Sometimes Kids Know Better!

I recently gave a talk at the 2010 Missional Learning Commons on the topic of how children often embrace and demonstrate missional living more easily than the adults in their lives. For an example, look no further than Matthew 18, the passage in which the disciples are arguing about the question of who will be the greatest in heaven. As a response, Jesus places a child before them and says those famous words, “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

I think the child in that setting must have been beaming, full of joy from Jesus selecting him from the crowd, so amazed and encouraged that Jesus was using him as the example for the adults to emulate. And in the same way in our day, I believe that children have so much to teach us about living missionally. Particularly when they are young, they have a natural bent to help others, to give generously, and to respond in tangible ways when they discover a need that touches their heart.

In the last post, written by Patricia Jones, you read briefly about her 11-year-old daughter Isabel, who was inspired to start her own ministry, ShoesForKids. On the site, she explains the rationale behind her decision: “I started Shoes for Kids when I realized I had lots of shoes and other kids don’t have any shoes. Some times other kids ask me why I do this? I just tell them I do this because I want to help others. Some day I want every child in the world to have a pair of shoes.”

I love how direct and straightforward Isabel is: kids need shoes. She can find extra shoes and send them to those in need. And that’s exactly what Isabel has been doing; so far, she has collected hundreds of pairs of shoes to send to kids who need them all over the world. I am inspired by her activism and her heart to make a difference!

Sometimes adults, when confronted by the problems and issues of the world, feel that those problems are so enormous they are too hard to tackle. But children don’t see the world in those terms. They eagerly ask, “How can I help?” And when adults see that kind of spirit and desire in their children, they would be wise to nurture and encourage those missional impulses as much as possible. As children grow older, so many forces will be pushing against them and chipping away at their natural missional inclinations. Whatever we can do as parents to help our children to grow in their awareness of the needs in the world around us, and to enable our kids to work towards meeting those needs, can only serve them well in the future. And we may learn a few things along the way from those who have already figured out the secret to entering into the Kingdom of Heaven.

Have your children demonstrated missional living in their own lives? I’d love to see examples of how your children are doing so in your family context!

6 Comments on “Sometimes Kids Know Better!

  1. Helen,

    Our oldest son drove home this same point for us last year. We were talking at dinner about what it means to “be Jesus” everywhere we go. He asked what it meant at school and we began talking about the people who don’t have friends (he was in kindergarten). He told us about a girl that no one likes because she pushes people and cuts in line. She also has to “move her clip” everyday (equivalent of “getting your name on the chalkboard” back in the day). I asked him what would happen if just invited her to get in front of him in line. The conversation moved on to other topics and I thought it was over.

    The next day he came home very excited. “Dad! I asked [the girl] if she wanted to get in front of me in line today! She didn’t push anyone down at recess after lunch and guess what? She didn’t move her clip today!”

    The girl actually had several days that week, the first time all year, without moving her clip. It breaks my heart that this little girl was so obviously longing and hurting for compassion that one simple friendly gesture made that much of a difference.

    What was so powerful about this story for me, is that Conner simply put into practice the suggestion we discussed. Standing back and waiting for the perfect moment, learning a little more, getting more prepared…none of this crossed his mind.

    He expressed an interest in being like Jesus at school, found an issue and acted. End of story. Well, not really the end…more of an exciting beginning.

  2. That is great-it is so much easier for kids. Too bad we have to unlearn so much. It would be nice if we could carefully shape our kids life experiences (without creating a pseudo-missional-type environment in the process) so that they will not have as much to “unlearn”.

    Several years ago our three daughters raised money for an orphanage in Ethiopia. They were 7, 6, and 3 at the time. We helped them put together a flier. They distributed it in our neighborhood. They offered to do odd jobs & receive donations. My husband would then bring the money directly to the orphanage himself several weeks later during a trip to Ethiopia.

