Making Disciples who have the tools to feed themselves (and others)
Before I was a pastor I trained as a primary school teacher. Something I loved about the English education system was the desire not just to give the children lots of knowledge but also to give them the tools and skills to continue learning throughout their lives once they had left school. Sadly, the introduction of school league tables has eroded this perspective. Now the main aim is teaching children exam techniques and giving them the information needed to pass them, rather than teaching children the skills and tools to become lifelong learners.
Obviously in our churches we don’t have exams and league tables. However, from my observations on many children’s ministry classes, it seems that we tend to follow the second structure and not the former. We rightly long to fill the children’s minds with bible stories and sound doctrine and the knowledge of who God is and why He is good for us. But wouldn’t we want more? The answer should be yes. I do long that, our ministries will help the children continue to learn about God, by themselves, outside of the classes we provide. I desire to give them the tools, skills, and questions to be self-learners and hopefully having the tools to help others learn from them.
How could you do this? Firstly, you will have to decide that this is what you want. It is hard to be successful in anything if you don’t have an aim. If this desire to make learners is part of your plan, then you need to give it a little thought as you prepare each one of your classes. But how could you do it? Putting it very simply, involve the children in the learning process. When they are very young, you will need to lead and direct them most of the time, but as they grow your leading should encourage them to think more independently.
Start, in every class and age group, by using the two questions I have mentioned before in the previous article in this series:
1) What does this tell us about God? And,
2) Why is this good for us and the world?
For the very young (2 to 4 year old) you will have to provide virtually all the input for the class, but always ask them the two questions and give them time to think a little and answer. Even if they don’t, they will be learning that we look in the Bible and come to church to learn more about God and why He is good for us and the world.
With the older children, they will know the questions before you ask them. This is great! Just make a joke of it sometimes! But let them spend time on their own, or in pairs searching the scriptures to answer the questions for themselves. Maybe they will see things that you have never seen before and connect it to their lives and situations in wonderful ways! Obviously, we will need to be giving them more skills and tools to open up the Bible but isn’t this what we want? We are striving to get them to a point where they don’t need us, and maybe to a point where they can take our place. We should want to get them ready to live the Christian life that is in front of them and discover and encounter God for themselves.
So, let’s think and plan and give them the time and space (with supervision) to use the tools we are teaching them. How? We could start by using the 5 basic questions that their schools are teaching them in most subjects: what, where, when, how and why.
Get them to find the big idea that a passage or story is teaching about God. Teach them to look for repeated words or phrases, surprises etc. Get them to have some fun trying to work out how this one story or passage in the book fits together with what happened before and after it. Give them a rough idea of the big story of the whole Bible and get them to think about how the part they are looking at fits overall to help them see how God reveals himself.
You might be thinking this is too advanced for them, but I really don’t think it is. At school they are learning and investigating very complicated stuff for themselves, yet on Sundays we spoon feed them very simple truths about God. Over time you need to build up their skills and teach them how to do it, but by the age of 11, I would expect the children to be using real bibles (maybe with simplified words) and doing most of the investigating for themselves.
I think that one of the reasons we have bored or misbehaved children at church is because we are not stretching or challenging them enough. If you need convincing, just google the topics they study at school on Maths and Science.
My biggest longing with this series is to get you thinking. So, please spend some time thinking about what you want from you children’s ministry. Don’t forget to involve your pastor. And then, once you have an aim, discuss what you are currently doing in the ministry and be brave. If it helps the objective – keep it, if it doesn’t, even if it is something your church has done for 30 years, get rid of it.
We work with these children for 1-2 hours each week. Let’s make every minute count.
Finally – PRAY
You can have the best aim for the ministry, the best team of leaders ever assembled, with parents playing their part every day but unless God is at work, nothing that you do matters. Our ultimate desire is to change the children’s hearts to love and serve the Lord. That is something none of us can do. Only God can do that.
So pray, and pray and pray. I honestly believe that the most significant change any church can make to their children’s ministry is to decide to meet as leaders each Sunday before the children arrive to pray for 10 minutes for each one of the children, every week.
And who knows what the Lord will surprise us with?