Julia Ball is the wife to Andrew, mom to Levi and pastor to a group of amazing kids! She currently serves on staff as the Children’s & Families Pastor at Calvary Pentecostal Church in Clarenville, NL, Canada. She is passionate about seeing all generations – but especially kids and their families – grow to understand the Gospel more and love Jesus more deeply. You can follow her blog at ministrymom.ca
When you hear the word “theologian”, what comes to mind?
If you’re like me, you envision scholars in seminaries. Perhaps you picture great minds like C.S. Lewis, Karl Barth & A.W. Tozer. For most of us, our knee-jerk reaction to this word doesn’t include the kids in our weekly ministries. In fact, if I’m honest, most of the time, “theologian” is not even on my radar when it comes to words I would use to describe them.
While this may be the case for most of us, I am convinced that kids can, in fact, understand and do theology. I’m not talking about sitting them down with thick textbooks and barring them in libraries. What I am talking about is the practice of studying God, asking the tough questions, and finding answers. Regardless of age, background, or level of education, theology is a field that all of us – children included – should be engaged in.
Our world today is full of confusing and conflicting ideas about God, religion, and church. A quick Google search can find you whatever answer you’re looking for. If you’re questioning a particular aspect of the faith, no problem! You can find someone asking the same questions and deconstructing something you once held to be true.
Amidst this crazy world, at least in my corner of it, many young adults, teens, and families are walking away from faith. The reasons for this are more complex than a short post can dive into – but I believe that one of those reasons is they don’t truly understand the faith in the first place. Their questions have been met with pat Sunday-School answers, and minds have been regularly disengaged. Sure, church and children’s ministry has been welcoming, fun and engaging (all things I think are important!), but really diving deep into faith? Well, that has been often left by the wayside.
Today, more than ever, I am convinced we need to be teaching theology in our children’s ministries. Kids are smart – often smarter than we give them credit for. Advertisers, gaming companies, technological giants and brands are all engaging kids for what they know they are – intelligent and influential. It’s time for us as the church to do the same.
We can start by incorporating the practice of teaching theology into our kids’ ministries. While this can seem like an intimidating task, it’s important to remember what it is we’re actually doing when we talk about theology. Simply put, theology is asking (and answering the question) – “Who is God and why does it matter?” We do this all the time. When we worship, when we teach a small group lesson, even when we speak to kids, our words and actions are answering this question – oftentimes, unaware. The first step to teaching theology in our ministries is realizing we are already doing it. We must recognize that all the things we do in ministry say something about what we believe. Once we do this, we’re able to take the first step to be more intentional about what it is we are teaching and saying.
Once we realize we are already positioned to teach theology (and in fact, are already probably doing it), here are some more steps we can take:
- Decide what is important for you to teach the kids in your ministry in this season. All aspects of theology are important. However, you know the kids in your ministry better than anyone – and if you’re at all like me, you recognize areas of weakness in their faith. Instead of overwhelming yourself with “I need to teach them all the things NOW”, take one or two major topics and start planning how you can incorporate them into your teaching and programming.
- Teach theology in engaging ways. Karl Barth, one of my favourite theologians, once said: “The theologian who labors without joy is not a theologian at all. Sulky faces, morose thoughts and boring ways of speaking are intolerable in this field.” While the study of God is deep and complex, it is by no means boring! Every aspect of your ministry – from games to worship to hands-on activities – can be used to teach your kids important theological truths. Theology should not equal boring! Use creativity to engage the kids in your care with theological truths.
- Let kids ask the hard questions. If you’ve ever studied theology in an academic setting, you will know that much of the study is comprised of asking questions that leave you feeling uncomfortable. Throughout my time in university, I often left theology classes feeling unsettled and even slightly confused. Yet, it was through this process of questioning, I found my faith growing stronger and more vibrant. Kids need the same opportunities. Whenever we teach theology, we must provide a place for them to ask questions about God without shame. They will be wrestling with the questions somewhere, and if we don’t provide the answers, someone will. We must be willing to wrestle with the tough questions alongside our kids as we embark on this mission of teaching them the truth about God.
I believe with my whole heart that teaching theology matters. Theology is so much more than an academic field. Theology taught well should engage our minds, captivate our hearts and move our feet into God’s mission. I want this for the kids in my ministry, and I’m sure you do too. So, let’s undertake this great task together, with all of its challenges and complexities, for the sake of the next generation.