There are many concepts that when teaching children can become quite difficult. Partially it’s because children simply don’t think in the abstract, partially it’s because our understanding of the words are quite fussy. I was hoping to do a series on the beatitudes. I remember clearly these eight phrases often being spilt into eight weeks worth of teaching, two weeks of teaching, or simply being covered once before the class moved on. dwelling in the eight again I realised why they are so often both treasured and rejected by children’s ministry.
The beatitudes are found at Matthew 5: 3-12 the eight alternate between the concrete and the abstract.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall possess the earth.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for justice, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are they who suffer persecution for justice sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Being sad about loss, hungering for what is right, being pure, and suffering are all concepts that children can experience themselves. Being experiencial those under 10 will generally have no difficulty. the other 4 though have concepts that they will really struggle with. The tendency of children’s ministry is to try and oversimplify them or to skip them all together. I would advocate a third, to be mentally and spiritually appropriate.
Most children under 3 understand God in concrete terms related to their everyday experience. God is a parent and so loves us unconditionally. Jesus is a man who was a baby at Christmas. The beatitudes are totally beyond their comprehension.
Many children between the ages of 3 and six still only think concretely. they believe things absolutely, so be careful which extra details you add into the bible story and be very careful about amending conclusions. God is much more complex, but still has little depth. prayers are answered if asked in the right way, much like a magician casting a spell. Truth and lie and black and white. Some children as they approach six may reason that they are not pure. Teaching the beatitudes in full is in some ways not appropriate because the simplistic explanation of terms like mercy will be taken as pure truth if understood at all – they will probably be tuned out half way through. However, it’s still important to teach them all. missing bits will equate to lying, Teach all eight but focus your teaching on the experiential half.
Between the ages of six and ten things change. though many children won’t really be able to grasp mercy and grace until they hit double figures they will benefit from the teaching. while younger children will often benefit more from the story this age group will start to see the consequences for behaviour and will want more feedback. while the teaching for this age group may seem very similar to that of the above the input of the child would be more than doubled.
Tweens and teens will actually benefit more from the more abstract teaching in this passage. the experiential sentences will be comforting if they relate to their every day lives but the challenge and depth of concepts like mercy and nuances of a peacemaker will stretch their theological and spiritual development.