Here are some suggestions for when you find yourself in a scenario where you need to teach kids about the Trinity.
By Landry Holmes
While talking to a group of preschoolers and kindergartners on a Sunday morning, I heard a five-year-old girl declare to the whole group, “God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit—I’m so confused.” Not wanting to get into a lengthy discussion on the doctrine of the Trinity, I drew on my seminary-trained expertise and boldly stated, “I get confused, too.” I proceeded to tell the Bible story to the group, sans an explanation of the Trinity.
According to Lifeway Research’s 2022 State of Theology study, my preschool friend and I are in good company: “Despite a majority (71%) of Americans affirming a Trinitarian God with three divine Persons, most still aren’t sure about how that applies to Jesus or the Holy Spirit. Slightly more than half (55%) believe Jesus is the first and greatest created being. Another 53% say He was a great teacher but not God. Close to 3 in 5 (59%) believe the Holy Spirit is a force but not a personal being.”
While inline with most Americans, my response may appear to have been cowardly; however, when asked to teach the Trinity to preschoolers and children—depending on the kids’ context and level of biblical understanding—acknowledging the child, validating her question, and “moving on” may be the best route to take.
Nevertheless, this approach is not always an option, especially when the inquisitive child is quite persistent. Here are some suggestions when you find yourself in a similar scenario and need to teach kids about the Trinity.
1. Answer the question with a simple, honest response
This may seem obvious; however, as “professional” Christians, we often provide kids with more information than they are equipped to handle. They don’t need a summary of what you’ve learned in systematic theology. Children primarily want to be heard. So, what do you say and not say? Keep reading.
2. Avoid symbolism and historically heretical illustrations
Recently, my kindergarten granddaughter brought home a coloring page from school. The image was a three-leaf clover she had beautifully decorated. Inscribed on each “leaf” of the clover was each of the three Persons of the Trinity, respectively. The problem with that illustration is that God is one God in three Persons. He is not one-third Father, one-third Son, and one-third Spirit. This heresy is known as partialism.God is not one-third Father, one-third Son, and one-third Spirit. This heresy is known as partialism. Neither is He is sometimes the Father, sometimes the Son, and sometimes the Holy Spirit. That's modalism. Click To Tweet
Equally problematic is the illustration of the Trinity as water in the forms of liquid, ice, and steam. This is an example of modalism. The Bible teaches God is always God in three Persons, simultaneously. God is not sometimes the Father, sometimes the Son, and sometimes the Holy Spirit.
Besides, God should never be reduced to an illustration. God Himself says, “To whom will you compare me or make me equal?” (Isaiah 46:5a, CSB) and “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and no one is like me” (Isaiah 46:9, CSB).
3. Accept what you don’t understand
The doctrine of the Trinity is a mystery. As much as we long to understand how God exists as three Persons, our finite minds prohibit full comprehension of this mystery. And it’s OK to tell kids God does not intend for even adults to understand how God can be Father, Son, and Holy Spirit at the same time.“It’s OK to tell kids God does not intend for even adults to understand how God can be Father, Son, and Holy Spirit at the same time.” — @lrholmes Click To Tweet
4. Acknowledge what you know
For some reason, we think we need to be able to teach children to understand the mystery of the Trinity. We desire to be the authority on all things biblical. But that position belongs only to Jesus. Therefore, focus on what the Bible intends for us to know. Talk about how God the Father created everything and desires a relationship with us. Mention that Jesus is God the Son who came to earth in human form to make that relationship permanently possible. Tell kids the Holy Spirit is God in us, prompting us to trust in and follow Jesus.
Not to be flippant, but rather than cower in the imploring faces of preschoolers and elementary children, depend on the Holy Spirit to guide your conversation about the Trinity—and any other theological question that comes your way. Remember, you are developing an appropriate relationship with a child when you listen and respond to their questions. Who knows, one day that same kid may be explaining the Trinity to your grandchildren.
For permission to republish this article, please email Marissa Postell Sullivan.
Landry is the Manager of Lifeway Kids Ongoing Bible Studies. Author of It’s Worth It: Uncovering How One Week Can Transform Your Church, co-author of Every Age, Every Stage: Teaching God’s Truth at Home and Church, and a general editor of the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary for Kids, Landry is a church leader, writer, workshop facilitator, and publisher.