Putting Faith in Action: Our Strategy for 252 Curriculum
I remember a children’s organization asking a strange question several years ago in a survey they did with parents. “Would you rather us teach your kids about God or character?” The question seemed oddly leading. I simply wrote into the margin,
“I would like you to teach my kids about God and character.”
Our team at Orange wrestles everyday with the real tensions that we believe exist in discipling a generation. Whenever you tend to treat faith or theology with an or not an and mindset, you risk handing a shallow faith to a generation. There are simply real tensions in theology that require critical thinking. Issues like . . .
Justice and Mercy
Love and Truth
Sin and Righteousness
Faith and Works
Embracing and exploring the paradoxical ideas that exist in theology is an essential part of discipling this generation to have a real and resilient faith.
So, whenever someone asks, “Should we teach kids about God or character?” we should change the “or” to an “and.”
Knowing God is an invitation to discover God’s character which influences how someone trusts God. Trusting God’s character influences how someone reflects God’s character. So yes, we should teach about God and character. Building a wall between those issues actually has the potential to sabotage someone’s faith.
Jesus never separated the concept of loving God and loving others. It was always a “both and approach.” At the very beginning of his ministry, He invited a generation to participate in a unique kind of community. How He described God’s kingdom gave us a clear description of what it potentially looks like when people reflect God’s character. He emphatically appealed to His listeners to trust God in a way that would impact how they should treat each other and live together. Jesus challenged humans to demonstrate characteristics or virtues that are rooted in love. Then after He explained what it looked like to live out the virtues of God’s Kingdom, Jesus made it even more clear, He said, “If you hear these words of mine and do not put them into practice, it’s like building your house on sand.”
It’s not “hear or practice.”
It’s “hear and practice.”
When James, the half-brother of Jesus, wrote a letter to the church at Jerusalem, after Jesus resurrected and ascended, he echoed Jesus admonition, “Be doers of the word, not hearers only, or you deceive yourselves.”
In other words, if we don’t lead this generation to actually do what Jesus said, then we are negatively impacting how they build their life.
Trusting God’s character should move us to demonstrate God’s character.
That’s why we define a virtue as “something God is doing in us to change the world around us.”
Virtues—at least by the way we define them—start with God. When we talk about character or virtues we are always referring to concepts that we believe are “rooted in love” for God. Virtues should never be positioned or taught in the context of earning credit with God, or the way to find redemption. Virtues are simply a “reflection of” or a “response to” the character of God.
Remember two things:
1. Every human was created in the image of God.
2. Every Christian is being transformed by the Spirit of God.
We are not made like God, but we are made in the likeness of God. In other words, there is amazing potential in any human to reflect and respond the character of God.
A parent who loves a child is reflecting the image of God.
A teenager doing a service project is reflecting the image of God.
Any leader confronting evil or injustice is reflecting the image of God.
Jesus also said,
“Let your light shine in front of others so they can see your good works and glorify your Father which is in Heaven.” It should be noted that when Jesus said this, He was addressing everyone in the crowd regardless of what they believed.
How we reflect the character of God to the world around us has both spiritual and human potential.
The question for leaders and parents is not, “Are you going to teach faith or character to kids and teenagers?” But rather, “How are you going to teach faith and character to kids and teenagers?”
Every adult is automatically teaching character to kids whether they know it or not. We teach character by what we say, what we ask, how we respond, and how we treat those around us. One primary question we need to ask is, “How does faith influence how we teach kids and teenagers about character or virtues?”
Every kid and teenager should understand they are made in the image of God with a capacity to love and think and grow in how they reflect the likeness of God. Responding to God’s character in practical ways is a matter of faith. When we fail to lead kids to understand spiritual virtues, we choose to hand them an ineffective and irrelevant faith.
At the elementary phase of life, kids need help connecting the dots. They need to see how the things they’re learning about God in church will relate to their everyday lives.
We organize our scope and cycle around what Jesus said matters most, which is to “love God and love your neighbor as yourself.” We actually believe the Great commandment was positioned by Jesus to give context for Scripture and the practices of the New Testament Church. That’s why every month we will highlight a virtue or character quality that is anchored to what Jesus emphasized about love. We want to give kids and families at least one creative way to apply the stories and truths from the Bible to their practical life experience. Our hope is that families can engage in a practical conversations that shapes their faith and character.
