Tag: back to school

Four Tips For Family Devotionals

It’s already here – the start of a new school year. It’s like the start of a hike up a new mountain. The day is filled with excitement to start, new equipment for the journey and awareness of potential challenges ahead. Wherever our paths as families take us in our school choices, whether it be public, private, homeschool or anything in between, there is something that we as families would benefit to have in order.

I want to zero in and go over a few practical ideas for Devotions or time with Jesus. This is my first priority to make happen with my kiddos. Why?


As a parent I’m giving them a gift, the habit of going to Jesus. I want to talk about some ways that we as families can make that happen as school is running and we are trying to keep up.

This is not an exclusive list, but just some ideas to encourage us and help get this school year started off on the right foot. None of us want to make time with Jesus equivalent to doing time in the penitentiary. When it comes down to it, a smidge of daily discipline is required. So how as parents do we draw our kids into His goodness without feeling like a dictator?

  1. A good way to start is by having worship music playing in your house as the family is getting ready. It’s an easy step in inviting Jesus to be first in our day and can help get an internal dialogue going.
  2. I frequently hit up the kid’s clearance aisle at Mardel. If there’s a kid’s Bible or devotional there, I typically buy it. It’s been hit and miss, but I’ve found some that our family really loves by doing that. Sometimes we’ll let one of the kids pick one to do for that morning. Right now we are working our way through the, “I AM Devotional” 100 Devotions about the Names of God. We’ve all grown and it’s just long enough with a couple of questions for conversation starters at the end of each one. There also are several devotion options on the Right Now Media app. It’s free through Antioch, just register here. There’s a good five-minute one called Faith Blox that ends with a family discussion question and a prayer.
  3. What about those mornings when I’m rushing out the door, a devotional time simply didn’t happen and I’m TIRED? In leu of snapping at everyone who I had to tell four times to get in the car, I’ll put on a kid’s Bible podcast on my phone for everyone to listen to. Then I’ll maybe ask a question or two pertaining to the content and then pray with them before we get to the destination. My kids have enjoyed this.
  4. Some families I know do baskets. This is where everyone has their own basket with an iPod or something with worship music along with age appropriate quiet time material. This could include kid’s Bibles, coloring sheets or a devotional.

I’ve heard families with grown children share about their family devotions when the kids were small. They’ve all said that it wasn’t always easy nor was it always pretty but it was well worth the effort. Sometimes there’s a kid having a melt down or someone needing discipline or redirection. I think if we hold on to the mindset that it’s OK if it’s not perfect but we’re doing our best as a family to follow Jesus, then we’re less likely to be frustrated or quit altogether.


If it’s not working, try it a different way. We’ve done devotions upon waking, during breakfast, after breakfast and in the car. Do what fits your family in this season and don’t make it too long. One thing I do know is that like a lot of things, the more I’m consistent with it, the easier it gets. We’ll never regret any effort that we put into drawing our kids into the joy of walking through this life with Jesus. And boy oh boy, does it require effort!

By Marie Perez – NEST Coordinator

Four Back-To-School Tips for Families

It’s that time of year again – back to school. It’s time for new shoes and backpacks filled with sharpened pencils and glue sticks. Sports are starting back up and routines set the pace for the day. Some families are dreading the month of August. For others, it feels like this truly is the “most wonderful time of the year.”

For our family, back to school really means back to the basics. Summer is great with its laid back schedule and unending supply of popsicles. But we can’t live on kool-aid alone. So as our family prepares for a new school year, we try to keep a few simple things in mind as we head back into structured routines.


