“All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth.” (Colossians 1:6 NIV)
According to Paul, the gospel bears fruit and grows. It sounds a bit strange, doesn't it? My concrete brain sort of imagines a Bible storybook with apples and pears growing out the sides. What does that even mean? Here is what Paul is saying. The outcomes of our work in children's ministry are shaped by our proclamation and participation in Jesus' good news story. Gospel ministry of any kind —whether it is preaching, music ministry, student ministry, counseling, mercy, children’s ministry, or our parenting — doesn't find growth or success because of the ministry methods we adopt. We find our only hope in Jesus and in being formed by his good news message. As Timothy Paul Jones has written, "The story of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Consummation should frame every aspect of our lives.” But what does that actually look like in a children's ministry classroom?
Here are a few thoughts about the Bible's basic storyline and your children's ministry classrooms:
First, God made kids for himself. Just like adults, children are created for worship. As Ted Tripp says, “Children are created to be dazzled.” Our desire as Christians is to bring up a generation of children who are dazzled by God—captured by His creative and redemptive works—always talking about them to one another. At the very least, this means our classroom environments should be engaging. Those who are called and committed to teaching kids should always be growing in the way they use expression to tell Bible stories. We should be committed not only to fill little heads but move little hearts. Commit plenty of time for preparation so your presence and attention during class time can be given to engaging kids rather than figuring out what you're going to say. We want kids to leave our classrooms captivated by God's beauty and love. After all, he is the only true source of salvation and joy. They were created to know him (Psalm 145:3-7).
Second, kids our broken and sinful--just like us. Even kids exchange fall short of God’s glory and chase after the pleasures of the moment (Romans 3:23). Kids are always worshiping something. The better question to ask is, “What are our children worshiping?” Dolls (and other toys) are often idols competing for our kids' affections. If you don’t believe it, think about what happens when playtime is over and kids are called to sit in story circle. That can be one of the most difficult transitions in a classroom. We can't ignore the battle in our kids' hearts. So show kids that God is better than what they're longing for. Give them a picture of the silliness of toys compared to Jesus. He's better than Transformers, Minecraft, Princess Elsa, and Marvel. Sometimes I'll tell kids about the great toys I played with when I was their age. Then, I'll ask, "Where are they?" Some may be in my parents' attic. But most are rusting in a landfill. "But where is Jesus?" He's still with me. He'll never rust. He'll never leave me or forsake me. Even when I wear out, Jesus is there.
Show kids that Jesus is the hero of God’s story. Jesus said, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children” (Matthew 19:14 NLT). When we talk about Jesus’ work of salvation in our classrooms, there are two errors we can often fall into. In children’s ministry, we often emphasize the ABCs: (A) Admit you are a sinner; (B) Believe in Jesus; and (C) Confess faith in Him. There is really nothing wrong with that (Romans 10:9-10). But salvation is more about what Christ has done than it is about what we do. One of our classroom teachers recently had every child in her class make a pennant with one of Jesus' names on it. I think she got the idea from Jack Klumpenhower's Show Them Jesus. Each member of the class took time to look up a passage with that name and share something about what Jesus has done. It was a great way to teach kids that Jesus is the great Hero of the gospel story.
Finally, in light of the coming restoration, we should see kids are potential brothers and sisters in Christ. To be embraced by God’s redemption means we are adopted as God's child (Romans 8:15-17; Galatians 3:28-29; 4:3-7; Ephesians 1:5; 2:13-22; Colossians 1:12). If one of my daughters stands beside me in heaven (Revelation 7:9-12), it will not be as my daughter but as my redeemed sister (Luke 20:34-38). Seeing kids that way--in light of the end of the story--really changes the way we think about our classrooms.
Because God has placed us in the role of an authority over children, children are called to submit and follow us (Ephesians 6:1; 1 Peter 5:5). But, because children are also potential brothers and sisters in Christ, we are called to lay down our lives for them (1 John 3:16). That means faithfulness in little things—diligent preparation, excellent policies and procedures, and finding/praying for gifted leaders rather than just pulling in who is available.
Because we are older, adults often think about helping kids see how they need to grow. We discipline, instruct, and encourage kids to pursue what is pure and good (Romans 15:14; 1 Timothy 5:1-2). We help them recognize the right path and seek to restore them when they veer onto the wrong path (Matthew 18:21-22; Galatians 6:1; James 5:19-20; 1 John 5:16). But, because our kids are potential brothers and sisters in Christ, we must seek to develop the leadership habits of an older Christian sibling even before the kids in our classroom come to faith. As older brothers and sisters, we must be willing to confess our own sin and repent before them in the same way we would with any other fellow believer. (James 5:16).
God’s story of redemption is pretty simple, but living in light of it requires sacrificial intentionality. It means applying ourselves to becoming better storytellers. It means having hard conversations about heart issues. It means celebrating Jesus as the hero. And it even looks like confessing our sins to the kids we teach. It's hard work, but the sacrifice is rewarding. You see, a story-formed classroom begins to look like the One whom the story is about. A gospel-formed classroom is a way of transformation—both for our kids and and for us.