Westerners who start home churches or cell groups often ask how to deal with their children during gatherings. The answer is simple. Replace Western traditions with the biblical way to deal with all believers during a meeting, including children. Let all believers express their spiritual gifts and natural talents, by enabling all to participate in some way, and helping those in different age groups to work closely together.
1. Let children participate actively, doing more than simply hearing a “children’s sermon.”
Before worship, let children practice a song, a verse, or a Bible story that relates to the meeting’s topic. If it’s a bible story, then they can briefly act it out. Let older children help prepare younger children to speak with kid-sized words or act out simple parts. Let adults, young people and children prepare together. If you do this for the first time, you will be amazed at how zealously folk take part.
2. Teach the Word with stories, and children will want to listen.
Good Bible exposition lays the historical foundation for abstract doctrinal teaching, by narrating events. To teach doctrinal books like Romans, tell the stories that Paul assumed that his Roman readers knew about Adam, Abraham, Jacob and Esau, Moses at Mt. Sinai, and David.
Unlike other religions, Christianity’s major doctrines grow out of the Bible’s great redemptive events, not out of philosophical musings on metaphysics and ethics. These events include the creation, fall, flood, God’s pact with Abraham, slavery and deliverance from Egypt, Law, and its violation, as well as Jesus’s death, resurrection and ascension, and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
For example, in the ‘trial by fire’ before Jesus’ judgment seat (1 Cor. 3:11-15), He will make sure no one sneaks worthless contraband into heaven. The legal and historical basis for this is found in Numbers chapter 31: Moses confronted victorious soldiers who were bringing illegal booty into the sacred camp. He had them build a fire and pass the booty through it. The soldiers could enter with what the fire purified, including the silver from idols that the fire had melted down.
Thus, every key New Testament doctrine has a historical basis, a story or several stories that children and adults can act out. We rob people of a great treasure, not to mention having fun, if we fail to reenact these foundational stories, reliving crucial historical events.
If teaching passages that lack narrative, find related stories. For example, to teach prayer and God’s provision, you might portray Elijah and the ravens that fed him. Let a small girl or boy be a raven and bring a piece of bread in her “beak” (hands clasped out in front of her). Let a boy or girl play the prophet sitting by the brook. An adult speaks the Lord’s words telling Elijah to go find a certain widow and Elijah walks off. You can do it that simply. Use your imagination.
3. Vary the way you present Bible passages.
Jesus used different methods to teach: conversation, lecture, parables, object lessons, questions and even a whip. You can illustrate slaying a lamb, as done in Old Testament worship, with no memorized lines. Someone playing a worshipper enters pretending to pull on a rope; at the other end comes a “lamb” on hands and knees, bleating. You ask the worshipper to lay hands on the lamb’s head to confess sins, and then some “priests” lift it onto an altar (a chair) and slit its throat. An adult describes blood spattering on them, the noise, smell, flies and smoke. Point out that this shocking and repugnant scene actually was worship, because men’s sins are shocking and repugnant to God and must be covered by an innocent victim’s blood. Then ask, “Why did John the Baptist call Jesus the Lamb of God?”
Sometimes you can act out a truth silently; other times you only have to read a few short lines.
For example, suppose you teach how Paul compared the two Adams (citing Romans 5). The first Adam bought death upon all; the “final Adam,” Jesus, gives life by the grace that abounds for many through His obedience. Act out Adam and Eve’s fall briefly and simply; the purpose of this play is not to entertain or display acting ability. Here’s how:
- A narrator reads or says from memory what happened, and others simply read the words and perform the actions of Adam, Eve, the voice of God, and the serpent.
- To have a bit of fun, let a serious man ? the last person anyone would expect to playact ? take the role of the serpent and hiss at the audience. If people laugh, have the serpent stare them into silence, hissing and sneering.
4. Mix folk of different age groups.
Dramatized sermons make a greater impact and edify more people, if both children and adults participate together. Let older children prepare the younger ones and disciple them in the process. Children of all ages and cultures have a natural desire to receive attention from older children. Do not always segregate them completely by age, for to do so would impair their normal social development.
For example, a youth group advisor wanted two boys to leave the group, because they made noise and distracted others. However, they merely had overflowing energy and creativity, so their pastor asked them to start a new group and make disciples of younger children. He helped them plan, and they responded eagerly; all involved grew as a result.
Most human societies make children a part of important social events, as the Israelites did in Old Testament festivals. During such events, any member of a family, or whoever attends, can correct a child’s improper behavior. Those societies also hold cultural events to mark a child’s transition into adulthood with new behavioral expectations. These dynamics have weakened in industrialized Western societies that require adults to work full-time apart from their families, and secularization of education imposes artificial grading and graduation, tearing apart families and delaying adult behavior. As Will Rogers once said, “My education was excellent, except when interrupted by school.” If we Christians are to practice a godly counter-culture, then we must move towards becoming what God made us to be.