  1. Family is always first // Before we commit to a new activity, we try to evaluate each person’s activities. We ask the question – can the entire family commit to the activity and support each other? We want to be each other’s biggest fans, so we try to make sure we aren’t too maxed out with activities. We don’t want those good ideas and new activities to become heavy burdens. We look at the overarching schedule and include family fun times, date nights for mom and dad and activities for the kids. Then we choose our commitments wisely. We try to do this altogether and, as a family, decide what things we can do and what we can’t. If everyone agrees on the schedule in the beginning, it’s easier to push through later on in the year.
  2. Devotionals are a priority // Our family devotionals aren’t fancy. We sit around the table and they look different each day. Usually we share what we’re thankful for between gulps of orange juice and bites of cereal. Sometimes we share how we can pray for each other. Other days we read certain passages from the Bible. For us, devotionals are about getting a little focused time as a family where we commit our day to the Lord before we go our separate ways. We declare that we will follow Jesus and support one another. We don’t shoot for perfection, but consistency. This helps us stay unified and reminds us who we are as a family unit.
  3. Nightly check-ins are important // This often happens around the dinner table. We share the best and worst parts of our day, or we share something that we think no one else knows yet. Sometimes check-ins happen in the car on the way to an activity. We ask questions like, “who’d you sit by at lunch?” or “Who did you play with on the playground?” We then ask what they talked about or what game they played. We also make sure to go into each kid’s room at bedtime and chat for a second, looking for an open window into their hearts where they feel safe to share. We try to prioritize this as we’re often tired, but we never regret taking those few moments to ask focused questions that give us insight into their private world.
  4. Pray together // We try to make sure we have a set time during our day to pray together for our kids. It’s not often a very long prayer time, but it’s focused solely on our kids and family. If you’re a single parent, look for a friend that will pray with you for your kids. Praying with someone else really gives us courage to believe the best and helps us trust God with our children’s lives.

No matter how you feel about the start of school, doing a few simple things to prepare will help you start off on the right foot!

By Shawn and Connie Dunn

Shawn serves with our Kids Ministry as one of our pastors. He and Connie have three kids.

Making Back to School a Win – Youth Edition

Summer is ending and it’s time to get back to school. You might be a little sad, but for the most part you are probably ready to get back into a normal routine. Each new school year comes with new teachers to meet, new supplies to buy, a new routine to figure out and new classrooms to get used to. All of this “newness” can feel like a lot to handle, but instead of feeling the pressure, we want you to be set up for success this school year.

Check out a few tips to make this year a win:


    • Pray and Hear God // 

      Ask God what He is wanting to do in you and your family this school year. A good exercise for this is writing down everything you are putting time and energy into. Work, School, Lifegroup, family, etc. Keep things general. Then, go down the list and ask God what He has for you and how He wants to meet you in each of those areas. Write down what you hear. Share these things with each other and pray for them throughout school year. It is powerful to pray as a family because when we pray together it brings unity.


    • Use a Calendar // 

      It is almost impossible to keep track of every event or deadline. Use a family calendar to put everything in one place. It may seem like a lot of work in the beginning, but it is a huge stress-reliever in the long run. This kind of organization will help you to catch your breath and just focus on one week at a time without the worry that you are missing something.


    • Set goals // 

      Sit down as a family and come up with a set of goals for the school year. What are they believing for? How do they want to grow? Letting them set goals for themselves gives them ownership and allows you to support them and make it possible for them to reach these goals.


    • Start Something Meaningful // 

      Often times, a transitional time is the best time to start something you have been meaning to do. Whether that is a lifestyle change, spending more time as a family or consistently attending services, it is easier to start something and stick with it if you commit to making it happen from the beginning of the school year.


    • Intentional Check-ins // 

      Even in the midst of the busyness, it is important to check-in with your kids. Be intentional and make a point to ask them about school and how they are doing throughout the year. It is also important to go back to the goals they set and what they felt like God was speaking at the beginning of the school year. The follow through is just as important as the goal setting. This is also a great opportunity to see God’s faithfulness. Maybe things have not looked exactly the way you thought, but God is faithful to answer our prayers and it is so powerful when we reflect on what He has done and they ways He has moved. It is also an opportunity to keep praying for these things and believing with fresh faith for Him to continue to move.


