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You CAN Do Catechism!

Children Desiring God Blog // You CAN Do Catechism

One of the new seminars at this year’s national conference was on using catechisms for teaching children—especially in the home. In the future we will have this seminar by Sally Michael available on our web site. But until then, here is an excellent article for parents (take note fathers!!!) to encourage you to get started: “The Importance and Practice of Catechism: Fathers-Instruct Your Childrenby Dr. Kim Riddlebarger. He concludes his article with these practical reminders:

First, be consistent. The best way to learn a catechism is simply to keep at it! Take “the tortoise” and not “the hare” approach. You cannot teach your child a lengthy catechism in a couple of weeks! But over time—if you keep at ityou’ll be amazed at how much children will remember and comprehend.

Second, be creative. One of the greatest obstacles to catechism is boredom. Simply reading the question and then expecting your children to recite the memorized answer is no fun for them, and they’ll come to hate the whole idea. Go ahead and stress memorization, but whenever you can, relate the catechism to the Scriptures. Most catechisms give Scripture proofs. And if you discuss the question and answer with your kids, and then relate the catechism to real life situations, current events or to movies and TV, your kids will get the sense that theology is of great value in navigating their way through life…

Third, don’t panic. Many people tell me that they are new to this and there is always the pressure to make up for lost time. Go slow. Quality time is always better than rushed and tense sessions where the kids are tired and the parents are frustrated. Do what you can when you can and have realistic expectations. Even a small amount of catechesis is better than no catechesis.

Last, the more that you know about the catechism the easier the whole process will become. You may have to get a commentary on the particular catechism that you use, and you may have to spend some time preparing to catechize. Being an effective teacher means being a faithful student. You cannot teach what you do not know…

1. (“Fathers, Instruct Your Children” was originally published as “The Need to Recover the Practice of Catechism” and was revised for use by Christ Reformed Church. Re-printed by permission, © 1995 Modern Reformation / ACE)

Resist the Smorgasbord!

Resist the Smorgasbord: Strategies for Teaching the Whole Counsel of God

I once read a book in which the Christian author likened the method often used in the church for discipleship to a smorgasbord—various classes and small groups are offered for people to pick and choose from, mainly based on personal preferences, perceived needs, and “hot topics” of the day. His point was to urge the church to resist this tendency and strive for a more vision-driven, biblical, structured, long-term discipleship strategy. Such a strategy takes into account and incorporates the whole counsel of God and builds in stages—precept-by-precept.

I wonder if we sometimes have a similar “smorgasbord tendency” when it comes to planning for and choosing curriculum for our various children’s and youth ministry classes: What seems good this year? What will the children like? What will peak their (or the teacher’s) interest?…I think we can, and must strive for a more vision-driven, biblical, structured, long-term discipleship strategy—one that seeks to incorporate the whole counsel of God from nursery to high school.

What does this actually look like? To begin with, we believe that there are six basic elements or disciplines that should be included in this long-term strategy:

Elements of Teaching the Whole Counsel of God

  1. A story-based chronological overview of the Bible, which introduces children to the main character of the Bible—God—and acquaints them with key people, places, and events.
  2. A biblical theology that focuses on the main storyline of the Bible, where God progressively reveals His redemptive purposes, which come to their complete fulfillment in the Person and work of Jesus Christ.
  3. Systematic theology that teaches foundational doctrines, which summarize the Bible’s teaching on various subjects.
  4. Moral instruction—the commands of Scripture, which communicate ethical instruction, guiding us in the righteous ways of God.
  5. An explicit presentation of the essential truths of the Gospel, leading to a clear understanding of saving faith.
  6. Bible study methods to provide the necessary tools for rightly reading and interpreting Scripture.

A strategic, long-term plan makes curriculum choices at the various grade levels with these basic elements or disciplines in mind. It asks questions such as: Over the span of nursery to high school, are our students receiving the whole counsel of God? Are we introducing these elements at age-appropriate levels? Does our overall strategy reflect a proper biblical balance?

2016 National ConferenceIf you long to explore this topic further and want practical help in structuring a plan for the children’s and youth ministries of your church, I would love to have you come to my seminar at our National Conference in April…

Making a Strategic Plan for Teaching the Whole Counsel of God

This seminar will present an overview for planning and implementing a scope and sequence in your children’s and youth ministry that serves to thoroughly acquaint your students with the whole counsel of God. Starting in the nursery years and moving through high school, we will explore options and strategic goals for various age groups.

