Have you guys seen Brain Games on Netflix yet? My kids are so into it. They love playing the games and trying to figure out the answers. And, as so often demonstrated on the show, usually Caleb, age 4, beats us all. He figures out the pictorial teasers faster than any of us. On the show, they explain this phenomenon in a number of different scenarios but it really comes down to this: Kid’s brains don’t know their boundaries yet so they are free to think “outside the lines” and experience unlimited possibilities.
On one show in particular, they showed a group of adults a nondescript picture of circles and sticks. When asked what it was a picture of, adults could come up with one or two things (three at the most) that it could be.
Kids? Oh my goodness, they didn’t stop. Their interpretations of the picture went on and on and on, and some of their ideas of what it could be were downright hilarious. My favorite was that it was popcorn with chopsticks for picking it up. An adult would never think of this because… we don’t eat popcorn with chopsticks. But a child? A child doesn’t know that “rule” so they can imagine freely.
So what in the world does this have to do with all the stuff I blog about? Things like intentional discipleship at home and kids participating in church and intergenerational relationships and meaningful mentorship.
It is why we need children interacting with us.
It is why we must point our kids to Jesus.
It is the very foundation of why Jesus tells us, adults, that we need to have childlike faith.
Kids don’t have to “be taught” faith. It comes naturally to them. Because their minds aren’t bound by natural laws or societal norms, they are able to believe just about anything.
And don’t think for a second that advertisers and educators don’t know that. Just look at commercials, books, toys, and shows targeted to children. They invite them into imagination and integration. They encourage interaction so that the fantasy of play and television are incorporated seamlessly into their reality. And any messages they want to attach to that interaction is also embraced.
But we have an incredible part to play in this time of growth. We have the chance to introduce them to the ultimate reality, beyond even their imagination, and give the Creator of all a name for them to call on… the name of Jesus.
Scottie May, professor at Wheaton, once shared with a class I was in that “We don’t need to teach children who God is, we just need to give a name to the one they already know exists.” Children “see” beyond this world because their brain doesn’t restrict them to their senses.
As Dr. May went on to share, “Children don’t need taught that there is a God. They know that innately. What they need taught is that there isn’t one and that is what the world is about doing.” (For more on kids innately believing in God, click here)
Is it any wonder then that by the age of 9, a child’s basic moral foundation is in place? And by age 12, a lasting determination about the personal significance of Christ’s death and resurrection has been determined? (SOURCE: Barna.org) The childhood years are where fantasy and imagination become their lasting reality.
Children don’t question God’s ability to heal. They expect it. They don’t wonder if God is big enough to do what needs done. They know He is. They don’t think God is distant and removed. They hear Him whisper in their sleep, they see Him in the clouds, they join Him in music and experience Him in laughter. They feel Him in your embrace and know Him through your worship.
When we disciple our young kids and give a name to the mystery they know in their hearts exist, we have the unique chance to learn from them.
Watch a child dance in abandon! What can we learn about a God that dances over us?
Watch a child pray with pure trust. What can we learn about faith in our Father?
Watch a child comfort a sad friend. What can we learn about the Comforter that Jesus sent to us?
Oh, to have faith like a child. Oh, to nurture that faith in our children. To give them the place to put their faith so it can grow, no matter how much their brain changes and limits their imagination.
It’s why we need them. It’s why they need us. God knew what He was doing when He created family and church as community.
Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ. No Christian community is more or less than this. Whether it be a brief, single encounter or the daily fellowship of years, Christian community is only this. We belong to one another only through and in Jesus Christ. What does this mean? It means, first, that a Christian needs others because of Jesus Christ. It means, second, that a Christian comes to others only through Jesus Christ. It means, third, that in Jesus Christ we have been chosen from eternity, accepted in time and united for eternity
-Detrich Bonhoeffer, 1954, Living Together
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About the author
Christina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at ChildrensMinistryBlog.com, Seedbed, and D6 Family.