Ok, buckle up! It will be worth the ride…
Last week I raised a question of what it means to respect a child and sought reflections on the implications of really doing so. This week, I want to reflect on some writings by the founder, William Booth from his work ‘The Training of Children’. Why? Because I have been involved in children’s ministry for a little while now, and I am constantly amazed by a child’s capacity to not only grasp the truth of God, but to both apply and propagate all that comes from that truth. And yet, I still get the impression that children are seen as ‘not yets’ or worse ‘invisible’, or worse still ‘cute’. It is so condescending. Jesus said "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Mt 18:3). And yet we shelve them until they are old enough to become like us. People! We are supposed to become like them, and not get them to become like us! Let me give you a recent example from my ministry.
I enrolled a Soldier last month. Firstly let me say how excited she was to make a covenant with God. She was counting down the days and could not be distracted. Since her enrollment, she has read God’s word like it is her daily bread and prayed as though it was second nature. She reads her covenant every night before bed and has committed to learning the eleven doctrines by heart. When told harshly she could no longer evangelise to her mother, she obediently locked herself in her bedroom, and then sang songs of Jesus. She is desperate to take her Bible to school and she is working on bringing her friends to the Army so they too have the opportunity to become a Soldier. She has a genuine awe and love of God and she is hungry to partake in her mission. She is an inspiration. Oh…and she is nine years old. That every soldier would have her faith, this is my prayer.
Her story is not uncommon. And yet, what is the greatest responsibility we give children in our Corps? Taking up the offering? Singing a song? Perhaps thanking a special guest? And the greatest responsibility children have in bringing about justice? Maybe drawing a picture in class, or possibly finding sponsors for the read-a-thon! Stop underestimating them! Please!
In my opinion, respecting a child means respecting both the mission God has for their life now, as well as respecting the capacity God gives them to complete this mission for His glory. Respecting a child means teaching and training them to be real soldiers in a real war that is happing in real time.
But what can children really do? This was asked of William Booth, and he replied; “They can do for the little world in which they move as much as adults can for their big world. They can live holy lives. They can testify to the Power of God to save. They can sing the songs of Salvation so sweetly, that often proud, hard-hearted, grown-up people will be compelled to listen, and made to feel, and weep. They can pray-not, perhaps, with much oratorical glitter, or the ability to convey any great amount of information to the Almighty; but none the less they can intercede for souls, and pray the fervent effectual prayer which avails as much in a little child as in a man, when that prayer is wrought by the Holy Spirit…We see how they can often find entrance where the doors are closed against their elders; and that in life and in death their words have frequently a power on those who love them, which no Minister, Deacon, or Salvation Army Officer could ever hope to wield. For all these reasons we say, teach, train, watch over, and care for the children.”
So what should our response be? William goes on to say;
“You must make the children understand that God expects them to do their share of the fighting, and encourage them to do it. Beget within them the conviction that soul-saving is going to be their life-work, and get them fired with the ambition to go to their post and die there before they are brought into contact with cold, freezing, unbelieving, half-hearted professors.” You know, it is sad. It seems today I meet many more parents who would prefer for their children to please these professors and excel in all that they stand for rather than to get caught up in corps work or worse still, Officership! In fact, it breaks my heart. We can’t pass on a conviction for soul-saving if what we really want for them is cash-saving.
I cannot word my sentiment any stronger than Catherine Booth who says; “Some parents are continually putting before their children future aggrandisement and fortune, as a stimulus to industry and effort, thus holding up to their young minds this world's prosperity and applause as the great aim and object of life. To get to be more learned, more genteel, more wealthy than men of their own class, so that they may be received into higher circles of worldly society.” I can feel her disdain coming through the screen of my laptop!
So, where to from here?
1. We need to start respecting the child’s capacity
2. We need to train them well and equip them for battle
3. We need to readjust our hopes and dreams for their lives and realign them
4. We need to give them real opportunities to complete their mission
5. We need to start resourcing Corps to deal with this kind of paradigm shift
For me, this is what it means to respect a child.
Ah, it feels good to get that out.