How did you learn to discern the voice of God? This was a question I asked at the Children’s Ministry Breakfast a few weeks ago. I wonder what your response would be. I truly believe supporting children to hear and encounter God is the very essence of why we need a solid children’s ministry. It’s the Ministry of Eli, who was woken up, rather inconveniently,several times during the night by a child trying to discern who was speaking. Within Broadmead Community Church’s ‘why’s’ we have a hunger to be a people ‘intentional about ‘seeking God and pursuing more of His presence’. God welcomes children into His presence and all of us have a role to play in inviting children along to hear and seek.
Over the last few months I have been reflecting on how we can move towards supporting children to encounter Jesus personally. As a children’s ministry team, we are trialing the ‘Explore’ Scripture Union material. We are starting to use questions of ‘wondering’, igniting curiosity and exploration. Children are invited to wonder what God is trying to say to them that day. Teaching becomes slightly more problematic; I cannot rehearse what I am going to say. I can come with a story or framework, but not a prescription. I am challenged to respond and be fully present with both the child and God in the moment. Sit down for a minute and ask yourself what God is saying to you, if you’re like me, you don’t always get a clear response. It takes work and practice. In the children, I can see the cogs in their head begin to tick, like they’re in school and looking for the right answer. We don’t want them to come up with ‘right’ answers, we want to encourage them to respond to the relationship. It’s a mutual process of learning and exploring together. A ministry that is not done to, but ministry with children. While it terrifies me because I’m out of control, I love it because we are facilitating a space for children to hear, speak, listen and respond.
Another of the Broadmead’s why’s is ‘embracing adventure’, yet for children this isn’t always easy terrain. There is a danger we can consider children’s ministry to be ‘fluffy’, filled with cheesy worship songs and discussions around ‘Jesus being my best friend’. Don’t hear what I’m not saying.These things aren’t necessary bad or wrong, but we are called into deeper waters. What happens when a child feels their ‘best friend’ has let them down? The emotions a child can experience can be powerful and even overwhelming. I believe God gave me a lesson in this years ago. At a holiday club, at a seemingly random time during worship, a child tugged at my shirt asking for prayer. The child interrupted my initial enthusiasm in an explanation I will carry in my heart forever. He said, ‘God doesn’t answer my prayers, mummy and daddy are still arguing’. My heart ached for him, for his perceptionof his circumstance, and for his disappointment in the God who had the power to shut the mouths of lions.
This is the child who is present in my memory as Broadmead hold a light party on the 25th Oct. The theme of the Light Party is based on Psalm 23v4, ‘Even though I go to the deepest darkness, I will not be afraid, Lord, for you are with me’. We can acknowledge that the darkness is hard and scary, but, like a loving father or mother, we have a mighty God who never loosens His grip of our hand. The following extract from the SU Light Party Pack encapsulates this truth:
‘As people who know the love of Jesus it’s tempting to frame all our conversations about darkness within the context of Jesus being the bringer of light, the one who dispels all darkness, the one who heals and restores all. However, for children living with the darkness (and for adults too!) the promise that Jesus will bring light just doesn’t seem enough. Imagine for a moment that you’re trapped in a pitch-blackcave, cold and alone with no idea if there is a way out. Whileit might be comforting for a voice to promise that ‘someone who loves you is bringing a light soon and it will show you the exit’, if that doesn’t happen pretty quickly you’d end up feeling at best despondent and at worst unloved. Wouldn’t you rather experience someone sitting with you in the darkness holding your hand, and letting you know that they will never leave your side?’
I started with the question ‘how did you learn to discern the voice of God?’ What a difference it would make if we helped to teach a child so that even in the times of deepest darkness, they have the ability to shut their eyes and smile, hearing the stirrings of a whisper and the All Mighty hand protective overtheir own soft fingers. In the security of God’s protective hand, children can learn to lean into His strength and embrace the call to adventure.