So church is starting back and for a short season we are following social distancing and staying together during the entire service. Part of the new-normal is the recognition that your children will be with you during the service, and most churches have elected to keep the children in the services. So, there you are, in the service, and your little ones are crawling under your feet, making clicking noises during the prayer time, and you are completely distracted.
The following is an article I wrote in 2016, and I thought it might help you today during these strange days of church. The church and home bear the responsibility to teach the next generation essential biblical concepts — especially in these Covid-19 days.
In track there is a very important time during the 4×100 relay. No matter how fast one runner may have gone, everything hinges on the passing of the baton. Proper technique must be practiced and maintained no matter how tired the runner may be. The runner who is receiving the baton cannot go anywhere until it is in his/her hand, and the runner who is passing the baton is not considered successful until the next runner has it in their hand. The success of the handoff equals the success of the race.
In the Christian faith there is a handoff that takes place. One generation passes the baton of faith to the next generation. The children in the seats today will be preaching the sermons tomorrow. As a parent there is nothing more satisfying and that brings as much joy, as to see your children genuinely worshipping the Lord. However, as parents there is no one moment in time when the baton is passed; instead it happens a thousand times, one pass, and then another, and then another. One opportunity, that leads to another responsibility, that leads to raised expectations, etc. Slowly, over time, and then years, children grow in their faith and become leaders.
Not only is this passing the baton a parent’s responsibility it is also shared by the church as well. No matter your church’s position on children being present during the service (some leave half way through, some are out the entire time, some stay the whole time, etc.) there will be times when the children will be present for the service.
I begin with the assumption that whoever the teacher/preacher may be, that he desires to be understood and impact all in the room. Also, when the service is designed as a whole that the planners do not desire to leave anyone behind. The following are things that a worship leader or worship design team can implement with regard to children being present in a worship service.
- Sermons that utilize stories – specifically stories about the speakers childhood. This will help the children to see themselves or place themselves into the story.
Telling stories, putting principles and precepts into skin and bones, truths and ideas into real or imaginary people and situations excels as a means of communication. An abstraction may hold some interest, but embody it in a story and it becomes clear, understandable, and compelling.
- Avoid unnecessary theological terms. If you can explain something or reword it to make it easier to understand, then why wouldn’t you? If there is a term that is important to explain the main teaching point then take the time to define the term and illustrate why it is important.
- Include children in the service or story in some way. Ask them questions, mention their names in a positive way, etc. One could have them hold up a teaching object (ex. If the main idea was on “division” then they could hold up a splitting wedge. Or if the main idea was “service” then they could be asked to serve in some way that day during the service.) Of course knowing ahead of time which children are comfortable being in front of others and which ones are not is important.
- Use actual objects to teach – things they can see and touch. The more common the object the better because when they see it again they will be very likely to connect your teaching idea to the object (ex. Toothbrush, zipper, shoe laces, etc.)
- Give them an objective to complete – It helps everyone to know what is expected of them. If children can be given a worksheet to complete during the service it may focus their attention and allow them to know what you expect them to know at the end of the service. You may ask questions like, “What was your favorite song? Why? What was the main idea of the sermon? How could you do that this week?, etc”
Avoid fact finding questions, instead focus on wording the questions so that they will help them reach a goal or understanding. Remember you are not desiring to raise a bunch of knowledgeable Pharisees, but whole hearted followers of Christ. For example, don’t ask “How many disciples were in today’s Bible passage?” Instead ask, “How do you think Peter felt when Jesus said, ‘Get behind me Satan?'”
- Make comments that relax the parents. Let’s face it, kids are at different stages of maturity (spiritual, mental, and physical). Their ability to sit still will vary greatly, but let me caution you to avoid assuming that because they were moving around that they were not listening. Also, don’t assume that because they were sitting still that they were listening.
A comment like “Children are welcome here. We know they may make noises, ask questions, or move around. . . it’s ok.” (the same is true for special needs families as well).
You don’t have to water down theology or even “dumb down” the service just because the kids are there. But you need to pray and spend some extra time on how to make families feel more welcome and relaxed as they attend services together.
Also, a quick note to parents; just because your child may be drawing on the bulletin or crawling around under the chairs, don’t assume that they were not listening. Ask them on the way home what they heard, you will be amazed at what they can retain. As the church and the home work together on making our services more kid/family friendly we will make some great strides to passing off the baton. But don’t forget it’s not a one shot deal, it’s week after week, Sunday after Sunday of partnering together to reach the next generation for Christ.
