Show Them Jesus: An Interview with Jack Klumpenhower (part 2)
We are glad to be back with the second half of our two part interview with Jack Klumpenhower, author of Show Them Jesus: Teaching the Gospel to Kids. Today he answers a few more questions for us, and reminds us of the great privilege we have in being entrusted with the gospel.
Though definitely not the norm, with the ever increasing abundance of gospel-centered books and curriculum geared towards teaching kids to see Jesus in all of scripture, why is it not enough to simply read/teach from these resources verbatim as if from a script? Doesn’t this approach ensure the message won’t be obscured?
Discipleship is personal. Good material can help greatly, and I certainly recommend that teachers make use of lessons that help them teach the gospel. But in the end, the old maxim that students learn more from what we do than from what we say is true. Students also tend to remember those things their teacher is most excited about, and teachers get excited about truths they’ve studied and discovered for themselves. For these reasons, it’s at least as important to have gospel-saturated teachers as it is to have gospel-centered curricula.
You’ve included many practical helps for parents to implement at home in teaching their children the gospel, some of which are variations of the same tools you give that can be utilized in the classroom. It seems however that there can often be a disconnect between what kids are being taught at church in their youth classes, and what parents are (or are not) reinforcing at home. In chapter eight you layout a helpful framework for having good-news discussions that can help serve to bridge this gap. What other suggestions would you offer both parents and youth workers towards this end?
The gap exists because both parents and teachers easily get lazy, so that parents don’t bother to find out what’s happening in class and teachers don’t take the time to tell parents. It happens to me all the time, and the best solution I know is to make a habit of regular communication. When I teach I need to distribute lesson summaries to parents every week, even if most parents seem uninterested. As a parent I must ask about class even if the teacher seems too busy to be bothered.
Habitual communication not only builds relationships and keeps parents informed, it also encourages teachers to do their jobs well. I take more care with my lessons when I know I’m going to give a summary to parents.
Another good practice is to make classrooms and youth groups places where parents are encouraged to visit anytime. If it works with a church’s child protection policies, that kind of open classroom goes a long way to creating the feel of a group effort. Holding whole-family classes where parents are not just invited but expected to attend with their kids helps as well, as does bringing parents in on a rotating basis to help lead prayer time or contribute to class in some other way.
You write, “One test of any kids-ministry gimmick is to ask what we’d think if adult ministries used the same technique.” What do you mean by this statement? Shouldn’t we contextualize the gospel differently for adults and youth in a way that is age-appropriate?
I do many things differently when I teach kids rather than adults. I use age-appropriate language and concepts. I teach shorter lessons with more repetition. I’m careful to incorporate a variety of learning styles (visual, auditory, hands-on). I also use examples that fit kids’ lives. This is effective teaching that keeps the students in mind.
Gimmicks are different. A gimmick is something contrived to get kids involved for reasons that have little do with Christ: memorize verses to win a toy; bring a friend to earn a candy bar; come to Sunday school because we have a cool space station theme; attend youth group because the music absolutely rocks.
We must be careful with gimmicks. The subtle message in many gimmicks is that the toy, candy bar, space station, music, or whatnot is better and more interesting than Jesus. If Jesus were better, wouldn’t he be our motivation? And if you think about it, if someone suggested offering prizes to adults who brought friends to church we’d probably object that doing so not only is childish but also violates the spirit of why we ought to invite people. That Christ-first spirit is violated when we use the technique with kids, too.
That said, I’m all for having fun. Christians should be joyful people, so there’s nothing inherently wrong with fun activities or great music or little celebrations of achievement. We just need to include such things carefully so that Jesus remains our focus and our chief attraction.
In teaching children and in the context of youth ministry, why do you think there is a common tendency to want to teach a safe, sanitized version of the Bible, and not the scandalous message of redemption as narrated through the scriptures? Along those same lines; just as in your book you described teaching the story of Achan from the book of Joshua, how we can teach the “scary” parts of scripture to kids as opposed to skipping over them in the name of “playing it safe”?
I find that many teachers are uncomfortable talking about sin and the cross. I know I used to be. Even though I believed the cross was central to Christian faith and I had no theological problem with it, it felt weird to talk about it much—like venturing into somber territory that always increased the stress level in class.
Beyond that, practicing faith in the God who saves can feel uncomfortable too. Healthy faith begins with tons of prayer. It’s accompanied by things like confession of sin and accountability in repentance. None of this comes naturally to proud, self-sufficient people like us. So this too makes it more comfortable to skirt the gospel when teaching Bible lessons.
However, when we dare to embrace the gospel it actually ends up bringing great comfort. It allows both students and teachers to stop hiding behind appearances and instead rest openly in Christ. Once we get over the initial hump and start talking about the gospel regularly, it starts to feel more natural and becomes a delight rather than a source of unease. Studying Jesus in depth also helps. Jesus spoke directly and challengingly about the issues that feel uncomfortable to us, yet he also has compassion for struggling sinners. Getting to know him gives us the courage to talk about deep things too; sin, atonement, repentance, God as Father, death and eternal life—all the grand themes of the gospel.
As for Bible passages that are disturbing due to violence, it’s fine to shield the youngest kids from a few things they aren’t ready for yet. But in general, it’s good for kids to see that God is at work even in the most horrific and appalling events of life. The gospel comes to us in the context of such sin and misery, and there it gives us hope and life. We can’t sanitize the Bible without also reducing our wonder at the gospel.
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.