The Gospel of John, the last of the four gospels to be written, presents some unique challenges to the adults who study it, which makes it even more complicated when teaching it to children. Caution is advised as we read the writer’s many comments regarding “the Jews” and we must remember that these early Christians lived in complex and frightening times. And, in fact, the community in the gospel of John (the Johannine community) may have been excluded from the synagogue, by this point in history. With that expulsion would have come social and economic consequences.
It is a difficult thing to walk a new journey and people can say and do things that are often harsh. It is important to teach our children that things are not always black and white and heroes can flawed. Even when they are God’s people, doing God’s work.
As we walk through this gospel with our children, may we find God’s truth in its pages. And may we remember that God is the God of all.
- John 1:1-18 – The Light in the Dark Some say that the U.S. has become the new Roman Empire. Some say that we have become victims of some new empire. Whichever the case, we can all agree that we know the truth of dark days. And we all want to shield our children from the worst that life has to offer. Yet, we know that children are intuitive, knowing that when we worry or fear, they pick up on it. They know what’s on the news. They know what we’re talking about, fussing about. So, it’s our responsibility to bring in the light. Into their lives. Into our own. God knew it. Hence, Jesus. Let’s find his light, embrace it, and shine it oh, so brightly. The world is in need.
- John 2:1-11 – Water and Wine and a Wedding – It’s so annoying when someone wants us to do something we don’t want to do. And that’s just what happened to Jesus when he attended the wedding at Cana. Really? He couldn’t just have a little downtime? There’s was Mama Mary, in his face, demanding that he do something about the lack of wine. Kids know about annoying problems and people making demands on them. And they can learn what it means to overcome annoyance in order to serve others; to find the good in doing so; and how God’s love can be shared in even simple ways.
- John 2:13-25 This week’s story for kids is the story of Jesus in the temple and how he deals with cheaters! What would YOU do?
- John 3:14-21 Have you ever heard Jesus called a snake? Hmm, this is another weird one, straight from the Bible, as we combine stories from both the Hebrew Scriptures and the gospels.
- John 4:5-42 “Never Be Thirsty Again” Preschoolers learn that God’s love is for everyone. As concrete thinkers, “water that means you’ll never be thirsty again” is a bit confusing. But they’ll understand that God’s love makes their hearts happy forever! (Yeah, still a little abstract, but they usually know that language.)
- John 6:1-21 – He’s Done it Again
- John 6:24-35 – I Am the Bread of Life
- John 6:35-51 – I Am the Bread of Life, part 2
- John 6:51-58 – Fine Young Cannibals This is one of the fun scriptures that confounds and disgusts the non-Christians – eating flesh and blood? Oooh! Gross! Okay, let’s be honest. It is a little disgusting. So, let’s have fun with it, get beyond the gross-out factor, and find the holy. Jesus did have a method to his madness, after all.
- John 6:56-69 – All About That Bread This week’s Bible story for the kids deals with bread. What? Again? Yep. Bread. And the disciples tired of, not only the talk, but the difficult tasks they were given. So this became a pep talk about bread that enables one to live forever and a spirit that gives life. Feel energized, yet?
- John 10:11-18 – Jesus is the Good Shepherd
- John 10:202-30 – Jesus Knows His Sheep, preschool and The Mystery of Jesus, elementary — We veer in slightly different directions for the two lessons, here. For the littlest learners, we’ll stick with the basics of Jesus loving and tending his sheep, as we start introducing the concept that they are part of the beloved flock. (To our little concrete thinkers, this can be a fun game. Look! Jesus loves you, little sheep!) For our older children, we can delve a bit deeper into the reasons for Jesus’ words. Why was he questioned again and again as to his identity? Why could no one ever figure him out? Yet, for those who recognize him for who he is, lives are changed. Forever. Even children can begin to explore a sense of belonging to this family of God, a different way of being, the goodness that might bring to them and the world around them.
- John 11:1-45 – I Believe that You are the Messiah Little ones will learn the basics of the story of Jesus and his friends Martha, Mary and Lazarus. And, when Lazarus grew ill, Martha and Mary sent for Lazarus. But, when Lazarus died, Martha and Mary were devastated. Even Jesus cried. But they all knew something important. They knew Jesus could help. And he did!
