Colin Buchanan writes: (7) Spiritual Moonshine—Distilling The Hard Liquor of Kids Ministry


Alcohol and kids ministry are an unlikely pair to turn up together in a TGCA article.  No pun intended, they don't—and shouldn’t—mix.  But for the next 1000 words, I’m going to break that rule and encourage you to—sort of—do the same.

Distillation is the process by which spirits are produced.  In the case of whisky, barley is mashed and fermented in giant vats before it is placed in a still and heated under pressure at a temperature hot enough to evaporate the alcohol but not the water.  Lots of mash produces very little finished spirit.

And before this sounds too much like a typical Sydney Anglican men’s event, let me make my point.  

Good kids ministry distills truth.  

It takes the mash of teaching, reading, reflecting, thinking, discussion and study and applies the patient heat and pressure of distillation to produce a refined, simple, potent truth.

Let me give you an anti-example.  I’m inspired to use this example because I was recently interviewed for radio and the first question contained the comment, “A lot of kids music doesn’t seem to go deeper than ‘Jesus loves you!’”  The comment has a sting in it, doesn’t it?  Because, strictly speaking, the statement is true.  So what might make it shallow?

“Jesus loves you!”  

Divine love is stunning.  But to me, if that phrase is your take-home banner message—especially week after week—it’s definitely more a cup of fermented mash than a single malt.  

Asking Better Questions

It’s not that it’s wrong, it’s just so … unrefined.  Who is Jesus?  Who am I?  How does the Bible frame divine love?  (Why does the Bible matter at all?)  What does his love look like?  Does he feel it or do something about it?  Or both?  Does he love everyone?  Or anyone?  What if I don’t love him?  Why should I care if he loves me or not?

All those questions shouldn’t swamp kids.  (It’s probably more likely kids will swamp you with their own sharp set of questions!). The questions are distillation.  Let that work happen before you get to the lesson, talk or presentation.  But you shouldn’t feel the pressure of absolute microscopic theological precision.  Don’t try and write a thesis.  Have a bit of fun.

Armed with your Bible, sift the essence.  Probe the qualifications.  Find the exceptions.  Climb to the summit of the truth, or look at it from the valley.  Find the doubters, the haters, the champions, the proclaimers.  Ruminate.  Postulate.  Think about it on the train.  Text a friend with your thoughts.  Ask fellow kids workers what they think.  Let yourself get stumped.  Stump your pastor. Ask difficult, obvious questions.  (Does Jesus hate anyone?  Does anyone hate Jesus?)

After leading a song in church, I once spontaneously asked the pastor, “What does it mean for God to be vindicated?”  Gave him a bit of a shock.  But we’d all just sung it and it was one of those, “I should know but I’m not sure I do…” moments.  Risk it.  Apply heat to the mash.

All this needn’t take an age or turn every lesson prep into a epic Moore college Masters Of Infinity course.  In fact, it’s more about developing a reflex of thoughtfulness, an instinct of calling a lesson, a statement, a song to account.  Sizing it up, passing it not just through your prep sausage machine, but through your brain.  And your heart.

The prospect of posterity adds pressure to the process.  I write and record a song and it’s going to be around for a while, going to be played to a lot of kids, potentially shaping belief and action.  It adds the “better get it right” factor.

But think about how your lesson, your comment, your question or your answer may just be the one that a child remembers.  Forever.

If “Jesus loves you” is a phrase a child remembered forever, I guess that wouldn’t be a bad thing.  I have to say, in 20 years of recording kids Christian albums and performing, I’ve be disinclined to use that phrase as an isolated, over-and-over, catch-all mantra.  Certainly, I’d hope the love of Jesus has evidenced itself in the stating and singing of gospel truths and that I’ve drawn attention to the life and death and resurrection of Christ in lots and lots of ways.

If I’d not been encouraged early in my kids ministry apprenticeship to distill, I reckon I’d either have run out of things to say or become very repetitive.  As it is, I find that I just can't seem to stop writing songs, such is the richness of God and his word.  It’s addictive.

When the distillation process is done, what drips out of that tube is truth that goes straight to the nervous system, changes the way you think and feel, what you say, the way you walk—and what you teach.

Taste it.  Let the truth that you share—especially to kids—be the truth you distilled, the truth that is comfort for your own soul, the source of your hope, the evidence of your love for your God.  Not diluted catchphrases, sloshed out like weak cordial for kids.  We're going for sacred truth, carefully decanted, subtle, clear, full of divine flavour.

Between grog, milk and meat, the scriptures call us to partake, digest, grow and live in a way shaped by God’s wonderful word, filled with the Spirit of God himself.  Cheers!

Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. (1 Peter 2:2-3)

In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. (Hebrews 5: 12-14)

Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord (Ephesians 5:17-19)

Photos: Slideless in Seattle (head), Wayne Stadler (body); flickr