Finding kids curriculum that both demonstrates accurate and substantive theology is discouragingly difficult. Often churches and children’s ministry organizations approach ministry towards our little ones in a way that would either be described as mere moralism or separatist fear. The first approach attempts to raise up good Christian kids with the emphasis upon the former rather than the latter and tends to end up simply trying to convey basic human values in a Christian packaging. This approach is the one that shows kids the story of David is mainly about being brave (btw, it is not) and the meaning of the parable of the sowers is we should make wise choices (btw, it is not). This type of children’s content could easily be altered for a Islamic or even naturalist worldview by just changing a few nouns. Moralistic kids “Christian” materials which make up the vast majority of church children’s materials might only mention Christ’s death in our place or any other tenant of the Gospel when the calendar forces them to consider Easter. Mark Dever refers to Old Testament sermons that lack an understanding of the grand story of Christ as synagogue sermons (meaning they are no different from what you would hear at a Jewish synagogue), moralist kids music and other contents are just mini synagogue sermons. These materials produce shells of Christians adults or vaguely religious adults who probably could not even explain how we are saved. The second approach is far more concerned with how we are better than unbelievers or how evil non-Christians are than they are concerned with the undeserved hope we have in Christ. This likewise misses the centrality of Christ and we need materials that teach our kids a Christ centered faith and Biblical worldview.
Sometimes we don’t think about music, but music makes an impression. I enjoy listening to the top forty as a sociological study. Music both shapes worldview and intimately expresses worldview. Hymns have been described as mini sermons for this reason. The songs we sing, listen to, and even the songs we worship to teach us something or another. For this reason it is of extreme importance that parents (especially parents of toddlers) use the tool of music to show their children Christ. Just popping in a cd because the children like the tune on every occasion can be a lost opportunity or even do damage to their souls.
Fortunately there is an ever growing supply of really solid Christ-centered children’s music. Unfortunately the best children’s ministry resources can be hard to find and lacks the promotional budget of moralist curriculum. Finding Christ-centered theologically accurate kids music is like finding oil, it can take a lot of exploring but when you find the first drop you will quickly be engulfed in it. The past few years have seen a surge in Gospel focused kids music and with a growing theologically accurate approach to children’s ministry this surge will likely only become greater. I will divide Christian children’s music into three types: music for memorization, music for edification, and music for praise (which can be best for family worship times).
Memorization is often boring and can be quite tricky, for that reason putting important truths to music can make the process both fun and manageable. Kids especially learn things easier when you give a rhythm to them. Some of the best children’s music I know is not original music but clever ways to help kids memorize important truths. Kids are also at a time where memorizing things might stick with them for the rest of their lives and it will likely impact how they see themselves and the world around them. Nothing is more important to memorize than scripture; it is a well of truth that is uniquely the very word of God. Only in scripture do we know without question God has spoke, so teaching it to our kids is vital. Several bands have put scripture to kid friendly music throughout the years with their own unique style, but our families favorite by far is The Rizers. The Rizers is a cartoon band that was created by some of the former Mars Hill Church’s worship leaders. The musicians provide voices for an animated teenage band with their own cds and a bunch of music videos. The Rizers exclusively put scripture to music in a fun child sensitive way. Their songs are catchy and do an excellent job of getting young children excited to memorize scripture, my two year old is obsessed with The Rizers and has memorized several passages because of them. All of their content is incredibly well done and the music videos they have (most of which are on youtube) look like something Disney produced. I frankly have never seen the level of production values in Christian children’s content and it is a shame they are no longer making new content.
Memorizing theological truths about God that could not come from merely citing one random Bible verse is likewise of extreme importance in raising Gospel minded children. Our church does a question and answer doctrinal teaching for parents to teach their kids that I believe equips kids to understand a Biblical worldview. Putting doctrinal memorization to music can also make it easier for kids and recently the children’s group Songs for Saplings has released a five volume set of cds to help kids memorize the entire Westminster Shorter Catechism, which is the basis for most Protestant doctrinal memorization. Songs for Saplings can certainly be on the indy side, but at very least every hipster momma can use these cds to get their kids singing exactly what the atonement means.
The second group of music is music for edification. This type of music might be something tots will want to sing along with, but they are meant for more informative purposes. These songs are musical sermons for kids and all I mentioned show the supremacy of Christ in all things. Two groups I want to mention here are Rain for Roots and Sovereign Grace Music (who I will talk about again later). Rain for Roots has two cds and both of them teach Bible stories with a Christ-centered lens. Rain for Roots is basically Indelible Grace for kids. Their first cd (I believe) is called Big Stories for Little Ones and it is essentially a cd accompaniment to The Jesus Storybook Bible, which is the children’s Bible we use for our children’s church. That cd selects five stories from each testament and teaches them in short and simple songs. Their other cd is called The Kingdom of Heaven is Like This and it is a musical telling of ten of Jesus’ parables. As much as I love The Jesus Storybook Bible, I prefer the one on Jesus’ parables. Both cds are very soft and gentle, making them ideal for a melody in the nursery during nap time. Rain for Roots can also be on the indy side of things, so if you are looking for something to get the kids jumping look elsewhere. Sovereign Grace Music is the music industry of Soverign Grace Churches, a theologically astute but more charismatic denomination associated with CJ Mahanney. Sovereign Grace Music has a ton of really fantastic adult worship songs and they continue to produce excellent content. Among their many cds they have made several children’s cds that are really fun and quite deep. Most of their music falls into the last camp but I believe their catchy cd on Proverbs, Walking with the Wise teaches kids a great deal. For Gospel focused kids content, Walking with the Wise is immensely practical. The cd surveys the book of Proverbs and provides both a view of the forest and the trees. Walking with the Wise teaches kids important Biblical truths like fearing the Lord and obeying parents in Christ (I’m sure that part caught some eyes).
My last category of Gospel focused kids music is music meant for worship. These songs are meant to enable kids to worship the Lord and learn at the same time, though the other styles can certainly be used for worship. We use these types of songs in Children’s Church at WBC. The other Soverign Grace Music kids cds are more geared towards worship and still are nearly as deep as Walking with the Wise. The Village Church in Texas has an amazing little kids worship cd called Jesus Came to Save Sinners and it’s title track is be the best worship song about the Gospel for kids I have ever heard and the rest of the cd is likewise wonderful for kids. Another amazing one off cd that is really great worship for kids and adults alike is a cd created to go with the Treasuring Christ children’s curriculum, Jesus Wants my Heart. This cd was written by a worship pastor in North Carolina named Daniel Renstrom who wrote songs designed to resonate with his children (who provided some of the lyrics) and bring their hearts to worship God. Each song is meant to demonstrate an important truth about God and then bring us to worship our great God. This song is one of my favorite cds as an adult and I imagine most parents will join their kids singing this in the car.
While there are undoubtedly immeasurably more wonderful theologically deep children’s cds, I believe the music mentioned here will better help parents teach their kids about our God and children will enjoy singing them for years to come. I encourage every Christian parent to pursue music that exemplifies a Christ-centered worldview and I hope this is a help to that end.