Giving Your Kids a Heart for Missions

I want my kids to know they are not the center of the universe.  I want them to have a knowledge of other peoples and cultures and to desire them to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus.  Giving my kids a heart for missions (locally and globally) is a priority in our home.

Here are some things we do to encourage a heart for missions and other cultures:

Read Books about other Cultures

One reason I choose to use Sonlight for our homeschool curriculum is the wide variety of cultural diversity in the books it has us read.  Some of our favorites are:

Thrift Books is a great place to order books (new and used).  Their free shipping minimum is low and you earn reward points with each purchase.  Use this link for 15% off your first order.  (affiliate link, thank you!)

Help your kids develop a heart for missions and other cultures.

Read Books and Listen to Stories about Missionaries

We have greatly enjoyed reading books about missionaries.  The series Christian Heroes Then and Now is excellent!  Engaging stories and appropriate for elementary aged children and older.  The Hidden Heroes series is also similar.

The book Missionary Stories with the Millers is a great introduction to missions for children because each chapter is about a different missionary in a different time and place.  This one is fun for all ages.

Torchlighters Heros of Faith DVD series includes some missionary stories.  The Gladys Aylward Story and The Amy Carmichael Story are two we’ve enjoyed.  FYI: Some of these stories are a bit graphic and I would recommend for ages 10 and older.  Please preview these before sharing them with your children.   

We’ve also enjoyed listening to the Brinkmann Family Adventures audio dramas.

Help your kids develop a heart for missions and other cultures.

Listen to Missionaries Talk about their Lives and Ministries

We are blessed to have a church that welcomes and supports missionaries.  Our children often have the opportunity to here missionaries share their lives and ministries.  We also support missionaries through our church and as a family.

Make it a priority to have your children listen to and interact with missionaries who visit your church.

Help your kids develop a heart for missions and other cultures.

Give Children Opportunites to Interact with Other Cultures.

This can be as simple as dining in an authentic Mexican, Chinese, Thai, etc. restaurant or as complex as traveling to another country!

Short-term mission trips are excellent experiences for high school and college-aged students.  I was blessed to travel to Venezuela once and China twice during my high school and college years.  Our church has taken groups to serve on Indian reservations and inner-city minority neighborhoods.  These are life-changing experiences that broaden our worldview.

Serve Others in Your Community

A great way to broaden the worldview of your children is to serve others in your community together as a family.  Whether to people of the same ethnic background as your family or a different background, serving others causes us to see them as individuals with individual stories.  It also teaches our children that it is important to serve others.  We help out at a local non-profit thrift store.  We help with sorting donations, pricing, and stocking.  The kids and I help out for a couple hours a couple times a month.

Memorize Scripture

Finally, memorizing scripture about God’s love for the world is a great way to give your kids a heart for missions.  Verses like Matthew 28:18-20 and Romans 10:13-17 emphasize our responsibility to tell others, in our communities and around the world.

Were you exposed to other cultures as a child?  What other ways do you help your children have a global worldview?

Defining Theological Words for Kids

When we choose to study theology, we expect to come across words we don’t know.  This can be hard enough for us as adults, but how do we explain these “big” theological words to our children?  We have a couple options available to us:

Try a Different Translation

As an example, let’s take Romans 3:21-25:

 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. Romans 3:1-25, ESV

Oh, my!  There are quite a lot of words in that passage that will need to be defined for children (and adults!).  Let’s see if using another translation helps:

But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished. Romans 3:21-25, NIV

OK, so that doesn’t really help anything.  The English Standard Version and the New International Version are very common translations used in many churches and bible studies.  Let’s try the translation I like to use when reading bible stories to kids:

But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. 22 We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. 23 For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.24 Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.25 For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past. Romans 3:21-25, NLT

Well, that helps a bit more, but it’s not the best option.  Our children need to recognize and understand the big theological words.  These words are part of the history of our faith and they have been chosen for a specific reason.  There is deep and complex meaning being summed up in each big theological word.  Our children need to recognize and understand these big words and I firmly believe the CAN understand them!

