Jeff Finley

Jeff Finley

Light + Life Executive Editor

Jeff Finley is this magazine’s executive editor. He joined the Light+Life team in 2011 after a dozen years of reporting and editing for Sun-Times Media. He is a member of John Wesley Free Methodist Church where his wife, Jen, serves as the lead pastor.

by Jeff Finley

The ROOTS children’s curriculum is back with a new emphasis: the fruit of the Spirit.

In an interview with Brett Heintzman on The Light + Life Podcast, author Christie Kessinger noted that some Christian children’s programs only provide a quick glimpse at the fruit while Light + Life KIDS’ “ROOTS: Fruit of the Spirit” offers an in-depth focus on the Holy Spirit and the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control that come from Him.

“We really wanted to dive deep into each fruit,” said Kessinger, who also serves as the pastor of children and prayer at the Greenville Free Methodist Church in Illinois and the coordinator of children’s ministries for the Gateway Conference.  “We start with love, of course, and just really talking about how all the fruits of the Spirit are about love. … The main command of Jesus is ‘love the Lord your God’ and then ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Kessinger said the first installment of ROOTS included Bible stories from the Old Testament, but “ROOTS 2 is all focused on the stories of Jesus. … We want to teach children to do what Jesus said.” Children consider: “How did Jesus live? How did Jesus talk to His friends? How did He listen to His Father?”

Because Jesus already had the Spirit’s fruit, Kessinger said that “if we’re patterning ourselves after Jesus, then we should have the fruits of the Spirit. … It’s something that is born in us by following Jesus and trying to do what He does and listening to the Spirit.”

“ROOTS: Fruit of the Spirit” builds upon the foundation of the previously released “ROOTS: Knowing God.”

“ROOTS 1 talked about who God is and then who we are in light of who God is and then: How do we grow, and how do we listen? How are we salt and light?” said Kessinger, who added that the new edition of ROOTS pauses in the middle of discussing the fruit of the Spirit to review who we are in Christ. She said this pause is “to make sure we’re all on the same page and kids are remembering how we want to tie everything together.”

Many churches focus on teaching children the Ten Commandments and other rules. Kessinger said these teachings “are all good things, but what does it look like to be given the Holy Spirit at the age of 10 and how should your life look different then?”

Children need to learn to pray. Kessinger said children’s prayer doesn’t need to be like giving “a laundry list to God,” and children can listen to the Holy Spirit.

“We know kids can listen and learn, and so how do we teach a child to listen to the Holy Spirit instead of just listening to the voice of the world?” said Kessinger, who added that we teach children reading, sports and manners and “we can also train a child to listen to the Holy Spirit and to read the Bible for what the Holy Spirit has to say to them.”

Her approach to children’s ministry includes “teaching kids to listen to the Scripture and to write down what words jump off the page at them.” She also emphasized the importance of “hands-on prayer experiences” that are not just “asking God for things but listening to what God would have them to say, listening to that Spirit, and learning to discern between the voice of the enemy and the voice of the Spirit.”

Children’s ministries typically emphasize salvation, but they may not focus on spiritual formation and the Holy Spirit.

“Growing up in the church, I felt like people kept trying to save me, and that’s where they would stop,” Kessinger said. “I feel like a lot of times we don’t give kids and show kids the full gospel — the New Testament after the Holy Spirit.”

“ROOTS: Fruit of the Spirit” includes prayer stations based on the Lord’s Prayer.

“The disciples really only asked Jesus to teach them one thing. They asked Jesus to teach them to pray, and so the Lord’s Prayer is the prayer that Jesus patterned for them,” Kessinger said. “Through centuries of the church, we have said, ‘Let’s pray as Jesus prayed.’”

ROOTS focuses on the prayer’s meaning. Children are taught phrases of the prayer at different times with active elements, such as praying “Our Father” by “hallowing His name” and understanding what “hallowed” means. Children ultimately are taught the full Lord’s Prayer and also the sign language for it.

“We can’t teach kids the same way we teach adults, but my belief is we can teach them the same content but in a different way,” she said.

Beyond the Surface

Kessinger began leading Greenville’s children’s ministries 15 years ago after extensive training in education. She has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Greenville University and a master’s degree in education from Southern Illinois University.

As she explored different Christian children’s curriculum, she discovered that much of the existing curriculum was well-written with good activities, “but I would often notice that they would stop at a point and not lean in to the deeper possibilities with kids.”

She shared a cautionary quote illustrating what people in children’s ministry don’t want to hear from their former students: “I sang your songs, and I jumped to your music. I watched your cartoon videos. I ate your pizza, but I didn’t meet your God.”

She longed for children’s curriculum that would go beyond the spiritual surface.

“It was like a lightbulb moment when I heard the quote that somebody gave that ‘the Holy Spirit isn’t given in a pint-sized form to children, that children are given the same Holy Spirit that we as adults are,’” she said.

She began to create experiences to help children experience God rather than merely knowing about Him, and the Greenville FMC began emphasizing that children’s ministry is not only about creating the church’s next generation.

“We started to lean in, really helping kids to understand that they’re the church of today,” she said. “Children are the church of today, not just tomorrow.”

Prayer and holiness are important aspects of her approach to children’s ministry.

“I really want to encourage whoever’s teaching to prepare your spaces in prayer,” said Kessinger, who added that space should not be a onetime occurrence. “We continue to prepare these spaces for ministry, that the Spirit would be strong in that place, that the enemy would have no hold on our kids. … If we’re teaching a holiness curriculum, and we’re a holiness church, then we can’t forget.”

She shared about a children’s ministry volunteer who went into a room where ROOTS was taught. The woman reported she “felt this overwhelming sense of the Spirit there … this sense that the Spirit was present, and He was doing work in that room.”

Guided by the Spirit

On the podcast, Kessinger also shared stories she heard from parents whose children have sensed the Holy Spirit telling them to do or not do certain things. One child believed the Holy Spirit was telling the child not to attend a party, and another sensed the Holy Spirit instructing him to pray behind a hotel while on a mission trip.

“He actually did find somebody and prayed with one of the girls that was out there,” she said about the boy on the trip.  “The next morning, they were told that there was an accident behind that hotel, and the person lived through the accident.”

These incidents have helped confirm that “our kids can hear from the Spirit. They’re not always going to get it right, but we’re not always going to get it right either,” she said. “Do we ever hear people talk about that children can live a sanctified life? But if they’re given the same Spirit we are, why couldn’t they?”

She considered that if we treat children as kids but also as “sanctified holy people on the journey, how different every interaction with that child would be.”


Jeff Finley

Jeff Finley

Light + Life Executive Editor

Jeff Finley is this magazine’s executive editor. He joined the Light+Life team in 2011 after a dozen years of reporting and editing for Sun-Times Media. He is a member of John Wesley Free Methodist Church where his wife, Jen, serves as the lead pastor.