NOTE: This post was originally written for a graduate class I’m currently taking at ACU: Engaging Adolescents in Spiritual Formation. Although this was a required writing, the topic is one that I have a strong passion about, and felt it was important to pass along.
It’s clear in Scripture that young people matter to God. In 2 Kings 22, in a time of intense turmoil and disaster, an eight-year-old named Josiah becomes king and does such an admirable job that he is compared to King David (cf. 2 Kings 22:2). In the Gospels, Jesus offers both blessings for children (cf. Mark 10:14-15; Luke 18:16-17) and strong warnings for those who might attempt to lead children astray (cf. Matt. 18:6; Mark 9:42). In 1 Timothy 4:12, Paul reminds a young Timothy that he has an opportunity to lead other believers by example in righteous conduct. Because children and teenagers clearly have a place in God’s kingdom, they have a key role to play in the life of the church.
Children remind us that theology is not only taught in a classroom, but learned through real-life experience, specifically in the context of community. As Andrew Root highlights, it’s the church who will walk alongside young parents raising a child for the first time, or who will move past theology into the theological as a young child wrestles with the death of their beloved pet. Christianity is not learned from a book, it is experienced through the ups and downs of life. And because children are experiencing many of these “ups” and “downs” for the first time, we must stay aware of their vulnerability and impressionability.
This presents a key opportunity for us to minister to children in the context of community. By integrating children into the community of believers, we can teach them about faith in two specific, meaningful ways. First, we must find appropriate ways to engage them in dialogue. How can we help them process their life experiences in light of God’s greater plan for them? How can we encourage them to see God’s hand at work in the world, through both blessings and trials? Second, we can create opportunities for them to develop meaningful relationships with adults of different ages. I remember my parent’s church friends from when I was a young child. I still talk with some of these people today. The importance of these relationships cannot be diminished. There is a popular saying that people will “fall in love with Christians before they fall in love with Christ.” There is truth in this statement, even for children who grow up in the church. Positive relationships with adults intentionally living out their faith will lead to a greater curiosity about God in children that can ultimately point them closer to the cross.
Furthermore, we can find ways to integrate children into the activities of the church. I have to take this opportunity to brag on my own church. We are known in Waco as “the church that helps people” (at the risk of sounding arrogant, this was the reputation of Crestview LONG before I came on staff). Our leadership has a heart for responding to needs caused by natural disasters, and we are well aware of what is happening in Houston and South Texas right now. Immediately after the disaster happened, we went to lunch as a staff to discuss what we could do to help the affected areas. One of the first questions raised at the lunch was, how can we involve our children in the response? As a church, we believe it’s important to not only teach our children about the importance of loving others, but to also give them a practical opportunity to demonstrate God’s love in a time of severe need.
As somebody who does youth ministry full-time, I am both encouraged and challenged to consider the ways in which our ministry to children can grow to become more effective. Scripture makes it clear that children belong to the body of believers. As we move towards a greater inclusion of children and teenagers into the church family, we become more like the family that God has called us to be. As we read in Psalms 8:2, quoted by Jesus in Matthew 21:16, “From the lips of children and infants, you, Lord, have called forth your praise.” Children are called to be in community, not only with fellow believers, but with the one true God. And we, as church leaders, get to be co-participants with them on this journey. What a great blessing!
 Andrew Root, Bonhoeffer as a Youth Worker (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2014), 52.
 Ibid., 66-71.