There are so many terms we could use when we talk about demonstrating God’s love to others. Depending on your experience or circles, some of these terms may have baggage. Words like morals, principles, character, values, and virtues can actually be used to label what is sometimes derogatively referred to as “behavior- based” teaching. The ultimate goal of spiritual teaching should never be to change behavior, it should always be to influence someone to trust God. But it is also important to make a clear connection between that trust and how it influences our motives and actions. Simply stated, whenever your motives change your behavior should follow.
We also use the word “virtue” because it is common language for most families. For a season we used the word “LifeApp” instead of virtue, but after interviewing 2,000 parents, the term “virtue” was an easier concept to explain. Using a common language helps us to keep our resources user-friendly for parents inside and outside the church.
Every parent wants their children to grow in areas like honesty, courage, and kindness. This approach gives families an immediate point of entry—especially for those who are unfamiliar with the church or faith in Jesus. If you have been around Orange for very long, we put a high value on presenting concepts in a way that helps us build a bridge to every parent, whether or not they are attending a church on a given Sunday.
We organize the virtues throughout the year with a practical strategy in mind. We want each virtue to connect to what a kid might experience at a given point during the year. For example, we might talk about friendship at the beginning of the school year, as kids are starting new classes with a new group of friends. Or we might talk about resilience in May, when kids really want school to be over and for summer to start. We plan our teaching content strategically in order to help kids connect God’s unchanging truth to their everyday world—and so they can clearly understand how to live out their faith each day.
Although we use contemporary language, the virtues we highlight in our resources can be linked back to what Jesus taught and the New Testament amplified. The writers of the New Testament evidently believed it was important to connect our faith to what we actually do.
Paul, the former Pharisee turned Follower of Jesus said, “Don’t get tired of doing what is right.”
Here’s another compelling idea from Hebrews,
“Stir up [provoke, stimulate] one another to love and good works.” Hebrews 10:24
Paul also recognized the potential of faith and virtues to shape how people think. In his letter to Philippians he wrote, “…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”
What if we just do that?
What if we help kids put that list into practice?
Every coach, counselor, and psychologist will agree with that idea. Paul insisted that we guard our minds by focusing our thoughts on what is good, to replace thoughts that are wrong. Even non-Christian experts know the power of choosing to think about what we should be thinking about. It’s not a new idea, it was God’s idea.
The New Testament writers gave clear instructions on how we should act toward each other. It’s almost as if they took Jesus at His Word when He said, “Love each other as I have loved you . . . by this will all people know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” When you read through their inspired letters to the church in their day, it seems like they are simply expanding and applying what it looks like to love others. Take your time reading through a few of them.
We should make sure to . . .
- Love one another (John 13:34, and this command occurs at least 16 times)
- Be devoted to one another (Romans 12:10)
- Honor one another above yourselves (Romans 12:10)
- Live in harmony with one another (Romans 12:16)
- Build up one another (Romans 14:19; 1 Thessalonians 5:11)
- Be like-minded towards one another (Romans 15:5)
- Accept one another (Romans 15:7)
- Admonish one another (Romans 15:14, Colossians 3:16)
- Greet one another (Romans 16:16)
- Care for one another (1 Corinthians 12:25)
- Serve one another (Galatians 5:13)
- Bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2)
- Forgive one another (Ephesians 4:2, 32; Colossians 3:13)
- Be patient with one another (Ephesians 4:2, Colossians 3:13)
- Be kind and compassionate to one another (Ephesians 4:32)
- Consider others better than yourselves (Philippians 2:3)
- Look to the interests of one another (Philippians 2:4)
- Bear with one another (Colossians 3:13)
- Comfort one another (1 Thessalonians 4:18)
- Encourage one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
- Exhort one another (Hebrews 3:13)
- Show hospitality to one another (1 Peter 4:9)
These are just some of the virtues or characteristics the church is called to demonstrate and practice. Of course, if you want a shorter list, let’s review to what Paul says the Holy Spirit is at work doing in us.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self- control. Against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22
It all really does come back to what Jesus said and did, and what He said we should hear and do. Jesus put an exclamation mark on loving God and loving others. Jesus influenced the apostles who knew Him to keep writing about how we should treat each other, and He gave us the Spirit of God to keep nudging us, to empower us, to keep shaping us to become more like Him.
If you want a kid or teenager to understand what every day faith looks like, then either of these lists could be a good place to start. Ultimately, we want kids not just to know about Jesus. We want them to trust Jesus and practice an everyday faith that reflects the love that Jesus commanded.