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The Holy Weight of Teaching Divine Truths

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The United States Constitution, ratified on June 21, 1788

Years ago my family visited the National Archives. There, in the main rotunda, housed under heavy glass and dim lights, you can view the United States Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights—documents that changed the course of history. We approached these documents with a sense of somber reflection, understanding something of the lofty ideals and great sacrifices behind the words. However, that somber reflection was rudely interrupted by a group of junior high students joking with their friends, running and goofing around, totally oblivious to the documents they had supposedly come to see. Apparently no one had taught them about an appropriate decorum when in the presence of weighty things.

Weighty things…I have spent the past two months writing lessons for children. Consider some of the topics: God’s holiness and righteousness, sin and judgment, the Gospel, justification, sanctification, submission to Christ, living in a manner pleasing to the Lord…All are topics of utmost, eternal importance for our children—the difference between heaven and hell, their everlasting joy or everlasting misery. These are no trifling matters. These topics, all revealed in God’s Word, are the weightiest things in the universe.

This is a constant reminder for me: Teaching children involves a holy weight. It is holy because our teaching is meant to point to and reflect the holiness of God—the one true God who is utterly unique, one-of-kind, beyond compare, majestic, and perfect in every way. It is a weight because the things we teach are meant to land on the heart, mind, and will with an appropriate seriousness meant to encourage life-transforming impact that is honoring to a holy God. We are dealing with divine priceless truths! This is true whether we are teaching 2 year olds or 12 year olds.

This changes the way I prepare a lesson, the way I pray over a lesson, and the way I present a lesson.

Does that mean there is no room for creative fun in the classroom? Are engaging illustrations out-of-bounds? Do lessons need to be presented in a drab, somber tone, and never with joyful exuberance? No, I am not suggesting any of this. I believe our curriculum has attempted to strike an appropriate balance in this regard. We use numerous, age-appropriate, child-appealing, illustrations and visuals in our lessons, but all are designed to help and encourage our students to grow in their understanding of and reverence for the triune God and the amazing gift of salvation offered in Jesus Christ. These are divine, priceless truths indeed! Let’s strive to teach our students in such a way that they learn an appropriate decorum when in the presence of weighty things!

A Vision for Leading Children in Worship

A Vision for Leading Children in Worship

Read Part 2 of this post: Practical Tips and Resources for Worship Leaders

Have you ever wondered why we sing in Sunday school? Is it a time-filler or a way to keep the kids occupied? Or is there purpose behind it?

We lead children in worship, first and foremost, because God is worthy of worship.

  • I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised…—Psalm 18:3
  • Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable. One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.—Psalm 145:3-4
  • Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.—Philippians 2:9-11

Secondly, we were created to worship and we are training children to be worshippers of God.

  • But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.—1 Peter 2:9
  • After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes…crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”—Revelation 7:9-10

“Worship” is the term we use to cover all the acts of the heart, mind and body that intentionally express the infinite worth of God. This is what we were created for, as God says in Isaiah 43:7, “Everyone who is called by my name, and whom I have created for my glory…” That means that we were all created for the purpose of expressing the infinite worth of God’s glory. We were created to worship.
—John Piper (“Meditations on Daily Worship,” at desiringGod.org)

How we worship our great God will vary greatly, but it is important that we remember some basics, and the rest should fall into place as we seek God on the specific “hows” of worship. We must worship in spirit and truth by engaging both the heart and the head, the emotions and the mind. And our affections for God must be rooted in truth for worship to be biblical.

Another thing to remember is to talk and sing to God, not just about Him. Don’t get me wrong, it is important to teach songs about God to help our children learn about Him and to equip them to preach to their own souls, but we must be careful to remember that true worship is communion with God, not just learning about him. (See “Talk to God, Not Just About Him” by John Piper, desiringGod.org)

Read Part 2 of this post: Practical Tips and Resources for Worship Leaders

 

VIDEO: “Holding Fast to the Whole Counsel of God Under Pressure to Conform” by Albert Mohler

Persevering in the Whole Counsel of God

We are excited to be sharing the content from our 2016 National Conference. Check back each Wednesday to view a new plenary session (along with discussion questions and action steps) to help you better understand how to persevere in teaching the whole counsel of God to the next generation. 

