In Colossians 1:28, Paul writes, "Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ." How can a teacher make the most of the time with children at church so that those children can be among the "everyone" the church presents as mature in Christ?
In a recent webinar, David Michael shared how a church could use a passage like Colossians 1:28 as a banner text to guide its next-generation ministry.
"Paul's strategy, as we can see here for presenting everyone complete in Christ was that they would warn everyone and teach everyone,” David said. “To that end, that effort of warning and teaching is what we would call discipleship."
He went on to explain: “...for that to happen, we must teach them, we must admonish them. We must have a plan for imparting to them the whole counsel of God. So the structure of our programs, the content of our teaching, the various activities that we do in this church, and hopefully in our homes, all have this in mind. And what you do matters to that end.”
Much of the webinar focuses on priorities to increase the potential for our children to be presented complete in Christ. Here's an overview of those priorities:
Maximize the Bible in the classroom.
The first priority is to seek to maximize both the quantity and the quality of biblical engagement in the classroom, because it's God's Word that will bring them to faith, and it is God's Word that will present them mature in Christ.
We have maybe 45 to 90 minutes in a classroom each Sunday. What should we be focused on during this short window of time? What will best serve the goal of presenting our students mature in Christ? John Piper said, "We need an education that puts the highest premium on knowing the meaning of God's book and growing in the abilities that will unlock its riches for a lifetime."
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That means putting the highest premium on biblical instruction. I want to urge every teacher and every classroom volunteer to strive toward keeping the Bible front and center in all we do in our classrooms. Let's maximize biblical and spiritual instruction.
To begin with, just think in terms of having both your physical classroom and your class time permeated with Scripture from beginning to end. For example, consider having verses and biblical truths visibly displayed in various ways around the classroom. So as soon as the kids enter, they're getting the message: "We're here to learn about the Bible. God's words are the most important of all. We're here to learn about Jesus.”
If you have extra time, consider activities that will help children develop Bible skills or do Bible memory activities. One year, I was teaching second grade and the kids were used to coming in and doing a craft for 15 minutes. And I thought, you know what? Let's use this time to get kids into the Bible, to teach them how to use the Bible, learn the books of the Bible, and do Sword Drills. And the kids grew to love it. In fact, one week we went back to doing a craft at the beginning and the kids complained, "Mrs. Nelson, we want to do more Sword Drills."
Think of ways to use every moment of your time to reinforce the importance of Scripture. From first grade on, do everything possible to get Bibles into the hands of every child. Even if they can't read yet, you're sending a message: The Bible is absolutely essential during our class time.
During the teaching time, teach with an open Bible. This is so important. You can get all sorts of info on a tablet or an iPad, but when you teach from an open Bible, you are visibly demonstrating to the children that God's Word is set apart. There's nothing else like it. It is holy. And your lesson should always be centered on the Scriptures. Even when teaching young children or simplifying and summarizing a Bible story, read at least one portion directly from Scripture.
Tell the children, "Listen really carefully. This is what God is saying in His Word." Again, you're pointing them toward the importance of God's Word. Then teach in a way that actively engages the students with the text.
Our lessons are specifically written to do this naturally, to have children open the Bible, look at a text, ask specific questions from the text, and guide them in drawing biblical conclusions. In other words, we're teaching them how to study the Bible. And the older the kids get, the more I want to see them with open Bibles during class time. It should just be a regular habit.
Our booklet From Childhood You Have Known has some really practical helps for teachers in guiding children to engage and interact with the Bible, providing age-specific skills and tools.
Engage the heart and influence the will.
While our first priority involves acquainting children with the Bible and feeding their minds with biblical truth, we must never forget that the aim is to reach the heart and will. As Paul states in 2 Timothy 3:15, "the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ" equip you "for every good work."
That said, we know that only God, through the work of the Holy Spirit, can make faith happen in the heart and bring about true maturity in Christ. However, as teachers, we have a responsibility to teach the Scriptures in a manner that serves to guide and prod them toward a right and genuine response to God's Word, both toward faith in Christ and then obedience to Christ.
Next, I always look for an opportunity to share from personal experience. This doesn't need to take more than a minute. For example, I was teaching a lesson on the Good Samaritan and the importance of loving your neighbor. I shared how, during the past week, there was a huge backup on the freeway because there had been an accident. I got so frustrated because the traffic was really slow. But here I was worried about slow traffic instead of the fact that somebody had potentially been hurt. I shared how God convicted my heart and turned that frustration into prayer for those involved in the accident.
