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.
A couple years ago I was 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 four 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 oversimplify 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.