By Kate Honeycutt
“No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.” – 1 John 4:12 (NRSV)
“What the hardest thing about following Jesus?” I ask a group of first and second graders. A bright 7-year-old boy enthusiastically answers: “You can’t see him!”
The Church is invited to participate in the missio Dei, or God’s mission. God chooses to act in mysterious ways to reveal himself to us: through common acts of kindness, language, extraordinary dreams, prophets, angels, and most notably, God revealed himself through the incarnation of Jesus Christ. God incarnate has already come and yet his work is not finished.
Those who have encountered and responded to the truth about who God is must continue the confusing and delicate work of missio Dei. Sometimes this work entails a thorough exploration of Scripture, sometimes a hammer and a nail, and often it requires an honest conversation which begins with listening. We are invited into an all-encompassing mission, a mission to serve and enjoy God and his people. Yes, even little children.
How can children be a part of God’s mission? Do we have to get children to share Jesus? Are missions for children more than doing good deeds and listening to your parents?
We first have to take on the task of having to meet children where they are. All children go through developmental stages, but they also have their own unique personalities, family situations, and cultural heritage. We have to remember that everything is new to them and that they learn and explore in different ways. The best way for concrete thinkers to learn is through direct experience, observation, and stories. Lessons can focus on what people, in the Bible and today, are doing to serve God as well as having ways, big and small, for the children to try to live out what they are learning. As children participate in God’s mission in the world, they learn about God’s love for them as well.
Here, I think the Aristotle’s perspective is correct: action precedes understanding. For children to begin to know God, they must see that the Christian life is about doing good, not just believing (or parroting) the right phrases.
How can anyone understand the work of Christ without understanding what love looks like in action? When we show our love to friends and strangers, and receive their love and care, we all begin to understand God better. Mission is a delicate invitation to participate in God’s Kingdom, but it helps us understand the fullness of life with Jesus, and the importance of all that Christ has done.
The children I work with already have their peers tell them God is not real. I hope that through our worship of God and caring for others that they can tell their friends that God is very real, alive, and loves everyone very much. I hope and pray that they have already shown their young classmates love by being kind and caring.
Can we include children in God’s mission? Absolutely, and we must. They have to be included in the activities of worship and compassion because this is how they, like us adults, participate in the miracle of the redeemed community.
The missio Dei is powerful. We must, nevertheless, remember that the power and glory belong to God and not humanity. The Triune God’s mission is working to restore creation so that all may know and experience how deeply and wonderfully God loves. Only Jesus can call up Lazarus from the grave, but all of God’s people can witness and experience this miracle. And together we can follow Jesus as we see him through each other.
Kate Honeycutt is a CBF Leadership Scholar and serves as the Children’s Ministry Associate at Richmond’s First Baptist Church.