Growing up in various churches -- Methodist, Baptist, Lutheran, and Presbyterian to name a few -- I'd describe the model for my church experience with one word: education. Learn about God. Grow in knowledge. Conversations with mom and dad revolved around "what we learned today", (to which the answer was always some variation of "Jesus"). After working that model for many years, though, it came up short for me. It's not that I didn't learn good information -- there are probably worse ways to spend your time than learning what the Bible says. But the deepest questions I had about life hadn't been answered. Say there was an all-loving God who wanted to give me perspective about my future and my friendships and my career, could I even get to know Him? Can I, like, TALK to Him? Would he have important things to say to me?
What does THAT sort of life look like? Somehow I'd missed it. I knew the Bible stories, definitions of concepts like grace and righteousness, but, like, I didn't actually know God! How the heck did that happen? How could a person possibly spend 12 years in churches and come out the other end with deep knowledge of concepts, but distant from an actual God?
Fast forward some years, and I'm now in CHARGE of a children's department (who knew?), and it got me thinking. What if our ministry could be about that connection with a living God? What if there were a God who we could feel close to, like, now? If we could receive day-to-day direction on the things we're actually experiencing (for kids: school, friendships, family life, and so forth). That's a program I'd get excited about.
So we're attempting to do just that with our newly renamed children's ministry, "kidlink". The idea is that everything about our ministry is designed to "link kids" to God and other people. That they'd be able to find that rich connection with God and hear from him.
Well, this approach has some very real, practical implications for the classroom. For example...
- Prayer always needs to be emphasized as "two-way", which is what we see all through scripture. We speak to God, he speaks to us. Then, especially with older kids... TRY it! Show them how to do it. Pray, and then listen. Let them watch us listen. Try it as a class. Have them write or draw what they think God is saying. In this way, prayer is a process, not a destination.
- Our kids church culture needs to be that of discussion and possibilities. A place where many different perspectives are welcomed. How do we do that? It's simpler than we might think. For example, take Moses at the Red Sea. What if we stopped reading the story right as Moses and company pulls up to the Red Sea (before it's been parted) - how about ask, "Pretend YOU are Moses! You are in charge of this huge group of people, there's an army on your tail, and there's nowhere to go! What would you do?" Inspire discussion. Ask lots of open-ended questions. This way kids aren't being taught; they're being engaged. One of my favorite posts on this subject is by Amy Dolan who argues that we need to move away from the ever-popular "one main point" sermons by asking open ended questions; and in this way each child leaves the room with his or her own main point.
- Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, has it right: "Get the culture right, and everything else falls into place." Foster a culture of connection with God and other kids by making the choice to let kids see your faith. If God has done something for me lately, after my wife, children are probably going to be one of the first groups of people to hear about it. I want them to see what God is doing in me, and to have freedom to ask questions.
So how's all this going so far? It hasn't been without its bumps, but I'm excited even this early in the game. Next time I'll post some stories of what seem like pretty amazing things happening for kids!