  • Have Fun and Laugh // 

    Don’t take yourself too seriously. Laugh a lot, don’t take the little things for granted and enjoy the season you are in because you will never be in this exact spot again!

By Rachel Tuttle – Middle School Associate

Making Back to School a Win – Kids Edition

It’s that time of year again! Summer is winding down and the kids are heading back to school. For most families, this can be an exciting time of year, and for some it can also be a time where our already busy schedules become even busier.  As parents of five kids who are all under the age of 12, we too are in that season of life where we feel pulled in every direction.  Sometimes we need to slow down and just enjoy each other, even during the school week!

Here are a few suggestions on how to do that and enjoy this time as our kids go back to school:


1. Be Intentional:

I love to come up with ideas and then come up with the plans to put them to good use. The problem is- I fail to execute them the way I had envisioned. I know I’m probably the only one with this issue, so please feel free to skip to the next point. In all seriousness, you aren’t the only one! Thinking about doing something that promotes improvement makes me feel great, but actually doing it makes me feel awesome. Parenting kids is not much different. Looking for the small win is better than going for the grand slam. If leading a Bible study for 45 minutes each morning with your kids is unrealistic, and it is for me, then don’t try it. Be intentional with whatever you are doing. Ask yourself what you want to accomplish. If teaching your kids the Bible is what you want to accomplish, how about starting with a family memory verse every week, or every month? Post it on the fridge and talk about it on the way to school or to soccer practice during the week. You’ll be amazed at the small win that will come from being intentional in this way.

2. Stay Connected:

It sounds obvious, but the busy bee is always ‘doing’ something. If we are not intentional about connecting with our loved ones, then we will fill up our schedule with everything else. A simple solution is to schedule a regular time to connect with the family. I’ve found that connecting around things you normally don’t do on a daily basis can have the greatest impact. Perhaps a game night on Mondays, an evening at the park on Thursdays or going out for breakfast on Saturdays. There’s no need to make it complicated, pick something that you can commit to as a family and stick to it. All of you will have this scheduled connection time to look forward to in the midst of a hectic school week.

3. Be Spontaneous:

Being spontaneous can serve as a great opportunity to intentionally connect with your family too. In general, kids love it when parents decide on doing something fun that was unexpected. With the new school year comes a lot of routine, it’s okay to be spontaneous every now and then. It adds some mystery and excitement back into the routine. Deviating from a structured schedule can help to slow the pace down which lets you focus on what really matters. My kids love it when I come home from work and take them out for a surprise ice cream trip. Even waking up on Saturday morning and taking the family for an impromptu hike or a bike ride is fun and promotes opportunities for your kids to open up and connect.

4. Pray Together:

Lastly, but most important, take every opportunity to pray with each other. Through both intentional and spontaneous prayer, you’ll find your family growing closer together. Connecting through prayer will help to keep the school year in perspective. Kids will have plenty of things to pray for throughout the year; such as friendships, school work, sports and health just to name a few. If you drive your kids to school or walk them to the bus stop, take those moments to pray with them. Taking this opportunity to focus on prayer and align our desires with God’s, will knit your hearts together more effectively than anything else. Colossians 4:2 is a reminder to devote ourselves to prayer. Being obedient to this will showcase the power and importance of prayer in our daily lives.

I hope you will find ways to be intentional, connect and add some spontaneity to your family’s routine this school year, and doing all this while being devoted to prayer and keeping Jesus at the center. I trust that the Lord will meet you in this effort as you grow closer together and to Him. Be blessed and enjoy the school year!

By Ben Glen – Kids Pastor

Back to School Tips: College Edition

College students – we’re so glad you’re here! Waco just isn’t the same without you. As we kick off another semester, we want this fall to be a win for you. Check out these tips to help you get your year off to a great start:

  • 1. Get expectant:

    Be sure to spend time asking God what He has for you this semester. Write down specific passages from Scripture that you feel will be important for you to memorize, meditate on and cling to throughout this semester. Tell a friend what you’re excited for and what God has said. Pray into all of these things and let God build faith in you for the fulfillment of these promises.

