The Rooting and Renewing Power of Relating Spiritually with Children

Editors' Note: This article is part of the Patheos Public Square on The Spirituality of Children. Read other perspectives here.

I stepped up to serve in our children's ministry one summer. The director placed me with the three-year-olds. I plopped myself down by a pile of Mr. Potato Heads™ and waited for kids to come by. Every few minutes, a couple of children wandered over, gave me cold stares, and left. I tried connecting by smiling, saying each child's name, and welcoming them to church. It works in the lobby, why not here? I quickly changed my approach.

When the next group stopped by, the kids found me playing with the figurines. Curious, they watched me. We ended up seated, putting body parts in all the wrong holes. One kid made a Mr. Potato Head using only arms. It was funny, but it was also an opportunity. I shared how the church is the body of Christ. I mentioned how we don't just need arms to function; we need eyes, ears, and more! The family of faith needs every boy and girl, young and old. The kids' eyes lit up. They started rebuilding the toys to look more human-like than a mad scientist's experiment!

We see faith in fresh ways when we invite children to process their experiences with us, and we experience grace as God ministers to us through them. ~ Scottie May, et al., Children Matter: Celebrating Their Place in the Church, Family, and Community

Have you ever struggled to relate spiritually with a child? You wanted to be a conduit of God's love in a particular moment, but instead you felt your efforts fall short. As a long-standing, active participant in our church family, I've experienced faith connections with kids that were nothing short of supernatural. But I encounter ordinary moments with children way more often than extraordinary ones. Parents, grandparents, teachers, coaches, and children's ministry leaders all resonate with this common reality. The fact remains, relating spiritually with children isn't easy, but it has the power to root and renew our family of faith.

I recently released my first book: Relational Children's Ministry: Turning Kid-Influencers into Lifelong Disciple Makers. The book challenges anyone serving kids and families to recalibrate their approach to Christ-centered discipleship. Here are four areas that get radically impacted when we walk alongside kids spiritually. These aren't in the book, but they build on its principles.

1) Relating spiritually with children roots us in community and renews our identity.
Adults easily forget that the Bible calls all Christ-followers children of God. Relating spiritually with kids gives us a "children of all ages" discipleship perspective. Galatians 3:26 is clear, "So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith." Some are further along in age and stage, but we're all on a common faith-guided journey.

There is power in being surrounded by biological and spiritual family. These relationships help us make sense of the multiple worldviews we encounter every day. When we find our identity in Christ-centered community, children of all ages can truly grow relationally with God and others.

2) Relating spiritually with children roots us in simplicity and renews our creativity.
I love the way kids see the world, including what they pay attention to and what gets ignored. Church doesn't need to be more Disney-like; a pile of Mr. Potato Heads is way cheaper and often more effective! Jesus regularly simplified God's Word and spiritual truths in creative ways while sharing life with his disciples. Parables and object lessons were regularly part of his teaching. He stuck to essentials like "pray," "serve," and "love your enemies." Despite the religious leaders' attempts to over-complicate things, the Lord kept bringing people back to basics.

Relating spiritually with children challenges our core convictions about what matters most as followers of Jesus. We can easily allow ourselves to be derailed by insignificant details, missing the candid beauty of scripture. It's no wonder Paul told Timothy and Titus to steer away from foolish, quarrel-inciting arguments (2 Timothy 2:23; Titus 3:9). Christ was committed to simplicity and creativity for the sake of eternity. We can be child-like, not childish, in this way too.

3) Relating spiritually with children roots us in purity and renews our humility.
Can you imagine being there when Jesus said, "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48)? From a child's spiritual vantage point, this command is 100 percent possible and impossible at the same time: "I need to do what? How?!"