Thursday, August 22, 2013

Why We are in Children's Ministry

My background is fairly conservative when it comes to church. I grew up in the church when children sat and listened to their teachers, wrote in their student books and memorized Scripture. In High School I participated on a quiz team and loved everything about it. I wanted my children to experience the same "church" as I did, so when they were little I had them involved in a mid-week program with lots of Bible memorizing. My children excelled at Bible memory and moved through their books quickly; they happily amassed their pins and badges. I was sure all of this was how it "should" be until something happened during one awards ceremony which began to completely change my opinion. All the little four year olds were waiting to receive their awards for the progress they made in their books . . . all except for one little boy. This boy had great difficulty memorizing. He did not receive an award that evening . . . and went home in tears. When I saw this I wondered what this little boy's "view" of God looked like. Did he see God as Someone Who would only be pleased with him if he were able to memorize Bible verses? Was this the view of God I wanted children to have? Of course it was not.

A few years later in a different church we made the choice to utilize Group's "Hand's-On" Bible curriculum for our mid-week elementary program. Of course on Sundays we utilized a more traditional curriculum, but thought for the Wednesday outreach a more active format might be effective. I taught the 5th grade girls one week as they looked at pet rocks, lava lamps and hulla-hoops. We talked about how "fads come and go, but my relationship with God matters most and lasts forever". At the end of the evening, while I was sure they thought their parent's and grandparent's fads were silly, I wasn't sure how much Bible had actually been "taught". The next Wednesday one of the girls from my class ran up to me and excitedly told me she had been saving to buy a "Beanie Baby" and went to the store to make her selection. She said when she looked at the toys she realized, "Fads come and go, but my relationship with God matters most and lasts forever"! She told me she knew Beanie Babies were a fad and decided they weren't that important. She was glad to know her relationship with God was! I was stunned! Over the years I had taught many, many Bible lessons, but had never had a child return the following week and tell me how they - on their own - thought about the Bible lesson during the week and applied it to their own life! Maybe some of the activities in the lesson were silly, but through the intentional engagement built into the lesson, this girl was able to take what she learned out of the church, think about it, apply it and live it in her own real life! Isn't this what we want children to do with the Bible? Take it out of the church, think about it, apply it and live it in their everyday lives? 

Don't get me wrong. I absolutely believe memorizing God's Word is important, even essential, to our ability to remember, understand and live God's Word, but not when that memorizing is motivated by awards of badges and pins without a focus on what God's Word is actually saying and how it lives in our everyday lives. When it comes to memorizing God's Word I believe we have to take into account the way God made each child. Some children are able to memorize, while others struggle with it. I like to see a focus on understanding and living God's Word - not just memorizing the words. Consider this plan for memorizing . . . select a verse or short passage of verses. The first week focus on the words. The second week talk with the children about what those words tell us about God - what do they mean? The third and fourth weeks focus on the application - have children look for a way to live the verses in their everyday lives and then tell you about it the following week. By the end of a month, while they may have only learned one verse/passage, they will have been able to think about what it means and have experienced actually living it in their everyday life two times! Even children who have trouble with memorizing will likely know their verse at the end of the month!

And, when it comes to teaching God's Word . . . I absolutely believe in teaching from God's Word and understand the need for caution in regards to activity. Caution the activity doesn't overshadow the teaching of God's Word so while the children will remember what they did, the won't remember how it tied in to God's Word. However; I do believe the days of children sitting around a table and listening to the teacher talk need to be part of the past of teaching children. When we intentionally engage children in the Bible lesson we are able to capture their attention and give them something to take with them, out the doors of the church and into their everyday lives!

And isn't this why we are in children's ministry? To see children come to know Jesus and understand His Word so they can take it out the doors of the church and live it in their everyday lives!

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