When many Christians think of awesome kids’ sermons or Sunday school lessons, they think back to that gooey craft, or to that really moving illustration, or to that magical moment where half the class came forward to confess Christ as their savior in response to a hip pastor guy’s message. The power of the lesson is often judged by how kids respond to the words that just rang off their eardrums. While such thinking is common place, it is not helpful; it’s not even biblical.
In John 4, Jesus told the woman at the well to ask him for, “living water.” She responded to Christ’s message by repenting and believing and leading many others to Christ. A little later in John 6, Jesus told his hearers to embrace him as the “living bread.”The text reports that “From that time many of his disciples went back and walked with Him no more” (John 6:51-66).
In Acts 2, Peter eloquent preaches the whole gospel beginning with the prophet Joel and almost 3000 people repent of their sins. In Acts 7. Stephen presents the whole gospel beginning with Abraham and he gets stoned to death.
If the validity of the message is determined by the response of those who hear it, then Stephen was one of the worst evangelists of all time. When is the last time you saw an American congregation murder an evangelist for a poor sermon? Even worse, Jesus was an ineffective teacher. The God-man failed to bring men and women to point of crisis needed to push them into the kingdom of heaven. If Jesus can preach an ineffective sermon, there is little hope for us, his followers.
The pragmatic approach to teaching is not the right approach. The examples above reveal that a good sermon and a good gospel presentation have to be based on something more than the fickle reactions of human beings. As J.I. Packer wrote,
And if we forget that only God can give faith, we shall start to think that the making of converts depends, in the last analysis not on God, but on us, and that the decisive factor is the way in which we evangelize. And this line of thought, consistently followed through will lead us far astray.
The quality of the message is determined by its faithfulness to the message of Jesus, the word who became flesh. Jesus was the greatest preacher and evangelist of all time. Peter and Stephen were also great men of God. What made them remarkable was their message. They preached the Word clearly and powerfully. Because of their faithfulness to Christ, their sermons are included in the Bible. All of them show us how to create a good lesson by focusing . We are to focus on the Word. As Paul told Timothy,
Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching.
– 2 Timothy 4:2-3.
Men and women can teach really awesome and inspiring lessons and be hated by the kids listening to them. They can teach really bad lessons and be applauded by the whole church. But the judge of our effectiveness is not the men and women that we can see. Our judge is the God above. And he tells us to “preach the word.” To be a great teacher, we have only to do this.
J.I. Packer comments again:
The way to tell whether in fact you are evangelizing is not to ask whether conversions are known to have resulted from your witness. It is to ask whether you are faithfully making known the gospel message.
A great kids’ sermon and/or Sunday school lesson is not the one that evokes an emotional response or the one that connects with a kid’s imagination through an amazing craft. Those things are not wrong but they are not ultimate. The great teacher is the one who presents the gospel clearly relying upon the Scriptures for the ideas. The Bible is the Christian’s one and only message. Are we teaching it?