To spiritually thrive and not just survive, we must include all age groups in the church’s mission. That’s sometimes easier said than done. Different age groups perceive the world, process information, and develop faith differently. So how do young and old join together meaningfully? Here are five suggestions for interacting with children:
1. Embrace children.
Nothing is as simple as it looks on the surface. How are children viewed in your church? Are they insiders or outsiders? Are they the offspring of members or full members? Do they have a voice and a vote? In most churches, children, at best, are quasi-members. That’s inappropriate and falls short of God’s intent. If a faith community is a family, how can the children apparently but not really be fully part of the church? And if Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14), why do we fail to totally embrace children as bona fide members of the church?If a faith community is a family, how can the children apparently but not really be fully part of the church? Click To Tweet
Our words communicate our values. Children’s ministry specialists Ivy Beckwith and David Csinos say that when we interact with children, they need to hear that they belong, can participate, and share. “These verbs don’t automatically place one party in the dominant active role and the other in a submissive or passive role … These words speak of human beings, of people who actively are and do together. And they move us toward views of children and adults being church together, of offering and receiving invitations to participate with one another.”
2. Evaluate capacity.
Every child goes through various stages of faith formation, yet every child’s faith development is unique. Children, like adults, aren’t homogenous. Their intellectual, physical, emotional and spiritual capacity varies. They have different gifts and talents. And their distinct blends of passions, interests, and abilities vary considerably.
There’s no one size fits all approach. When interacting with children, we must appraise each child according to who they are. Identify their abilities and attitudes. Consider their capabilities and capacities. And try to determine God’s plans and purposes for each individual (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:4-6). Doing these things will help us connect children to suitable ministry roles and responsibilities.
3. Enable participation.
Scripture Union Canada’s sports ministry internship is a ten-week apprenticeship for young adults. After two weeks of intense training, the interns spend eight weeks travelling from one church to another to facilitate summer sports camps. We believe people learn best when something’s experienced in communities of practice. New interns serve as coaches alongside returning interns (returning interns often serve as camp directors). Coaches and directors train church volunteers to serve as assistant coaches. And highly skilled full-time members of staff mentor the coaches and directors.
Similarly, children must be trained to participate fittingly in the church’s mission (cf. Ephesians 4:11-12). Their relative inexperience means their involvement should be guided and measured. More experienced Christians (young or old) should coordinate their participation and graduate their involvement depending on the children’s ages and stages of life. As their abilities and capacity are developed, children should take on more responsibilities in more demanding tasks/roles.To be part of a faith community, children must be present at its main events and not confined to separate children-only programs. Click To Tweet
Furthermore, to participate fully, children should be intentionally and intergenerationally integrated. To be part of a faith community, they must be present at its main events and not confined to separate children-only programs. In other words, we must meaningfully involve children alongside adults in the church’s core rituals, rites and rhythms.
4. Empower everyone.
Interacting with children should also involve making them stronger. But as necessary as it is to be empowered to worship and serve the Lord, we can’t fill children or ourselves with strength. Yes, there’s a self-made strength that people tap into. But this isn’t what we’re after. The power we need for young and old to join together meaningfully in the church’s mission is the power that comes from God.
To be empowered, we must be filled with the Holy Spirit (cf. Ephesians 5:18). Children and adults can only be made strong when they ask for and receive God’s power. This is no small matter. Without the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, a congregation will not be able to adequately embrace children, effectively evaluate their capacity or successfully enable their participation.
5. Exercise patience.
Someone once said, “A characteristic of the normal child is that he doesn’t act that way very often.” Don’t assume smooth sailing when interacting with children. Children will be childish. Even when they know God and think theologically, they’re still apprentices. They will sometimes be silly, sassy, or senseless. But despite their immaturity, God wants children to feature in the church’s life and use their gifts as dynamic members. Adults should, therefore, be self-controlled, be prepared to wait, not become annoyed, and appropriately hold back to help children leap ahead.Despite their immaturity, God wants children to feature in the church’s life and use their gifts as dynamic members Click To Tweet
The Scriptures aptly say, “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves” Romans 15:1. Take God’s Word to heart. Exercise patience. Recognize, as author Jess Lair says, “Children are not things to be molded, but people to be unfolded.” So, don’t expect too much or too little. Treat children with respect and appreciation. And do so in ways that always protect, trust, hope, and persevere (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:7).
Two-Minute Training Video
© Scripture Union, 2023