The above comic reminds me of the perceived challenge surrounding teaching “today’s” child in the church. Today’s child is exposed to multi-media, and empowered to download the programs they wish to watch on their iPads, without the inconvenience of sticking to a TV program, or bearing with the constant interruption of annoying advertisements. Today’s child is boss of his own stimulation. He decides what he wants to watch, when he wants to watch it, and how much of it too. Does the teacher or parent of today’s child sometimes feel like a human iPad? By this, I mean that they feel that children practice selective hearing, tuning adults out if they find the information boring. I’m talking about adults who feel that they are too old-fashioned and therefore out of touch with this generation of youth. I have a message of hope for today’s teacher and parent: The gospel never gets old!
Our eternal God is not caught off guard by the changing times. We cannot outgrow our need for God, and we cannot advance beyond God. Solomon put it this way: “There is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl.1: 9). Just because the Bible was written generations ago, does not mean that God remained in the past! Therefore, the teacher and parent, who are in touch with the Holy Spirit, need not fear that they are dull or irrelevant to their contemporary audience. God might not be a “modern” concept, but God is ahead of the times, all the time. The Holy Spirit, who prophesied about the New Testament back in Old Testament times, is the same Holy Spirit who prophesies about the end times. Surely, He who sees the future foresaw what today’s child would need.
God is as relevant now as He has always been. He is the inventor of relevance. It is up to the dedicated teacher and parent to find creative ways to present our relevant, eternal God, to today’s child. “How do we do this task?” I hear the reader thinking…I offer a simple question in return: “Is the human psyche too modern and advanced to appreciate authentic relationships?” In fact, the advance of technology has further widened the canyon of human relationships. Children of this computer generation spend far less time in community, and more time in isolation. They hunger for someone to take a genuine interest in their lives. They long for affirmation, belonging, friendship, mentorship, and fellowship. The effects of too much interaction with counterfeit or computerized “personalities” has deepened their desire for human contact. In short, our children need love. Technology cannot hug a child. An iPad cannot listen to a child’s fears and offer comfort. A Game Boy cannot tell our children that they are loved no matter what – whether they win or loose, they are number one in our books.
Mega churches can boast about the sophisticated media they employ in their children’s ministries, leaving smaller churches feeling like they do not measure up. I must confess that I do enjoy using lights, sound-effects, smoke machines, camera’s and action to entertain children, but I am convinced that there is no substitute to that of a genuine relationship with a significant adult. These relationships jet-propel the spiritual development of a child. These relationships change children’s lives. These relationships are obtainable to children in small or large churches, as long as the adults in those churches will step up to the task. This task does not depend on the churches resources, or lack thereof. The success of this critical task lies squarely on the shoulders of adults willing to be available to the children.
The same Jesus who reached out from heaven to teach crowds on a mountain, or tell stories and parables to listeners; who truly listened to individuals, like the woman at the well, or Zacchaeus in the tree and defended the vulnerable, like the woman who was about to be stoned, or ultimately sacrificed his own life on a cross, is experienced by children through the lives of adults who are committed to them. Adults who are willing to come down on their level to talk to them, listen to them, share stories and principles with them in ways that they can understand, eat at their homes, worship with them, and in smaller ways than Jesus did, sacrifice themselves for their sake. Adults who will take the time to show children that God truly cares about them; that God pursues them.
It is not my presentations that children remember most in later years. Young adults I used to teach as children, now tell me how much our relationship meant to them. By showing up consistently on Sundays (as best prepared as my resources allowed at the time), I was a message in flesh and blood that they matter to God. When children are given the opportunity to build a strong, meaningful, long-lasting relationship with a significant adult, this opens up their hearts to truly experience God. They find a safe, caring environment in which to learn to trust God. The bells and whistles are a bonus, but it is the relationship that is the true minister. This is why I encourage children’s ministry volunteers to give this ministry more time. Where there is a large turnover of children’s ministry staff, the children do not experience as much spiritual growth as they could. Instability is counterproductive to growth. Children first learn to trust adults, before that trust is rendered to God.
I encourage creative teaching. I love novelties and gimmicks. It is part of my way of relating to children. It is my way of engaging the imagination of the child. I believe that God gave us the arts as a revelation of how awesome He is, and I fully intend to develop the arts to do just that: To communicate God to children in ways that speak to their hearts, their dreams, their souls. I want children to be so captivated by our God that they want nothing in life more than their desire for Him. I want children to develop their own creative gifts, as an act of worship. There is no glory in lazy teaching or parenting. We cannot hide behind laziness before Solomon’s words, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom” (Eccl.9: 10). If I am to teach or to parent, I am to do it with might (force, power and capacity)! God did not leave much to my own imagination when he revealed Himself to me, in turn, I must do my very best to present God to children in practical and inventive ways. I think that God wants me to inspire the soul of a child.
It may seem that I have presented here a paradox, arguing for relationship over the use of technology, yet on the other hand demanding for the mastering of and use of whatever creative means (including technology) one can employ in order to teach and parent children. Perhaps a marriage of both relationship and method are required. The merging into one flesh of a learning, growing teacher and parent, who is willing to give children their time. When I stand before children, I realize that it is I, and not my methods, that can interact with them. It is I, and not my well-prepared movie clips that can discern their spiritual needs. It is I, and not my smoke machine, that prays with them. It is my life, and not the video game, that mentors them. Yet, it is my sincere attempt to speak their language that wins their attention. It is my fun attitude and my novelty methods that cause them to seek me out after a service to speak to me. It is that magic trick which I did, that begs them to come back for more, though it is I who can teach them the same trick to use to evangelize their friends. I become one with my methods: Relationship skill working in unity with a great presentation, to the goal of winning a child for Christ.
I leave you to consider your own teaching and parenting style. No two people are alike, or used alike by God. I encourage you to “fan into flame the gift of God that is in you” (2 Tim. 1:6). I believe that children’s ministry is not for a few selected “called out” ones, but rather that every adult can be involved in the spiritual journey of a child. There are as many different types of children as there are adults, each of which may be impacted by your unique set of gifts. Ask God how you can contribute to the spiritual development of the children in your church. Whether your work takes you “behind the scenes” to operate a sound booth, to intercede, to raise funds for resources, to build props, to host events, or any multitude of support tasks available outside of the classroom “pulpit”, or whether you are called to teach in the classroom, you have a significant role to play in children’s lives. Today’s child is similar to yesterday’s child in this way – both depend on dedicated adults to take them seriously, and to teach them seriously. God is concerned about today’s child, are you?