Teaching Children or Teaching Children?
I have a confession to make. Over the last couple of years I have undergone a conversion experience. This should not be a surprise, because as Christians we should always be going through a process of conversion and change to be more Christlike. But, if we are honest with ourselves, after turning to Christ we tend to go through a rapid process of change and conversion which over time seems to slow down and in many cases comes to a halt. This particular conversion experience is noteworthy for me because it relates to the role of children in the Church and is a lesson I should have learned a long time ago.
When I started in youth work, I was a passionate advocate that young people should be active participants in the Church, not just in the sense of having a sense of belonging but also in the sense of being part of the decision-making, influencing the direction of the Church and being involved in the various ministries of the Church – praying for people, leading services, etc. However, whilst I had a firm commitment to this level of participation for the young people (roughly defined as 11+), I had a contrasting view about children (under 11s). My view of children was more like the ’empty vessel’ approach, that children were not active contributors but rather empty vessels to be filled with biblical knowledge at an age-appropriate level.
These differing and somewhat contrasting views make no sense. I am not sure what effect I thought that puberty, or the transition to Secondary School, would have that would transform these children from passive recipients of ministry into active contributors to the life and worship of the Church.
- Are these children not also made in the image of God and demonstrating something of who He is (Gen 1:27)?
- Are these children not supposed to be our role models (Matt 18:2-3)?
- In the Bible, are we not given the example of Eli, who having just been weaned, was “serving the Lord under the supervision of Eli the priest” (1 Samuel 2:11)?
In many of our churches we do not provide opportunities for children to minister/serve, but rather we are often scrambling around looking for volunteers who can serve them, and such volunteers are often destined to do this by running programmes in a separate hall away from the rest of the congregation.
For most of us as adults, this has suited us. It means that we can worship in a passive way during our church services, sitting quietly during prayers, sitting listening to sermons, and only speaking when singing a hymn or saying a piece of liturgy where we simply say/sing what is prescribed for us. If as part of our worship together we engage children as active contributors and worshippers, asking them for their testimonies of what God is doing, etc, or their interpretation on particular passages, then maybe the children can be teaching us rather than assuming that we need to be teaching children.
In my local church, we are in what may be considered an enviable situation. In the next couple of months it is anticipated that we may have more children than adults attending our church on a Sunday morning. In this situation, where more people are leaving the service than are staying, we may need to re-think how we arrange our services and so consider our children as ‘teaching children’ rather than teaching children elsewhere.
At SSCM, we have a commitment to supporting work with children and are developing a number of new programmes. From September 2016, we are planning to offer an HNC in Childhood Practice. This programme can be taken either over one year (attending classes all day on a Thursday) or over two years (attending Thursday mornings only) and is suited for anyone who is either currently working with or in the future hopes to work with children, either as a career or as a volunteer. For more information, please complete our ‘Intent to Study’ form, stating you are interested in the HNC in Childhood Practice, or call the office on 0141 552 4040.