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Podcast

David and Sally Michael of Children’s Desiring God/Truth 78

I was recently honored to sit down and talk with David and Sally Michael of Truth 78. I hope you enjoy these interviews as much as I did!

In this short conversation, Sally Michael talks about how the ministry started, an overview of the material, and a few stories of how God has used it.

  • How the ministry started
  • An overview of the material
  • A few stories of how God has used the ministry

In Part 2, David Michael discusses

  • Where God has led his family in the ministry
  • His heart for sharing the ministry with Pastors
  • Resources for families to bring the ministry home

Resources From These Podcasts

Sally’s Interview
Truth78
My Purpose Will Stand, Sally’s favorite curriculum (also available digitally)
Indestructable Joy
Glorious God, Glorious Gospel
Things Hidden
Pour Out Your Heart
When I am Afraid
“Fighter Verses” resources
A Father’s Blessing
Together for the Gospel (T4G)
Desiring God

David’s Interview
Making HIM Known book series
God’s Promise companion book
The Blessing video course
The Family Blessing, by Ralph Garborg

Topics Covered In This Week’s Podcasts

Sally’s Interview
01:40 Origins of the ministry
05:13 What Sally would say to Sunday school teachers
08:50 Curricula thus far
12:28 The international reach of Truth78
14:57 Curriculum that engages the mind
18:25 Why prioritize these materials over others?

David’s Interview
02:02 About the Michael family; responsibility for children in and beyond our family
08:11 Urban ministry
11:26 Why pastors should care about Sunday school curriculum
15:09 How Sunday school curriculum reaches into the home

 Interview Transcript (Sally)

Chap: I’m Chap Bettis, and you’re listening to The Disciple-Making Parent, a podcast of the Apollos Project, where we seek to equip parents and churches to pass the gospel to their children. In this episode of The Disciple-Making Parent, I invite you to listen in to a conversation that I had with David and Sally Michael. David and Sally are the co-founders of the Children Desiring God Ministry, now Truth78, and we were at the recent Together for the Gospel conference where they were relaunching and rebranding their ministry. And it’s based on Psalm 78 where the psalmist declares that we’re not going to hide these things from our children. We will tell these decrees to the next generation.  And that’s their heart. That’s our heart as disciple-making parents, is that we want the next generation to have a big view of God.

So in part one of this conversation, I sat down with Sally. We talked about, what is in the curriculum? What are some of the different elements to it? Then we talked about how the material actually came about, how God brought it about. And then thirdly, we also talked about ways that she knows that God has used the material. Later that night, I had a chance to sit down with her husband, David, and that’ll be in part two of this conversation. But for now, listen into an interesting conversation that I had with Sally Michael, co-founder and co-author of the Children Desiring God material, now Truth78.

Tell me a little bit about how Children Desiring God’s curriculum and ministry came about.

Sally Michael: Okay, there’s a long answer and there’s a short answer.  I’ll try not to give you the long answer. David was asked to take over children’s ministry at Bethlehem Baptist Church with John Piper.  And he said, “Yeah, but I need my wife to do that with me.” And so John said, “Fine.” So we started in 1996 in children’s ministry, and we were very frustrated with the material the children were getting because we heard  great a great vision of God in the sanctuary under John’s preaching, and yet we would go in the Sunday school rooms afterwards and we would hear “Jesus needs helpers,” which gives children a very needy picture of who Jesus is, a picture of a very needy Jesus.

So David said, “We’re going to find something else before we use this material.” And so I started looking, and I brought a pile of materials home, and I couldn’t find anything that I felt it was really God-centered and got children into the Bible and was deep.  And so I brought that load back and I said, “I can’t find anything.” And so I went to the Sunday school resource center and got another load and I couldn’t find anything. And David said, “Well, I think you’re going to have to write something.” And I said, “I think I’m going to go get another load.”  So I went and got another load and David and I couldn’t find anything there. And so David said. “You’re going to have to write something,” and I said “Well, I don’t know how to write children’s Bible curriculum,” and he said “Well, God does.” How do you argue with that?

Well, I know God can help you. And so I told my friend Jill who we had taken many walks together and talked about how to teach Bible, because we were both home schooling our children and we wanted it in their hearts and not just their heads. And so I said to Jill, “If I’m doing this, you’re doing it with me.” I didn’t give her a choice. She just had to do it. This is Jill Nelson, who’s the co-writer. So we really just wrote it for our own church. And tried to keep a lesson ahead of where they were teaching us at in school.

