OKP 010: Spiritual Growth Isn’t Measured in a Test | Part 1 – Prioritizing Transformation over Information

Welcome to the Orange Kids Podcast, where we talk kids’ ministry and discuss practical solutions to our weekly challenges. This week, hosts Mike, Gina, and Kellen talk spiritual growth and building authentic faith in the lives of preschool and elementary-aged kids. (Also: discover how God wrote the Bible in heaven in gold.)

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Welcome to the Orange Kids Podcast, where we talk about the big ideas of kids’ ministry and discuss practical solutions to our weekly challenges.

Kellen ups his welcome this week: “Hi-dy ho, neighborinos!”
Gina can’t match that. She settles for an old-school hello.


Mike acknowledges: It’s easy to get so busy working IN your ministry that you don’t take a step back to look at the big picture and work ON your ministry. That’s what today is about.

In fact, we’re kicking off our first two-parter. Get ready for the big picture this week and the practical application next episode!

Mike asks: What is the mission statement of your ministry?

Bonus points: Both Gina and Kellen do this without opening their web browsers.

Gina: Help people find and follow Jesus, because we believe that everyone is welcome, no one is perfect, and anything is possible.

Kellen: Help people find God and experience life in Christ.

Mike: Your mission statement is your “why.” Once kids come to know Jesus, they “find.” Now we get to the follow.

When it comes to building faith in kids, sometimes it seems like everyone has a different picture of what faith should look like in the life of a kid. (Senior pastor, you, volunteers, parents.)

1. What is the win when it comes to building faith in the next generation?

Mike: Kids in your ministry may not know what you think they should know, but kids know more than you realize.

They may not know all the books of the Bible in order or be able to recite the Israelite patriarchy – but they can often explain the plan of salvation. They may not be able to recite the Apostles’ Creed, but they can explain what it means to be made in the Image of God and why that’s important to how they treat their friends.

Here’s the tension for the day: Spiritual growth isn’t measured in a test.

Kellen: Kids are awesome. At Christmas, they are going to throw a truck and a dinosaur in the manger scene. They may not know all the Bible details you want them to know. I asked middle schoolers – who became king after Saul? They stared at me. You want to ask: Why aren’t their parents teaching them anything?

You have to remember: This kid is 4. She wants to tell you about breakfast and her dress.

They are tiny people who haven’t developed yet.

Gina: We forget that the first time a kid hears [a Bible story], they are creating a context for it. They have to hear it multiple times before they are going to remember the finer details. To assume that remembering the finer details is equivalent to growing their faith is a bold assumption. Even when a kid can share the plan of salvation, that isn’t necessarily an indication they have a relationship with Jesus. It’s all a process.

Kellen’s nephew is 8 and grew up in church, as his father is a pastor. He told Kellen: “I want to be baptized because I’m realizing I don’t spend enough time with God. I want people to know I love God.” Kellen told him this was awesome, but his first internal reaction was: “You’re just now getting this?” You have to take a step back. He’s 8. He’s putting the picture together. Is this God my parents talk about my God? He knew more than I realized – but also didn’t know things I assumed he would, growing up in church.

Always take a step back and evaluate. It’s not: “Do they know x,y, and z, but are we meeting them at their fundamental core? Are they feeling cared for? Are you reiterating the lessons of God so they begin to stick?”

They will surprise you on where their head is at.

Gina: It’s a difference between head knowledge, which is information, and heart knowledge, which is experience.

Mike: Spiritual growth isn’t measured by a test; sometimes we get stuck on the head knowledge. Shares a story about his son taking the 5th grade milestones testing.

As a curriculum organization, we get asked if we have standardized testing.

No, we don’t. We’ve seen examples of testing from other organizations: 10 commandments, books of the Bible, names of the disciples. It’s good to know those things. But they can’t measure everything.

A test tells you if a kid got those answers right. But it can’t measure how they feel about the subject matter. It can’t measure their engagement or excitement level. And it can’t measure your level of success as a leader.

Let’s sing it again: Spiritual growth isn’t measured in a test.

Kellen: Sunday school was a staple, even when I was growing up. You do a Bible study, like the Book of Joshua.

What’s in Joshua? Kellen is momentarily stumped. Gina points out the Israelites took Canaan. Kellen cedes 20 points to Gina, spiritual test winner, and zero to himself and his Bible college student loans.

The current wave is not to define people by the grades you get, but that you will always be loved and cared for, and it’s about who you are. Younger churches are moving toward that. We want to grab the heart before the knowledge piece comes in.

Gina: So many great things came out of Sunday school. When she went to her grandmother’s church growing up, there was a sweet teacher (with coffee-smoker breath), who was always there. He was very intentional and loving and caring toward the kids in his class. She remembers not what she learned as much as who she learned it from.

The concept of Sunday school is based on the formula we thought worked for a long time: that information equals transformation.

What we’ve learned is that information in the context of a loving relationship can equal transformation over time.

Mike: Spiritual growth is about a relationship. That’s what Jesus said.

Someone asked Him: What is the greatest commandment? He narrowed it down to: Love God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind. And the second is like it. Love your neighbor as yourself.