  • 2. Get organized:

    Settle into your new apartment, make it what you want it to be, make it your home and place to relax. It shouldn’t be a mess that stresses you out every time you walk in the door. Get all the books and supplies you need for classes. Make a schedule, order your personal finances and set goals in various areas of your life. It is best to start out the year feeling peaceful and put together.

  • 3.Get out there:

    Make new friends, try things you haven’t done before and make the most of what’s happening around you! Be involved on campus, take ownership of your Lifegroup, start discipleship groups and serve the community. Get out there and do what God’s made you to do!

Whether you’re a senior or you’re just about to begin the next four (or five) years of college, we believe these years will mark you for the rest of your life. We’re so excited for this year to be your best yet!


By Meredith Gordon

meredith gordon

Back to School Tips: Junior High Edition

As the school year approaches, the Apostle Paul’s encouragement to Timothy comes to mind…”to be prepared in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2). As you prepare for school, getting clothes and school supplies, I want to encourage you to prepare in three ways:

  • 1. Put God first

Start your day with God. Play worship music in the morning, read a portion of Scripture and pray. Establish this as a part of your daily routine early in the year. Even if you only have 10 minutes, take the 10 minutes you have and give it to the Lord by spending time with Him.

  • 2. Remember who you are

When God made you, He didn’t make a mistake. You are unique, and you are amazing! Don’t compare your strengths, weaknesses, academic abilities, personality, looks, athletic abilities or popularity to anyone else. God created you to be you, and there is no one on this planet that can take your place. The world needs YOU!

  • Take some time to listen to God about how He sees you
  • Ask your parents for input about the unique ways God made you
  • 3. In all you do, do it as unto the Lord

In academics, music, sports and clubs, give God your best! It’s tempting to just scrape by and do the minimum. Be diligent, and lay it all on the line. Do your best, and leave the results up to God.

Hey parents, I haven’t forgotten about y’all:

Ask your student what goals they have for the year and how you can support them. Give them some time to think, pray and get back with you. Let’s be their biggest cheerleaders.

Have an amazing school year!


By Sean Jones, Junior High Pastor

Sean Jones blog

Sean and his wife, Shannon

Back to School Tips: Kids Edition

Heading back to school is an exciting time of new beginnings, but it can often be a time of stress and anxiety for both children and parents. Check out three tips or heading back to school from our Kids Ministry:

  • 1. Interview Your Kids

Most kids feel a mix of conflicting emotions about going back, and this transition is a critical milestone for reaching their hearts. One child might be itching to return to his friends, while another might dread giving up her introvert time. They might be grieving about going back without close friends who moved away. Going to a new school might be stirring up feelings of insecurity. Get a chance to talk to your child on a heart level and then pray together. It really can change his or her world. Some questions are:

What’s important to you this year?

What are you looking forward to? Fearing? Dreading?

Who are you looking forward to seeing the most?

  • 2. Figuring out the Mornings

We want our families to thrive in the mornings, not just survive, and that begins at night. As much as I might wish it to be otherwise, starting our bedtime routine at the right time really is the key to making the mornings peaceful. Figure out what your priorities are for the morning and develop a schedule around them. Time with Jesus, family devotion and a peaceful morning where we leave on time are what we want, so we have to intentionally build them in and then fight for them when the pressures of life try to crowd them out.

  • 3. Family Connection Points

Family meals are the anchor points of security in a child’s day. These become even more important as they make the transition to spending so much time away from mom and dad.

Try to sit down as a family every day for breakfast, even if it’s only for five or 10 minutes. A simple family devotion is like a rock of security and blessing for your children, no matter how chaotic it may be. If nothing else, you can open the Bible, read a Psalm. Omit a few words while you’re reading it and then have your kids try to fill in the blanks. It keeps them engaged, and gets the Word into their hearts. End by praying a blessing over their day.

