Working as I do for one of the larger Diocese in the Church of England I have the joy of meeting a lot of Church Leaders, and I mean a lot. I have developed some stunning insights along the way, I would suggest that more church leaders still make tea in a pot than the average person, they generally have excellent biscuits and if you’re sat in a church leaders study your eye will find the one book with the scariest title on the bookcase and then you will struggle to not stare at it. Another undeniable truth is that almost all the church leaders I’ve met are busy and don’t have enough time to do the things they have to do, let alone the list of thing they would love to do but will never have the time. I’m worried that making a case for church leaders to be more involved in discipling children will just be something to make you feel guilty about not having the time to do. I’m not however, going to deny that it’s important though, let me give you a couple of reasons.
Reason one is that when you as the leader engage with the children it says something very powerful about their status in the church, and children really notice that. John Westerhoff talks about the ‘unseen curriculum’ of a church, that is the things you teach children without saying a word and you being involved will say something deep and powerful about how you see them as current members of todays church and not a group who are on hold until they are older. Everything we know about children tells us they take their faith seriously and want to be taken seriously by the church,
The second reason you need to hang out with the children more is that they have a unique thing on offer to you that no one else in the church has for you; they can show you what it means to enter the Kingdom of God as a child. It’s easy to forget that we are supposed to become like them not them like us, Jesus was pretty clear about this. If you hang out with children and talk about God with them they will regularly blow your mind. I’m still living in the good on a child suggesting to me that the parable of the pearl of great price might be about God as the merchant willing to give everything to purchase me, the pearl; I’d literally never considered that until a nine year old said it to me. Part of what I have learnt about discipling children is that I need them to disciple me.
So let me leave you with three tips that might help you…
Talk about stories. Children loves stories, you love stories, we all love stories so start there. Jerome Berryman has some great questions to help you open up a story try thing like: I wonder what the most important part of this story is, I wonder what your favourite part is, I wonder if God is in this story. Parables are obviously a great place to start but any sacred story and some open-ended questions will be really powerful.
Listen, learn not to be too quick to correct. A safe place to explore is more important than everything being factually correct so try to resist the urge to interrupt the child or answer the question for them. As an adult you are bringing a lot of power into the relationship so you will need to consciously allow the child to think and reflect.
Value relationship and authenticity above a good program. Children have a happy knack of seeing through people trying to be something they are not so just be yourself and take time to get to know the child. They will have to learn to trust you before they are likely to want to have a very deep conversation with you.