Sally Lloyd-Jones is one of the most influential Christian leaders of the last decade. But you won’t find Sally treading the typical ground of religious heavy-hitters. She’s not writing books for pastors on how to lead well, or lighting up the blogs with insights on how religious people should deal with the latest political issue. Sally Lloyd-Jones makes her mark in the church by sharing the Gospel with the children of the church.
Sally is the author of beloved books like, Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing and The Jesus Storybook Bible, which has sold more than 1 million copies. Matt Popovits, Pastor of Our Saviour New York, recently sat down with Sally—along with his 9-year-old daughter, Ava—to reflect on Sally’s work and to discuss the art of sharing the Gospel with children.
The following Q&A is an excerpt from this special podcast presentation—originally recorded for LIBERATE.
What’s the first thing you can remember writing?
The first book I ever read all the way through was Edward Lear's The Complete Nonsense. I didn’t know you could have so much fun inside of a book. It was filled with limericks and drawings that Lear did himself. And I just couldn’t stop imitating him. So my poor parents, my poor friends, my poor teachers—I inflicted my limericks on them. But I think that was wonderful to realize that you could have so much fun with words, and that books were supposed to be full of life. They’re not dead things.
Your work is focused on sharing the love of God with children. I wonder, what was your experience with Christianity as a child?
I was a Christian from an early age but for some reason I thought the Bible was mostly telling me what I should do so God would love me. And of course it does have rules in it but that’s not why we have the Bible—because if we could do it then why would Jesus have come. And I somehow missed that. I grew up with this vague sense of God not being pleased with me. I knew I wasn’t getting things right so I thought, “God must not be pleased with me.” So it was very works based. And so when I was working on The Jesus Storybook Bible my passion was for no child to come away feeling that way, because the Bible is not about what we’re supposed to be doing so God will love us, it’s about what God has already done because He loves us. And that changes everything.
How do stay away from the trap of moralism, that is so easy to fall into, when sharing the faith with young people?
I struggle with that myself. Moralism is sort of what we do when we’re on “automatic pilot.” I read a story to children once, from The Jesus Storybook Bible and it was the story of Daniel, “The Scary Sleepover,” which points to this incredible hero who would come and do what God asked him to do, even if it cost him, even if he had to die. So then I asked the children, “What does this say about how God wants us to live?” And the minute I said that it cut through all of the power of the story, because the power isn’t in the summing up and the drilling down and the moral lesson. The power of the story is the story itself, and that’s why Jesus told so many of them. Stories are like seeds. You plant them and it’s none of your business what God does with it. That story will work silently and it may take years, but there is great power in the story.
Is that a piece of advice that you would give to those trying to nurture the faith of young people; to simply tell the stories of God’s love and trust Him to do his work?
I think there’s a huge lack of story when we’re dealing with children. Try to wonder together at what God’s done and be children together. Don’t come at it like you’re the teacher and they’re the ones to learn. There’s a place for that, but I don’t think that’s always the place for grandparents sitting around a book. We should look at the Bible together, wondering and thinking “Wow, isn’t that amazing?”
Who has been most influential in your writing?
Probably C.S. Lewis. I just read a biography of him, and as I read it I had a new appreciation for just how influenced I am by him. Not just The Chronicles of Narnia but his whole way of talking about faith. And a close second is Tim Keller; I kind of feel like I went to C.S. Lewis and Tim Keller University. Standing on their shoulders, understanding theology the way they have presented it has had a huge impact.
In your writing many have noticed that there is a clear focus on the Gospel, on the one-way love of God the Father through Jesus Christ. How do you keep that central in your writing?
By making sure that I go daily to the source, instead of running on empty and thinking I can do things by myself. [And as a writer] I’m much better off when I sit in front of the computer and say, “Lord, unless you do it, it won’t get done. So you jolly well better do it” and then start writing.
Let’s suppose that out there is a child out there who is unsure about a lot of things in her world. What does Sally Lloyd-Jones whisper in her ear?
I’d say, “You’re not alone. God is with you. He sees everything that’s happening and even though it looks bad right now He’s so powerful and so good, that he can turn even the worst situation around. He has plans for you that you have no idea about but that are so good. And if you knew what He was up to you’d cheer Him on.”
Matt Popovits serves as Lead Pastor of Our Saviour | New York (OSNY), a family of parishes working together to love and serve the city of New York. Matt has served as staff writer for Homiletics, a worldwide resource to pastors providing insights and ideas for preaching, and is a frequent speaker at churches and events around the country. Prior to entering ministry, Matt studied acting at the University of Michigan department of Theatre and Dance; and later received his MDiv. from Concordia Theological Seminary in St. Louis.