Teaching Children Theological Vocabulary | by Emily Jensen

I clutched the steering wheel as a sixteen-year-old driver who’d narrowly missed an accident, and I wondered, “If God is faithful to forgive my confessed sins, what happens if I die before having time to wipe my account clean? Will I go to hell?”

Those were deep thoughts for a dance team co-captain on her way home from school, but they were my honest questions. Although I vividly remember my confusion, I’m sure my youth group leader, parents, and Christian friends would have been surprised by my misunderstanding. Forgiveness was a common word in our circles—how could I hear it and use it without knowing what it meant?

This taught me something—professing Christians can conceal their misunderstanding of common theological words and still “fit in”. So as tempting as it is to think that my children grasp the theological language I throw their way, they might not. Although it takes a lifetime to refine the nuances of theological vocabulary, specificity and accuracy matters to the very foundation of our children’s faith. 

Here are four ways we can cultivate a clearer understanding of theological language in the daily discipleship of children we interact with:

Regular Exposure

I’ll never forget when one of my favorite education professor’s said, “Chatty moms are great for a baby’s development!” This seemed like good news for a verbal processor like me. Regular exposure teaches vocabulary using repetition and conversational context clues, so children can learn theological fluency as they read biblically-based books, hear adults have gospel conversations, sing rich hymns, listen to the bible read-aloud, hear sermons on Sunday, and eavesdrop on quality audio teachings. Some studies suggest a typically developing child needs to hear a word dozens of times before they can use it, so say bible words to your children (and say them often). Grasping definitions is a long road that requires intentional guidance, but basic familiarity is a first step. 

Intentional Teaching

Along with basic familiarity, children can learn theological language by hearing clear, age-appropriate definitions. Different denominations and religions use words like, Jesus, baptism, peace, consecration, and faith, but sometimes they mean completely different—even heretical—things by those words. To give children a solid grounding for orthodox definitions, we can teach basic catechisms. Even if they don’t fully understand what they’re saying, having biblically-rooted, memorized definitions for major theological words and concepts can help them grow in comprehension for years to come. You can also use vocabulary flash cards. Pick a new word each day or each week, and intentionally discuss its meaning. If those things seem too overwhelming, just pause when you’re reading a bible passage and clearly explain what unfamiliar words mean.

What you say to a three-year-old is going to be different from what you say to a thirteen-year-old, but it’s important to ensure your child knows the true, biblical meaning of the words they’re using. 

Daily Application

As our children hear theological vocabulary and grow in their understanding of specific definitions, we can connect those concepts to real life. It’s a great thing to hear an adult say, “Be patient!” and know that patience means, “Waiting without complaining,” but it’s also helpful to understand “patience” through actionable practice. When a child wants to go outside, but can’t until the rain stops, we can get down at their level and explain, “Let’s have patience. With God’s help, we can be content and look for another way to enjoy the day he’s given us. Do you want to read a book?” Similarly, a child can apply the concept of forgiveness when they reconcile with a sibling without carrying bitterness into the next activity or they can learn cheerful giving when they willingly dig into their piggy bank to put their coins into the offering plate. When a child lives theological language, they can begin to learn it.

Prayer for Transformation

Several years after my sixteen-year-old self questioned the true meaning of confession and forgiveness, I finally came to a God-induced realization that my record was so long I could never keep a clean account. The knowledge of my spiritual bankruptcy caused me to hope in the only person who could eternally clear my debts and provide undeserved righteousness. 

God’s convicting and transforming power is essential to our theological teaching because children can misunderstand (even when we’ve been clear) and children can know the right definitions without believing them. So along with intentional exposure, training, and application, we must pray. We pray that they learn to love the deep truths of the faith, seeing things like forgiveness as desperate personal needs and not just cognitive concepts. Ultimately, our hope isn’t in our ability or sufficiency to teach theological vocabulary, but in God’s ability to help true believers persevere and grow. Let’s teach—but let’s also trust. 

