September 19

Five Smooth Stones for Children’s Ministry: Experience

When we moved back to the United States, I was embarrassed about not being up to date on trends, slang, or recent events.

Part of reverse culture shock is feeling like a foreigner in your own home culture. Rather than admit my ignorance, though, I often acted as if I knew about things even if I didn’t.

My playacting had serious consequences on a visit to Houston, Texas.

Experience is a Real Teacher

experience is a real teacher

During our decade abroad, sushi had become popular in the US. I was completely ignorant about this thing called sushi, but I wasn’t about to admit that.

So, when I was invited to celebrate a friend's birthday at a swanky sushi restaurant, I still thought a roll was made with yeast and flour. Sashimi might as well have been a new Subaru model. And I had no clue about wasabi.

When my friend’s entire extended family and many of his friends were seated at the table, the sushi rolls, sashimi, and other delicacies were all brought out. Trying to fit in, I looked at my plate and was grateful to see something familiar: guacamole.

I took my chopsticks, grabbed the wad of guacamole, popped it into my mouth, while making a suave “I’ve got this!” motion with the chopsticks.

Immediately, I realized I had not ingested guacamole. I gasped, unable to breathe.

I felt an intense burning sensation running through both nostrils and up to the top of my head. I wanted to spit out the green goop, but I couldn’t risk embarrassing myself further. Beads of sweat began rolling off my bald head. My throat was closing, and I was desperate, so I just swallowed.

I shoved my napkin onto the floor so I could bend down and find some air without drawing too much attention to myself. After catching my breath, I sat back up and hurried to gulp down my entire glass of water.

Fortunately, no one spoke to me for a few minutes, so I was able to regain my composure. I used the napkin to blot my head discreetly, and I finally gained my ability to breathe and, eventually, to speak.

Experience is a real teacher. It’s one thing to talk about something, and another to experience it.

Unfortunately, through the centuries the Western world has placed an ever-growing emphasis on the understanding, grasping, memorizing, and manipulating of propositional truth.

Philosophy, cognition, mental manipulation, and memorization have become the building blocks of learning and education.

Many children have been taught in this environment through the church. Unintentionally, many of them are left with “head knowledge” that has not been integrated into their lives and hearts.

Two Examples of Experience and Interpretation in Scripture

experience and interpretation in scripture

In Deuteronomy 6:4-9, Moses touches on these key elements and talks about the essential nature of “experience” as another key element in learning and understanding.

As noted last week, Moses establishes relationships as the foundation for transformational ministry

He then addresses the need to teaching the truth (vs 6) and then goes on to note that this truth should be connected to the children’s everyday experiences, specifically, when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up (v. 7).

As children (and adults) experience life (“Experience” in the chart below), we all need the Word of God to help us understand (“Interpretation”) those experiences as we walk through them.

Examples from Scripture could fill an entire book. I will share only two.



"God knows that when you eat from [the tree of the knowledge of good and evil] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. (Genesis 3:5-6)

The Lord God said to the woman, "What is this you have done?"

The woman said, "The serpent deceived me, and I ate."…

To the woman [the Lord God] said, "I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you."

To Adam he said, "Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, 'You must not eat from it,’ 

When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, "Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?"…

Philip answered him, "It would take more than half a year's wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!"

Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, spoke up, "Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?"

Jesus said, "Have the people sit down." There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.

When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, "Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted." (John 6:5, 7-12)

“Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: 'He gave them bread from heaven to eat.' "

Jesus said to them, "Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world."

"Sir," they said, "always give us this bread."

Then Jesus declared, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:31-35)

In each of these examples—and this list could go on—a personal experience is essential to the learning process. The truth of God’s Word is often the means by which we come to understand the experiences that comprise our daily living.

And Moses made this very point. Children need to experience the love of God. Children need to experience a relationship with someone who is modeling life with Christ.

Children need to interpret everyday activities and to view life experiences through the lens of God’s Word. And, frankly, I am still learning...

Experience is an Integral Element in Learning

experience integral element in learning

Over the years, I—like you—have taught many lessons on trusting God.

I have preached sermons on trusting God. I know the majestic passages of Scripture that speak to the trustworthiness of God. This truth is very familiar to me.

Yet many years ago, my sister—and the mother of six children—was diagnosed with a very serious and rare form of cancer. I had a friend who was an oncologist, so during a visit to his church, I told him about my sister's diagnosis and asked his opinion regarding her prognosis. It was not good.

At the end of our conversation, he told me that she should get her affairs in order. I remember feeling ill after our conversation.

Now, I am not a doctor, nurse, medical technician, or in any way associated with the medical profession. I had no expertise to offer my sister, and it was clear to me that the only option I had was to trust God.

I knew that my sister was a committed follower of Christ, but in all honesty, I struggled to believe that she would live much longer.

It was during those dark days of prayer and occasional despair that God taught me new lessons about trusting Him. That entire experience brought me to a completely new place of trust that I had never known before.

Lisa, my sister, is alive today and has been in remission for years.

Experience is an integral element in learning. Moses knew that in his heart, and he wrote about that in Deuteronomy.

Effective children’s ministry includes experiential teaching (Deuteronomy 6:4-7).

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