This past week we had a kick off meeting for the upcoming year of a particular children’s ministry that I’m involved in. It was a great time of fellowship and focusing on the great things God is doing through this particular ministry. I’m involved with the 3rd – 6th graders. After a shared time of interaction, each of the 3 subgroups by age/grade broke out to have discussions about how we would be handling the particulars. This year, our subgroup for 3rd – 6th grade has a new leader who I don’t really know (except casually). This leader was talking about how we would handle the weekly messages given to the kids. In the past, it was up to the leader what type of messages were given. Last year, I would always try to incorporate the gospel into my teaching time because I think 3rd – 6th grade is not too early for a kid to understand the gospel and if I can’t explain it on a 3rd grade level, I really don’t know it anyway. But this year, although we are not specifically being asked to avoid communicating the gospel, the topics are much more structured. Each week of the year is planned out with a topic. About every 4 weeks is a ‘bible games’ topic, and a story about a missionary and then a bunch of assorted topics. As I looked through the topics, I didn’t really see any topic that lended itself well to the gospel. A lot of it was about relationships – both with friends and family/parents, as well as obedience and other behavior related topics. Then, we were talking about how we would be encouraged as leaders to build relationships and have fun with the kids. The leader was said something along the lines of “at least if they have fun and know that we love them, they might remember some day that Jesus loves them” (I can’t remember the exact wording). Well, something didn’t sit right with me on that, but I just couldn’t put my finger on it.
On a daily basis, when I’m in my car, I listen to various podcasts on the way to/from work and really whenever I’m driving alone. Interestingly enough, this week I happened to be listening to Greg Koukl on his radio program speaking on a topic (on July 16th 2013) that covered a very similar situation. A caller (I think her name was Evelyn) asked “how do you deal with anti-intellectualism in the church”? She brought up how there was going to be a group of atheists coming to her church and she was trying to encourage her congregation to engage them with their minds, but was discouraged by the church leadership and rather told to just show them love. Greg was grieved by this and gave many reasons why you can’t just love them, but also need to engage them intellectually. He talked about how Jesus and the apostles gave arguments and engaged those around them – they didn’t “just love them”, otherwise they wouldn’t have gotten killed.
I understand that my situation is different. It is not a group of atheists that I’ll be speaking to every week. Certainly, I can’t engage 3rd – 6th graders on a completely intellectual basis, but they are capable. The subjects they are studying in school are pretty advanced in science, math, history and other areas. I still plan to share the gospel and encourage “deep” questions from the kids and answer them if I’m able. Last year I led a 5th grader to Christ and I hope more of that will happen this year. For sure building relationships and showing the kids that we love them will be part of the plan, but we’ve got to get some truth on the table and share the gospel with the kids.