Who are the children that you minister to?
Kids from Christian or non-Christian families? Kids from intact or broken homes? Kids from the local public school or further-a-field private school? Do they have brothers and sisters? What do they do on the weekend? What are their interests? What movies do they watch or music do they listen to?
These are all great things to know about our kids. They will help shape our ministry, talks, small groups and activities because we want to minister effectively to the children we have.
However, a more important question is: Who are the children that you minister to, from God’s perspective?
How does God view these little ones, and what difference does this make? A more technical way of asking this question is: what’s our theology of children? What does God tell us about these children through the pages of Scripture?
A Christian theology of children
I’ve spent some time this last month dipping into an article by Marcia J. Bunge, someone who has spent a great deal of her time thinking about the theology of children and childhood. I’m really keen to keep reading and thinking about this more, but here’s four things Marcia points to as informing a Christian Theology of Children:
Children are vulnerable. This means we have the responsibility to look after, genuinely care for and provide for the needs of children.
Children are gifts from God. This means we should respect them, rejoice over them and celebrate their intrinsic value as human beings made in the image of God.
Children are still developing and sinful. This means that in all spiritual, intellectual and moral matters, we need to teach, guide and appropriately discipline them.
Children are models of faith to adults. This means that children can teach us something about what it means to be God’s children and members of his kingdom.
Ten practical outcomes for our ministries
So, how do these things influence our children’s and family ministries in our churches? Bunge states ten practical outcomes as we relate to children in the church:
Reading and discussing the Bible with children
Praying and worshipping
Introducing children to good examples
Participating in service projects and teaching financial responsibility
Cultivating a reverence for creation
Education and vocational discernment
Fostering life-giving attitudes towards the body, sexuality, and marriage
Listening to and learning from children
Recognising the limits of parental authority
The two big ideas
Reading through the list and Bunge’s comments attached to each one, it seems that we can summarize them into two big ideas:
Children need to learn the Christian faith. We need to teach, model and disciple them so they increasingly learn what it means to be a Christian.
Children need to contribute to the church. We need to recognise the children’s gifts, skills and the ability to model the Christian faith to each other and to us.
A Christian traineeship
There’s two basic models of tertiary education in Australia - university and TAFE.
At university, you learn your discipline in the expectant hope that one day you will put that education into practice. You study in preparation for the future where one day you hope to be engaged in your chosen profession.
TAFE on the other hand largely caters for the traineeship style of education. You study your particular discipline because you are already engaged in it. You spend some of your week in the classroom, thinking about the theoretical side of your trade, and the rest of your week putting that training (and much more on-the-job training) into practice in the workplace.
Marcia J. Bunge has helpfully brought attention to the fact that being a child is like a traineeship when it comes to the Christian faith. This is not to pass judgement on a particular child’s personal commitment to Jesus, nor the eternal salvific state of a particular child or children in general. Children, just like adults, are called to put their trust in Jesus as their Lord and Saviour.
However, what it does mean is that we are not teaching children about the Christian faith in the expectant hope that one day, in the future, they may become a Christian and be able to put it into practice.
Rather, children are capable of having and expressing an age appropriate faith in Christ right now. We, as parents, church leaders and ministers, are to teach, model and disciple these children in the Christian faith, and at the same time give them opportunities for the expression of the faith that they profess.
Putting it all together
As you think through these ideas for your own church, here's a few questions to consider:
Who are the children that you minister to?
Are they learning what it means to be a Christian?
Are they given opportunities to put this into practice and be contributing members to your home and to your church?
If not, what changes need to be made in the future?