If we’re honest, I think we’d all admit to asking this question at some point in our Christian experience. It seems like an either-or proposition…either we can pay attention to our kids, or we can pay attention to our walk with Jesus.
But what if it didn’t have to be either-or? What if it could be both-and?
I’m convinced that Jesus loves both us and our children. I’m convinced that he wants to draw near to both us and our children. I’m convinced that he wants to draw both us and our children near to him. And I’m convinced that it couldn’t be his only plan that we do this separately – there must be a way we can also go deeper with him together.
So what might this look like? And how do we avoid seeing our kids as a distraction, a disruption, a problem, or an inconvenience – a barrier between us and deeper relationships with Jesus and each other?
A great first step is to remind ourselves of the truth. The truth that the Lord refers to children not as a hindrance but as a reward (see Psalm 127). The truth that when Jesus’ followers tried to keep the children at a distance, Jesus was indignant – righteously offended and filled with pain (see Mark 10:13-16). The truth that if God loves children like this, then by his grace, we can too! And the truth that if this is the stage of life the Lord has given us right now, then he must have a good purpose for how he wants to use it to draw both us and our kids closer to him.
With this truth in mind, we can begin to think creatively about what it could look like to live this out practically. What it could look like to have kids be part of our experience with Christ – whether in large gatherings on Sunday mornings, in our small groups during the week, in our family devotions, or wherever.
Here are just a few practical examples of how involving our children in our spiritual life can bring enormous spiritual benefits for both them and us.
- It gives us hands-on experience with real love. Honestly, a big part of why kids seem like a barrier is because they come between us and what we want. But life’s not all about us, and thank God that he uses our kids to remind us of that. This interruption? This is actually a chance to show our kids that we really do believe it’s more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). That Jesus really did give his life for us (Romans 5:8), and that he really does give us the desire and ability to do the same (Philippians 2:13). That laying down our life for others really is the highest form of love (John 15:13). No one said this would be easy or fun, but this hands-on experience begins driving home just how deep the Lord’s love for us really is.
- It gives us firsthand experience with how Jesus loves us. Jesus says that following him means denying ourselves, dying to ourselves, living a life of self-sacrifice (Mark 8:34). He says that we don’t actually gain anything when we cling to our expectations, our demands, and our plans. Instead, Jesus says, we find real life as we reenact the gospel in 1,000 small ways, serving others just as he served us, just as he “came not to be served but to serve” (Matthew 20:28). That’s when we really begin to understand how much he sacrificed for us. That’s when we really begin to be grateful for what it cost him to draw us to himself. It’s that firsthand experience with his sacrificial love that draws us closer to him.
- It slows our pace. Let’s face it. We live in a crazy-busy culture. And that’s not always a good thing! God created in six days, but then he took a day just to enjoy his work (Genesis 1:31-2:3). Our relationship with Jesus isn’t going away because we didn’t nail down that finer theological point right this minute. We don’t have to have a seminary degree by tomorrow. In fact, when push comes to shove, we’d probably do well to err on the side of doing more of what we know rather than just knowing more…just ask James, Paul, and Jesus. When kids help us slow down and serve others the way we already know God wants us to, that’s good for us and for them.
Great…but how can we do this practically?
Thankfully, we are not the first Christ-followers ever to wrestle with the question, “What do we do with the kids?” Here are just a few ideas I’ve gleaned from others over the years:
- We can be a good example. When our kids need our attention, we can show them Christ’s sacrificial love. We can willingly lay down our agenda to serve them. (See spiritual benefits section above.)
- We can teach them. But it’s also good to teach our kids about being considerate. What does it mean to think of others first? How can they watch for a better time to interrupt? Lets give our kids both modeling and opportunities to practice the kind of “I’ll lose so you win” mindset that is ours in Christ (Philippians 2:3-8).
- We can engage them. Do something especially for the kids. Music, skits, prayer, and serving can all be great ways for children to join in with the adults. For more specifics and more great ideas on how to engage the kids, check out this article.
- We can divide and conquer. Have a meeting or at least part of a meeting where the group divides up into smaller groups, such as men and women. Alternate which group hangs out with / cares for / teaches the kids and which group gets some quality “adult time.”
- We can save it for later. That discussion we really want or need to have, but we need time to go deep (and no little ears around to hear it)? Save it. Catch coffee or dessert with one or a few others from the group in the next few days. Follow up by phone or FaceTime. Save it for the next gathering. It doesn’t mean we’re avoiding the issue, dropping it, or saying it doesn’t matter. We’re just getting to it a little later.
So as we’re faced with the question, “Can kids and Jesus mix?” I pray that our answer is a resounding YES! Children are a gift. They are dear to God’s heart and to ours. And as we choose to engage them, it’s not just the kids who benefit spiritually – we do, too!
Let’s invite our children into the life of faith, remembering that God has given us this stage of life, this blessing of laying down our lives for others, and this opportunity to slow the pace as we connect with our kids and with him. As we do, we’ll find ourselves right in the mix with both Jesus and our kids. Right where God wants us to be.
Articles for further reading:
- What About the Kids? – practical ideas for engaging our children in our gatherings
- Kids and the Organic Church – stories of how incorporating the kids led to growth for both kids and adults
- But, aren’t the kids a distraction…? – an honest, heartfelt look at why we want to engage our kids
- Organic Church is not Always Fun – a balanced look at how easy it is to think our way of dealing with things (like what to do for the kids) is the only right one