by Katie Barbee
There are so many things we, as adults, must teach children about prayer—persistence being one of them. I believe that teaching children how to pray certainly starts at home.
After praying for a baby brother or sister for nearly one and one-half years, our 5-year-old son Drew prayed aloud one night: “Dear God, thank you for my family. Thank you for my friends . . . could you please give us a baby, whenever you think it’s time? Oh, never mind—could you just give me a puppy?” My husband and I tried not to laugh until we got out of his bedroom. Our son had apparently reached his 5-year-old limit of being persistent in prayer!
Children learn by example. But how can we teach those children who do not live with us and who may not have a Christian example in their home? We see them only once or twice a week. That makes it more challenging, but certainly not impossible.
Demonstrate the Power
Perhaps one of the most practical ways churches can help children pray is by showing them that prayer is powerful, effective and exciting! When I began working in children’s ministry with my husband nearly twenty years ago, I started to feel we were doing the children an injustice. When we would ask the children if they had any prayer requests, they typically responded by asking for prayer for “Memaw Jones because she is sick” or for “my kitty Mr. Sniffles because he hurt his paw.”
These things are important to the heart of a child and should not be dismissed. However, prayer is not only presenting our requests to God. It involves praising God for who he is, inviting him to be active in our lives, anticipating answers to our prayers, and thanking him for what he has done and continues to do. Over the years, we have made efforts to integrate all of these aspects into our teaching about prayer in fun, exciting ways that kids can identify with.
What You Can Do
Although it takes some time and effort, it can be quite easy for prayer to have a special place in children’s ministry. Start by creating a special prayer emphasis—a lesson, an event or even an elective-type class.
For example, when teaching a lesson about prayer, don’t just teach children about prayer. Teach them how to pray. There are many different ways to introduce prayer, even with young children. For very young children, you could offer coloring pages of different things they might be thankful for, such as a dog, a cat, a slice of pizza or toys. Then let them choose one and color it. Gather the children into a circle and begin prayer time by stating one thing you are thankful for. Continue around the circle, helping the children pray a single-sentence prayer. “Dear God, thank you for (my puppy). Amen.” For older children, simply adjust this and allow them to do more.
If you are interested in involving your community, you could organize a prayer walk. We have been blessed in our community to have school principals and superintendents who work very well with our church. Prior to the beginning of school in the fall, we have an organized prayer walk through the school buildings. We encourage the children to go with their parents, Sunday school teachers or some other adult and pray for different aspects of the upcoming school year.
As they pass by the office, they can pray for the principal, secretaries and other office staff members. When they see their new classroom, they can place their hand on the door and pray that God will help them to be bold and courageous for him, and so on. This is a great, concrete way of helping young children, who have not yet mastered abstract thinking, to integrate their church life with their school life; it helps them realize the two are not separate.
Another option is to teach a series on prayer. A friend of mine team-teaches a 13-week class called “Girls of Prayer.” It is designed for third- through fifth-grade girls. Over the years, they have done many different activities with the girls. She described one particular meeting when they prayed for an hour with twelve different prayer activities that each took five minutes:
“They had twelve girls that year and placed twelve beanbag chairs in a circle around the room. The girls moved from beanbag to beanbag as they prayed through the hour. Some of the activities were praising God by writing down one characteristic of God for each letter of the alphabet; confessing a sin to God by writing it down on a paper and then shredding it in a paper shredder before receiving a squirt of hand sanitizer to symbolize the wiping away of that sin; praying for one of our missionaries whose picture the girls were given; and writing a thank-you note to God.”
She said they expect the girls to pray aloud and to participate in all of the prayer activities. Typically even the youngest girls do just fine with the class.
Children learn differently than adults. The more senses they use, the better they learn. The more active something is, the better they remember it. I’ve written a book to help parents and children’s workers teach their kids to pray (see box this page). Whether churches use this book, or whether they tap the creativity in the passionate hearts of children’s workers within their church, children simply must learn how to communicate with God. He wants to hear from every one of us, no matter what our age.
This article first appeared at www.christianstandard.com. Used with permission of the publisher.