You Can Say That Again

If you've taught children (... or youth ... and sometimes even adults) for any length of time you will invariably hear, "I've heard that before!" Or maybe, as you've been preparing to teach one of those groups you've thought to yourself, "I've been through this already." Repetition gets a bad rap. While we may have heard the words before, we probably didn't apply them to our hearts and lives.

Here's what Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote on the topic of repetition in his commentary on 1 John,  Life in Christ:

"... repetition is the very art of teaching. Wise teachers always repeat themselves. There are certain things that can never be repeated too often, and although John is an old man, he is a teacher." 

As we are in the season of Advent, we need to be reminded again (and afresh) of the reason for this celebration. We must enter into this season with awe, worship, and submission; and that doesn't happen apart from being reminded again and again. It doesn't happen without repetition.

Teachers, repeat away! You can never hear the life transforming words of the gospel too much! Few of us were converted the first time we heard it. We have all been changed through someone's faithfulness to the message and their willingness to repeat it over and over again, in many different ways, on many different occasions.

I'll say it again (for emphasis), "Repeat away!"

Quote from pg. 205 of Martyn Lloyd-Jones' Life in Christ (Crossway, 2002).

Kids and church, part 2: Sound doctrine, food for God's lambs

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Jesus commanded Peter, “Feed my lambs,” (John 21:15). Once we see the necessity of the church feeding those who are young in faith and young in age (see my previous post), the obvious question is: What do we feed them? When a shepherd is seeking to feed his little lambs, he seeks the lushest pasture. He wants to help these lambs grow up to be big and strong. When it comes to feeding those who are either young in the faith or young in age, the answer is simple--though it's hard to carry out. The answer is doctrine. Our doctrine, that is, our theology or knowledge of God, should always be growing. With each passing year, we should know God better, know him more deeply, know him more personally. We need to grow in our understanding of who God is so that we can better understand how to follow him faithfully.

But doctrinal study is a difficult discipline for seasoned believers to grow in, let alone those who are young. And yet it is necessary. When I say that the lambs need doctrine, I don’t mean that they simply need to memorize definitions and theological concepts. What I mean is that they must understand those concepts and how to apply them. This is where it gets hard. Here's what I mean. Shepherds take concepts that are, by their very nature, complex and difficult to understand, and we seek to make them simple. Teaching complex realities simply requires creativity with our teaching methods while remaining faithful to the truth. It has been my experience that this is a difficult balance to maintain; I often err on one side or the other. The balance is necessary though.

Here are two ways to get it wrong when teaching doctrine.

Most of the time it’s not so much the difficulty of the ideas or concepts we are trying to teach that is the problem. Rather, it's our lack of preparation. We may be easily frustrated when students don’t understand what we are communicating and assume the problem is on their side. But if we're honest the problem is ours. As teachers, we haven't dedicated the time to fully understand theological concepts ourselves, so we're not ready to convey their meaning.

Another way we teach doctrine wrongly is when we "dumb it down" in order for youth or children to understand. This does an injustice both to the doctrine and our students. As teachers and preachers, we need to keep the truth simple without simplifying it. We should never change the truth to make it more acceptable or intentionally leave out harder concepts (e.g. the Trinity, or the atonement) that may take more time to digest and understand. Yes, this is hard, but it's what we’ve been tasked to do. As teachers, we must be faithful with the whole counsel of God.

Here are a few ways to teach doctrine well.

Instead of dumbing down truth, we should break it down. Instead of simplifying truths, we distill them by teaching doctrine in chunks and by making sure our definitions are clear.  

And, after breaking down doctrinal truths into digestible chunks, we must also help help young lambs put the pieces together. We need to help youth see how individual truths connect with the bigger picture, the grand narrative of Scripture. When we do this well, we help kids see that the individual doctrines are simply windows through which we view our big God, and we lead them to worship and glorify the God of doctrines.

Finally, it's important to remember that no truth has been fully learned until it has been lived. Young ones don't need to simply memorize a definition that is divorced from practice. They need to work doctrine into their experience. In order for this goal to be accomplished, we teachers must both understand the material we are teaching and understand how this doctrine applies to our students. This requires one major thing. We must know the sheep. Proverbs 27:4 says, "Be sure you know the condition of your flocks, give careful attention to your herds." There's a principal there for teachers. We must know our students personally and lead them to apply doctrine where they live. We must make it personal for them so they can understand the truth experientially. We must help those young in age or faith to see how specific doctrines apply to their particular stage of life.

