Show Them Jesus: An Interview with Jack Klumpenhower (part 1)
As the subtitle suggests, Jack Klumpenhower’s new book, Show Them Jesus: Teaching the Gospel to Kids, is about teaching the gospel to kids. Much more than a “how-to” however, this book not only delivers what it promises, but far exceeds it; one cannot read it and not see the immense beauty of the gospel explicitly woven throughout every chapter, making it an excellent read for anyone, not just parents and teachers. In a word, this book not only shows us how to show kids Jesus, it shows us Jesus.
With that said, we are pleased to welcome Jack Klumpenhower here for the first time on Credo, as recently we had the privilege of him answering a few questions for us based on his new book and more than thirty years of experience as a Bible teacher.
At one point in your book you mention that we essentially have two options when presenting the gospel: either offend people with the gospel, or offend the gospel itself. What exactly do you mean by this?
The gospel is such a grand display of justice and mercy that it tends to offend the sensibilities of sin-damaged people like ourselves. Some people are bothered by the justice side of the gospel; they think it’s barbaric to believe that atonement for sin required the death of God’s Son. Others are bothered by mercy; they secretly like comparing themselves to others, and talk of absolutely free grace sounds dangerously permissive to them. Still others bristle at the suggestion that a God of such justice and mercy has the right to require them to repent daily and live exclusively for him.
Because of this, we can expect that a no-holds-barred explanation of the gospel will often bother some people—even in church! They will suggest we tone it down. They will ask us to back off a bit on one point or another to make it all sound more palatable.
If we do this, though, we are bound to make God sound less holy, or less loving, or less sovereign than he actually is. We will also make the saving work Jesus accomplished sound less necessary, less complete, or less transforming than it is. If you think about it, you’ll see that this is offensive to Christ and to the gospel.
This doesn’t mean we ourselves should be offensive. We must be humble people. But if our gospel teaching never causes anyone to complain that we’re too radical about either justice or mercy, we have to wonder if we’ve been too timid.
In chapter two you reference what has become known as “moralistic therapeutic deism” and then allude to this in several other chapters as well. For those of us who may be unfamiliar with this term, can you explain what this phenomenon is, and what can be done to combat and correct it?
The term “moralistic therapeutic deism” comes from a study of American teenagers. The study found that our teens, even many of those in church, really aren’t Christians as the Bible defines this. Instead of faith in Jesus Christ as the Prophet, Priest, and King who’s their ever-present Savior, they have a vague sense of a largely detached God (deism) who wants them to be basically good (moralism) and can be used to help cope with life’s occasional struggles (therapy).
The scary thing is that if this is what young people believe, they learned it from us. They got it from watered-down teaching that avoided talk about sin or atonement or salvation, sidestepped the cross and empty tomb, and was content to tell kids to behave and to go to church and pray if they want to feel better. Moralistic therapeutic deism isn’t so much an alternative religion. Rather, it’s what Christians are naturally left with when they downplay the gospel.
The antidote is simple: teach the gospel. Be relentless about showing kids Jesus—both the wondrous person he is and his work to save us from sin. Most teaching in most American churches, even those that affirm sin and salvation in Christ alone, barely touches on the full richness of the gospel. I talk to teenagers who’ve spent their whole lives in evangelical churches but can only think of two or three benefits of faith in Jesus. They have trouble describing his character too, and have virtually no personal engagement with him through private prayer. No one has taught them.
In your introduction you touch on the fact that in many churches there never seem to be enough volunteers to work with children’s programs. Tell us more about why the “it’s easy, anyone can teach kids” recruitment approach for volunteers is more harmful than helpful, and the disservice we do to our youth and our churches at large by going about finding teachers this way. Based off experience, can you offer a suggestion or two on how a church might gain volunteers in a healthy manner?
It’s easy to take an approach that says, “This person is really good with kids, so let’s recruit her to teach Sunday school.” Now, it does help for a teacher to be comfortable around kids. But an even better approach is to think, “This person loves Jesus and spends time in prayer and really knows the Bible, so let’s train her to work with kids.” Good programs use volunteers with many different skills, but having several who fit that second description makes a huge difference.
Faith matters more than ministry skills. Our children and youth are the most impressionable, ready-to-learn people in the church. They need our most faith-filled teachers. Many of those kids will decide by the time they finish high school whether or not to follow Jesus for the rest of their lives, and those who quit often say it’s because they found no spiritual depth in the church. We need to make sure that before they get to that point they’ve had a chance to learn from the godliest men and women we can find.
Such people can be hard to recruit. They want to know that the work is meaningful and spiritual. If you pitch the job as an easy one anybody could handle, you’ll be devaluing teachers and you’ll make them uninterested.
When I’ve been involved in recruitment I’ve preferred to personally approach people I know are mature believers rather than making announcements to the whole church asking for volunteers. I get better teachers that way and they feel more called to a spiritual task. If they’re uncomfortable with kids, I let them assist an experienced teacher first. They can learn how to teach. That is fairly easy compared to learning to walk with Jesus.
I also like to get a few elders (or whatever church leaders are in charge of the overall spiritual shepherding) involved in Sunday school recruitment. The people who’ll be best at shepherding our children often respond well when the church’s spiritual leaders challenge them to take on that task.
Let’s say you have two kids in your weekly children’s class, one comes on a regular basis and has even made a credible profession of faith, the other comes every now and then and demonstrates little if any evidence they are saved. You indicate that your approach to teaching both these students would be largely the same. How come?
Unbelievers need to repent and turn to God in faith, so they need to hear the gospel and be challenged to believe it. Believers grow by continuing to repent and practice faith in God, so they too need to hear the gospel and be challenged to believe it more fully. Unbelief is at the root of all sin (for example, a greedy kid is not believing that Christ is all he needs), so continuing to believe the gospel is a key part of fighting sin and growing as a Christian.
Both kinds of kids also need to get to know Jesus. Jesus said the way to see the Father is to know him, so one chief aim of any Bible lesson should be to see more of the person and work of Jesus. Unbelievers need this in order to have good reasons to put their faith in Jesus for the first time, and believers need this in order to love him more and have good reasons to keep trusting him.
For these reasons, I show all kids Jesus. I teach all kids the gospel and urge them to believe it. I might take a somewhat different approach to God’s commands if I’m reasonably sure I’m dealing with an unbeliever rather than a believer, but most of the rest of my teaching will be essentially the same. One benefit of this is that I don’t have to try to figure out which kids are true Christians and which aren’t; I just teach the gospel.
…come back tomorrow for part 2 of this interview!
Jack Klumpenhower, author of the new book, Show Them Jesus: Teaching the Gospel to Kids, is a Bible teacher and a children’s ministry curriculum writer with more than thirty years of experience. He has created Bible lessons and taught children about Jesus at churches, camps, clubs, conferences, and Christian schools all over the world, including Serge conferences. He is currently working on his next publication, a middle-school gospel discipleship curriculum titled What’s Up? Discovering the Gospel, Jesus, and Who You Really Are. He lives with his wife and two children in Durango, Colorado. Check out Jackklumpenhower.com for more of Jack’s writing as well as resources from his latest book.
David Livernois is married to Nicole, the love of his life, and they have three amazing children, Riley, Sarai and Abigail. They live in the beautiful mountains of Western North Carolina where they are active members of Missio Dei Asheville.