By Ashlea Denton, MA CYF graduate from Luther Seminary
When asked to come up with an example of learning from children, nearly every adult can quickly give a response. Whether it be from their own child, a distant relation or a chance encounter, adults have been, often unconsciously, learning from children for generations. Matthew 18:2-5 is often quoted when speaking of the role of children in the church and illustrates the importance of children,
“I’m telling you, once and for all, that unless you return to square one and start over like children, you’re not even going to get a look at the kingdom, let alone get in. Whoever becomes simple and elemental again, like this child, will rank high in God’s kingdom. What’s more, when you receive the childlike on my account, it’s the same as receiving me”.
What is Happening?
How has the church put these bold statements of Jesus into practice? Too many children’s ministries have become goal-oriented, future driven ministries for the instruction of faith. Children are often seen as a “problem” which needs to be corralled, instructed and disciplined until they learn to behave properly – as adults. Instead of hearing the prayer of a child asking God to “speak up” so they can hear from “so far away” as a keen illustration of a genuine closeness of relationship between the child and their creator, adults may chuckle at what they believe is the absurdity of such belief.
Children’s ministry in the church needs to focus on being with children and not being for children. Ministry for children focuses on the life of the congregation. Ministry for children begins when a child enters Sunday School and ends when they age-out of the programs. Ministry for children begins and ends with the church.
Ministry with children is different. Ministry with children invites persons of all ages to journey together in faith. Ministry with children grows faith for a lifetime in both children and those they encounter. Ministry with children is essential to the Church and the journey of faith as it opens up imagination and wonder in the body of Christ.
Our Theology and Action
A Christian understanding of ministry with children can be developed from the belief of imago Dei. The Christian belief of imago Dei leads us to see all people as created in the image of God with purpose, gifts and ministry. Children, being created in the image of God and part of the priesthood of all believers should be viewed as ministers within the body of Christ. Children are the bearers of God’s image from the moment they are created.
Along with imago Dei, the Christian sacrament of Baptism can aid the Church in shifting from a view of ministry for children to one of ministry with children. When the sacrament of Baptism is celebrated within most congregations today the community which is present welcomes the newly Baptized into the community of Christ. Because of this, when an infant or child is Baptized, they also become full members and participants in the work of God’s kingdom on earth now.
Ministry with children compels congregations to become communities which equip and support families in daily living. This can be done by showing families and congregations how to be attentive to the ministry of children. Being attentive to the ministry of children allows children to minister from the depths of who they are and how they were created. Children, like adults, are created and gifted in vastly different ways and ministry with children should encourage and empower each child to use their giftedness in ministry.
Read Ashlea’s full paper:
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