Piper Answers: What is the Whole Counsel of God?

Children Desiring God Blog // What is the Whole Counsel of God?

As children’s ministry and youth pastors, teachers and parents, it is critical for us to not only teach children the Gospel, but to not shrink back from teaching them the whole counsel of God. John Piper helps us understand what this means:

 

 

Join us at the Children Desiring God National Conference where we will have the opportunity to spend three days together exploring this meaning further, discovering the glorious truths found with in the whole counsel of God, understanding the ramifications if our children do not understand the whole counsel of God and equipping each other to teach the whole counsel of God to children and youth. We look forward to welcoming back John Piper as one of our five keynote speakers to discuss Understanding the Whole Counsel of God: How Our Children Can Know the Bible is True.

 

Children Desiring God Blog // What Is the Whole Counsel of God?John Piper is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College and Seminar. For over 30 years, John served as senior pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. He’s the author of more than 50 books and more than 30 years of his preaching and teaching is available for free at desiringGod.org). John and his wife, Noël, have five children, Barnabas, Karsten, Benjamin, Abraham and Talitha, and twelve grandchildren.

 

We hope to see you April 14-16 in Indianapolis! Learn more and register now!

 

 

On Not Shrinking, but Upholding, Embracing and Declaring

On Not Shrinking, but Upholding, Embracing and Declaring

Paul’s declaration in Acts 20:27, “. . . for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God,” are richly inspiring, yet deeply sobering words.  Why inspiring?  Why sobering?  Let’s take the latter first.

These are deeply sobering words because they imply that, due to what is contained in “the whole counsel of God,” there may be sources of temptation to shrink from declaring to others the very content of these words.  More specifically, to declare the whole counsel of God requires that we overcome both the fears of external resistance, and the deep discomfort of internal inclinations, that lead us to seek to avoid disapproval by others.  In a word, we see that faithfulness to the whole counsel of God is an issue, at bottom, of the fear of God vs. the fear of man.  Whose approval do we most long to receive?  Whose opinion do we most value?  Whose assessment weighs in heaviest in our own hearts and souls.  (BTW, “most” and “heaviest” are important terms in these questions since it is simply impossible to care not at all—nor should we—about the opinions or assessments of others.  So, the question is not whether we care about what others think, but whose opinion and assessment matters to us the very most!  Here is a test of faithfulness to and worship of the true God vs. idolatry in the very ways we assess what others think about us).

But, why should this be?  What is it about “the whole counsel of God” that would elicit such fears and deep discomforts?  The answer is obvious once one considers the content of “the whole counsel of God” in contrast with the values, commitments, and moral sensibilities of the culture in which we live.  That word of God in its fullness contains many teachings and truths that are at one and the same time, glorious, beautiful, humbling, strengthening, and awe- and hope-inspiring, to those who have the eyes of faith, and also deeply offensive, seemingly foolish, and fully at odds with the zeitgeist and wisdom of our culture as it divines what is good and right and fulfilling.  Paul is conveying this notion when he speaks of the word of the cross as foolishness to those perishing but to us who are saved, it is the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Cor 1:18-25).  Again, he speaks of the gospel as emitting one aroma which to some is the fragrance of life, whereas to another it is the stench of death (2 Cor 2:14-17).

Children Desiring God Blog // Bruce Ware QuoteBecause we live in a culture where what is truly (as God knows these to be) right, good, and wise is considered wrong, bad, and foolish, while what is truly (as God knows these to be) wrong, bad, and foolish is considered right, good, and wise – due to this sinful and Satanic (recall he excels in deception above all else) inversion of truth, faithfulness to proclaim the actual content of the Word of God is to invite scorn, ridicule, and rejection from the cultured despisers—Schleiermacher surely was correct here—of biblical religion.  Hence, there will inevitably arise within our hearts, as with the heart of the Apostle Paul, a temptation, even a stubborn inclination, to “shrink from declaring” what that word actually says and teaches—a betrayal of the truth that Schleiermacher and a host of subsequent liberals have done right down to the Brian McClarens and Rob Bells of our day.  So we are faced with one of the ultimate and most central questions of our lives as Christians and particularly as Christian ministers – will we fear man and so shrink, or will we fear God and so not shrink from declaring the whole counsel of God?  Choose this day whom you will serve.  We cannot not serve both the Word of God and the wisdom of men.

