Here’s how to teach kids about miracles of Jesus in Sunday school that help them get to know the miracle-maker!
In the seven years I’ve been a family pastor, we’ve covered the feeding of the 5,000 five times in vacation Bible school. Such good drama! Great special effects with a never-emptying basket of fish! But are drama and special effects really why the miracles of Jesus are included in the Bible? Are they set up to function as tall tales or even comic relief? Sadly, some in your church may think so. They may privately dismiss Bible “stories” as fairy tales meant for kids. Or maybe they’ve heard the same stories so many times they’ve become desensitized to their truth.
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Do you ever worry that the children in your ministry view the miracles of Jesus’ life as fiction, as merely good drama and special effects? Do you wonder if kids are truly inspired by Jesus’ amazing life and sacrifice? If you do, take heart — you’re not alone.
But what does it take to grab a skeptic’s attention — whether adult or child — and change a heart?
Well, that’s fairly simple: It takes a children’s minister who can walk on water, right alongside Jesus. It takes a children’s minister whose biblical imagination is so fully developed that he or she believes without doubt that with God all things are possible. It takes a children’s minister who lives by the certainty that miracles such as transforming lives or feeding 5,000 with a few fish and loaves truly are possible. It takes a children’s minister who’s eager to meet Jesus and to plunge into his miracles as if for the very first time each and every Sunday.
So…can you walk on water?
If you’re nervously looking for your water wings, read on. We’ll learn the basics of water-walking — or reintroducing yourself to the wonder and glory of Jesus through the eyes and hearts of the children you serve.
Check Your Flotation Device
To understand Jesus, kids need to learn about the events that paint a full picture of him, a portrait of Jesus as fully human and fully divine. Having that full disclosure about our Savior gets their attention and shakes them up so they realize their faith in Jesus calls for them to do more than simply sit back and passively consume biblical information. Kids need the miraculous and the off-putting, the attractive and the controversial, the comforting and the unsettling elements of Jesus’ life spooned out in age-appropriate doses.
As their teacher, mentor, leader, you’re charged with the task of making certain your personal flotation device is fully inflated, properly positioned, and not losing air through leaks in need of repair. In a nutshell, to teach kids about the gospel, you must be full of it and leak-free. Read, re-read, and understand God’s Word. Don’t worry about memorizing facts or names; focus on learning the truths spelled out in the Bible. Learn about the Old Testament as it builds anticipation and the New Testament as it proclaims the good news of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection for us. Feed yourself on this knowledge, spend time with God to prevent leaks and repair old ones, and make sure you’re living what you’re teaching.
Deploy Your Biblical Imagination
To inspire and impart God’s Word to kids, a biblical imagination is key. And I don’t mean imagination in the sense of playing “let’s pretend.” I mean learning a true sense of hopeful expectation based on the details of the Bible’s heroes, a sense that God acted in the past, that God saved his people again and again, that God sent Jesus to save us once and for all, that God will act again in our future. I mean being fully captivated by God’s actions and Jesus’ life. Building a biblical imagination involves waiting passionately in joyful expectation of what God will do next.
As a children’s minister, staying centered on Jesus and developing a joyful biblical imagination is critical to the future of the church. After all, how can you lean on or pass on a flimsy faith? How can you inspire children if you’re uninspired yourself? You’ve got to have passion to share it. You must be full of a sturdy, sound faith to inspire the next generation to develop and use their biblical imaginations. Every Christian needs regular encounters with Jesus, coming into contact with the whole of Jesus’ personality and ministry, to keep us from creating our own favorite flavor of personal savior. The true Jesus is far different and far more amazing than any Jesus we might invent. So be inspired to get to know Jesus all over again in the gospels — regularly — and share your discovery with kids.
Dip Your Toe
As Jesus fed 5,000 people with just two fish and five loaves — and let’s not forget, a prayer — the disciples caught a glimpse of Jesus, the miracle-worker; Jesus, the popular provider; Jesus, the instant celebrity; or as the crowds viewed him, Jesus, the Hebrew equivalent of a rock star. The crowds made Jesus their king right there and then. At least they’d never go hungry.
The pumped-up disciples were then dismayed to watch Jesus immediately walk away from the promise of fame and fortune. What’s more, just when it was getting good for them as his entourage, Jesus sent the disciples away. Jesus went off alone and the disciples traveled ahead by boat, cutting off the northern tip of the lake on their journey back to Capernaum.