Holding Fast to the Whole Counsel of God Under Pressure to Conform

In this message, Dr. Albert Mohler connects our need as parents to “hold fast to the whole counsel of God under pressure to conform,” to the experience of the Israelites as they were about to enter the Promised Land. 

In Deuteronomy, Moses gave his last address to God’s chosen people. He addressed a generation that had not lived under the cruelties of Egypt, nor experienced their culture. Now on the brink of the Promise land, Moses knew what was at stake for them and their children. Would they default to and become like the dominate Canaanite culture, or would they hold fast, choose to follow God, and experience the blessings and favor He gives to His children? Dr. Mohler, teaching from Deuteronomy 6, uses three words to encourage and challenge Christian parents and children’s ministry workers on the importance of 1) teaching the whole doctrine of God, and instructing with 2) discipline and 3) diligence to battle against the pressure that we and our children will face to conform to the culture of the day.

Questions for Reflection

  1. How would you compare the culture of the Canaanites to the culture of our day?
  2. Why did Dr. Mohler emphasize the need for teaching specific doctrine?
  3. Discuss Dr. Mohler’s quote, “We have to make sure they [our children] find themselves in the storyline of Scripture, knowing themselves in that story, otherwise they are going to be in some other story.” As a follow-up to this question, in what ways could you help your children see themselves in the story of the Exodus?
  4. Dr. Mohler, after making the point that the cultural pressure to conform is not new, said, “Christian parents have had to be faithful in whatever culture we’ve lived in. It is so pervasive, they exaggerate the newness but underestimate the urgency.” Have you fallen prey to the newness, or have you underestimated the urgency to teach your children the whole counsel of God? If so, what practical steps could you take?
  5. Dr. Mohler, in reference the “whole” counsel of God said, “no one is upset with the Golden Rule…It’s the word whole that is a big problem.” What cultural norms or trends are increasingly in conflict with Scripture?

 

Albert Mohler Quote

 

Further Reading

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

39 Questions and the Whole Counsel of God

Gospel “Poles” and the Whole Counsel of God

 

View Other Plenary Sessions

“Declaring the Whole Counsel of God to the Next Generation” by Mark Vroegop

“Exploring the Fullness of the Whole Counsel of God” by Bruce Ware

 

 

Hope-filled Labor in the Classroom

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I have given up. The white flag has been raised. I worked so hard to keep away the pests, disease, deer, and other harmful critters. The weather didn’t cooperate either. It feels as if my efforts to prepare, plant, and harvest produce from my garden have been in vain. Why even bother with gardening anymore?

Sometimes it is tempting to have a similar attitude as we face another year in the Sunday school classroom. So much labor is involved—preparing lessons, worship songs, special activities, and more. And yet, even in our pray-soaked diligence, we know that some children and youth will seem uninterested in the truths of Scripture. They may even appear indifferent to our earnest calls for them to “repent and believe in the Gospel.” Or, while demonstrating a genuine trust in Christ, we may feel disappointed by their lack spiritually maturity and slow pace of growth. Does that mean our labor is in vain?

Here is a verse filled with hope:

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:58, ESV)

…in the Lord your labor is not in vain!

“In the Lord”—

  • Trusting in His sovereign goodness
  • Being confident that He loves our students more than we do
  • Believing that He alone has the power to bring about new life
  • Knowing that we are called to be faithful to “sow and water”—faithfully teaching and explaining the truths of the Bible—while depending on God to give the growth
  • Teaching from a heart that is filled with joy in Christ
  • Prepared to share the hope that is within us
  • Always mindful that everything we say and do in the classroom should reflect the greatness and worth of God, His majestic holiness!

Will any of us demonstrate this perfectly in our classrooms this year? No, but the God who calls us IS perfectly faithful to complete His sovereign will. That difficult, uninterested, indifferent, 8-year-old boy might just grow up to be an extraordinary man of faith 30 years down the road.

