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You Want to Talk About What?

The word “sin” is one of those churchy words that can cause difficulties for Christian educators. To be sure the whole notion of sin and forgiveness is an important Biblical idea, but it can be a tricky concept to teach. Part of the problem is that the word is used in our liturgies and it tends to pop up in our Bible readings, but it is an umbrella term that seems to have a myriad of meanings and associations, some helpful, some awful, and some downright scary. There is a multitude of opinions about whether we should even mention the subject. Some people feel that the church downplays the whole idea of sin far too much, others feel we should be focusing on God’s love instead, and many find it downright uncomfortable to even talk on the subject.

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So what to do? Is sin a topic that should be tackled with young children? How do you go about it? How do you talk about sin without causing shame or damaging the children’s self esteem?

One of the best illustrations of sin I have ever heard came from a writing colleague of mine the Rev Won Heo. He explained that the Greek word for sin is harmartia a term that means to miss the mark, as when a soldier was trying to hit a target and failed. Therefore our sin is our separation from God and our inclination to miss the mark.

I like this illustration because I think it sums up the concept beautifully. It stays true to the Biblical idea, but is an image that is easily grasped by even the youngest child.

To be sure we cannot talk about sin without emphasizing God’s loving forgiveness and the gift of starting over. Generally speaking most children want to do what is right, but like all of us they will miss the mark and make mistakes. This is an inevitable part of growing and learning. Knowing that God continues to love them and offers the gift of starting over will allow the children to grow in their faith. Be aware that the children’s understanding of love and forgiveness comes largely from their experiences at home, but also from their experiences at church. Remember that God’s love becomes real as the children experience unconditional love and acceptance from you, and others, who talk about God.

How have you tackled the idea of sin with the children in your church? What illustrations have you found useful? In what ways do the children experience unconditional love and acceptance from you and the rest of the congregation?



Sharon Harding

About Sharon Harding

I was born in England and immigrated to Canada almost 30 years ago. A graduate of Gloucestershire University (B.Ed.), I have been involved in children’s ministry since I was 16. Over the past 12 years I have written for a variety of Christian Education curriculum resources. I also write a blog at encouraging parents to build strong connections with their children. When I am not working I enjoy painting, reading, and pottering around the Internet.

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0 Responses to You Want to Talk About What?

  1. Dawn Leger

    I had an intriguing experience this Sunday during our Family Focus. I had chosen to begin the service with the Penitential Rite, while the children were with us, since they are never present for the Prayer of Confession and the Absolution. I said that, during the silence, we tell God the things we are sorry for. Then, out loud, together, we say our apology. I started to talk about the things we do wrong, or fail to do. As I was talking, I realized I had not once used the word, “sin”. I wanted to work it in, so I said it in a sentence and almost choked on the word. I had this fear all of a sudden of that word, and how I would be judged if I used it.

    It was a strange moment because I am not usually one to shy away from talking about sin, or at least I didn’t think I was.

    I think kids have the healthiest understanding of sin, frankly. They try to squirm and sneak and justify, but usually, with the teaching of an adult, come to a place where they want to reconcile. It’s we adults who squirm and sneak and justify and often just leave things unreconciled. We do we not take our own advice?

  2. Dawn, thanks for sharing your perspective. “Faith like a child” says something really important to me about sin–because it’s not like we grow out of it. 🙂

  3. Sharon Harding

    Thanks for sharing Dawn. I am not opposed to using the word sin, I just think it needs to be clearly explained. You are bang on about us adults being the ones who want to squirm, sneak and justify. That suggests to me that at some level we are struggling with shame. How is it that sin gets bound up with feelings of shame as we grow? It is so sad really, given that reconciliation is but a prayer away.

  4. I really appreciated this post, particularly the explanation of sin as “missing the mark.” It is a simplistic, yet clear way to describe an often abstract concept.

    I am intrigued at how children and youth, as well as adults, would identify and/or define sin as I think it has a variety of perceived meanings in our society. Sharon, I think this taps wonderfully in to your comment about the place of shame and justification. Too often, I think individuals seek either self-justification, or that of their peers, in the hopes of feeling at peace with their decision–well knowing they may have missed the mark.

    To dig a little deeper, I want to introduce the concepts of brokenness and imperfection. I am an imperfect person and have often “missed the mark.” In my life, I have often strayed away from my path and my relationship with God. These mistakes, however, have strengthened – not weakened – my relationship with God. I have been incredibly fortunate throughout my upbringing in the church to be surrounded by individuals with a tremendous amount of faith, love, and forgiveness–at times more than I felt I deserved.

    As a Sunday School teacher, I find leading through demonstration and honesty to be the best teaching practice. Something I plan to try over the coming months is to introduce more intergenerational programming within the parish. Targeted events which put 4 year olds and 80 year olds at the same table encourages greater community-awareness, and possibilities to demonstrate our love and acceptance of one another.

    I am interested to hear if other folks have had success with similar events in their congregations, and what they looked like?

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