God Is Not Santa
This excerpt from the Sticky Faith Launch Kit is a Bonus Idea in one of the volunteer team training sessions on the Gospel. The Launch Kit includes six months of team training guides to deepen your team’s understanding and contextualization of Sticky Faith for your ministry.
In some ways, students see God like Santa. Santa is good, of course. Santa gives you good things on Christmas. And Santa is omniscient, just like God. [[For a theological exploration of this idea of God and Santa, see Miroslav Volf, Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace, especially pages 26-28.]]
But there are other ways students see God like Santa.
Distribute the lyrics to the song “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” perhaps singing it together. Or play this clip from the movie Elf.
Discuss the song—and these specific lyrics—for a few moments with your team. “He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness’ sake.” [[John Frederick Coots and Haven Gillespie, “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” 1934.]]
In a nutshell, that is the way many kids and teenagers see God. He’s very much like Santa. God sees you all the time. He knows all about you. And most of all, he knows if you are good or bad, and he wants you to be good. And when you try to be good, it’s for goodness’ sake, not for Christ’s sake or the kingdom’s sake.
Santa cares most about your behaviors—how well you keep to the do’s and don’ts—so that you can stay on the nice list and off the naughty list. Santa’s goodness to you is contingent on your actions. And Santa’s ‘gospel’ is about moralism—it’s nice to be nice and it’s good to be good.
That’s not really “good news” at all, is it? One of our goals, then, is to remind young people (and one another) that God is not Santa.
How do you remind students that God is not like Santa?
Specifically in this season, what does it look like to proclaim and live the true gospel in your ministry?