The first thing I did was go out and buy a used computer at a garage sale. Eight megabytes.

Chap: What year was this?

Sally: This was 1996. Bought an eight-megabyte computer and sat at my kitchen table, and started plunking out material for the next week.  So that grew into other churches saying, “What are you guys teaching your kids?” And so we said, “Well, we’ve written our own material.” “Can we get a copy of it?” And so we shared copies, and then it got to the point where we said, “We need to make a mechanism to make this happen.” And that’s how Children Desiring God was born.

We asked Desiring God, who was used to sending out materials because of John Piper, and said, “Hey, are you guys interested in helping us with this?”

So, they very graciously jumped on board. We got five curriculum out in 1998 in the summer and keep adding to it since then. Children Desiring God has grown so much. And their mission is very different than Desiring God‘s mission, so we didn’t want to hold each other back. And so we needed to reorganize into different structures. So that’s why we’ve become Truth78 now.

Chap: That’s great. Well, I know from talking to you personally, you have this heart. You just mentioned that normal Sunday school curriculums are getting this view of “Jesus needs helpers,” but we need and kids can handle this much bigger view of God. So just talk a little bit about that, what that’s like. If you were talking to other Sunday school teachers, what would you want to say to them as you’re teaching your Sunday school lesson?

Sally: I think what I would want to say to them is, this next generation needs to be strong. Because they’re going to face things early in life that we have never had to face. I mean, everything is up for grabs, even your gender. And so they’re going to have to know the word of God much earlier and much better than we have ever had to. And they need to know how to fight spiritual battles.

I was saved at 12 years old, and I went straight into reading the Bible. And they were words of life to me. And I’m sure there were things that I did not understand, but I started underlining things in my Bible and got excited about verses. And I was 12, so I know that children are capable of learning a whole lot more than we think they are. I remember my daughter Christy, at five years old, coming home- and at that time she was going to a Christian school- and she came home and she told me, beginning to end, all about Reformation history, and the Wittenberg door. And I mean, just fact after fact, and just-

Chap: This is at five?

Sally: At five! And, I thought, My goodness.  And the other thing that woke me up was when my older daughter Amy was five, I decided, Well, this is the time to teach children Bible verses.  And so I started with what we call the foundation verses. And Christy was in a high chair. She was two. And she would be listening to us, and I would be practicing the verses with Amy, and all of a sudden one day I said, “Genesis 1:1,” and Chrissy said, “In the beginning God created heaven and earth.” And I thought, Oh, she learned that! So I asked her a couple more and she had learned, I think it was 38 verses.

Chap: Wow.

Sally: Just being around it all. So we decided that we need to teach solid truth to children, we need to teach them to get in the Bible, use their Bibles, be able to understand their Bibles, to ask questions of the text, and it can be fun. I mean, children love to learn new things, and little kids are like sponges, they absorb everything. And so let’s give them the best to absorb.

And so we just started saying, “Hey, let’s teach them Bible skills from the very beginning. Let’s get them in the word. Let’s teach them theology from the beginning, instead of them having to hear the same stories over and over and over with very little depth.” And so we started with things like God’s promises to believers. He has a promise to unbelievers, the way the wicked will perish. And then all the promises of God. And what is a conditional promise? And what is an unconditional promise? We started with the character of God through the ABCs of God. And how majestic is your name, and we taught him the Hebrew names of God and what that means. And why God needs so many names because he’s so glorious and we have a big God and we can’t make him small to our children by limiting what they know about him. Because you are not going to grow beyond your knowledge of God, and so we’re going to give them a great big God and teach them as much about him as we can so they can grow to know the real God, the one true God of the universe.

Chap: You went right where I want to go, which is to say, tell us about the curriculum lists.

Sally: I can’t even tell you how many we have, because they kind of muddle in your brain after a while. But we have from preschool all the way up through 10th grade in Sunday morning, and we have from kindergarten all the way up through- Well, they’re not all published, there’s one that’s going to be coming out, we will have all the way up through 8th grade, I believe. Or is it ninth grade? I can’t remember, with one missing.

