I’m so excited to share with you the newest discipleship tools for kids coming from the Tiny Theologians line! It’s a project that has been on my heart and in my prayers for the last two years, and I’m thrilled to be able to finally share it with you. For the last 18 months, I have been working with New Testament and Old Testament scholars (from former seminary classmates to former professors) to hone the content for these cards, and with early elementary educators to make that content accessible for kids.
One of the burdens I have as a theologian, parent, and church planter is for our circles of believers to see Christ as the center of the Word of God. He is the One who holds the entirety of the Scriptures together, the thread that is woven from beginning to end, and the fulfillment of every word of God. It’s Christ that brings the Word to life, both in Old Testament Expectation and in New Testament fulfillment. Which is why I have labored over these cards (in the community of those much brighter than myself) to help little ones understand the central role that Christ plays in every book of the Bible. ⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Christ at the Center is a set of 70+ cards that walk kids through each book of the Bible, summarizing its content, showing where it falls in the big story of the Bible, and (most poignantly) showing how each book points to Christ. It is my deep desire that these cards will help kids (and parents!) discover the Savior who is on every page of Scripture — from Genesis to Revelation. Plus, they teach kids all about things like biblical genre, authorship, original context, and MORE! They come in this beautiful and sturdy box that I just can’t get enough of. They’ll be here just in time for Christmas shopping. Set your alarms for November 15 and join me in celebrating Christ at the center of the Word!
We’ve all heard the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30). A master gives three servants various sums of money (“talents”) and goes on a journey. When the master returns, he demands an accounting of his resources. Two servants have invested and doubled the original sum. One has buried it and returned the original amount. The two are richly rewarded. The one is chastised for being slothful and cast “into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 25:30, English Standard Version)
That can’t be good.
I’ve often felt haunted by this parable. It fills me with a deep sense of foreboding – fear that I’m not doing enough, not giving enough money, not investing enough time in being the best mom or wife or friend or parishioner or neighbor, not evangelizing enough, not reading enough books, not pouring enough of myself out (and out and out). How can I possibly say I’m truly invested if I don’t yet feel like a sucked dry juice box? Only then can I say I’ve really tried!
The weight of responsibility and the pressure to make something of my life can often feel like too much to bear. It doesn’t help that this passage is often preached with a bit of fire and brimstone, a reminder to redeem the time! You only live once! Carpe diem! (Translated to mom speak… “Your children won’t be small forever so enjoy every minute of the little years!” Yeah. That one haunts me too.) I know theoretically and theologically why it’s wrong to feel this way. But my heart still fears. My heart would break to hear my Lord tell me I’ve been wicked and slothful. I long to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”
The good news is, most of us aren’t the servant who was given five talents or even two. Most of us were just given the one.In an objective evaluation of our lives, we will find we’ve been gifted with a pretty basic set of responsibilities – spouses, children, extended families, neighbors, jobs, homes, cars. Most of us will not be billionaire philanthropists. Most of us will not have spiritual charge over hundreds, thousands, or millions of people. Most of us will not be CEOs of large companies.
So, let that take a little pressure off.
We know from this parable not to bury our one talent. The question is, what do we do with it? How do we know we’re doing enough? There are three principles which guide the answer to that question – gratitude, stewardship, and rest.
The first posture of any receiver is gratitude for what they’ve been given. From that gratitude will flow a desire to steward your gifts well. To steward something is to provide responsible management for the “talents” God has entrusted to your care. We don’t know much about the first two servants, but we do know they received their “talents” and responsibly invested them. Investing is done with the hope of benefiting all parties since you give to one who needs and receive more in return than you initially started with. By contrast, the third servant receives his “talent” with fear and buries it – benefiting no one, least of all himself.
As you consider how to steward your gifts, remember God offers you abundant grace in addition to the power of the Holy Spirit. Don’t bury your God-given gifts out of fear – hoarding and shielding them – but rather approach them with gratitude, willing to share them, cultivate them, accept God’s mercy in giving them to you and extend those mercies to others. This can be as simple as being actively present with your children or volunteering your time for a Sunday service a couple times a year. God is not the hard master of the parable, but a loving father who sees and aids your efforts to love Him well by caring for His gifts.
