Years ago, I traveled to the Ukraine to meet with pastors and children’s ministry leaders in churches.
We were thinking and praying about starting a new EGM ministry there.
On Sunday I was invited to teach a Sunday School class. When the children arrived, I instructed them to move their benches out of the rows and into a large circle. We were going to play a game that was an experiential activity for Bible teaching.
The teachers looked at me with raised eyebrows and explained that they did not do that in Ukraine. I was taken aback a bit and suggested that they teach and I would just watch.
They had the children sit on their benches and then began a series of review questions from the previous week. This lasted about 15 minutes.
After completing that they prayed and moved to the weekly Bible lesson. This involved one of the teachers standing in front of the 30 children recounting a Bible story for over 30 minutes.
Afterwards another teacher asked a series of right/wrong questions to determine who had heard what was said and could recall it correctly. This was about 15 minutes.
Then another teacher led a 15-minute Bible memory verse activity. The children sat on the benches for the entire 75 minutes.
The only children who spoke were the ones who knew the right answers; mostly girls 😊!
A Discussion of God’s Truth Was an Essential Aspect of Paul’s Ministry
When we think of the Apostle Paul, we think of him preaching, teaching, and giving theology lectures. The kind of ministry approach outlined above seems to line up perfectly with our picture of Paul.
The apostle Paul was the consummate preacher. We envision him standing in the synagogue, hall, or marketplace announcing Jesus as the Messiah, who died, who was resurrected, and who gives eternal life to all who believe in Him.
While this is part of the picture many passages in Acts offer a slightly different view. Note his methodology in each instance.
"When Paul and his companions had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,” he said." (Acts 17:1-3)
Using the phrase as was his custom (v. 2), Luke described Paul and his ministry team’s routine.
It had always been my understanding that Luke was referring to their first going to the synagogue when they entered a new city, district, or region. Yet another routine aspect of their travels was reasoning with the Jews and God-fearing Greeks (v. 4).
Later in chapter 17, Paul and his team were in Athens, and they stuck to their routine. In this case, though, Paul had the opportunity to reason in the marketplace as well:
"So, he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there." (v. 17)
We read in several other places in Acts that Paul reasoned with people (Acts 18:4, 19; 19:8-9; 20:7, 9; 24:12, 25).
Clearly, a discussion of God’s truth was an essential aspect of Paul’s ministry. But what exactly does reasoning mean?
Let’s get our Greek on and look at the Greek word from which it is translated.
In Acts 17:2, the Greek word translated reasoned is διελέξατο, a form of the root Greek word διαλέγομαι that has a wide range of meanings. Reasoning certainly involves preaching and teaching.
In classical Greek, the word “is mostly used for converse or discussion.” In Acts: The New International Bible Commentary, David J. Williams states it this way:
"Since Luke has already furnished us with an example of Paul’s synagogal preaching (13:16-41), he is here content to merely hint at his message… and instead gives us insight into his method. He began with Scripture (lit. 'from the Scriptures') but instead of straight teaching, as in the synagogues of the east, he seems to have proceeded by means of 'discussion.'" (294)
Reasoning, then, is not merely a lecture; reasoning involves dialogue, debate, and discussion. Certainly, Old Testament passages were interpreted, argued, debated, and discussed, interpretations were set forth, and ideas were freely exchanged.
However, this activity does not appear to be strictly an academic or intellectual exercise where the goals were to determine who was right or who had the best ideas. Instead, Paul believed that God’s truth should guide and shape the way believers live.
Making that connection between God’s truth and every individual’s life was therefore an essential element of teaching. Consider Colossians 2:
"Just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness." (vv. 6-7)
Other teachers, however, had come along, and their erroneous ideas contradicted Paul:
"See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ." (v. 8)
If the Colossians embraced that false teaching, a loss of freedom and even sinful living would result:
"Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: "Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility, and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence." (vv.20-23)
Again, Paul saw God’s truth as connected to real living, to food, drink, and even sexuality. So, he did not limit his ministry to just lecturing.
He taught the truth that was taught to him by the resurrected Jesus, and then he reasoned with people regarding that truth and its implications for real living.
As I’ve written in earlier blogs, 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 to 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 should shape and guide our everyday life.
Unfortunately, this approach is hardly ubiquitous in the church.
In my observation of children’s classes, for instance, 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 with a new lesson 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 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 it and come to view that the Bible is irrelevant to their life.
However, this model has become so rooted in children’s ministry that if you suggest that the model above is really a worldly educational model, you are accused of not believing the Bible.
In fact, a biblical model of children’s ministry includes “discussing” the Word of God and real life. This is clearly taught in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and is also evidenced in Jesus’ ministry and the Apostle Paul’s as we have seen in this article.
While it is crucial to teach the truth, discussing that truth in the context of real-life is essential for building a life-changing children’s ministry.
This weekend when you are teaching children, try to get them to talk about your teaching and their real life. I guarantee it will move your ministry closer to being the transformational children’s ministry you desire!