Teach Jesus-Centered Truth
The gospels are filled with powerful accounts of Jesus defying our
moral categories. He snubs the good and religious people for an
opportunity to dine with known sinners. Jesus is even accused of
having too good a time with these people (see Luke 7:34). Our
Savior enjoyed broken people without being changed by them.
Through Jesus' example, we can start a conversation with children
about what it's like to love and accept their friends and
classmates without picking up habits that displease God. We can
teach children to be confident while building friendships and
inviting others to church. We can teach them to be like Jesus in an
I help teach a weekly Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) class at my church.
We've held the free course for more than a year and have attracted
a variety of participants-middle-aged men, teenagers, medical
students, and more. Some are Christ-followers; more are not. I love
the class because it offers the potential for faith conversations
with an eclectic group.
I was disturbed after one class, though, when Eric told me he
intended to fight at an upcoming cage match. (Our state recently
legalized MMA fighting.) Eric just graduated from high school and
doesn't have a real plan for what's next. When I offered to help
him fill out financial aid forms for school, he thanked me but then
changed the topic back to his cage fight.
I think his fight is a bad idea for several reasons. Our class
isn't a training camp or even a real school. To have a chance in
the cage, Eric must train four hours a day. Also, MMA is, well,
dangerous, with fewer regulations than other sports. My fatherly
instinct doesn't want to see Eric get seriously hurt as he figures
out what he wants to do with his life.
I think we minister to children a lot like I'm training Eric. I'm
willing to teach him all the pieces of the game-the striking, the
redneck jiu jitsu, and the clinch-but I don't want him to actually
use those tools in a real-life situation. I suspect that we parents
and children's ministers fall into the same trap. We talk about
loving people who think differently from us and about sharing our
faith in a conversational manner. But deep down, we're worried
about our kids ever trying that. Someone might get hurt!
Trust the God Who Commissions
We must accept that life is messy, and we can't hide our children
from all its dangers. However, we must also remember that we serve
a loving God whose plan doesn't include wantonly discarding our
kids to save the lost. God isn't asking us to place children in
situations they aren't ready to handle. On the other hand, he is
inviting kids to imitate his love that reaches out and extends to
people who don't yet know him. When we encourage and train children
to share their faith, we help them understand the heart of God, who
sent his only Son to save them.
God seems to be testing me even as I write this article. Amy is
pulling out of the driveway with our two youngest boys, heading to
a picnic hosted by an openly unchristian couple. Amy knows the wife
from a former job, and the husband describes himself as a Satanist.
Gulp. One evening over dinner after our wives excused themselves to
the powder room, the Satanist and I were left together at a table
to find common ground. He informed me that when the neighborhood
Christians discovered their religion, they immediately forbade
their children from playing with their kids.
It was an awkward moment. I confessed that we Christians often
tend to be driven by fear, which sometimes comes off as meanness.
Right now, I'm feeling a bit apprehensive as thoughts race through
my mind. But God is reminding me that he loves this couple's
children as much as he loves mine. Perhaps through this picnic and
our children's friendship, this family will take a step toward a
loving God they haven't yet met.
Larry Shallenberger is the next generation pastor at Grace
Church in Erie, Pennsylvania.