Instead of “Application”, Respond

Despite having taught many Bible lesson with a concrete “application”, I no longer think we should teach kids to apply the Bible.

But if we don’t do that, what do we do instead?

First, we remember that Christian faith is not an ‘it’ to be lived out, but rather a relationship to be deepened.  So it follows that we need to give our kids handles, opportunities, and time to move into that deeper space.

Let’s call this space ‘Respond’, the time after we tell the Bible story to kids; their own sacred space to respond back to God in their own way.

Here are 5 things Respond does that Application cannot:

  • Respond lets every Bible story connect to every kid.   When we tell a Bible story and show how “God is __(name an attribute)   “, every kid can engage with that story and attribute, respond back to God somehow.  Given the space, they will have something to say about that attribute you highlighted:  Wow; No way; I don’t think so, But what about?; Maybe I should; Even when?  Every story can connect if we tell it well, focusing on who God is, and then invite our kids to uniquely respond.
  • Respond gives our kids the chance to use their own words.  If we aren’t careful, the amount of time we grown ups talk about the Bible story and God overshadows the amount of time our kids interact with the story and God.  ‘Respond’ emphasizes kids using their own words. First each child gets to respond uniquely.  So one response might be to move towards greater obedience to God, but another is to ask a question or name a doubt, while another is to say a praise.  Second, the same child gets to change their response the next time they hear that story.  Each kid, each time gets to say what they need to say in their own words.
  • Respond offers kids the chance to practice historical spiritual practices.  Often, we create a space to Respond by drawing upon very old practices from the Christian tradition, like the Prayer of Examen, Leccio Divinia, imaginative prayer, or prayer postures.  When we offer these practices to kids (in their language and perhaps with some adaptations for their age) they often engage eagerly.
  • Respond communicates to kids that they have agency in their relationship with Jesus.  Respond is a great way to affirm the truth that kids are whole people who can hear from, talk to, and follow God for themselves. They are agents in their friendship with God.  Sometimes, because we know kids need help to understand the Bible or spiritual practice, we forget it’s still their life to make choices about engaging with God and Scripture.  We know that kids have their own thoughts about God, their own questions about following God, their own needs that God may or may not be meeting in the child’s opinion. Respond is a place for a child to participate fully with God in those things.

Children do not have a junior Holy Spirit – David Walters

  • Respond is protected space where we take extra care to let the Spirit of God speak to kids. The fullness of God indwells a child who follows Jesus just as fully as it indwells you and me.  And God longs to speak to us; God longs for us to bring our whole lives to God.  Kids can get a Bible story experience that is so packed-to-the-gills loud, crazy, silly, creative, cool that they don’t have time to just be with God.  They need both–creativity and handles to help them engage God and the Bible, and space of their own to just feel and think.

The rhetoric of “Application Oriented” claims to help kids live out their faith in their everyday lives.  But to me, Respond feels closer to how the Christian life works–we look at the world around us, read Scripture, and then come back to God with the good, bad and ugly.  And it’s in the coming back, over and over, questions, accusations, pleas and adoration that we build our faith in a living God.

So when kids get to Respond, the are living out their faith in their everyday lives.

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