3 Steps for Effectively Teaching Children

oneChurches all over are in full swing planning their summer programs for children. One of my favorites is Vacation Bible School (VBS). I was called to the ministry at VBS, so maybe my bias is understandable. (Read this post to learn about this experience.) A friend of mine pioneered a new vision for VBS. They took it off-campus and into the community. What better way to reach kids and families who don’t usually go to church? (Here is a video of this mission outreach to local apartment complexes.) But, I digress…

The point of today’s blog is this: In order to effectively teach children (in VBS, Sunday School, AWANA, or any other place), you must…

  1. Find ONE THING that is your main point.
  2. Say the ONE THING over and over again as you teach.
  3. Review the ONE THING at the end of the lesson.

In this blog, we’ll use Genesis 32:22-32 (Jacob Wrestles with God) as a case study, creating a Sunday school lesson for elementary children.

ONE THING

Here’s the deal. Adults are used to 3-5 point sermons, many of which use alliteration (which honestly usually mixes me up). Even children’s leaders and teachers tend to get carried away and teach with multiple (or undefined) take-away points. My favorites spell a word (as you may notice from the free teaching materials I’ve released).

The problem is that kids have short attention spans. They can’t remember 3-5 points from a 20-45 minute lesson.

In order to teach kids effectively (in a way they will remember), you must have ONE THING, one main point, one lesson objective, one purpose statement, one lesson goal, and one lesson focus. (Did I miss any descriptors?)

Below we’ll look at our three steps to teaching children effectively. You may notice that it’s really ONE THING said three different ways. Yes, that’s on purpose. We will use the text of Genesis 32:22-32 as an example.

Jacob Wrestles With God

22 That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. 24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”

But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

27 The man asked him, “What is your name?”

“Jacob,” he answered.

28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”

29 Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”

But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.

30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”

31 The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip. 32 Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob’s hip was touched near the tendon.

Genesis 32:22-32 (NIV)

Find ONE THING that is your main point.

Ok. If I was teaching adults from the passage above, there is a lot of lessons I could pull out of this text. I might say:

Meeting God Face-to-Face Changes Your Life

  1. The Challenge – God wants us to wrestle with Him, to bring our frustrations to Him. He can take it and He will meet us at our need.
  2. The Change – When God asked Jacob his name, He really wanted to know how Jacob (which translates “heel-grabber”) would describe himself. By giving Jacob a new name, God said Jacob was no longer a conniving heel-grabber. Jacob became Israel (which means “wrestled with God”). Our name and identity is changed too when we acknowledge our sin before almighty God. Our new identity is Christian (literally, “little Christ”). Ephesians 4:22-24
  3. The Consequence – Jacob was forever changed after his encounter with the living God. We are forever changed when our sins are wiped away through faith in Christ. (See this video for more about how this works.)

That was a really quick sketch, but as a friend of mine would say, “that’ll preach!”

So what’s wrong with that lesson outline? Nothing if you’re an adult. If you’re a kid, there are several issues. For one, what’s the takeaway? You’ve lost them by the time you get to the Gospel and invitation at the end. Plus, it’s full of big words kids might not understand.

Let’s do this lesson again in a more kid-friendly way.

This is such a rich passage, it’s hard to pick ONE THING to be your main point. (Actually, that’s true with an adult lesson as well.) Here’s are some I see just off the top of my head:

  1. Jacob wrestled with God.
  2. God changed Jacob’s name to Israel.
  3. We don’t always understand God’s plan.
  4. God loves us even when we go through difficult times.
  5. God wants to bless you, even in hard times. (If you use something like this, be sure to define the word “bless.”)
  6. God is always with you.
  7. God can handle your questions.
  8. God can change your live if you trust Him.

Can you think of some I missed?

Now you have a choice to make. What is the ONE THING that will be the focus of your lesson? Is this a fact-finding mission (#1-2)? Is it a life-lesson (#3-6)? Is it a practical application lesson (#7)? Is it a Gospel-focused lesson (#8)?

If you tried to hit more than one of these points in a children’s lesson, it becomes like taking a handful of water and trying to throw it on your audience. You may hit or you may miss. Plus, the ones you do hit get a small dose. However, if you choose just one, your lesson is focused, on point, and has a purpose. It’s like taking a SuperSoaker, taking careful aim, and dousing your target. (Boo-yah!)

For today’s purposes, let make #3 our ONE THING: We don’t always understand God’s plan.

Say the ONE THING over and over again as you teach.

You’ve done the hard part deciding on your ONE THING. Now you just have to say it over and over again as you teach.

I like to start by reading the ONE THING and having the kids repeat it back to me. I tell them to listen for how we know this is true in the Bible lesson we are about to read.

Find as many ways to repeat the ONE THING as you can as you teach your lesson. For example:

We don’t always understand God’s plan. Jacob was about to come face to face with the brother who had wanted to kill him. Show me on your face how you would feel if you were Jacob. What Jacob didn’t know was that God had a plan. We don’t always understand God’s plan.

“22 That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions.” What was Jacob’s plan? Thumbs up if you think that was God’s plan and thumbs down if you don’t. Suzie, why do you think that was God’s plan? Joey, why do you think it wasn’t? Remember, we don’t always understand God’s plan. Let’s find out what the Bible says.

24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak.” Someone raise your hand and tell me: who do you think the man was who wrestled with Jacob all night? Let’s see if you’re right.

24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man.” Ouch! Thumbs up or thumbs down: do you think that was part of Jacob’s plan? Someone raise your hand and tell me why. We don’t always understand God’s plan, do we?

26 Then the man said, ‘Let me go, for it is daybreak.’

But Jacob replied, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’ ” Someone raise your hand and tell me: what do you think Jacob expected the man to do or say? Let’s see what happened.

“27 The man asked him, ‘What is your name?'” What!? Thumbs up or thumbs down: do you think that was what Jacob expected? We don’t always understand God’s plan.

“27 The man asked him, ‘What is your name?’

‘Jacob,’ he answered.

28 Then the man said, ‘Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.'”

Wow! God not only gave Jacob a new name, but He also gave Jacob hope. God told Jacob, who’s now called Israel, that just like Jacob didn’t give up in the wresting match, God would bless his efforts not to give up in coming back home. God said everything would be alright when Jacob met his brother Esau. Wow! Thumbs up or thumbs down: Do you think Jacob expected his wrestling partner to say that? We don’t always understand God’s plan. Look at how Jacob responded.

“29 Jacob said, ‘Please tell me your name.’

But he replied, ‘Why do you ask my name?’ Then he blessed him there.” There’s that blessing Jacob asked to receive.

“30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, ‘It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.’

31 The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip. 32 Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob’s hip was touched near the tendon.” Genesis 32:22-32 (NIV)

The Scripture passage is over, but not our lesson!

 

Review the ONE THING at the end of the lesson.

A final summary and review of the ONE THING is essential to effectively teaching children. It doesn’t have to be belabored. Review questions are great, but you can also just recap quickly. Another method is to have kids fill in the blanks. For example…

Jacob was scared going into his meeting with his brother Esau. Did he have to be? The night before the meeting, Jacob wrested with God. Two things changed forever as a result of that meeting. What were they? Did Jacob’s plan match God’s plan? Remember, We don’t always understand God’s plan. Say that with me: We don’t always understand God’s plan. Let’s pray and ask God to teach us how to trust Him, especially when we don’t understand God’s plan.

oneSo, to review (*wink):

  1. Find ONE THING that is your main point.
  2. Say the ONE THING over and over again as you teach.
  3. Review the ONE THING at the end of the lesson.

Enjoy studying God’s Word with the kids in your care!

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