Anyone who has ever tried to teach children understands they can be maddeningly complex and yet wonderfully simple. Their actions can be irrational and immature, and yet Jesus pointed to them and told the disciples the simplicity of their faith is exactly what he wanted.
As we seek to engage them, I’ve learned there are four things hat every child needs and wants—though they can’t articulate it. Including these four things in interactions seems to help bring the complexity and simplicity together.
A pat on the back, a high five, a squeeze of the shoulder—kids respond to appropriate touch. It’s been said physical touch is “the first language we learn,” and it can be a powerful communication tool. It can communicate approval, appreciation and love. It can guide, calm and direct. Physical touch can unlock the door to receiving the other three elements. A terrific resource for parents or ministry leaders which includes the value of physical touch is The 5 Love Languages of Children.
We’ve said over and over on this blog that “ministry happens best through relationships.” Relationships are about emotional connections—knowing and understanding one another. This is why it is critical we don’t just show up and do our thing in ministry. We’ve got to know the kids, know the parents, know our team. Emotional connections can send our ministry impact through the roof.
Too often we take the “everyone’s a winner” mentality from the sports field to the church—we dumb down our teaching to the lowest possible denominator and fail to truly challenge our kids. Don’t do that. If there is one thing I’ve learned about kids over the past 25 years, it’s that they are far more capable of understanding than we typically give them credit for. Yes, we have to be “age appropriate” in our teaching, but don’t be afraid to set the bar high and challenge them.
This follows on from “mental stimulation.” Not only do our methods need to stimulate their minds, but our content needs to challenge them spiritually, and this can only be done by telling them the truth of the Gospel, the truth of God’s Word. Again, I’m not suggesting we relay all the gory details or the rated-R content of the Bible, but when it comes to doctrine and theology, they can handle far more than we usually give them credit for.
Physical touch, emotional connection, mental stimulation and spiritual truth. If we as leaders made a habit of practicing these elements on a consistent basis, I believe the engagement level in our ministry would increase significantly.