Article 3 Children’s Ministry – The Message
‘For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ’ (2 Cor. 2:17) KJV
J. C. Ryle comments on the above verse as follows: The Greek expression, which we have translated, ‘corrupt’, is derived from a word, the ety-mology of which is not quite agreed on by lexicographers. It either means a tradesman, who does his business dishonestly, or a vintner, who adulterates the wine which he exposes for sale. Wycliffe renders it by an obsolete phrase – ‘We are not of those who do avoutry the Word of God.’ Tyndale renders it -‘We are not of those who chop and change the Word of God.’ The Rhemish version is – ‘We are not as many, who adulterate the Word of God.’ In our margin we read – ‘We are not as many, who deal deceitfully with the Word of God.’
This extract, taken from an address by J. C. Ryle in 1858, highlights the ongoing problem within the church of the potential for messengers to corrupt the message (‘Warnings to the Churches’ by J. C. Ryle, Banner of Truth Trust 1967).
The warning from Paul is that ‘many’ do it, so we need to beware all dishonest statements concerning the Word of God. We must add nothing to it, nor must we take anything away. We corrupt the Word of God when: · we throw any doubt on God’s inspiration of any part of it, · we make defective statements of doctrine, wilfully or ignorantly, · we make wrong practical applications of it.
Therefore, effective teaching of children must commence with the teacher having a correct Biblical understanding of Christian doctrine. It is imperative that the messenger teach the message, the whole message and nothing but the message.
Questions for your serious attention: · Do you ever handle the word carelessly, ignorantly or deceitfully? · Is there any part of scripture that you avoid teaching -· because it contradicts some pet notions of yours? · for fear of seeming harsh, or of giving offence to some of your hearers? · Does your teaching reflect a fear of man or a fear of (reverence for) God?
Confidence in the Word of God
Concerning the positive aspects of Paul’s warning in 2 Corinthians 2:17, teachers should aim to speak ‘as of sincerity’ (thoroughly convinced of the truth of what they say), ‘as of God’ (commissioned and enabled), ‘in the sight of God’ (as though God is there in the group), ‘as in Christ’ (in the strength of Christ, knowing that they have received mercy from him).
As Christians we are involved in a word industry. We have the inspired Word of God (the Bible) which we communicate by words spoken or written. Words are power and this power is exercised in our daily dealings with each other. We cannot escape from the fact that we are impressed by people who are articulate. Intellectual thought that is communicated cleverly seduces our thinking and thinking guides our behaviour.
Also we communicate the Word of God by means of living it. The depth of how much we love the Word and the Word Giver will be demonstrated in the quality of life we exhibit at home, work and in the family of God. Therefore, the starting point for all ministry must be the unshakeable centrality of that Word and our confidence in it. Alas this is not true today in much children’s ministry. Many teachers have lost confidence in the inspired Word of God as the perfect way to salvation. This is clearly demonstrated in the way children are taught in church and para-church situations.
One way to evaluate the level of confidence teachers have in the Bible is to see how much time is allocated to teaching it in relation to the total time available in a programme. You may be surprised to learn that it is generally less than 25%. Some holiday club materials for 5s – 11s recommend a Bible teaching slot of 10 minutes or less in a programme of 110 minutes. Spending only 9% of available time in direct teaching of God’s Word demonstrates a major lack of confidence in the power of that Word and the ability of the Holy Spirit to apply it to the lives of teachers and hearers.
Questions for Bible teachers: · Do I know my Bible? · Do I believe the Bible? · Do I trust God to profit his Word in the lives of my hearers? · Do I have confidence in the Bible or in something else?
The place of Bible teaching
Traditionally children’s and youth clubs have allocated an epilogue slot in the programme for the ‘religious bit’. By definition it is at the end of the programme, after a full active programme of games, etc., when the children are least able to sit still and concentrate. We need to be more imaginative in our programming and place the Bible teaching slot where it can be most effective, e.g. as a ‘Centrepoint’.
It is very easy for Bible teaching to be squeezed out by other things. An example of this occurred in a Sunday School where one of the leaders was a talented dancer and wanted a major slot in the morning programme to have worshipful dance with 3-11s for 15 minutes. Taken in conjunction with other necessary parts of the worship programme, (prayer, singing, celebrations, introductory games, etc.), this meant that less than 10 minutes was available for the Bible teaching. We need to remember that our ability to worship God correctly is directly related to our knowledge of him through his Word. Therefore, as our true understanding of him grows so will the passion of our worship mature. We must not get the cart before the horse. Teach the Bible first for only then can you worship with more feeling, love, thankfulness, humility and awe.
The place of the child
The importance of the child in children’s ministry is undeniable. The key issue is the emphasis that is given to the child in relation to the other elements of the ministry. There is no ministry without the child, but the child is not king.
In recent years there has been a disturbing trend towards child-centred rather than God-centred ministries. This means that the child has become the focal point of the ministry, with Bible teaching relegated to a minor slot in the programme. Programmes are designed to actively involve the children in drama, craft work, memory verse learning, videos, joke telling, quiz games about TV programmes, interviews, puppetry, soap box oratory, creative team projects and reflective chill outs. Whilst there is nothing wrong with these activities, unless they are used to complement the Bible teaching they are a waste of time in a Christian ministry context. The danger of this trend is the subtlety whereby the child centred ministry undermines the Bible centred ministry. The balance between the two key elements must always be tested.