So we’re getting a full scope and sequence. And our plan is to teach children the whole counsel of God. So what is it? All the major doctrines, all the major stories. . . a very clear presentation and understanding of the gospel, and the gospel starts with God is holy. He is the authority, His word is the authority, and he is the owner and creator of this universe. Therefore, he has the right to determine how people are saved and how they’re not. And he has the right to make his righteous demands on man.

Chap:  And then you also have, if I’m remembering correctly, midweek, sort of multigenerational curriculum there?

Sally: Intergenerational. Thank you for reminding me. We have two intergenerational. One on the Ten Commandments, and one that’s called The Righteous Shall Live by Faith because what we want to teach them is here’s the law, and here’s grace. And so they get both sides, and that the law is actually a reflection of the character of God.  And then the other one is on the Lord teaching us to pray. And it’s based on prayer and the different aspects of prayer. And then we also have four Vacation Bible School/Backyard Bible Club curriculum.  So we’re trying to cover the spectrum.

Chap: Do you have a favorite

Sally: Oh yes, I do. Which one? My most favorite curriculum- and it has always been my most favorite- is My Purpose Shall Stand which is basically a study of the providence of God, God’s sovereignty over everything, including God’s sovereignty over “circumstances.” You know, divine circumstances and coincidences and God’s providence over suffering, which I think a lot of children are going to need to learn because they’re in a world where they’re going to suffer at some point or another. So just teaching God’s sovereignty over everything. Because I think if you understand the sovereignty of God, everything else falls into place.  And that holds your faith, that’s the ballast to your faith, because you know that if He controls all things, and He promises for His children that all things will work together for good, you have a foundation to stand on in all the storms of life. So that’s my favorite.

Chap: That’s great because, just teaching apologetics, one of the things you hear and then you see it is that kids are tuned into suffering. So if they’re 12 or even younger, they see suffering and then that brings up the question, “Where is God? Why is God allowing that?” So whether it’s a friend of mine or just somebody in the church or somebody like that.

So one of the very cool things hearing about at the launch was how the ministry has spread. So you’re in a bunch of different countries. So talk, talk a little bit about that.

Sally: You know, this is a personal blessing to me, Chap, because my dad was in the Navy for 20 years.

Chap: You were in Rhode Island! We have the Rhode Island connection.

Sally: We were in Rhode Island. We have two bases in Rhode Island. So we have that in common. And you’re the only other person I’ve ever met from Rhode Island. Toward the end of my dad’s Navy career when I was 12, my mom was saved and then my dad was saved. And the Navy sent him to Ecuador to work at the American Embassy and I went to a missionary kids’ school. And my parents were mentored by missionaries, which was a tremendous blessing.

So when I graduated from college, my plan was to go and be a missionary in a small little town somewhere in South America. And then I met David.  He was not headed for missions, but I didn’t worry about that because I figured God would just change his heart. Well, He didn’t. So you follow your husband, right?

And so I remember sitting in a conference and a missionary speaker was speaking and it all of a sudden dawned on me. God’s plans are always so much bigger than yours. Because I planned to be a missionary in some little village, and God said, No, I’m going to make you a missionary to the nations. Because the curriculum is being translated into Chinese, and eight different languages in India, and into Haitian Creole, there’s like thirteen different languages. I mean, we’re just getting requests all the time. And our policy is it’s copyright free, we give them the materials free, as long as they sign an agreement: One, that they will not change the theology. They can make it appropriate for their situation, the illustrations and stuff. They can contextualize it, but they cannot change the theology. And it needs to be non-profit. Because we want to bless the world with teaching.

And what we’re finding is, it’s children’s material, but adults- not only overseas, but adults in the United States- are actually learning to have a theological foundation. Because, actually, growing up in the church, we didn’t really get that. And so even the adults are learning through the children’s material.

Chap: Talk about that a minute because I think that when we think of discipleship, we’re thinking of it too simply. So when we think of discipleship, it’s I’m teaching you, so I’m discipling you. But to me, the deeper discipleship occurs when you turn around and teach that to somebody else. So who always learns the most? It’s the teacher. And so actually as a pastor, I’m subversively discipling my church by saying, “We want to do this material, and yes, the kids are going to learn,” but the teachers are going to learn as well.