Get ready, set, . . .Go
 Roy Zuck. Teaching as Jesus Taught (Grand Rapids, Michigan; Baker Publishing), 306.
“Then the disciples came and said to him, â€œWhy do you speak to them in parables?â€ 11Â And he answered them, â€œTo you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12Â For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.Â 13Â This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14Â Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says: â€œYou will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive.â€ 15Â For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.â€™â€
The setting of this conversation between Jesus and his disciples seems to be as a huddle while the crowds stand waiting to see what else Jesus may say or do. The disciples are picking up from the reactions from the crowd that they do not understand what Jesus is saying. So they ask the question, to the side, â€œJesus, why are you speaking to them in parables?â€ As if to say, â€œJesus wouldnâ€™t it be better to speak to them directly, without the stories?â€
Jesus responds to the disciples question by making a statement that balances divine sovereignty with human responsibility. The first comment is definitively predestinarian in nature, â€œTo you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.â€ The disciples were chosen by Jesus, and therefore given the secret of the kingdom of heaven; which is how He [Jesus] was completing prophecy and was the promised Messiah who would save the world from itsâ€™ sin.
The disciples were allowed in on the secret of who Jesus was and what His plan was, even if they didnâ€™t fully understand it or know it fully at this point. The crowds were not allowed in on this secret. Therefore, Jesusâ€™ teaching of the gospel and the kingdom of heaven were not irresistible in nature, the people had a personal choice to make.
That which is given or taken away in verse 12 is insight or understanding of the gospel. By telling the crowd the secrets of the kingdom of heaven as a parable those sinners who want redemption and salvation from God may have it, but the religious self-righteous and prideful will never see themselves as the character in the stories Jesus tells and therefore never see the connection between Jesus and them being saved from their sin. The self-righteous think they are without sin and therefore donâ€™t need saving.
Jesus then says, â€œbecause seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.â€ He chose to teach in parables because the crowds were hard hearted in their response to His previous teachings. Tasker says in his commentary on this passage, â€œMen can and do reject it. Indeed, it can be accepted only by those whose hearts have been made ready to receive it, just as seed can produce a crop only when it is sown in ground prepared for its fertilization.â€
Think of Jesusâ€™ teachings as truth that moves toward the person. Our eyes, ears, and hearts act filters, and if it makes it through the filter then it affects our perception and understanding of ourselves and of God. But we have control over these various filters. We can choose what our hearts pursue and even love.
We can choose to look but not see what is right there in front of us. We can listen but only hear what we want to hear or read in our own thoughts and perceptions into Jesusâ€™ teachings. The truth can be right in front of us, but because we are not willing to perceive it, or change our lives to be shaped by it, we can voluntarily ignore it. So those who are open to Jesusâ€™ teachings and are willing to change their lives based upon them will understand â€œthe kingdom of heavenâ€ further. But if you have had some understanding of the gospel, but choose not to change, even that perception that you had will soon disappear.
In passages such as these it would be easy to become enthralled in a discussion of Arminianism, Calvinism, predestination, election, etc. and completely miss the point. If you have been given grace enough to understand that you are a sinner then run to the cross. In Jesusâ€™ teachings we find salvation and a life of freedom and forgiveness. If He has shown you an area of your life that needs work, forgiveness, or action, then allow Him to lead you in doing it.
In verse 15 it says, â€œFor this people’s heart has grown dull,â€ It is a progression taken with multiple decisions to step away from God and toward rebellion. Increased understanding of God comes from obedience and chasing after Him in steps â€“ a dull heart is produced from being disobedient, self-righteous, and walking away from His grace.
James 2:14-17 â€œWhat good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15Â If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16Â and one of you says to them, â€œGo in peace, be warmed and filled,â€ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17Â So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (ESV)â€
 Craig L. Blomberg. The New American Commentary; Matthew; vol. 22 ( Nashville, Tennessee; Broadman Press) 215.
 RVG Tasker. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Matthew (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Inter-Varisty Press), 137 & Ibid.
 Ibid. 137.
 Even if one tends toward Calvinism, we still have Jesus presenting to all while knowing that most would not receive His message.
