The older brother: He believed in a holistic approach to walking with God. He felt that if you go through the motions and mimic the virtues of your father, you’ll be successful in your relationship with your father and, ultimately, deserve his affection.
The father: He believed in the whole-hearted approach…he just wanted his kids to love him. He wanted their affection.
The younger brother: Caught in the middle. Lost for a season, then found. Big cast party at the end of the play.
Here’s the perspective we need to have in children’s ministry. If all we do is place behavioral expectations on a kid, he’ll run. That’s the reason kids (and adults) have left the church for generations. Our parents might even believe that our goal is for them to teach their kids a different behavior every month or so. If that’s what we are partnering with parents to do, we are misleading them.
We can spend our time trying to master a different quality of God or we can spend our time getting to know the Master. The Fruit of the spirit is called that for a reason. It’s not the root. Virtues are not the root, they are the fruit of a love for God.
The prodigal son didn’t understand who his father really was because he looked at him through the eyes of the older brother. In his heart, he probably heard, “Why can’t you be like your older brother!?!”
We don’t know what happens to the lost son after the great feast. But we know it wasn’t until he first experienced the forgiveness, grace, and mercy of the father that his heart could be transformed. It’s very likely, based on his new understanding of who his father was, that he would begin to thrive as a member of that family.
The holistic approach is one that makes sense to a worldly culture. It’s easy to measure and predict, but it falls short of our calling.
The whole-hearted approach makes no sense to the world but is the profound demonstration of grace. It should be our approach to reaching kids and their families. Show them the cross. Tell them about salvation as often as possible so that they can see things through the eyes of the Father, not the older brother.
But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace! Together with Christ Jesus He also raised us up and seated us in the heavens, so that in the coming ages He might display the immeasurable riches of His grace through His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift— not from works, so that no one can boast. For we are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them.
Jeffrey Reed serves as the Director of Kids Ministry for LifeWay. He came to LifeWay with a wide variety of ministry experiences including worship leader, director of children’s ministry, and executive leadership in several growing congregations. Jeffrey’s posts will give your heart and brain a workout, just like the fitness Boot Camp he leads in the mornings for LifeWay employees. Jeffrey and his wife Katherine have four kids.