In children’s ministry, teaching children how to behave can seem attractive. I know this personally, as sometimes I just want my kids to behave, obey their mom, and be sweet to our friends. Teaching children values and virtues to pursue and emulate can be really appealing. I mean—who would say they do not want their child to be caring, kind, responsible, or creative? No sane person wants to teach kids to be mean, lazy, and boring.
So many find activity pages like this one somewhat appealing:
Friendship. Compassion. Respect. Empathy… All good things. All good traits. Perhaps one would wonder, “What is wrong with that?”
But it is very possible to teach children values, virtues, and behavior without pointing them to the One who will transform them. It is possible to emphasize characteristics without transforming their character through Christ. If values and virtues take center stage, the good news of Jesus doesn’t. And without the good news of Jesus, we really teach another gospel—which is no gospel at all. Without Jesus, values and virtues are not Christian at all. They are not responses to His rescue, not obedience from a heart melted by His grace. They are a list of things to achieve.
While some would say the above activity page looks pretty basic, it is not distinctly Christian. In fact, the above activity page is found in this booklet:
A group wanted to pass the coloring book out at local schools in response to Christians being able to pass out materials. I do not know if the coloring book was assembled as a publicity stunt or if it is in the regular cadence of the group. Regardless the point remains; clearly what makes the Christian faith distinct, what makes the Christian faith powerful, is not a bunch of virtues. It is Jesus—the Vine who gave His life to give us life. And if we offer kids virtues apart from the Vine, we enslave them with a new Law without the power to live out the virtues we have given them. If we teach for fruit apart from the Spirit, we fail to announce the good news that is the power of God for salvation.
Charles Spurgeon reminds us that ministry to kids that is not grounded in the Word, in Jesus, is a waste of time—our time and the time of the kids.
Getting children to meet in the morning and the afternoon is a waste of their steps and yours if you do not set before them soul-saving, soul-sustaining truth. Feed the lambs; you need not pipe to them, nor put garlands round their necks; but do feed them.
On my worst days as a parent, all I really care about is behavior. On my best days, on the days I am most in awe of His grace, I care for their hearts. On those days, I still want obedience and kindness—but I want it as a result of what Christ is doing in their hearts.