Show Them Jesus: An interview with Jack Klumpenhower

Jack Klumpenhower’s book, Show Them Jesus, challenges the culture of low-stakes, low-expectations teaching. It makes a radical pledge to do nothing less than champion and treasure the gospel. Jack is not a pastor, but he has more than thirty years of experience creating Bible lessons and teaching children about Jesus. Back in 2014, I published a series of questions and answers from Jack. Here they are all together in one post:

Jared: Why not just say, “Teach them the gospel”? How is “Show them Jesus” different?

Jack: My wife came up with the title Show Them Jesus, and I immediately liked it because it feels broader than “teach the gospel.” For many people, teaching the gospel has come to mean telling what Jesus has done for us so that kids will be motivated to serve him out of gratitude rather than guilt. That’s a good principle and the book is partly about that, but by itself that’s too small.

Looking at what Jesus has done for us should also cause us to look at him—the whole, marvelous person he is. This adds the motivations that flow from wonder and awe: love, admiration, hope, and even a healthy dose of reverent fear. Kids not only learn that they should be grateful, they also sense the majesty of God. They see holiness. They discover divine love. They come to shudder at the ugliness of sin and to gasp at the lengths Jesus goes to rid them of it. They learn to cling to him. They treasure absolutely everything that’s part of being found in him. They yearn to be for Jesus, like Jesus, and with Jesus forever. That’s the Show Them Jesus vision. It’s a big vision, but big fits Jesus.

Jared: Won't kids get bored if we're teaching them about Jesus every week. Is this approach setting us up for failure?

Jack: They might get bored if we’re teaching the same thing about Jesus every week in the same, tired way. When I get lazy and just tack a bland mention of the cross onto the end of a lesson to make it “Christ-centered,” I deserve students who yawn. But Jesus actually is the most fascinating, best topic in the universe. God the Father is delighted with Jesus: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). To notice and love Jesus is a way to imitate the Father. So if kids are bored, it’s not because we’re looking at Jesus too much, but rather because we aren’t looking enough. Skimming over Jesus leaves us with only moralism or self-help or spiritual warm fuzzies. That stuff is what gets old.

To help myself get a big view of Jesus, I try to keep in mind the many blessings that make our salvation in him so big. God’s people are chosen, called, renewed, made alive, bought with a price, forgiven, adopted, made holy, given an inheritance, brought home… and much more. Remembering these things helps me look at a lesson, notice the particular way God is blessing his people, and then apply it to life with Jesus in a new way that has its own richness with each lesson.

Another thing that helps, especially when teaching from the gospels, is to slow down and notice details in the text. We in the Western world are so used to light, fast reading that we often pass over fine points that ought to amaze us. As a teacher, I need to look at the text and think about it long enough that I come into the classroom truly excited over something I’ve already noticed about Jesus. Only then am I ready to teach, because kids will catch what I’m excited about.

Jared: How did you come to make your own teaching more Christ- and gospel-centered?

Jack: I learned it from others. Like many teachers, I grew up knowing only one approach: I looked at how we should or shouldn’t be like the various characters in a Bible story. It’s fine to do some of that, but eventually I met a few teachers who were particularly good at noticing the main character. They first of all taught what Jesus did and how God helped his people. Since I heard preaching that did the same, it was easy for me to see how that was better.

I’d also been in a church that was on the leading edge of what we now call the “grace movement” already in the 1980s. So I understood discipleship that’s grounded in believing all that we are in Christ—justified, holy, adopted children of God. That fit nicely with the focus on Jesus. So in short, I had good teachers. I think most big strides in learning how to teach come from observing other teachers and picking up ideas.

Jared: The Bible is not a G-rated book. Can you give us some pointers for how to approach the sex and violence in the Bible when teaching kids?

Jack: I seldom shy away from sex and violence. Even younger kids understand fighting and killing and that it’s bad to hurt others, so I include it if it’s part of a Bible story—because it’s important to be true to the story.

Kids also understand adultery if you explain it something like, “They behaved with each other like they were married even though they weren’t married.” That’s all the detail necessary for kids to understand that it’s a betrayal and is wrong. The only topic I usually avoid is sexual violence. Most young kids don’t have a place for that in their thinking, and I feel it’s fine to let them stay innocent until they’re older. Not every Bible passage is well-suited for the youngest kids.

