Children’s ministry work has some classic stories, none more famous than the teacher who began her Sunday School lesson asking the children to guess what she was describing:
“This thing lives in trees (pause) and eats nuts (pause)…”
No hands went up.
“And it is gray (pause) and has a long bushy tail (pause)…” The children were looking at each other, but still no hands raised.
“And it jumps from branch to branch (pause) and chatters and flips its tail when it’s excited (pause)…”
Finally one little boy tentatively raised his hand. The teacher breathed a sigh of relief and called on him. “Well,” said the boy, “I know it sounds like a squirrel but I am going with Jesus!”
This humorous anecdote has been told over and over again with a chuckle to follow. However, behind the humor is a tragedy. Many children around the world misunderstand the message of Jesus and think it’s all about getting the right answers.
Children’s ministry is not another school classroom
This can be confusing when church looks and feels a lot like school, especially since being a good student in school means getting the right answers. This is further compounded by children’s ministry workers who have been taught that being a good leader means the children get the “right answers.” These two factors have created a strange dynamic where children want to say the right things and when they do, everyone is happy — even if the child has no idea why their answer was the right one.
Correct Answer Ministry vs. “Talk About Them” Ministry
In contrast to that, is the model of ministry and teaching we find in the Bible. In Deuteronomy 6:7, the Israelites are encouraged to “talk about” the commandments of God as they relate to real life:
You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk about them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.
“Talk about” is in contrast with “answer correctly.” The Israelites were to talk with children about how to integrate the Word of God into their everyday lives. Correct answer ministry is clean and relatively easy. Talking about the Word of God and its real-life application is often complex and messy.
Jesus was very concerned about people who had all the right answers, but lacked the qualities of life transformation. His teaching was characterized by truth, response and ultimately transformation of the heart. It would appear that one of His greatest concerns was with people who had all the right answers but no evidence of heart transformation.
The goal of ministry is a life transformed by Christ
Years ago, I was leading our church’s summer camp ministry with about 150 kids in 4th-6th grade. I was walking across one of the recreational fields with Greg. Greg was 12 years-old. His parents were separated and Greg was not doing well in school; his life was in a shambles. I simply and directly asked Greg, “How are you and God?” He looked over at me and said, “I don’t believe there is a God.”
I remember being initially shocked and speechless, and then amazed at his honesty. He felt enough comfort to skip the “correct” answer and share his actual thoughts and feelings. With his life situation, it was really hard for him to embrace the notion of a loving, personally-present God. The conversation that followed was some of the most profound and heartfelt ministry in my life.
He felt enough comfort to skip the “correct” answer and share his actual thoughts and feelings.
This week there will be millions of children in families and churches that think they are supposed to give the right answer. Beneath the surface are doubts, hurt, confusion and all the challenges that are part of a child’s everyday life. We often unknowingly create an environment where boys and girls feel as though they cannot “talk about” their real life and the Word of God without giving the “wrong answer.”
Every Generation Ministries is working with churches and children’s workers around the world equipping them for a different kind of ministry where “right answers” are not the goal; rather lives transformed in Christ. Join us!