The Valued Child
Today on The Feed, Joanna Cummings, Pastor to Children and Families at The Village United Methodist Church (Nashville, TN), discusses the importance of valuing children's gifts and contributions to their own and our spiritual awareness and development.
During the Advent season, we share the story of our God who came to us in human form, wrapped in swaddling cloth, vulnerable to the world, with all of the needs of any typical infant. It is in this story that I am reminded that Christ came to us, not in the form of a grown adult but in the form of a baby and I can’t help but believe there is something God wants to teach us through that. Even the youngest among us bear the image of God, experience God and have much to share with our world. As a pastor to children, this image is one I am reminded of often.
When I stepped foot into the world of children’s ministry, I thought it would be a temporary role. Little did I know about all that the children would teach me and that God would call me to ministry alongside our youngest disciples of Jesus. My experiences of children’s ministry before stepping into it myself were ones that painted ministry to children as childcare, a space to keep them away from the adults who were engaged in the real discipleship. But, I believe that our children deserve so much more than this. They deserve for us to nurture them in the faith, to involve them in the Church, to love them as valued members in the community of faith, to listen to them, to let them lead and learn to lead, and to allow them to teach us what it means to grow as disciples of Jesus Christ.
Children are spiritual beings from the very beginning. We each are created in the Imago Dei, the image of God, and our children share the Creator with us and experience God for themselves… even at the earliest stages of development. Rebecca Nye shares about children’s spirituality stating, “Spirituality in childhood is about children’s ways of being with God and God being with them. It raises large questions about how Christians understand what ‘being a person’ means, and the role of childhood in life more generally. Exploring childhood from a spiritual point of view can help us move beyond the words and warm noises we sometimes make about the place of children in the Christian community.” It is important that our children are valued as the whole spiritual beings that they are. And, I believe that it is in respecting them and embracing them at their current stage of life and acknowledging that they, too, have something to teach us and to share with our world that we can catch a glimpse of the kingdom of God. Our children don't have to wait till they are grown ups to be valued by the church.
Recently, during a children’s leaders gathering, a member of our team had their daughter, Molly, join us. She sat quietly listening and playing for a good deal of the meeting but it was when we turned our attention and ears towards her that we were reminded of the understanding of God that our children hold. We were planning a children’s worship time on the topic of praying with expectation and I asked Molly, “What does it mean to you to talk to God about big things?” She responded, “I just tell God about my day and then I ask God how his day was. I try to listen because, you know, it’s important to not just ask God for stuff all the time. That’s not all that prayer is about.” It was in her statements that I was reminded of the depth of relationship we can have with our Creator and also that we have a great deal to learn from our children. Molly’s reminder to listen to God and ask God to share with us tells us that prayer is much more than a wish list we present to God but that it is a relationship of selfless love.
Many of our children are ready and eager to serve and to lead. Yes, they need guidance. Yes, they need help. But, when we allow them to lead, when we really listen to what they have to offer us and support them in this way, wonderful things can happen.
Children can often make us nervous, we don’t really know what they will do… or say. When we allow space for them to be… kids… many things can happen. But, we in the church must be okay with that. For when we squander their giggles, their wiggles and their kid-like tendencies I believe we also squander their experience and ours of the Holy Spirit at work through them. Why would we steal that from our kids and from our communities of faith?
The United Methodist Church baptismal liturgy states: “Through baptism you are incorporated by the Holy Spirit into God’s new creation and made to share in Christ’s royal priesthood. We are all one in Christ Jesus. With joy and thanksgiving we welcome you as a member of the family of Christ.” If we are to truly to live out our baptismal vows, God calls us to truly believe and act on our promises to incorporate our children into the body of Christ as active participants in God’s mission in our churches and in our world. To do this we must invite children into the life of our community and value relationship with them. We must embrace and support their stage in life and be open to listening and learning from them. We must allow them to partner with us in the mission of God through loving our neighbors and being the church together. And we must advocate for, nurture them and love them as they grow and as they experience God with us, Immanuel.