A Pastor friend recently asked me to come work with him & build that church’s Children’s Ministry from the ground up. It was an extremely difficult decision for me to make. On one hand, I’d love the challenge of beginning a new ministry. On the other hand, we are beginning some amazing new spiritually forming ventures at my current Children’s Ministry & I’m at the beginning of a high-risk pregnancy with my first child. The timing is terrible. Without going into all the details, friends & mentors helped me discern that the wisest decision is to stay where God already has me. When I shared my decision with my Pastor friend he was gracious & understanding & said if he’d only known it was a high-risk pregnancy he wouldn’t have even asked me. But the truth is if he would have known & assumed the answer (even though he would have assumed the right answer) he would have denied me the opportunity to pray & seek God’s wisdom in this matter. He would have denied me the chance to come to terms with how life changing this new baby is & that my identity & priorities will & should change.
This whole encounter made me start thinking through discernment & decisions we often make for other people. A few weeks back I asked some families to practice fasting & share with us their experience. I hesitated to ask one family because they just had their 4th child (she was only 3 weeks old!). I thought I knew it would be too much for them but decided to ask anyway because all they’d have to do is say no. But I was wrong. They said yes. In the end Mom even shared that she thought it would be too much with a newborn & 3 other young, active children in the home. In reality, it was the best thing for their family during this season & they were blessed by the practice of fasting as a family. To think, I almost denied this family that opportunity because I assumed I knew what was best for them.
As my thoughts continued to wander through past experiences of times I had made decisions for other people without asking them first or asked questions I did know the answer to already but gave the person an opportunity to discern the answer I couldn’t help but wonder about children. How do we help or hinder children in practicing discernment? Do we always assume we know best and make all their decisions without their input? How are we preparing children to listen for & recognize the voice & will of God?
Before I lose you, I’m not talking about giving children freedom to make every decision in their life. Children still need adults to make them eat their veggies, wear a coat when it’s cold and go to bed at a reasonable hour. However, I believe there is value in children being a part of decisions like choosing between extra curricular activities, how to spend their allowance, or how to handle tough peer relationships.
“Discernment opens us up to listen to and recognize the voice and patterns of God’s direction in our lives.” (Calhoun, pg 99) If we truly believe that children are capable of hearing the voice of God & connecting with Him in deep ways, we must help our children learn to make wise decisions through these same disciplines. The more we help them navigate difficult decisions by listening for God’s direction while they are under our guidance the better equipped they will be when they are older.
Although this discipline is practiced most efficiently in a child’s home there are ways we can coach children in discernment in our ministries.
- Give children opportunities to listen for God’s voice. The more children hear the voice of God & know that He has something to say to them, the more they will be comfortable listening for His voice.
- Walk through the decision-making process with children. Share honestly how you make difficult decisions. Let your children be a part of big decisions in your ministry. Listen to their feedback & ideas with a safe, non-judgmental & always loving attitude.
- Teach & practice the “steps” of discernment:
- Ask God for wisdom & guidance. Listen for His voice.
- Consider scriptures that might address this scenario.
- Ask for help & wisdom from others whom you trust.
- There is power & wisdom in waiting to make a decision sometimes.
- Consider all the above factors & make a decision.
- Implement the decision and reevaluate the decision after some time has passed.
- Sometimes you have to allow children to make the wrong decision. The reality is most of us learn better from our mistakes. That is why the evaluation step is so important. Through this step we are able to teach children that you can make changes to decisions made. There might be consequences or downsides but you can (almost) always correct a bad decision.
- Create an environment for children to have strong Christian role models whom they can trust & build relationships with. These men & women, together with children’s families, will provide solid sounding boards as children practice discernment.
- Empower families with the tools to practice discernment together at home. No one has more influence or time with a child then his or her own family.
Slowly I’m learning not to make decisions for adults or the children in my life. I don’t want to deny anyone the opportunity to seek God & discern His will in his or her life. May we all give children occasions to seek God’s wisdom when they are faced with difficult decisions, so they may begin to develop & sharpen tools that will serve them in their walk with God for a lifetime.