Most children’s pastors emphasis one of these three areas when they chose curriculum and plan lessons. But which one is right?
Doctrinal: Ministries that emphasis the doctrinal aspect will teach Scriptural truths. But if all they do is teach doctrine, they’ll produce a legalistic group of students who have head knowledge about Scripture but don’t have it hidden in their hearts. Doctrine is a good starting place, the best starting place, but there needs to be more.
Relational: Children’s pastors who emphasis this aspect will normally say, “It’s not a religion, it’s a relationship.” While it’s true that a relationship with God is vital to the Christian Walk, when we emphasise the relational aspects without a doctrinal foundation, we teach children that whatever they think or feel about God is right. It tends to go into emotionalism. Students who have the relational aspect taught to the exclusion of all else tend to have false doctrine mixed in with the real. They can be swayed to believe that homosexuality is not a sin and that everyone goes to Heaven because God is love. For more about what happens when you emphasis this, read this link.
Practical: This is the aspect most children’s curriculum is going toward. On the surface, it looks good. Afterall we do want our children to know how to live a Christian life, to love and forgive others, to obey their parents, and to be good. We also want to teach them what to do when somebody lies about them or bullies them, or how to deal with depression, low self-esteem, or problems at home or at school. And who doesn’t want to teach children about how to handle peer pressure? The problem is that we’re teaching our children how to be good. God doesn’t want us to be good, He wants us to be godly. Our students can grow up to be productive, useful citizens who are good family members and an asset to society and can still go to hell. So practical curriculums miss out on the relational and doctrinal aspects of being a Christian and teach children that living a Christian life is just a series of knowing what to do in different situations.
So what’s the answer? We need to teach doctrinal and spiritual truths (give students head knowledge). Then we need to teach children to bring these truths into relationship with God and others (give students heart knowledge). After doing these two things, we can teach students how to practically live out their faith (teach students how to do what they know). I’ll give you an example from Scripture.
Doctrine is teaching the Romans Road: all have sinned, Jesus took the punishment for our sin, if we believe in our hearts and confess with our mouths we will be saved. That is essential for children to know if they are going to be saved. We need to start with doctrine. So once we teach this, a child decides to do it. They confess with their mouths and believe in their hearts.
Then we teach children that God wants a relationship with them. He loves them, and that’s why He saved them, so they could live eternally with Him. If we’ve already taught the doctrine behind it, the relationship will follow. At this point, we can teach children how they can have a closer relationship with God. They read their Bibles, go to church, and pray, not because it’s a doctrinal requirement, but because they love God and want to know Him better.
But it doesn’t stop there. We also need the practical. Students need to know that if they are truly saved, their lives will change. We can teach them that means they’ll be kinder to others and obey their parents. We also teach them how to listen to God, how to make decisions that please God, and how to trust God in difficult circumstances. But it will go further than that. We teach children how to pray effectively for each other and give them opportunities to do so. And we teach children how to minister to others and give opportunities for them to practice what they’ve been taught.
In deciding whether your children’s ministry should be doctrinal, relational, or practical, it’s not an either or proposition. It should be all three in the right order and in balance with one another.