Jesus told us not to hinder the children from coming to Him. What does hindering look like? What are the barriers in children’s ministry that keep children from coming closer to Jesus? We looked at two barriers so far: No Relationship and Church is Boring. Now we will look at the third one: Poor Presentation.It may look something like this:
Teacher: Today we are talking about… [Looks at her paper, tries to figure out where to look.] Ehm… Jonah… I think. [Fumbles some more with the paper, turns it around.] I mean Esther. Esther, yes, that’s right. She was ehm… a woman… who lived in… [Reads from her paper, holds it up in front of her face, squints] a country. And she was a girl, I mean. Women are girls too, but she was not quite a woman yet. But she was female. She was not grown up yet. She was still a girl. Like you guys. Well, some of you… I guess… Because some of you are boys. So the boys are not girls. And ehm… [Looks at the paper again, smiles reassuringly at the kids. But the kids are not reassured by her smile. They don’t even notice her smile. They are not listening to the teacher-who-doesn’t-know-what-she’s-talking-about. They do know what they are talking about – they are talking to the kids beside them about their new iPad game. And, unlike their teacher, they do have a lot of interesting things to say about them.]
Does this sound a bit over the top? Perhaps it does. Unfortunately, it is probably closer to the truth that we’d like to admit, and it’s all because we often do not prepare our lessons as well as we should, and that does present a barrier – the barrier of a poor presentation.
Honestly speaking, taking down this barrier was a something that I did not learn very quickly myself. I remember that probably the first year that I volunteered in our church in The Netherlands, I always felt defeated after Sunday School. Every time I sighed as I told myself, “I have got to do a better job preparing.” The following month I put in more effort, but it still was not cutting it. Part of the problem was that I did my preparation on Saturday. I had to think of what I was going to do, and that was all I did. I had a general idea, I had a few main points. I kind of envisioned what I was going to do, but in real life, it never turned out that way. I always fell short of what I had pictured in mind. Picturing it was not good enough. So how could I take down this barrier?
Strategy 7: Value Excellence – Excellence from your Heart
When I volunteered some years later in our church in Canada, we started off by using a curriculum called FLIPT from Promiseland, Willow Creek. I learned tons from using that curriculum and it continues to be one of my favorites. I noticed that they did things with excellence. Indeed, the lessons were excellent. But the videos with the stories were done so professionally, so well, so fresh, so child-oriented, so beautifully, that I was sold out on the concept of excellence immediately. The kids were captivated. “If I can teach the kids like that… Wow! That is what I have been missing all this time!”
There is a catch to excellence. When we have a single focus on excellence, we can easily become somewhat obsessed with giving a perfect performance for the kids. This is a dangerous path, because we shift our eyes from Jesus, and start focussing on having the coolest, best presentation, and it becomes about bringing glory to ourselves instead of to God. How can we avoid this? How can we focus on excellence and still make it all about bringing glory to God? I believe that the Bible gives us the solution. Have a look at this verse:
‘Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.’ Colossians 3:23, 24 (NIV)
When I read this verse, it spells excellence to me. And it spells it beautifully and perfectly, because it shows that true excellence comes from working at things with all our hearts and with a single focus on Jesus. We get in trouble when we want to teach with excellence for the purpose of being excellent and impressing our audience. This is never right. We must teach with a desire for excellence that comes from our hearts and we must do so humbly. As long as we are clearly aware that we work for the Lord and serve Him in order to make His name great, we will bring glory to Him. We teach with excellence not to be cool or engaging, but simply because we are madly in love with Jesus, and because of our great love for Him. We teach with excellence because we want to see Him glorified.
As I discovered the importance of the Value of Excellence from our Hearts, I started to ponder about the great honor it is to teach God’s Word. God, the Almighty Creator, all powerful and glorious, who is in charge of the universe… He reached down into our world. He decided to make Himself known to us. He did not just give us a sign to show us that He exists somewhere, but He actually made Himself known through His Word. He did not just give us a few pages, but He gave us a Book with sixty-six books, written by different authors during different centuries in different countries. And this Book is all one great big story – the Story of how God reveals Himself to us and rescues us from an evil, horrible mess that we chose ourselves. It cost Him dearly. It cost Him His only Son. And His Son decided to obey and follow God’s plan to rescue us. And rescue He did. Not only did He save us from hell, He also restored us, redeemed us, and continually transforms us so that we can now have a relationship – a deep, strong, beautiful love-relationship with Him. Incredible. Unbelievable, and yet we must believe it. How could I ever give anything less than my very best, my excellence, as I share this Story with the children God has entrusted me with?
Excellence, not perfection, means that I pour my heart into preparing to the very best of my ability. It means that I pray as I prepare. I seek God’s guidance. I ask Him to open the hearts of the children. I ask Him to use me as a humble vessel. I ask Him to speak through me.
And then I memorize my lesson. Yep, memorize. I take time. I do not memorize word-for-word necessarily, but I do memorize sentence-by-sentence without giving myself too much freedom in how I change the sentences. The meaning of the sentences must remain the same, although sometimes the order of the words or the order of sentences may change slightly. I memorize lessons paragraph-by-paragraph. I take hours to prepare so I will know very well what I am going to say. Memorization brings your teaching to a whole new level, guaranteed. I didn’t believe in memorization at first, but I accepted the challenge to try it, and I have never gone back. You see, if you do not have your lesson memorized, as you speak to the kids your mind will think, “What is coming next again? I hope I remember…” And while you teach with a worried mind, you teach from your head. If you teach from your head, you’ll likely only reach the heads of the kids. In order to reach their hearts, you must teach from your heart. So let the story enter your heart. You must know it, and know it very well. Memorization is a crucial key to excellence.
As I prepare, I let the message sink into my own heart. It is easy to skip this in our preparation and focus on the listeners and how this message is so important for them. But we must apply the truths to our own lives first and let the message change our own hearts before we teach it to the children. As you prepare, take time to let it sink deeply into your heart and spirit. Pray that God will reveal the depth of the message to you, and that He will help you see how He wants you to apply it to your own life. Ask Him to reveal things to you that you may not be aware of yourself.
After that, I practice teaching out loud. Now that I know the words, I want to figure out how I am going to say them. Because I memorized the lines, I am now able to focus on “how”. So I practice, usually in my bedroom. I tell people not to disturb me and I practice it several days in row. I test-drive my lesson, and try different ways of saying different things. I try out different ideas I have for body language, I play with volume and I figure out how to bring across the emotions in the story. As I do this, I get to know the story in a new way, and (I smile as I write this) that is actually one of the most powerful Bible study methods I know. As I practice, God reveals things to me. This is often when the story enters my heart. I get excited about how God reveleals Himself through the story and it touches me in a deep and personal way. Sometimes I cry. Sometimes I just savour the beauty. Good stuff.
So I encourage you to prepare and prepare well. It takes time, but this investment is well worth it. Then, as you teach with excellence, let your message flow from your heart. Then your teaching will be genuine. You will see that you will be much more passionate about the stories and the truths you will teach the children. The blessings that flow through this will take your breath away. It will take down the Barrier of a Poor Presentation.
Coming up next – Strategy 8: Value Storytelling Techniques