Ed Stetzer: How do we avoid teaching moralistic principles, making the focus moralism, but instead at all ages and at all stages making sure people understand the gospel itself.
Lou Cha (Kenwood Baptist Church, Cincinnati, OH): I think that one of the important things is you know training our teachers because our teachers are the ones that are teaching the curriculum and they are the ones that are imparting the truth to the children. And I think helping them to see that God’s Word is a revelation of Himself.
That the hero of the Bible is God.
He is telling something about Himself to us and sometimes whether through curriculum or even our own growing up within our church backgrounds, we’ve learned so many of the stories but we always look at the stories through the human points of view and the perspective of you know that person, individual person. Instead of looking at a God-centered view of you know this is God’s revelation to us, something about Himself that He wants us to know and understand.
And so I think that a part of helping our children to see that is also training our teachers that they would have a God-centered view of God’s story. That every story really is a reflection of Him and a revelation of who He is and that He is the hero and how can we continually teach every story of the Scripture to point people and kids to say look at what God is doing and look at who He’s pointing to throughout these Bible stories. And so I think as we continue to train and help our teachers to grasp and have that kind of world view as well, that will have a great impact on the children and their learning.
Ed Stetzer: Sometimes when we talk about this idea of "Gospel centrality" it's something I hear more in certain sectors of the world. Some of you come from Arminian traditions, some Reformed, and some from neither. Yet, you are all concerned that the gospel be central.
Ned Gable (12Stone Church, Lawrenceville, GA): So many times when you come from that kind of moralistic bent that starts with a this is how you should act and then you go to Scripture to back that up, you end up flipping the focus. So you take an example of the story of feeding the 5,000 and you say hey you should be generous and the story focuses on a little boy who gave his lunch and you should be generous like that little boy. But that’s not what it’s teaching.
It’s a backwards hermeneutic and we do that so many times when we start in that area. When you flip that and you teach what the Bible is teaching that message that is centered [on God]—that is about God’s plan and what He’s doing. Then you see that differently and you see not a story about a boy. Is that important? Yes. But what’s important is that we see that Jesus is powerful. That Jesus can provide. That He can meet our needs. That He is sufficient for us. And it’s just that little switch in that lens that you look through.
And that’s what I want for our kids. Do I want them to lead moral lives? Yes. Absolutely. But I’m not about teaching morals, I want to teach them the Bible. I want them to see who God is and then for them to follow God and to try to draw close to Him and to live like Him. And that brings out a real morality and real virtue in kids.
Sam Luce (Redeemer Church, Utica, NY): I would just say I think that the reason why it’s so easy to teach kids moral lessons is because it’s easy. It’s a lot easier to say, "Do this, don’t do this." And when you wrestle through the reality like Ned was saying about the what is the actual story behind the story of the feeding the 5,000 is that it requires more from you as a teacher.
It requires more from you to think through like how can this predate a moment of worship and then how can this create a bigger picture of who God is in the minds and the hearts of the kids that are in my church.
I think that’s where it comes down to is that so often times because kids are concrete thinkers we settle for the fact of they can only understand concrete things instead of saying how can I find a way to concretely communicate an abstract principle to my kids that will fundamentally transform them.
I think that’s why we so easily—in church in general, but especially in kids ministry—to slip into moralism because we want to give kids one thing to go back and tell mom and dad, "This is what I learned," instead of painting a big picture.
Like French impressionism, it’s these little dots that you’re putting on the hearts of these kids that when they step back they’re going to see a beautiful picture that they didn’t even fully understand when you started putting those dots there.
That is why we have to resist moralism because it contrains the Bible to this do this, don’t do this mentality that ultimately will fail kids. It will ultimately leave them saying, well that didn’t work for me. It will inoculate them and give them enough of Jesus that Jesus wasn’t there for me when I needed Him.
It doesn’t give a full picture of the grace and the goodness and the justice of God that the Gospel provides.
Ed Stetzer: How does the way you teach children the gospel and the big story of Scripture help children come to love and follow Jesus for themselves?
Karen Dolan (Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York, NY): That’s a very hard question. It just starts with a foundation of what we’re teaching and trying to do based on kind of the stuff we’ve been talking about thus far.
Our teachers are not going to be the ones—even the children’s parents are not going to be the ones—that are going to save the children. God is going to be the one to open their eyes and do that. But, obviously that we have the responsibility to lay down those foundations.
When you’re introduced to something at a younger age, and then when you revisit as you get older and older, you already have the foundation for that. The children’s ministry lays down that foundation, giving kids a solid foundation to stand on. It’s our hope and prayer that that’s going to be something that God is going to use to work into their own lives.
Ed Stetzer: How do you invite children to trust and follow Christ? You’re laying the foundation. But how does weekly teaching lead to children trusting Christ.
Karen Dolan (Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York, NY): This is not everybody, but there is a majority of people who think, "We go to church. We come, we bring our kids, and we expect to pick them up and have them be Christians and know everything."
So one thing that we really work on is bringing the parents in, because that’s the most important relationship that a child is going to have growing up. We provide the groundwork and we [parnter] with the parents. We are empowering our parents to have those conversations, and working on that over time with their kids, because they obviously have a relationship. We see them a couple of hours on Sunday.
Kathie Philips (Central Presbyterian Church, Baltimore, MD): I think the tools that we try to give the children when they come on Sunday morning helps them to really personalize that gospel story, helping them to eternalize God’s Word by memorizing it so that they can think about it during the week. As the previous person said, about things being done at home and having the parents support with that, I know that we have a lot of families who home school who integrate our curriculum into their home school curriculum. So those kids get introduced to it before they come on Sunday. They get follow up after. They are really taking it to the next level.
[We want to[ help the kids to be able to navigate the Bible and to be able to look up those Scripture passages and those stories and to really get to read it for themselves. I impress upon my teachers is that we open up God’s Word every Sunday. I don’t want the kids to take your word for it that it’s in the Bible. I want them to read it for themselves.
By teaching them and showing them how the whole Bible is one entire story, we’re getting them to understand and love Jesus, coming to that place where they’re making decisions to be a Christ follower. We’re equipping them to hopefully to train up this next generation of believers that are eventually going to have kids and hopefully they’re going to bring their families to church.
Sometimes I feel like I’m bashing kids in the head with the gospel because every single Sunday: here’s the gospel; here’s Christ; here’s how Christ has to do with this. But then I realize that by doing that we’re getting them to understand the seriousness of sin and of Christ’s love for us and for the church.
Lou Cha (Kenwood Baptist Church, Cincinnati, OH): I think one aspect that as children, ministers, and pastors, and even as congregations, we have to see the development of our children and their relationship with Christ on a holistic level that extends beyond our Sunday morning classrooms to cultivating a community, a church, and a home that is filled with people who love Christ, who know who He is, who model Him for these kids, and that our faith is infectious to them.
At times, as children grow up in the church, they may learn all these different facts in the classroom but never see faith lived out, modeled in their teachers, in their parents, in the church. I think that’s one area that we put our emphasis on discipleship and emphasize so much on the classroom that we haven’t developed out-of-the-classroom experiences for families. For kids to really live out their faith within the congregation and within the greater community their faith must go beyond an intellectual and a knowledge learning.
In addition to learning and teaching, we have to immerse children into more hands-on experiences within the congregation and within the community so that they really have to be dependent on Christ, have to have faith to share, to witness, to serve, and [hopefully] they learn to trust more and more in Christ and to walk the way that Christ walked.
Part 3 is coming next week!