    You can imagine how many people were interested in “hiring” them for odd jobs. But, several people donated money & the girls raised a nice little chunk of cash. They finally got an odd job, cleaning a playhouse in the neighborhood. That was THE most exciting part for them. Being hired to do some work to earn the money. My husband went to the orphange himself, so we have pictures of the children. It was a very simple process for the girls. Let people know, do the work to raise the money, give it to those who can use some help. We continue to look for ways to give and serve in the community. Time to raise some funds for an international project again!!”

  3. Wow! Krissi, I can just imagine the impact that whole experience had on your girls, and how amazing it was that they were able to witness the faces of fellow children that they had helped with their efforts. Good for them for taking this kind of initiative and for you and your husband for encouraging and supporting it. I think too quickly the children in our society become influenced by the same forces of materialism and consumerism that adults experience, but a wonderful antidote to following those forces is to keep ourselves and our children in touch with the needs of so many others in the world, especially other children. It’s much harder for them to desire after the latest expensive gadget when they are aware of children, perhaps some who they know personally in some way, who don’t even have the resources to eat, go to school, or have a single toy. It sounds like your girls are already understanding the reality that we here in America are so very blessed and thus have even a greater responsibility to give to others. I appreciate your visiting and sharing!

  4. Back in 2005 when we were in the process of adopting our youngest daughter from China, our oldest daughter, then 9 years old, learned first hand about the plight of older orphans. She was shocked and horrified, crushed and heartbroken to learn of older orphans, children just like her who were growing up without parents, without the love of a family, without hope.

    Our daughter spear-headed an effort to send homemade love to an orphanage sponsored by our adoption agency. At 10 years old our daughter went before youth groups at our church and then organized Knitting nights where young and old gathered together to knit scarves for older orphans. We showed videos and gave statistics, but more importantly we prayed and knit, knit and prayed.

    We sent those scarves over to China and miraculously were sent back pictures of the children receiving the scarves! We now had faces to go with all the love and prayers we sent.

    Five years later we were given the opportunity to travel to China and serve at that very orphanage where we sent the scarves. Without hesitation our now 14 year old daughter went with me. And she served. And she loved. And she gave. And she prayed. And she grew. And she was stretched. And she was heart broken. And she was forever changed.

    Adoption and orphans are just words we throw around in our family. We have a 14 year old who is just as serious as her parents are about serving the least of these.

    She led the way.

    She heard about a need and found a way to meet it.

    She heard about an opportunity to go, and she went.

  5. Love this story about your son, Bret! It illustrates that wonderful quality of children (that admittedly can sometimes drive parents crazy….but that can also be so refreshing when compared to their adult counterparts) to “just do it.” They are action-oriented, they don’t go into a situation with fears and doubts and rationalizations, and so often in this area of missional living, they are able to tangibly make a difference. I’m reminded of a time when my son was in 1st grade and was being picked on by the equivalent of the class bully. We talked at home about what it meant to “love your enemy” and how my son could do this with the other child. So, the next day, he took the initiative to approach the other boy and ask if they could be friends. The next time this child started to bother my son, Jason simply asked, “I thought we were supposed to be friends?” And the hassling stopped. I hadn’t asked my son to take the initiative and to reach out relationally with the other child, but that was his inclination (and he is not an extroverted child by any means!) Anyway, did not mean to ramble, but I think our mutual experiences watching our children are some good examples of how children can teach us about putting missional ideas into actual practice. Thanks for your comment!”

  6. I am loving these comments, and feeling such a strong sense of inspiration and encouragement from reading these stories about these missional kids! Karen, I love that you gave us a picture of what can happen over the years when a child catches a missional vision and lives it out over a longer period of time–it becomes such a part of her that as she grows up she can’t help but be missional! That’s what I long for in my own children and what I’d love to see us encourage in all our children. Parents definitely can have great influence in helping their children embrace missional values, as demonstrated in your example. Thanks so much for sharing and blessings to you and your family for the ways you are serving the Kingdom together!

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