This past week, I heard Brian McLaren talk at CEF2018 about creating “studios of love” within our churches. He asked us to imagine yoga studios without mats – just lectures on yoga. Or basketball practices with no courts or balls – just videos about game strategy. These were his metaphors for the way church often misses the mark on making the main thing the main thing. Isn’t the Greatest Commandment to love God and love neighbor the main thing?
I also recently received a book to preview from Church Publishing. Love First: A Children’s Ministry for the Whole Church by Colette Potts makes a strong case for organizing ministry with children around the main thing – LOVE. As a family therapist, she brings unique insight into what children and families need to grow, not just in faith, but in love. The book begins honestly with a chapter on challenges: busyness, attendance, outdated Sunday school models, and lack of resources for parents. Throughout the book she shares how beginning with love has reshaped their Sunday school. They begin each year learning about loving self, followed by loving neighbor, and ending with loving God. It isn’t designed as a curriculum, but the contents could certainly be the seed for creating one for your ministry, recognizing that each church has different needs and gifts.
Recently, I had the opportunity to share the Greatest Commandments with preschool and kindergarten students in our Godly Play chapel. At the end of the brief discussion, I asked children this: “I wonder if there is something in this room that is a part of this story of LOVE?” They pointed out a banner with a heart on it. They brought a piece of the temple. They brought baby Jesus and the risen Christ. They brought the heart shaped box of the Ten Best Ways to Live. One adult brought the Bible. As we wondered together a child remarked, “Everything in this room could be a part of this story of LOVE. It would just be a big mess if we brought it all!”
As leaders in faith formation, we must focus on creating opportunities for children to practice loving God and loving neighbor. We must be intentional about grounding our lessons in the Bible. For it is there that God’s love and grace is revealed as more than the stuff of Valentine’s Day cards. “Without the content of the stories of God and his people we end up with a weak and incomplete picture of our faith…. Our adults and our children need a robust knowledge of scripture, not so that we know how to behave but to know who we are and who the God is whom we love and serve.” (Keely and Keely, 2014, “Building Blocks of Faith,” page 6).
Gracious God, help us to form a deep understanding of love through scripture, caring relationships, and service to others. As educators, may we always be guided by the main thing. Love of God and neighbor that transforms us and brings us closer to you through Jesus Christ.