How to Teach the Trinity to Kids
As promised, this is my lesson about how to explain the Trinity to kids (for a teenager’s explanation, another email will be written someday). This message is an answer to Henry, Olga, and many others who have asked for hints about how to teach such a complex topic. It may be used as well to answer the question: “Who is God?” which kids ask frequently.
Every year, the kids in my Sunday School are used to making me answer the key question: “Who is God?” Here, you have the script I use to answer them and to teach them about the Trinity.
- “You know who God the Father is, don’t you?”
- And I introduce a cue here to stimulate their answers: “God the Father created…”
- The answers come quickly: the world, the sky, the oceans, one thousand names of animals they say, and the more mature add men and women.
- I try to introduce here the invisible things, and it needs some help: “God the Father created the wind, which cannot be seen. Which other invisible things did God the Father create?”
- Notice that I repeat “God the Father” every time to set the ground for the next explanation.
- Then they talk about electricity, radio, Internet, etc., which leads to energy in general. I want to clarify here the point that God is not “a cosmic energy”; this is explained by saying that God created energy. You know that there are theologies using this concept of energy, which is not at all personal; so it’s good to reinforce the idea that God the Father is not any kind of pantheist energy without personality.
- Depending on the group, you can jump up to a more abstract level of creation by talking about feelings: happiness, loyalty, sense of truth, etc.
- And it’s not a bad thing to just point out that God the Father also created space and time, but this is certainly too hard to understand at this age.
- Recommended Bible readings: Book of Genesis.
- And you know who Jesus is, don’t you?
- What we are seeking here is that they answer that Jesus is the Son of God, the most important truth of our faith; and to help them understand that being the Son of God means being God as well. But we are not going to teach it in a direct way, but indirectly, letting them come to a conclusion by themselves.
- Often they begin with these kinds of answers: Jesus is my friend, Jesus is my brother, Jesus is the best man who ever existed…
- Just a note here about the language: we need to work in present tense, not in past tense, because Jesus is alive. So if they say: “Jesus was…”, don’t rebuke them, just repeat what they have said formulated in present tense: “Yes, well said, Jesus IS…”.
- In some cases the answers go to specific facts of the life of Jesus, but you need to focus them on the answer to the question: “Who is Jesus is?” We’re not teaching right now about what Jesus did or said.
- Very soon one of them will say: “Jesus is the son of God.” Often, it’s the first answer I get!
- You can put a cue here by saying: “Brilliant, you are right. Jesus is the Son of God, the Son of God the Father.” Do this to link with the teaching about God the Father and to reinforce the terms used.
- Your point now is to help them understand that by being the Son of God, Jesus is God himself.
- There are different ways to do so. For instance you can say: “Which animal is the child of a lion?” They will answer slightly confused about your absurd question: “A lion, of course!” And the child of an elephant: “A little elephant! And the son or the daughter of a man and a woman?” A baby, a boy or a girl…
- So if the child of an animal is an animal, and the child of men and women is a man or a woman, what do you think that a child of God may be?
- With less or more troubles you’ll get the answer: the Son of God only may be God. That’s what you were looking for.
- Jesus is the Son of God, God himself who became a man like us, without ceasing to be God, and came to the world to redeem us. He is our Lord and Savior. This is a very formal expression of our faith, but they are now ready to hear it and understand it.
- Recommended Bible readings: the Gospels.
- And yes, we come to the Holy Spirit, which is the more difficult person of the Trinity to teach about.
- I’m used to doing it this way:
- “Who is inside you, in your heart?”
- A non verbal cue helps here, putting your hand on your heart zone or tapping with the finger there.
- The more usual answer is, “Jesus.”
- Kids are smart and they know that if they are at Sunday School, there are “standard” answers which work well most of the time, and the right answer for “Who” is usually “Jesus” or “God.”
- When a kid says, “Jesus,” I invite him or her to stand up and open their mouth; I take five or ten seconds to, without any word, examine the interior of the mouth.
- It shocks the audience (It’s not easy to keep from laughing, yourself, when you do it).
- If someone asks you: “What are you looking for there?” You can say: “I’m looking for Jesus, and I’m astounded to not see at least one of his heels.” Give some seconds here for them to analyze such an absurd answer.
- You can proceed by saying: “Jesus – who is God – is, at the same time, a man, and he still has a body, as we can read in the Gospels, and is able to eat and do the same things people do, and some more “extra” things.
- “So if Jesus is inside of her, I will find him, although it seems difficult to fit one 33 year old man inside a kid; it’s just a problem of space…”
- At this point you may be so fortunate (it happened to me several times) that one kid may say: “No, silly teacher! It’s not Jesus himself, but the spirit of Jesus.” If they are not able to do so you can help them with some cues: “If there is not the body of Jesus that is inside her heart, what can it be?”
- The final point is getting the “Spirit of Jesus” answer. That’s your moment to arrange some language precision: “Yes, it’s the Spirit of Jesus, the Spirit of God, as Jesus is God, who is inside of us!”
- We name this Spirit, the Holy Spirit.
- And now your work is to help them understand, again, that the Holy Spirit is a person and not a ghost (I prefer not to use the “Holy Ghost” expression, as kids link “Ghost” to weird TV images). Also mention that the Holy Spirit is not a cosmic energy, either.
- You can teach them that the Holy Spirit thinks, speaks to us, and leads us like a person.
- When Jesus rose into Heaven, he promised his disciples to send them a comforter, a counselor who will encourage them; this person is the Holy Spirit.
- The Holy Spirit has the same nature of God, the Father, and Jesus, the Son; therefore the Holy Spirit is God himself, again.
- Recommended Bible readings: the book of Acts and the letter to the Romans.
And finally you have to tie it all together: three persons, one God. And it’s here when we begin talking about the Trinity, although I rarely use the word, I just try to help them understand the concept. The term will come later.
There are many metaphors to try to explain the Trinity. They are just images to explain the mystery. It’s a mystery in the sense that we’re not able to completely understand it, but we can, notwithstanding, get glimpses of it. Here you have three different approaches to explain the Trinity based on different personality types, which may serve you, depending on the group you work with.
The thinker’s way is that of C. S. Lewis. God is like a cube, where God the Father is one side, the Lord Jesus is another side, and the Holy Spirit is the third side. All three together make the three dimensions of a cube, which is more than the sum of the sides. It helps me to teach that every time we pray to the Father or to the Son or to the Holy Spirit, that we are, at the same time, praying to the other two persons of the Trinity.
The feeler’s approach may be that of Rob Bell, who talks of the relationship between the three persons as a dance, ever dynamic and changing. It’s all about a loving relationship between the three persons. This metaphor is more fresh than the cold, geometrical approach of C. S. Lewis.
The artist’s approach was told to me by my mentor, J. M. Ballarin. The Trinity of God is like a flute from which we hear three different sounds or melodies at the same time. So the Trinity of God is expressed this way as music, an everlasting harmonic composition which can only be perceived through the three voices of the three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
This is a long answer to the question: “Who is God?” I hope that you will find here resources for teaching the Trinity. Keep in mind, however, that knowing who God is isn’t just an intellectual approach, as I’ve done in this message; it’s also about having a loving relationship with him, but this will be the topic for another message.
“In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19)
Be blessed my beloved sisters and brothers,
PS. For every message I write, I receive many answers which, in most cases, are better than my own article: shorter, with better images, and finding more accurate Bible verses. I encourage you to write your comments to this post; I know that your writings will help many other parents, grandparents, and teachers to raise their kids closer to God.