I’ve been thinking a lot lately about some of the problems that have plagued children’s ministry. I’m not saying ours is perfect—far from it, in fact. But I am saying that there are things we’ve been removing from Emergence Kids that I firmly believe should be removed from every children’s ministry (and every church community, if you think about it).
Here are just a few. The first is what I call the moral lesson. Moral lessons wreak havoc on children’s ministries because they don’t actually teach the Bible. They tell a story from the Bible and then draw some kind of application that’s designed to elicit certain behaviors from children. If a lesson ends with something like, “Hey kids, what have we learned today about how God wants us to live?” then odds are you’ve landed on a moral lesson.
The problem with this is that the Bible clearly teaches us that any attempt to adhere to the law is fruitless and an endeavor in foolishness. The law was designed to show us how sinful we are. But tying up your story time in a neat little moral lesson only reinforces the lie that children have to behave a certain way in order to please God.
The second is what I call decision-based or convert-centric teaching. We fail to teach the gospel regularly because we’re often teaching children moral lessons. So when we do actually teach the gospel message, we scramble to ensure that children will accept Jesus on those occasions. And in baptistic circles we might go one step further: altar calls.
The problem with this is that it’s little more than coercion. We’ve essentially strong-armed children into making a decision about Jesus. And because they’re looking to please their peers and teachers, they’re most likely going to say “yes.” But do they actually understand the gospel? Probably not, because we’ve spent more time teaching them moral lessons than teaching the gospel. Also, Christ’s commission to us was not to go and make converts. Instead, he told us to “go and make disciples of all nations.”
And the third problem is this: playing the protagonist. Here’s what I mean by that. Often in order to make an application from the story, we put ourselves and/or the children into the shoes of the protagonist. But not only does that inhibit the child’s ability to imagine the story unfolding before them, it’s an inherently bad hermeneutic, and it can lead to all sorts of theological errors.
Let me explain a little bit. When we tell kids the story of David and Goliath, we often cast ourselves or the children into the role of David. For instance, “Boys and girls, are there giants in your life that you need to fight? Well, just like David, God can give you the power to fight those giants!”
But God doesn’t allow us the freedom to cast ourselves in those roles. We then assign something to Goliath (a bully, or a test, or a scary situation at home), as if to say, “Here’s the scenario that God had in mind when he let this story unfold!”
But if anything, we should be casting ourselves into the role of the frightened Israelite army, Jesus into the foreshadowing role of David, and Death into the role of Goliath. Do you then see the kind of application we can draw from the story with that kind of perspective?
I hope and pray that church communities across the world will start to see the error of teaching like this and will begin to actually share the gospel with children.
In this message to my Emergence Kids team, I touched on a couple of these problems and discuss the importance of gospel-centricity in how we teach children.