Teaching Kids To Obey Is Not Cruel

Sometimes kids just don’t do what you tell them to. It happens for parents all the time. Everyone knows kids will be kids.

But parents must also be parents. And children’s ministry leaders must also be children’s ministry leaders.

Here’s what kids don’t know… yet.

With obedience comes freedom.

Learning how to obey is one crucial characteristic of every person and the earlier we learn, the better.

Jesus obeyed his Father. (Phil 2:8b)

Jesus complimented a centurion who understood what it was to be “under authority.” (Matthew 8:9)

Jesus told us in his own words, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” (Luke 11:28)

And Jesus calls us to teach children obedience, all while we are learning to obey God’s voice too.

“If you love me, keep my commands.” (John 14:15)

“You are my friends if you do what I command.” (John 15:14)

So how can we teach obedience? Here are six thoughts toward growing your kids in obedience.


Routine allows kids to understand what is expected. It works well at home and is a life saver for church children’s ministry. Have you ever seen a kids show with segments? It’s the same thing repeated over and over through the show and then over and over each day. I remember watching Doodlebop Moe pull the rope 1/3 of the way through every episode the Doodlebops filmed. Routine helps kids know what to expect and makes it easier to obey – sometimes purely out of habit.


Kids must learn how to interact with adults and with each other in boundaries. A child shouldn’t interrupt adults while they are talking. A child shouldn’t touch something that doesn’t belong to them. Obeying simple boundaries as a youngster will help make it easier to understand boundaries as they grow. It’s much better to teach a child not to do something simple when they are younger. Learning boundaries requires time spent with the child.


Expect your child to listen. I know, it sounds unrealistic. But when I have been asked how I lead large groups of grade school kids and keep their attention, my answer always comes back around to expectation. I don’t always lay out the expectation verbally, I just begin with the thought that I really do expect these kids to listen. I experienced this when I was a 5th grader. The Wednesday night bible study teacher for our group led about 50 kids in an hour-long time slot each week. It wasn’t flashy, but it was solid. The expectation was over the top…  sit still, don’t talk without raising your hand, work hard to memorize scripture, be helpful, etc. The expectation set forth by the incredible leader of that group helped bring a freedom that even kids understood.


Discipline isn’t a bad word. It’s what teaches kids to obey. When we don’t obey, there are consequences. Without it, a child will never grasp the importance. For children’s ministry leaders in the world today, it’s tough at times to balance discipline with the short amount of time we have the kids. But think of  discipline like being a partner with the parents. We’re in this together. Here are three ideas for discipline. Here are some parenting proverbs to help bring discipline to kid’s lives.


Teaching kids to obey takes courage. It’s easier to be soft. It’s easier to ignore. But what’s best for the child? A courageous parent or courageous ministry leader will work hard to lovingly help kids understand that with obedience comes freedom and it’s the only vehicle that will take you there. Be courageous to teach and model obedience.


All of this must be rooted in love. To try and teach obedience to kids for any other reason than a deep love for them can result in disaster. For some parents, tough teaching on obedience seems the opposite of love. Don’t be fooled. For the LORD corrects those he loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights. (Prov. 3:12)

For children’s ministry leaders, it’s easy to have the “favorites” but pray that God will continually fill your heart with love. Pray for God break your heart for kids in your ministry who need to experience freedom found in Christ alone. Those kids who seem like they want to experience obedience the least may be crying out for it the most. They are the kids, but you are the leader. Step into your role and trust that God will use you.


Teaching kids to obey is not cruel, it’s Biblical. It’s one of a few over-riding principles that will help them understand faith and life as they grow and develop.


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