Finally, remember that one of the most valuable gifts God calls you to steward is yourself, and you were created to need rest. Rest is a key part of Biblical stewardship as established in first chapters of Genesis. God does not ask us to work seven days a week, but commands us to set aside a day of rest and calls this day “holy” (Genesis 2:3, ESV).
If your strivings are exhausting and motivated by fear of failing God, it’s probable that you’re burying yourself rather than investing yourself.
Remind yourself that God desires to say, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” as much as you long to hear it. So as you work to be a faithful steward, obeying your master’s commands (including resting in Him), take comfort that “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6, ESV).
If you suffer from chronic doing and/or fear of not doing enough, here are a couple of ways to practice faithfulness instead of fear:
Mediate on and then rewrite Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 about specific seasons of your life. Remember that God does not call us to do all things in all seasons.
In the moments you fear you’re not doing enough or not getting it right, remember that Satan guilts in generalities while the Holy Spirit convicts in specifics. In these moments, ask the Holy Spirit to reveal if there are specific failings and to protect you from the attacks of the enemy.
Ask God to make you aware of the small ways he calls you to faithfulness in your daily life – perhaps pausing to ask a neighbor how she’s doing, putting down your phone to enjoy play-dough with your toddler, or inviting a friend over for coffee.
Danielle Hitchen is the founder of Catechesis Books and the author of the Baby Believer board books – a set of concept books designed to introduce very young children to the core tenets of the Christian faith. She desires to create beautiful books to help parents have better faith conversations with their children.
Her professional background includes communications consulting, radio production, event planning, and non-profit and church administration. Danielle is a graduate of the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University where she earned her B.A. in Humanities. She resides in northern Virginia with her husband and two (soon to be three!) children. You can find learn more about her books at www.babybeliever.com and follower her on Instagram and Facebook @catechesisbooks.
When Dory’s parents realized the challenges she would face as a fish with short-term memory loss, they devised a plan to help keep her safe. They taught her little jingles to help her avoid the undertow. They made her practice introducing herself with the words “I suffer from short-term memory loss” so other fish would know she needed help. But most importantly, they played cheerful games of hide-and-seek, cleverly training her to follow the purple shells that would lead her home.
Towards the end of her movie-long quest to find her parents, Dory finds one purple shell. In an ocean full of shells, it seems too good to be true that she could have actually stumbled onto a trail left just for her. But the purple shells keep appearing, one after another, until she enters a valley in the ocean floor where the whole trail is laid out before her. Watching this movie as a parent, I felt a swell of joy when I realized her parents had made not just one, but dozens of trails stretching out like spokes from the central hub of their home. When her parents return with their fins full of shells, I just I knew that this was what they had been doing every day since their daughter left. Because that’s what I would do.
Probably the scariest part of parenting is the fear of sending our kids into the unknown. We know our time with them is short and that eventually they will strike out alone. We want to prepare them for everything but we simply don’t know what they will have to face or how they will face it. I know too many parents of adult children who’ve wrestled with their disappointment and grief over children they raised to love the Lord who have “gone astray” (Isaiah 53:6). I try to hold my hopes for my children in one hand, but hold this possibility in the other. It reminds me how important it is to make the most of these early years.
Just like Dory’s parents trained her with games and repetition to avoid the dangers of the ocean, my husband and I use a combination of fun and persistence to try to prepare our children for the challenges to come. We read their children’s Bibles over and over. We send them to Sunday school where they make crafts and eat snacks that reinforce the lessons from the Bible stories. Mostly we try to answer their questions. In doing so, we hope to provide them with a larger theology–a systematic understanding of God–that addresses the questions they are asking already and the ones they haven’t thought to ask yet.
C.S. Lewis compared theology to a map that is drawn “based on the experience of hundreds of people who…were in touch with God.” Theology is not meant to be formal or esoteric, it is intended to be practical guidance. Therefore, theology is as much for children as it is for anyone. When I teach my children theology, I’m giving them a map that shows them the way they should go (Proverbs 22:6), but I am also giving them a map for how to get back on the ancient paths (Jeremiah 9:16) should they ever lose their way. I want to train them now how to avoid danger, but also to know that if they get into trouble, love is always waiting at home for them. Always.
