February 14

Smooth Stone #5 – So What – Responding to God (Deuteronomy 11)

Over the years of my life with Christ, I have experienced the blessing of great Bible teaching.

Men and women are able to study God’s Word, communicate the meaning in creative and impactful ways, and challenge me to respond to God in my everyday living.

Unfortunately, I have also had the infrequent and unpleasant experience of hearing Bible teaching that was not particularly biblical and devoid of any effort to help me integrate the teaching into my life.

One example that comes to mind is the sermon I heard was about tracing wood throughout the Bible.

The preacher began with the wooden tree of life and then moved deftly through Noah’s ark, the axe handle in the Jordan, David’s sling, Peter’s fishing boat, the cross of Calvary, and the tree of life in Revelation.

When the sermon ended, everyone was amazed at the “spiritual” insight required to see wood as a theme running through the Bible. Not only was the sermon the worst case of allegorical preaching I ever heard, but it was also completely devoid of any practical life value. 

The preacher was completely focused on delivering the material and gave no attention to the “so what” question.

Unfortunately, I find this phenomenon common in the children’s ministry world.

So much attention is given to activities, storytelling, video, memorization, and fun that little attention is given to the “so what” question. After forty years of children’s ministry work, I can assure you that the “so what” question looms large in the hearts and minds of children. 

For many boys and girls, Bible teaching, church, Sunday School, and Christianity are confined to stories, information, and ideas that are often far removed from the classroom, baseball diamond, dance class, dinner table …. real life in general.

Much of this malaise among children is the fruit of our failure to ask the “so what” question.

So What? 

So What?

The “so what” question is the crucial question that every children’s worker needs to ask…. if they are interested in life-changing children’s ministry as outlined in Deuteronomy 11:18 and 11: 20-21.

"Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads." (Deuteronomy 11:18)

In Deuteronomy 11:18, the emphasis is on the transformation of action and thought. Moses urges the Israelites to take the teaching he has delivered on God’s behalf to heart and mind.

The reference to tying them on the hands and binding them on the forehead is almost certainly a reference to action (hands) and thought (forehead). For Moses, God’s Word should lead to changed behavior and thought.

God’s Word was not a collection of doctrines to believe or moral imperatives to be aware of. It was life-changing.

Moses continues this theme in Deuteronomy 11:20-21, with references to the doorframes of houses and the gates of their community.

"Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth.” (Deuteronomy 11:20-21)

The door was the entrance and exit to the family dwelling and the gate was the same but in a larger civic sense. For Moses, God’s Word should impact our family life and our life in the community.

The people of God were not to be simply known as those who have the “correct” information regarding God and humanity. Rather they are to be the transformed people of God, both in their families and in their community.

With this brief overview, we see that the “so what” question is about helping children integrate the teaching of God’s Word into their real life, at home, and in their community. The “so what” question is about helping children integrate the Word of God into their thinking and their actions.

4 Problems Affecting Children’s Ministry Leaders’ Efforts to Help Children Respond to God’s Word

Connected to Truth

Christianity is not just believing certain things are true. Knowledge and proper doctrine are crucial.

However, Christianity at its core is about a different way of living.

Every Bible teacher concerned about life transformation must ask themselves the “so what” question, namely how does their Bible teaching connect with the lives of the children?

God’s desire is not for children to have more information and knowledge, rather He is concerned about that and life transformation. 

Let me suggest that there are four problems negatively affecting children’s ministry leaders’ efforts to help children respond to God’s Word.

1. Lack of Awareness

Many children’s ministry leaders are not aware of the real-life setting of the children. An overemphasis on teaching materials, creativity, media, and programs places relational ministry and life insight at a premium.

Simply stated, we are so focused on creatively communicating God’s Word that we remain unaware of the real-life settings of the children. 

One simple example is the use of the word Father in describing God. The term father has become a painful term for many children living in broken homes and/or experiencing domestic violence.

I am certainly not advocating we abandon the term “Father” as it is a common biblical metaphor for God, however, this is a life issue that should obviously affect how we help children integrate the idea of God the Father into their real life.

Unfortunately, this issue has gone untouched in most Bible curricula for decades.

2. Faith and Works Debate

For decades, the Protestant evangelical movement has debated the issue of justification by works alone, apart from any works of the law.

Rarely do you hear a presentation of the gospel made without stating unequivocally that you cannot work your way into God’s favor.

Without delving into a biblical/theological debate, the opposite of grace, faith, forgiveness, and the unconditional love of God is not good works, commonly referred to as virtues. The opposite of grace is guilt, shame, and unresolved alienation. 

Children need to be taught that Christian virtues are not necessarily an effort to earn God’s favor. 

Responding to God’s Word in action is not necessarily a moralistic self-righteous effort to get on God’s good side. Rather it is being prompted by the Holy Spirit to live as God intends. 

3. Sunday Morning Syndrome

Formal education in a school system can seem somewhat removed from real living (just ask an engineer, accountant, or business major). 

Similarly “Sunday School,” or the children’s ministry in general, whatever you call it, can seem distant from life on Monday morning.

Many children, might we even say adults, partition off Sunday morning from the remainder of the week. We even have the term “Sunday morning Christians.” 

This unintentionally creates a barrier between the children’s ministry Bible teaching and real life for the remainder of the week. Too many children quietly view Christianity not as life with Christ but as attending church on Sunday.

4. No Earthly Good

Evangelical Christianity has placed a significant emphasis on the assurance that you will go to heaven when you die as the central theme of Christianity.

Many children hear the wordless book, the message of salvation, and other “gospel” presentations weekly. This convinces them that Christianity is about believing certain things that affect what happens when you die.

However, the rich and treasured message of the gospel is about experiencing eternal life now and for eternity. And while it is certainly true that we will be with God forever, He has a life and mission for His people now, including children.

Salvation is a rescue from sin and the enslavement of Satan and this world as well as assurance of forgiveness for eternity. Children need to be taught that God has a plan for their lives and that through Christ, they can experience the life He intends for them.

Closing Thoughts

So What?

This last Sunday I was teaching a lesson for the New Year and was focusing on resolutions.

Specifically, what does God want us to change in 2024 to continue to become more and more Christlike? I had in mind the problem of making resolutions and then not keeping them.

I chose Luke 18, Jesus’ interaction with the Rich Young Ruler. He was presented with the opportunity to make a resolution regarding his wealth and did not respond well.

Before beginning to work on the “response” activity, I thought about some of the children in my class.

  • A girl who has a lot of pressure to get good grades.
  • Two boys who really are into their travel baseball team.
  • A boy with some learning challenges.
  • A boy with several much older brothers in a blended family.
  • A girl I know is struggling with her faith.

I prayed and asked God to allow each of those children to respond to God regarding what He wanted to change in their life in 2024. I created a simple “resolution” activity at the end of my Bible lesson that went very well and hopefully will continue into the coming year.

This weekend in your children’s ministry spend some time in preparation, thinking, and praying about the children in the ministry.

Ask yourself “so, what” does my teaching have to do with the children? What is their real-life setting and how can your Bible teaching connect to those real-life situations?

God’s desire is to see children continue to grow in Christ, experiencing His life-changing love and power.

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