Several years ago, before our older kids had even started school, Chad and I took them with us to sing at an adult daycare facility. We went there with the senior adult choir from our church, and the kids stood with us and sang as many words as they could remember while the daily residents of the place clapped off-rhythm, rocked back and forth, shouted, or just smiled quietly. Some never acknowledged our presence. Others couldn’t contain their excitement and sang loudly. It was a wild and unusual scene for all of us, especially two small children.
After the singing, we all walked around the room, greeting the residents and shaking hands. Many were completely taken with the kids, while others didn’t seem interested in or capable of talking to them. I wasn’t entirely sure how the kids would react to this out-of-the-ordinary situation that we had thrust them in, but I was amazed and encouraged that they genuinely enjoyed themselves. They recognized, even at their tender ages, that the people in this place were in need of smiles, kindness, and cheer. And they provided it in the way that only preschoolers can: with total enthusiasm.
I learned something that day. It’s important to let our kids in on the ministry that we’re doing.
Since that time our kids have become intimately acquainted with funeral homes, hospital rooms, nursing homes, weepy prayer sessions, and shabby houses where it seems like no one could actually be living. Not every situation that we walk into is as pleasant as their experience with the senior adult choir. They have seen tears. They have seen pain. They have seen hopelessness.
And, they have seen how Jesus is the only real hope there is.
They have seen how the Holy Spirit comforts and moves even on the darkest days. They have seen how difficult and complicated and messy it can be to be the hands and feet of Christ. They have felt the joy of meeting people where they are–even when where they are is a hard place to go.
All of this, just in a small town in West Texas. Not in the jungles of Africa or in secret church meetings in the Middle East. Our kids are learning so much about who Christ is and what he does, just by going with their daddy preacher where he goes, holding hands and praying with hurting church members in tiny hospital rooms, doing crafts with nursing home residents, learning to get used to being with grieving families, understanding that people truly need Jesus, and that we can help them see it.
I think we are in the habit in churches of not giving children enough credit. We forget that the Holy Spirit is working inside them and around them in real ways. We assume that they are too sensitive and tender to handle hard truths of life, that they are too precious to have to go to hospital rooms or see any pain or suffering. But, when we think that way we rob them of crucial opportunities to begin forming a theology for dealing with hard things in life. Children who have never thought about death or funerals, who have never seen a body in a casket, who have never been exposed to the extreme poverty that is closer than they realize, who have never considered what it’s like when your body or mind isn’t working like it should–those children are spiritually handicapped and will be never be forced to think of any of these things or how God fits into them until it happens to them or someone they dearly love. It will be much more difficult for them to figure out how to view these things through a biblical lens if their first exposure is the suffering of their own parent or someone else who is dear to them.
Ministry experience also gives kids a sense of perspective. Just last week we went to visit a dear church member who has suffered a stroke. Just a couple of months ago, he stood in the living room at our parsonage, talking about carpet colors. But, the kids walked into his hospital room to find that he couldn’t speak apart from saying yes or no, that his right side isn’t cooperating with him anymore. But, he smiled sweetly at all of us, and when we joined hands and prayed with him and his wife the kids bowed and listened as their dad cried out to God for healing.
Later that night, one of the kids got upset about something small, and Chad took her back for a moment to that hospital room, where a real struggle is happening, where a man will work hard for months just to remember how to do things that he’s been doing since he was a small child. She quickly realized that her little problem doesn’t compare to real pain and hardship. When she got a little perspective, the Holy Spirit worked in her in a strange way, showing her that there is a difference between small upsets and real problems. We can’t underestimate the value of true perspective.
Allowing your kids to get in on your ministry efforts also provides an important element of Christian growth and discipleship: it teaches them the joy of serving. Of course, not all situations are particularly joyful, but when the church is functioning as it should, when you endeavor to really live life side by side, rejoicing together and grieving together, lending a helping hand when it’s needed, your kids are getting a clear view of what church really is. And, when they see that, it’s a glorious thing. They realize that church is more than a building, more than meetings, more than a social club or a self-help resource. Church is the living, breathing, beautiful Body of Christ, and it’s an honor and a true joy to be a part of it, even when it gets messy.
I would never want to represent to you that Chad and I do ministry perfectly. Far, far from it. But, I pray that our kids are getting glimpses here and there, through the power of the Holy Spirit, of what it means to be a child of God and a faithful servant in his church. I know where we fail, Jesus never does, and that’s where I place my hope.
For more on kids and church life, please take a look at Why I Take My Kids to Funerals.