Sally: And we have found that to be true in many, many situations where actually the adults in the church are learning. It’s a way to disciple the adults. The other thing that we try to do that I think is unusual is we want to instruct the mind, but it’s not heady material. It’s not just Okay, now we’ve got all these little theologians walking around. No, we want to produce disciples. And so, yes, we instruct the mind, but we also engage the heart. And we work really hard to get good application questions and good illustrations to help pull that heart in.

We also get the children answering questions. So they’re not just passive listeners, but they have to be involved. What does the Bible say about this? Where do you see that in the text? Is there a verse that will tell you this? What does it mean when Paul says this phrase? How do you know that’s true? I mean, we really get them involved as active learners. And I don’t mean activity, but I mean active in their minds and active in their hearts. And so we want to instruct the mind, engage the heart.

And the third thing we want to do is influence the will. So they’re not just hearers of the word, but they are actually doers of the word. And so we send them with something when they go out the door with some idea of how can you follow up on this. What is God asking of you? What does he want you to think, be, and do? And it’s exciting to hear stories of kids coming back, where you see they have put the word into, into action.

Chap: What’s one of those stories?

Sally: One story- I’ve told it many times, but it’s a special favorite of mine and I’ll tell you why it’s a favorite. I was teaching Fight the Good Fight. And I talked about one of the battlegrounds of the heart is fear. And there’s a good fear that God gives us that says, Don’t walk in front of that car, you’re going to get hit. There’s also a spirit of fear that comes from the enemy that keeps us from doing what God wants us to do and enjoying Him and his kingdom. And we have to fight that. So the whole lesson talks about how do you fight the battle of fear. And so one little boy, he was in fifth grade, and about a month later he came back and said to me, “Mrs. Michael, I was lying in bed and I was really scared. And then I remembered what you said about fighting the fight of faith. So I said a fight verse. And then I said another one. And then I said another one. Guess what, Mrs. Michael? Fighting the fight of faith really works!”

Now, one of the reasons that’s my favorite is because that young man, when we left our former church where we were teaching him, is now an adult. He was signing up and we trained him to be a small group leader to lead the next generation. I just think that faith that I saw in fifth grade has come to fruition and now he wants to turn around, he wants to teach the next generation and that is really exciting to me.

Chap: So as a former pastor, currently a non-vocational elder, maybe I’ve got denominational material or something that we’re doing. . . Persuade me. You’ve got to believe in the material, but why?  What do you see in your material that you’re saying, “I’m just convinced that, that you need to implement something like this in your church?”

Sally: I think there are a couple reasons. And I don’t want to speak against anybody else’s because I think God can- I mean, good grief, He can use anything because He is so powerful. But I do think we want to do the best that we can to prepare them as well as we can.  So some of what I see in materials, books, curriculum, any kind of materials for children, a lot of times it’s a very moralistic event. A little boy shared his lunch rather than Jesus the son of God satisfies the needs of 5000 men and women. Not just their physical, but their spiritual needs, so, I think, a very moralistic event. I think there’s a lot of story, which is good, but there’s a point where you have to grow beyond just story, because you can’t really learn the doctrines of the Bible by only reading narrative passages.

Chap: Let me just speak to that. I remember growing up in the church and when I discovered there was this thing called systematic theology and a systematic theology book and smart people who had thought about the Bible. I was shocked. I ate it up. I couldn’t believe it. I teach a high school apologetics and doctrine class. And one of the things I say to the parents is, There’s AP biology, AP English, but we’re not giving them AP Bible, and there is AP Bible out there! And that’s really what you’re what you’re talking about.

Sally: I think sometimes we have such a narrow scope of what we expose children to in the Bible.  They’re hearing the same things over and over and over or it’s a very watered-down Jesus died to save me from my sins, and every answer to every question is Jesus. I mean, we are very narrow in what we teach children, and very shallow in what we teach children. But children’s souls long for depth, and they can understand, because the Holy Spirit gives them understanding. They can understand things beyond their age. So, we have tried to give them biblical theology, which is the story of redemption. We’ve given them a chronological Bible story, and that’s what they get when they’re young, so that they really understand, they know the Bible stories and they know them in order. So they know David the shepherd boy is David the king.

