What is the Main Emphasis in Your Puppet Program? Part 2

Develop a Main Theme for the Non-Christian
The Bible says that the “natural man” (the person without Christ) cannot understand the things of God since they don’t have Christ living in them to help them. Therefore, if you try to teach unbelievers Biblical truths and encourage them to apply the truths to their lives, it will be a struggle for them. They don’t have God living in them to empower them to apply the truths, and will wind up doing it in their own strength. The first thing they need is to believe on the Lord Jesus as their Savior from sin. Then they’ll have God living inside to empower them. So, the main theme for an unbeliever should always be to present the gospel and give them an opportunity to receive Jesus as their Savior.

There are several important truths you need to communicate when presenting the gospel.
• Truths about God: He is the Creator, He loves you, He is holy and just, and share a Bible verse expressing His love.
• Truths about sin: give a definition for sin, examples of sin individuals the age of your audience may commit, a scripture verse about sin, that we are born with a sin nature, and that there is a punishment for sin.
• Truths about the Lord Jesus: He is God, the Son, lived a perfect life, died on a cross to pay for your sin, and came alive again three days later.
• What the individual must do to have their sins forgiven: Admit to God they have sinned, Believe that Jesus died and rose again for them, and Choose to ask Jesus to be their Savior to take away their sin.

Develop a Main Theme for the Christian
In most, if not in all of your ministry presentations, there will be believers present—individuals who have already responded to the gospel message. You want to present truths that will help them grow in their walk with God, so you need a specific theme for them as well.

Choose a general theme such as the importance of praising God, showing kindness to others, resisting temptation, spending time with God consistently, etc. Once you have a general theme, look for one specific application. That will become the challenge activity you’ll present to the audience—some action they can do to apply the teaching.

Look through your list of plays and find ones that focus on, or at least touch on the theme. As you introduce the plays or link plays together, use that time to present the challenge to the audience. You want one application that you present several times during the program. Each time you present the application, it reinforces it in the minds of the audience.

What’s the Main Emphasis in Your Puppet Program? Pt. 1

When we first started traveling, we didn’t have a huge selection of plays so when it came time to put a program together, I chose plays we had ready or were close to being ready and placed them in an order that seemed good. Sometimes we were asked to follow a specific theme and did so when we could.

As time went on, I discovered we communicated more effectively when following a specific theme than when running an assortment of plays. As a result, I began to invest more time and thought into preparing our puppet programs and made sure we had a specific theme for each program.

What is a Main Emphasis?
There are a couple of meanings to this phrase that apply. First, the entire program may center on a specific topic or idea. For instance, you may be helping in a Vacation Bible School that has a western theme. People dress up as cowboys; decorations include saddles, spurs, and other western gear.

In a children’s mid-week program, we held quarterly theme nights where everything revolved around a specific theme. Some themes we used were, a harvest night close to Halloween, a Hawaiian theme, a school spirit night, a western theme, and a red, white, and blue night.

When you are invited to present your ministry, it may be at an event with a specific theme. When you are contacted, make sure to ask about it. Use any plays you have that fit that theme. If you don’t have any, choose plays that fit as best as you can. If it is a western theme, all your plays don’t have to have western settings. Think of some truths you can teach that fit in the setting and go with plays that match them.

If you are ministering at a place using a specific theme and the people involved are dressed according to that theme, should you also dress accordingly? The answer is; it depends. If your puppeteers won’t be seen by the group being ministered to, they probably won’t need to dress up. If possible, the people that appear out front should try to match the theme. If your team will mingle with the group before or after, it probably would be a good idea to dress according to the theme. The easiest way to decide is to simply ask the contact person.

The second way a main emphasis is used is where you have one, general, overriding truth that you want to communicate to your audience. If you are conducting evangelistic meetings, then obviously, your main theme will be centered on the gospel. Keep in mind though; there will be believers in the audience that you will also want to target.

The next post will talk about how to develop a main emphasis.

