Youth & Kids

How to teach submission to children

We’ve looked at why it is important to teach the Biblical concept of submission to children and youth (see Part 1). Now the question is – how to teach it, particularly to children.

When we started thinking about this, at first we couldn’t remember ever consciously teaching submission to kids and youth. However, as we thought about what submission means and its relationship with the gospel, we realised its integral role in all our teaching. Here are 10 tips we’ve found helpful in how to teach it well.

1. Remember biblical submission is a good thing to teach

Christ is our ultimate example and motivation for our own submission.  Jesus was in very nature God but he didn’t grasp equality with God. Jesus didn’t lord it over anyone but humbled himself all the way to death. Consequently, biblical submission is a good thing. It is an honour to serve and imitate this King. There is nothing embarrassing about putting ourselves under the God of the universe, even if it is countercultural. And just as we put ourselves under God we also voluntarily serve those whom God has given authority over us. This is not always easy but it’s part of our Christian obedience.

2. Practice what you teach

Children are sponges. If they see the kids’ leaders respecting their own parents, their own leaders (and most importantly submitting to Christ!), they will soak it up.

3. Use Bible Stories to show submission in action.

Children are concrete thinkers; they relate well to narrative. The Bible is full of stories about submission – Abraham submitted to God and went to a new land; Daniel submitted to the rulers in Babylon. These stories also show the complexities of submission, at times submitting to God will mean disobeying a lesser authority. For instance, Daniel’s friends who don’t bow to the Nebuchadnezzar’s image, the Egyptian midwives when Moses was born and Peter and John in Acts who keep preaching even when the authorities tell them to stop. These are powerful stories and often lead to wonderful discussions about the moral dilemmas that the children face.

4. Remember submission is key to Christian life

Submission is part of our response to the gospel: we submit to God, we submit to his word and we submit to those whom God has given authority over us. It doesn’t come naturally to anyone, particularly children, to put other’s needs before their own. Children benefit from being taught to put others first, just like they benefit from being taught to tie their shoelaces.

5. Use personal and real-life examples

When teaching kids about submission, use your own experiences and imagine situations that they might find themselves in.

6. Teach submission by modelling grace-driven discipline

We demonstrate our beliefs about submission in the way we discipline.

We expect obedience but we don’t coerce children. We have high standards but also have high levels of forgiveness and grace. Our class rules reflect a desire for changed hearts rather than being long lists of rules.

7. Keep the bigger picture in view

Submission is not a stand-alone doctrine. It sits within a bigger framework. If you understand that God is the ultimate judge, it is easier to leave ultimate justice to him and even accept injustice in this world. If a child has a robust sense of their own sin, it will help them be merciful to others, just as God has been merciful to them. If we talk about our heavenly hope, it will help when we think about submission and enduring unjust suffering.

8. Keep in mind their current relationships

We are all called to submit to different people depending on our position and our relationships. Children are called to submit God. They are also specifically called to submit to their parents (e.g. Eph 6:1-3).  They won’t know this unless we show them and teach them. I have spent very little time talking to children about submission in marriage but more time talking about obeying parents, teachers and coaches because that is God’s call to them.

9. Support the parents’ roles as teachers

Parents teach their children as they read the Bible and pray together. They also model submission at home – between each other and in how they treat authorities: ideally they don’t yell at referees, they pay their taxes, and they encourage their kids to obey and respect their teachers even when they are not always fair.

10.  Look forward long-term

As we teach children, we are building the foundations of a lifetime of biblical knowledge. We don’t want to teach anything to a 5 year old that will have to be undone when they are 15. This means we explain the truth at an age-appropriate level for the child. A kindergarten child can understand that God wants us to obey him. He or she can also understand a story such as Abraham being called to obey and go to a far away country. The same small child will not need to understand submission in marriage yet, but when they study Ephesians 5 at youth group, hopefully it will fit into the framework that is already there.

Teaching submission to kids doesn’t have to mean sweeping aside your current program to do a term on ‘what is submission?’. Most likely, it will involve doing what you’re doing but with an intentionality to model and explain what it means to submit to God and certain others in our lives.

In Part 3, Adrian Foxcroft will expore what this looks like, particularly with youth in mind.