Children Can Participate in God’s Mission

“Can I help you?” I looked up to see nine-year-old Josh smiling at me, eager to assist. His mom had brought him to my Sunday afternoon seminar on “Partnering with Children.” Throughout the seminar Josh was always the first to volunteer for activities, he enthusiastically participated in discussions, and at the end of the seminar he asked, “How do I sign up to help you do what you do?” This young man was ready to be used by God.

Earlier, during the morning worship service, the pastor had taught about evangelism. All the adults were given a special wristband with four symbols on it to use to share the gospel. Ironically, during my afternoon seminar, as we talked about ways children can serve in the church and the community, NOBODY mentioned evangelism. Finally, I showed everyone my wristband and asked if children could have the wristbands and learn how to share the gospel with their friends. A light bulb suddenly came on in people’s minds. They agreed to order 200 child-size wristbands and teach the children of our church the same skills the adults were learning.

Within a week I heard a story of a fourth-grade boy from the church who asked his mom for 12 additional wristbands to share with his public school classmates. Twelve children heard the message of God’s great love for them because of this boy! Hallelujah!

When children ask, “Can I help?” how do we typically respond? Do we see the opportunity to help them grow as disciples or assume we can do it better or more easily ourselves? Do we dismiss children as being spiritually immature or do we recognize God working in them? Do we see children only as recipients of our ministry or as participants in God’s mission? 1 Timothy 4:12 says, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity” (NIV). Josh and the fourth-grade boy are powerful reminders of God’s work in AND THROUGH our children.

Scripture is filled with examples of God using children and youth as participants in His mission, including Joseph, Miriam, Samuel, David, Josiah, Naaman’s servant girl, and even the boy with the loaves and fish. God often chose children to fulfill specific roles for His kingdom purposes, serving in ways that adults could not. It’s significant to consider that their stories are recorded in Scripture for a purpose, and we should pay close attention.

When children participate in God’s mission, both the children and the church benefit. Children build skills and confidence, grow in faith, develop a heart for service, discover their gifts, learn from older mentors, and see God working. Who doesn’t want those benefits as part of our children’s discipleship? But the church also benefits since children bring energy, new ideas, creativity, and boldness to ministry. We must open our eyes to consider the possibilities of what God can do when children participate in God’s mission with us.

What Children Need from Adults

Adults play a significant role in helping children flourish as participants in the mission of God. Tearfund’s “Wheel of Participation” beautifully illustrates the principles necessary for effective participation of children.

The hub of the wheel represents giving children respect. Adults show respect when they listen to what children say, ask for opinions, explain decisions and actions, and treat all children equally regardless of their ability or skills.

Three spokes, or principles, flow from that central truth of respect: opportunity, responsibility, and support. Just as a wheel needs equal strength in all the spokes to move forward effectively, children need to experience all three principles from adults to participate well.

Opportunity. Children must be given opportunities to use their God-given gifts and abilities to serve God and be on mission. When adults expect children to do great things for God, they will provide opportunities for children to do great things. Concrete projects are best for younger children, allowing them to use their senses (e.g., visiting the sick or cleaning up a playground). Opportunities for older children can unfold as adults allow them to suggest ideas, plan, and take ownership of the ministry projects in which they are involved.

Responsibility. Responsibility helps children grow in their capacity as decision-makers. That means adults must be comfortable letting go of control, at the same time being sensitive to the amount of responsibility a child is ready to assume. Both adults and children should be clear on responsibilities and possible consequences before children begin the project or activity.

Support. To simply send children into ministry without support is irresponsible. However, support will take different shapes depending on the child and the project. Support may include providing children with information, training, or materials. Adults can also support by meeting children’s emotional needs, like praying together, comforting, encouraging, and praising children to help them gain confidence.

The church has an incredible opportunity to help children understand their purpose, God’s mission, and how they can add value to the Kingdom of God. Rather than dismiss children as peripheral to God’s mission, let’s celebrate the energy, the unique perspectives, the eagerness to serve, and the creativity children bring. Then, let’s release them into mission and watch what God will do through them.

You can access this entire magazine for free here: Edition 39

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