Framing the Faith

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Is your teaching in one ear and out the other? Maybe
— or maybe not.

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Children’s ministry looks a lot different to me now than it used
to. Over the past few years my understanding of the purpose behind
children’s ministry has changed — dramatically. The goals I set
and the approaches I take in teaching aren’t what they used to be.
And — this may make you cringe — I’m beginning to realize that no
matter how well I teach a lesson, much of what I say to a child in
Sunday school may actually go in one ear and out the other. But
that’s not because teaching is a waste of time or kids aren’t
learning. It’s because as much as the amazing truths of our faith
are difficult for adults to grasp, they can be even more difficult
for children.

If you grew up going to church, think back to your Sunday school
days. Maybe you remember a handful of specific things from
memorable lessons. You could probably recount some main events of
the Bible. But you likely didn’t grasp the deeper truths of
Christianity until you were older — things such as grace,
forgiveness, and sacrifice. That’s not because your teachers
weren’t effective. It’s simply because developmentally kids learn
on a spectrum that begins with concrete concepts and develops into
deeper understanding of abstract ones. Kids build that bridge from
the concrete to the abstract over years. They do it using the tools
of discovery and repetition in sync with their brain’s
development.

Many of the most important concepts in God’s Word are highly
abstract. So when you wonder whether kids are getting the message,
they are. It’s just that kids will absorb what they can when
they’re developmentally ready.

But don’t be discouraged — you have very important work to do
that’s essential to all kids “getting the message” as they grow and
develop. While kids may not fully grasp many of the awesome and
life-changing things you tell them about Jesus until later, you
have the important task of providing them the tools to help them
build a framework for the faith they’ll later step into.

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Examining the Framework

Christian tradition, or our statement of faith, is one basis kids
can stand on as they begin their faith journey. Ironically, I’ve
found this important information is often overlooked when it comes
to children’s ministry because we’re home-blind to it; we tend to
assume that kids will automatically absorb the basics of our faith
along the way, even if they’re never directly articulated to them.
These are basic truths such as, “God’s grace, not our good works,
is what assures us eternal life” and “Jesus is the only way to
God.” But if we fail to carefully instruct kids on the details of
our beliefs, how will they fully understand what Christians really
believe? And could this lack of understanding contribute to the
fact that so many Christian kids grow up and leave the church when
their faith is challenged?

These two questions became very real to me in conversations with
college students about their experiences growing up in church. It
was during these discussions that I realized people’s views of the
church and of Christianity itself varied greatly — from confusion
to superficial understanding to detailed comprehension. I began to
wonder if we as Christian educators are missing something when it
comes to teaching our kids.

My curiosity led me to create the Christian Truths Survey, based
on the foundational Christian beliefs of the Apostle’s Creed and on
three main categories related to our faith: salvation, the Trinity,
and general biblical truths (note the distinction between biblical
truths and Bible trivia). I designed the survey to gain insights
about 185 elementary-age churched kids’ understanding of our faith,
and I enlisted the expertise of pastors and experts in children’s
education and faith to build it. The questions ranged from factual
questions (multiple choice and true/false), such as, “True or
False: People can get to heaven by doing good things” to open-ended
questions, such as, “How do we receive salvation?”

Ultimately, what began as an exercise in curiosity developed into
a project with surprising results that really did change the way I
think about children’s ministry. Perhaps it’ll change your views,
too.

     

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