May God help us shepherd them well.

Family Friday Links 3.9.18

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Our very own Jared Kennedy wrote for Sojourn Network's Blog this week. He wrote a blog entitled, "Helpful TIps for Grace-Based Classroom Management"   Jared writes, "Here’s the truth: The effective formation of our children requires a stable environment. For this reason, it’s important for a children’s ministry to supplement parental training by upholding high standards for behavior, respect, and discipline. I hope these four goals and nine strategies are helpful for you to that end." 

Jill Nelson at Children's Desiring God wrote a post on, " Communicating to Children the Self-Sufficiency of God." Jill writes, "One way we can help our children grasp this important attribute of God is to be careful with the language we use. For example, it would be in error to teach children: “God created people because He was lonely.” The implication being that God needed our fellowship. Or, “Jesus chose Peter to be His helper.” The implication being that God needs man’s help in accomplishing His purposes. Instead, use language in keeping with God’s self-sufficiency. For example, “God created people for His glory—to show His greatness and worth. He created us to be receivers of His goodness and love.” 

Kasey Fagan at Doorposts Songs website wrote a needed post about, 5 Things Parents Look For When They Visit Your Children's Ministry. Kasey writes, "I’ve been on staff at my church in preschool ministry for 13 years. When you’ve been in the same place doing much of the same thing for so long, it’s easy to get in a rut, stay in your bubble, and forget what it feels like to walk into your building and experience your children’s ministry for the first time. It’s eye opening to step back and think about what it must be like for that first time guest to walk in your doors, not knowing where to go or who to ask for help."

What have you been reading this week? Leave a link in our comment section! 

Thanks for reading.

Into the Promised Land Without God

I have a confession to make.  If I am honest with myself, I believe I can save the kids and families of our church apart from God. I know it sounds ridiculous as I write it down. But, its true. It’s something I have to repent of often.  

(c) Sweet Publishing (sweetpublishing.com) and distributed by Distant Shores Media

(c) Sweet Publishing (sweetpublishing.com) and distributed by Distant Shores Media

I love creating clear pathways for parents and church volunteers to disciple kids more effectively and efficiently, but I have a problem. I often start sentences with one of the following phrases, “If we just did this… If people would just… If we just had…” Fill in the blank to any of the previous phrases and all would be right with my parenting or my ministry. I put my hope in the right system, the right amount of volunteers, or the right discipline technique. I think that will bring salvation and make everything right with the world.

Consider God’s Word:

“Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.” And [Moses] said to him, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?” Exodus 33:3, 15-16 (ESV)

Many of us believe we can get into the Promised Land without God. On the way to the land of milk and honey, the Israelites gave up on God and Moses, his mediator. They create a golden calf to worship in God’s place. In this passage, Moses intercedes for the Israelites so God doesn’t consume them or desert them. Moses understands that if God doesn’t go with them, it would be better if he’d just destroy them now and get it over with. Moses understands that a life apart from God is not worth living.

The reality is many of us would be content arriving at the Promise Land without God’s presence. Think about it. How often do you spend praying for God’s blessings on your family or ministry? It’s easy to rely on the newest attractional techniques, the easiest curriculum, or the best discipline methods rather than God.

Many of us as parents or church leaders create our own golden calves--the right way to discipline, to market our ministry, to lead strategically, or the right systems to make ministry run efficiently. We think these things will make everything right in our world. These are all great tools we should acquire and utilize, but we need to understand they are not the goal. Systems don’t save kids.

I have heard from multiple ministry leaders that as they have built their ministries, they came to a point where the ministry was so effective and efficient, it didn’t leave room for the Holy Spirit. They realized they rarely prayed for God’s wisdom or blessing as they made plans or events. They had arrived at the Promised Land but they didn’t bring God along with them. It is a scary place to be.

As we disciple kids, let’s be sure to give them Jesus and not just something cool, relevant, or attractional. Let’s pray for God’s wisdom and his calling for our volunteers and ministries. Let’s repent of trying to save families without Jesus or the Holy Spirit. Let’s confess, “Unless you go with us, don’t bring us into the Promised Land.”

What practices or rhythms help you remember your need for God’s presence?