We want children to love God in a way that transforms the three relationships in their lives—how they love God, love themselves and love others.

Gina: The best way for a kid to know God is to know someone who knows God.

Mike: When we make it about a relationship, we reorient how a kid views their relationship with Jesus.

When you orient around information and reciting back, it’s about that. It’s performance-based. The kids who are great at information and reciting back feel good about relationship with Jesus. The others don’t.

When we make it about information instead of relationship, they equate that to how much Jesus loves them, even though that’s not our intent.

Kellen: Please keep teaching the Bible! But when we do talk about the 12 disciples, we need to dig into “why were they so important?” Because Jesus was taking ordinary people like you and me and showing them they have purpose and worth.

Put a why behind the knowledge. For instance, Peter was always getting angry – like we can. But Jesus cared more about his heart, and what was making him angry and letting him know God loved him.

Teach information, but lean toward relationship. Kids will be more connected to the information because they have the relationship.

Gina: We want to teach preschoolers the Bible because we want them to have a relationship with a God who made them, loves them, and wants a relationship with them.

I know we’re on the right track when a preschooler transitions to elementary with a foundational knowledge that they have a God who made them, loves and wants a relationship with them.

Even I fully don’t understand it. I’m on that journey.

Kellen: That’s a gut check. When I’m teaching, I need to remember that I still don’t get this fully either. I can’t expect a kid to.

Mike: What is the win? Don’t abandon head knowledge, but the goal is a transformation through relationship.

We want every child to have an authentic faith: trusting in Jesus in a way that transforms how I love God, myself, and others.

Kellen promises to drop a nugget. Is this a nugget of a truth? A chicken nugget? We’re all confused.

Kellen: Everyone needs to step back and reflect on some ways WE have transformed because we have trusted Jesus. How have I transformed in loving God, myself, and people?

We get hung up on knowing things. Go back to when you were a kid and ask: How have I changed? How can I inspire kids?

Gina: It’s a powerful exercise. Take an inventory of your faith journey. At every turning point where something grew your faith, there wasn’t just information – there was probably a person you had a conversation with about that truth in the context of relationship. It led to a decision you made. That’s how faith develops.

If I take a survey of my life, I can point to moments where something significant happened. It wasn’t just information I ingested, it was someone I trusted who spoke into my life. I heard it, which led me to trust God more deeply.

Kellen: Hopefully that gives you a new perspective with small groups. Remind kids: Love yourself because God loves you.

Gina: Loving yourself is often overlooked. We assume loving ourselves is not selfless. But we can only honestly love others if we love ourselves.

Mike brings it back to the refrain one more time:

Spiritual growth isn’t measured in a test; it’s measured in a relationship. That looks like an authentic faith where we trust Jesus in a way that we love God, we love ourselves, and we love others.

2. If we want kids to have an authentic faith, what is our role as ministry leaders in preschool and elementary?

Preschool – Our role is to incite wonder. Let a preschooler’s imagination engage with God’s Word. Incite wonder in a Heavenly Father who created all things so they can know God’s love and meet God’s family. They see things we’ve forgotten.

Practically, you get down on their level, encourage them, meet their needs, and engage them. You are a physical representation of God’s love.

Kellen points out that “incite” sounds like a riot Mike wonders if Kellen has ever incited a riot in a preschool room? Kellen would love to do this, but fears his leaders would never let him come back.

Kellen asked preschoolers how the Bible was created. A 5-year-old told him: “God wrote it in gold in heaven.”

Gina: Leverage that phase. They see things we forget to see. They are fascinated by things we should still be fascinated by.

Kellen: Like Power rangers.

Mike: In the elementary phase it changes. The role we play is to provoke discovery. We are helping them to figure things out. They are excited to learn more, to know what you know as an adult and to learn about all the subjects. Lean into that, so they begin to trust God’s character and experience God’s family.

Imagine life as a typical third grader. You have to trust big people all day long—to wake you up, get breakfast, get to school. Every minute. They understand what it means to trust and rely on someone. So introduce them to a God they can put their trust in.

Kellen: Salvation = trust. When they decide to follow Christ, it’s trust.

Mike: This episode has been about redefining the win. Knowledge about the Bible is great, but it does not determine how much you love Jesus. It does not equal relationship.

Part two in the next episode will address the practical ways to help kids develop an authentic faith by inciting wonder in preschoolers and provoking discovery for elementary-aged kids. We will do this by unpacking four basic faith skills.

Kellen leaves us with a cliffhanger!

THE TAKEAWAY

  1. Spiritual growth isn’t measured in a test; it’s measured in a relationship. That looks like an authentic faith where we trust Jesus in a way that we love God, love ourselves, and love others.
  2. Develop authentic faith in the next generation by inciting wonder in preschoolers and provoking discovery for elementary-aged kids.
  3. COME BACK for practical application in part 2, releasing on June 18!

YOUR HOSTS

Mike Clear

Mike Clear

Executive Director of Children’s Strategy at Orange

Gina McClain

Gina McClain

NextGen Pastor at Crosspoint Church - Nashville, TN

Kellen Moore

Kellen Moore

NextGen Pastor at Our City Church - Corona, CA

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