One time at church I wore a lion costume. Not like a flimsy little lion mask, but a ridiculous full-body lion costume: mane, tail, gloves, all the details. This was last spring when Betsey was running the kids ministry at Awakening Church, and regularly she’d offer to loan us all kinds of crazy things from Westgate’s kids ministry. This week we were doing a lesson on Daniel and the lion’s den and she brought this over-the-top lion costume for telling the story from the perspective of the lion. With some trepidation I got into this lion costume that somehow fit my six-foot frame, and I told the story of Daniel having the faith to be thrown to the lions. I realized afterward that this perhaps was a light treatment for something that actually killed many Christians later in Rome. Not that the kids ever noticed.
At first glance, I’m not an obvious choice to teach preschoolers lessons from the Bible. I certainly love kids, but what excites me most is usually hashing out videos and blogs to challenge our community with the gifted writers from our church, or strategizing ways missional communities can better reach the unchurched in San Jose, or thinking about deeper issues of faith and life in Summer study classrooms. I really wrestle with giving kids lessons that can feel reductive or shallow to me even though that’s all three to five-year-olds are able to comprehend most of the time. I learned this early on. For Easter I tried to give a lesson to the elementary and preschoolers about how “Jesus was a different kind of king.” I wrote this lesson on how Jesus came to the Israelites as a Messiah to save their souls rather than a political Messiah to save them from Rome. Their vacant expressions of boredom and lack of attention made it clear these were probably not concepts they were ready to grasp. Maybe I should have brought back the lion costume.
If I want to give the kids I get to work with at Awakening Church anything it’s this: a sense of fun and of God’s love for them. I can’t remember much from my own experience growing up as a twice-a-week attendee at an evangelical church in the Midwest. I just remember a vague sense of fun and anticipation about going to church and hearing stories of God’s initiation of love and redemption to humanity. I remember those general impressions more than any specific lessons. More than any specific theological concept, I hope I can teach the same things to the kids of Awakening. I pray frequently that the kids we hang out with every Sunday will become healthy disciples of Christ. Whatever happens to them in their journey, my hope is just that they’ll remember Awakening Church as a place where people acted out God’s love for them and they had fun.
A few, precious times I get to see them demonstrate God’s love. This Christmas I got to see kids participate in Advent Conspiracy. With our guidance, the kids made kitschy ornaments with their names on them and cookies they decorated with gobs of frosting. I got to see their faces light up as they sold their messy, beautiful creations and hit up every passerby for donations (in some cases grandparents were gladly squeezed multiple times for the whole contents of their wallets). I got to see their sense of ownership and accomplishment when we told them they raised over $200 dollars for a well in that country Zimbabwe we’d been telling them about and showing them on the map.
And of course it’s easy to see them having fun. I’ve seen them run around joyfully in bounce houses as we took time out to celebrate what God is doing in our church and where he’s leading us in our city. And then, a few, precious times I’ve heard parents tell me that their kids have fun outside of the occasional bounce houses and lion costumes, that they are excited to come to “class” or that they mentioned something they learned in the lesson or a fun game they played. These things have been far, far better than anything I’ve given to the kids ministry.