I used to be petrified of questions. I had no idea what they were going to be and they used to be incredibly hard to answer. Come to think of it, usually they are still hard to answer, but the way I view questions has changed.
I have been involved in children’s ministry now for over thirteen years with hopefully a lot more to come. During this time, I have been in a combination of roles, both as a volunteer and in paid positions, as a team member and as the head of the team. Children’s and family ministry is similar to other ministry roles in that it can be quite varied.
There are the obvious tasks such as running children’s programs and planning holiday clubs, writing all together talks and equipping others to join the children’s team. Then there are other times where you find yourself thinking ‘how can I use play doh to tell this story’, or ‘when is the paper too hard to cut’, or sometimes the eternal concern of ‘where is the lid to the glue stick’. Children’s and family ministry can be full of great and wonderful surprises. Yet there is one that I have learned to love.
No matter what role or responsibility I have held, there has always been a constant. Simply put, children ask the best questions. Not only that, children ask them straight away, without hesitation or embarrassment. Not only do they want an answer they can understand and accept, but they would prefer it to be answered right away. This is a wonderful challenge to ‘non-children’ for a number of reasons.
Sometimes we are nervous about asking questions, or unsure if we want to ask about something that is bothering us. For whatever reason, we are shy or unsure about how to answer other people’s questions. Sometimes we simply accept what we hear to be true. When it comes to teaching children, as I have written in previous articles, we have to be clear and concise.
Children are concrete learners
Children are concrete learners, so speaking in abstract terms can, to children, sound like we are speaking in a different language. I have come to love teaching children about the bible and about God’s big rescue plan for all people, because the children and forced me to be clearer than I normally would. While I have been teaching children, they have taught me to anticipate the questions that they may ask. This keeps my Christian jargon to a minimum. Not only that, but it strengthens my teaching.
When we teach, generally we want to be as clear as possible. We need to understand our audience so that they can remember what we have said. We want them to remember what God has done for them through Jesus, so that when it comes to Monday morning, they can apply it to their lives as they continue in their week. The same goes for children. If we are teaching children, then they are obviously our audience.
So we need to teach in a way that truly reaches their heart, and God willing he will work a miracle and teach them more of himself. We do this by the language we use. Everything needs to be defined clearly. Terms like love, peace, joy, patience, righteousness, grace, forgiveness, hope, glory etc., all need to be defined in terms children can understand. And-here is the tricky part-without reducing their meaning. Jesus taught big concepts to both well educated people and uneducated people through story. We have similar teaching devices we can use like song, or story or puppets.
Whatever we use, we need to make sure we define these abstract terms clearly. The best part about this is when our hard work for the sake of children learning also translates into our teaching and conversation with ‘non children’ (or adults). Often, adults will thank you for being so clear, and explaining in ways that they can understand. This has been a common experience for me.
Through preaching and teaching to children, often, the adults thank me for preaching and teaching in such a clear way. And this is where the questions come in. If we do not break down big ideas and themes clearly, children will simply ask. In that moment, you are put on the spot, to think clearly and forced to use language that they understand. Children are not ashamed to ask they simply want to know and understand.
When we teach children, our communication and clarity becomes stronger. We too can be asking more questions, simple questions about what we know and understand. It is good to ask questions like ‘Where is God?’, ‘Will Jesus hear me when I pray?’, ‘Who wrote the Bible’, and my personal favourite ‘But why did Jesus have to come and die anyway?’.
When we learn to speak clearly, we learn to share clearly. We won’t be talking about lofty ideas, but in ways and means that anyone can understand.
Stephen Urmston is a full time puppeteer and performer that shares the good news of Jesus all over Australia. He has 18 years of experience in children’s ministry and has been a children and families minister in South Australia, Victoria and Queensland. Stephen loves Jesus, and loves being creative, and especially loves when his two loves combine, turning into some kind of super powered passion!
Stephen Urmston’s previous articles may be viewed