I cannot tell you how many times as a parent and pastor I have heard phrases like these:
“My kid can’t memorize the Bible – they don’t have the attention span.”
“The kids will never be able to understand those big concepts like salvation, water baptism or living a holy life.”
“You cannot expect kids to read the Bible!”
Even if the words are not spoken, I have seen them in people’s eyes as I have handed them a take-home task, a Bible verse to memorize, or a challenge to dig into the Word with their kids.
For some reason, many of us think that our kids just can’t – or won’t – understand the things of God. Whip out a word like theology, and parents, kids’ leaders and the church at large scatters in every direction. Kids’ ministry is for Bible stories, basic truths, and letting kids know God loves them. Anything beyond that?
Wait until they are older. Wait until they are teenagers or adults.
I may be exaggerating a little, but by and large, the thought of teaching kids theology (at least in my experience) is intimidating, and even viewed as a little crazy. I’m as guilty as the next person – I have thrown curriculum aside more than once for being ‘boring’ or ‘too heavy.’
Recently though, I have been freshly reminded of the importance of teaching kids theology, which is simply put, the study of God. This reminder came through a session by Melissa MacDonald I listened to via the Equip Kidmin Course online.
In the session, she talks about the importance of teaching kids truths about God that are of substance. She uttered a phrase that jumped out at me –
“we are sending our kids into gun fights with marshmallows.”
In context, she was challenging children’s ministry leaders to go deeper with kids. In the world that we live in – where pressures, difficulties and conflicting world views are coming at them from every corner, we need to equip them with more than the basic messages of “God loves you and has a plan for your life.”
While this message is vital – and kids must know it – as parents, pastors, and children’s ministry leaders, we have to go deeper with our kids.
Think our kids are not smart enough?
Read these stories and then get back to me.
Kids around our world are fighting for justice, writing books, creating inventions, and running websites and Youtube channels.
Even kids who don’t do these “spectacular things” can work any technological device better than you or I in a flash, recite endless information about their favourite television shows, toys or books, and have pretty much memorized everything their parents have ever said.
Kids are smart enough.
And in my experience, they want to learn.
Children in our ministries are often like sponges. They soak up every detail about God, the Bible and theology that you give them.
I am always amazed when 7-year old boys can – a year or two later – recite back to me a Bible point I made or a story I told (when I thought they definitely weren’t listening). It blows me away that 4-year olds can stand in front of our church Sunday after Sunday and share a Bible verse they’ve been learning at home.
It’s not that they can’t do it – it’s that we – the ones who should be teaching them – aren’t doing it.
So, how do we change that? What do we do to go deeper with our kids? How do we equip them with information, and beyond that, experiences, that will deepen their relationship with God, and prepare them for the world in which they live?
I have a couple of thoughts (actually, I have a lot of thoughts) that I’m hoping to share with you over the next few days and weeks. In the meanwhile, here’s my first piece of advice:
Nobody expects you, the children’s ministry leader, or you, the parent, to start reading through the early Church Fathers with your 5-year old this week. When you are used to doing things in a certain way, integrating theology will take time and effort. So, start small.
Make a list of some basic, but essential important truths about God that you want your child to know. Maybe a good place to start would be the Apostle’s Creed.
If you’re unfamiliar, the Apostle’s Creed is one of the first statements of faith we have from the early Christian church. No matter what denomination or church you come from, these are the things on which Christians everywhere agree on. Read through the Creed, and do some work yourself on what the statements mean. Look up Bible verses to support it, read some simple articles, and maybe even find some worship songs or activities that might drive home these points for the kids in your home or ministry.
Start brainstorming, and then start working some of these thoughts into your daily life. Mention one of the phrases in passing to your kids “I believe in God…” and ask them what they think it means. Memorize the Creed yourself, and work it into your children’s church lessons when you can.
There’s no right or wrong way to do this – as long as you are teaching the truth of God’s Word to your kids.
One more thought. Theology doesn’t have to be boring – in fact it shouldn’t be. Karl Barth, one of the greatest professional theologians of modern times, said this:
“The theologian who labors without joy is not a theologian at all. Sulky faces, morose thoughts and boring ways of speaking are intolerable in this field.”
What better way to make theology interesting than to study it with children? The ones who give unique life and perspective in so many areas of life can certainly make the study of God fresh, exciting & lively.
So, let’s commit together to work theology into the way we teach and interact with our kids – whether at church or at home. I have some more posts coming your way on this topic – and some practical ways to integrate it – in the coming days and weeks.
I taught a session on this topic at CPC2019! You can check out the breakout notes here.
In the meantime, what are YOUR thoughts on teaching theology to kids? Do you find it easy, challenging, or somewhere in between? Do you have a particular method or resource that you love? Leave me a comment!