Helping Middle School Students Understand the Gospel

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Helping Middle School Students Understand the Gospel

  Your children have been absorbing truths about Jesus. Through your family devotions, Bible storybooks, and your church’s children’s ministry programming, your child has soaked up theology, and he can give good answers to your questions about the Bible, God, Jesus, and the church. Don’t underestimate the value in the teaching of facts. The classical education system calls this the grammar phase. Teaching foundational principles should be the primary focus for preschoolers and young elementary-age children. But what about when that child approaches middle school? He is going through a critical transition, into the rhetoric phase, where he is learning to ask why? Along with this educational transition, our focus and approach must change.   Churchy Answers Go to any church preschool class, and you’ll hear the same answers to the teacher’s questions: “God,” “Jesus,” “Obey our parents,” “Love,” etc. We encourage that, as we should be. But we have to help our middle school children (our own, and those in our church programming) dig deeper. We cannot let them continue giving “churchy” answers. We must help them understand the why of the Gospel, not just the what of the Gospel. And we must lead them to making the Gospel relevant in their everyday lives.   The Gospel If we wanted to break the Gospel message down for students, we can outline it in three parts:

  1. God is perfect
  2. We are sinful
  3. Jesus saves

  Of course, we should be teaching them these truths from a young age, but we must push them to a deeper understanding and application. We tend to focus too much on the third one. We celebrate that Jesus saves us from our sins, but if we jump to that, we miss the importance of the first two parts.   Perfect God, Sinful Man Why do we easily gloss over the first two parts? First, it’s hard to understand God – that He is perfect and omniscient and eternal and all those other divine attributes. And we (and our children) run the risk of two extremes:

  • Trying too hard to understand our God. We must remember that His ways are so much higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:9), and that if we could figure Him out completely, He really wouldn’t be so great.
  • Trying too little to understand our God. Hannah Anderson writes that we need to be Cultivating Wonder in Our Children.

  We also tend to ignore the second part of the Gospel, that we are sinners by nature. It’s not that it’s hard to understand, but that it’s hard to admit. Of course, we can recite this fact, “I am a sinner.” But we and our children tend to struggle with the specifics. We think we’re “pretty good,” because we go to church, read the Bible, keep the 10 Commandments (usually), etc. We need to help our children understand how their innate sinfulness plays out in their everyday lives – such as in how they treat their parents and siblings, and even how they think about treating others. Jesus was clear that our attitudes and feelings reveal our sinfulness as much as our actions do (Matthew 5:22, 28). In our sin, we are helpless to appease a perfect, holy, and just God (Ephesians 2:1-9).   The Awesome Fact of “Jesus Saves” Once we understand the first two parts of the gospel – God is perfect and we are sinners – the third part – Jesus saves – becomes that much more amazing. This is where we need to drive our students. Our culture is surrounding them with the message, “You can be anything you want.” Or, if you like Stuart Smalley, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.” Yes, maybe some of our children struggle with low self-esteem. But maybe what they need is to esteem God more. Or to paraphrase CS Lewis, they need to not think less of themselves, but think of themselves less.”   Your middle school student needs the Gospel. Be sure to teach them the full what and why of the Gospel. Hold out the amazing grace of Jesus, and let them know that it is their choice to receive and trust in the Gospel. And along the way, we will learn to trust in Him, too.    

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