Many refer to children as the church of the future while acknowledging that children also make up part of today’s church. I hold to this view. I am not, however, so taken up with the present and future that I forget the past. For I remember that the spiritual journey of our children entering the wonderful world of youth ministries today began well before they entered kindergarten. The strategic importance of the preschool years cannot be overstated.
Those of us currently in children’s ministry must remain strong in these two directions. We must provide the very young ones for whom we are responsible the kind of spiritual nurture that recognizes and enhances their faith life. Help for this is readily available now with the recent emphasis on children’s spiritual formation. Many of us must also prayerfully put into place strategies for wooing our emerging teenagers back into the fold, helping them return to their spiritual roots.
Some among us are finding effective ways to do this; all of us are looking for best practices to use with our pre-teens. One programming model mirrors what the world has to offer. Check out the favorite activities of our pre-teens, copy these in order to insure relevance, only give the program a ‘Christian’ twist. Does this really work?
Some suggest that we look beneath the activity level to what these older children are thinking and, yes, feeling, and put effort into understanding them. We provide them with mentors who can truly love kids even when they don’t fully understand them, mentors who attempt to acquire the understanding needed.
Could it be that God wants to redeem the deep hurts and resulting needs that we adults experienced as we were growing up by using these to bridge the chasms to youngsters who are going through similar challenges of their own right now? For instance, I was raised, for part of my childhood, by an alcoholic relative. My parents divorced and remarried at a time when this was scandalous. For a while my grandmother was my primary caregiver. Though not severely impoverished, we were nonetheless on the poorer side of middle class. I remember navigating grade school feeling very much like an outsider. Once, I ran away from home.
Was my situation unusual? Not at all. And wouldn’t this, if God gave the opportunity, help me to relate to a pre-teener today? Quite likely.
At the risk of being simplistic, may I suggest that we pray into place in our pre-teens’ lives adults who deliver love in such a way that these youngsters really feel loved? It could be the parents…it really should be parents. But it could also be someone in the Christian school, club program or Sunday School class who can establish genuine connections with these emerging youth.
If only those middle-schoolers who missed it as preschoolers had opportunities now to meet Jesus – to be convinced He really does love them unconditionally. Very often this message is conveyed by adults who encounter their bad behavior and poor choices and manage still to reach deep into their emotional reservoirs and pour in the love of a Heavenly Father.
Jesus loves the middle-schoolers, with their challenge to be free.
Full of anger, doubt and fright, they are precious in His sight.
Jesus loves the middle schoolers. So must we!
Wherever they acquire it, emerging youth need the following to prepare them for the challenges of life beyond childhood:
- A thorough understanding of the Bible. This includes how it is organized, what its major themes are, familiarity with significant stories of heroes and villains that demonstrate the ways God deals with us, how one enters into a relationship with the Heavenly Father through faith in Jesus, how to ‘feed’ oneself from Scripture with accuracy and conviction.
- Ongoing experience of their benefits and obligations as a child of God. This includes corporate worship, the multi-dimensions of prayer, Kingdom service.
- Opportunities to reach out to others in the Name of Jesus Witnessing by actions and words, generosity with time and money, commitment to the advance of God’s global Kingdom are some examples
- A growing, unshakable conviction that God loves them. They can cherish a genuine relationship with the triune God, convinced that they are valued, identified with Christ, and empowered to lead purposeful lives for God’s Kingdom.
Blessed are the children who have achieved this through the experiences provided for them by the time they complete sixth grade.
Those who work with children of any age will benefit from reading/studying Ross Campbell’s book: How to Really Love Your Child. Everyone can benefit from reading Katie Davis’s book, Kisses from Katie. This remarkable chronicle of Jesus at work in Uganda, Africa, through a teenager (at the beginning of the story) and presently a young adult will challenge us, whatever our age, to love Jesus and love others passionately.