By Julia Schumacher Martin
The season of Lent, which consists of the forty days before Easter Sunday, is traditionally a penitential season. It is a time of somber self-examination, prayer, and contemplation on Christ’s sacrifice. Historically, Christians fasted during Lent; many people who observe this period today choose to “give up” something that is an indulgence (coffee, alcohol, social media, etc.) as a way to mirror Christ’s forty days of fasting in the wilderness (see Matthew 4:1–11).
Fasting, contemplation, self-examination, penitence . . . Does that sound like an advertisement for a fun-filled children’s ministry event? Perhaps not. But using the six weeks before Easter to explore the story of Jesus’ sacrifice with the kids in your ministry is a great way to present the meaning of Lent for children—and yes, it can be fun! Here are a few suggestions for how to explore the pre-Easter season with the kids you serve.
1. Tell the Story . . . in digestible increments. As a children’s ministry leader, you know well that subjects like betrayal, violence, death, and sadness are very difficult to work through with children. And yet, these are all part of the Easter story. Use a children’s Bible and break the pre-Easter narrative up into six parts—the smaller, the better! Use the Bible time in your Sunday school hour to read and talk about one part of the story each week leading up to Easter. For stories about Palm Sunday or the Last Supper, recruit the children to act it out. Give the kids plenty of time to ask questions. Most importantly, emphasize how each part of the story shows how much Jesus loves us. (If you’re wondering where to begin, CTA offers a variety of items that will be useful, and fun, for kids to learn more about the season of Lent. Check out CTA's collection of Children's Lent or Easter preparation items.)
2. Host an event! Sure, this may seem counterintuitive—after all, your truly celebratory Easter egg hunt is around the corner—but hosting a “crosswalk” event for children can help them appreciate the significance of the Lenten season. Choose a day close to the beginning of the forty-day period, and set up a long hallway or a large, open space with a “path” that children and their families can follow. Prepare activity stations along the path that use crafts, games, or songs to tell part of the story of Jesus’ deep love for us leading up to his resurrection. Then send home devotions or activities that families can do together at home for the remainder of the season.
3. Try challenges—gentle ones! Make the concept of “Lenten fasting” accessible for the kids you work with by challenging them to adopt one specific habit each week in the six weeks before Easter Sunday. Explain that trying little things that are hard reminds us of the very big, hard things that Jesus did for us. Consider challenging the children to give up non-school-related screen time for a week, eat no candy or sweets, go without sugary drinks or soda, or spend a full week without complaining. You can also encourage them to adopt positive habits: they could make their bed every morning, help out with a chore they usually don’t take on, or say something kind about someone each day for the week. At the end of each week, check in on how the challenge went: ask if it was hard to do, what they learned, how other people reacted. Then give them the next one. You can decide if you would like to keep parents updated on each week’s challenge—or if the children would find it more fun to try out their new habits without telling anyone, as a surprise to their families.
Ultimately, the meaning of Lent for children is the same as it is for all of us: Lent is about Easter. Without Christ’s suffering, sacrifice, and death, there would be no Resurrection. And as children explore the story and struggle like all sinful people with their challenges, keep the truth of God’s love front and center in your ministry. Jesus went through what he did out of love for us—and his sacrifice ended in life and victory! May God bless your ministry and the children you serve this pre-Easter season.
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