(picture originally uploaded to Flickr by Joe Thorn)
I’ve been wondering, lately, whether we in church world (especially in children’s ministry) are overemphasizing a culture that is centered around leadership. There are countless books, articles, blogs (mine included), and conferences/workshops that focus on leadership issues. How can I be a better leader? How do I manage volunteers? How do I recruit volunteers? How do I lead up, down, all around, touch your toes, do the hokey pokey…?
Take a look at your bookshelf. I’m assuming you have one. How many books there are “leadership” books?
OK… how many are in the “how to do ministry” category?
Done? Alright, now how many books on your shelf deal with theological issues?
More than likely, you’ve got a boatload of leadership books and how-to books and not so much, if any, in the theological realm. I have to admit that until the past few years my collection of theological books was limited to my Bible dictionary and the systematic theology textbook I had in university. I think I had a couple more, but I never looked in those. I didn’t have time. I was too busy trying to be a better leader and find out better ways to do children’s ministry. I grew up in church, I read the Bible, I taught from the Bible… why would I need to bother myself with boring theology books?
I know you’ve thought the same thing! You probably still do. So what? What’s the big deal with theology anyway? All you have to do is read the Bible and then teach what it says, right? Theology just gets in the way of the Spirit moving, right?
Before I continue, let me just get on the record saying that, no, I don’t think you have to go to seminary or have extensive theological training or knowledge to be a good children’s minister. What I am saying, though, is that a continual growing knowledge of theology can make you a great children’s minister.
Yes, leadership and how-to’s are important, but I think we short-change the children and families we minister to when we remain ignorant of the theology behind what and why we teach.
Whether you want to admit it or not, we all have filters we use when we read and interpret the Bible. We don’t have to be aware of them. They are there. When we prepare a lesson, it isn’t simply a matter of reading the Bible and then teaching what it says because we all interpret what is being said differently.
Here’s another way of putting it:
- You pick up the Bible and read it.
- What you read goes to your brain.
- What you read goes through an interpretation filter that has been formed by what was taught to you, what you’ve grown up with, and what you’ve read.
- That interpretation filter colours your understanding of what you read in the Bible.
- You teach out of that understanding and contribute to the formation of interpretation filters in children.
Too many of us are unaware of our filters (or lenses) that we use to interpret Scripture. Gaining a better understanding of theology helps us to discover those filters and help us to find newer, more refined filters. Theology helps us to make sure that the filters we do have are within orthodoxy. Theology also helps us understand that there are many ways to read and understand Scripture. (Take for example looking at scripture through the lenses of a new perspective on Paul theological understanding as opposed to the “older” perspective.)
While building and developing leaders is important and while learning the how-to’s of ministry is important, far more important is a better understanding of theology.
I’m not necessarily advocating everyone go out and start reading N. T. Wright, Scot McKnight, J. I. Packer, and others (it wouldn’t hurt). I do think, though, that much more time and effort needs to go into helping those on the frontlines of children’s ministry have an elementary understanding of why they teach what they do or why their faith community may have a slightly different understanding of things than the church down the road.
So, please put down that book on the 15 unchangeable truths of a micro-manager. Please stop reading that article on the perfect volunteer appreciation mug. Please step away from the curriculum for a while. You can get back to all of those in a bit. Spend some time learning the difference between Reformed theology and Wesleyan-Armenean theology and how that affects your presentation of grace. Spend some time learning the different views on atonement and the implications each has for how you present salvation to a child.
If we truly believe we are called to disciple children and families, then we better put a higher emphasis on understanding more of what we want to disciple them in… Because right now, it looks like we know how to better disciple people to become better leaders than we do better followers of Christ.