the shape of leadership

Why We Underestimate Kids and What We Can Do About It

How to equip our most curious and cognitively absorbent people

Kayla Pierce on August 25, 2020

Societal expectations of children are highly fluid and vary both within and across cultures. The lens through which we see our children affects how we treat them, how they behave, and ultimately how they grow spiritually.

Many kids sit during our worship services and play during prayer — not because they are incapable of engaging, but because we often don’t expect them to. This cultural lens sharply contrasts the biblical one.

Think about how God treated children throughout Scripture. God spoke to Samuel as a young boy because He knew Samuel could learn to recognize His voice (1 Samuel 3).

Jesus blessed little children and even pointed to them as an example of how the kingdom of God should be received (Mark 10:13-16).

If we replace our cultural lens with a biblical one, we will see positive changes in the spiritual trajectories of our kids.

Here are three ways we can equip our most curious and cognitively absorbent people — our children:

Include Them

Most churches invest a lot in kid-centered ministry, which is great, but don’t stop there. Make an effort to include children in other areas of church life as well.

If children attend a prayer service or small group, invite them to join in with the adults.

It is easy to separate adult ministry from kids’ ministry, but kick down those boundaries. Even if kids decline your invitation, it sets a precedent and welcomes involvement.

I find informal invitations go a long way. I was praying before people arrived one Sunday morning when a 9-year-old girl slipped in. Instead of simply greeting her, I invited her to pray with me, and she jumped right in. Kids love to be included.

Talk with children and parents, and make participation the norm. I encourage boys and girls to always give God 100%. Kids know I expect them to bring their Bibles and participate during worship, even in adult gatherings. I remind them they are leaders, despite their ages, and their participation can inspire others.

It is our responsibility to train kids to succeed in their Christian walk, and that means socializing them to participate during church.

Age-appropriate ministry doesn’t have to be shallow ministry.

Equip Them

Age-appropriate ministry doesn’t have to be shallow ministry. The enemy doesn’t wait to target children, so we can’t wait to equip them with biblical knowledge.

While we should communicate God’s Word in ways kids understand, we don’t have to dumb it down. Instead, let’s help them become Bible masters.

Despite the short attention spans of children, research suggests they can acquire a breadth and depth of biblical knowledge. Recently, I read a book called How People Learn, written by experts in cognitive science and psychology. The authors suggest mastery of a topic requires not only learning facts but also organizing those facts in a coherent knowledge structure.

One way to help kids do this is by providing the cultural contexts of Bible stories. I like to show present-day pictures of biblical locations. A visual of where the action took place helps anchor the story in young minds.

Another way to develop knowledge structures is to connect new knowledge to existing knowledge. For example, ask kids what this week’s Bible hero had in common with heroes from previous weeks. Learning how people in the Bible are similar or different will help children remember the stories.

Teaching the overarching themes of Scripture will help kids build coherent knowledge structures from otherwise isolated biblical facts. Knowledge structures make facts more memorable, and we want God’s Word to be easily accessible in the minds of children.

Challenge Them

Research in cognitive science points to another secret to mastery — metacognition, which involves assessing and monitoring your own learning process. We can prompt kids to use metacognition by challenging them to set spiritual goals that are actionable and achievable.

For example, if a child has a goal of reading the Bible more, you can work together to locate a Bible character to focus on or identify the best times in his or her day to spend with Jesus. Then, follow up on the child’s progress.

Goal setting makes children active participators in their spiritual development instead of passive consumers, which will help them go the distance.

Let’s replace our cultural lens of children with a biblical one, and see our kids the way God sees them — movers and shakers for His kingdom.

Luke 2:52 says, “Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man.” Like Jesus, our children can become full of wisdom and influence. We can help them by setting the bar high.

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2020 edition of Influence magazine.

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