- John 12:1-8 – What Would You Do? – Okay, let’s start with the basics. If we’re teaching this story to kids, let’s get them started on the right foot. There are multiple accounts of women anointing/washing the feet of Jesus. This one is Mary of Bethany. It is not “the sinful woman” (Luke 7:36-50) or the unnamed woman (Matt. 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9). And it’s certainly not Mary of Magdala, who has somehow been added into the mix by very confused folks. Let’s make sure our children don’t make the mistakes of previous generations by mixing up all the women of the Bible! Then, let’s move onto what is a story of hospitality, generosity, incredible love, and a woman’s ability to see just who this man Jesus really is. Mary enables the disciples to see Jesus more clearly (they were a bit confused as to his identity) and helps prepare him for what is to come. Would you, could you do the same?
- John 13:31-35 – A Good Rule, preschool & A Good Rule, elementary Who doesn’t love rules? KIDS!!! Take some time to explore why we have rules in our lives, why we ignore some and cling tightly to others. Depending upon the age of the children, conversation can include the many rules in the Bible we choose to ignore. (When is the last time you sacrificed a calf or stoned someone? Do you wear garments of mixed fabrics? Oh, the list is endless and a bit fun.) But discussion should focus on why God gave rules and which ones make our lives better. Even our littles ones will understand the importance of love.
- John 14:1-14 – Who is God? Who is God? Little ones may come up with some wonderful answers. Feel free to explore the possibilities as you teach of God’s love and the words and actions of Jesus.
- John 15:1-8 – Jesus is the Vine
- John 16:12-15 – You’ll Understand When You’re Older, elementary and You’ll Understand When You’re Older, preschool — Some people are very good at learning. Some are excessively impatient. This seems to be true for young and old, alike. This scripture is a good lesson in “all in good time,” as Jesus reminds the disciples that even they are not ready to learn it all. Yet, even as he prepares to leave them, he advises that he will not leave them alone and unprepared. He will teach them all he can, then the Spirit will be with them to help them learn for the rest of their lives. For our children, who are constantly learning (and constantly being reminded that they don’t know stuff), this is a great lesson in the fact that we ALL learn things, both in stages and all our lives. It is also a good reminder that Spirit walks with us, breathes in us, teaches us, as well.
- John 18:33-37 – So, Are You a King? Just as Pilate questioned Jesus, so too do others question his identity. If Jesus is a king, just what kind of a king is he? This story gives children a good opportunity to explore people’s questions and understandings, as well as their own. It is also a good time to talk about Jesus purpose here on earth and all he came to teach us.
- John 20:1-18 – A Very Special Surprise While we still prepare for Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, this scripture takes us to the garden and the empty tomb of Easter morning. Would you recognize Jesus, if he appeared right in front of you?
- John 20:19-31 – Breathing God’s Spirit and Breathing God’s Spirit, preschool version — Please note the preschool pages are BACK! This week’s story takes us into the upper room after the death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus finds his frightened friends hiding in the locked room, fearing arrest and, perhaps even death. This is an opportunity to explore the fears our children may face and how they might deal with them. How can we, as the adults in their lives, equip them to best deal with those fears? And how can we help them to use their faith in realistic, wise ways? Jesus breathed God’s Spirit onto the disciples and wished them peace. Yet sent them out into a dangerous world where many of them would be tormented. Some would die. Faith does not protect us from the evils of this world. Our children will learn this. But it can help us to face the evils and stand firmly against them. Even rising from our knees when we might otherwise be crushed.
As you discuss the resurrection of Christ with your children, remember that some of them will never have heard this story. Some will not yet fully understand the ramifications of either death or someone returning from the dead. But, like most stories, dealing with this matter of factly, answering questions honestly, and exploring possibilities (What do they think about all this? How do they think the people felt? What do they think the people said or did in reaction?) is a good way to get children to walk through this Bible story and to bring it to life.
- John 21:1-19 – A Surprise Helper, elementary and A Surprise Helper, preschool — This is a fun story for kids. The disciples are in a boat. They’re doing something they know how to do, but it’s not going well. A stranger starts giving them instructions. Say, what? Who would react well in such a situation? Possible discussion might include: how we behave when we’re being told what to do; the disciples surprise when they see Jesus AGAIN after his resurrection; their complete faith in him and his instructions; how we might behave in similar situations or how Jesus might help us when we’re having difficulties (even when we think we know what we’re doing).