10 July, 2008

Respecting children - Part two

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
with God’s
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.


Sean said...

These are my thoughts on the four points you suggest are the next steps in having more holy relationships with our children, respectively:

1. What respecting the child's capacity means may still be a little unclear to me, but from what I gather from your entry is that you would like to see them have the regular opportunity in meetings to make significant contributions to lead in praying, worship and giving testimony in meetings. Sounds cool.

2. Raise the bar on teaching at Sunday school or other kids ministries you run. Get your (junior) soldiery stuff up to scratch in teaching discipline and doctrine. And, again, providing more opportunities to contribute significantly in church.

3. Doesn't a parent, during the dedication, promise to keep the harmful exposure of wealth away from their child? Now I, a single, young, childless, unaccepted candidate, do not presume to tell people what values they need to teach their kids.

Oh wait. I do. Keep your children away from the harmful exposure of wealth. Lead in example in living simple lives, in being content with what you have materially, and in eagerly desiring "the greater gifts".

4. Apart from prayer, worship and testimony in church, encourage kids to share in these things throughout the week, maybe at school or something. Wouldn't it be something else to have a kid share on the weekend that they got their friend saved during little lunch (recess)?

5. Wouldn't it be great to have something that included solid, Salvo doctrine and biblical teaching wrapped up in one fun and dynamic package?

Shaz said...

From what I've seen and experienced in church (and I have 5 children) is that we are too busy trying to entertain them to keep them occupied than teaching them God's plans and how real and relevant He is to us all. My children have a deep desire to question things in the Bible and I love it - keeps me on my toes! I'm sad to see children being used as cute objects and pray the children's wisdom and potentials can be expressed and developed.

GraceFoody said...

what about stopping teaching them that what they believe in is false? Children are born with an ability to have faith.. and what do we waste it on? Tooth fairy? Easter bunny? Santa? One after one the things they have been told crumble.. and at just the moment, that time when faith should hold them to community, when they most need it, between childhood and adulthood, it is easy to see how they deduce this is "just one more of my parents story tales"

JUST thoughts on human trafficking... said...

I agree with Genevieve, we constantly insult children's ability to be who God intended, as we continue to arrange church for them and fit them into our schedules. I am so glad that you raised this concern Gen.

Another area of children and youth ministry that I constantly feel challenged by is that we seem to give youth and children the leaders that are just starting out, the ones who are doing ministry for the first time. I know everyone's ministry has to start somewhere but are we putting children and youth last by not giving them the best and most God honouring, we seem to save these people for the adults, but yet evangelism stats say that,
"80% of church members become christians before the age of 18 years"
so why are we not concentrating on making church and God an awesome experience that speaks loudly to this group, rather than giving them what we think they should have and what we think they can handle.

I have recently seen a pattern of people in ministry, with children and youth to "start them out" in ministry. I don't think that it should always be the young people that have to bare the brunt of new leaders, their mistakes and lack of insight. I know experienced leaders make mistakes to, but I hope you get what I mean.

I guess we go back to the same question How can we do church better? I don't have the answer to that just a few thoughts, inspired by Bill Hybels new book Holy Discontent.

Bill talks about our Holy Discontent as the thing that most frustrates us, for some of us it is injustices such as poverty, human traffiking etc and for others it is mediocrity in the church and christian living (there are many others I am sure). When we realise what our frustration is and recognise it we can channel this with God into positive action and commitment to building the kingdom in the way god intended. In an essence it is finding your purpose and not letting frustration overide, letting God take over, move toward the frustration and work in this area (whether voluntarily or as occupation).

So what does this have to do with church and children/youth ministry? Well if everyone was living as God intended, into their purpose and holy discontent than God would be speaking louder than ever about a number of things, but maybe we would hear him saying "go to the children and bring them to me and do whatever it takes." If that is what we were hearing would we be treating this ministry as something for beginners, particularly when Teenagers are at the greatest risk of leaving the church in the youth years, due to the pressures of the 21st century.

We also need to keep in mind that often working with children is a way into a family that does not yet know God. Many families like the idea of children going to Sunday school and hanging out at safe places on Friday nights, our foots in the door now how do we swing that door right open?

I hope this provokes some thinking of what children's/youth ministry could be like.


Anonymous said...