Use these three tools to assess and understand where kids are spiritually.
Growing up as an avid soccer player, I was blessed with a high school coach who poured countless hours of drills and skills into my training time. As goalie, I was the last line of defense against the opponents’ opportunity to score. I got the tools I needed to be successful at my post from countless sweaty sessions of repetitive training before games — training that prepared me for what I’d face when practice ended and the real game began.
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Shortly before our regional tournament, my coach surprised me with a new technique in his training methodology. He edited our game films and compiled a video of all the goals scored on me during the season. My coach was very thorough — so thorough that he even edited my errors in slow motion so my weaknesses and vulnerability became obvious. Though it was uncomfortable to watch myself make mistakes (especially in slow motion), I was able to dissect where I’d gone wrong and formulate a corrective approach. Together we spent hours assessing each goal and determining whether I was using the techniques I’d learned in practice.
All those pre-game drills and exercises did help prepare me for the real game, but my real growth as a competitor came during those sit-downs when my coach and I evaluated my progress and examined my weaknesses. The game film was living-color proof of the basic principles of goal-keeping I’d mastered and those I hadn’t quite grasped. I’ll never forget all the bruises, bleeding knees, and muddy jerseys that came along with goalie practice, but I know my learning curve soared when we took time to gauge my progress as a player.
In our privileged role as children’s ministers, we spend many hours in preparation and practice as we deliver lessons to kids. Our hearts are passionate about preparing these children for a lifelong walk with Jesus. But how can we know whether children truly grasp the truths we teach? How can we evaluate what makes it from practice to the field when it comes to kids’ faith? And how can we help them make progress in their faith journeys?
“Examine yourselves to see if your faith is genuine. Test yourselves,” wrote Paul in 2 Corinthians 13:5-6. “Surely you know that Jesus Christ is among you; if not, you have failed the test of genuine faith. As you test yourselves, I hope you will recognize that we have not failed the test of apostolic authority.” The Corinthians had professed faith in Jesus, and Paul was challenging them to make their walk match their talk. To be effective ministers to children, we too need to consider how kids’ beliefs play out in their lives.
Matthew 5:13-16 instructs us to be salt and light in a dark world. Salt is often described as the more subtle influence — the small, daily decisions that season our life. Light is the obvious influence — our words and actions that demonstrate to the world where our allegiance lies. If you replayed the footage of your children’s daily lives, what would it reveal about the salt and light in their lives? What evidence would their words and actions give that they truly grasp the truths we teach?
A friend of mine went to church every Sunday with his grandfather. Every Sunday on the way home from church his grandfather would ask, “What did you learn today at church?” Every Sunday, my friend answered, “God hates sin.”
The lessons changed weekly, but my friend’s answer remained the same. As adults we can be so quick to accept kids’ first answers and be content with “proper” Sunday school responses that we rarely dig deeper to investigate what truths kids really understand and where they are spiritually.
Three simple tools can help you gain better understanding of where your children are spiritually: good questions, life application, and loving accountability.
Jesus knew how to ask good questions, and he often used questions as a way to gauge whether his followers really understood his teachings. Some examples:
- In John 21 Jesus asks Simon Peter three times: “Do you love me?”
- On the raging sea in Mark 4 Jesus asked, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
- “Who do you say I am?” Jesus asked his disciples in Mark 8.
Jesus already knew their answers, but he used probing questions as a teaching tool to shed light on his followers’ beliefs. Often Jesus used a series of questions to dig into his disciples’ faith and understanding.
Good questions give you valuable insight into where kids stand spiritually; mediocre questions, on the other hand, don’t. Mediocre questions merely gauge kids’ grasp of content, but good questions help discern whether kids understand, internalize, and apply principles in their lives. Good questions require time, thought, and patience — but you’ll hit pay dirt when you gain fresh understanding about a child’s spiritual growth thanks to thoughtful questioning.
Don’t settle for pat Sunday school answers such as “God hates sin.” As vital as asking appropriate, thought-provoking questions, so is seeking meaningful and truthful answers. Ask questions to discover what kids are really learning in your class, and keep asking until you strike the core of their belief.
For all kids:
- What did you learn about God today?
- How do you understand God better after today’s lesson?
- What does this lesson teach you about Jesus Christ?
- Tell me what the Scripture means in your own words.
For older kids:
- What changes do you need to make in your life after hearing today’s lesson?
- How will today’s lesson affect your day tomorrow, either at school or with your family and friends?
- How would you explain this lesson to a friend at school this week?
- What attitudes or actions in your life need to change to help you live out the truths in today’s lesson and Scripture?