So, labor hard “in the Lord” in your classroom this year, and don’t give up. In the Lord, our earnest but imperfect teaching skills, worship leading, and small group discussions are not in vain. I fully believe that in the future—maybe not until heaven—we will be amazed to see the harvest that God was pleased to bring about through the grace-dependent efforts in our Sunday school classrooms.

(Image courtesy of radnatt at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

Important Electronic Resource Update for Ministry Partners

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Thank you so much for your partnership. We really appreciate you and consider it a wonderful privilege to minister together. We trust and pray that the Lord is strengthening you during this very busy season as you prepare for fall programs.

One item that may not come to your full attention during this time is the license agreement for our electronic resources. If you have not recently done so, we would be very grateful for you to carefully review these agreements.

We love the fact that Children Desiring God is a non-profit ministry. Some implications:

  • We place a higher priority on serving you and the church rather than simply engaging in a financial transaction.
  • This philosophy compels us to offer an electronic distribution policy built on trust, foregoing a more technologically advanced and costly compliance system.
  • We need your help in carefully complying with this policy to allow us to keep costs lower and provide ongoing revenue for the development of more resources—including a growing number of free resources to better equip and train parents and ministry workers.

Here is a quick reminder…

Electronic Workbook license—each is licensed for one student for the duration of the year in which the curriculum is taught. When the curriculum is taught in the future, new licenses are needed.

Electronic Teacher Guide/Leader Edition license—each is licensed for one teacher, small group leader, or other classroom volunteer. Five volunteers requires five licenses. If two teachers alternate weeks or months, they would each need their own license. The policy allows a license to be reassigned in future years, knowing different adults will volunteer from year to year. However, when the license is reassigned, the PDF must be deleted from the original user’s computer and any printouts passed on to the new person or destroyed.

Posting on your website

Please do not post electronic workbooks or teaching materials on any website, including your church website. Some people have done this not realizing it is a copyright infringement as it makes the materials accessible to non-licensed users.

If you find that you are out of compliance, feel free to contact our Customer Service Team (info@childrendesiringGod.org or 1-877-400-1414), and we will be happy to assist you.

If you are interested in knowing why we have structured our electronic licenses this way please read more.

Where the Bible?

(This article was originally posted March, 2013)

I began teaching Sunday school more than 25 years ago. I currently teach first grade. What’s the biggest difference I see in my classroom today compared to 25 years ago? Bibles. Bibles everywhere. A Bible in the hands of every child. Bibles being opened, and eager faces and busy fingers trying to find Isaiah 44. And when they find it (and many still need extra help), you would think that they had just won a great prize. In reality, they have found a treasure greater than anything they could imagine: God’s own Word!

It wasn’t that Bibles were in short supply 25 years ago, or that first graders couldn’t read back then. No, it was something more significant—an unspoken philosophy embracing the idea that: The Bible is too difficult for young children and too boring for older children. The Bible itself—the actual text—isn’t really all that necessary or clear or sufficient for contemporary culture. So Sunday school curriculum adapted itself to this new way of thinking and, for the most part, the Bible disappeared from our Sunday school lesson times and was replaced by a sheet of paper that gave teachers an “easy to prepare” scripted, summarized Bible story.

But somewhere along the way, many of us started to notice something. There was no longer authoritative power in our teaching. Many children were entertained, but not many seemed changed. And the weekly “easy to prepare” lesson became a chore for the teachers who longed for something deeper and more soul-satisfying.

At CDG, we have a vision for the next generation—a vision of sponges, soaked full, super-saturated. Not, real sponges of course, but children. Children soaked full and super-saturated with the Word of God. Children who see the Bible being read and hear the text explained. Children who learn how to read the Bible for themselves and know how to properly study it, and then interpret its meaning. We long for a generation of Bible-saturated children who come to embrace God’s Word as sweeter than honey, more precious than gold, more exciting than any game or activity, more powerful than anything in their lives, more long-lasting and life-transforming than any new electronic gadget, and more soul-satisfying than the closest friend.

