I am at Awana's "Vantage Conference" and had the privilege of listening to a legend of Children's Ministry, Phil Vischer (creator of Veggie Tales and What's In The Bible?). Phil told a story that gripped my heart.
Ted Turner (media mogul and founder of CNN & TBS) is an outspoken critic of Christianity. Most people know this. In 1990, speaking before the American Humanist Association, Turner proclaimed that "Christianity is for losers"...and this isn't nearly the most provocative thing he has said about Christians. Many know this about Turner, but not many know the story behind his anti-religous sentiment.
Ted Turner dreamed of being a missionary when he was a child. His sister suffered from Lupus. When she died, it shook his faith profoundly. He couldn’t understand why a loving God would allow an innocent person to suffer. “What had she done wrong? Why did this happen to her? Christianity didn’t give me any answers to that.”
Ted Turner had been taught a simple form of the Gospel that many of us have been guilty of teaching our kids. "We serve a gentle, loving God. If we act right and do what pleases Him, He will take care of us and prevent us from suffering." That is it. End of story. But, that's NOT the real Gospel.
Phil Vischer spoke to each of us plainly and directly. He said that we have to ask ourselves the same question he had to ask HIMSELF after ten years of making Veggie Tales. "Did I just spend ten years trying to persuade kids to behave “Christian-ly” without teaching the kids Christianity?"
Phil walked through the three things that we SHOULD be doing a better job with our children:
Phil understands that the large concepts of sin, redemption, sanctification, and judgement are difficult to explain to children. But, kids understand STORY. "Narrative structure is what we build to find meaning to the events of our lives. Kids instinctively 'connect the dots' in their lives." So, he came up with an overarching narrative to help explain kids the story of Christianity...
The Story They Are In: THE BROKEN AMUSEMENT PARK
The world is a broken amusement park. God created this amazing world with all of its wonders. He created it to be a wonderful place of enjoyment for mankind and all of the creatures. It's a giant amusement park. Now, modern amusement parks are run by computers. The computers tell the rides what to do, the lights when to come on and go off, etc.
Imagine a virus in the operating system of the computers that run all of the rides and attractions. It now isn’t functioning as it was intended to function. The "Dumbo ride" dumps kids on the ground, the lights go off in the middle of a show. The virus is wreaking havoc on the systems of the amusement park. Sin is the virus. It has infected ALL of us. It has infected the world itself - and the world is SICK.
The Bible is the story of why the world is the way it is and what God is doing to fix it. Our role is – “We are the Red Cross. We are the ones who can explain why things are the way we are.” When someone gets dumped out of the Dumbo ride, we should be the first ones there to help them, explain to them WHY, and help point them in the right direction. This is a story that kids can relate to - and helps them understand the overarching story they are in.
The Bad News Of That Story:
Sin is hard to explain. But, that doesn't mean we ignore that part of the story. It is CRUCIAL. If kids don’t understand what Sin is, they will NEVER understand who Jesus is or why He came.
Now, Phil isn't suggesting that we walk into the 3 year old class and proclaim the dangers of SIN. The topic of sin and judgement is not EVERY age appropriate. Before they hear about a God that is a judge who is angry and wrathful, kids need to hear about a God who is loving and forgiving.
That's why Phil makes sin visual. It’s a virus. Adam and Eve can’t be with God because SIN can’t be with God. Suddenly, the world is not perfect anymore. Thus, the BROKEN amusement park.
We can't shy away from the BAD NEWS. Until you understand the problem, none of the rest of the Bible makes any sense!!!
The Good News Of That Story:
God doesn’t want to leave us like this. He wants to save us. He wants to save us from:
"Judgment" has become a bad word in our culture. It represents “looking down on people.” In truth, Judgement means “setting things right!” If there is a bully picking on a small child, it is right for an adult to step in and say, “NO, you are NOT going to do that!”
Judgement is when God steps in and sets everything right. He fixes everything. Makes the bullies pay for everything they have done wrong.
Why did Jesus need to die? Because we have ALL been bullies at one point or another. We have ALL done mean things and broken God’s laws. God didn’t want us to have to pay for our sin, so He became human like us and paid the price for our sin. That’s what God has done for us.
Finally, Phil challenged us all to teach our kids: "Once we are saved, what is NEXT?" What is NEXT for us is NEW LIFE! We become a part of the Kingdom of God. We live supernatural lives through the power of the Holy Spirit, revealing God through US!
The Apostle Paul described the Christian life as, “We proclaim good news, we live good lives, we do good works!”
We aren’t just sitting around waiting on Heaven…we become superheroes - helping others to experience God's best for their lives.
Teaching this to our kids is done best by SHOWING them with your own life. They will learn much more of what we show than what we say. We need to be the example that they can follow.
So, are you teaching your kids the WHOLE Gospel? Or are you teaching them a rosey, pristine, in-a-nice-little-box gospel that is not preparing them to become the Christians God has intended them to be?