Use Your Puppets to Introduce New Songs

A couple of Sundays ago, we introduced a new song to the kids in our Junior Church program. Rather than tell them that we’ve got a new song and play it for them, we decided to be a bit more creative. We use PowerPoint® presentations during our children’s church time, and I put the words on slides (along with our CCLI license information) so the kids could follow along. Then, instead of using a normal puppet to sing the song, we turned off the lights and used a blacklight puppet. Once she finished singing, we did the song one more time with the children joining in.

When teaching a new song it’s a good idea to start off with a captivating introduction that will draw the children’s attention. A puppet is a great tool to accomplish that. You will also want to take time to explain any difficult words or concepts so the children understand what they’re singing and conclude with a way the children can apply the song to their own lives. Also, if the song has several verses, rather than singing all the verses at once, start with the first verse. Then next week sing the first two verses and so on until they are singing the entire song.

It’s also a good idea to occasionally review the songs you’ve been singing to make sure the children understand the words they’re singing. Don’t just take it for granted that they understand all the words just because you’ve been singing it for several weeks or months.

Combating Burnout in Puppet Ministry

Burnout is a word that has become common and is often due to stress and busyness. If you’re not careful, burnout can creep into puppet ministry and usually shows up when mediocrity sets in and things have become predictable.

Stress is often considered to be a large factor in burnout, but I tend to disagree. Stress is actually helpful and needed in our lives. For example muscles don’t grow without stress. To build muscle, you need to stress the muscles by pushing them and working them out in a systematic way. If stress is not the problem, then what is? The answer is distress.

Distress comes from handling stress the wrong way. When stress hits and you turn inward and begin to complain, feel sorry for yourself, or focus on the problem it can quickly lead to burnout. On the other hand, if you look at the stress producer in a positive light and focus on a solution, it can actually become a stepping stone to take you to a better position.

Passion is a key ingredient for avoiding or defeating burnout. When you are passionate about something, that passion stirs you on and helps you to confront and overcome problems. When you’re passionate about something, problems or obstacles become a challenge and you tend to look for creative ways to overcome them.

Passion can help overcome criticism, fatigue, lack of help, and many other things that tend to contribute to burnout. The question then becomes, “How can I keep (or regain) a high level of passion about puppets?” The answer is in the second key ingredient—purpose.

Why did you get into puppetry in the first place? What do you want to use puppetry to accomplish in your life and in the lives of others? Can you look back at lives that have been touched because you ministered to them with puppets? What can you do to raise the level of your puppetry that will allow you to impact more lives?

Take time to think through the answers to these questions and ones that spawn off of them. If you do, most likely you are going to get a renewed sense of purpose that will fight off burnout or help restore the passion you had when just getting started.

Add Variety to Your Puppet Experience-Part 2

The last post talked about the importance of adding variety to your puppet programs. Here are some additional things we do.

Balloon Sculptures
You can purchase balloons designed for sculpturing in most party supply stores along with instructions on basic twists and techniques. These work well because of the element of suspense they bring into your teaching. While you make the sculpture the children will try to figure out what it the finished object will look like and you’ll have their attention. They make great object lessons and you can use them as a reward for children who have been well behaved.

This one takes time and practice to develop, but is well worth it. If you have someone on your team who is really interested in learning ventriloquism, I’d highly recommend the Maher Ventriloquist Studio’s 30 lesson course. I took it years ago and had a great time using my vent figure Franky with audiences all over.

Bible Stories
The Bible is full of exciting stories and when told with enthusiasm and energy, they can captivate audiences of all ages. People love to hear well-told stories and when you combine that with the truths found in the Bible, you have a winning combination.

Missionary Stories
CEF Press, Bible Visuals International, and other companies have visualized missionary stories that have anywhere from 1 to 5 parts. The ones with 5 parts usually have cliff-hanging endings for the first 4 parts that bring the children back next week to hear more. They are not only informative, but help the children understand the need for missionaries.

Game Activities
Games are great to use for lesson reviews and learning activities. They are fun for the children, help keep their attention, and provide a constructive way to channel their energy.

There’s 7 ways you can add variety to your puppet ministry. If you’re not using some of them, give them a try and see what God does.