 

This is a guest post by Emily Jensen. 

 

Emily is the co-founder of Risen Motherhood, currently serving as the Content Director and the co-host of the weekly podcast. Emily enjoys being on the women’s ministry team at her local church, speaking to mom’s groups about the beauty of the gospel, and teaching in the church preschool nursery. Emily, her husband, and their five young children reside in central Iowa.

My Kids Teach Me that Worship Isn’t About Me | by Courtney Reissig

For as long as I’ve been a believer, I have prided myself in the fact that I don’t view the corporate gathering of God’s people as an entertainment service. In college, when many made the distinction between preaching and “worship” (the singing), I stood firm that it was God’s word preached that was the focal point of the worship gathering. We worship through singing. We worship through prayer. We worship through liturgy. We worship through the preached word. I simply didn’t think I had a problem with thinking church was about my preferences—about me.

Until a couple of months ago.

The twins turned five in February, and as a result aged out of the childcare at our church. We were excited to have them join us in the service. They were excited. They were ready. We all were ready.

But as the weeks have gone on, I’ve noticed something simmering in my own heart. I may have never verbalized that I thought the worship gathering was all about me, but having my five year old boys sit with me every Sunday has made me realize that I thought it was more about me than I had the humility to admit.

Now I can’t close my eyes when I sing, because I’m keeping one eye on a kid, making sure he is also engaged in what is happening (and mostly making sure he doesn’t try to run off or distract other people). Now I can’t take notes as easily, because I’m helping one of the twins get an activity out of his bag. Now I can’t prepare my heart for the Lord’s Supper because I’m answering questions about why I take the bread and they don’t get to. For my entire adult life I’ve been able to focus on the Sunday morning service, now my focus is divided.

This isn’t a commentary on keeping kids in the service. I’ve been greatly served by the childcare these last five years. In many ways, it’s been a lifeline for me to be able to sit and take in God’s word with God’s people in the midst of exhausting little kid years. I think it’s too complex to make it a rule, and I simply don’t see it in scripture as mandated. But it is a conviction to my own heart that while I may have thought I was above the whole “church is an emotional experience thing”, having my kids sitting next to me every Sunday now has shown me that I viewed the Sunday morning gathering as more about me than I wanted to admit.

Our worship of God is never in isolation. As the Psalms (and all of scripture) show us, our deliverance, our worship, our proclamations about the Lord are always so others may hear and say: “God is great.” It’s always so a “people yet to be born may praise the Lord” (Ps. 22:31, 102:18). Our modern conveniences (like childcare, comfortable chairs, air conditioning, etc.) can make us forget that this is always what it’s been about. We worship corporately for the body. We get fed by the word, for sure, but we also are taking in the word with other believers (and those who have yet to call him Lord).

The childcare that I’ve had during the service these last five years has been a gift. I’m glad I had it. I’m glad the twins had time with their friends and had age-appropriate lessons. But I’m also learning to be thankful for the time in the service with them, interrupted as it is. When I hear them singing, it’s a reminder to pray to ask God to make the words they are singing true in their own lives. When they ask questions, it forces me to articulate what I believe to them. And it models worship to them. It’s a reminder that worship isn’t about me. It’s about the body, one I pray they will join themselves to one day.

 

This is a guest post from Courtney Reissig.

Courtney is a wife, mother, writer, and speaker. Born in California, raised in Texas, all with a couple stints in Michigan before finally graduating from Northwestern College (MN). After doing some graduate study at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, she met her husband Daniel and fell in love. They now make their home in Little Rock, Arkansas where they are the parents of four boys; Luke and Zach (who are twins), Seth, and Ben. They are also members of Midtown Baptist Church, where her husband serves as an elder.