We’ve also given them systematic theology. We’ve given them a robust understanding of the Bible, of the gospel. We want them to be able to articulate the gospel from beginning to end. And we’ve given them Bible study methods. I feel like the full scope of the whole counsel of God is what we need to give them. And it’s not too hard for them. You have to present things at certain ages. You have to present things in child-like ways. But we teach them the sovereignty of God from preschool. And what we tell them is, God is in charge of everything. God is the boss. That is teaching the sovereignty of God. Now later, in sixth grade, in My Purposeful Stand, they will learn the word sovereign, they will learn providence, they’ll learn a definition for sovereignty. But they’re starting in preschool, and we’re just building precept upon precept so they have greater and greater understanding.

We had a little girl in the nursery who learned one of what we call our foundation verses. She went up to the preschool class at three years old, and the teacher was telling the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. And he said, “Should they bow down to the statue?” And this little girl got very agitated, and finally she jumped up, and she said, “They can’t, they can’t!” because of that verse. All the verses have a symbol, and she pointed the symbol to the verse, “No one can serve two masters.” Now that is beyond three-year-old understanding unless the Holy Spirit takes the word that has been sown by a faithful teacher, faithful parent, faithful grandparent, and breathes upon it and brings life to it in a child’s heart. And we just find kids get excited about what they’re learning. And they have spiritual insights.

But in a curriculum that I’ve written, I ask a question of the kids. And I’ve got some suggested answers for the small group leaders or teachers to know. And I think I’ve been exhausted. Exhausted. And then they give me answers and I think, Wow, those are really good answers. I should have written that in the curriculum. So it’s amazing what they come up with.

Chap: So you guys are doing the rebranding, so this is the launch of Truth 78. And that’s based on Psalm 78, we will not hide these things from the generations. So where can people go for more information?

Sally: Well, they can go to truth78.org right now. I don’t know when you’re going to be airing this chat, but right now the site isn’t completely done. So, sometimes it’ll shoot you back to childrendesiringgod.org, but between those two sites, they’re going to find everything. Hopefully by May, everything will be on the truth78.org site. [The site is now fully operational -ed.]

Chap: We’re good. We’re good. I love what you’re doing. So this has just come out, right? Indestructible Joy, with the launch?

Sally: Actually, we have quite a few new things coming out. Indestructible Joy is a book that is actually an anthology of different plenary speakers from our children’s conference. So Al Mohler, John Piper, Bruce Ware, because we wanted real theologians teaching children and showing that children’s ministry is important, this is the discipleship. This is probably the greatest discipleship and the greatest evangelistic ministry in the church. So that’s one thing that’s coming out.

Chap: You’re preaching my language there.

Sally: I know! We did do a devotional on the gospel called Glorious God, Glorious Gospel. It has a children’s coloring book that goes with it and a little workbook or handbook or whatever that’s for family devotions. We are revising Things Hidden. It’s one of our backyard Bible club vacation Bible school materials. It has all new artwork and stuff. We’re coming out with a brand new one called Pour Out Your Heart, which is on the Psalms and that will be coming out this summer. We had just published our first children’s book, so to speak, which is When I am Afraid, and I have a wonderful story about that. I just got a copy of it because it’s brand new, and I gave it to a friend of mine at church who has young children. And she has a child who was afraid to go to bed at night and would cry. And so they read the book, simple book about children’s fears, and then it does instruct parents how to help children with fear. And then it had a lot of Bible verses that would help children. So they read the book, they laid hands on this little boy, 4 years old, and as a family they prayed for him. And he went right to bed with no problem. And so she emailed me the next day and she said, “God’s word is powerful!” It was very exciting. So that’s coming out.

Also, if you’re familiar with the the app for the Fighter Verses, we are coming out with an app for A Father’s Blessing where the blessings are on it. You can put your own blessings in it. You can personalize them for your children. You can record it and send it on a text or an email. And so your child can hear your voice. If you’re out of town and you want to bless your children at night, you can text it to the mom and she can play Dad’s voice there. So, that’s exciting. And I’m very proud because my brother wrote the app. And that is really fun for me to see people in family and friends that are supportive of what we’re doing.

Chap: Well, that’s great. Thank you. Thanks for talking with me hopefully the people who are listening to this podcast will, will check out your website and check out your material.