Add Variety to Your Puppet Experience

The last post talked about how puppets are great tools for entertainment and teaching, but if that’s all you do, they will soon lose their effectiveness. If you use puppets for 30-40 minutes every week in your children’s church the kids will soon tire of them. To be truly effective in ministry you need a variety of teaching activities, maintaining a balance between them.

We were once asked to minister to a group of children at a campground while the adults were in a worship service. We were told to plan for about an hour and a half, but wound up having the kids for 2 1/2 hours. The children were excited about the puppets at first, but after 2 hours, when I introduced our last puppet play for the evening, there was a collective groan in the audience.

In our children’s church weekly ministry and in our traveling programs, we’ve always used a variety of teaching methods even though we called ourselves a puppet ministry. Here are some of the things we include. If you’re not using some of them, you may want to consider adding them to your puppet experience.

Object Lessons
Take a simple, everyday object and use it to teach a timeless spiritual truth. With a bit of prayer and thinking, any object can be turned into a lesson. I’ve used tools, coins, ornaments, broken pieces of metal, records, sticks, and many other items to teach children. When you teach with an object, the children use more of their senses in the learning process and it helps them retain the teaching for a longer time.

Gospel Tricks
There are many low-cost, easy to perform tricks on the market today, so this is a fairly easy addition to make. They are basically object lessons with an unexpected outcome. It’s the unexpected part that makes them a great teaching tool because the children will remember it for a long time. When using them for the first time with a group, I simply state that there is nothing mystical or magical about them but they are simply tricks to help teach important truths.

The next post will cover some additional ways you can add variety to your puppet programs.

Teach Children A Bible Verse By Teaching It To A Puppet

Puppets are great for entertainment purposes, but they are also wonderful teaching tools. This post will take a look at how you can use puppets to teach timeless Biblical truths and help the children hide the word of God in their heart at the same time.

In Psalm 119:11, the Psalmist says that he has hidden God’s word in his heart to help him not sin against God. Memorizing scripture is great for that reason and a host of others, so it’s important to make that a part of your program. We’ve successfully used puppets to teach many verses to boys and girls over the years. Here’s how we do it.

The emcee calls the puppet onstage and he or she comes up with their head down and acting a bit discouraged. After asking a couple of questions, the emcee gets out of the puppet that they have to memorize a Bible verse for a contest, but it’s too hard and they can’t do it. He then asks the children if they’d like to help the puppet memorize the verse. Well, who wouldn’t like to help a puppet out? The children agree and the emcee has the puppet share the verse who brings up or points to a place where it’s written out.

To get the greatest value of memorizing a verse, it’s important to know what it means, so the emcee explains the verse to the puppet and children. Then he has the entire group say the verse 2 or three times together. Now it’s the puppet’s turn to try it by himself. He says the reference and a couple of words and stops and again proclaims that it’s just too hard.

The emcee encourages him and has everyone say the verse together again. The puppet then tries by himself and gets a bit farther. The third time, he proclaims that maybe he can do it after all. Keep up the process with the puppet adding one or two words each time until he can say the whole verse. Try to have the entire group say the verse together at least 10 times.

When the puppet says the complete verse with no help, have the children clap and cheer for him. Then put away the visual and see if the class can say the verse without it. Once they do, have the puppet and emcee clap and cheer for the children.

Before the puppet leaves, give a brief application with something specific he and the children can do that week to use the verse in their life. When they apply the verse, it helps move it from their head down to their heart. Have the puppet leave excited and upbeat.

Having the children teach a verse to a puppet is a great way to help them memorize timeless truths from the Word of God. Once they have that verse in their heart, God can bring it to their mind anytime it’s needed. 

3 Ingredients of a Successful Puppet Team – Part 3

The last two posts talked about the importance of teamwork and heart. This post gives the third ingredient, puppet skills.