The overwhelming majority of Bible stories are good for them, though, even if those stories include violence and evil. It’s important for kids to know, from a young age, that God is at work even when life is brutal and sad. In fact, this is why Jesus came to save us. If every kid’s first exposure to murder, for instance, were in a Bible story where they also heard how Jesus entered into the evil and suffering of this world in order bring healing, that would go a long way toward producing kids who’re well prepared spiritually for whatever they may face in life.

Jared: Kids learn more from what we do than what we say. What can children's ministry leaders do to have a good-news environment in their classrooms?

Jack: My very best classes have been those where everyone felt it was safe to confess sin and seek help from Jesus.

That’s basic Christian living, but it’s still hard to foster that kind of environment. American kids are taught to be achievers, and they come to Bible classes thinking they need to look like the best Christians—memorize the most verses, give the smartest answers, and above all hide their sin. Even bratty kids have the idea that Sunday school is for good kids, and being good or bad is how you fit in or stand out.

Kids desperately need a classroom where that kind of pressure melts away as everyone rests in the only truly good person we know, Jesus. I’ve never gotten it to work as well as I’d like, but I’ve found a few things that seem to help.

First, I as the teacher have to be open about my sin. Within appropriate bounds, I need to talk now and then about shameful things I’ve done, show my sorrow, and share my confidence in Jesus both to forgive me and to help me do better. When it’s clear that I’m a sinner in need of grace, the kids start feeling it’s okay to admit the same about themselves.

Second, I must be quick to pray in class about anything and everything. Prayer is the chief way we practice faith in God. When concerns lead to prayers for help, and sins lead to prayers for grace, and successes lead to prayers of thanks—then it’s hard for anyone to get too self-focused about their goodness or lack of it. Constant prayer keeps us looking to Jesus. Where it thrives, self-pride dies.

Finally, I need to celebrate repentance rather than false perfection. Instead of acting shocked when kids misbehave (“We don’t do that in Sunday school!”), I need to treat the classroom more like a doctor’s office. Everyone is there because we have sin problems, but we expect to make progress and to leave more hopeful than when we walked in.

I’m so thankful for Jack Klumpenhower sharing his time and thoughts with the Gospel Centered Family blog back in 2014 during our first month online. If you’ve enjoyed this interview, share your thanks with Jack in the comment section below.


Be sure to check out more from Jack at his blog, jackklumpenhower.com

Christmas Lesson Traceables from Kim Campbell

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Christmas is coming! Today I want to share two coloring sheet traceables with you. This artwork is by Kimberly Campbell of K Creatives.

These traceables are  100% free to use in your church, home, or school. The two traceables are designed to help your reinforce the key truth taught in story #28 "Jesus Is Born" and Story #29 "Wise Men Bring Presents" in The Beginner's Gospel Story BibleWe hope these free Christmas traceable pages will help your children grow in their love for Jesus Christ!

Directions: To print these pages, simply click on the preview images to the right. They will open a new window in your browser to download printer friendly PDF files. I’ve also uploaded higher resolution jpeg images for advanced editing here ("God is with us") and here ("Jesus is the best King!"). Enjoy! 

It's Not About Me

Illustration and layout by Trish Mahoney from   The Beginner's Gospel Story Bible   by Jared Kennedy, (New Growth Press, 2017).

Illustration and layout by Trish Mahoney from The Beginner's Gospel Story Bible by Jared Kennedy, (New Growth Press, 2017).

Teachers make all kinds of plans. But things in our classrooms don’t always go our way. We will experience more peace when we hold our plans loosely.

John the Baptist is one of the most interesting characters in the Bible--especially for grade school boys. Let’s face it. He wore camel hair clothes. He ate bugs. And when the Jewish leaders showed up, he boldly rebuked them: “You sons of snakes!” John was confident in who he was. He knew what God had called him to do.

