Recently I was enjoying a dinner out with my son and a close friend. While we sat waiting for our meal to arrive, I had asked my friend how his week had gone. His reply included work, family and a story about some kids in AWANA, a program that he is involved in at our church.
“AWANA,” came the voice to my right, “So the church is still doing that?”
My friend responded with the positive shake of his head. The voice to my right, huffed, and then shook his head in a negative fashion and looked instantly away and out the window.
Needless to say, this unexpected reaction from my son caused me to draw him back into the conversation and asked why the bitter response. He was not shy to enlighten me.
“I hated AWANA,” came his flat reply. “And I was mad at you for making me go.”
My first reaction was somewhat of disbelief, “Well this is the first I’ve heard of this.” He just shook his head…it was apparent that he was bitter.
I combed my memory banks and said to my son, “I seem to recall that you only went for one semester to give it a try.” “Yeah, and that was one too many,” came the flat reply.
“So what you’re telling me is that you’ve been carrying this resentment around with you since you were seven?” “I hated it,” said the 21 year old.
I sat there, somewhat suspended in thought, recalling the benefits of the AWANA program. I remembered that it was a good and sound program. Teaching children to memorize the Word of God, play games, construct crafts, fellowship with friends, enjoy snacks, and gain awards. It was designed to be fun while learning bible verses.
“So what happened? What made you hate it?”
“It was my teacher,” came the plain reply. “I wasn’t good enough. He was too picky and wanted me to be perfect in reciting the scripture. I could never move on to the next level because I would forget to say a word.”
“The verse may say…and the Lord said. I would say…the Lord said. He would stop me and say that I didn’t say it correctly and to repeat it. I would start over and apparently said it wrong again, because he would say, “no, try again.” After my third repeat, he would just say, “well you can’t go forward because you didn’t say AND the Lord said.” Go home and learn it for next week.”
My son paused, took a bite, swallowed and then said, “But the thing that really upset me was what happened next.”
“What was that?”
“The girl after me came up and didn’t say her verse right either. He gave her three tries and she didn’t get it, but he said, well your close enough and passed her. It wasn’t fair and I took it personal. I didn’t want anything to do with it after that. I didn’t want to learn bible verses. I didn’t want to be around the teacher and I was mad at you for making me go.”
Like I said, the conversation was enlightening. And before dinner was over we talked about resentment, bitterness, and forgiveness. But those topics were not what stuck with me the rest of the night.
AWANA – is the acronym for – Approved Workmen Are Not Ashamed. Its mission is to help churches and parents raise children and youth to know, love and serve Christ. It’s a successful program, it’s a fun program and there are hundreds and thousands of kids who absolutely love it. However, there is one 21 year old young man who doesn’t remember it that way.
So how can a successful and wonderful program such as AWANA leave such a unpleasant memory? Well in this case, the fact is that it wasn’t the program or its games, crafts, snacks or memory verses that caused my son’s animosity. Sadly it was the workman.
I am sure that the teacher’s intention in requiring “exactness” in the memorization of Bible verses was not to cause harm. He more then likely meant it for good. However, whatever his motivations, whether it was his personality trait (literalist/perfectionist) high standards, or following guide book instruction etc…he lost sight of the real objective. He focused on the wrong thing and in doing so he “turned off” a mind. Then in his unconscious act of hypocrisy – displayed in showing favoritism (which Christ does not) he closed a spirit. When this occurred, he lost his influence in being effectual for the good.
It is sad to think that what only took a few minutes to turned off a mind resulted in years of festering negativity…causing a stumbling. Rigidness and hypocrisy are not the gloves that teachers need to wear. Those gloves do not fit the hands of Christ so why do we even attempt to put them on?
So what can we learn?
Teaching God’s Word is an honor and privilege and should not to be taken lightly or casually. It needs to be handled with care and dispensed in humility. Whether it is in a study guide or a curriculum our focus always needs to align with God’s objective, the salvation of mankind, and the development of our spiritual understanding.
God’s Word should be shared in such a way that it stimulates the listener to want to hear more, and to act on what they hear. We are not going to accomplish this if we concentrate on minute meaningless things that do not matter in scope of His objective. Because when we do, we are in danger of turning off a mind and closing a spirit to receive the good news of Jesus Christ.
Please know that I am not advocating a compromising of our teaching but rather an exercising of our wisdom, especially when instructing children as to what is essential and what is not. A receptive mind and open spirit is far more valuable then crossing “t’s” and dotting “i’s.”
So what should we do with those gloves of rigidness and hypocrisy? Exchange them for a new pair of gloves that fit the hands of Jesus and fill the fingers with the fruit of the spirit, love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. When we do we will not only turn on minds and open closed spirits, we will live up to the AWANA acronym and become Approved Workmen that Are Not Ashamed.
“And whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea.” Mark 9:42
“The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23