This post is the second part in a three part series entitled “Let The Children Come,” in which I tell my story of coming to faith as a child and share some thoughts on children’s ministry. You can catch up on part 1 here.
When I was 8, I had my first experience of a church holiday club (I think this is the same as VBS in America). I loved it! It was lively and fast-paced; I enjoyed the singing and the drama and the crazy challenges, and it was a lot of fun, but two incidents that week also impacted me deeply.
The first was when a girl a year older than me, whose mum was leading the holiday club, came to the front and told her story of how she had become a Christian.
I remember feeling very confused. What was she talking about? Surely I was a Christian too. I went to church, I read the Bible, I believed in God. What was I missing? I felt there might be something I wasn’t understanding properly but I couldn’t work out what it was.
The second incident involved Katrina, one of the leaders. I really looked up to Katrina. She was pretty, kind, fun and everything I wanted to be, and I tried to spend as much time with her as possible. I remember choosing to do activities she was leading even though I had no interest in the activities themselves.
On the third day of the holiday club, I was disappointed to find that Katrina wasn’t there. The leader said she was ill and that we should pray that God would heal her so she could return the following day. When everyone gathered together for the official start of the club, she prayed. I really hoped God would answer.
We went home for lunch and then returned for the afternoon session, and as we entered the hall I was surprised to see that Katrina was there! She said that she had suddenly felt much better so she had decided to come after all!
I remember being utterly amazed. God had answered our prayer, and not only had he done what we asked- he had done even more, healing her that day instead of the following day!
It was the first time I had witnessed anything like that and it had a huge impact. I didn’t doubt for a moment that God was behind it and, while there were other prayers around that time that were not answered in an obvious way, that one answer to prayer convinced me that God was real, not just in the past but that he was real and active in the present.
Strangely I spent the next several years in church being taught that healing and miracles were a thing of the past and didn’t happen today, but I could never bring myself to believe it. I couldn’t deny what I had seen and how God had answered.
Here are a few lessons I’ve learned in my own work with children:
- Children need opportunities not just to learn about God, but to encounter God. Last week’s post talked about how, in children’s ministry, it is easy for either education or entertainment to become our goal. While both of those are good, I think our ultimate aim has to be something deeper: transformation through encounter with God. This can get scary because with education and entertainment, we can be in control, but whether children encounter God is not something we can control. I think it’s important though that we provide opportunities and trust God to use them and work through them as he desires.
- As well as learning Bible stories and discovering what God has done in the past, children need to know what God is doing today. When I teach about the Bible in schools and I have shared stories of miracles or God speaking, one of the questions I am asked most regularly is, “Why doesn’t God do things like that today?” We need to take the opportunities we have to talk about what God is doing today. Stories are powerful!
- Children need to learn that prayer is important and powerful. We can model that by our response to situations. When the holiday club leader told me we should pray for Katrina it had an impact on me, even before we saw the prayer answered, because it was not a response I’d seen before to a situation like that. Regardless of the answer, the act of praying told me that she saw it as important, that she believed God cared about the situation, and that she trusted in his power to do something about it. I love this post I discovered last week, in which Laura shares about how her son is growing in faith through her encouragement to pray.
- Children need to learn that God doesn’t always answer prayer as we hope or expect. I think sometimes fear can hold us back from encouraging children to pray in situations. The stories of miraculous answers are all very well, but what about the times when the answers don’t come? How is that going to affect the child’s faith? I’m not going to pretend it’s easy, but the reality is that God doesn’t always answer our prayers as we want and children need to learn that at some point. We can take the opportunity to teach them some of the reasons why God might not answer certain prayers as we want, but also to be honest that sometimes it is a mystery that is beyond our understanding.
As always I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic from your own experience as a child or in working with children. Join me next Monday for the final part in the series in which I complete my story and share the main reason why I think children’s ministry is so important.