But John also knew his place--second place. John knew his ministry wasn’t for his own benefit. He was called to point others to Jesus. John kept making the point over and over again. He said, “I’ve come to prepare the way for the Lord” (Matthew 3:3). “I’m not worthy to untie his sandals” (John 1:27).  “He must become greater. I must become less.” (John 3:30)

In other words, “It’s not about me.” That’s one of the most important lessons when we’re teaching kids. Whether I’m reading a devotional to my daughters at home or teaching a Bible lesson to kids at a church gathering, I’m tempted. I’m tempted to believe teaching time revolves around my authority or skill as the teacher and my lesson plan. But it doesn’t. God wants teachers to point away from themselves and toward the Son. He must become greater. I must become less.

Here are three things we can do to stay in second place while we’re teaching:

  • Pray. Prayer acknowledges the reality that we’re not in control. We need God’s grace and strength to teach well. We need Him to help the kids to learn. When we pray, we’re asking God to show up in our classrooms. And we acknowledge that He often has better plans than the ones we’ve made.

  • Be Flexible. Even if your lesson is laid out beautifully, class time doesn’t always go as we plan. Hold your plans loosely, because God may have different ideas. Be prepared, and use your lesson plan as a guide. But don’t be so rigid you can’t roll with the punches if the glue sticks dry up or Johnny gets sick during Bible time. Kids need to see there are more important things than following our plans perfectly.

  • Join God where He is working. What if a child in your class shares a particularly vulnerable prayer request? What if she asks an insightful question about the Bible passage? We should recognize moments like these as opportunities. Often God shows up and does something that wasn’t in the lesson plan. Joining God where He is at work may mean changing our plans on the fly. It may mean leaving out part of the lesson you’ve spent time preparing, but it’s worth it.

There is joy in holding your plans loosely and expectantly praying for God to work in your classroom. There is joy in seeing God at work then getting to join him in it.  After all, your class time isn’t about you. It’s about him.

What helps you hold fast to God and hold your lesson plans loosely?

Check out my Bible storybook, The Beginner's Gospel Story Bible from New Growth Press. Every story contains one big truth about God you can teach to toddlers and young readers.

God is the main character

In children’s ministry, you’ll find that Bible lessons are typically designed to teach children what to do—“Be joyful!  Be courageous!”  But this is rarely the main point of a Bible story. The Bible was written to show us God. He’s the main character.

One of my responsibilities as a pastor over children’s ministry is to observe our volunteer team as they teach kids each week.  I like to peek into the classrooms and hang out. One week, I observed a class learning about Israel crossing the Red Sea. I sat down with the kids during their snack. I asked, “Who was your story about today?” One child answered, “We learned about God!” I dismissed it as a typical Sunday School answer, and I followed up, “Yes, but didn’t you learn about Moses? What did Moses do?” The child was brilliant. “Moses didn’t do much,” he said. He just prayed and lifted his stick. But God dried up the sea so the people could cross. Then, he drownded all the Egyptians! God was awesome!”

That kid got the lesson’s point better than I did. Where is God in the way we typically teach kids? We may focus on teaching kids godly character. But this is rarely the Bible’s main point.  The Bible shows us God—who He is and what He has done. So how can we keep the main thing the main thing in our Bible lessons?

I’ve found using summary statements helps me keep God as the main character in my teaching:

  • First, I find the lesson’s summary statements. At the beginning of most children’s Bible lessons, you will find a one or two sentence summary of the lesson. Sometimes these are called the “key points” or “main ideas.” The summary for a study of  Joshua 2 might be, “God conquers Jericho. But He spares one family by his grace.” 
  • Second, I ensure God is the subject of the lesson summary. Before I teach a lesson, I review the summaries. I ensure God is the main topic of these key points.  If not, I reread and ask, “What does this passage show me about God? Who does it say He is? What is He doing in this story?” Once I’ve answered these questions, I rewrite the summary ensuring God is the subject.

  • Finally, I put the summary to memory and repeat it often. If you are like me, you find it’s easy to stray from your lesson’s main point. It helps me stay on track if I’ve memorized these key ideas. When I know them by heart, I can come back to them throughout the class time. I use the summary during the welcome to preview the lesson. I say it again after the story to summarize what we’ve just learned. I even review the summaries during the craft and while our kids are eating their snack.

What helps you keep God the main character in your Bible lessons?

Check out my Bible storybook, The Beginner's Gospel Story Bible from New Growth Press. Every story contains one big truth about God you can teach to toddlers and young readers.