Podcast Transcript (David)

Chap: Hi, my name is Chap Bettis and I’m the author of The Disciple-Making Parent and host of the podcast by the same name, and I am delighted to invite you into the recent conversation I had with David Michael. David is the co-founder of Children Desiring God, now Truth78. And we were together at the recent Together for the Gospel conference. They had a booth there. They’re re-launching the ministry or rebranding the ministry with a new name, and I’m just delighted to see what God is doing through them.

In part one of this podcast I talked to his wife Sally, and in part two, we’re going to have a conversation with David himself. And specifically in this conversation, I asked him about his family. You get a little background about where God has led them. And then also, we have a chance for David, who is a pastor, to talk to pastors about the necessity of this ministry and just really how the whole church has a responsibility to raise the next generation to hope in God. And that includes whether it’s pastors or singles, or really the whole church.

And then finally at the end, we talk about some resources for families to bring the ministry home. So I know that you’re going to be delighted to listen in on this conversation with David Michael, co-founder of Children Desiring God, now Truth78.

So this afternoon I talked to your wife and that was a joy. She told us a little bit about the origin of the Children Desiring God curriculum, now Truth78, and talked about how it’s been spread, really, around the world. You’re doing a lot of translation, which is really exciting.  So just to get us to talking about this a little bit, why don’t you tell us about your family.

David Michael: Believe it or not, she and I just launched right into business.

Chap: But tell us tell us a little bit about your family.

David: Well, God’s been gracious enough to give us two daughters. And that really was I think a significant impetus for us to be able to think very seriously about what is our plan for these children that God has entrusted to us. And that really, I think, has helped just fuel our passion and this is what made us so almost desperate for our church where we were being so transformed by the preaching of the word, and just wanting it to be for our children sooner than what we experienced.

So, two daughters, both of them adopted, and I think with that just came this profound sense that God before the foundation of the world was at work.  To bring these daughters into our home. One from the jungles of Ecuador. That’s where she was born, Puyo. The other’s from the jungles of North Dakota.  And in both cases, God just worked wonders in both of those adoptions. There was enough in those that just made us have a strong sense that these girls have been entrusted to us for a purpose. I think there was just the added burden, responsibility, privilege that we had to shepherd these girls in the truth and at a time when we were being so influenced and so shaped, so that we just said, Let’s just make it different for the next generation.

So now the oldest of those two daughters, Amy, has three children of her own, and we’re really beginning to see before our eyes one generation declaring to the next the glorious deeds of the Lord and His might and the wonders He has done. And our other daughter is unmarried at this point, and yet still shares this passion with her parents and really understands. In the context of the church, we’ve always tried to emphasize that children are entrusted to the church as well.

So there’s a sense in which I tell single people in my church that you have 900 kids. You may not have any children in your own home, but you have 900. If you’re a part of this church, you share with us the commitment to impart to the next generation this truth.

Chap: Well, that’s a great perspective there because in one sense, one of the things is parents can say is, “Oh, these are my kids.” And then, “What’s the children’s program doing?” And then singles are sort of off to the side. But then just talk about those kids need to be connected with mentors, and then just to empower singles to say, “Yeah, these are your kids.”

David: Yeah, I think within the church there’s a certain tension. There are those who just believe very strongly and passionately, as we do, that parents are responsible for the discipleship of their children.  And almost to the point that they’ll say to the church, “Thank you very much. This is our job. Don’t get in the way.”  And biblically, I have a hard time defending that. I can make a strong case biblically for why parents should be the primary disciplers of their children, but I see very clearly the church also bears that responsibility and we’ll have to give an account for the children that are entrusted within the congregation. And so I’ve just tried to emphasize that both the church and the home share this responsibility and therefore, whoever identifies with that church- single, married, with children, without children, empty nesters, anybody- shares this responsibility for this body of believers. In fact, in our child dedication, the words of dedication that we say over the children are, “Together with your parents who love you dearly, and this people who care about the outcome of your faith, I dedicate you to God.” And so this you have this three-way partnership.

You have parents who love you dearly, this congregation that cares about the outcome of your faith, and God who cares and is more passionate than anybody about this responsibility.  And entrusting to this next generation this truth that we’ve got to have a whole other conversation just about connecting to people within the church there.

Chap: So your actual background, you originally wanted to do inner city ministry, right? Isn’t that how sort of you ended up in Minneapolis at John Piper’s church?

