The missionary speaker stood behind the platform as the campers filed in the door behind their counselors and found their seats. The camp chapel echoed with their chatter and the sound of sand-encrusted sneakers scraping against the cement floor.
And then the speaker began speaking.
In a monotonous voice he started, “Today we are talking about Jonah who was one of the first missionaries … ” He paused and flipped through his Bible, searching for his place. The kids who had initially quieted down were already getting restless as they waited for the missionary to continue.
“Okay.” He finally sighed. “I need to read this part to you: – Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you …”
One of the boys made a funny face at a row of girls and they all giggled.
“Look,” the speaker explained. “I know this is boring, but we have to read it. Be quiet and you’ll be out on the kickball field all the sooner.”
What did he just say to the kids? He knows the Bible is boring!
You might think this is an exaggerated illustration – but it isn’t. I was sitting in the chapel. I was Bible teacher for the same week. (And didn’t this comment set me up well?)
Not only is this not exaggerated – many leaders in children’s ministry say things like this every week. In fact, we’re probably all guilty of at least occasionally making such statements. All right, maybe we aren’t so blatant in characterizing the Bible as being boring, but we imply it and we convey it through our actions.
Have you ever said to a group of kids during a lesson time, “If you sit quietly, we’ll get through this a lot quicker.” (Translated: the goal is “get this over with.”)
Or, “Let’s be quiet and listen as Mr. Joe talks. Then we’ll play games and have fun.” (Translated: Learning about the Bible isn’t fun.”
“We’re making our lesson time short tonight so we can conclude out bombardment tournament.” (Translated: If we need to cut time, we’ll cut lesson time, not bombardment.)
See how we communicate this attitude to kids? We aren’t as outspoken as the missionary speaker by actually saying the Bible is boring, but we are conveying that in our language and our action.
So what should we say?
Good teachers all have ways of conveying their excitement. This doesn’t mean that every child will listen to every word of a lesson, but through enthusiasm, clarity and repetition, they are able to convey their lesson point to the kids.
(About a month ago I put a question on my Facebook page asking adults what Bible lesson they remembered from childhood. I said it didn’t have to be life-changing but something they remembered. I will talk about the responses on Wednesday – I thought it was interesting what people remember 10 – 20 -30 and even 50 years after the fact … and a lot has to do with a teacher’s enthusiasm. I will also talk about some that were remembered for the wrong reasons.)
We need to use care in what we say to our kids.
Proverbs 15:2 reads: The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly. (ESV) That’s what we’re doing (or should be doing) as teachers – imparting knowledge. We can’t impart knowledge if we don’t create a good learning environment where kids want to absorb new truths. (The Living Bible states that verse like this: A wise teacher makes learning a joy; a rebellious teacher spouts foolishness.)
We don’t create a good learning environment or making learning a joy when we start off by saying the Bible is boring or give the impression that the lesson is just something we have to do before the good part happens.
Let’s choose our words with care.
Back to camp – I spoke to the kids the evening of the same day they heard the missionary announce that the Bible was boring.
I started like this: I am so OVER-THE-TOP excited about what we’re learning tonight. The word we’re talking about is fun to say in the Greek, so tonight we will be Greek scholars because I know you guys are all smart enough to understand …
And the kids listened.