Throughout Scripture we're called to come out of
darkness into God's marvelous light Helping children walk in
God's light takes more than church programs and fancy special
events. To truly know God, children must first know
In a TV special that took viewers on a musical journey through
the top 100 movie tunes of all time, short film clips played in
reverse order as the audience eagerly waited to hear the #1
favorite song throughout movie history. The honor went to
"Somewhere Over the Rainbow" sung by Judy Garland in the beloved
The Wizard of Oz.
Viewers across America must've breathed a collective sigh. Who
among us doesn't want to believe that "what is unseen is really
A child's world is filled with dreams fueled by a vivid
imagination. Childhood is a time of wonder. It's a gift to prepare
us for a lifelong faith in a Divine Being who created everything
seen and unseen. The writer of Hebrews said it this way, "Now faith
is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not
see." But how do we nurture that kind of faith in a culture that
seems to hide the reality of God? How can a child come to know God
when faith is a mystery that even adults don't fully
Like Dorothy's adventure on the yellow brick road, the search
for God can take children down a shadowy path. What's even scarier
is that those of us in children's ministry, who try to light their
way, can be part of the darkness.
- We hide God from children by using boring lessons and worship
services where they can't understand the message.
- We don't allow children to see God's true character when we
make them feel bad about themselves through careless words or
- We fail to guard against a busy, stressed-out lifestyle, and we
blind children to the order and peacefulness of God.
- We glamorize a digital, image-driven culture, so children see
God as less relevant to their daily experiences.
- We hide God when children ask probing questions, and we give
them simple answers instead of sharing our struggles.
Into the Light
Throughout Scripture we're called to come out of darkness into
God's marvelous light (Ephesians 5:8; 1 Thessalonians 5:5; 1 Peter 2:9). Helping children walk in God's
light takes more than church programs and fancy special events. To
truly know God, children must first know themselves. How? By
building honest relationships with others, hopefully in homes and
communities of faith.
For the Christian, faith is founded in the life, death, and
resurrection of Jesus Christ, who gives us our faith story. John H.
Westerhoff III, author of Will Our Children Have Faith?, writes,
"Unless the story is known, understood, owned, and lived we and our
children will not have Christian faith."
Westerhoff explains that nurture alone won't make a child
Christian. Conversion is essential. "Conversion, I believe, is best
understood as this radical turning from 'faith given' (through
nurture) to 'faith owned' [through authentic Christian
Jake was 8 years old during the September 11 terrorist attacks
in New York City. Because he's such a gentle child, I was surprised
by his angry reaction. In the middle of an adult conversation about
the tragedy, Jake yelled out, "Those people [terrorists] hate God!"
I prayed for wisdom to respond to Jake in a way that would help him
embrace our faith story. "They may hate God, Jake," I said, "but
God loves them. He loves them just the same as he loves you and me.
So as God's family we must pray for the terrorists." Jake gave me
one of those looks children have when they're thinking, Are you for
real? But as we continued to talk, Jake's attitude softened. Later,
he prayed that he might be more like God.
Dorothy's story was shaped by the colorful friends she met on
the road to see the Wizard. Remember? She met a scarecrow who
needed a brain, a tin man who needed a heart, and a lion who needed
courage. All three found what they longed for in their friendships
and helped Dorothy discover that "there's no place like home."
It's interesting that today's children need the same things
Dorothy's friends needed: knowledge of God, a heart after God, and
courage to live God's story on earth. Jesus said it this way: "Love
the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind" (Matthew
22:37). Christian education must speak to these three elements if
children are to reach their eternal home.
A Knowledge of God
Children are blessed with a natural sense of curiosity about
their world. When caring adults talk about our Creator with awe and
respect, a child's desire to know him grows. Romans 10:17 says,
"Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the
message is heard through the word of Christ."
God's message is also revealed to children through our faith
rituals, such as marriage, christening, baptism, the Lord's Supper,
Advent, and Lent. In these rituals children behold God's Spirit in
the memorable events of their lives. Even ancient practices, such
as the examen, can help a child talk to God about their day.
"For more than two years at my church, we have been practicing
the examen," writes author Ivy Beckwith. "At the end of our
sessions, we sit in a circle on the floor with a candle in the
center of the circle. I'm amazed at the way the children
respond...sharing...quite remarkable things about the good and bad
taking place in their lives. Each week we explain...how God is
involved and central to both the good things and bad things that
happen in our lives." Rituals can draw children into their own
Bible search for answers.
To build a solid foundation, write the editors of Parents' Guide
to the Spiritual Growth of Children, we must "encourage kids to
start searching the Scriptures for themselves, challenge them to
find out on their own what the Bible says about a situation they're
facing -- a rocky friendship, for instance, or a decision about how
to spend some money. If they get stuck, help them out. When they're
done, ask them to share with you what they found."
We must let children judge, question, and even doubt. As they
mature, they'll see that in all things (good or bad) we can grow
closer to God.