What do you think children need to know about spirituality? How do you teach them spiritual disciplines?
When we teach children about living the Christian life, our tendency is to begin with telling about what a Christian does (gathering with other Christians for worship, reading the Bible, praying, singing, journaling, memorizing, serving). Those things that we do are important parts of the Christian life. But I want so suggest that we don’t just need to teach children what to do. We need to teach them who they are.
This is the pattern in Paul’s letters. In letters like Ephesians, Colossians, and Romans, Paul begins by telling the saints who they are in Christ. Then, he goes on to challenge them to live up to these identities. For example, in Ephesians chapters 1-3, Paul tells the church, “You are chosen in Christ. You are sealed with the Holy Spirit. You were made alive when you were dead. You are saved by grace. You are God’s workmanship. You are not foreigners and strangers, but you are citizens. You are part of God’s household.” Then, in 4:1, Paul writes, “I urge you to live up to the calling that you’ve received.” In other words, be who you are.
Christians are God’s people that he has saved and made alive by faith. When we call children to respond to the gospel message, we are calling them to be a part of a gospel people—to be a part of the church. And, as a gospel people, the church has at least five identities. They are a believing family, a community of worshipers, of missionaries, of servants, and of learners (or disciples). Once young believers know who they are in Christ, we can challenge them to be who they are. In other words, we call them to live as the people that God has made them to be.
At Sojourn, we consistently teach these 5 Christian identities to both adults and children. I will overview them with you. I’ll list each identity then follow it by answering three questions: Who are you? [explanation of each identity] Where are you? [diagnostic questions to help you think about where the kids in your ministry are in relation to these identities] What do I do? [practical next steps]1. WORSHIPERS.
- Who are you? We are worshipers. We respond to God’s call to worship by living for His praise in every part of our lives. We worship when we respond to His grace with prayer and praise. Our whole life an act of worship made pleasing to God because of Christ’s sacrifice for our sins. (Romans 12:1; John 4:23-24; Hebrews 10:1)
- Where are you? What do you do on a regular basis to worship God? Do you find yourself thanking God or singing songs to Him on a regular basis? Do you give your best praise to God or to things that he has created? Do you feel free to be responsive during our worship services (sing loud, clap, dance, raise hands)? Do you give money to God?
- What do I do? Come back next week. Find five things to praise God for this coming week. Respond to God during music today. [Chilren’s music leaders are raising the next generation of worshipers, so they need to be as intentional about calling for engaged responsive, worship as the worship pastor for the adult congregation. “Clap your hands. Raise your hands. Shout out something you’re thankful for!”] Give during the weekly offering.
- Who are you? We are family. We are children of God who live and care for each other as brothers and sisters in Christ (Genesis 12:1-3; John 1:12-13; Romans 12:10-16).
- Where are you? Do you have close friendships with your faith family? Do you treat older men as fathers? Do you treat older women as mothers? Do you treat younger women as sisters? Do you treat younger men as brothers? Do you have anyone holding you accountable? Do you pray for your family regularly? Do you celebrate good things with your faith family?
- What do I do? Treat one another like family members [language we use in disciplinary situations in children’s ministry—“The Bible says to teach young women as sisters. The Bible says to treat older men as fathers. Would you treat your father this way?]. Help out one another when you are hurting. Pray for each other [e.g. praying for a child’s dead pet is worth it, because the child is suffering]. Have parties together. Have fun!! **For adults, our primary expression of the family identity is our small groups that meet in homes (We call them community groups). You won’t usually have vulnerable small groups in children’s ministry (maybe the girls). But you can prepare kids for this when they are older by teaching them to share prayer requests and pray, help another kid who is suffering, and by allowing them to enjoy one another and have parties together.
- Who are you? We are servants of God who serve others with our lives because Christ Himself came to serve and to give His life for us (Matthew 20:25-28; 25:31-46; John 13:1-17; Philippians 2:5-11; 1 Peter 2:16).
- Where are you? Do you think of others more highly than yourself? Do you serve the church body as part of a ministry area? Do you serve your community or city in any way?
- What do I do? Serve during a Sunday worship gathering--passing offering plate (our 5th graders did this at VBS), passing out notes, serving coffee, playing instruments (a 10 year-old played at this year’s VBS), youth can serve in childcare on Sundays). [At Sojourn, we call our Sunday workers “servants” and never volunteers. It’s who we are.] Serve at a local homeless shelter with your family. Pick up trash in your neighborhood.
- Who are you? We are missionaries sent by God with his good news of salvation and restoration (John 1:14; 20:21; Colossians 1:19; 2 Corinthians 5:17-21).
- Where are you? Do you hang out with people who are not Christians? Do you talk about Jesus with your friends? Do you pray for your friends who are not Christians? When is the last time you invited a friend to church? Do you pray for our missionaries overseas?
- What do I do? Write out the story of how you became a Christians, so that you can tell it to others. Talk to your friends about Jesus—who He is and how He died on the cross for our sins. Fast and pray for your lost friends. Invite a friend to church. Go on a mission trip. [Take prayer requests in your kids classes. Consider starting a program for learning about missions. Put up pictures of your church’s missionaries in your kids classes.]
- Who are you? We are learners. We are disciples of Christ who seek to grow in wisdom and help others grow (Luke 2:52; Matthew 28:18-20; Ephesians 4:11-13; 2 Timothy 2:2).
- Where are you? Do I come to children’s ministry ready to listen and learn? Do I read or memorize to get noticed or get a reward, or do I study to really learn more about Jesus?
- What do I do? Listen attentively. Read your Bible. Think about what it says about Jesus. Memorize Bible verses and catechism questions. [Point out my article on why kids need theology in the K! magazine for June]. Ask questions like, “What does this say about God? What does this say about me? What does this say about my relationships with other people?” Participate in your weekly Bible games and small group discussions.
Did you notice that we're teaching about spiritual disciplines without making “what you do” the main thing? What spiritual disciplines did you notice? But, the way these disciplines look will be different in each child. Identity is primary, and it is the same for every Christian. However, the activity is secondary, and it looks different for each child—dependant on their individual personality.
One way we’ve taught this to our very youngest kids is through the book, What is the Church?, recently published by Christian Focus Publications. You can pre-order it today, and it will ship around Labor Day.