But Paul’s words, “. . . for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God,” are also deeply inspiring words, for they call to mind the story of a remarkably faithful while violently opposed life lived for the cause of Christ and his gospel.  Often when I read Paul’s description of the suffering he endured in his ministry of the gospel (see especially his record of affliction and opposition in 2 Cor 11:23-29) I call to mind also these words in Acts 20:27.  There is a connection between the two that should be obvious to all.  His was not the kind of affliction due to foolishness and sinfulness that Peter warns against (1 Pet 3:17b) but rather of the affliction that comes from the offense of the truth and doing what is right that Peter commends (1 Pet 3:13-17a).  It was his very not shrinking from declaring the whole counsel of God that resulted in the massive opposition, suffering, hardship, and agony that Paul endured.  Yet, because he knew with all of his heart that the truths which he taught and for which he suffered were life-giving and hope-building, he could suffer even with joy—recall this theme in his letter to the Philippians which he wrote from prison.  Indeed, because of the inestimable glory of this truth, he could even consider the fullness of his own suffering as merely “momentary, light affliction” (2 Cor 4:17) in contrast with the eternal weight of glory awaiting all who knew and embraced the wonders of the truths he faithfully taught from the whole counsel of God. Incredible. Almost unbelievable.  Yet, this indeed makes perfect sense because (but only because) Paul knew the words of truth he embraced as his own, the words of truth he proclaimed without compromise, the words of truth for which he suffered, were the very words of life.

Do you know the whole counsel of God as the very words of life?  Do you uphold and embrace every aspect of the whole counsel of God as God’s own word and words, and therefore as true and right and glorious and good?  Do you accept the inevitable opposition which comes with faithful proclamation of those words?  May God grant us hearts like the Apostle Paul’s, to proclaim with joy what may bring us opposition, knowing that, in the end, we await the words “well done” from the One who embraced and proclaimed the truth most faithfully, and who, as a result, suffered most fully.

Bruce A. Ware
Professor of Christian Theology, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

2016 National ConferenceWe are excited to welcome Bruce Ware back for a third time as one of our keynote speakers at the Children Desiring God National Conference. He will expound on these issues and help us answer these questions as he teaches on Exploring the Fullness of the Whole Counsel of God. We hope you will join us April 14-16 in Indianapolis! Learn more and register now!

Getting Serious about Teaching the Bible

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Suppose an observer came to visit your church’s Sunday school classrooms—specifically first grade through high school. Would they see Bibles in the hands of every student during the lesson time? If so, how long will those Bibles be open? Will the students be actively engaged in looking up texts, reading, and answering questions from the text? (Yes, even first graders can do this, with help, from a short text.) Will they be challenged about how to rightly interpret and apply it? In other words, would the observer see a teacher diligently teaching in a way that expects and encourages his or her students to seriously interact with the Bible—the actual, physical Bible?

Now, someone might object and say, “But they are children! They’re too young for this. They will learn best through videos, skits, and other activities. We need to keep the Bible teaching fun and energetic!” Yes, there may be a place in the classroom for all of the above. BUT, these kinds of teaching aids must never replace or minimize or obscure actual, serious study of the Bible itself.

Here is a timely word from Albert Mohler:

Christians who lack biblical knowledge are the products of churches that marginalize biblical knowledge. Bible teaching now often accounts for only a diminishing fraction of the local congregation’s time and attention…

Youth ministries are asked to fix problems, provide entertainment, and keep kids busy. How many local-church youth programs actually produce substantial Bible knowledge in young people?

…This really is our problem, and it is up to this generation of Christians to reverse course. Recovery starts at home. Parents are to be the first and most important educators of their own children, diligently teaching them the Word of God. [See Deuteronomy 6:4-9.] Parents cannot franchise their responsibility to the congregation, no matter how faithful and biblical it may be. God assigned parents this non-negotiable responsibility, and children must see their Christian parents as teachers and fellow students of God’s Word.

Churches must recover the centrality and urgency of biblical teaching and preaching, and refuse to sideline the teaching ministry of the preacher. Pastors and churches too busy–or too distracted–to make biblical knowledge a central aim of ministry will produce believers who simply do not know enough to be faithful disciples.