Puppet Skills
While the puppetry quality is important, notice that it’s third in the list. A quality puppet program requires great teamwork; skills alone aren’t enough. If the team doesn’t like each other or refuses to work together, you may have great skills but won’t have a great presentation. A presentation that’s all skills and no heart may entertain but won’t touch people or move them to action. You can have a great puppet team with a genuine heart for God and people but has weak puppet skills and God will use it to accomplish great things for him. At the same time, that team still needs to work on improving their skills.

What things make for a solid puppet performance? The list includes: proper entrances and exits, quality lip sync, proper positioning, lifelike motions, voice quality, and good eye contact. One thing I look for is the strength of the puppeteer’s arms. The puppets stay at a consistent height instead of weaving up and down or back and forth. They keep the mouth closed when not speaking and bend their wrists a bit so the puppet can look at the audience instead of over it. They maintain upright posture instead of leaning on the stage. The teams that stand out have enough practice time in that arms don’t fatigue in the middle of a play. 

I’ve seen some high quality plays by both Junior and Senior High teams. The caliber of their plays demonstrates that a lot of work has gone into the preparation and presentation. These are true teams with genuine hearts and proper puppet skills. That is a winning combination. 

3 Ingredients of a Successful Puppet Team – Part 2

The last post gave the first key ingredient for a successful puppet team. Here is the next one.

A second key ingredient I look for in puppet teams is their heart. During the set up and preparation I observe their heart and attitude toward other team members and the director. In the teams that shine, I don’t hear whining or complaining or other negative talk. Instead, there is light-hearted joking around and an attitude that says I enjoy being part of this team. The puppeteers show respect for the team director but it’s obvious they are also friends. The director also doesn’t micro-manage but allows the team freedom to fulfill their role on the team.

A second aspect of heart is; what is their heart for God? Are they excited about the presentation opportunity and giving their all or are they simply going through the motions? Do they see this as a ministry opportunity or a chance to show off their talents? I’ve observed presentations where I was drawn into the play, my emotions were stirred, and my heart was touched. With some, the skill level was low, but the heart came through. They connected with the audience in a meaningful way that goes far beyond solid puppet skills.

The heart for God aspect is seen during the presentation, but it’s more evident during the introduction and application. The teams that shine don’t simply quote their introductions and applications from a memorized script that someone else wrote. They speak from their hearts and not their head and as a result have a greater impact.

A third aspect of the heart is: what is their heart for the audience? When introducing or applying the play, do they maintain eye contact with the audience? Do they rush through the application as though it’s not that important? During the play, do they try to draw attention to themselves to show off their skills? The teams that stand out care about people and demonstrate it by putting on the best quality program they can.

The next post will cover the third ingredient of a successful puppet team.

3 Ingredients of a Successful Puppet Team – Part 1

For about 10 years now, I’ve had the privilege of judging at an event called Teens Involved where teens compete in various ministry aspects, puppetry being one of them. Each year I’m impressed with the quality and caliber of the presentations, but there are usually one or two teams that stand out. In this and the next post, I’ll talk about what causes them to shine above the others.

Teamwork is one of the first things I look for as a judge. When the team is setting up each member has a job to do and they jump right in and do it and when finished offer to help anyone else in need. During the set up time there is usually positive banter back and forth that shows they like and care about each other. That banter includes some joking around, asking for advice, offering suggestions in a positive manner, and sharing encouraging words. They also gather together for prayer before the presentation and during the prayer time maintain an attitude of quiet reverence.

The teams usually have members with varying puppetry skills and those that are more skilled help out the newbies. When they have a member who has professional quality skills, that person doesn’t dominate or take over the presentation. Even though they have better skills than some of the others, they don’t draw attention to themselves, but the team.

You can see their teamwork and attitude come across in their performance, especially in live plays. It’s hard to put into words, but you can sense when puppeteers are at ease with each other and get along well. Regardless of the skill level there is a kind of casualness in the conversation between the puppets. By that I mean the conversation doesn’t seem forced or strained but flows naturally.

While most of the audience won’t pick up on these things, if they are part of your team you have a fantastic ministry potential. In the next post, I’ll cover ingredients 2 and 3.

Do You Enjoy Your Puppet Shows?

