Teaching Spirituality to Kids

children

What was your experience with Christian spirituality as a child? When I was a kid, I thought having a relationship with Jesus meant sharing the gospel with my friends and never sinning. Once, I decided to not sin the entire day. I was nice and good and didn’t get into trouble once…and then decided it was too much work and never tried it again.

When I got older, I thought having a relationship with Jesus meant learning, using, and sharing the “Christian worldview” (i.e., all the opinions a certain group of Christians have about contemporary issues).

Of course, I knew that’s not what a relationship with Jesus was, and everybody knew that’s not what a relationship was, and we all acted like it was, anyway. I spent my whole life frustrated with the lack of actual spiritual formation in much of Protestantism. “Read your Bible and pray” was the clearest directive, but unhelpful, because nobody clarified what that meant or how that affected your spirituality. Protestant spirituality was a constant battle between head knowledge and emotionalism.

As I’m about to teach a class of kindergartners in a few weeks, I’m thinking hard about how I want to present spirituality to them.

It started with a mediocre Bible curriculum. My biggest complaint with it was that it seemed just like a Sunday school curriculum — the highest of insults. Sunday school curriculum relies on flannel boards and puppets, things I don’t like. They use boring worksheets and stilted storytelling language. You never know whether to read directly out of the curriculum, make it up as you go along, or read it straight out of the King James Bible. What do you want from me, curriculum?

Worst of all, they retell the same stories, with the same lessons, over and over and over again. As a children’s church worker, I always felt compelled to come up with the craziest illustrations and skits to convince the kids Bible lessons weren’t as boring as we all knew them to be — and I wasn’t doing that five days a week for two semesters.

I figured out why these Bible lessons were boring: they all follow the same recipe for disaster. First, interrupt the story at every other sentence to hammer home that the Bible is true and God is good and was Jonah obeying God? Nooo. Second, interrupt the sentence to explain what “Ebenezer” or “saith” means. Third, moralize the story and emphasize obedience.

Voila! You’ve killed the Bible.

Old Testament literature in particular fascinates me, and I felt it intellectually dishonest and spiritually shallow to teach the Bible as if it was one long repetition of, “Obey God, obey your parents, disobedience is sin, so obey.”

The Bible is fabulous literature. It tells an amazing story about God’s faithfulness. For part of the year, I’m ditching the Bible curriculum for Sally Lloyd-Jones’s The Jesus Storybook Bible. We’re going to talk about it like it’s one of our read alouds, not a book of morals or systematic theology.

Basically, I want to introduce students to God and his scheme of redemption, and that grand narrative sweep them up into a relationship with him, rather than an altar call.

But I’m most excited about our Mondays. We’ll learn about a foreign country and the children who live in it, and then we’ll pray all week for a particular child in poverty.

When I taught preschool to my youngest siblings, they loved praying for our Compassion International child, Manda.

“Dear God,” they would pray, eyes squeezed shut, “please help Manda to get a roof and milk.”

It melted my heart to see kids, only two- and four-years-old, excited about praying for someone in need. (We prayed for Grandpa’s bad back and Caroline’s sore thumb and Mr. So and So’s friends friend who needed a job, too. We prayed about everything.) That’s the love of Jesus, right there. That’s loving the least of these. That, more than any Bible knowledge, will keep them on the straight and narrow.

Love, radical love, is the nature of God, and Christian spirituality is about becoming like God. I will encourage love, through prayer and human interaction, as the central tenet in our kindergarten spiritual formation.

How did you learn about Christian spirituality? How would you go about communicating that with kids, your own or the Sunday school crowd?

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11 thoughts on “Teaching Spirituality to Kids

  1. Korie

    This is something I’ve thought a lot about, both as a teacher and a parent. I taught high school at a Christian school, and my main agenda was basically to challenge everything that they had been thinking and were taught.

    As a parent (and regarding discipleship in general) I’ve concluded that it is much more important for children to learn who God is, who they are (or can be) in Christ, and then learn the Bible, versus using the bible to teach lessons about God (or following the law!) I want my children to have w relationship with a Lord who is living and active versus a relationship with a book.

    I grew up in a nonchristian home, so I don’t have my own experience to build off of, which is kind of freeing.

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    • Bailey Steger

      Yes! It’s such an important distinction to make: God does not equal the Bible. Our relationship is with Him, not with Scripture. I think with that emphasis, a Bible study will naturally supplement and strengthen a child’s relationship with God, rather than confuse it.

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  2. ChrisW

    A book you might find interesting is “Growing through the church” by Russell Herbert. It’s about leading all age worship in schools and he writes well about the needs of different life and faith stages, and why ‘childish’ worship doesn’t work. His main premise is that worship is godly play. With that in mind, I’ve been asking myself constantly how I can bring people to *play* with ideas and stories, and learn who Jesus is through play.

    There’s also an amazing chapter near the end of “A lot like Eve” where Rev Joanna Jepson has to lead a class of young muslim girls. The book isn’t about children specifically, but tells her story beautifully.

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  3. Rebekah

    When I was younger I tried to do everything right. If you get everything right, you won’t get in trouble and life will be easy. One big thing that helped me move past that was my pastor’s sermons through Matthew; Jesus dealing with the Pharisees. I realized how much I was like them! And once I realized that I couldn’t be “good enough” by myself, it was so freeing. Jesus is enough. I can’t do it. But Jesus can!

    One thing that I love for kids is The Big Picture Story Bible. (I love it for adults too! :) ) Just seeing all the connections between the Old Testament and the New, and God’s faithfulness throughout is so helpful. And it’s beautifully simple. I love it.

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    • Bailey Steger

      I wonder, though, if the Pharisees’ problem was trying to do everything right. Wouldn’t it be more about trying to follow all these tiny details in the law but completely missing the huge thing of loving God and *loving one’s neighbor* — justice, mercy, all that jazz? What do you think? I’ve been thinking about this for awhile.

      But yeah, absolutely, I feel like all Christian kids go through that phase of just “trying to stay out of trouble” and think it has eternal significance. :) I haven’t heard of that Bible, but it sounds fabulous!

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      • Rebekah

        Totally! I think they were so obsessed with getting everything “right” that they missed the point of it all. I know I did the same thing.

        Yeah, you see it a lot. So I want to be careful from the beginning to show my kids (if I have any, and other kids, for that matter!) that it isn’t about what they’ve done or ever could do, but it’s all about God and who He is and what He has done for us!

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