A Beautiful Crazy Mess

By Danielle Lair, Associate Director of Children’s Ministries at Alamo Heights United Methodist Church. You can check out her blog at: https://childspraise.com.

“We journey as co-pilgrims with children, side-by-side teaching, enriching, inviting, and inspiring all who have been called to participate. The kingdom pilgrimage is an amazing journey that is simply incomplete without the beauty and wonder of children.”

~Steven Bonner, Along the Way

For a time I found myself teaching 4th & 5th grade boys on Wednesday nights. I loved them and our time together, but God bless them they were crazy! There were days I went home and thought, “I have no idea what I just taught or if they heard anything about God.” During the middle of one such chaotic night, one of my sweet, inner-city boys, who never-ever stopped talking, asked me in the middle of our lesson if we could do that “quiet prayer where we scatter and listen for God’s voice in silence.” Yes, sweet boy. Yes, we can.

If you’ve spent much time around children you expect the unexpected. We’ve taught those children we didn’t think were listening. And then the day comes when they blow our minds with the way their hearts are attuned to God & their deep desire to spend time with Him.

Children’s spiritual formation is a beautiful crazy mess.

Here’s what I’ve learned to be true during my time in Children’s Ministry:

The logistics of running a Children’s Ministry of any size makes it very easy for Sunday’s to become a glorified version of babysitting. It’s not because we’re lazy. It’s because it’s really hard. But there has to be a better way because these short years matter deeply, even among the craziness. And despite the crazy mess. Researchers are just beginning to understand the depths of spiritual formation that happens in childhood and the long-term implications. Let’s explore why it’s so important.

Children matter to God.
Children are complete human beings made in the image of God. Scripture overflows with evidence of how important children are to God: Deut. 4:9-10; 6:1-3, 7, 20-21; 7:13; 31:12-13; Exod. 12:26; Psalm 8:2; 78:4-7; 34:11; Prov. 22:6; 3:11-12; Matt. 21:15-16; 18:1-6; 19:13-14; Mark 10:13-16.

Children are disciples.
By age 9, most children have their spiritual anchors in place. Generally, there is little difference between the beliefs a child holds at this time & the beliefs they will carry with them as an adult. In other words, the spiritual health of adults is largely dependant on the relationship they create with God as a child.

Children’s praise & prayers are powerful.

Psalm 8:2 says, Through the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.” (NIV, emphasis added) The words of praise our children and infants speak are powerful in ways we can’t even begin to comprehend. Through their candid observations, wonderings & questions they are fighting battles against Satan – against pride and secrecy, political-correctness and lies. They fight battles for thanksgiving and joy, honesty and transparency, justice and mercy.

And Satan cannot stand against them.

Children are examples of how to enter the Kingdom of God. If the praise of children & infants is really fighting battles again Satan, it’s no wonder Jesus told us we wouldn’t enter the Kingdom of God unless we become like little children. (Matthew 18:2-4)

Children matter to the local church.

If all of the above is true we shouldn’t isolate our children on a regular basis to their own classrooms to never be seen or heard from until “adult” church is over. Our children should be a visible part of our churches. They need spiritual mothers & fathers & big brothers & sisters who will pour into them, mentor them & help raise them to be adults who live radical faith. They need opportunities to serve in worship & in their community.

Let’s teach children spiritual disciplines.

I’m not sure when or why the phrase “spiritual disciplines” became so scary to some. Or maybe it’s just when I use the phrase in the same sentence as “Let’s do this with children!” that people look at me like I just said my husband is pregnant with twins. But here’s what I tell my volunteers who panic at the thought of asking children to be quiet and still: I know I’m crazy, but just trust God. I promise you’ll be blown away by what He is going to do with your kids.

Brenda was one of those volunteers that had been serving in Children’s Ministry for longer than I’d been alive. Her dedication, commitment & love for our children are inspiring. Then along came this young Children’s Minister who encouraged her to begin practicing spiritual disciplines with her kids. We had many conversations in my office, in the hallway and over the phone about the “impossible” things I was asking of her. She thought I was crazy, and I would just smile at her and say, “I know, but let’s just try it and see what God does.” It wasn’t long before Brenda became one of my biggest advocates to other volunteers who also thought I had lost my mind. She witnessed what God will do in children’s hearts, and she became a spokesperson for practicing spiritual disciplines with children of all ages.

Consider the theory of multiple intelligences for a minute, which suggests that everyone learns in unique ways. The 8 intelligences are linguistic, logic-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal & naturalist. God created us all with one or two dominant intelligences.

Now, consider the spiritual disciplines. Every different spiritual discipline is designed to connect each different intelligence-styled person to God. When we teach kids how to practice spiritual disciplines we are helping them find a way to connect with God through a style God created them to learn through.

Let’s teach the spatial intelligence child about Praying in Color.

Let’s teach the naturalist intelligence child how to walk a labyrinth.

Let’s show the bodily-kinesthetic intelligence child how to pray with their whole body.

Let’s give the musical intelligence child space to write a song of praise.

When we give kids the space to encounter God in ways He created them we are honoring Him and His creation. We are helping them discover & develop a deep & rich relationship with God. A relationship that will often last through the challenges and the ambiguities of life. We are honoring the way God created children and giving them lifelong practical tools.

The Holy Spirit is alive & active in the lives of our children.

Children do not have a Jr. Holy Spirit. The full authority, power & maturity of the Holy Spirit is working in our kids’ hearts. They are capable of interacting with and learning & hearing what the Holy Spirit has to say to them. The best thing we can do is to create the space for them to do that and then shut up and get out of the way. It’s as mysterious a process in kids’ lives as it is in the lives of adults, but it happens nonetheless. The question is will we trust God enough to get out of His way so He can do His thing?

Will we trust the work of the Holy Spirit in our kids’ lives even when it means we don’t control every minute of our time together?

Will we let these precious children teach us a thing or two about God & faith?

Because children’s spiritual formation is a beautiful crazy mess.

Danielle Lair is the Children’s Minister at the Sycamore View Church of Christ


About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.