Nerves can greatly reduce the quality of your puppet shows. On our first team there was a puppeteer that got so nervous while performing that his arm actually shook. It didn’t take long for the problem to go away, but his first few performances were interesting.

You show your best quality puppetry skills when performing in a relaxed, but focused manner. When you have a good time during the presentation, you’re more likely to perform to the best of your ability. So go ahead and have a great time while performing. It’ll benefit both you and the audience.

“How can I do that?” Great question. Here are three suggestions:

Do your best for God, not the audience
Remember who you are doing the presentation for, the Lord Jesus. The scripture teaches us to do all things in the name of our Lord Jesus, for his glory. He doesn’t ask for perfection; but asks for our best. If you do your best for the Lord, it doesn’t matter what other people think. If God is pleased, you should be too.

One of the first times I got to preach, a pastor told me that nerves are a sign that your focus is on yourself and not the Lord. Your trust is not in him, but in your own ability. That was great advice that I’ve taken to heart. Now the only time I get nervous is when I’m not properly prepared. That leads me to the next point.

Be prepared
Make sure you are properly prepared, the entire presentation not just your actual plays. The key word here is practice. Run through your presentation from start to finish over and over again. While practicing, have someone out front critiquing, giving comments and suggestions for improvement in an encouraging manner.

The better prepared you are, the more confidence you’ll have. When it comes performance time, don’t trust in your practice though. Trust in God to use that practice to enable you to put on a quality presentation.

See the presentation as a ministry opportunity
Look at your presentation as a chance to minister not a play where the audience will judge your puppet skills. Pray as a team before your performance, but don’t just focus on your puppetry. Spend time in prayer over the message and ask God to bless his word as it goes out. When you understand that God will use your puppetry to bring about positive life change in the people watching, it will motivate you to do well and add excitement to your heart.

The key to relaxing while performing is to get the focus off of yourself. When I’m performing with thoughts are self-centered there’s no joy in the presentation. If my arm gets tired, I can’t wait for the play to end, but when my focus is on the audience and the message they’re hearing, I have a great time.

10 Tips to Help Develop a Ministry Mindset in Your Team

In an earlier post, I talked about the difference between a ministry and a performance mindset. Here are 10 ideas on how you can develop a ministry mindset in your team.

The main difference between performance and ministry mindset is your heart attitude. Is your own life self-centered or God-centered? Do you have a ministry mindset? Once that’s settled, what can you do to help influence the team?

Rod Arm Puppetry 101 (Part 3)

In this post, we’ll talk about some of the motions you can make using one rod at a time. There’s a whole host of them, but I’ll cover some of the basic ones.

Point Things Out
Have the puppet point things out, point in one direction or the other, up to the sky, or down to the ground. As you do, there are a couple of things to avoid. Don’t raise your hand so high that it shows over the theater. If you do, it will immediately draw attention to the arm and the audience may miss an important line or comment. It also may cause some to continue to watch that particular puppet to see if it happens again. But, if they do, they are no longer focusing on the message, but on the puppet.

The other thing to avoid is to stretch the arm so much that it bends backward. Again, that is an unnatural movement that can detract from the puppet play. To help stop that from happening; instead of just moving the rod back and forth, slowly roll your wrist back and forth. By rolling your wrist, you maintain better control of the motion and the puppet’s arm is less likely to snap back.

Pet an Animal Puppet
We have a series of plays in which one of the puppets has a pet Saint Bernard. A simple motion to include is to have the boy pet the dog or even pat it on the head. Lift the arm and have it stroke the dog or even rub its hand on the side of the dog’s face. The same motions will work for most animal puppets.

Cough or Sneeze
Once, when I was doing a play from a script, my throat was dry and I had to cough. I was able to suppress it for a little while, but could hold it no longer. If I just coughed, the ones close to the theater would hear it and probably comment about it. So, to stop that from happening, I had the puppet cough. I simply put the puppet’s hand in front of its open mouth while I coughed. The puppet then said something like “excuse me” and went on with the dialogue. There are also occasional times where it is part of the play to have the puppet cough. In like manner you can have the puppet sneeze—slowly open the puppet’s mouth while moving the head backwards while saying “ahhh” Close the mouth and then say “chew” as you open the mouth and move the head forward. Bring the puppet’s hand up to cover the mouth as you do the second half of the sneeze.

