As children’s ministers, our goal is to incubate faith that grows for a lifetime. We want to give kids a foundation that prepares their faith for the rich and varied experience that is life.
One of the scariest aspects of a life of faith, however, is the reality of doubt. All faithful followers of Jesus grapple with it, and it comes in a variety of forms. Some of the doubts we face come from within, from our own failures, fears and disappointments. Many come from outside, in the form of questions, insults and mockery from a skeptical world. Those of us in children’s and youth ministry often find ourselves striving to build up our students’ defenses, so that they are equipped to process the challenges that come their way. There are a lot of approaches to this task, but they all point back to the same question – “what shapes our strongest beliefs?”
For me, the answer is clearly experience. We process all sorts of information to fit our experiences, but we rarely view our experiences through the lens of information. Simply put, nothing shapes our convictions as strongly as our personal experiences.
This is good news and bad news for churches. On the one hand, nothing turns people away from faith as effectively as hypocrisy. More importantly, however, it means we get the opportunity to introduce kids to the Holy Spirit. More than anything else, experiencing the love, peace and strength of God is the one factor that will help our kids journey through their periods of doubt.
That’s why we should be intentionally setting the stage for the Holy Spirit to impact our kids. Big steps in that direction include times of unscripted prayer or worship and service opportunities that pull our students out of their comfort zones. We also need to be giving our students reasons to wonder, and be amazed at the power, love and creativity of God. These experiences are the strongest foundation of faith. There’s nothing that shapes us like experience, and there’s no experience as lasting as a profound encounter with the Holy Spirit.
So, as ministers, let’s do everything we can to pass on a wise and informed faith to the next generation, let’s prepare them to give a defense of the Gospel, and let’s help them become knowledgeable about the faith we proclaim. But remember that nothing will help them walk through the ups and downs of belief like the first-hand knowledge of God’s power. That’s the most lasting gift we get to give.