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus(2 Timothy 3:14-15 ESV)

Getting practical: So what steps can we take to make the Bible more “visible” in our classrooms? Here are a few suggestions to start:

  • Always teach with an open Bible, even if you are summarizing a story for preschoolers.
  • Whenever possible read directly from the Bible. Even preschoolers should hear the actual text read at times. Where the Bible uses simple, straightforward language, read it.
  • In kindergarten, start to teach children the books of the Bible through song.
  • Beginning in first grade, encourage each child to bring his or her own Bible to class. Make sure it is a “real” Bible and not a storybook or paraphrased version. Communicate with parents and, if necessary, assist them in purchasing a Bible for their child.
  • Offer small incentives (candy, prizes) for children who remember to bring their Bibles to class.
  • Require children of reading age to look up selected texts and read them aloud during the lesson. Do this according to their age and skill level. Most first graders can, with some help, look up and read one short and simple text per lesson. By third grade, most children can handle multiple texts of varying lengths.

Want some additional tips for specific age levels? Print out this free handout from Children Desiring God: The Importance of Biblical Literacy for the Next Generation.

You can also watch this delightful illustration as Pastor David Michael envisions of the effects of a Bible-saturated generation:

 

 

Keeping Up Appearances in the Classroom

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No, it’s not the highest priority in the Sunday school classroom, but appearances do matter especially in the younger ages. What do the children see when they enter the classroom? How might the physical appearance and design of the classroom serve to help or hinder a child’s experience in musical worship, biblical instruction, and meaningful discussion? These are some considerations to keep in mind as you go about preparing your classrooms. Yes, we are limited by many factors. For example, there may be space and budget constraints, the need for multi-use rooms, etc. But here are a few suggestions to implement if at all possible:

  1. Make the room as warm and welcoming as possible. The physical appearance will make an impression in a child’s mind.
  2. Think of the classroom as a type of “sacred” space and decorate it in a manner befitting its purpose: a place where the holiness and majesty of God will be seriously and joyfully proclaimed. The classroom should not have the feel of a playground or game room.
  3. Refrain from decorations, colors, and design elements that may over-stimulate some children. For example, a room with bright red and lime green walls may not be helpful for setting a calming tone in the classroom.
  4. Have a sense of order in the room by keeping clutter and mess at a minimum. If possible, keep supplies and other visuals tucked away in cabinets or bins until needed.
  5. Have clean whiteboards and blank wall spaces available for lesson time.
  6. Arrange the class in a way that minimizes distractions and maximizes visibility. For example, have the “front” of the classroom, where the teacher will teach, be devoid of doors or windows. If this is not possible, cover the windows with blinds or something similar. Use a moveable floor screen to block sight of the door.
  7. Have chairs and tables suited to the age and physical needs of the children.
  8. Throughout the year, make adjustments and changes as needed. Add some new design elements and decorations every now and then to provide variety.
  9. Look for opportunities to include the children in decorating the classroom, giving it a personal touch.

(Image courtesy of atibodyphoto at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

 

Treasured Family Time in Worship

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Many of you have already read or listened to this recent excellent response by John Piper to the question: “Should Children Sit Through ‘Big Church’?” It is definitely a must-read for every pastor, ministry volunteer, parent, grandparent…every church member. Here was one mother’s comment regarding this post:

Thank you, Pastor John & Noel. I was in a panic when our very active son aged out of the nursery shortly after we came to Bethlehem [Baptist Church]. My child has to sit through the worship service? You’ve got to be kidding! But our church family was patient, and we persevered—paper & crayons, church notebooks, sermon quizzes…we used every tool we could. And 23 years later, our son and daughter are Christ followers who love worshipping our great God. Worshipping as a family became a treasured time. You were right.

I heartily agree! This was our family’s experience, too. I know it can feel impossible at first—especially when you have a very energetic, naturally noisy 5-year-old boy, or several young children (in which case the parents are outnumbered by children). But with lots of patience, creativity, and perseverance it can  be done. Don’t give up!

