Jesus, What a Savior: Interview with Sally Michael
In the recent issue of Credo Magazine, “Let the children come to Jesus,” we interviewed Sally Michael. In this interview, Matthew Barrett, executive editor of Credo Magazine, talks to Sally Michael about how parents and churches can more effectively teach God’s Word to children. Her interview, “Jesus, What a Savior,” was full of tremendous insight for both leaders in the church and parents.
Sally Michael is the co-founder and publishing consultant of Children Desiring God, and she developed their widely used Sunday school curriculum for young people. She is also an author and a speaker, and she served as Minister for Children at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, for sixteen years.
Here is the start of the interview:
There are tons of children’s books on the market today, all claiming to teach children about God and the Bible. Some are good. Some are bad. So tell us, what makes a good children’s book and what should parents be looking for?
Very often children’s resources that teach about God are evaluated much the same way secular resources are evaluated: Are they engaging? Does the language communicate with children? Are the pictures colorful and interesting? While these may be appropriate areas of evaluation, if we miss the more important, weightier areas of evaluation, we are in danger of making grave errors in judgment. Some of these more important areas include the following:
(1) Is it true to the text of Scripture? In retelling Bible stories in a child-friendly manner, an author may use some poetic license. However, it is important to discern if the author’s imagination contradicts the biblical text, so one point of examination is to check for biblical accuracy. When the facts of Scripture are misrepresented, clearly the story is in error. (For example: In telling the events after Adam and Eve ate the fruit in the garden, Scripture records, “But the LORD God called to the man . . .” I have seen this retold as “God called to Adam and Eve” or “He called, ‘Children . . .’” This may seem like a slight deviation, but it undermines the foundations of biblical manhood and womanhood.)
In imagining the scenes of the Bible and what could have happened, is the narrative within the realm of biblical possibility? Are the extra-biblical statements historically accurate? For example, to say that Nineveh “was a city with many temples to the gods” is not a recorded fact in the book of Jonah, but it is historically accurate. Does the author use tentative words like “might” or “maybe” in recording extra-biblical material? For example, “What might Abraham have been thinking? Could he have been sad about leaving his home?”
(2) Is the book doctrinally sound? It is tempting to sacrifice correct doctrine in order to make a book “child-friendly.” But a good resource preserves the integrity of correct doctrine, presenting these truths in understandable ways to children. Careful, clear wording is very important as children are vulnerable to misunderstanding. For example, when a book states that Jesus called the disciples because he needed helpers, it is teaching doctrine, but it is not correct doctrine. Jesus is not needy—in any way or at any time. God is totally self-sufficient (Acts 17:25), and good resources clearly teach a correct view of God. Some may object that the author is not saying that God is a needy God, but we have to bear in mind that children do not have the breadth of knowledge or depth of understanding that adults do. So they are not able to perform the mental gymnastics that will help inform their understanding of “Jesus needs helpers” in light of what is true about Jesus. Instead, children, being naïve, may simply take statements like this at face value and consequently form an inaccurate view of God.
Good resources also do not compromise on teaching the “hard” truths—like God’s wrath against sinful man or God’s providence over suffering. We must not neglect the difficult doctrines—neither those which are difficult to understand nor those which are difficult to accept—while at the same time recognizing that there are age-appropriate ways of teaching and expressing these truths.
(3) Is the book “God-centered”? Good Bible resources present God, not man, as the main character of the story or teaching. They show God at work in the world and in the lives of individuals rather than highlighting the actions of man. They clearly identify God as the hero in every Bible story and lead children to see his attributes and respond to his character. The goal of a good Bible resource is to exalt God, not to make children feel good about themselves, to tell an entertaining story, or merely to teach good morals.
(4) Does the book put the truths taught within the framework of the “whole counsel of God”? While a book may focus on a theme such as God’s promises or God’s love, there should always be the balance of the complete teaching of Scripture informing the narrative. For example, a book about God’s love should not convey that all of God’s actions toward his children are “feel-good” loving actions. Scripture clearly states that God disciplines those he loves (Heb. 12:6), so this aspect as well as many other balanced aspects of God’s love should be portrayed. In other words, even a thematic study should include sufficient teaching to promote a biblically accurate perception.
(5) Does the book challenge the child’s faith? Does it promote personal application? In all our teaching of children, including teaching through books, we must aim at the heart and not merely at the head. While it is true that “faith comes by hearing” (Rom. 10:17), we must be careful to go beyond knowledge and encourage personal interaction with truth. A good children’s resource will help the child see that the truth in the story or teaching directly applies to his life, challenging the child to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps. 34:8).
(6) It is a deep sadness to me that many good theologians accept sloppy teaching in children’s books and recommend books that clearly compromise doctrinal truth. Children’s literature should be subjected to the same careful scrutiny that is expected of adult books. …
Read the rest of this interview today!
Ministry is complex. Business meetings, sermons, youth group, small groups, counseling sessions—the list is endless. In the midst of these many important ministries, sometimes churches can neglect one of the most important ministries of all. That’s right, children’s ministry. This is a dangerous thing to neglect. After all, the children filling our churches will carry on the torch long after we are gone. Therefore, whether or not they are being taught sound doctrine should never be underestimated.
But where does this teaching really begin? It begins in the home, when mom and dad take time out of their busy schedule to sit down with their little ones and tell them about Jesus and the great things he has done for our salvation. If you’re anything like me, this is much easier said than done. Home life can be just as busy as church life. Yet, could there be a more important 15 minutes in the day than when dad and mom read the Bible, sing songs, and pray with their children? I think not. Ironically, in my experience it’s not just my kids who are spiritually nurtured during this family worship time, it’s me too!
Having in mind the importance of teaching our children the core doctrines of the faith, this issue of Credo Magazine brings together some outstanding contributors to teach both parents and those in ministry alike how to better approach children so that they know God in a saving way. Perhaps the words of Jesus should hang as a banner over this issue of the magazine: “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 19:14).
Contributors include: Nancy Guthrie, Sally Michael, Simonetta Carr, Jason Helopoulos, Starr Meade, Jessalyn Hutto, Bobby Jamieson, and many others.