“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
A policeman. An artist. A teacher. A fireman. An astronaut. A scientist. A writer. A superhero.
In our home, each of these identities have been used to answer the question we all like to ask. Some of us are still figuring out what we want to be when we grow up (says the 37 yr old graduate student). This question isn’t an unfamiliar one. It gets asked at school. It gets asked at home. It gets asked on children’s television programming. And the answers are often really fun to hear.
But, I was struck yesterday as I was reading a book for one of my classes and it stated, “Traditionally, children have been valued for what they would become…[but] clearly, all of Jesus’ words and actions in relation to children indicate that he saw in children their intrinsic value…regardless of what they become, they have value in the here and now, simply for who they are.”
In other words, there is a tendency in society to view children as “pre-adults.” Childhood is just preparation for “real life” otherwise known as adulthood. Or as the author put it, “We are brought up in a culture that values outcomes: if you can measure it, then it has value. Looking at and valuing children simply for who they are is rarely done.”
Now that’s not to say we don’t love our children as they are, because clearly we do.
And that’s not to say we don’t want the best for our children in the here and now, because that’s what we work for. I can’t think of one parent I know that doesn’t want their child to know that they are loved and valued right now.
I wonder if perhaps we are short-changing our children. Jesus seems to indicate that we have much to learn about faith from kids, while they are still quite young.
Do we feel that children are actually contributors to society?
Do we feel that they have a unique role to fulfill in our home or in our church that is equally valuable to the roles that adults play?
And if so, what is it that we can learn from them? What do they have to give?
Or do we feel like those things need to wait until they “grow up”?
There is something infinitely precious and real about children, especially when it comes to matters of faith. While they have much to learn in terms of head knowledge, they have much to teach in terms of heart knowledge. Even Jesus says that we adults can learn from children what it is to be great in God’s kingdom and how to experience the kingdom of heaven. But what if we can’t “hear” them because they aren’t old enough yet for us to take seriously? What if we can’t “see” them because they are too small?
Here are a few simple ideas that might help us see and hear children in a new light and help us experience God’s kingdom as Jesus promised.
- “Coffee” Date – What do you do when you want to get to know another adult or hang out with a friend? You go out for coffee. Well, kids don’t really like coffee, but they love milkshakes! Why not take your child on a date and then, just as you would an adult, ask some questions, like, “What do you think God looks like?” and “If God had a voice, what would it sound like?” and “If God could tell you anything right now, what do you think He’d say?“
- “Wine” & Canvas – Okay, again, kids and wine don’t really mix but I have it on good authority that they love juice. You know those great Paint Nights where you head out with friends to paint a masterpiece and have fun with your friends? Why not do that with your child? Grab a couple of canvases and together paint your favorite Bible verse, or a great memory, or what God’s love looks like? Listen with your eyes to their world.
- Testimony Sunday – What would it look like if the kids led church on Sunday? If they were given the stage to share what God has put on their hearts and sing the songs that are meaningful to them? I know of some churches that have done this and never once have I ever heard a negative word; rather, I hear from all members of the congregation how blessed and encouraged they were to hear the word of God from the mouths of babes. Rather reminiscent of Jesus’ time in the temple as a young man, teaching the teachers about His Father.
Children have something valuable to give us now, even before they “grow up.” But it will take some intentional listening on our part. Kids are more than just adults in preparation mode; they are unique individuals created in God’s image to participate in community and in the body of Christ.
To recap, we have before us a child created in the image of God, a deeply spiritual being, gifted by God with qualities of openness, awareness, sensitivity, joy, trust, imagination, and honesty. However, children are not consciously aware that these are unique qualities with which they have been gifted. They are simply living life day by day as it comes to them in the ways they know best. – Kathryn Copsey (From the Ground Up: Understanding the Spiritual World of the Child)
I’m telling you, once and for all, that unless you return to square one and start over like children, you’re not even going to get a look at the kingdom, let alone get in. Whoever becomes simple and elemental again, like this child, will rank high in God’s kingdom. What’s more, when you receive the childlike on my account, it’s the same as receiving me. – Jesus (Mt. 18:2-5)
For more information about
- Kids in Worship
- Determining which Type of Family Ministry model works best for your church
- Encouraging the continued conversation through Practical Discipleship at Home
- And much more!
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 D6 Family, Seedbed, and ChildrensMinistryBlog.com.