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Last week Rachel Held Evans wrote a piece about Millennials leaving the evangelical church. Young people are finding faith outside the glossy café atmosphere of the latest hip church. They are reading Peter Rollins, Rob Bell, and Jay Bakker, and attending churches with smells and bells. They care about justice, the environment, equality and simplicity.

But what does that mean for our children?

A few years ago a friend said to me that he didn’t trust any Sunday school to teach his children about Jesus. I was horrified. But what about all of the well-meaning people? What about the essential Bible stories? What about the Christian community? I dismissed his feelings of frustration and focused on convincing him to bring his kids to church.

Years later I apologized.

I wonder if he and I have the same frustrations now. I am now a children and youth minister at a mainline progressive church. There are things about my experiences in the evangelical movement that are a treasure to me, but there are some things that I am ready to abandon:

1. White Jesus 

White flannel Jesus represents the Ugly to us. White Jesus represents a faith that is image-conscience and science/history adverse. White Jesus is usually accompanied by white dolls in the nursery and white families in all the books—especially the Bible storybooks. When the only people of color at your church are people on your missionary wall, what does that teach children? We raise money for the poor brown people. I am ready for a colorful Sunday school.

2. Accepted Jesus This Morning

Don’t tell us that our three-year-old accepted Jesus Christ as her personal savior this morning. For so many reasons. Let’s name a few. This is not appropriate for her stage of child-development. This is not theologically responsible. You just added Jesus to the unmitigated, indiscernible list of Santa, Pretty Princess, Abraham Lincoln, and Daddy. And like Santa, he knows that you’ve been naughty.

3. Hello and Welcome to Consumerland

We don’t want to drop our kids off into a sensory overload extravaganza of color, lights, music, and fun prizes.

4. Our Kids Are Special

At our local public school we can find people who care enough about including everyone to adjust the environment, hire aides, turn down the music, and accommodate for all abilities. We are ready for the church to go after the one little sheep who needs a little extra help.  We are excited about churches that have programs for our special kids.

5. Bible Heroes? Not For My Kid.

This discussion has already gained some traction. We don’t want to see a mural on the wall that is based on mass genocide via a worldwide flood. We don’t want our kids to come out of Sunday school with a coloring page about a person that we would never allow near our children. The events in the Bible are not cartoons. When we present them as cartoons we replace the depth and meaning with a moral that is styled after “Aesop’s Fables.” This is not proper use of the Old or New Testament. Sure, teach my child about the Bible, but think about the story first. What is it really saying? What did it mean then? Is God the only worthwhile character in the story? Then let’s call God our Bible hero/heroine. The rest are just people like us, sometimes worse.

6. Cry Rooms

Okay, so we like cry rooms if we are breastfeeding or if our toddler just needs to sing ABC’s at the top of his lungs. But the point is, we believe that children should feel welcome in church. And I don’t mean that children should feel welcome to sit still. Children should feel welcome to squirm, wiggle, draw, process, sing, dance, and move around and visit friends and family. This is best for their learning styles, and this is best for the learning styles of adults. If we were to cater to the kinesthetic learning styles of children, adults would actually learn more. More about this in another post. Bottom line: stop making parents feel like pariahs for our children’s normal, age-appropriate behavior.

7. The B-I-B-L-E

We love the Bible. We want our kids to love the Bible. It may seem counter-intuitive to ask churches to stop teaching our kids the Bible, but for real. Stop.

But seriously, stop teaching our kids to take verses out of context. Stop telling our kids to use the “sword of the spirit” in arguments with friends and online. Stop having memory verse contests that reinforce the idea that the Bible is a big book of one-liners. This is the opposite of taking the Bible seriously. This is paganism. This is not Christianity. This is a fortune-cookie religion and we are not buying it.

We want our kids to ask questions, express curiosity, and wonder about everything. We don’t want instantaneous obedience—we know better.

Like I said, I am in this for the long haul. I am in seminary, I am serving kids in full time ministry, I love planning VBS, and I treasure many of my experiences in the church. But we are not raising an army. We are not raising the “future of the church!” We are not raising the latest recruits in the culture war. We are raising children. We want a Sunday school that will help us do THAT.

Our version of the Children’s Picture Bible lies. Well, it has no words. But I’m pretty sure it lies anyway. I’m always having to apologize for our picture Bible, because most of the people in it resemble caucasians. There are very few people of color represented in the cartoon drawings. In one instance, a rainbow of skin colors make an appearance–in the story of Jesus calling the children to himself. Weird, because Jesus is represented as a white guy. Sorry, kids. Your Bible is probably lying.

The historical Jesus was a middle-eastern person. A Jew. For hundreds of years, his ethnicity has been artistically rendered into a European soup of whiteness. Not only is this most likely a false representation of Jesus of Nazereth, but it represents a not-so-subtle message that Jesus = Western Civilization.

But it didn’t always mean that.

My husband Andy and I had the privilege of visiting Istanbul, Turkey this year. This ancient city houses some of the most important pieces of Christian and Muslim history and ancient architecture. We toured the Hagia Sofia, the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Irene, Topkapi Palace and Chora Church. These places of worship and royalty almost reverberate with ancient ghosts. At times we could barely speak.

We visited the Chora Church, which was converted to a mosque in the 16th century. At that time, the spectacular mosaics that lined the walls and ceilings were covered and the sculptures destroyed. Centuries later, after WWII,  the mosaics were restored and the building was opened as a secular museum.

The caucasian mosaics at Chora Church represent the people who crafted them. When they thought about the people in the Bible, they saw themselves. The mosaics they created were unparalleled in all of Christendom and the artwork began to be imitated far and wide. What began as a project of love and a desire to teach the stories of Scripture to the masses became a master version from which hundreds of churches copied and were inspired.

Basically, they started a trend. But they didn’t mean to.

What would happen if we all drew pictures of the Bible that looked like ourselves, our families, our experience? We would have a piles and piles of different Jesuses, with thousands of different skin tones, noses, eyes, and hair styles. Every Children’s Picture Bible would be different. And they would all be authentic, personal experiences of Scripture.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the Children’s Picture Bible doesn’t lie after all. It’s incomplete. It’s missing my Jesus. My kids’ Jesuses. Your Jesus. When all the puzzle pieces of the mosaic fit together, we find him.