If put on the spot, could you explain the gospel briefly and clearly, in everyday language? Here’s one way to always be ready.
It had been seven weeks since I’d taught any sort of Bible lesson to kids. That may not sound long to you, for me it’s unusual. What’s more, I was in London. I was an ocean away from my American home, and unsure of myself culturally.
But there I was, launching into a lesson about Adam and Eve for a bunch of elementary students—and feeling both rusty and out of place. The kids were a tough group, too. They were noisy and restless, and seemed to have little interest in the Bible. It didn’t help that I was stumbling through the story, missing key points and needing to pause often to remember what I wanted to say.
I was talking about how death is the penalty for sin when one girl stopped me to ask a question: “If death comes because of sin, why did Jesus die?”
A question like that is pure gold. I jumped to answer it. “Well, every one of us does bad things and deserves for God to punish us…”
And from that point, a set of familiar words and phrases took over. I explained how Jesus took our sin on himself when he died on the cross, and how he gives us credit for his righteousness. I didn’t stumble. It came out clearly and cleanly, in child-friendly language, as if I’d carefully planned and rehearsed the exact words I wanted to use.
And, of course, I had.
You see, I’ve memorized a brief explanation of our justification in Jesus. It’s a less-than-a-minute talk I’ve perfected and have repeated so often, for so many kids, that I can launch into it at any moment. This particular time, I was especially glad that explanation was ready to go. It’s an essential part of the gospel and it was one of the few things in the whole lesson that came out of my mouth well.
I don’t memorize much exact wording before I teach, but for a few, key gospel summaries I’ve found memorization helpful. I’m careful not to let it sound like I’m reading from a script, but I’ve practiced each sentence and the words I want to use. This lets me talk about these fundamental things frequently without having to stop and think first, which saves me from wishing later that I’d chosen better words or included a forgotten element.
I think of it as “general preparation,” and it took me years to learn the value of it. Like many Bible teachers, I used to prepare before teaching individual lessons but failed to prepare for unplanned opportunities to explain the gospel. I’ve finally learned to always be ready, and it’s paid off more times than I can count.
In addition to how believers are justified, I have kid-friendly summaries always ready to go about three other important parts of the gospel. I’m prepared to tell what it means that God adopts believers as his children, how he makes them holy, and what’s in store for the future. Sometimes I change a few words, or simplify the statements for preschoolers, but the language for each goes roughly like this:
Justified: We all do bad things. We deserve for God to punish us for our sin—with death and by being apart from God forever. But Jesus never did any sin. He’s the only person in the history of the world who doesn’t deserve to die and be punished. Yet he let himself be killed on the cross to be punished in place of us. He got the punishment we deserve so now we won’t get punished. Instead, all of his goodness counts for us.
Adopted: God makes us his children, so that we have all the love you’d expect a child of the King of the universe to have. God takes care of us so that everything that happens to us will work out to be good for us. He trains us to live like one of his family members. He speaks to us through the Bible and lets us speak to him when we pray. And we will live in his house forever, and eat at his table forever. We are inheriting every good thing from him.
Being holy: God doesn’t just make us stay yucky, selfish, sinful people. He helps us change to become more like Jesus—just like we were created to be! The Holy Spirit has made our hearts able to trust and obey God. Now he helps us to do trust and obey every day, and to keep getting better at it.
The future: Jesus is coming back to fix everything that’s wrong in the world (like death and evil) and to finish beating sin, including sin in us. If we’ve died, our bodies will come alive again. We will live without any more sadness or selfishness—won’t that be great?! But best of all, we will live with Jesus forever.
There’s much more that can be said about the gospel, and about each of these parts of the gospel, so I often prepare particular lessons that expand on these themes. Still, it’s good to know I can present the basics at any time. Having them memorized helps me repeat them often, whether I’m reviewing an important point or put on the spot with a question. And having four different topics helps me not get bogged down in just one aspect of the gospel.
General preparation is a part of a teacher’s work that’s often neglected. Individual lessons require enough prep as it is, making it easy to put off anything else. But consider this a gentle challenge: be ever ready to explain the gospel—clearly, in a child’s language—in a minute or less.
Thoughts? Please share or comment below. I love feedback and discussion—it’s how we learn from each other! (Pick any name you like. Your email address will not be displayed.)