Sometimes the ways that adults relate to children in congregations reflects the view that the spiritual life of a child can only really begin once they have been filled up by us with enough religious knowledge; in other words, that they are spiritually empty and passive vessels until and unless adults intervene. This understanding of children as “lesser” spiritual persons results in ministry to children rather than ministry with children. It diminishes the child’s spiritual life and cuts adults off from receiving in full the things of the Spirit that God desires to give to them through children.
I recently led a workshop I entitled “The Spirit of Child” – the PPT version can be downloaded here. In preparation I read Rebecca Nye’s excellent book Children’s Spirituality: What It Is and Why It Matters. Nye writes of the “the rich natural spiritual capacity of childhood – it is something ‘already there’, to be cherished, rather than something to be added on”. In fact, she suggests that children have a number of “spiritual advantages” over adults in the way they relate to God and the world around them: “things that adults have to work hard at in spiritual life may be quite natural and easy for children”. In the workshop I suggested the following as some of “spiritual advantages” of children:
- Children have a more holistic ways of seeing things – their don’t analyse as much, so their perception has a more mystical quality … “mystery is a close, mostly unthreatening friend in childhood.”
- Children are especially open and curious – they have a natural capacity for wonder.
- Children, as a whole, are less judgmental and suspicious than adults.
- Children are open to discovering new things or looking at things in new ways.
- Children are more emotionally willing to surrender to forces that transcend their control.
- Children lack knowledge about many things and are OK with that.
- Children easily accept that their words are not adequate to describe thoughts and feelings.
Jesus said “unless you change and become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). Perhaps in the realm of God’s kingdom it is equally as important for adults to learn from children, as children from adults. I wonder, how might our ministries with children look different if we lived out of such a perspective?