How Wonder is Better Than Application

One of the things that needs to happen in Children’s ministry, Youth ministry and in our modern parenting is we that need to be better storytellers and wonder enablers. It seems that in most kids books I read and most curricula available there is a driving need to try to solve problems or try to apply truth. On one side you have people that try to moralize the Bible and pull the Bible apart to apply the moral of the story for the kids. On the other side, you have people that are searching the Bible for theological truths they hope to explain to the kids. The problem is the Bible is not a book of rules to be kept or heroes to be emulated it’s a love story. When asked why she wrote the Jesus Storybook Bible Sally Lloyd-Jones explains it so beautifully this way.

I wrote The Jesus Storybook Bible because I wanted children to know the Bible isn’t mainly about you and what you’re supposed to be doing. It’s about God and what he has done. It’s the story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them. It’s a Love Story. It’s an Adventure Story. And at the center of the story is a baby – the child upon whom everything would depend. And every single story in the Bible whispers his name.

When we forget the Bible is a story, a love story of a God who relentlessly loves his creators and jumps to application right away we miss the beauty and the wonder the Bible is meant to produce in us. Wonder comes so naturally to kids but so many kids pastors (myself included), youth pastors, and parents erase that wonder with virtue and moral application, both of which are fine and necessary but not primary.

Author and musician Andrew Peterson recounts a time when he was leading worship in the kids ministry at his church and told the following story:

Sometimes I think we can be guilty of looking at scripture for meaning and forgetting to first encounter it as a thing of wonder. That I heard myself I was in there I was in a church years ago and our sunday school teacher who was teaching who is wonderful she was telling the story about the Israelites crossing the Jordan River on dry ground. And I heard her she told that story and then she said now kids tell me when is a time with the Lord has helped you cross a barrier of fear into peace and safety? And the kids were kinding of looking around picking their noses and raising their hands and one kid raised his hand and said there was a mean kid who picked on me at school and she said there is a river he helped you cross. Onother kid said I have a test coming up In science or whatever and I kind of I wanted to be like “can we just stop for a second and think about the fact that is a true story that God stopped a river from flowing. Let’s look at that first. Sometimes we can kind of impose this meaning or look for application in a story which isn’t necessarly a bad thing obviously but we look for that almost before we started really consider the story for the thing of great beauty that it is and the fact that this is a thing that actually happened and unfolded in history. We need to peak our wonder.

The teacher was doing what we adults do so well she asked the right questions and try to help the kids connect the Bible to their everyday lives. The teacher even connected the story to Christ by pointing to the fact that He is the one who overcame our greatest fears of sin and death but Peterson is right she did what we so often fail to do and as adults. She failed to wonder. Kids wonder naturally adults teach kids not to wonder because we want to connect things for them so badly. We want them to get it and we accidentally smother the spaces where wonder exists. Adults don’t like, wonder, mystery, and paradox. The Christian faith is full of wonder and mystery and paradox. We have to remember how to embrace wonder.

Hear me. Application is important, the truth is important but don’t forget wonder.  

How do we teach kids to wonder before we teach application?

  1. Look in the text for what God is doing.
  2. Meditate on the passage and how the story points to the bigness of God and how it connects to the bigger story of God’s love for us.
  3. Thank God for his power and his love.
  4. Don’t move on to the application until you sat for awhile thinking about how big, great and loving our God is.
  5. Ask kids what stands out to them in the story or what do you see God doing rather than what does the story mean to you because what it means to us isn’t as important as what it reveals to us about who God is.


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    2 Responses

    1. Henry Zonio

      Yes! This is something that I missed out on in my early years as a children’s pastor. When I began reading the children’s spirituality literature by people like Scottie May and Kathy Stonehouse back in 2000 (who have been writing about this for decades!!!), I began to realize this. Thank you for shedding a light on this. I think that there are more and more people in children’s ministry coming to this realization and trying to recapture a sense of mystery, wonder, and awe within their ministries and meeting children where they already are in those areas. I’ve found that utilizing many of the contemplative prayer and Bible reading practices help facilitate this kind of environment in children’s ministry settings.

      1. Thanks, Henry such a challenge for all of us who rightly want to explain everything. Knowing what to answer and where to leave room for wonder takes Spirit-led discernment. Let us all grow in our ability to wonder.

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