Define Big Theological Words with Concrete Examples

The best way to help our kids understand theology is to explain these big theological words to them using concrete examples when possible.  By the time our children reach first grade they should be familiar with hearing some of these big words and with Bible stories in general. (This is why family devotions are so important!)

Today, I want to give you examples of defining three theological words: redemption/redeemed, justify/justification and propitiation.

Defining theological words for kids.
Redeem means to buy back.

Redemption/Redeemed

To redeem something means to gain or regain possession of something in exchange for payment.  In a more simple phrase: redeem means to buy back.

The picture of redemption in scripture is redemption from slavery.  Our freedom is bought back (redeemed) for us: mankind was created free from sin in the beginning, but chose to disobey God and become slaves to sin and under the penalty of sin (Romans 6:23).  Christ, through His death (and resurrection), paid the price to redeem us from slavery to sin.

Justify, the picture of a balanced scale.
Justify means to balance the scale; to make the scale “right.”

Justify/Justification (Bonus: Imputed Righteousness)

Justify is a legal term meaning to prove right or to be made right.  We see a picture of justification when we look at a balance scale.  The scale is justified when both sides are equal and balanced.

Often in Christianity justified is defined as declared righteous.  We are declared righteous (justified) because the scale has been made level.  God’s righteousness on one side of the scale is so “heavy” that no amount of our good works can bring the scale to balance.  We need the perfect righteousness of Christ on our side of the scale in order for the scale to balance.  When we trust Christ for our salvation, His righteousness is put on our side of the scale (imputed righteousness).

We are justified (declared righteous) because the scale has been made right (balanced) by Christ’s righteousness being put on our side of the scale (in-putted righteousness = imputed righteousness).

Defining theological words for kids.
Propitiation: Atoning Sacrifice

Propitiation (Bonus: Atonement)

Propitiation is a good example of why these big theological words are so important:  the meaning of propitiation is so complex that there is no other single word to conveys its complex meaning.

In propitiation, the wrath of God is satisfied.  God’s wrath is satisfied by the sacrificial death of Jesus.  Jesus dies in our place (sacrifices His life) and takes our punishment (God’s wrath and eternal death and separation from God).  This act redeems (buys back) our life and brings us back into right relationship with God (reconciliation).

Many people define propitiation as an atoning sacrifice.  Atonement can be explained by dividing the word: at-one-ment. Through the death and resurrection of Christ (sacrifice), we now become at-one with God; the relationship has been mended!

Conclusion

Thanks for sticking with me through this long post!  I hope this helps you to see the importance of defining (and using) these “big” theological words with our kids.

Please comment with any questions or any concrete examples you have heard that help you understand these great words.

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Theology Thursday

Welcome to Theology Thursday!  Theology can be an intimidating topic, but because right thinking leads to right living, it is important to have our thinking right!

What is Theology?

Theology is simply the study of God and of God’s relationship to the world (Merriam-Webster Dictionary).

Theology is simply the study of God, who He is and what He does.
Theology is simply the study of God, who He is and what He does.

Why Should We Study Theology?

Our world is full of differing beliefs about God, faith and spirituality.  How are we to know what is true and what is false?  We need to know theology.

How are we to teach our children (and anyone else who asks us) about God?  We need to know theology.

How do we know how God wants us to live?  We need to know theology in order to apply it to our lives!

How do we grow in our relationship with God?  The more we know about who God is and how God acts, the more we love God.  And because we love God, we desire to obey Him.

Our goal is not to be super intelligent, deep thinking professor-types.  Our goal is to live lives of integrity:  what we say we believe should be shown by how we live our lives. There should be no contradiction.  We strive to grow in sanctification (becoming more and more like Christ).

What Will Theology Thursday Look Like?

Each Thursday (or many Thursdays), we will look at one small piece of theology and how it applies to our lives.  This will look like many different things.

