In the fifth in a series of articles from Through-Lines: Defining What a Christian Is – Christians as God-worshippers stand in awe and wonder of knowledge of God, his rescue plan for us, and his future promises.
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children…
Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (NIV)
The ancient Hebrews understood that part of the task of a God-worshipper was to teach children that faith shaped every domain in life. How do we impress these commandments onto our children?
I would like to suggest that an adult’s faith development is equal to that of the child in your care. Sure, an adult’s knowledge of God’s world and God’s word is more detailed, but an adult’s faith isn’t measured in the same way as cognitive growth. Unfortunately, most churches are adult-centric and see children’s views of spirituality as limited. I think we need to go back to Matthew 18 and see how Jesus talked about viewing the child.
First, the context: the disciples have come to Jesus asking who will be the greatest in kingdom. They are looking for power, glory and importance. Jesus calls over a child (How great it would be to hear Jesus call your name!) and he has the child stand before them as an exemplar. Jesus responds to their question saying, “I promise you this. If you don’t change and become like a child, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven. But if you are as humble as this child, you are the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And when you welcome one of these children because of me, you welcome me.”
The lesson here is about humility. When I worship and talk to children about faith, how much of that conversation is listening? When children ask the big questions like “Why are we here?” or “What does God do?”, adults need to create a mutually respectful dialogue. Instead of giving answers, I try to listen more by affirming the child’s question by saying that I too have had the same question. It’s tempting to give all my adult insights, but it may be better to ask probing questions and encourage the child to speak some more. The conversation can go deeper. When exchanges are not adult-centric, unexpected opportunities allow for joy, wonder and discovery for both the adult and child. According to Caroline Fairless in her book Children in Worship: Congregations in Bloom, “When a child tells you that a flower is going to die whether or not it is connected to the vine, that child has not ruined your sermon; that child has opened up a conversational opportunity about the quality of life lived in God.”
Listening to questions and stories can be some of the best faith formative opportunities. Reflect with children about their week. Let kids voice the times they praised, prayed, confessed, and cried out to God and how they did it. Show them that all those times were times of worship. Have a time if appropriate where you as a mentor share your week as a God-worshipper too.