*** For further information on Calvinism and it’s current role in the Southern Baptist Convention see Â E. Ray Clendenen. The Southern Baptist Dialogue; Calvinism (Nashville. Tennessee; B&H Publishing Group) 2008.
This past Sunday I used an illustration that I have used several times in my preaching experience. It involved an eagle crashing into my yard, me scooping it up, mending itsâ€™ wing, and putting it with my chickens. Well without just relaying the whole thing, at the end of the illustration I went on with the rest of the sermon. But this time, many people actually believed that I have an eagle at my house.
I had over ten people bring it up in conversation â€“ they wanted to see the eagle; they asked me questions about what I fed the eagle, and even gave me some legal cautions with having an endangered animal in my possession. Every time this would happen I was overwhelmed with a sense of guilt (they actually believe I have an eagle hanging out in my chicken coop), and one of regret. I managed to get a large majority of my church to believe that I helped an eagle. I told the story a little â€œtoo good.â€ I regret not saying â€œno about that eagle thing . . . I was just kidding.â€ I regret that where I had built trust, maybe now it is slightly eroded.
The illustration came to be during the Sunday School hour. I had preached the sermon at the earlier â€œcontemporaryâ€ service and felt that it had been lousy. Something just didnâ€™t click as I was preaching. About half way into the sermon I knew there was a problem â€“ so I landed it, immediately went back to my office and revamped the lousy sermon. One of the revisions for the â€œtraditionalâ€ service was a new introduction â€“ thus the eagle illustration was inserted. Again, I had used it several times before with no such sticky predicament.
But this time was different. My eagle came up after the service, it came up at the hospital during a couple of visits, and in various conversations as I bumped into various members throughout the week. So here are a few â€œtake awaysâ€ from my experience.
1. Find A Good Illustration in Your Own History.
Illustrations are a way to help your audience to understand what you are about to talk about. Donâ€™t let a â€œgoodâ€ illustration take you and your audience away from your whole point.
A good speaker will take something difficult and use an everyday example to make it simpler to understand. For example, my eagle illustration was to show how the eagle had forgotten that he was an eagle; he thought he was a chicken. Godâ€™s people had forgotten that they were set apart from all the rest of the world, and therefore how we mustnâ€™t forget that we are saved by Godâ€™s grace and set apart for His purposes. I donâ€™t think we reached this lofty goal with my illustration.
The best illustration you can use is one from your own life! A bad illustration is where you use one you found on the interweb. And the absolute worst is putting yourself into a story that happened to someone else â€“ boo. Also, as a teacher of Godâ€™s Word, you have about 30 minutes (depending upon your churchâ€™s tradition) so teach the Bible and donâ€™t clog it up unneeded illustrations (especially ones about hurt poultry).
2. The power of â€œjust kidding.â€
As of right now I am still undecided how I should have indicated that I was not telling the full truth about the eagle, but there should have been a â€œjust kiddingâ€ moment where I stopped the yarn. I am also concerned that I may just be getting too good at lying â€“ Iâ€™m still contemplating that one.
3. The preacher and the truth.
Those that are called into the gospel ministry have to constantly guard their heart. The more they pursue their calling, the more resistance and potential traps they face. There is a very real enemy who seeks to destroy them, to discredit them, and to lure them into traps that will ruin their ministry. I donâ€™t think one illustration will do it â€“ but if someone is known to be a good story teller, and they place their name too often in the story â€“ then they will be discredited from being able to tell the real and life changing story. People won’t know which story to believe.
I just finished a book by Reggie Joiner, and in his book Zombies, Football, and the Gospel, he says,
â€œIn pre-internet generations, information was scarce. Those who succeeded were the ones who could gather it the fastest. The company with the best data and the library with the most books won. But today, the rules have changed. Collecting information is no longer the goal. Now the greater need is to connect information, to sort ideas, to filter concepts and give content a better context. Those who win today are not as focused on collecting information as they are on connecting information.â€
It is interesting that there has always been mankindâ€™s passion to tell and to hear a story. In my lifetime I have seen a swing in fascination of seeking to gather limited information to the next generation seeking to connect with limitless information.Â This generationâ€™s challenge is to sift through seemingly limitless information that has not been edited, is biased, and cannot for the most part be verified. Â I still do not like to read a book on my ipad. I like the feel of the paper, the smell of the printed page, and the weight of it on my hand. But I know that my kids will end up not valuing my library as much as I do because they can access the same information on the internet for free, without having to dig through books, and without having to store them on space wasting shelves. The entire library of the world fits in palm of their hands.