It took less than a minute to share that, but it helped the children to see that what I knew in my head needed to impact my heart. We need to give kids examples of that, how it's to be lived out, and then carefully consider ways to help them make practical application to their own hearts and lives.
Think of ways to foster and encourage genuine faith and loving obedience, even gently challenging students. If you are teaching on making our boast in God alone and you have a child who just won a huge sports event at his school, how could you use that? You could ask, "How could you boast in God through that instead of just boasting in your team?" So you are just asking questions. What is this verse calling you to do? Is this easy or hard? Why might it seem very hard at times? If you're truly trusting in Jesus and seeking to obey Him, how might you respond the next time somebody makes fun of you?
Also, end each lesson by giving children questions to think about as they leave. Just offer a challenge to their heart, because a lot of the heart engagement and influencing their will is going to happen outside the classroom. It gives them something to think about. This is why we've divided our curriculum lessons into two main pillars. We have the large group lesson that focuses mainly on instructing the mind, and then the small group application time with suggestions for guiding children to embrace and practice the truth they've learned, making biblical truth personal and practical, and prodding them to believe in their hearts and live the truth in their everyday lives.
Teach from the overflow of your heart.
When I was in college, I dreaded the thought of having to take a year of physics. It sounded awful. However, the physics professor I had was so excited about physics. Every lesson, every class, he was just oozing physics. He was so excited about it and animated by it. By the end of the year, I loved physics because he was teaching out of the overflow of his heart. The third priority is to teach from the overflow of your own heart. You cannot share something you don't own.
That's why when I prepare a lesson two or more weeks ahead of time, I'll just look at the lesson title, the main ideas, and the Scriptures. I won't look at anything else in the lesson at that point. I’ll just start to meditate on these things for my own life, for my own edification, and for my own correction, so that by the time I enter the classroom, those truths will have worked their way not only through my mind, but also into my heart and my will.
And that makes a difference. Kids know, they see when teachers really embrace what they're teaching. And just to be clear here, teaching from the overflow of your heart doesn't always mean an overflow of happiness. One year I taught with a man whose wife was going through cancer, but he would come with an overflow of confidence in God, even through a time of immense suffering. So teach from an overflow of your heart. Kids will notice that you cannot share what you do not have and what you do not own.
Equip and encourage parents.
The fourth priority is to equip and encourage parents. Our time in the classroom and our influence is very short and small compared to parents. Parents have the priority first and foremost for the discipleship of their children, but there are ways that we can help and encourage parents.
One thing is to just welcome parents to visit the classroom. Have an open house for parents, or send out special invitations throughout the year for different parents to come into the classroom at different times.
Use the parent take-home pages that come with the curriculum. And don't just send them home with kids; incentivize their use. At the end of class time, we'd say, "Talk with your mommy and daddy about one of these points and have them sign it, and then bring it back next week and share what you talked about." It made a huge difference.
Send emails to parents during the year, either as a teacher or small group leader, asking how you can pray for their child. Find ways to engage with parents and encourage them and find out even more about their child and ways you can help.
The fifth priority is to pray for God to work. David Michael encouraged our Sunday school teams to pray together before the children arrived. Over my 35 years of classroom teaching, I have been amazed at the impact this has made, not only on my own life and those of the other volunteers, but on the children and the whole classroom atmosphere. The classroom was markedly different, just from going to God in humble prayer.
You can have the best curriculum. You can do the best lesson ever. You can have Bible verses all over the walls. You can have children memorizing Scripture. You can plant the seed of the gospel and water it week by week, but unless God acts, there will be no growth.
So we would get together as a team before the kids arrived and pray together. It started where we'd maybe pray for a minute, and by the end of the year, it was like 10 minutes. Pray before the children enter the room, pray before you teach a lesson, and pray at the end of the lesson for God to be at work. Permeating everything we do in humble dependence on God has made a huge difference in my own teaching, in my own heart, and in what I have seen in the lives of the children in our classrooms.
Find more encouragement and direction for prayer in the classroom from the booklets Big, Bold, Biblical Prayer for the Next Generation and Utter Dependency on God, Through Prayer.