obvious!

Even though my kids are older than the target audience for The Beginner’s Gospel Story BibleI know they have both benefited from the truths that are highlighted in each story, too—especially when they can have a finished copy without all of my post-it notes and scribbles all over the place!

I'm so grateful Trish to the time to answer these questions. What questions do you have about illustration? Leave some thoughts in the comment section below.

Purchase the book now from New Growth Press.

Welcoming New Families: An Interview with Danny Franks

As I began my new position as Pastor of Connection at the Journey--Tower Grove in January, I began looking for resources on how to do my new role. Jared encouraged me to check out a blog by Danny Franks. Danny had just opened an invitation to participate in a unique training opportunity called Confab. I signed up, and in February I had the opportunity to meet Danny and his amazing team. Over the next several months, 11 other people and I read books together and learned how to create a more welcoming experience at our churches. Danny is a great teacher and more importantly a godly man. So, I asked Danny if he would be willing to answer a few questions for the readers of Gospel Centered Family. Here's what we talked about:

Jeff: Tell me a little about your family. 

Danny: I'm just a few months shy of celebrating my 25 year anniversary with my high school sweetheart. Merriem is without a doubt my better half... the perfect complement in life, parenting, ministry, you name it. We have four kids: Jacob is 21 and Austin is 20... both are in leadership at a local Chick-fil-A. Jase is 15 and a high school sophomore. Haven is six and about to start second grade, which--to hear her tell it--is a Really Big Deal. 

Jeff: Would you mind describing your role and the context of your church?

Danny: I started at the Summit in 2003 with a one-sentence job description: I was to close the back door in a rapidly growing church. My first task was to develop our membership class and structure a few opportunities to plug in. Through the years I've held different roles from small groups guy to campus pastor, but my favorite (and current) role is that of guest services: I oversee those systems at all of our campuses and for any events. 

Jeff: Why do you have a passion for people connecting? 

Danny: When I was interviewing for my job - and questioning with whether this was even a role for me - I remember hearing the story of a fringe attendee who had taken her own life. I didn't know the full story, but couldn't shake the feeling that it might not have happened had she felt known and loved. That's what I want: for the church to be a place where people believe we knew they were coming, we had a plan for when they showed up, and we can't wait for them to return. I want to pave the road to Jesus with so many kind words and actions, that people won't be able to resist asking how they can be a part of it.  

Jeff: What is one of the most common mistakes churches make when seeking to help guests feel welcome?

Danny: I think it comes down to simply not being aware. It's not that we don't recognize that we have guests, it's more often that we assume someone else is taking care of them. As inorganic as it sounds, we must systematize hospitality so that there are no more assumptions of care. We have to form a team, a strategy, and a follow up plan to move people from first-time to second-time guests. 

If there's a close second, it's that we lose the guest mentality. We forget to view our parking lot, our signage, our building, our language, and our traditions through the eyes of guests. What confuses them? Frightens them? Causes anxiety? Makes them curious? Angry? Aggravated? If we can simply remember how we feel in a new situation - whether it's at a job, in a restaurant, in a new neighborhood, or at the mall - we can apply that to about 95% of church situations and make our guests' experience better.

Jeff: Elaborate on that. How can we cultivate greater awareness of guests in our churches? 

Danny: It goes back to thinking from the mindset of a guest, looking at the situation through their eyes, and simply remembering that the ultimate goal is not to "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" (Luke 6:31), but to "welcome others as Christ has welcomed you" (Romans 15:7). When we approach the guest experience from that perspective, it changes everything. 

It also helps us to not only form systematic approaches, but to have the impetus to live organic lives of hospitality. It allows us to lavish kindness and grace on people who are not like us, because we remember that we too were once outsiders. It gives us the chance to not just talk about the gospel with our words, but to demonstrate the gospel with our lives.

Jeff: How can churches help new families and kids feel welcome to a church? 

Danny: I'm convinced that if parents believe that their kids are safe, having fun, and (for parents who are already Christ followers) being exposed to the gospel, that is 90% of the battle. 

  • Safe: communicate your security procedures. Offer new parents a tour of your facility. Talk to them about drop off and pick up procedures, volunteer-to-kid ratios, etc.
  • Fun: is your kids' space colorful? Energetic? Are the leaders engaging? One of my favorite anecdotes from Disney history is that when the park in Anaheim was being constructed, Walt made his Imagineers strap on knee pads and "walk" the park from the perspective of a three year old. The effect - among others - was that windowsills were lowered so that kids could get in on the fun. Is your facility set up for kids or their parents?
  • Gospel: communicate the air war and ground war to parents. Air war is your overall strategy - the benchmarks that you will be hitting over the course of their child's life. Ground war is the takeaways that kids get each week: what is the one gospel truth you're instilling? 

Jeff: What are three books you would recommend for a church leader wanting to explore how to be more intentional in welcoming guests?

Danny: First Impressions by Mark WaltzBe Our Guest by Theodore Kinni,  and The Starbucks Experience by Joseph Michelli

Jeff: What other ways would you recommend to help indiviudals and churches grow in helping people feel welcome? 

Danny: Get out of your church. I think we overlook opportunities to learn from other organizations and companies that are doing guest services well (and poorly!). The next time you're in a fast food restaurant, the mall, or a vacation destination, take note of what made you feel included and what made you feel left out, and practice (or avoid!) those things accordingly.

For more formal training, my team offers Weekenders (behind the scenes look at our guest services training and weekend experience), One-Day Workshops (targeted, practical training on guest services and volunteer culture), and Confab (a small coaching network for ministry practitioners). Find out more at dfranks.com/speaking.  

I'm grateful for Danny's willingness to answer my questions about connecting new families. What questions do you have? Leave your questions in the comments below.