Better to tell the truth than stories

medium_3690894050

“You used to be awesome and tell funny stories about dumb things you did. You don’t do that anymore.”One of the fifth graders at our church shared this little bit of encouragement with me as he headed out the door the other week.

He meant it as an insult. I see it, oddly, as a compliment.

A few months back, I started sharing a few stories of really foolish things I did when I was between 8 and 10 years old. Things like: jumping off a roof to see if a man (or, in this case, boy) could fly. Defying my mother and getting an ATM card for my bank account after she explicitly told me not to. Or finding all the Christmas presents during a sick day, opening and playing with them all, and then attempting to cover my tracks by “rewrapping”all the presents.

Y’know, the typical idiotic stuff you can expect an eight-year-old boy to do.

The kids all enjoyed these stories, which is great, but then I ran into a couple of problems:

  1. The stories I could think of were inappropriate for kids (most of my childhood stories are PG-13 and up).
  2. The stories I could think of were inappropriate for the lesson being taught.

The second is far more significant an issue than the first. Although some of the stories I could share make me wonder how I’m not regularly in therapy, there are some I can clean up a little to make slightly more appropriate for little ears. But when a story doesn’t connect with the meat of the lesson, I don’t feel right about using it.

Telling stories that way—telling a story just to get a laugh—puts the focus on the wrong thing: me. While I obviously want to do all I can to make what I’m saying relatable and interesting, I don’t want to put me at the center of the teaching time for the sake of a quick laugh.

I’d rather be accused of being boring because I’m not telling funny stories, if it means the kids get to hear the gospel.

But the kid who was upset that I’m not telling as many funny stories doesn’t understand that. At least, he doesn’t understand it yet. He doesn’t get that it’s more important for him to know what God’s Word says than hear about something dumb I did when I was a kid. Someday he might. And if it ever happens, I hope he’ll be thankful that I sometimes sacrificed telling stories for the sake of telling him the truth about Jesus.


Originally posted at jtcochran.com. Photo credit: amanky via photopin cc

That awkward moment in kids ministry when…

children-in-a-circle

We all have them—awkward moments in children’s ministry:

  • Maybe it’s when you realize none of the kids have been paying attention to what you’ve been saying for the last ten minutes; or
  • when you realize how awful your rhyming scheme for your points truly is (and not just because you came up with it the night before); or
  • you realize, as you’re teaching, that this is probably the first time any of the kids in the room have ever heard the concept of God’s wrath.

That was my Sunday last weekend. I was teaching a lesson on Zephaniah, an Old Testament book where the wrath of God being poured out plays heavily in its message.

“I will utterly sweep away everything from the face of the earth… I will sweep away man and beast; I will sweep away the birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea, and the rubble with the wicked. I will cut off mankind from the face of the earth,” the book begins (Zephaniah 1:2-3). And the temperature only turns up from there as oracle after oracle is spoken to the people of Judah, warning them to watch for the day of the Lord, and to repent of their sins.

I’ll admit, teaching this was awkward. Not because I don’t believe it—in fact, I think we’ve failed to adequately do the subject justice, especially in the last 20 or so years—but because it seemed pretty clear that this was one of the first times the kids had heard much of anything about God’s wrath.

Many of the kids knew sin is bad and that it separates us from God… but it was in an abstract way. The way that suggests God doesn’t really have feelings toward sin. And then I had to go and shatter the glass.

Or rather, the Bible did. I was just the one teaching it.

As we talked about this, that God’s wrath would be poured out, and that God was warning his people to give them an opportunity to repent, one of the kids said something very interesting.

“God knew if he did this, he’d be doing something bad, so maybe that’s why he was warning them…”

Out of the mouth of babes, as the saying goes.

What’s fascinating is how quickly we try to start rationalizing, or make excuses, even making up ideas about why God would punish sin and tell people he’s going to to it. No matter how old we are, we naturally squirm at the idea of God’s wrath—mostly because we think of God’s feelings as being the same as our own.1 So when we think of God’s anger, we see it in light of our own, or our parents’. We know that we overreact, or go a bit too far sometimes. We know our anger doesn’t always produce good results, and it’s hard for us to wrap our heads around God being righteously angry.

So I asked this nine-year-old, “But is anything God does bad?”

“No,” he said.

“Why?”

“Because everything God does is good.”

“So… is God being angry and punishing sin a good thing or a bad thing?”

And then he started to get it.

Teaching awkward subjects is just that. Awkward. It’s hard to teach our kids about God’s wrath, about how only people who love and worship Jesus will be in heaven, and an eternity in Hell awaits all who refuse to recognize him for who he is. We want to shave off these hard edges. But if we’re going to be faithful Sunday school teachers, or faithful parents for that matter, we can’t avoid the awkward for our own comfort. Someone stepped out and warned us to flee from the wrath to come. Perhaps our kids need us to do the same.

When we switched to The Gospel Project…

TGPstoriesFINAL2-3

A post I wrote for The Gospel Project blog:

In late September, I was getting ready for my first weekend teaching our new children’s ministry curriculum. After several years of using a curriculum produced by another organization, we’d finally made the switch to The Gospel Project.

But it wasn’t without a bit of anxiety.

For years, the teachers, with rare exception, would take the biblical text from the old curriculum, toss out all the prepared material and start from scratch. This was a lot of fun for a few of us, particularly the geeks like me who enjoy doing sermon prep (which is really what we were doing—only shorter). But as fun as it could be for us as teachers, it wasn’t an ideal situation. Tossing the curriculum every week created a number of problems, notably that there were many inconsistencies between what was taught in the large group teaching time versus the smaller group setting. On top of that, we were inundating our children’s ministry director with emails about what we were changing and why. Although always sympathetic, the ongoing laundry list of complaints from teachers had to be getting a bit old, and maybe discouraging.…

Continue reading at The Gospel Project blog.