Some weeks we will deal with definitions of words (like justification, propitiation, atonement and sanctification) and how to clearly communicate these ideas in a simple and easy to understand way.

Some weeks we will talk about common “Christian-ese” phrases or beliefs and how they are accurate or inaccurate.

Some weeks we’ll discuss methods of teaching and other helpful topics to help us to better understand how to communicate with others.  Today we’re going to start with one of these topics:

Fowler’s Stages of Faith

James W. Fowler (1940-2015) was an American theologian and professor of Theology and Human Development at Emory University.  He is best know for his book Stages of Faith (1981).  In this book, he looks at how a person’s faith or spiritual belief system develops throughout life.  It looks at development in a similar way to Piaget’s theories of cognitive development and Kohlberg’s stages of moral development.

Stage 1

Preschool-aged children fit this stage nicely.  Fantasy and reality often are combined together.  They learn about God and faith from family members and people they associate with often.  This is a great time to communicate truths about God through well-known Bible stories.

As we teach children of this age, we must be careful to communicate truths about God clearly while not simplifying them so much so that they are no longer theologically correct.  We need to recognize that even if children cannot understand abstract truths, someday they will be able to understand and we need to build a correct foundation.

An example of this would be explaining where heaven is.  Heaven is not “in the sky.”  While this is a concrete and easy to understand concept for young children, it isn’t accurate.  Heaven is where God and Jesus sit on their thrones.  We often talk about heaven as being “up there” but the clouds, atmosphere and universe is “up there.”

Stage 2

Elementary school-aged children characterize this stage.  They understand the world in logical and often literal ways.  Some people remain in this stage through adulthood.  People in this stage tend to accept as truth the stories of faith and what trusted people in authority (family and church leaders) tell them is true.

As with people in Stage 1, we need to be careful to communicate truths about God accurately even though some abstract facts will be difficult to understand.  Using concrete analogies can help communicate abstract truths.

R.C. Sproul does a great job of this in his book The Priest with Dirty Clothes.  Through this story about a priest with dirty clothes we get a concrete example and explanation of the concept of imputed righteousness.

Stage 3

Most people move into this stage sometime during their teen years.  They have had exposure to many different belief systems and are trying to synthesize these various view points into “their” belief system.  They rely on a person (such as a pastor or teacher or parent) or an institution (such as a church) to give form and structure to their religious beliefs.  If this person or institution errors or is challenged, their faith is deeply shaken.  Many people remain in this stage throughout life.

This is why it is so important for us to live lives of integrity.  Lives where our beliefs and actions “match.”  We need to continue to educate ourselves and those in our lives with true, correct theology so that if a person or institution fails, their faith is not shaken to the point of abandonment.

As parents and teachers we need to openly accept and welcome questions about faith.  We need to encourage others to know what they believe and why they believe it.  This is where our understanding of theology can help people solidify their own beliefs when we have a way to at least begin answering their questions.  Sadly many teens receive shocked and shaming responses to questions about faith as they try to move into and through this stage.

Stage 4

People in stage four realize that there are many ways to believe and they begin to deeply question what they believe and the forms this takes.  This often begins in early adulthood and can lead to a deep and lasting faith.  Many people in stage 3 see those in stage 4 as “loosing” their faith.  Sometimes this is the case, but often is just questioning the form and rituals their faith has taken in the past.

Solid teaching and understanding (correct theology) will make the process of moving into stage 4 a time of growth and result in a deeper faith instead of in a rejection of faith.

Stage 5

It is rare for people to reach this stage before mid-life.  In this stage people begin to recognize and accept the paradoxes and mysteries of life and faith and can accept them as realities without needing to define them to the point of complete understanding.

Stage 6

Few people ever reach this stage.  In this stage people can live selfless lives of service without doubts or questions.

(Much of this information is taken from this chart.)

Understanding how people grow in faith can help us to better know how to teach and disciple others.

Are you excited to study theology?

Theology and Fowlers Stages of Fatith