What should we teach in children’s ministry? All home, church and school teaching should ultimately be to this end – to teach children about Jesus.
To learn Christ.
A common expression in the early church was “to learn Christ.” We should co-opt this phrase for children’s ministry. Jesus, above all else, is the One we should help children chase after. In due course, everything we teach children should be about seeing Jesus as He really is and giving their lives to Him. Biblically speaking, what we teach children should “prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him” Matthew 3:3.
Is helping children “learn Christ” at the top of our to-do list as parents, teachers, and children’s ministry workers? Tragically, many Christian children barely have a basic knowledge of Jesus. While we may be helping them get into the kingdom, children’s ministry is much more than children being converted.Helping children 'learn Christ' should be at the top of our to-do list as parents, teachers, and children's ministry workers. Click To Tweet
Let’s be honest. Many of us have strayed from what God wants children’s ministry to be, and we know it. We should teach children about the radical Jesus we find in the Scriptures, not a tame, accommodating, lesser Jesus. The take you by surprise, shake your world, and drastically redefine your life kind of Jesus is rarely encountered. We know it, and that needs to change.
If we don’t prioritize teaching children about Jesus, we’ll go so far and no further. For children’s ministry to aspire biblically and experientially to all it should be, we must teach children all about Him. Why? Because Jesus wants children to have a solid foundation in Him – to be so taken up in Him that nothing will be able to shake or blow them over (Matthew 7:24-27).
Do we want children solidly grounded in Jesus and never dislodged from their faith in Him? Do we want to make a profound difference in the lives of children? If we do, Jesus needs to be front and centre in every activity or course of study we do with children.
Here’s the reality: We have a limited timeframe to teach children about Jesus. One shot at connecting them with the King and establishing their citizenship in the kingdom. So common sense dictates that for children to know the King and join Him in His kingdom work, what we teach them must major on Jesus.
For children to figure out what Jesus wants them to think, be, and do, they must know Him inside and out. Silly songs and shallow thinking aren’t good enough. We must teach children how to pattern their lives on Jesus, live every day in His power, and transform their world in line with His plans.Common sense dictates that for children to know the King and join Him in His kingdom work, what we teach them must major on Jesus. Click To Tweet
Pickled in the Word!
Australian Missiologist, Michael Frost, speaks about “us needing to marinate our minds and souls in the story of Jesus.” I like that. If children are going to know nothing but Jesus, they need to be pickled in the Word!
The starting point for marinating children in Jesus’ Story is a deep and progressive study of the biographies of Jesus. Children should know the Gospels from back to front and from front to back. To make this happen, we must expose children to the Gospels in ways that unveil what the American Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards spoke of as “the divine beauty of Christ,” which “bows the wills and draws the hearts of [children].”
Of course, the Gospels aren’t the only part of the Story that children should reflect on. The theme of the whole Bible is Jesus (Luke 24:27). As pastor and professor David Murray says, “My heart burned and leaped with joy as I discovered Jesus on every page. He wasn’t just here and there – He was everywhere. But then I began to worry. Was I over-reading the Bible? Was I getting carried away? Then the clincher … from Jesus Himself: ‘You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of me’ (John 5:39).” What’s the whole Bible about? Jesus’ emphatic answer is, “Me! Me! Me!”
Nothing but Jesus!
The Apostle Paul, if he were alive today, would probably add a hearty “Amen!” to what Murray said. Paul taught nothing but Jesus! “When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” 1 Corinthians 2:1-2.
Note the phrase “nothing … except Jesus Christ.” The implications are profound. The content of Paul’s teaching was “first Jesus and who he is; then Jesus and what he did – Jesus crucified” 1 Corinthians 2:2 (MSG). So like Paul, we need to do everything possible to immerse children totally in the words and work of Jesus.We need to do everything possible to immerse children totally in the words and work of Jesus. Click To Tweet
Sadly, 1 Corinthians 2:1-2 doesn’t fit with some people’s views. An American children’s ministry pastor who calls her group “Fun Church” says, “If we don’t create a fun-based curriculum, the children won’t come to church at all and leave before they even become teenagers. And so will I because I believe Jesus wants the children to enjoy life.” While her perspective aligns with a fundamental right in the American Declaration of Independence, it’s not a biblical view. The pursuit of happiness is not, and should not be, the primary aim of children’s ministry [cf. Purpose of Children’s Ministry].
Another false perspective, as the American novelist Ferrol Sams describes, is a deeply ingrained tradition of teaching children how to be “raised right.” In line with this view, the content of some of today’s children’s curriculums for the home, church or Christian school is mainly lessons about behaviour, applications for life, or dispensing good advice. This is devastating because it doesn’t help children search for and find Jesus. No wonder the author Paul Miller tragically observes, “Sunday School curriculum is relentlessly moralistic.”
Others think that a focus on Jesus leaves out the Father. Isn’t it better, they ask, to have a God-centred curriculum? This was Philip’s objection. He said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us” John 14:8. But Philip didn’t know that focusing on Jesus is focusing on God. This is why, in answer to Philip’s objection (and those who share his view), Jesus said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” John 14:9b.
So if children are going “to learn Christ,” we should ditch some of the Kids Min, family devotions, religious instruction, Sunday School materials, program guides or manuals we rely on. Why? Because many resources circulating in our homes, Christian schools, organizations and churches don’t prioritize Jesus. Even when centred on Jesus, they often stop short of fully leading children to the One whose grace and mercy derail their love affairs with the world and incite a spiritual revolution.
I don’t say this lightly. What we teach children influences who they become. New approaches and plans are required to take children’s ministry seriously. As Dan Lovaglia, director of leadership development at Awana, said, “We can no longer keep running the same programs that give us the same results while children grow bored and drop out.”What we teach children influences who they become. Click To Tweet
Let’s not give children something less than the best! If children’s ministry is going to be Spirit-led, then every parent, grandparent, teacher, camp counsellor, child evangelist or pastor who ministers to children must earnestly study the Scriptures, prayerfully wait on God for a Word in season, and rely on Him for the message. That’s not to say there shouldn’t be drama, singing, experiential games, object lessons and such. We should incorporate these things as part of our teaching methodology, but only as a means to illustrate, not supersede the Word of the Lord.
There can be no shortcuts in what we do to teach children about Jesus. To effectively equip children “to learn Christ,” you can’t simply buy the curriculum; it has to be something birthed (in you), i.e. the curriculum has to be organic, Spirit-initiated, rooted in the Word, and tailored to a child’s context and circumstances.
Two Minute Video
Watch or Share the Video
© Scripture Union, 2022