I’ve always loved working with kids. I think their enthusiasm, and outlook simply makes me smile, and keeps me young at heart. Recently, a number of my friends have been posting articles about children on Facebook, and this has really made me think about the place that children have in our society, and more particularly their place in church.
Two articles have come to my attention recently, one from the Gospel Coalition written by Trevin Wax very recently (Jan 22), and another from Australia written 3 years ago but still rings very true written by Kaye Chalwell. Both are centred about on building faith in children.
There is a point that both writers touch on, that I will get to in a moment.
In Wax’s article, he focuses on the role of the parents in faith formation. Key habits that are essential to encourage faith that will last. He touches on familiar topics such as healthy Bible reading habits, singing Christian songs at home, and the power of imitation. But the one that stood out to me the most was a combination of prayer and service. Teaching kids to pray is obviously very important, but the service part is often forgotten. Wax highlights the need of children to serve in church. This i will return to in a moment.
Re-reading Chalwell’s article recently, made me want to dance. She wrote how she spent the summer reading various children’s ministry books, and highlighted 3 elements that all books seemed to talk about. Her article is based around children in the church.
The first of the 3 elements were let children be noisy in church. Let them feel as if they can be themselves, though at the same time, let them observe what is respectable. The next was bring the parents into the centre of the children faith formation. This has been clear for a number of years from numerous studies, so for me, not a biggie. (Also the point of the entire article from Gospel Coalition). The last point was ‘Actively involve children in churches and faith communities to nurture their faith’. This point, though written years ago, remains to be the bigest challenge of the church today.
Both articles list that a key component of faith formation in children, is active service in the church. Funnily enough, it’s not active attendance, or a fantastic program, or even incredibly clear teaching, but active service.
I call this the movement from their to my.
Allow me to explain, when we are part of something, something that is really key and really special to us, our language about it changes. If it was a tennis club, after sometime once we feel it was something that we really liked, our language changes from ‘I’m going to the tennis club’, to ‘I am going to my tennis club’.
For me, (also as someone who has never stepped foot into a tennis club) it’s all about coffee. I have my favourite places to get coffee. Some of them I actually call ‘my’ cafe. I obviously don’t own it, or have any part of its business side, but regardless it is my favourite. When i talk to my friends i invite them to ‘you have to come to my cafe, it’s the best’.
This is the movement from ‘theirs’ or ‘a’ to my. Its ownership language that has changed. When we feel invested, when we feel we truly belong, this is when our language changes.
One of the most important parts of encouraging growth in faith in children, especially within the gathered community, is to truly include them as part of the community. Adults are regularly encouraged to serve where they are able, yet children are rarely expected to do the same.
Unless it is some kind of cute spot in the service where they want to highlight the children. This is good, and a step in the right direction, but are there any other ways that children can be active participants in the service in the same way that adults are?
Maybe children (with appropriate help) could be greeters at the door? Maybe they could help take up the offering (whatever that looks like in your church). Maybe they could help with prayers, or with music. And not just on the family service, but every week. How amazing would it be to see children every week serving alongside.
Even more than that, how amazing would it be to model what it means to believe, side by side in service, in teaching, in every aspect possible, to children. I feel this would be truly living out what Jesus said, when he said
“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
Stephen Urmston is a full time puppeteer and performer that shares the good news of Jesus all over Australia. He has 18 years of experience in children’s ministry and has been a children’s and families minister in South Australia, Victoria and Queensland. Stephen loves Jesus, and loves being creative, and especially loves when his two loves combine, turning into some kind of super powered passion!
Sarah Urmston's previous articles may be viewed