Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Children - the Natural Missional Conduit
How does your church see children and mission? I don't mean, what mission do you do for children, although that's a really important question.....
- what is their involvement in your church's missional activity?
- how do you encourage their involvement? I reckon you have no problem with wanting teenagers to be missional, what about those younger than 13? And actually, wouldn't missional teenagers have even more practice if they were discipled into missional ways of thinking before they were 13?
- if you are a parent, how are you instilling in your own child(ren) the need not just to TELL others, but to live your life in such a way that it can't fail to point people to Jesus To simply love and serve!
- if you are a church leader - in the pressure on you to be missional/have strategies/run evangelistic activities, I've said it before and I'll say it again - don't miss the ones in front of you, lower down, maybe even at your knee level!
- and where you have children who are stepping out into deeper levels of prayer and ministry, with a heart for those outside of the church, are you putting your best around them in terms of community, involvement and belonging? Are they being pastored and cared for? Just marvelling at their giftedness/openness/spirituality and giving them opportunities to exercise that is not going to be enough. I don't want to descend into dualistic-type talk but be aware that they need you - the church - to love them, pray for them and cover their backs.
Children: a natural missional conduit
Children talk about God very naturally. Because they trust, they easily talk about what they know and have seen and heard. This is not just simple mimicry, it is a God-ordained way of transmitting truth. I have no scientific proof for this – this is only a throwaway personal proposition - but I wonder if this ability is linked to the hardwiring in the brain to connect with God identified by neuroscientists, which I've written about elsewhere? To connect with God, to experience him and to simply tell others the truth about him? Let me give you an example: a three year old child is brought to church by a carer. Her grandmother, who is the child’s full time guardian, is at home. The fact that her grandchild attends Sunday School gives her a break, some respite for a few hours. As the weeks and months pass, her little grandchild tells her repeatedly that Jesus loves her, that Jesus forgives us for the things she's done wrong, that she can tell Jesus the things that are worrying her and he will listen. I believe this child was speaking right into the things her grandmother most needed to hear at those moments.
Some months later, I have the awesome privilege of sitting with this grandmother in her home as she shares some of the stresses in her life. She tells me what her grandchild has said and asks if this could be true, does Jesus really feel this way about her? She confesses how deeply impacted she was by this little child’s words to her. I am able to tell her that it is true and to pray with her. To help her let go of some of the guilt she is carrying and to receive God’s love for herself – all because of the insistent words of her three year old grandaughter.
A similar story but not so positive in its outcome. At our annual summer holiday club for children, a brother and sister returned home singing the songs they had learned about Jesus love, care and protection for some months after the club has finished. They explained to their parents what the songs meant to them. The children were not allowed back to the holiday club the following summer as their parents did not want the same thing to happen again as they were not comfortable with their children having this experience. Dear readers – all over our world children are speaking and singing the most incredible truth about the nature of God himself! They do it innocently, naturally, sometimes like lambs to the slaughter. They need our love and support – and care and protection. Being such natural conduits means children are also susceptible to attack.
In 2005 I had a vivid dream. I watched as hundreds of terracotta warriors were unearthed, just like those uncovered in 1974 in China. But these weren’t adults, they were individual children, each armed with weaponry and precisely positioned in battle formation for the task that was ahead. I didn’t know this at the time of the dream, but each terracotta soldier that was uncovered from the Emperor’s Palace in Xi’an, Shaanxi Province, was absolutely unique. No two soldiers of the eight thousand discovered are the same.
At the time of this dream I felt the call of God to love, support and equip children to stand strong in their faith. As a response to this picture in 2005 I wrote a vision statement which said to the church that we would disciple children to be victors, not victims. I knew from God that I could have high expectations, not for the children in my church to perform, but high expectations as to their capabilities to be disciples. I knew that I would not be alone in wanting to disciple children, that there would be many people in churches in the comfortable West feeling the same thing. And so my “career” in children and family ministry has tried to be very practical in carrying out that vision.
So firstly, I was to help children grow up knowing who they were in Christ, but secondly as a result of this dream, I knew I was to help prepare the church to be the safe place, the covering for these little warriors. I'm writing the book asking all who read it to partner in this. These children aren’t disciples-in-training, they are by definition disciples who are experiencing the battle now.
When she was six years old my daughter came home from school in tears because a boy in her class had laughed at her because she believed in Jesus. “He’s not real, he’s dead!” she was told. This was devastating for my daughter so what followed in our household was a crash course in apologetics suitable for six-year-olds to use in the classroom and playground.
Let every member of the church of Jesus aid in this task of teaching, instructing, welcoming and loving children who carry a huge ability to impart to the church but also a keen eye to watch and protect them, intercede for them by name and cover them at all times. They are not designed to operate as lone rangers but alongside others in their family, part of the clan and tribe of the people of God.
I love this.