Packed lunches are a great opportunity to speak encouragement into your child’s life. Include a note whenever you can… a Scripture, a word of love or an encouragement. I find stashes in my oldest kids’ rooms of lunch notes they have kept. It’s a small way to make a big impact.

Dinner gives everyone a chance to come back together and decompress from the day. Kids can talk about what happened, the joys and the struggles. Many times, we’ve had to use a timer to make sure each of our seven family members got a chance to speak, but we wouldn’t trade these times for anything.

Bed time is a chance to connect with the heart of your children. This “owl time” is when hearts are often most open and communicative. As they start school, this is especially important, as they have new experiences and challenges. This is also a vital opportunity to pray together.

As you begin your school year, make sure to carve out a family night in the middle of the rigors of soccer practice and homework. Playing board games together or going for a walk helps your relationships and it helps cement your family identity. Don’t miss out!

Most of all, be intentional as you make this transition.

It doesn’t have to feel like you’re being swept along in the current. You can take these steps to keep your family connected and focused on “More of Jesus” in the midst of back-to-school life!

By Betty Lewis


College: A Clean Slate

Senior-itis is a real phenomenon. It’s that feeling of walking into your first day of 12th grade still exhausted from your last day of 11th grade. All the homework, pep rallies, relational drama, prom, athletic practices, banquets, late nights, early mornings… At one level, you love it. At another level, you just want out. I went to a private school from Pre-K to 12th grade and absolutely loved it. Still every school has its pros and cons. Upside: being small, we were a close-knit family and the teachers knew each child personally and intimately. The downside? If you got stuck with a label, reputation or stereotype, it was hard to shake. You couldn’t just grab a new group of friends and rebrand yourself. Translation: graduation couldn’t come fast enough.

I later realized that deep beneath the longing for graduation day was a desire for something much more:


A place where you get to make your own choices and no one knows what you did back in 10th grade. A season where you get to choose who you want to be and who you want to live life with.

Enter college! That magical four year world filled with intramurals, meal plans, leadership organizations and classes you actually want to take. The world says you’re not quite an adult yet so you should soak up the typical college experience and live life to the fullest. But having been a college pastor for eight years, here’s what I know:

The decisions you make during college will set the course for the rest of your life.

So in order to not repeat your high school-itis, here’s a quick list of things all college students (from freshman to senior) need to hear as day one of school approaches.

1. Choose Wisely

It’s true: YOUR FRIENDS ARE A PREVIEW OF THE FUTURE YOU. I can tell who you are going to be someday by looking at the friends you are hanging out with right now. If you want to reach a godly destination, pick some friends who are going there with or without you.

2. Ditch the Sin Experiment

I meet so many students who say they started college with a desire to “just have a little fun for a little while.” They’ll visit parties or hook up with some guy/girl…because it’s “just for a little while.” I recently met a few guys starting their senior year who told me: “We just realized that the world will call us adults in nine months time. How do we make up for the last three years of living for ourselves?” Don’t be those guys. But if you have been, your answer lies in #3.

3. Make it Your Personal Mission to Destroy FOMO

In an attempt to not miss out on anything, you will be tempted to commit to nothing. The basic college route calls you to hop around to different churches and bounce in and out of anything asking you for a commitment. When Jesus came to Peter, He said, “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men.” Matthew 4:20 says, “Immediately, they left their nets and followed Him.” My challenge to you is to get into a Lifegroup and pursue discipleship and accountability that will push you to Jesus. ASAP. This is where you will encounter God personally and where you will find a fresh start – a clean slate – waiting for you.

This is your shot and you only get four years (ok, some of you get five). In the meantime, remember what 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” Or as Hillsong’s newest song Empires says:

Beneath our skin
A new creation
The night is done
Our chains are broken
The time as come
The wait is over
The King is here

That promise is for you. Don’t waste it.

