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Fresh Imagination: Seeing Children & Youth For Who They Are Now

“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 recently by a statement that said,

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.”

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, even while they are still quite young. What about us?

Do we feel that children and youth actually contribute 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? What is it that we can learn from children and youth? 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 and youth about what it is to be great in God’s kingdom and how to experience the kingdom of heaven. 

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 and young people in a new light; to expand our imagination and help us experience God’s kingdom as Jesus promised.

  1. “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?
  2. Punch & Paint – .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.
  3. Testimony Sunday – Have you ever given the children and youth of your congregation and chance to share how God has shown up in their lives?  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 (Matthew 18:2-5)

Summer is the Time to Connect!

Special offer for churches ready to build a discipling community.

Connect Generations, a ministry assessment tool that can be done by a church in less than a week that offers specific insight into the barriers and bridges to connect generations and bring your community together.

We’re so convinced that this tool will transform discipleship in your church, we are offering a SPECIAL promotional offer for the summer. Use the code CONNECTSUM to get 25% off your Connect Generations Ministry Assessment Tool including personalized feedback and a FREE 30 minute coaching session.


If you are looking for a way to help families connect with one another and with God, we’d like to offer our Journey with Paul Family Activity Packet for free this summer.

As the family explores the journeys of Paul, they will learn about the gospel in a new and different way. Rather than simply re-telling many of the same stories that many Sunday School and church curriculums focus on, the activities in the packet will invite the family to engage with the people, places and teachings of Paul.

You can get your free PDF download at the link below.

About the Author

Christina Embree is the founder and director of ReFocus Ministry. She holds a masters in ministry focused on Children, Youth, and Family Ministry and a doctorate in spiritual formation with a focus on age segregation and intergenerational ministry. In addition to coaching churches of multiple denominations and traditions all around the globe, Christina serves as the Minister of Generational Discipleship for the Great Lakes Conference of the Brethren in Christ and as a pastor at Plowshares Brethren in Christ in Lexington, Kentucky. She is widely recognized as a speaker and author in the areas of generational discipleship, intergenerational ministry, and family ministry. As the mother of three children, she is familiar with the challenges of faith at home and pastoral ministry. She along with her husband Luke share a love for the church, their community, and the global work of peace and restoration through Jesus.

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