Last week, I spent a lot of time thinking about how to explain the concept of the "Lamb of God" to children. It's hard to make the leap, for kids, between Jewish heritage and Christian imagery, between a sacrificial lamb and Jesus, between the ideas of corporate and individual sin. I decided to talk about baptism again, but there were no kids for my children's sermon.
I actually spend a lot of time thinking about to explain Bible stories to people of all ages. Since I have a background in developmental psychology, I have a very pressing awareness of the concepts a child might grasp at a given age, concepts that might be challenging, concepts that will be far over their head. Most of the children I'm around are still very concrete thinkers and Scripture is difficult to explain to concrete thinkers, unless you default to the object lesson. (Something I avoid.)
I like to joke that there are three basic story lines for young children: 1) God loves you, 2) God made everything and 3) God helps us to love other people. Lather, rinse, repeat.
But as I go through Bible stories, occasionally it's hard to sort out what the concrete lesson could be from popular stories. The Flood? The Garden of Eden? The crucifixion? Hosea? Okay, maybe Hosea doesn't come up that often, but I think you see my point.
Life-long church attendees say to me, "I grew up hearing those stories and I know what they mean. I don't remember not knowing. I'm fine." True enough, but if you've been in or around church for most of your life- there were people around you to absorb some of the more difficult details and walk you through them as you aged.
That's not always the case. What happens when the 9 or 10-year-old suddenly asks, "What happened to all the people who weren't on the ark?" What about the sensitive child who feels overwhelmed by the idea that Jesus died for her sins and who begins resisting going to church because of her confusion and guilt? What about the preschoolers who blink at the idea of the "Lamb of God", "the sins of the world" and "mercy upon us"?
Children's sermons and services have to be thought through very carefully, for the sake of the children, for the sake of the gospel and for the sake of Christ.
Then, of course, the question eventually becomes, "When do we deal with these things? When do we face the inadequacies of our understanding, the annoyances of translation, the bounds of time and space?" When do we want to talk about them with our children? When do we want to discuss them amongst ourselves?