Jesus once told his disciples, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs” (Mt. 19:14 NRSV). Although we know that Jesus has a special place in his heart for children, it is rather difficult for us to include children in a life of faith in creative and positive ways.
In the most recent issue of On Mission SBC magazine, Brian Haynes points out that godly parenting includes the act of teaching children how to participate in a Great Commission lifestyle. No one is too young to start partnering with God in ministry for the sake of His kingdom.
This is rather difficult to do in this day and time. Family schedules leave little free time; churches often segregate families into age groups on Sunday mornings. Homework, sports, or other extracurricular activities have replaced family devotions around the fireplace each evening.
We may not be as stern as the disciples, shooing children away from Jesus; but we do indeed fall short of helping our children experience Christ on a weekly basis.
We Americans have certain rituals in place to help our children grow in the faith. Sunday school comes to mind. Also, we stock up on faith-based books and toys from the local Christian book store. Some churches still make a children’s sermon a part of their weekly worship. Children’s fellowship on weeknights expose our little ones to missions.
In a techno-pluralistic world as this one, however, we need to start expanding how we teach our children about faith formation and their relationship with God. If we only rely on the tried-and-true habits of yesteryear, listed above, we’re only giving our children a part of the Christian story: We are teaching them that Christianity is something that you do. At church. In a small group. Usually for only one or two hours a week.
We realize that our missional walk with Jesus is not a Sunday and Wednesday event only. We also realize that we are called to “be the church” and be “on mission” wherever we find ourselves: at work, in our communities, while we exercise at the local gym. Are we teaching our children that they are not excluded from this call to missional engagement on a daily basis?
In our family, we try to help our children see God everywhere they go by asking them to pray for the people at school and in their community. Every day, we ask who they would like to pray for, and we follow up those requests by asking how they might have seen God working in the lives of others the next day.
My son, as young as he is, is just as responsible for maintaining his relationship with God as his older sister. When he has trouble sharing with his friends, we often associate sharing with the radical hospitality that Jesus showed to his friends too.
Speaking of radical hospitality, how do our churches communicate to our children that they are a part of our local Kingdom movement? At our church, we try to balance family worship (the first half of our Sunday service) with age-appropriate discipleship (children go to small groups with a volunteer teachers during the sermon).
Another way we show radical hospitality is to help children become a part of our liturgy at worship. Sometimes we print children’s activities on the front of our worship bulletins (rather than having separate children’s bulletins) that relate to the day’s scripture lesson; I find that adults enjoy doing the activities just as much as the children.
Other times, we have children do scripture readings, singing, and special prayers. Some of them may be learning how to read, but watching a child try to articulate a verse in front of the congregation is more of a blessing than having a well-spoken adult do it for the umpteenth time.
God’s heart remains with our children throughout church life. It is important that we encourage them to participate in God’s mission, no matter how old or how young.