We will not believe more than we know, and we will not live higher than our beliefs. The many fronts of Christian compromise in this generation can be directly traced to biblical illiteracy in the pews and the absence of biblical preaching and teaching in our homes and churches.

This generation must get deadly serious about the problem of biblical illiteracy…

 (“The Scandal of Biblical Illiteracy: It’s Our Problem,” www.albertmohler.com)

2016 National ConferenceWe are so pleased and honored to have Dr. Mohler speaking at our National Conference this year. Through the years, I have appreciated his unwavering call to churches, parents, and Christian schools to promote serious, vigorous, in-depth biblical teaching. I am looking forward with great anticipation to his message, “Holding Fast to the Whole Counsel of God Under Pressure to Conform.”

(Image courtesy of digidreamgrafix at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

Bible Literacy in the Classroom— 8- to 12-year-olds

One of the greatest gifts a teacher can give students is to train them in how to study the Bible for themselves. By the time students have reached eight years old (third grade), they should be encouraged and expected to interact with more and more text during the lesson, including reading passages aloud. Their Bibles should be open more often than not. They should be able to quickly look up two or more passages of Scripture during a lesson and/or be able to examine larger portions of text. Doing this will require careful thought and preparation on the part of the teacher.

Teacher Tips

  • Be strategic in how many passages you assign the students to read aloud. If you have many texts to look at in a particular lesson, you may want to assign students to each look up a passage before the lesson begins, and then call on them to read their assigned passage during the lesson.
  • Use guided questions and explanations to help the children properly interpret the text
  • Have the children observe a text and note key words, phrases, patterns, and simple context, and then ask them to summarize the meaning of the text.

Here is an example: the parable of the unforgiving servant from Matthew 18:23-35. Because this is a parable, this story is best read in its entirety before asking any questions. Consider these options:

  • choose one or two students
  • assign 1 or 2 verses per child
  • you read it

Each option has some distinct advantages. Whenever possible, it is definitely preferable to have the students actually reading the text. However, for a long text such as this, there are also some disadvantages:

  •  Slow or quiet readers may cause the listeners to lose focus
  • Constantly changing readers may be distracting and lose flow of story
  • Too many difficult words to stumble over
  • Children may not be able to give the story the necessary/helpful tone

In this case, because of the above disadvantages it might be advisable for the teacher to read it. But there are ways that you can still encourage the children to follow along in their own Bibles. For example, in your lesson preparation, highlight several key words from the passage. Then explain to the children that, as you read the text to them, you are going to stop at several points, not saying the word that comes. They are to follow along in their own Bibles and, when you stop, they are to call out the next word. (This is another reason to have everyone using same Bible translation.)

Also, ahead of time, write out any unfamiliar words and their definitions on a whiteboard. An example would be to write out the following:

ten thousand talents = millions of dollars

a hundred denarii = a few dollars

After the text has been read, it is important to lead the children through a systematic series of questions in order for them to understand the structure and meaning. Also, whenever possible, ask questions in a way that requires them to really look at the text so that they really have to interact with it.

Examples of questions to ask from Matthew 18:23-35:

  • In this parable we have three main characters or people, who are they?
  • Look at verse 26. What does the word “imploring” mean?
  • According to beginning of verse 27, why did the king forgive the servant? What specific word does the Bible use to describe the king’s feeling toward this servant?
  • Why is verse 28 surprising? How would you compare the debt of the first servant to the debt of the second servant?
  • Who does verse 29 sound like?
  • Did the first servant respond like the king?  Why not?
  • What did the king do to the first servant when he found out what happened?
  • Look at verse 35. What is the warning in this verse? Who is the king in the story like, us or God?  Who are we to be like, the first or second servant? Are we more like the second servant sometimes? Is this pleasing to God?

As you can see, these questions are meant to take the students step-by-step through the passage. In a long passage, it is helpful to state specific verses you want the students to look at since it breaks up the text into smaller pieces that are easier to examine. Also, the questions then move beyond the story and are aimed at the heart—each individual heart. The text is not just giving information; it is challenging our own attitudes and actions.

