Heart and Passion
The truth of God reflected in your life
by Patrick Aldridge
If you’ve been in children’s ministry for any length of time, you’ve had this experience. For any number of a million reasons, you forgot it was your turn to serve. Now it’s the night before, or maybe even the morning of, and you are cramming. You grab the curriculum to figure out the direction the material is going. As a good Bible-reading Christian you have at least a passing familiarity with the passage and after a few minutes you feel comfortable enough. You wipe the sweat from your brow and head to church.
As class begins, you dive in. The problem starts as you announce the passage you will be studying for the day. Hands immediately shoot up in the air, “I know this story” one student says, or worse another says, “I’ve heard this before.” Before you know it, you are doing everything you can just to keep control, let alone teach. What went wrong? How did things go so bad so fast?
Before we attack the problem, first we have to define the goal. I don’t have to know what curriculum you use. I don’t even have to know the vision or philosophy of your ministry to know what the goal is. You want to “make disciples” (Mt. 28:19). You want to present everyone “complete in Christ” (Col. 1:28).
If I’m right, what’s the problem? You as the teacher forgot your role in the goal. Your role is more than just transferring facts. Your role, with the Holy Spirit’s help and leading, is to lead kids to be “transformed” (Rom. 12:2) into the likeness of Christ.
We, as teachers, are best able to do that when we teach with passion. I don’t just mean excitement, but a holy zeal that comes from a heart, mind, and life that has been radically transformed itself by the Gospel. The students need to see this kind of passion if we want them to have zeal of their own while being transformed, rather than merely informed.
Let’s look at four ways to cultivate and communicate passion in your teaching based on Colossians 3:16 which says: “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
The Right Direction
In order for our lesson to have its Gospel impact on our students, it has to first have that impact on us as teachers. The direction must first be inward before it can be outward. We need to be teaching ourselves the lesson before we can know how to effectively communicate it. The only way I can effectively communicate the Gospel with passion is through personal Gospel experience. When we rush through this step we’re trying to give away something we don’t have.
At this point it’s not about the students. We need to have the message of the lesson driven into our own hearts first. If we expect to be used by God, we must let the Spirit do His work in us first. This will require wrestling with the text, the curriculum, and our hearts. Don’t rely on what you taught last time; let God teach you afresh. Be teachable so that it is His power that comes through when you teach, not your own.
Without it affecting my heart, I am less likely to communicate in a way that has a chance of penetrating their hearts. When I take time to let the truth dwell and swell in my own heart, my teaching is much more likely to fill and overflow theirs. I need to know how I’m not trusting the Gospel that is being preached in the particular passage I’m trying to teach. This takes a lot of time and work.
The Right Preparation
Unless we properly prepare our teaching we will have little to offer our students. Remember our goal is transformation of the heart not simply transmission of information. But what should our prep time look like? It’s easy to either get bogged down in study or to wing it and “let the Spirit lead.” Here are seven keys to successful preparation that help me make the most of my time.
- Start early. If you’re teaching next Sunday, start preparing this Monday. Putting it off till later in the week is not just lazy, but it robs you of more opportunities for God to teach you along the way.
- Review often. Don’t just look at the material once. Use the week to prepare your outline. Be willing to add and subtract as the Spirit leads.
- Use the material devotionally during the week. Let the passage guide your daily devotions. It will invariably point you to other passages of Scripture and concepts that you may want to consider adding.
- How easy is it to prepare without actively seeking the Lord’s wisdom and relying on His illuminating grace. Let the material and passage of Scripture drive your prayers throughout the week of prep.
- Only use what you need. As you prepare this way, you will end up with more material than you can use, even if you have twice the time. Use what will be most beneficial to those who hear.
- Supplement with commentaries and systematic theologies where appropriate and sermons from preachers you trust. Why? Everyone needs teachers … even teachers … especially teachers.
- Use the curriculum as a guide, not as a god. The Scripture is your authority, and you know your students better than the author of the curriculum. Adapt accordingly.
If the above steps have truly taken place, teaching with passion will come much easier. You are simply communicating to the students God has put under your care what He placed on your heart. The reveal is a combination of truth and how it should be experienced. If your prep hasn’t affected your heart, it will be tedious (if not impossible) to communicate the Gospel with any real conviction.
On the one hand, our students need to see and experience a conviction of sin and how we fail to live up to God’s holy standards. But, we can’t leave them there. To do so would be to leave them without hope. They also need to see how Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection covers them as they repent and believe. This is where hope is truly found. This requires connecting our hearts to theirs.
We do this by exposing their weaknesses—their wrong thinking and their idols—as well as our own. Only then can we show them the glory of Jesus and His sufficiency to save and sanctify. This must be done lovingly and with much grace.
This is the most critical part of the lesson as it’s being taught. What happens when we don’t apply what we’ve learned to real life? One writer described it as “spiritual obesity”, which he defined this way: “Spiritual obesity occurs when we are always learning, never applying or exercising what we have learned” (Christ-Centered Biblical Counseling). Without application we are just communicating knowledge.
What are some good basic questions that will help all of us apply any given text?
- What does the text say about God?
- What does the text say about people?
- What does the text tell me to do and how am I not doing it?
- How did Jesus do it perfectly and how does He deal with my sin?
- Since the Gospel is true, now what?
Any good curriculum will also have questions of application. Don’t be afraid to use those as well.
Remember, you’re teaching children. Be prepared to go “off-topic.” Their minds are moving a mile a minute and they will invariably have some questions that even the best curriculum can’t anticipate. Trust the Holy Spirit to give you the words needed. At the same time, don’t be afraid to redirect the conversation back to the topic if the rabbit trail isn’t going anywhere.
Finally, don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know.” It’s okay to admit we don’t know it all. It’s better to say that than it is to make something up. It also gives you a bridge with your students to further build community with them as you find the answer and give it to them the next time you come together. They will know you care, because you answered their question, even if it took some time.
If you want your ministry and service to be more than glorified babysitting, more than filling students’ heads with knowledge, you have to lead them passionately to the Gospel. You don’t want your students to be bored, but born again! You cannot settle for students who simply know the answers. Your desire must be that they know the God who gives the answers. They don’t need Siri© just dispensing information with no passion. They need to see how the Gospel has transformed your life and how it can transform theirs as they walk by faith and worship God.
The passion with which you communicate your lesson to your students depends entirely on the truth of God at work in your own life. When we see our need for the message, it will be easier for our students to see their need as well.
Pat is the husband of Cheryl, dad to Kate and Tom, and Community Life Pastor at Redeemer Fellowship in St. Charles, IL. He has been involved in ministry to children and youth since he was 16. He blogs at pataldridge.com, discussing issues related to children, youth, families, and discipleship. He geeks out about all of the above, as well as most things sci-fi.