If you look to many church children’s curriculums and family devotionals you might get the impression one three letter word is the naughtiest of all naughty words. That word is not a horrible swear word or some racial stereotype it’s actually a word far older than any of those. That three letter word is “sin” and it is hard to deny we are pretty scared of using that word in children and family ministry. Even if we do use the word, we certainly are prone to relate to our children based upon a faulty understanding of sin. One children’s church lesson I reviewed a few years ago asked the teacher to explain all of us make some bad choices sometimes but most of us are basically nice and good. I write this article around Christmas time when many sincere Christian parents will make sure their kids get the best loot from Santa because they were supposedly a good little boy or girl this year. We don’t really talk to kids about sins much and we don’t even really think much about how a right understanding of sin impacts our teaching of little ones. This of course is no surprise because discussions about sin seem so negative and we live in a time that shuns negativity in all its forms. Teaching children about sin is not akin to riding a Ferris wheel with our families or laughing over the dinner table, talking about sin is frankly far gloomier. Talking about sin is hard and uncomfortable but it is most certainly necessary and I fear we do our kids a great and eternal disservice if we don’t.
Studies show most who grow up in churches will believe they sometimes do bad things and that Jesus also died for bad things we do. This sounds comforting for parents and those in children’s ministry but it’s only half the story; those same studies indicate those who grow up in churches will come to believe they are basically good people, their good deeds get them into heaven, and their bad deeds aren’t really that bad. It’s patently obvious that for many years Christian parents and Christian churches have failed to bring children to an accurate understanding of sin and this has had massive implications on their spiritual lives from cradle to grave. If one really follows the implications of a faulty understanding of human sinfulness this isn’t really all that shocking. If one doesn’t understand how bad sin is and what the implications of our sins are Christ’s atonement doesn’t really make sense and one cannot possibly come to a healthy understanding of salvation. Understanding sin is coming to grips with the bad news that makes the good news of Jesus so good. Telling children the good news of Jesus without exposing them to the bad news of sin is like only reading Frodo’s return to the Friar in the Lord of the Rings, on its own it doesn’t make much sense and without reading of the Fellowship’s dangerous journey it lacks any lacks any emotional substance. It’s no surprise after creation, sin is the very first topic introduced in the Bible. Sin sets up the drama of salvation and is the inciting incident to the greatest drama ever told. A “Christian” worldview without a robust understanding of sin is a worldview that will cave in on itself in adulthood if not far sooner.
Failing to teach a right understanding of sin as our everyday rebellion against our Holy creator that makes us deserving of eternal judgment doesn’t just destroy our ability to get salvation in impacts everything. A popular series of kid’s lessons eventually teaches kids about sin when they are older but focuses first on teaching kids good Christian behavior for the early years. This series misses an important but ironic reality; even good behavior cannot really make sense without first understanding sin. The Bible has many lists of do’s and don’ts but according to Romans 7 these do’s and don’ts came first to show us our inability to keep them not to be the path to becoming a better person. Teaching children how to be a good little boy or girl first rather than showing children God’s amazing goodness and our need of a deliverer will raise up Pharisees not redeemed men and women who seek to glorify their God.
I’m not saying we have to talk to our kids like soap box preachers, we obviously need to be gentle and humble in teaching our kids about sin. Nonetheless, we do HAVE to teach our kids about sin lest we do them a great spiritual disservice. We shouldn’t delay or avoid these teaching opportunities but try to explain sin to our children at very young ages and we do so be open with our kids about our own sinfulness and need for a savior. We do well by having serious heartfelt conversations with our children young or old about the darkness that is the sin in each and every one of us. These conversations don’t need to be forced but can very appropriately come up when we must discipline our children and fortunately if we read the Bible verse by verse with our children on a regular basis this topic will often be brought up for us. It is uncomfortable to talk with our kids about sin no matter what we do but I hope parents or children’s ministry workers will all see the future will be far more uncomfortable if we don’t.