You can read more from her on her blog, or follow her on Twitter

When Giving Your Kids Grace Feels Impossible | by Maggie Combs

Remember when your kids were just a growing bump in your carefree world? You already love them so much, that you can’t imagine a time when they wouldn’t feel like the most wonderful thing in your world.

Then they come, and they scream and poop and grow up to throw defiant tantrums and wake you up at 5:00 am on Saturdays. Those kids that you love with all your heart and would sacrifice your life for manage to strip you of all your ability to give grace for their daily difficulties.

Why is it so hard to give them grace when we love them so much?

  1. They make our lives really uncomfortable: They are a complete disruption of our physical comfort. They wake us up nightly. We must feed them first when our own stomach is angry with hunger. They want to be picked up and carried when our backs are aching. We hold our pee until it hurts because it’s just too difficult to take them to the bathroom with us at Target. They injure us constantly, not on purpose—most of the time. They simply make our lives physically uncomfortable.
  2. They put themselves first 99% of the time: Kids just don’t know how to put someone else first. Even if they start to learn to occasionally think of their sibling’s needs before their own, it’s a rare moment for them to remember that their parents have needs and desires too.
  3. They fight for the control we want: God has appointed us as the heads of our families, but they certainly don’t realize that. They will fight for control of every situation from what cup they want to the perfect arrangement for their pillows, blankets, and stuffed animals that must be achieved before we are allowed to leave the room at bedtime.
  4. They make us feel powerless: Nothing will make you feel less in charge of a situation than battling a tantrumming two-year-old in the grocery store. Even if you persevere in gentle discipline as your kid bangs their head against the floor in anger, you feel absolutely powerless to fix the situation.
  5. It feels like a personal attack: When kids forget or fail to meet our expectations, forget to follow our instructions, or deliberately disobey, it feels personal. It’s like they are saying, “Hey Mom, I see you and hear you and I don’t care.” We think that any shortcomings of our children show that we have failed as a mom. We imagine that they see right through us and are personally subverting our instructions. We give them way too much credit.

In the face of these challenges, how do we give grace? 

Our most important role as parents is to be grace-giving gospel teachers. That doesn’t mean skipping discipline or even punishment. It means promoting and supporting the truth of the gospel through our discipline.

But we aren’t disciplining years-sanctified mini-Christians. We have a rebellion on our hands. There’s nothing comfortable, powerful, or controlling about giving grace in the face of overwhelming rebellion.

But that’s what Christ does. I seek my own comfort, not the glory of God. I put my own needs before the kingdom 99% of the time. I constantly fight God for control over my circumstances. I grasp for power through my endless list of expectations for my life. My utter rebellion is an attack on the very person of God.

“But he gives more grace.” James 4:6

Our supply of grace for our children in the face of their constant rebellion comes directly from the overflowing bounty of God’s grace to us. Because he gives more grace to us, we can give more grace to them. Because he laid down his life for us, we can lay down our comfort, desire for control, power plays, and self-esteem for the sake of our children. This kind of Christlike servanthood will be the grace that teaches them the gospel.

Our job is not to squelch a rebellion, but to spark a grace-built revolution in their little hearts. May we tap into the overflowing stores of God’s grace for us every day, to find the grace we will need to offer our children today.


This is a guest post by Maggie Combs.

Maggie is a wife, mom of three busy boys, writer, and speaker. When motherhood overwhelmed her, God drew her closer to him through writing her first book, Unsupermommy: Release Expectations, Embrace Imperfection, and Connect to God’s Superpower.

Find more of her practical application of the gospel to motherhood at www.unsupermommy.com or on Instagram and Facebook.

Parents, You Can Do Hard Things

“It’s just not for me, I guess,” she said, shaking her head with resignation. The words fell from her mouth with a splat; they were deflated and her heart was fit to match. Between us sat an open Bible, a well-worn dictionary, two pens, and plenty of scratch paper. We were working through the Text verse-by-verse, learning our way to effective interpretation through a mess of underlining, highlighting, and circling. The past hour had proven difficult to be sure, and as we hit yet another word that required the dictionary, she was waiving her white flag.

