Loving God with all their mind
Canadian philosopher James KA Smith describes human beings as being “at root, lovers.” While I have concerns with much of Smith’s approach, I am inclined to agree with this. We may often think that we make rational arguments for Jesus and then fall in love with Him, yet Smith would argue that it’s the other way around. When I met my wife I did not have a rational checklist approach to finding a partner, and I don’t think she would have appreciated that either! Instead, our logic often follows our desires. Once children have heard the gospel and love God with all their hearts, they will find it easier to love God with all their minds. This will, in turn, increase their love for God as they get to know Him better.
This has to involve more than just a data-dump approach to ministry. Part of the role of children’s leaders is to allow a child to genuinely engage with scripture: to question and respond; to express doubt and trust; to chew it over during the week as they live it out in their lives. We must not just allow questions, but actively look for and ask them, sensing when might be a good time to stop and think together.
One of my sons is a question machine! He recently asked me: “Dad, how do you wake up moles?” This inherent inquisitiveness can be a real gift to children’s ministry.
I was once asked to teach the book of Job to 5 to 7-year-olds at a large convention; not just the beginning and the end, but the whole shebang. My feeling was that Job was all about questions, and questions that were not necessarily answered. So we set out a question box for the children, and each day we would read them out and think about them together. One of the small group leaders, who normally works with students, later remarked that the questions the children asked were at the same level as those from his discussions with the students. The desire to engage with the big questions of life starts early.
Loving God with all their soul
David F. White sees this primarily as remembering and dreaming: a soul that longs to see God and dream of more than this world. So often the debated parts of Scripture are those that speak of what it was like to be sinless, or what it means to be sinless (Genesis 1-2 and Revelation 21-22). I wonder if this is due, in part, to our sinful natures making it so hard for us to fathom what this was and will be like. All we can do is imperfectly dream of the new creation and begin to imagine it. One morning, my family ended up having a discussion about what it might be like not to have to battle sin in our lives. This led to all sorts of questions about the nature of the new creation and what life there will be like.
Yet our world often seems to work against developing an imagination muscle in our children. Screens (TV shows, movies and computer games) work against the imagination as the visual is provided. Oral stories and good literature allow the mind to open to other worlds. C.S. Lewis understood this perfectly, and reading children passages from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and The Last Battle is a joy.
We should be providing parents with good imaginative literature to read with their children. This may mean finding a book that pairs with whatever you’re teaching that semester. For example, if you’re working through Genesis, The Magician’s Nephew would be ideal. Similarly, the more contemporary novels of G.P. Taylor provide great examples of sacrifice and other Christian themes. Recommending audio books for car journeys can develop a similar love, or you could set children the challenge of finding as many examples of your key themes from whatever books they are reading, for example sacrifice or transformation.
Even the toys children play with often fail to encourage the imaginative muscle. Recently, one of my sons asked for a Ninja Turtle remote-controlled van for his birthday. Feeling slightly dubious, we tried to encourage other possibilities, which we knew he would enjoy more. He was adamant, so we relented. He enjoyed playing with it for all of about 10 minutes, then went back to his Lego. For our son, Lego provides endless possibilities of engaging his imagination in building and forming another world, which a remote control van could never do.