As Children’s ministry people, we deeply value the discipleship of children and want them to apply the truths of the Bible to every day life. We are always looking for better ways to help children in connecting to God and the truth of Scripture. Where things usually get muddled is in evaluating how effective the applications we provide are in creating real life transformation.
Connecting to God through Wondering
One way to personalize the application children make from our teaching times is to take time for wondering instead of providing a simplified and pre-packaged Bible truth.
We want to make the message of the Bible clear and easy to grasp, but in that process we have to be careful not to remove the element of awe and discovery that may extinguish children’s natural curiosity about the Bible. I’m not talking about trying to awe them with our presentation of the gospel, I am talking about leading them to awe in the gospel.
We have to be careful not to remove the element of awe and discovery that extinguishes children’s natural curiosity about the Bible #kidmin
We can also have a point to our teaching that drives our communication of truth without driving the kids to boredom by repeating that truth over and over again. I know, I know… kids need repetition in order to remember things, but is remembering truth our ultimate goal? …Cause I thought we wanted them to believe truth and let it transform their life.
Connecting to God requires children to personalize how they apply Biblical teaching
Long ago in my grad school days, I remember a class discussion on helping children make relevant life application from a Bible lesson. One of the issues my professor brought up was the inability of children to move from a specific application to a more broad application. So for instance if the topic was obeying your parents and the specific application made during the class discussion was cleaning your room when you are asked, children may not be able to generalize that application into obeying your parents when you are asked to help with other chores or obey in other circumstances.
My professor suggested that we build into our teaching ways to help the children come up with their own application, giving space for the Holy Spirit to speak into what was happening within each child. After all, how can we as teachers guess the application each child needs to make?
This professor also challenged us to come up with a big idea for our lesson plans but then do everything we can to help those we teach discover the big idea rather than just tell them what it is. This isn’t an effort to confuse children or keep the goal of our teaching a secret, rather it is an effort to lead them into all truth.
But when He the, Spirit of truth, shall come, He will guide you into all the truth. … “
But whenever The Spirit of The Truth comes, he will lead you into the whole truth, for he will … The Spirit shall convince the world, of sin; not merely tell them of it. John 16:13
Current children’s ministry and Children’s ministry curriculum is heavily influenced by marketing strategies that emphasize a less is more approach and repeat one big idea to help ensure that children “get it.” The idea is that by honing in on a simplified Bible truth, we can make it stick. The problem is there is still a lot of telling.
When we tell a child a Bible story that emphasizes God’s infinite power and then say, “See, God can do anything” it is pretty easy to skip the part where the child actually believes that God can do anything.
They may remember the Bible truth and even be able to repeat it when their parents ask them what they learned in Sunday school, but there may still be a large gap between their experience of who God is and what they were told is true about God.
I would much rather my children feel God’s power and be in awe of Him than have them be able to repeat a Bible truth to me when we talk about church during Sunday lunch.
Going back to what my professor said about moving from specific to generalized application, the children may see God’s power as it was displayed in the story they heard, without being able to apply that power to the circumstances they face in everyday life or even understanding that that story was for them.
How do we miss the mark in leading children toward connecting to God
First, we assume if we teach Biblical truth in bite sized, easy to remember ways that children will be better able to apply those truths to everyday life, but as we discovered above moving from a specific idea to a general application is not an easy task for children.
Second, Adults often underestimate the spiritual potential of children to experience God for themselves. We think we have to tell them how to do it and then organize it for them into child sized chunks of truth. When we do this we can take on the role of the Holy Spirit and rob children of experiencing the Spirit’s power for themselves.
Third, We don’t leave enough space for reflection and wondering in the time we spend with children which perpetuates our misunderstanding of children’s spiritual potential.
Godly Play uses wondering to help children in connecting to God
One of the most rewarding aspects of using the Godly Play approach with the children in our church has been hearing their responses during the wondering portion of the lesson. If you are not familiar with the Godly Play approach you can read more about it here, but even if you don’t use Godly play, the method described here is valuable to those who teach children about God and the Bible.
Godly Play stories set aside a time for wondering after the lesson. Each story includes a set of questions that vary depending on the genre of story. Here are some examples– I wonder…
- What is your favorite part?
- What is your least favorite part?
- What part of the story could really be about you?
- What part could be left out and still have all the story we need?
