Christmas time is near and among the parties, gifts, and events, children in your children’s ministry will no doubt be hearing the Christmas story if they haven’t already. There are many details of the Christmas story that are crucial to the plot line, but there are also details that are so important to the theology of the story. One of those details is the virgin birth.

The Catch-22 comes when you are reading or telling the story and you get to the part when Mary asks the angel, “How can this be since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34) Do you skip over that part, tell kids what it means, make up a definition (Like Mary was from Virginia or Mary wasn’t married), or leave it alone until a child happens to ask? I posed this question on CMConnect.org to other children’s ministry leaders and these were some of the responses:

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Joni Lumm: “With young ones, I just say she was not married. I say the same thing to my older elementary… At which point, most the kids say ewwwww.”

Tiesha: “I have said that: ‘Mary was not married and had never been in a situation where she could become pregnant’.”

Emily Snider: “I agree, I say she wasn’t married. In a way, it reinforces the lesson of being a virgin until marriage without actually teaching it.”

Mike Holmes: “This came up a while back in one of my classes. One of my 4th graders said Mary wasn’t married when Jesus was born, to which I said she was…and then kind of skirted around describing the virgin birth issue. I didn’t feel comfortable telling them something that wasn’t true by saying that Mary wasn’t married when Jesus was born…but obviously didn’t feel it my place to explain conception to a 4th grader either…”

Jarad Garren: “Mary didn’t need a husband to help make baby Jesus, God put him inside her.”

Tom Bump: “We don’t need to be ashamed of telling kids God did a great miracle inside of Mary and he placed baby Jesus to grow inside of her.  Jesus truly was God’s gift!”

Katie DeCillo: “I’d be worried to leave it at ‘unmarried’…that doesn’t truly explain the miracle what happened. You may even have kids in your ministry who had/have unmarried parents, but their conception was not as miraculous as the conception of Christ. Not sure what the answer is, but I’d want to convey the difference between Jesus and every other baby who is ever born. “

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We should not brush over the fact that Mary was a virgin. This does not mean we have to explain the meaning to children. We can simply read over it (without spending too much time talking about it) and leave the wondering up to the child. If a child asks, we should not answer with an untrue statement. A virgin does not mean that she was unmarried. To say that to a child could almost be like telling them, “Jesus’ mom and dad were not married when he was born, so it is okay for people to not be married and have children.” While younger children may not imply that directly, older children certainly may.

I believe the best way to address this issue is to wait until a child asks what a virgin is. Chances are they won’t. If they do, however, we should simply tell them to ask their parents about it when they get home. If possible, have a brief conversation with the parents before sending the child home, explaining why their child may be asking the question. It would then be up to the parents to determine if the child is old enough for that information and what exactly they want to tell them. We must always be sensitive to issues such as these, remembering that the parents are the child’s primary spiritual influencers. But when it comes to explaining Scripture, our number one duty as ministry leaders is to make sure the Word of God is “rightly divided” (2 Timothy 2:15) so we must always strive remain as true to the story as possible.

For parents explaining this topic to your children, perhaps this video can help give you some ideas of what you could say to them:

What’s your opinion on this subject? Leave your comments in the comment section below!

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GJ Farmer is a husband, a dad, the founder of ChildrensMinistryBlog.com, and is the Children’s Pastor at First Baptist Church in Somerset, Kentucky. He has completed a Bachelor’s degree in Church Ministries and a Master’s degree in Children’s Ministry. He has also been fortunate to lead and teach groups at children’s ministry conferences and to have had some of his writing published. Apart from working with kids, he enjoys reading, performing magic tricks, playing video games, and University of Kentucky basketball.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Great post. I was caught off guard by this early on in my ministry. I had young kids at the time and couldn’t understand the parents frustration with me for using this term. Now that I’m a parent to older kids, I would handle this differently.

    This is one of those things we take for granted and don’t often think of until it’s too late.

    Again, thanks for the post. It’s better to be able to be pro-active rather than re-active in a situation such as this.

    • You’re right Jill! It’s always much better to be pro-active and ready for issues to come up instead of waiting until they do to react. Thanks for your input and thanks for reading!

  2. I think your right. Dealing with kids from separated families it is important to differentiate between unmarried and a virgin. But I also think there has to be a better way to help kids to understand the miracle of Jesus’ birth.

    Surely, you can just say; ‘Mary was shocked because she wasn’t pregnant.’ But explain that God placed Jesus inside of her through the Holy Spirit.’

    It is complex and but I am constantly surprised at the level at which my elementary kids question things.
    I guess this is a question that must be dealt with differently in different contexts.

    • It is very important to distinguish between unmarried and virgin, you’re right. I think there would be no problem with saying that “God put Jesus inside of her through the Holy Spirit” if you were talking to children who understood what sex is. But unless a child knows what sex is, this would not help them understand that it is any different than what normally happens. That’s why instead of trying to explain myself and then children getting possibly more confused, I would rather allow the parents to explain it.

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