Carl Gulleyl, College Pastor

Back to School: Kids Edition

New backpacks, dorm rooms, tax free weekend and the final hot days of a Texas summer remind all of us it is August and back to school time.  While there are variations of what schooling requires depending on the age of your child, all school requires something, a writing device.  Whether it be a pencil, pen, crayon or computer these items allow creativity to ensue in the minds on the papers of thousands of children across the world.

Ecclesiastes 3:1 says, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” However, when the back to school rhythms begin I often find as parents we struggle to find the time for those things we value most.  When seasons shift and the stress is up, we often fall into a rote and unimaginative slump until someone or something moves us to re-engage with many of the goals we have for our kids outside of basic values.

God is the God of creativity.  We need God’s creativity as parents, because parenting is tough.  Being the perfect role model for our kids when we have never had a perfect role model is hard.  However, Jesus is the perfect role model and hopefully with His help and a few basic ideas we can check our engagement in the following goals:


As parents we all desire for our kids to encounter God on a consistent basis.  Three ways we can realistically offer this goal to our children are by scheduling weekly or bi-monthly family nights, having family devotionals and/or playing worship music in our homes.  Each of these venues can provide a place for our children and even the whole family to encounter and know more who God is so when we depart from our homes the reality of who He is remains central in our lives.


As parents we want our kids to go further in God than we have.  Discipleship is required in order to achieve this goal.  God has ordained us as the primary spiritual leaders of our child’s lives so go on dates, spend time together at home and pray with and for your children for this goal to become a reality.  However, make sure to partner with the church through close friends, Lifegroup and your child’s coaches or teachers in order to have community saying the same things.  Offer your children as they get older opportunities and coaching moments to model for others what it looks like to follow Jesus.


As parents a goal should be for our kids to be others focused.  Whether it is in the church, community or school, encourage your kids to love others.  Provide simple opportunities for them to do so like praying for your waiter or carrying care bags in your car to give away.  Talk about what it looks like to love others at their school.

In all of these goals, we can provide our children the best opportunity to be more like Jesus.  School is about more than making great grades, but following Jesus on a daily basis the way you long too for a lifetime.  Parenting is more than managing rhythms but being creative in every season so our children can walks in encounters, do discipleship and live out God’s mission on the earth.

Where can you be creative this fall with your rhythms so these three goals are a priority?

By Noah Hutchison, Children’s Pastor

Back to School: Junior High Edition

I was in Hobby Lobby the other day and realized they already had their Christmas stuff out.

Inwardly, I felt a sense of panic. Do they leave it out all year? Or do they put it out in July?!

Did months go by without my knowing it?! What day IS IT? Am I behind? (And this coming from the woman who has already bought Christmas presents for a few family members and friends. I love to be prepared!)

So, when you see the sign in Target about back to school, take a deep breath. You aren’t that behind. The first day of school will come and go. Your kids will make it through. They will learn valuable lessons, and really, witnessing you as their parents operate out of peace will teach them how to do the same.

Why don’t we look at these last few days of summer like a fantastic opportunity to make memories?

Here are some ideas:

  • Go to HEB and get the bacon mac and cheese Lays chips, just because it’s weird and probably tastes super good.
  • Head to Cameron Park and toss a frisbee around or take pictures trying to do handstands.
  • Have your kids write themselves a letter about their hopes for this school year, seal them up and open them over Christmas break to see how far they got in reaching their goals.
  • Turn on your favorite music and have a dance party in the kitchen.
  • Write thank you cards to your youth leaders (wink-wink) expressing your gratitude for such a wonderful Summercamp and Jump Camp experience!
  • Wake up your kids before the sun comes up, drive to the Waco Dam and watch God wake up the morning.
  • Go to Hobby Lobby and buy Christmas decorations, because, hey! They already have them!
Doing something unexpected and spontaneous ends the summer in a meaningful way.

Fun time together as a family is irreplaceable and doesn’t have to be expensive.  A few days after school starts, you may miss how much those kids were around this summer… even if they are sleeping til noon and eating all the food in the house.

By Kelly Woods, Jr. High Pastor