Brown Hair, White Robe, Cloud Floating, Peaceful, American-Suburban, Teddy Bear Jesus?

Nathan Gunter's picture

What is the most important question to answer in children’s ministry? Is it how do we budget? Where do we get curriculum? Who should teach? Where do we get staff? What is our annual strategy? Who should we reach? Why doesn’t our pastor care about children’s ministry? Though these are good questions to answer, they are not the most important. What I am about to propose as the most important question may seem to some gloriously idealistic and even irrelevant for practical ministry. What’s the question? It is, who is Jesus?

Not answering the question, our children’s ministries will be similar to a clown juggling while driving a car – all over the place, filled with colors, funny for some and scary for others! In the past I would have ignored the importance and look directly for practical tips and tools for ministry. I used to see ministry as practical first and theological second, never budging like a wild, stubborn donkey against a rancher’s rope. I would have never disagreed on who Jesus is, but I definitely would have ignored anyone suggesting Jesus’ identity to be the driving force of ministry. Those suggesting the importance of Jesus for practical ministry were isolated from people, concerned for neckties, abusive with their rules for spiritual growth, understood unbelievers to be those with tattoos or the hippy-reformed theologians that have never worked a job in their life, spewing forth biblical principles and still living with their parents at the age of thirty. Not once did their identity or rhetoric appeal to me.

In my avoidance of the spiritual weirdos and for many of us in children’s ministry, our practicality becomes our gospel. We run from the stale, uniform pastor’s speech or avoid the seminary student hidden in the lofty carrels of the theological library. We place our trust in the tips and tools of the day, the great wisdom of those in a mega-church, the pictures in the children’s Bible and so on. We become passive in both our study and understanding of Jesus and the gospel to our life, especially the children’s ministry. Many times we display a brown hair, white robe, cloud floating, peaceful, American-suburban, teddy bear Jesus; rather than the suffering savior sent on mission to die and rise again for a sinful world as the Gospel of Mark portrays Him (Mark 8:27-38; 10:45).

Like a 100 lb. firework, the Gospel of Mark has exploded in my face with vibrant colors and amazing power, shocking me into trusting Jesus for all of life, especially ministry. In Mark, Jesus called and trained disciples. Through the training, Jesus taught and supplied examples for the disciples. Jesus’ teaching and examples revealed Jesus to be the source for life and ministry. Jesus guided them to the Father, paved the way for the Spirit, supplied the content for teaching, provided an example to follow, ensured their faith was only great as the object of their faith, stripped them of all self-confidence and displayed Himself to be the Savior (Mark 8:29) not them. Jesus is important to ministry as fuel to a car, wind to the sails of a boat, food to the body, meat for the dinner, oxygen for the lungs, the vine for the trellis or blood for the heart. However, it is a right understanding and faith in Jesus that will ultimately shape one’s work (i.e. ministry). Jesus taught the disciples to work in such a way that comes from faith in Him! Not faith in their prayer, not faith in their faith, not faith in their spiritual gifts, but faith in Jesus.

After spending the first half of the ministry with the disciples revealing Himself through miracles, signs, teachings and love, Jesus turned to His disciples and asked two questions. First, “Who do people say that I am?” Second, “Who do you say that I am?” The second half Jesus reveals to His disciples the importance of Him, His teaching and example being the driving force for ministry. As one of my Dallas Seminary’s professor, Reg Grant, highlighted and described for me as central to life and ministry so I do for you, Jesus is the suffering savior who has come to serve the world - we follow Him (Mark 8:34).

In the upcoming posts, I intend to focus in on how we biblically, theologically and practically connect Jesus, our faith in Jesus and ministry together.

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This is part of the blog posts series from Missional Education on the gospel in children’s ministry.

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