You might also want to ask the students if they can think of other verses in Scripture that address the same theme. For example, ask the students: Can you think of other verses that talk about how we are to be forgiving? (e.g., in the Lord’s prayer, Ephesians 4:32) This challenges them to recall prior information learned and see how it relates to other texts, emphasizing a unity in the Bible’s message.

At this age, it is also important to teach the students about “context” where appropriate. For example, in this text, we could ask the question:

Why did Jesus tell this parable?

Look at the two verses that come before the story, verses 21 and 22.

Many people think that children of this age cannot handle serious Bible study. But our children can handle the “meatiness” of Scripture if we cut it up into bite-sized pieces and teach them how to chew it carefully.  What a wonderful feast to offer them!

(Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

Biblical Literacy—What Will our Students Need?

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Imagine doing the following exercise with a classroom of 16-year-old students:

Summarize and explain the main meaning of Romans 3:21-26. How does this text apply to your own life?

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,  whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (ESV)

How do you think those 16-year-olds would do? What type of skills would be necessary in order to rightly read, interpret, and apply the text? Consider the following:

  • There are big words that must be understood—righteousness, justified, redemption, propitiation, forbearance, to name a few.
  • There are Old Testament concepts that must be identified and connected to their New Testament fulfillment.
  • There are important doctrines about God, man, Jesus, and redemption.
  • Essential truths about the Gospel and salvation are being proclaimed.
  • “…to be received by faith” calls for a specific personal response.

This might be a difficult exercise for a 16-year-old, but as parents and teachers we should long for our students to be able to rightly handle the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15) by the time they leave our homes and classrooms. This will not happen by accident, but by careful and intentional instruction of the whole counsel of God.

To that end, it’s important that we give our students all of the following :

a chronological, story-based presentation of both Old and New Testament that highlights the character of God, and the major people, themes, and events

  • biblical theology that explores the “meta-narrative”—the historical/redemptive storyline of the Bible
  • systematic theology that teaches the essential doctrines of the Christian faith
  • an explicit presentation of the Gospel
  • the Bible’s moral and ethical instruction
  • inductive Bible study skills

Granted, biblical literacy cannot be measured merely by a student’s ability or inability to rightly read and interpret Romans 3:21-26. However, it is important to remember that genuine faith comes about and matures through a right knowledge and understanding of the Word (Romans 10:17, 2 Timothy 3:14-17). So let’s be committed to pressing our students forward, encouraging them to…

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15 ESV)

(Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

Making the Most of Your Sunday School “Transition Time”

Children Desiring God Blog  //  Making the Most of Your Sunday School "Transition Time"

“Transition Time” is the time period at the beginning of class when children begin arriving. It is often characterized by children arriving at varying times. Depending on your classroom structure and routine, this time may be only 10 to 15 minutes in length. What happens during this time is important as it often sets the tone for the rest of the class session. Therefore, we would like to encourage you to carefully plan and prepare meaningful, God-centered, faith-nurturing activities. Here are a few suggestions:

Small Group Activities

At the beginning of the year, divide the class into groups of 5-8 children, each assigned to an adult small group leader throughout the course of the study. As soon as the children enter the classroom each week, they immediately go to their assigned group. This option maximizes the time that the children spend with a faith-nurturing adult who comes to know the children in his group on an increasingly familiar basis. The children feel welcomed and have a place to belong, and the setting is ideal for doing the following kinds of activities: (more…)

Reading the Bible through the Right Lens

Children Desiring God Blog //  Reading the Bible through the Right Lens

If you have attended the preconference at one of our Children Desiring God national conferences, you probably remember the teaching emphasis that “the Bible is first and foremost a book about God.” This emphasis can revolutionize the way you teach the Bible to children. But, has it also revolutionized your time with God in the Word?

In her book, Women of the Word, Jen Wilkin talks about “getting things backward” in her reading of the Bible. She states, (more…)

“More Sword Drills, Please!”

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Many years ago, I taught 2nd-grade Sunday school. At that time, we were just beginning to implement a new strategy to more intentionally present our children with a God-centered, Bible-saturated focus in our Sunday school classes. In order to maximize our classroom time toward that goal, we began moving away from the regular and time-consuming crafts to which the children had grown accustomed. However, not all teachers were convinced that this was the best thing to do. Won’t the children be upset? Won’t they grow “bored” if we don’t have some fun, hands-on crafts each Sunday? (more…)

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