Where were you when the Challenger blew up?
When you heard about the planes crashing into the World Trade Center?
How about when you heard the reports of the first airstrikes of the Gulf War?
If you were alive during the first two, you can probably answer my questions. Maybe not the third one. But I know exactly where we were. We were driving down Douglas Avenue in Racine, Wisconsin …
… on the way to Awana.
The date was Wednesday, January 16, 1991 and it was 5:38 p.m. (Central Time).
My husband pastored our church and usually aimed to be there by 5:45 even though Awana and adult Bible study didn’t start until 6:30. That way he could make sure everything was under control and be present for anyone who showed up early.
That night the church was set up and ready to go, but the world was out of control. As kids burst through the door, they each had their own story of what was going on. Some were sure the world was coming to an end (if it hadn’t already) and others were encased in fearful panic which manifested itself in nonstop talking and pre-club frenetic activity. And yes, some (but not many) were oblivious.
We also had another group – those who were personally impacted. Lots of military families lived in the area and some of the clubbers had a dad, a sibling, a cousin, or a neighbor who were fighting. One of our key leaders had a son who was already on site in the war zone.
We did not start the night with the kids heading into a multitude of directions, but brought them into the auditorium where my husband talked to them about God’s sovereignty. He reminded the children (and leaders) that God was not surprised by the events in the Middle East. He was not surprised by the wars, the violence, and the terror. Life was tough but God promised to be with those of us who knew Him as Savior. Even though life in this world could be chaotic, scary and unsettling, we could rest in God’s love. That was true peace. He reminded the clubbers that those who knew the Lord were promised a future in heaven without wars or fighting or violence. Our future was secure.
We prayed. We prayed for the dads and the siblings, the uncles, the cousins … and all the rest of those fighting and then we prayed for the kids themselves that they would know God’s peace no matter how unsettled the world was around them..
All night we talked. We comforted. We dried tears.
A teachable ministry moment.
We talk about teachable moments between parents and kids, but there are also teachable ministry moments. Not all are as significant as the start of the Gulf War – in fact many might seem insignificant – but they are all teachable moments.
The familiar verses in Deuteronomy tell us that we are always to be ready to teach a child. And yes, those verses are primarily written to parents … but that doesn’t mean we should ignore those moments in a church setting.
Consider the following ministry moments:
- Aiden brings a very yucky-looking and strange bug to class. Your first thought is to demand he takes it RIGHT BACK outside so you can get started on the lesson. But instead, you put it in a clear, plastic cup and give all the preschoolers an opportunity to look at it and then talk about God’s creation and all the different and unusual creatures He has made.
- The fourth-grade girls are once again whining about a (very fair) game being unfair. You want to get angry at them. You’ve had enough whining for one day. But instead you sit them down and talk about fairness. You explain that life isn’t always fair, but God is.
- The middle-school kids are wearing t-shirts with Satanic symbols on them and drawing those same symbols on their books. You know they don’t realize what they mean. A co-teacher does a mega amount of research about the different symbols. You rearrange the teaching schedule and she does a fantastic job of challenging the kids to be careful what they’re wearing and drawing. Afterwards, several kids thank her. They were clueless.
- Sophie is upset. Her aunt is in the hospital. She wants to know if she prays “hard enough” – will her aunt get better? You do an impromptu lesson on prayer. God does not promise that things will always turn out the way we want. We live in a messed-up world. People have accidents and people get sick. We can take comfort in knowing that, though God doesn’t promise that everyone will always get better, He does promise that He’ll always be with us to comfort us, to give us peace and to listen to our fears, concerns … and requests.
- You are doing an object lesson and everything depends on there being a chemical reaction between your two substances – unfortunately nothing happens and the lesson fails. Instead of getting upset, you explain that not everything we do (humanly) will turn out exactly right, but God never makes mistakes and all He does turns out exactly as planned.
These are just a few of the “teachable moments” I’ve seen taken place in children’s ministry and I know you can think of many more. The balance is making sure you are taking advantage of a teachable moment, however, and not simply getting off track. (Sometimes kids know what questions to ask to get their leaders on a rabbit trail – beware!)
Ask God to give you wisdom to discern teachable moment opportunities. Be on the look out for those moments.
You never know when you might hit on just the right subject at just the right poignant moment in time.