This is the last barrier in the series From Barriers to Values, and it is one that I didn’t discover until after I had started been giving this training module at our church for some time. As I began to recognize the existence of this well-disguised barrier, I started to see that this is a barrier we cannot afford to ignore.
As we get to know the children in our classes, we can easily divide them into a few categories. There are the disruptive ones, who often get in trouble because they always push the boundaries and step outside them in order to see what will happen. There are a few clowns, who may or may not get in trouble, depending on how good they are at staying just within those boundaries. There are some average kids, who are neither clowns nor pushers, and although many of them may not be particularly eager to learn, they do quite well in general. And then there are the smart ones. Some of them are simply very smart, and may not even realize it or they may not think much of it. But there may be some who like being smart and they are proud of it. Some of them want to answer all questions and do so before anyone else does. Some have a need to show off.
This sixth barrier, I’m So Smart, is not a barrier in all kids, but it is a barrier for kids who are prideful about being smart. This barrier is different than the previous ones, as most of those focus on kids who struggle to engage. This barrier focuses on kids who actually are very engaged, but they focus on head knowledge and impressing others, without engaging their hearts with the message. They have pride in their hearts.
The Bible says, “Knowledge puff us.” (1 Corinthians 8:1) Pride is never good. We can be proud of our accomplishments in a humble sort of way, knowing that what we accomplished we were only able to do because God gave us the ability, but pride is not like that. Pride says, “I’m better than you!” In this case it says, “I’m smarter than you and therefore I am better than you!” And, though it may be subtle, it says so with attitude.
Well-meaning teachers often feed into this barrier, perhaps mostly unintentionally. It is fed when we have children memorize verses and hand out prizes to the ones who have memorized the most. It is fed when we only ask knowledge-based questions. It is fed when we always let the same children answer. It is fed when teachers favour smart kids. If left unchecked, the smart kids get more prideful and the not-so-smart-kids feel more and more left out, and will eventually give up and stop trying.
Knowing a lot about the Bible, of course, is great. Memorizing verses is important. Having brains that can process information well is a wonderful blessing. So how do we deal with this barrier?
Strategy 11: Reaching Hearts
Children’s Ministry is not about head-knowledge only, and it’s not about giving perfect answers. What is it about, then? I believe the answer is not so hard to find, although implementing it will require constant watchfulness on our part. Here’s our strategy: we must focus on reaching the hearts of the children.
“Knowledge puffs up,” the Bible says, and then it continues, “but love builds up.” Our answer is love. Focus on love. Help the children discover God’s amazing, powerful, transforming love for them. Help the children to love God above all, and to love others as themselves. As we do this, they will be built up in a healthy way.
You see, God has always been after our love. He wants us to love Him with all of our hearts, souls, minds and strength. (Deuteronomy 6:5) Although He wants us to know Him with our minds, God does not just want us to have head-knowledge about Him. Neither does He want just an emotional response from us. He wants all of us. No holding back. And the most amazing part of it is that above all He wants our love. He wants us to love Him with our hearts. He wants us to love Him with our souls. He wants us to love Him with our minds. He wants us to love Him with our strength. How amazing that the Creator of the universe longs for my love, for your love, and for the love the children can give Him.
Here are some practical steps:
- Teach the children from your heart. Let the stories enter your heart as you prepare to teach them, as I described in Strategy 7: Value Excellence – Excellence from your Heart. Let the story change you, move you, penetrate you. You cannot teach from your heart if the story has not entered your heart. If it has only entered your head, it will only come from your head and reach the heads of the children.
- As you teach, point out things about God’s character and how He demonstrates His love, care, protection and faithfulness to the people in the stories. Focus on things that will help the children stand in awe of God, rather than just focussing on the facts of the things that happened in the story. This will help to strengthen their love for God as well as their faith.
- Instead of asking “knowledge” questions, include other kinds of questions. Ask questions about how they can apply the stories to their lives. Ask questions that require honesty and openness about the things the kids might be struggling with. Praise kids for giving honest answers, not just the “right” answers.
- Do not reward answering questions with candy or stickers or other things. This will only motivate the kids to answer by telling you what they think you want to hear, rather than telling you what is in their hearts.
- Don’t always choose the same children to answer your questions.
- Don’t treat smarter kids as your favorites, as this can breed bitterness in the other children.
- When children give answers that you don’t quite understand, or that don’t seem to make sense, ask more questions to clarify what they are trying to say. Sometimes they have a hard time expressing themselves, and they may actually have a great point hidden underneath their confusing answer.
- Encourage children to obey God, not out of obligation, but from their hearts. Teach them about having a positive attitude as they obey. Teach them to obey God because you love Him, not because you want to stay out of trouble.
- Sometimes doing the right thing is hard. Sometimes understanding what is going on in our lives is hard. Model transparency and honesty. Tell the kids that you sometimes struggle with certain things as well so that they can see that nobody is perfect, and that it is okay to talk about it. Do this in a child-appropriate way. If they ask a difficult question and you don’t now the answer, tell them. You can say that you’ll look into it and will try to have an answer next time. Or you can tell them that some things are a mystery, and we do not have answers to all questions.
- Model being teachable. Being teachable requires humility, and is the opposite of a prideful “I know it all” attitude. You can tell them about the new things you have discovered in the lesson yourself. Encourage the kids to be teachable as well.
When we focus on reaching the hearts of the children with God’s love, we will work to bring down this prideful barrier in our children. As we seek to build up our children through love, all children, the smart ones and the not-so-smart ones, will be able to know that they are loved and valued, not because of the perfect answers they give, but simply because they were wonderfully created by our God. Let’s show all our children that our mighty God dearly loves them.
Other articles in this series:
From Barriers to Values
Barrier #1: No Relationships
Barrier #2: Church is Boring
Strategy 3: Value Fun
Strategy 4: Value Creativity
Strategy 5: Value Learning Styles
Strategy 6: Value the Uniqueness of Childhood
Barrier #3: Poor Presentation
Strategy 8: Value Storytelling Techniques
Barrier #4: It’s Just a Bunch of History
Barrier #5: I Don’t Understand!