This conversation was not unique. Over at The Rooted Home we have recently started an exegetical Bible study through the book of Jonah, and we’re starting our study by doing a Book Overview (looking into the cultural setting, historical context, author, date of the writing, etc.). And this group of Bible students is working hard, and I couldn’t be more proud. But when others hear what we’re doing, they’re often surprised; when I ask them to join, the response has become common:

I can’t do it. I guess I’m just a devotional kind of person.

I don’t have the time to learn how to do this. Are there any good studies you’d recommend instead?

This is a lot harder than I expected; I just don’t know if I’m smart enough.

The refrain has become common and even unsurprising. And here is what I want to say to each and every Christian who has said, felt, admitted, confessed, or thought these things (including myself): you can do hard things.

I’m not saying that Bible study is easy. I’m not saying that it doesn’t require a learning curve or a good amount of time and effort. I don’t believe that it comes easily to most, and my personal experience says that it takes a lot of persistence and practice. Studying the Bible is not necessarily and easy task, but … you can do hard things.

Yes, a pre-packaged Bible study is easier, but on its own it is not your daily bread. Others can do the work of studying and re-framing the truths of God’s Word for you, but you’ll then miss the rich and rewarding work of spending time in the Word for yourself. I know there are a plethora of blogs and Instagram accounts that make the Word of God seem like a quick pick-me-up, and a short fix. Yes, that would be much easier. But, you can do hard things.

Will it require early mornings? Maybe. Will it require you to focus during nap time while there’s a little quiet? Probably. It will take your time – your sparse, limited, free time.  And you will have to push back other intruding demands on your time, and this will take hard and persistent work. And, you can do hard things.

I find this mindset is much more prevalent among women. It is easy for women in our Pinterest culture to conceive that Biblical womanhood is solely about cultivating a trendy home and finding the quickest and cheapest slow cooker recipe. But when we only look around us for examples of Biblical womanhood, we fail to look back – back to the women of the Bible who did hard things and blazed a trail for us to follow.

1 Samuel 25 – Abigail, the wife of a wicked husband, saved her family from the fury of the nation’s leader, David, by extending biblical hospitality that her husband neglected. 

2 Kings 22 – Huldah studied and interpreted the Word of God before the leaders of the nations. When the kings had failed to remember God’s words – having lost the Scriptures themselves – Huldah taught them the ways of God again.

Judges 4 -Deborah led the nation of Israel, exercising her discernment and wisdom and leadership over the people of God. She led the nation into battle as God led, and she spoke as a prophet to the people on behalf of God Himself. 

Esther 1 – Esther, the orphaned daughter of Jewish parents, exercised courage and wisdom as she outsmarted an enemy of her people, and saved her people from national destruction. 

Luke 2 – Mary, a teen, virgin girl, believed the words of the Lord when it was told her that she would mother the Messiah. With great courage she birthed the Son of God among stable animals, and placed Him in a feeding trough.

Matthew 27:56 – Mary Madeline followed Jesus as a disciple. Defying the cultural mandates on women in her day she learned from Jesus and followed Him throughout His earthly ministry.  

We will all need help, we will all need others to teach us along the way, but each and every one of us can do it. We are in good company with the women of faith in our spiritual lineages – those who did not turn back at the first sign of difficulty, but pressed into the challenge to the glory of God.

Like them, our God has graciously equipped us with sharp minds, teachable hearts, and the will power to form our loves around His Word. It might seem like a resolution that will fade away in the coming weeks, but you and I can do the hard work of pressing through, pressing on, and persistently coming to God’s Word as His students.

As you start this new year, don’t be more easily convinced by convenience. You – yes, you – can.

So, will you? Will you join me? Will you make 2018 the year that we dig into God’s Word together? By God’s grace, embrace this truth: we can, and we will.