Other simple hand motions include scratching the side of its head, rubbing its chin, straightening its hair, rubbing its tummy, blowing some kisses, putting its arm around another puppet, and more.

If you’re only planning on moving one arm at a time, it’s still good to attach both rods. During your first movement, use one arm—say the left. Then on the next movement use the right arm. Don’t just alternate from arm to arm, but mix it up. This way, the puppet actually moves both arms even though it is one at a time.

Rod Arm Puppetry 101 (Part 2)

Beginning puppeteers should focus on mastering the basic skills before worrying about moving the puppet’s arms and hands. The reason is simple: if you have to concentrate on the puppet’s mouth to make sure you are doing it properly, it is easy to forget about the puppet’s arms.

I’ve seen many puppet plays where a puppet had its arm stretched out to the side the whole time it was on stage. The puppeteer started to make a motion, got focused on maintaining proper mouth movement, and left the arm sticking out. In conversations with people, I’ve never seen someone hold their arm out for the entire conversation. If they did, I’m sure I’d ask them if something was wrong. When a puppet does it, it becomes distracting.

Moving the Puppet’s Arms and Hands—One at a Time
A basic rule of thumb when working a puppet one rod at a time is to let the arms hang naturally until it comes time to move one. Gently grab hold of the rod, make the motion, return the arm to its natural position, and let go of the rod. Work to develop a mindset to let the arms hang naturally, pick up the rod, perform the motion, return the arm to its normal position, and let go of the rod. With that habit, you’ll find that you won’t leave a puppet’s arm stretched out in an unnatural manner.

The steps involved in making various movements with the puppet’s hand are simple and straightforward. First, grab hold of the rod near the bottom. (If you grab the rod too high, your hand will rise above the theater when making the motion, exposing it to the audience.) Turn the puppet towards you a bit so you have a clear view of both the left and right sides of the puppet. Lift the rod and perform the motion and, once done, lower the rod and let go.

Here’s a trick I learned a while ago. After using some of our puppets for a few years, when I went to move an arm, it bent the wrong way. It had moved back and forth so much that the seam was worn and allowed it to easily swing both ways. The problem is elbows don’t bend backwards and if it happens to a puppet, younger children may think it’s been hurt. To stop that from happening, as I pick up the rod, I twist it slightly toward the puppet’s body. That way, as the motion is starting, the arm is already bending in the right manner.

In the next post, we’ll take a look at some motions you can make using one rod at a time.

Rod Arm Puppetry 101

Rod arm (or hand) puppets are designed so that their arms hang naturally and often come with some type of a wrist band and a metal rod. This allows you to move the hands and arms to give the puppet a more lifelike appearance.

Arm rods open the door to making your puppet more lifelike, but there are a few cautions when using them. The major one is that if you move your puppet back and forth, it will cause the rods to start swinging. If, in your play, a puppet gets angry or overly excited and starts bouncing up and down, the rods can fly around and poke someone in the face or eye. If your puppet is going to bounce around, hold the ends of the rods in your free hand so they don’t get out of control.

Before each program it is a good idea to prepare the puppets and lay them out behind the stage so they are ready when needed. If you just stack them in a pile, the rods can become entangled with other puppets. Then when you pick up your puppet, you pull others along with it. If the rod catches on the puppet’s eye, it can loosen the glue and even pull it off. Believe me, it is not fun to pick up a puppet during a performance and discover that its eye is missing. Been there. Done that!

To properly set out the puppets before a program, lay the puppet down and fold its arms across the front of it so the rods are lying side-by-side on the puppet. Then, when you pick it up, one hand can grab the rods and the other hand pick up the puppet.

Also, if possible, it’s best to store the puppets without the rods attached. Some wrist bands make that difficult, so if you must store them with the rods, be careful where you place the rods so you don’t damage any puppets.