Inviting Kids Into The Kingdom Epic
My husband introduced our kids to Star Wars when I was out of town. A year later, I share space with several cheap lightsabers and a toy spaceship whose name I can never get quite right.
Our kids don’t care if the characters look like them. They transform from pilots to princesses to robots to storm-troopers. But it’s the story that captivates them. When they wield their lightsabers, imagination fuels their delight in fighting a galactic battle between good and evil.
Watching them transform brings me delight for a different reason. If their imaginations can help them enter into the world of Jedis and Mandalorians, it can also help them accept their place in the epic of the Kingdom of God.
Find the Lost Story
Modern methods of leading kids to Jesus have deconditioned us from thinking of the gospel as a story, much less as an epic story. Rather, “sharing the gospel” is often reduced to the sinner’s prayer and a handful of spiritual principles.
Yet Jesus connected His gospel with the Kingdom of God. And while we teach our kids to pray “Your kingdom come”, most children would be hard-pressed to tell us the sweeping story of this Kingdom and the role they play in acting out its triumph.
We teach them the stories of the Bible, and yet they often don’t get caught up in them like they get caught up in Star Wars. We could blame the appeal of computer animation and the musical genius of John Williams, but I’m convinced there is another answer: the epic of the gospel of the Kingdom of God often gets lost between the segmented stories of Bible storybooks and Sunday School lessons.
The Problem of a Failed Mission
Star Wars and other modern epics have a clear plotline. Even though the stories are completely foreign to their world, my kids can easily identify the core conflict and mission. While I have only seen the original three movies, because I understand the arc of the story, I can listen to discussions of prequels, sequels, and spinoffs and recognize where they fit.
When we teach our kids the core conflict and mission of the Kingdom of God, they too can see where all of the small stories fit into the big story. And if they can see that, then they can grasp how they fit into the story.
Like all good stories, the Kingdom Epic has a problem it is trying to solve: Humanity has been exiled from our home in God’s Garden. Why is this a problem? This Garden was the ancient temple – the place God filled with His presence. It was a place of goodness, truth, and beauty where humanity reflected God’s character and ways and God provided for all of humanity’s needs. This Garden epitomizes the Kingdom of God.
When we point kids to the end of the story, we see that Jesus is, in fact, solving the original problem. The prophets and Revelation alike describe a future with one gigantic garden city that fills the entire earth. In this picture, all of earth is God’s home, and He shares it with humanity.
This gives us a clearer view of the original partnership between God and humanity. The Garden started with two humans, but as their family grew, the borders of the Garden would expand to fill the entire earth. As they reflected God’s character and ways, they would tame the wildness surrounding the Garden.
Thus, the exile from the Garden points to another problem: the problem of a failed mission. All along, God wanted to partner with humans to make the whole world His home. But we could only do it by embracing our role as the image of God.
Theologian N.T. Wright describes this role like that of a mirror. We reflect whatever it is we worship. When humanity decided we wanted to rule the land our own way, we became like broken mirrors that reflect God in broken ways.
We can see how the problem in the plotline isn’t limited to bringing humanity back to the Garden. It also involves healing humanity’s brokenness so we can partner with God in cultivating His Kingdom. Jesus solved this problem, too.
The rest of the Bible fills in the gaps between these plot points. In fact, you can help your kids see how the Bible retells the story of the Garden over and again. Not only do God’s partnerships with Noah, Abraham, and the Israelites retell this story – they also build on it. And they build up to Jesus.
They build up to His life and teachings. They build up to His death and resurrection. And they build up to His renewal of all creation.
His renewal starts with each of us, no matter how young we are.
Jesus wants to transform us into a new type of human – humans who partner with Him and reflect His character and ways. Cyborgs have nothing on new humans.
Jesus presented His body as the new temple. It’s the new place where God is at home on earth. When the rest of the New Testament writers talk about being “in Christ”, we can help our kids picture themselves in the new garden. When His Spirit fills us, our bodies become a physical part of that garden. And we when reflect His character and ways into the world around us, we partner with Him in planting the seeds of new creation.
If being a heroic gardener isn’t your kids’ idea of a riveting superhero, don’t worry. Gardening is just the archetypal picture for bringing beauty out of the earth and into the world. Whatever your kids’ passions are – building, drawing, designing – help them discover its power as a conduit of new creation.
The apostle Paul explained it this way: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ” (2 Cor. 5:17-19a, NIV).
Jesus has invited us – and our kids – into a world and mission more exciting and mystical than anything George Lucas could capture on film.
Act Out the Epic
If your kids can become absorbed in the world of Stars Wars or the Avengers or Narnia, they possess an imagination that can take them far into the depths of the world of the Kingdom of God.
It is our privilege to invite them into this Epic and encourage their imaginations to run wild. Teach them the basic plotline. Then, retell it through the backstories. Set them loose to retell it in their own worlds or dream worlds – like Jesus did with the parable of the prodigal (can you see it?). Let them act it out with their favorite figurines or capes. Then coach them in living it out in the adventure of their own lives.
Amber Mann Riggs
Amber Mann Riggs is co-director of OneStory, a creative collaborative that develops resources to help a new generation explore the story of the Bible and practice the way of Jesus. A homeschool mom, she is co-author of the Teach Us to Pray home Bible curriculum, available for free at www.onestory.bible. Amber also spent 16 years developing and administering a higher education program for bi-vocational pastors and lay leaders of small congregations. She lives near Eugene, Oregon, with her husband of 20+ years and their four daughters. Amber holds a BA in Youth Ministry and an MA in Curriculum and Instruction.