David: Yeah, so when Sally and I met, fell in love, our college was just outside of Brooklyn, New York. And every Friday night we’d drive into the city, drive into Brooklyn, and we would minister to inner city kids and loved it, and fell in love with each other, loving these kids. She was a Christian ed major, and even in those years, absolutely passionate about truth, teaching truth to the children, and so on. I’ve been married to this woman for 42 years now, and that passion really was and is contagious. But my passion at that time was for the city, and I went into seminary. I just had my heart set, my core set for reaching the city, and God moved us into downtown Minneapolis eventually. We connected at Bethlehem. They were wanting, at that time, to reach more intentionally into the city. One thing led to another, and they brought me on staff as their pastor for urban and neighborhood ministry, which I did for ten years.  And in that context, the Lord taught us many things through that ministry.

One was how absolutely critical the home is. And I think growing up in a Christian home with functional parents, stability, parents who really did care about me. . . I mean, I saw just how rich I was growing up in a home where we were okay, but we weren’t wealthy by any means and feeling somewhat deprived. . . and I just realized the farther I went into urban ministry, the more rich, not only just in terms of emotional stability that my parents gave, but just the spiritual heritage that I inherited and how desperately lost a person is and just how shocking it was for some people that just had absolutely no context for understanding God and who He was.

My children had the same experience at a middle-class college. And you know, Sharon and I, we have the normal struggles of a marriage. And so our home’s not perfect, but then to get to college and say, “Wow, all my other classmates whose homes are not intact, not taught about God, scars from that. . .”

Chap: That’s a rich heritage. I’m glad they realized it was a lot of work. A lot of mistakes. So, well, let’s talk about where Truth78 is. So Children Desiring God– Sally told me about the history and things that are happening there. You’re a pastor for families; what’s your vision of family

Involvement? I’m sure the curriculum is part of that. Let me give you a chance to not make a sales pitch, but a passion pitch. Obviously you believe and I believe this is an important curriculum, an important topic to teach our kids about. What would you say to the pastor who’s unconvinced, and convince him he needs to even get into choosing the curriculum, having a say? And he chooses the music, he chooses what he’s going to preach on, but well, Sunday school curriculum, that’s somebody else’s decision.

David: I’ll back up again here.  So our conviction is that the church has this responsibility and yet our sense is most churches do not approach children’s ministry with a strong sense of responsibility that they have to impart the full counsel of God to the next generation. So one of the ways we talk about our ministry is the sense that we really want to stir up, awaken, encourage, facilitate a vision for children’s ministry that goes beyond just providing child care while adults are doing other important things in the church. We want to be able to provide something for the children, what we’ll call an activity-orientation to children’s ministry, where we want to create programs in many churches.

It’s a church growth strategy because it’s been proven that if you have effective ministries for children- so if children love coming to your church and have a great time- they’re going to want to come back and parents are delighted when their children love being in church. Which is wonderful, and we really want children to have a great time. But so often what’s missing in the mindset of many children’s ministry is a sense that we’ve been entrusted with these children. What is it in the first 20 years of their life that we’re committed to teaching them?

And so what I would say to a pastor is, first of all, this is not just material for you to use in your Sunday school’s programs.  This really is a discipleship strategy born out of our efforts at Bethlehem and now College Park where we’ve tried to take a step back and say as a church, What is it that we want to teach our children? and creating resources for our teachers to use so that we can in a relatively intentional and systematic way impart this truth over the first 20 years of the child’s life.

Chap: Well, one of the things I talked with Sally, and it’s in addition to the actual things you’re teaching the kids, the teacher always learns more than the student.

David: Right.

Chap: So you’re actually teaching the teachers, and then you also have things for the families to take home.  Talk a little bit about that, that we didn’t talk with Sally about; how it integrates with the home. We started this by talking about your heart for parents teaching their kids. Talk a little bit about the resources that are the way it integrates into the home.

David:  So just backing up again, what I will tell pastors is I dream of children’s ministry in their church being such that you could say to an adult, “If you really want to grow in your theological development, and if you really want to develop a strong doctrinal foundation in your life, teach in the children’s ministry of our church.”

Chap: There you go, a recruiting strategy for teachers! To say “If you want to grow. . .”

