Children in Mission

Article written by Anand Jeyakumar

Anand works with children living in slum communities in Chennai, India with Metro Missions. If you are interested in exploring this topic with others from your church or community, Anand has helped create a hands-on session in the Children Everywhere Challenge. It is just one of many resources to be launched at the Global Children’s Forum in Budapest in May as part of Children Everywhere Toolbox.

Encouraging children to participate in God’s mission is one of the key factors involved in creating a nurturing environment of growing spirituality for children. The children in our faith communities have a need to be treated as co-pilgrims and co-disciples along with every other member. Children feel empowered when they are able to see themselves as significant human beings who add value to their community. When we receive children in the name of the Lord as members of today’s Church, we are receiving the Lord Himself (Matthew 18:5). When the church welcomes and receives what the children have to offer for the edification of one another, it is a clear demonstration of the fact that they are the church of today. According to Ephesians 4:16, the well-being of our faith community is based on what every joint supplies. As co-heirs with Christ, children have a significant role in contributing towards the growth of the body. On the other hand, when we fail to fully recognize the Body of Christ, we are missing out on all that God intends for the church. When children are able to see themselves being treated as complete human beings made in the image of God, they feel empowered to serve the community to which they belong. Involving children in missions is not only a way to affirm their worth in Christ, but it also contributes towards helping them become all that their Creator intends them to be.

Jesus both acknowledged children’s capacity to comprehend deep, profound spiritual truths (Matt 11:25) and as well as the importance of their praise (Matt 21:16). A child’s praise is pure and powerful. It is powerful enough to silence the enemy and the avenger (Psalm 8:2). What these passages communicate implicitly is that any community that is blessed with praising and praying children is a protected community. Children’s faith in God, expressed through their life of humility, praise, and prayer, has the potential to transform their society. When they are encouraged to participate in the very process of community transformation, their simple prayers of faith have the potential to bring about significant structural changes, physical healing, and holistic transformation of the communities where they live.

We see numerous occasions in the Bible when God used children to actively participate in the mission of serving his people. Gideon was an young man when God commissioned to go and fight for His people. His little knowledge about who God was, and what He had done for Israel in the years past, was considered by God to be the strength enough to defeat Israel’s enemies (Judges 6:11-14). Little Samuel’s life is a demonstration of God’s supernatural ways in communicating His word to and through children. David was a young boy when God started using him to protect his people. It was basically the effort of an unnamed little girl that helped the Syrian Commander to be made whole of his leprosy. Josiah was only 8 years old when God began using him to lead His people. The Bible records that there was no king like him, either before or after him, who turned to the Lord as he did-with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength (2 Kings 23:25). In Israel’s history, he is regarded as the most committed King, and a great reformer (2 Chronicles 34: 3-7, 33). Esther was a young Jewish orphan girl when she started playing a major role in God’s redemptive plan for His people. Even in the New Testament scriptural accounts, we see children actively involved in the verbs of the believing communities’ faith and worship. Our Lord Jesus, who demonstrated his wisdom at the age of 12; interacting with the teachers in the temple courts in Jerusalem; the little boy who gave up his food to partner with Jesus in his mission of feeding the 5000; Rhoda, who had a significant part in the corporate prayer for the release of Peter by the early church; are some of the examples of children participating in missions.

By helping children participate in the mission of the church, we help them know God better and closer. According to Erik H. Erikson, a German-born American developmental psychologist and psychoanalyst, known for his theory on psychosocial development of human beings, children’s sense of industry develops better when they are given the opportunity to use what they learn, and eagerly participate in completing projects. Applying this principle into the context of their spirituality, when children are encouraged to participate in missions, it becomes an opportunity for them to grow from merely knowing about God to knowing God in person. When children are valued enough to serve alongside adults it really does enable them to bring out with confidence their God given talents, and it also helps them sharpen their ministry skills. When children bring to the table what they are learning in their personal walk with God, it can become an edifying moment for the whole of community of faith. The church needs to recognize the longing within them to be brought into the courts of the Lord, and be trained to listen to His voice. Like Samuel in the Bible, who was given the space to communicate what he heard from God, today’s believing children need to be given the opportunities to bring to the table what they are learning in their personal walk with God. When children are respected enough to be listened to, they will become good listeners to the stories of others, and engage them in genuine kingdom dialogues. In some ways, children staying in the church is closely connected to their serving in the church. Getting them involved in serving and leading opportunities is one of the ways to help them experience uninterrupted spiritual growth. Of course, the way we draw from them need not be always in the form of putting them on a pedestal and enjoying their “cute preaching” or “cute singing.” When the concept of children in mission is viewed only in terms of enjoying their “performance on stage,” there is a danger of causing them to see themselves as merely attached to the programs of the church, and not as the participants in the very life of the church.

Barna’s studies have proven that peer evangelism among young children is one of the most prolific and productive ways of reaching children, and even adults. Every year, tens of thousands of families across the globe come to know Christ because of the transformed lives of children. Parents are brought to faith in Christ because one of their children was changed by his or her relational journey with the Lord. When encouraged and empowered, children feel more comfortable than adults in witnessing to their peers. Reaching children and discipling them for Christ is indeed the most strategic way of reaching a nation. And there’s no better way of reaching children than through children themselves. Children shaped in kingdom values are the most effective communicators of the gospel to others. When as parents and elders, we are faithful to help our children develop a strong biblical worldview, their desire to be involved in kingdom missions will emanate spontaneously. The exposure and the training they received in the ungodly nations could not distract people like Joseph, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego because of their strong biblical worldviews. Instead, the spiritual direction they received during their early years caused them to be powerful agents of transformation in their own world of influence. The challenge before us is to give them experience and not just information on missions. When we show them by example, and allow them to participate in the mission of taking the whole gospel to the whole community, it becomes the gospel by the whole church, where children play an active role as agents of transformation.