The underwater family reunion at the end of Finding Dory feels like a parable for parents who never want to lose their children but are wise enough to prepare for the possibility anyway.
This is a guest post by Laura Lundgren.
Laura Lundgren is a lifelong reader, former English teacher, current homemaker, and aspiring writer. She makes her home in Wisconsin with her husband, who is also her pastor, and her four young kids.
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:
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.
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.
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.
Something about the thin, round glasses hanging on the end of the professor’s nose and the bow tie neatly tucked beneath his white collar made him feel all the more believable.
It was my first day and my very first class of Bible college. Freshman year held a host of uncomfortable, nervous, and intimidating moments, but this one will always be etched in my mind. His voice reverberated with age, experience and authority, and his words struck my timid heart with surprise and self-doubt.
“Everyone is a theologian.”
He went on to explain that every person possesses a theology – a view of God – whether they know it or not. He contended that we, even at 18 and 19 years old, had a belief system regarding God, the word, the Church, and other things. We picked up on teachings, let suggested dispositions settle into our hearts, and allowed subtle theologies to sink into our minds.
“Every one of you is a theologian,” he repeated; “But are you good ones?”
In little time, he became a favorite professor. I ate up what he taught, I asked questions, I requested additional resources because he was right: I did have a view of God, I was a theologian, but I had not taken the time to be a good one.
“Theology” can be an intimidating word. For many of us, it calls to mind professors, pastors, or academics tirelessly pouring over ancient books. But in its simplest form, it means “the study of God” (“Theos” is derived from the Greek word for “the divine”, and “ology” comes from the Latin “to study”). And the reality is that we each have a concept of God in place. Each and every person, whether knowingly or unknowingly, believes something about the divine. We have beliefs about God’s character, activity and intentions, many of which lie so deep within us that we are often unaware In a thousand ways each day, you and I “study” “the divine” as we hear about a flood on the news or walk with a friend through loss. So, the question cannot be, “Am I a theologian?” Instead, we need to start asking, “Have I taken the time to be a good one?”
The world around us seeks to shape our view of God every day. Shows on TV, friends on Facebook, and ads at the subway station are constantly sending messages that ultimately shape our view of God. And our kids are not exempt – the shows they watch, the books they read, and the neighbors they play with are all teaching them something about God, his relationship to his people, and his world. Even the littlest ones in our homes are growing every day into tiny theologians with their own views of God. So, the question cannot be, “Are our children theologians?” But instead, “Have we taken the time to teach them to be good ones?”
When most of us think about talking to kids about theology, we think of their view of God like a car sitting in neutral. It is easy to think that they will go about their lives unmoved until we push them along in the faith. As the most prominent and earliest influencers in their lives, it’s easy to believe that when you have the time you’ll move them a little bit here and there, until they’re old enough to drive the road of faith for themselves.
In the world we live in, our theology and our kids’ theology is like a car in neutral, but a car in neutral on an incline. The world is taking our view of God somewhere. It is teaching us and forming us, even while we are unaware. It is not often a steep or sharp incline, but subtle. It seeps into our beliefs casually, slowly, and often unnoticed. Kids are learning about God as they’re told why they should be on good behavior at school or why they should say, “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you” after a tiff among friends. And if we are not attentively teaching our children about the God of the Bible – about the gospel that compels us by love to obey him and that we can only forgive others by the grace of the God who forgave us – the world will.
Thank God that he has equipped each and every one of us to be a student of his word! Each of us – you and me and even our tiny theologians – are able to come to the word of God, to study it with joy and understanding, and to communicate those rich truths to one other. It is a true gift of God that he gave us his word to teach us all about who he is and who we are in relationship with him. By his Spirit, he has empowered us to study the Bible and teach the Bible, and by his Spirit He will form each of us more and more in his likeness.
Here is the encouragement I want to leave you with today: You are a theologian. And by God’s good grace he will make each of us good ones. This is the joyful work of the Spirit: he has been bringing people to faith, raising them up in the faith, and growing them through the faith since the beginning of the world. And he wants to do the same for you and me and every little one. We simply have the honor and joy of joining with him in that process, and partnering with him in the gospel work he has called us to.