"Encouraging children to use their gifts and choose behaviors that help build the community and serve others in a positive way helps develop the understanding of what it means to live together as children of God."
Why Involve Children in Mission?
When we involve young people in mission, we help nurture them into discipleship by teaching them to care for others and by providing them with opportunities to serve. Congregations often find ways to do this with older youth, but how about our youngest brothers and sisters in Christ? What are we doing to further their heart for service to others?
There are (at least!) six good reasons to involve children in mission:
- To affirm them as valuable children of God
- To demonstrate that they are the church of today as well as tomorrow
- To encourage their spiritual development as disciples of Jesus Christ
- To ingrain discipleship as a response to God’s love for all people
- To teach social and moral responsibility for others
- Because they are capable and want to help
Principles for a Mission Attitude
How can a church create a community that not only supports and encourages mission and service projects, but also understands that it is crucial for children to be involved?
1. The community affirms the emerging skills, gifts, and individuality of children in order to nurture emotionally, socially, and spiritually healthy children.
Children need to know that they are competent beings capable of worthwhile accomplishments. As adults, we can provide frequent opportunities for children to engage in helping activities. Even two-year-old children can pick-up toys or carry napkins to the table. Part of what it means to be made in the image of God is that God gifts each individual with unique abilities and personality. Encouraging children to use their gifts and choose behaviors that help build the community and serve others in a positive way helps develop the understanding of what it means to live together as children of God.
Encouraging a “mission attitude” in children also contributes to the cycle of relationship building. It is always easier and more efficient for adults to “do things themselves.” However, you “build the kingdom” by encouraging children and youth to take on tasks and explore their gifts, surrounded by a community of love and support.
2. The community encourages adults to actively support children’s emerging sense of empathy and compassion.
Compassion will continue to develop if it is actively encouraged by the significant adults in a child’s life. When a child shows compassion, adults should name and affirm the caring thing the child has done. Empathy is the ability to understand the feelings of others and, at least to some degree, feel what they feel and respond in helpful ways. Empathy is one of the foundational moral emotions. It is linked to moral action. It’s a feeling that compels people to act compassionately while reasoning alone might not.
3. The community equips parents, teachers and other adults to help children move from a simple understanding of fairness to one encompassing our response to God’s love for us by serving the local and the global community.
One of the most powerful ways to teach children empathy is to be empathetic yourself in your parenting and/or in your leadership. Adults teach empathy by expressing interest in the experiences of children and by listening carefully as children talk. As their own empathy grows because of adult modeling, children will be more able to relate deeply to others. They also will grow in their ability to act on empathetic feelings by learning to provide a listening ear, help others, and show generosity.
Ideas From Churches
One church incorporated mission into their themed dinners by collecting socks on "Sock Hop Night” and donating them to a local children’s home. They also collected home goods (towels, gift cards, sheets...) for new Habitat for Humanity families on “Construction Night” and on “Pajama Night” they collected boxes of cereal for a local homeless shelter.
Another church made blankets for an organization called “Project Linus” during their Bible study time. Project Linus collects new blankets to give to children in hospitals or places away from home. Children made fleece blankets that involved cutting fringe and tying knots...nothing difficult. This project was part of a lesson on the man lowered through the roof by his friends to be healed by Jesus.
After presenting their annual children’s musical to the congregation, there is a church that takes it “on the road” to offer it again at an assisted living facility to the delight of the residents.
Children’s Storybooks Encouraging Mission and Service
- Albert, Richard E. Alejandro’s Gift. Chronicle Books.
- Barbour, Karen. Mr. Bow Tie. Harcourt Brace Javanovich.
- Brumbeau, Jeff. The Quiltmaker’s Gift. Scholastic, 2001.
- Demi. The Empty Pot. Henry Holt and Co.
- DiSalvo-Ryan, Dyanne. Uncle Willie and the Soup Kitchen.
- Fox, Mem. Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge. Kane/Miller.
- Fox, Mem. Whoever You Are. Harcourt, Brace and Co.
- Hamanaka, Sheila. All the Colors of the Earth. Morrow Junior Books.
- Karusa. The Streets are Free. Annick Press.
- Kissinger, Katie. All the Colors We Are. Redleaf Press.
- Ladwig, Tim. The Lord’s Prayer. Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.
- McGovern, Ann. The Lady in the Box. Turtle Books.
- Park, Linda Sue. A Single Shard. Clarion Books.
- Say, Allen. Emma’s Rug. Houghton Mifflin Co.
Liz Perraud is the Executive Director of GenOn Ministries, a non-denominational Christian organization that works in partnership with local church leaders to build disciples of Jesus Christ through intergenerational relationships.