One of the biggest differences between wondering and class discussion that typically use the Socratic method is that in the Socratic method the teacher uses a strategic line of questioning to lead the students toward a correct line of thinking. Wondering, though not aimless, does not know where the discussion will lead and requires that the teacher enters into wondering with the children.
Leading the wondering is more of an art than a science. The wondering questions are provided, but as the storyteller, it matters how you ask the questions and respond to the answers.
When done well the approach is
Playful, yet serious.
Personal, yet involves the collaboration of the community.
Peaceful, yet energetic.
Simple, yet profound.
At the heart of this approach is authenticity and welcome. Great care is taken to protect this time and nurture it as a time of reflection. As the leader, there is a sense of letting go of expectations of where the wondering may go that requires trust in the presence of God to guide the children. You are truly listening to the response of the children and valuing both what they say and who they are. Serving as a guide, but not dictating the outcome.
This approach to connecting with God and His stories stands in contrast to most children’s ministry teaching resources by refraining from providing children with a simplified Bible truth. Instead, encouraging the idea that there are many layers and many applications from God’s stories. One of the wondering questions asks, I wonder what is the most important part of this story and then leaves the children to decide. Allowing for many possible ideas about what is most important.
The idea is to teach an approach to entering the story that leaves room for the child to listen to the Holy Spirit and to make their own connections to Biblical truth.
My experience with wondering is that both the storyteller and the children grow into it over time. And even that child who always wants to add some random bit of information about what he is having for lunch after church may be getting more out of the wondering than what can be measured outwardly.
It is also during this time that the depth of what the children already know is true about God comes out. They become teachers to one another and to me. And because silence is an appropriate response, it has been awesome to see the children who have quietly observed for months suddenly share something. It’s rewarding to know that their response wasn’t manipulated, but they came to a point of readiness over time.
There are others who have written about wondering and Godly Play and explained this process more beautifully than me.
Connecting to God through wondering using any curriculum
One side effect of my Godly Play experience is that I can’t seem to stop wondering. #godlyplay
I teach AWANA Cubbies on Wednesday nights and the children and I have fallen into a pattern of wondering together even though the curriculum takes a very different approach than Godly Play.
When we use the provided teaching pictures we wonder about how the people in the picture may be feeling, we wonder about what God might do next, we wonder about what we like about the picture and even what we don’t like. It’s fun! It’s puts me on their level and helps me see things from their perspective.
One time we wondered about one of the pictures depicting Jesus in heaven and the children were very moved by the holes in Jesus’ hands from being nailed to the cross. I hadn’t even noticed that detail in the picture, but to them this was very powerful. They even reasoned that the holes were there because Jesus had already died for their sins and was now in heaven. And then several imagined themselves as one of the children in the picture with Jesus.
If I would have simply taught the lesson without including the wondering, I doubt any of the children would have thought about the story in this way.
We even wonder about the Bible point that is presented in the lesson. For instance, one of the units had God is the one true God as the Big idea. We wondered about what that might mean. The children offered their ideas and drew their own connections from the stories they heard most of which had to do with choosing the one true God over idol worship.
So we talked about what it looked like to worship the one true God and that was when they began to make connections to their own lives and about how they worship God. Their answers were sweet, and sincere, and thoughtful.
Wondering is a teaching approach that allows children to reflect and express their thoughts in a way that goes beyond getting the “right” answers or gaining the approval of the teacher.
Wondering allows children to reflect and express their thoughts beyond getting the “right” answers or gaining the approval of the teacher.
Sometimes the wondering allows them to ask questions that they really want to know the answer to and we get to wonder together as we answer questions.
Teaching children to enter God’s stories and draw out truth in their own way helps teach them to rely on the Holy Spirit’s power to reveal truth in their life. It engages their natural curiosity about the Bible and allows each child to come to understanding of truth in their own time.
Wondering is a powerful method in connecting to God and the Bible.
This post is part of a series on the learning strategies used in Reflective Children’s ministry. Check out my other posts in this series:
- Using Process Art to Encourage Children’s Spiritual Development
- Learning Engagement: The Key to Children’s Ministry that goes beyond Entertainment
- More…coming soon!
How do you include time for wondering and reflection in your teaching time with children?
What dangers are there in this approach?
How does sporadic church attendance impact how we feel like we need to communicate truth? Is there a connection between how we teach and the pressure we feel by the limited amount of time we have with the children in our ministries?