A quick look at Deuteronomy 6:4-9, we can see that Moses instructed the Israelites to talk about the Word of God in the context of their everyday living.
Jesus certainly wanted to see people understand the truth and live according to that truth.
Finally, the apostle Paul realized that the gospel of Jesus Christ was a radical departure from the first-century Jewish practices and that the truth of the gospel redefined how we think, what we do, and who we are.
Clearly, God’s concern is not only that the truth be taught, but that it shape and guide everyday life.
Unfortunately, this approach is hardly ubiquitous in the church.
The Pitfalls of the Common Three Step Model For Children's Ministry
In my observation of children’s ministry, a more common approach is to communicate the Bible Truth, ask questions about that truth, reward those who have the right answer, and memorize an appropriate Bible verse.
If teachers think most of the kids answered the questions well and memorized the passage adequately, they can repeat the process the next Sunday.
While nothing is necessarily wrong with this method, this ministry model is simply not found in the Bible.
Furthermore, teachers who defend this approach are merely dressing up a secular educational model with some biblical touches. This model does not provide an opportunity to connect the Bible Truth to real life.
Nor do children have the chance to share their concerns, doubts, practical challenges, and real-life circumstances. As a result of this one-sided presentation of God’s truth, many children don’t interact with Scripture in terms of their real life and come to view the Bible as irrelevant.
Connecting God's Word to Painful Real Life Experiences
This perceived irrelevance of God’s Word was never clearer than when I was in Alexandria, Egypt, casting the EGM vision in front of about 200 wonderful Egyptian children’s workers.
I was looking for some Egyptian leaders whom God would call to start an EGM ministry in Egypt. I was using Jonah 4 as a case study of God’s call to ministry and our possible responses.
In Jonah 4, Jonah was so upset that God extended mercy to the Ninevites that he was suicidal (Jonah 4:1-3). He hated the Ninevites, God loved them, and Jonah found himself in an unsettled and unsupported position.
I suggested to the leaders that the lesson for our children is that God wants us to be nice even to people we don’t like. I was about to dismiss them to go to their small groups to discuss who those Ninevites would be for the average five-year-old in their city, town, or village, but a woman stood up and said she had a question.
She told me that the father of a five-year-old in their city had been dragged out into the street during a Muslim riot. The man was beaten to death. She asked me if we were supposed to teach his now-fatherless son to be nice and love those people.
I was stunned. In my little world, five-year-old boys dislike girls, the kid who picks them last for the kickball team, or the classmate who takes the paper off their new crayons. I didn’t even know what to say.
Then she spoke again. Her story had more to it. She told me that, thankfully, the boy was taken in by his uncle’s family. But when the child was nine, he was standing on the balcony of their apartment when another riot broke out.
This time his uncle, a pharmacist and an elder in the Presbyterian church, was dragged out into the street, shot, and killed. This time the boy saw the killing with his own eyes. She concluded by asking again, “Are we supposed to teach that boy to love those people?”
I couldn’t believe what I had just heard. Her pain was almost palatable. Then she started to cry and said, “The first man they murdered was my husband, and the second man was my brother.”
She kept crying and asked me again, “Are you telling me that I should teach my son to love the men who killed his father and his uncle?” Tears streamed down my face, and I could not speak. I have never felt more outside a culture.
In that moment, a godly Egyptian man stood up and spoke. I will never forget what he said.
“Isn’t that exactly what we are talking about? If we just teach that boy the Jonah story, sing some songs, memorize a verse, and send him home, he will end up being a slave to bitterness and hatred the rest of his life.”
We prayed for our grieving sister in Christ. Her story was a sobering motivation to help boys and girls connect the Word of God to their real life.
It is not right to present a Bible story, ask some right and wrong questions, memorize a verse, sing a song and send that boy home.
It is also not okay to play a game, watch a Bible story video, ask some right wrong questions, play some more games, sing some fun songs and send that boy home.
That little boy needs to experience the love of Christ and the deep redemptive work of God in his life.
Discussion, connecting the Word of God to the real life of children is an essential element in a transformational children’s ministry.