And again, I would like to remind you of these new resources we have available:

My Church Notebook
A guide to help elementary-aged children participate in the service. It teaches them to actively listen to the sermon, take notes, recognize key points, and ask questions. ($7.50)

8 Tips for Helping Your Child Worship
A free brochure!

On a personal note, one tip that I would add to the list is…Choose wisely where to sit in the worship service. For us, this meant sitting in the same general area of the worship service week to week. The familiarity helped our children not become so easily distracted. Also, we sat in the balcony. This location provided our young children with an unobstructed view. Lastly, think carefully about having your children sit within sight of friends. This can serve to either be a motivation to be more attentive or a major distraction.

(Image courtesy of atibodyphoto at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

Our Favorite Parenting Books

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One of the great joys of being a parent is watching your child parent your grandchildren. But it also is a reminder of how difficult parenting is—really difficult! This is especially true for those of us who long to raise a future generation of men and women who love the Lord their God with all their minds, souls, hearts, and strength and are equipped to stand firm amidst the follies of this present age. So parents should make use of as many good, biblical, and encouraging resources as possible. Here is a list of CDG favorites:

Gospel-Powered Parenting: How the Gospel Shapes and Transforms Parenting

Teach Them Diligently: How to Use the Scriptures in Child Training

The Faith of a Child A Step-by-Step Guide to Salvation for Your Child

Your Child’s Profession of Faith

Shepherding a Child’s Heart

Instructing a Child’s Heart

Age of Opportunity: A Biblical Guide to Parenting Teens

Future Men

Special note to children’s ministry workers and grandparents: Don’t feel left out! You can also benefit from these resources. I read each of these books AFTER my children reached adulthood. They have helped me be a better teacher in the Sunday school classroom and in my grandparenting. Additionally, I would even go as far to say that they have challenged me to be a better parent to my adult children, as each book offers timeless truths.

(Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

What We Mean by Gospel-Centered

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What comes to mind when you see the term “Gospel-centered” applied to children’s and youth curricula? For some, this description depicts a curriculum in which every single lesson presents an easy-to-recite, step-by-step overview of the Gospel that students are encouraged to affirm. For others, there is a belief that every lesson must explicitly connect to Jesus’ redeeming work.

At CDG, we believe being “Gospel-centered” entails understanding and committing to the following in our resources:

The central message of the Bible culminates in the Person and work of Jesus—the Gospel—in which He brings sinners near to God. The Gospel is simple, yet amazingly profound, freely offered, yet extremely costly, and should be communicated as such. We believe this is best done by repeatedly drawing attention to essential Gospel truths found throughout Scripture: God is the sovereign Creator and Ruler; God is holy; man is sinful; God is just; God is merciful; Jesus is holy and righteous; Jesus died to save sinners; etc. Every lesson presents one or more of these essential truths, and every curriculum, as a whole, clearly and explicitly presents the Gospel to children.

Note that last sentence for a moment: Every lesson presents one or more of these essential truths, and every curriculum, as a whole, clearly and explicitly presents the Gospel to children. This is a very important distinction that is often misunderstood. We believe that these “essential truths”—found from Genesis to Revelation—are crucial for a right understanding of the Gospel for our children and students. These truths and doctrines anchor the Gospel within the proper context of the whole counsel of God.

So, while there is a place at times for a type of easy to recite, step-by-step overview of the Gospel, it is not the norm in our lessons. And yes, connecting Old Testaments themes and events explicitly to Jesus and His redeeming work is crucial to do at times and in age-appropriate ways, but not exclusively and not at the expense of giving our students a systematic teaching of essential Gospel doctrines.

Here are three free, resources that can help both teachers and small group leaders better understand our approach in our curriculum and its implementation in the classroom:

Communicating the Gospel within the Whole Counsel of God
This six-page handout highlights the key points from my 2016 National Conference seminar of the same title. It provides a foundational rationale for our desire to see the Gospel presented to children within a more comprehensive biblical context.

Sharing the Gospel With Children
This two-page resource (tucked away in the Appendix section of our curriculum) gives some practical suggestions for sharing the Gospel in the classroom setting.

10 Essential Gospel Truths
This is a handy one-page summary of 10 Gospel truths that we believe are essential for children to know and embrace. Each truth statement has one or more accompanying texts. Teachers and small group leaders can use this as a guide for instruction, review, and discussion with their students.

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