Why take the message to children?
One of the current ways of viewing the church is the pilgrimage model; the worshipping community is on the road to heaven with all members learning from each other. Whilst there is an element of truth in this model, it becomes ridiculous when it is used to negate the need for teaching children. Pilgrimages always had a leader, who was responsible for planning the route, ensuring the party took the right road, and pointing out pit falls on the way.
In secular education emphasis is placed on participatory learning and the students being taught to discover information for themselves. There is still the need for a teacher, who acts as information giver as well as facilitator. Just as children in our society are given physical food to enable them to grow big and strong and not left to forage for themselves, so also should they be given the spiritual food they need, the word of God (Matthew 4:4).
Children have an amazing capacity to learn from a very early age and we need to recognise this and encourage it. If we seek to amuse and entertain, without also teaching children what God has to say in his word, we may be ministering to children but we cannot call it Christian ministry.
The children’s ministry in any church will reflect the adult ministry. If the adult congregation is not being taught the Bible it is highly unlikely that the children will be. With Bible teaching low on the agenda of many churches today is it any wonder that many children grow up woefully ignorant of what God says in his word?
Understanding the Word of God
There are a number of Christian organisations across a wide range of churchmanship that offer training courses on topics relating to children’s and youth ministry, but very few provide training in understanding the Bible. It is assumed that any Christian is able to understand a Bible passage and package it appropriately for the age group they teach. Of course this is a fallacy. We all need help in understanding God’s Word and we cannot teach what we do not understand.
From a sample of 1,000 teachers trained over the last three years it is amazing how many intelligent/spiritually-minded people find it difficult to extract a correct lesson aim from a simple Bible passage. Why is this so? Is the Bible so inscrutable? Can it only be understood by a chosen few? Not according to Psalm 119:130 (NIV). We need to recognise the problem and train our children’s and youth leaders accordingly.
Most training courses concentrate on peripheral skills. There is nothing wrong with understanding child development, knowing how children learn, using contemporary technology, differentiating teenage cultures, using space more efficiently, learning how to juggle or ride a unicycle, writing puppet plays or a thoughtful drama. However, if we do not understand the message entrusted to us and communicate it clearly, then all the other skills will amount to nothing.
The effectiveness of any ministry to children must always depend on the Word of God and how teachers handle it. If the foundations are not firm the building will collapse. Therefore resources must be made available to allow teachers to become more proficient in their handling of the Bible. So who is best equipped to provide these tools? In a culture where most Christian workers complain that they are under awful time pressures it is ludicrous to suggest that another course(s) will solve the problem. Action is required, not more committees or discussion papers. Are church leaders prepared to pledge a minimum of 2 hours per month to meet with their teaching team to improve their Bible knowledge and lesson planning skills? If you are not equipped to run such a training session find out which organisations have a good reputation for sound Bible teaching and engage them to do one for you.
How to prepare a Sunday school lesson
To prepare a Sunday School lesson properly takes at least one evening (2-3 hours). It is helpful to read the Bible passage several days before teaching it to allow time to mull over what it is saying.
When preparing a lesson the following steps should be taken -1. Pray In a busy world this is very easy to forget. We are unable to understand God’s word without his help and we need to remind ourselves of that fact before we start. 2. Read the Bible passage This should be done before reading the lesson manual. Our resource is the Bible, not what someone says about it. Use any Bible study notes in the lesson manual or a Bible commentary to help you understand the passage. 3. Look at the lesson aim in the lesson manual. This should reflect the main teaching of the passage. Plan how that can be packaged appropriately for the age group you teach. 4. Story telling Decide how to tell the Bible story. Is it applicable to recapitulate on what has happened in previous weeks? Will you involve the children in the presentation of the story? What sort of questions are appropriate to use? How will you ascertain what has been understood? Is there anything in the story that should be applied to their lives? 5. Visual aids What type of visual aid will help bring the story alive for the children? Simple pictures may be appropriate. For stories with a lot of movement it may be better to use flannelgraphs or suedegraphs. In some instances models may be more appropriate, e.g. the paralysed man being let down through a hole in the roof. Do remember that visual aids take time to make and this will need to be built into your lesson preparation. 6. Craft activities These are designed to help the children remember what they have been taught. Many craft activities require prior preparation by the teacher so do not leave it until the night before!
The Great Commission
In his autobiography, The Full Harvest (Banner Of Truth Trust, 1976, page 130), C. H. Spurgeon wrote, ‘Do not think of waiting until you can do some great thing for God; do little things, and then the Master will bid you go up higher.’ He comments on his beginnings as a Sunday school teacher and how his willingness to be involved at this level led to God entrusting him to preach to thousands of men and women in large buildings all over the land. We must take teaching the Bible to children seriously and not treat it as a second rate ministry requiring a minimum of time and effort.
Current society is taken up with the feel-good factor and we need to recognise that we are all influenced by our culture. We may seek to produce the feel-good factor in our churches with enjoyable worship, offers of friendship and caring for people’s needs, but unless these are based on Scripture they are no more than shifting sand. In children’s ministry these things may attract children, but will not keep them. We cannot compete with the world as regards entertainment. It is only God’s word that brings life (John 6:68).
So what is the great commission for people involved in children’s ministry? The same as the great commission from Matthew 28: 19-20; “19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”