Jill Kayser is our epic PCANZ Kids Friendly Coach!
When asked to write an article on explaining the Reformation to children, I realised I needed to boost my own knowledge. Martin Luther gained some credibility in my mind some years back when I attended a conference led by an amazing Lutheran called Rich Melheim. Listening to this ‘Luther-inspired’ man I had a ‘When Sally meets Harry’ experience: ‘I’ll have what she’s (he’s) having!’ and so I set out to discover what this ‘one man who changed the world’ [https://www.spectator.co.uk/2016/06/martin-luther-one-man-who-changed-the-world/] did, what this means for us today and what of it do we share with our young people.
I emailed eight “Kids Friendly” ministers to ask them if they had plans to celebrate the Reformation in their church and whether they thought it was important to include children. Five replied. Three believed it is important to include children in their celebrations and one had children on their reformation celebration plans agenda.
To encourage our churches to include children in their reformation celebrations, we are developing a range of resources and offer five reasons to share the story of Martin Luther and the reformation with children.
Reason 1: To share an important element of our ‘Christian’ story
“Helping children understand they are part of a movement that has been alive for more than two thousand years in places all around the world is an important part of their spiritual formation,” says Ivy Beckwith.
When my husband, 14 year old son Blake, and I visited Rome, sharing the Christian story was the main deciding factor on what activities we should do. I was especially determined to take Blake to the catacombs because I wanted him to appreciate that our 2000 year old faith is not something to be taken for granted. Thousands risked their lives in those early days to ensure the gospel endured and many more have done so through the ages. Luther was unwittingly one of these great ‘saints’ or leaders whose story contains timeless lessons.
Reason 2: To remind children that God does extraordinary things through ordinary people
Luther was a relatively obscure monk when he nailed his 95 theses to the door of Wittenberg’s castle. He believed that the true gospel had become lost under layers of religious superstition, false doctrine and worldly living and he risked his life to challenge this and the powerful Roman Catholic church. His actions ignited a ‘revolution’ that would change Christianity as the world knew it.
Reason 3: To remind children that they (and all Christians) are part of the ongoing reformation
The story of Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation refers to a particular historical movement, but in reality the work of reformation is never complete – in us or the church. We, Jesus’ followers, continue to be reformed in the Holy Spirit and I believe, are called to keep reforming to stay true to the way of Jesus. We too must ask: “How is the gospel ‘submerged’ today?” And like Luther (and many others) we must stand up against what we think is unjust or wrong even when it’s scary or risky.
Reason 4: To assure children that God’s radical grace is given freely and not earned
Martin Luther struggled with the sense that he could not do enough to please God and that he could never earn God’s love and forgiveness. He eventually came to understand that God’s love is never earned, but it is given freely. God’s love is like the forgiving father in the story of the Prodigal Son who rejoices at his son’s return and continues to shower him with love and acceptance in spite of what he has done.
Reason 5: To help children know and experience that God can speak to us through Scripture
Martin Luther was troubled for many years by his feeling that he was not good enough for God. What helped him and changed him and the church as we know it, was Scripture. It was when reading Paul’s letters to the Romans (Romans 3: 21-28) that Luther got it! We can stop worrying about living in perfection and live instead in freedom, knowing we are loved by God because of God, not because of what we do. Luther’s life was so changed by this that he was inspired to help others know the Bible. He spent years translating the bible into German, the language of the people and then printing it (made possible with the invention of the printing press) so that people could read the good news for themselves rather than having to rely on priests to tell them what the Bible was saying and meant.
To help you share the essence of the Reformation with children we are collating a number of resources for all-age worship, children’s lessons and activities. Look out for them on the Kids Friendly website and please share your ideas with us too.