Part 1 | Part 3 Children are found in gatherings of God’s people throughout the Bible… So our communities embrace and engage children of all ages. From Genesis to 1 John, children are seen in gatherings of God’s people – including sitting through the multi-day reading of The Law (a feat assumed unthinkable for kids today?!) and hearing instruction written specifically to young ones. As The City Church has incorporated children into our community’s gatherings, here are benefits of embracing and engaging children. Kids Reveal Sin Would it be easier, less messy, and more efficient, to have adults-only discussion, dinner, or service? Yes. And we love things to be easier, less messy, and more efficient – if we’re honest, most of us would even like our faith to be that way. But God uses kids’ involvement as a practical display the real messiness of living in relationship with him. Kids break down idols, and God has used them to grow folks in patience and service. Kids Ask Questions To realize kids’ joy, to see them relate to parents and other “grown-ups,” to watch them grow, learn, and share, and even to hear their comments, questions, and take on faith has taught our adults, in a few directions: at times it’s reminded us of the simplicity of faith, which many of us have lost. Sometimes it challenges our own faith, as we have to take a few minutes (or days) and find answers to questions they ask. These are just a few examples; there are literally dozens of things our kids have taught us. Kids Feel Valued To engage a child’s question, to have someone close to them who isn’t their parent validate their struggle and speak gospel truth into it, and to see adults listen to and engage their own opinion are a few of the most encouraging ways adults can come alongside parents in encouraging kids’ growth. It displays to children that you find them important. On the other side of the coin, it’s difficult to be challenged by a child, and humbling to be rebuked – biblically! – by a teenager. But engaging them in conversation emboldens their faith and encourages their growth. Parents Are Blessed The African proverb is dead-on: “It takes a Village to raise a child.” On many levels, your own child “has to” listen to you. But as your community lives life together, kids learn to respect, obey, do life with, and bless other adults. Other adults help you see patterns in your kids or in your parenting that you don’t. They give you advice on situations you don’t know how to deal with. They practically help by watching your kid for a last-minute date night or emergency. They bolster, exhort, encourage, or challenge your decisions and discipline. This isn’t always easy – and if I’m honest, it’s not always fun. But these things and more will push you and your child toward God. Raising a child in community allows others to speak into your kids, and to come alongside you in raising them. Non-Parents Are Discipled Parents-to-be, newly-weds, and even college-aged men – many of whom had no idea what to do with children of any age – are now miles ahead when God blesses them with their own kids, because they’ve learned how to interact with, lead, get a laugh from – and even change diapers, and discipline! – the kids in our missional community. This provides much laughter for the rest of us, and has provided a mess or two as well. But on a deeper level, they’re being discipled in what it means to be a parent, or a parent of “the next age,” through hands-on practice instead of a parenting book or class. That’s life-on-life discipleship! Bottom line, we see kids as part of the family, so we engage them in as much of the community’s activity as is logical. Best Practices While this varies a bit by each of our church’s communities, here are some “best practices” we encourage leaders to develop, as we engage kids in community well: As young as is logical, kids should be involved in the activity of the community. Kids participate in the life of the community – with the obvious exceptions of things like wine nights, conversations on more risqué topics, events after bedtime, etc. But in serving, in biblical discussion, in prayer and requests, in giving, in loving neighbors, in dinners and hanging out, in mission, and in most everything else, we involve kids, age elementary and older, into everything that the rest of the community does. They understand, interact with, and have great thoughts on far more than we often give them credit for. We only separate kids younger than first grade for periods of actual discussion. Our communities see each other many times a month. But in the times they meet to discuss scripture or other deeper things, older kids stay involved, but we do send babies and preschoolers into another room. But it’s just for that period of the meeting: we eat together, we pray together, we talk about life together, we plan mission and activities together. So in reality, youngsters are only separate for 30-45 minutes during those meetings. For the record, we rotate every week: an adult or two leads kids in playtime and spiritual conversation. And we simply remind adults that every activity our community does is worship – worship involves caring well for the kids. It takes intentionality to engage kids well, no matter what age they are. This is honestly why most folks don’t include kids in their communities: it takes time and effort in advance, and patience and flexibility in the moment. Engage kids in conversation. This is especially easy before and during our meals together: if we share a glimpse of grace we saw that week, so do the kids. If we’re discussing our day, they jump in too. And so on. Engage kids in prayers and personal encouragement. They have real issues, struggles, fears, and concerns. It takes time, and it takes seeing others – and even seeing dad and mom – be honest about their imperfections, but eventually they’ll start sharing their own. For older kids who are involved in biblical discussion, we intentionally draw them out: “what do you think?” or “what would you do?,” followed by an affirming comment, does wonders to a kid’s spiritual thinking. At times, we’ll ask them to read the passage. And at times, we’ll ask them to comment on someone else’s issue: “what do you think [your mom’s friend] should do in that situation?” Take the conversation further… We’d love to know your thoughts on this post. Meet us over at Twitter and Facebook to join the conversation right now!