Think of how our children engage in activities, especially when seeking new information. They have never lived a day where information has not been a couple of clicks away. They had some kind of information gathering device in their hand since they were old enough to hold it. Information about how to work a yo-yo, fold a paper air plane, or answer their questions like â€œwhat is dark matter?â€ is instantly available â€“ complete with a high definition video, commentary, viewer comments and suggestions of how to do it differently or better.
So how do we reach our children who have access to limitless information? If they have an interest, couldnâ€™t they just look it up?
Tell The Story Well and With Imagination
1)Â Â We reach them with what mankind has always loved (and still does today) â€“ a good story. We donâ€™t teach and tell the story for the passage of information alone, but for showing how characters dealt with context. Todayâ€™s teachers must drawn them with curiosity and imagination. The Bible is so powerful because it reaches to the core of who we are and how we were made. But the storyteller must be prepared and put their heart into the telling. Â We can deal with real life situations and put ourselves there to learn how to live.
We have all had a teacher who made us care, or cry with compassion, or dare to dream what we thought was impossible. And we have all had the teacher who had taught the same class, at the same desk, the same lesson, for so many years. The lessons felt dusty, stale, and inspired no one to greatness. The difference between the two was a good storyteller.
We live in a day of Disney, Pixar, ipads, and 3D televisions. People expect the story to be told with conviction, power, and careful thought toward details. Most of us do not have a Disney budget, but it is amazing how much imagination can be sparked with just a little experimented effort and boldness.
But we must also understand that how we tell the unchanging story must change. Jesus looked around and used grain laying on the ground, pointed to pilgrims walking in their white garments, and countless other teaching illustrations right there in front of the crowd. He was able to use their culture and surroundings to illustrate an abstract idea.
We must reach out into modern culture and into their worlds to teach them timeless true principles. Our childrenâ€™s worlds involve books they are reading at school, movies they watch, video games they play, and technology they hold in their hands. As a teacher we must enter their world, not expect them to enter into ours.
Show Them How To Use Godâ€™s Word As A Truth Filter
2)Â Â We use the Word of God as a filter to this limitless information. The word of God speaks to me as I take in (or should avoid) certain information. It throws up â€œred flagsâ€ within my spirit that alerts me to falsehood and deception.
Psalm 119:105 â€œYour word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.â€ Godâ€™s Word allows us to take our steps in this life with confidence, and with clear direction. Our children must understand that not everything they encounter on the information highway is true, right, or worthy of their time. They must know that Godâ€™s Word is paramount to anything else they may â€œlearn.â€ So we take all gathered information and when it does not align with Godâ€™s Word it is thrown aside as falsehood.
2 Timothy 2:15 â€œDo 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.â€ One of the most challenging tasks of a teacher is to show students how to use the entirety of Scripture to focus the entirety of life.
Teach Them in the Context of a Loving Relationship
3)Â Â Starbucks discusses the importance of a â€œthird place.â€ There is home, work and the â€œthird placeâ€ that Starbucks hopes will be where you buy their coffee and hangout. It is there that you laugh with friends, meet with business associates, discuss a book, etc. The church should meet peopleâ€™s need for a â€œthird place.â€Â We have to design our times together so that relationships can be fostered and developed, not simply a dumping of information with little interaction with each other.
Our ability to tell the story and to teach Godâ€™s Word is in the context of relationships. The old saying, â€œthey donâ€™t how much you know, until they know how much you careâ€ is very true. When your students, children, neighbors, etc. know that you genuinely care for them then they will listen to what you have to say.
So how do we reach our children who have access to limitless information? We tell the story with excellence, showing them how to properly use Godâ€™s Word, in the context of a loving relationship. All of these three tasks have their own challenges, but the saints of old have overcome them and so shall we. The good news is that even if you need a pre-teen to set your DVR, that preteen still needs and desperately desires to be loved. Even though the children can access information and communicate via social media they still have been designed by their Creator to need actual loving relationships with other people. Let’s make the church the people and place where children can learn the truths of God and discover an eternal love from God.
 Reggie Joiner, Zombies, Football, and the Gospel (The ReThink Group; Cumming GA, 2012) 143.