David: And it’s proven very true, because when you have to bring great truth down to a level that a child can grasp, adults all of a sudden understand it. So in sixth grade we’re teaching the providence of God, God’s sovereignty over evil, God’s sovereignty over salvation, God’s purposes that are unfolding from the beginning, before the foundation of the world, and some of those questions. How does a good God let tsunamis happen and wipe out all these people?  Grown-ups have a hard time answering those questions. And now having to give the answers to those questions to children, all of a sudden adults are saying “Wow, I never understood that before!” And so we hear that often from adults that are using our materials, that will say “I’m not sure what the kids are getting, but I’m sure learning a lot through this process.” So it really is  a discipleship strategy, even for adults.

As far as connecting with the home, again, as much as we’re committed to being a church that’s faithful to its responsibility, we really do want to equip parents to fulfill their role. And so, all of our curriculum, all of our material has material that goes home that allows parents to be able to follow up on what their children are learning. In addition, we have now eight in the series, they’re called the Making HIM Known series of books that’s published by P&R Publishing. These are what I call companion books, designed for parents to interact with their children over the material that their children are learning.

So for example, our second graders learn a 40-week study where they go through the promises of God. We have this little companion book that’s called God’s Promise. It has 23 chapters, which is 23 of the lessons that our children get in a format that’s more interactive. It’s designed for a parent to sit down with their child or as a family devotion, and they’re talking through the whole theology around God’s promises, what those promises are, what they mean. There are promises for believers, there are promises for unbelievers, and unpacking all of that. But it’s designed for not just for the parent to read and say, “Okay, here’s some information, remember it, believe it.” But we believe that one of the ways you teach children how to think is by asking questions. A lot of parents struggle with asking good questions that will help a child think. And so this book is set up to enable parents to be able to interact with their children around these truths, teaching them to think about what they’re learning. Not just to learn certain facts and information and then be able to spit it out.

So that would be one example I’m real passionate about. It’s supporting the husband, the father in the home, so we’ve put together some family devotional material that I’d love to see dads especially using. It’s very user-friendly, doesn’t require a ton of preparation. Another simple thing that I’ve tried to encourage dads to do is just to begin the pattern of blessing their children. And so when I discovered this I think my youngest was in third grade, my oldest was in fifth grade at the time, and in my little booklet that I created for this, I just tell the story of feeling pretty desperate as a dad. In terms of the responsibility to be a blessing to my children, I wanted them to grow up saying it was a blessing that God gave me the dad I did and realizing how inadequate I was for that task. And I remember the night when I just felt overwhelmed by this after watching a film at that time by Gary Smalley on The Blessing. I came away that evening, looked at my little girls, tucking them into bed and I said, “I don’t know if I will ever be a blessing to my daughters. But by God’s grace, I’m going to invoke his blessing on them.” And I put my hand one at a time on each of their heads and recited the only blessing I knew at the time as a pastor, “Way the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you. May the Lord lift up his countenance on you and give you peace.”

And that three-fold “May the Lord bless you”-it was like this release that came that the God of heaven and earth can bless you, daughter.  So it was a prayer in one sense: “God, please bless my daughter.”  But it was also in front of my girls. They heard their daddy’s heart and vision that the God of the universe would bless them. And that began a pattern for the rest of their growing up years. And even into their college years, I sent them with a CD that had 31 tracks on it. And each track had a prayer that concluded with a blessing. And now even with my grandchildren. But I developed several biblical blessings where you’re essentially speaking the word. And I just love seeing dads catch on to this, hearing reports coming back from them. And it’s one simple way that I think has enabled dads to kind of step up, do something that’s. . . For most dads, I find, it’s something that they can do with a lot of positive feedback coming back from the kids.

Chap: So we’re going to be together in two months at the TGC Women’s Conference, so I think that’s another conversation to have about that. Cause that’s just a radical- I don’t know anybody else that’s really saying that. And I’m old enough to remember that same video series as well.

David: When I started this, Rolf Garborg, a publisher in Minneapolis, wrote a book called The Family Blessing, and my wife gave that to me after I started doing this, maybe three to six months. And I said, “Wow, someone else discovered this.” And it was really his book that’s still available. It not only confirmed this, but he put a lot of the substance and the vision behind it. And so he’s a real partner in blessing that I’ve just  been encouraged by over the years.

Chap: Well, thank you for taking this time, and I’m really excited to see Truth78. So I was there at the kickoff and it was fun to see- just lots of support people excited for it and hearing the stories of God’s blessing.