Jesus was always full of surprises for his companions, but what he did next no one was prepared for. The disciples were already overwhelmed by the days’ events and possibly overwrought by the darkness and rough seas. So when Jesus came walking toward them on the water, they were terrified, afraid, freakin’ out.
We want Jesus to calm our seas. Just like the disciples, we generally expect God to be present and helpful in trouble, hence the many “fox-hole conversions” when people are in desperate situations. In these tenuous moments, we hope for and pray to a big God willing to save us.
But do we expect a God who will go out of his way to get our attention, a God who shows himself to us in unmistakable ways in the midst of daily life, a God who reminds us he isn’t bound by the physical realm — since he created it? That’s what Jesus did on the water — he turned the ordinary act of walking to meet the disciples (who had a three-mile head start) into a miracle by the extraordinary act of walking on water.
Walking ever nearer over the wind-tossed waves and through the darkness, Jesus responded to the terrified disciples with a calm, “It is I,” as the NRSV translates his Greek phrase ego eimi. A closer look at the Greek text reveals that, “It is I” could or should be translated as, “I AM.”
“I AM.” This is the same phrase God uses in Exodus 3:14 when Moses trips over the burning bush, takes off his flip-flops on holy ground and receives his orders to go before Pharaoh and audaciously give God’s command, “Let my people go!” Moses hems and haws and finally asks, “Who should I say is sending me?” In other words, “Who are you, anyway?” In response, God reveals his own name as I AM, the verb’s present tense showing that God exists, is alive at this very moment, yet isn’t bound by time.
Moses asks, “Who are you, God?”
God responds, “I AM.”
So, too, in this mid-lake moment, just in case the disciples missed it in the confusion and work of feeding 5,000 with one meager lunch, just in case the disciples missed it in Jesus’ marching up to their boat over the waves, just in case we’ve missed it in our busy lives and ministries, Jesus insists, “I AM,” essentially saying “I am Yahweh. I am God. Got it?”
Jesus walks on water, seeks his struggling disciples in rough waters, shows himself to be God, and calms their hearts. Then Jesus says, “Do not fear.” We all long to hear those words in crisis, “Don’t go on being afraid.”
As a children’s minister, you’ve probably had your share of fox-hole moments. What do you mean, six volunteers called in with the flu? Why didn’t anyone tell me DeShaun’s parents were getting a divorce? Oh, God, give me strength, I don’t know if I can make it through another Sunday…
Whether you’re experiencing fox-hole moments or smooth sailing, never lose sight of who you work for. In moments of doubt, trial, and fear, lean on God — and let kids see do it. When God is your go-to person, kids take note of it. When you trust God and put your foot into the water, your kids will be there, cheering you on, inspired to test the water themselves.
Show Off a Little
Jesus walked on water and turned the world upside down. The Scriptures tell us that when the disciples recognized Jesus walking across the water, they “wanted to take him into the boat.” As a fourth-grader might say, “Well, duh!” When the boat reached land, the disciples followed Jesus with new commitment. And this miracle lead to many teachable moments since Jesus officially had the disciples’ full attention.
Does Jesus have your full attention? Or are you so wrapped up in logistics and ministry issues you forget to focus on Jesus? Do you present Jesus in such a dynamic way that he grabs your kids’ attention? Do you show off what Jesus can do? Do you showcase his love and glory? What about kids’ families? Do they encounter Jesus in powerful ways in your ministry? Whether families are ready to give Jesus their full attention, he is ready for them. God’s got big feats of ministry in mind. See what can happen if you show off Jesus — even just a little.
Ask yourself: Who is Jesus to me? Jesus who feeds 5,000? Jesus who turns water into wine? Jesus who walks on water? Jesus who reassures, “Don’t go on being afraid”? Through your faith and teaching, Jesus is alive, powerful, and present to the parents and children in your ministry. Take time in meditation each week. Tell Jesus where you are: I’m ready to take you into my boat. Or, I wish I was ready — help me in my doubts. Ask God to use you where you are, then serve with creativity and imagination. Use your biblical imagination as you learn from God’s Word and teach and lead others.
• • •
Jesus’ miracles are more than just tall tales. When all is said and done, Jesus’ miracles are written so that we may have faith, so we may know Jesus as God. Will you give Jesus your full attention, reading the Scriptures, which bear witness to his life, death, and resurrection? Will you hear him in the midst of rough seas: “I AM; don’t go on being afraid”? Will you respond in faith? Will you serve children with biblical imagination? Will you step out of the boat and follow Jesus, our God who walks on water?
Author Tassie Green is acting associate pastor for Christian formation and family life at Union Church of Hinsdale, Illinois.