Why are kids leaving home (and the church) without being captured by the gospel?

show them jesusA couple years ago our Children’s Ministry Director (Janet Stee) and I read through “Show Them Jesus” by Jack Klumpenhower. I think it is safe to say that we both felt it was one of the better books we had read when it comes to thinking through how to keep the gospel central in all that we do in Children’s Ministry. Jack graciously agreed to answer a few questions for me. I pray that this encourages and inspires you.

Tell us a little about yourself and your family.

I live in Colorado with my wife and two kids. We just sent the oldest kid off to college, so we’ve gone from parenting little ones to parenting teens, and now we’re figuring out how to be parents to an adult child. I’m grateful to God that both kids profess to be believers at this point in their lives, but each stage has had its challenges. We’re well aware that many Christian parents struggle with kids who grow up and leave the church, so we pray hard that God will keep our children close to him. That’s his work of grace, not ours.

Meanwhile, I keep teaching younger kids in Sunday school, and at Bible camps during the summer. In that role, I’m just one of the many volunteers who work with kids in churches everywhere and want to get better at it. Job-wise, I’ve done several interesting things in my life, mostly in journalism and marketing. Currently, this includes writing and editing for Christian publications.

The Children’s Ministry Director at our church and I read and discussed your book “Show Them Jesus.” We both were greatly challenged and encouraged by your book. Tell us what your primary motivation was in writing this book.

A few decades ago, I was part of a church that was “gospel-centered” before that became a catchphrase. We tried to remember, in all we did, that the good news Jesus and what he’s done for us is the engine of the Christian life. I was volunteering in children’s ministry, and I noticed that we weren’t very good at applying that truth to our work with kids. In our culture, we’re used to telling kids what to do, or entertaining them, or telling them to believe in themselves. But the gospel is different from all of this and it doesn’t come naturally to us, especially with kids.

So, I started working on ways to teach the gospel to kids. It took much thought and help from others, but after years of practice I felt I had something important and useful to share with the wider church. I also heard a few prominent pastors mention that they saw a need for gospel-centeredness in children’s ministry. That’s when I decided to write Show Them Jesus.

You explain in your book on page 3 that “a frightening number of kids are growing up in churches and Christian homes without ever being captured by the gospel of Jesus.” Explain how this happens and what we can do to avoid it.

We want our kids to have true faith, believing and trusting Jesus both for salvation and in daily life choices. There’s no sure formula we can follow to make this happen, because such faith is given by God. This means parents who’ve taught their kids about Jesus and still find those kids rejecting the gospel should not blame themselves; they should be pleading with God to bring their children to faith.

But we also should do our job when it comes to training our kids. The Bible says faith comes by hearing the good news about Jesus (Romans 10:17, John 20:31). So we must make sure our children regularly hear gospel preaching, and we must tell them daily about Jesus. Merely telling them to be good is not the same as telling them about the Savior who loves them, died for them, rose in victory, and calls them to repent and find their joy in him. Many kids who decide to walk away from the church and from Jesus don’t really know who they are rejecting. They’ve had a bellyful of moralizing, sentimentality, stirring music, and pop religion, but they’ve seldom been fed large helpings of Jesus.

Not all parents feel qualified to lead their children in family worship. What are some basic steps that parents can take to teach their kids the Word of God?

One thing is simply to read to Bible to your kids. Pick an easy translation and one of the narrative books, and start reading a section a day. Bedtime or after a meal usually works well and can become an enjoyable habit. I think the book of Luke is a great place to start, since it tells about the life of Jesus and doesn’t require much background knowledge. Don’t put pressure on yourself to add any profound teaching or questions. Just read. And if your kids want to talk about it, talk.

Families that want a bit of structured teaching and discussion can also use a family devotional guide. I recommend any of the guides by Marty Machowski for parents who have never led family worship before. Those guides take only about ten minutes a day, which is a good goal if you’re just getting started.

Finally, faith is learned by practice, so we all need encouragement to pray with our kids—often, and about everything. Prayer feels uncomfortable when you don’t do much of it, so we have to just start the habit of saying many quick prayers many times a day, as opportunities arise, to get over that hump. If we do, and prayer starts to feel normal, we will give our kids an invaluable start on a life of faith.

Why is it so important for those who are teaching children in the church (or at home for that matter) to weave the gospel into every lesson?

The good news that Jesus died and rose again, and is bringing us home to God, is the central message of the Bible. This means we will misread and misapply any part of the Bible if we divorce it from that core message. For example, the Bible teaches that due to Jesus’s saving death and resurrection for us, we are made able to do good works that please God, out of gratitude for what he’s done and in the joyful hope of heaven, with his daily help. Now, there are many connections to the gospel in that statement. If we ignore those connections, and teach good works without showing those connections, we’re liable to end up with the wrong kind of “holy living.” We might try to do good works in our own strength, or as a scheme to earn salvation, which is not at all what the Bible teaches about good works.

Can you make some recommendations when it comes to gospel-centered curriculum for Children’s Ministry?

I’m happy to say that this is becoming a difficult question to answer because more and more publishers are making a strong effort to create curricula that constantly points kids to Jesus. I almost hate to start naming specific resources because I know I’m leaving out some that deserve a mention. But I’ll name a few anyway.

First, the big ones: Presbyterians certainly should consider the excellent curricula published by Great Commission Publications, especially the Show Me Jesus series. Likewise, Baptists ought to look at The Gospel Project for Kids from Lifeway. These are examples of a concerted effort from big players to publish lessons that keep Jesus central. In both cases, though, I find some of their publications to be more gospel-focused than others, so it pays to look carefully.

I’m also a big fan of Treasuring Christ and of The Gospel Story for Kids. Both deserve a close look from anyone picking curricula for their church. And I would be remiss if I did not mention the What’s Up? series of lessons, which I have had a hand in.

Can you make some recommendations that would help parents raise up their kids to be amazed by Jesus? (books, articles, blogs, etc.)

There are several good books and websites, but I think what’s most helpful is for parents themselves to be amazed by Jesus. When parents know and love Jesus, and grow strong in faith, it rubs off on their kids. This usually happens through regular Bible reading and prayer, and faithful attendance at a church that preaches the gospel. I realize it sounds old-fashioned for me to say you need to read the Bible, pray, and go to church—but you really do.

6 comments

  1. Amen! Learning to be ‘gospel centered’ has changed me. Telling me what Jesus has already done instead of what I need to do has lifted a burden and set me free to be who I am in Christ. I think this is true effective discipleship for both our children and adults! Wonderful the Matchless Grace of Jesus! Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Derwin and I live here in Watertown. We love your people at New Life and pray for you all. We are so grateful they have a grace filled pastor who loves them and leads them to live in the New Covenant promises through Christ. I enjoy your postings.

        Liked by 1 person

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