Family ministry has been the big wave of the past few years and although I hope that wave does not diminish in any way, I am grateful for the next wave that appears to be coming behind it. It appears that next big wave in children’s ministry is gospel centered teaching for kids. This is something that is much needed and I am very grateful for. If there is one word I could speak to this movement before it really begins to take off it would be clarity.
There have been many different misconceptions about what family ministry is and what it isn’t. What I have taken from that debate is that there is often a lack of clarity, and assumptions are made that shouldn’t be made any time something goes “mainstream”. With a greater use of the word gospel and gospel centered teaching it is massively important that we are clear on what the gospel is and what it isn’t. Not having clarity on what family ministry is and isn’t is one thing, not being clear about the gospel is catastrophic.
I just started reading Trevin Wax’s book Counterfeit Gospels in the very beginning of his book he takes on this issue of clarity. It’s very important with more and more people trying to define the gospel that we do so with clarity so as not to do more harm than good.
I always love practical suggestions they help me think more clearly about the issue I am addressing. Here is 4 ways to clarify the gospel when communicating to kids.
1. Let the kids know that you need God’s help just as much as they do. For to long in the church those who have communicated the truth of God’s word in an effort to give a great example have either intentionally or unintentionally set themselves up as a hero to be admired. In the previous generation pastors were perfect examples of the truths they preached. To be a good pastor you had to be a perfect christian first. The beauty of the gospel is that it both frees you and humbles you. As a communicator do not be the perfect example of truth, be a living example of grace.
2. Don’t oversimply the truth but rather be a distiller of truth. – The reality of this hit me hard a few years ago. We radically underestimate what kids can understand and retain. In an effort to help kids understand the complex truth of God’s word we make the gospel simple in doing so we rob the gospel of its power. Don’t misunderstand me there is work that needs to be done but simplification is not the work we need to do. We need to put in time, effort and prayer to be distillers of truth. When you distill something you retain the essential element and remove the nonessential elements, and in doing so actually make that thing far more powerful. For example we need to take the complex truth of God’s word and be mindful to maintain the power of it and communicate it to kids in a distilled not diluted or simplified way. Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said that “If we can not explain doctrine to children something is amiss.”
3. Use diverse and age appropriate examples in your application. – As a communicator we have our go to examples, the kid at the bus stop getting picked on, the kid sitting alone in the lunch room you know your examples. Don’t get stuck in your go to examples think through each age group and what the gospel implications to each age group are. If you are always giving grade five applications the kids in first grade will feel that they have to be older to understand the gospel. If you use first grade applications all the time the older kids will feel that the gospel is for babies. Use yourself, vary your examples and think through how this applies to every age group.
4. Bring it back to Jesus. – The application of every story needs to come back to Jesus and what He has done that empowers us to go and do. Never miss an opportunity to make Jesus bigger in the minds of kids. I remember in the Chronicles of Narnia Lucy is talking to Aslan and she remarks to him how he is bigger than she remembered. Aslan explained that is because she knows him more. The more we know Him the bigger He becomes.
18 comments On 4 Ways to clarify the gospel when communicating to kids.
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Great points. Along with point #4( & #1), it's important to emphasize that the gospel is more than a message that gets us saved. We need it every day in our sanctification as well, and the more we grow in Christ, the bigger the gospel becomes. We come to understand that our sin is much deeper and encompassing than we thought it was, and that God's grace is abounding!
Completely agree thanks for adding this.
As someone who helps in a church youth context, I found this immensely helpful. Good to be reminded of the basics, and more importantly, that it's all for/about Jesus; not me! Thank you for the post.
Thanks Andy for your comment.
Thank you Sam for addressing this issue. I whole heartily agree with you and appreciate each point you made. My favorite was point four, and it actually is true of all of us, amen. I often think that those who teach children the gospel give the kids a different gospel, if there really was one, because they think kids can't understand it. A kid has to believe the same truth that an adult has too in order to be saved, its just packaged a little differently, amen. Thanks for bringing up this issue. God bless.Gordon
Gordon thanks for you comment. The gospel should apply at every age. We expect far less from kids and adults for that matter than we should.
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Sam, Amen – great post. This too is one of my passions and the basis of our Sunday Plus Curriculum.
As for anyone making a commitment to the Lord it is dependent on the Holy Spirit working within them. This is true of children also, and why a child at a young age can be presented the Gospel and respond. We still have a responsibility to do our best to present it in a way they are able to understand – without dumbing it down.
I am grieved when we give children the impression that becoming a Chrisitan is like saying a Harry Potter spell and suddenly they are a "Christian."
Below are a couple of posts I did on Children and Salvation. The first one takes the abstract terms of the gospel and shows how we can make them more concrete to help children understand.
Wanda thanks for your comment. I'll check out your posts. Thanks for the heads up.
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This is great stuff Sam! I so agree that kids can understand more and even apply much more than we give them a chance to at times. Can’t wait to share this with my team. (ps. I attended the Family Ministry Track at Kidmin13 that you led, it was just what I needed to help launch a new way of thinking at my church).
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