The Holy Spirit in the lives of Children

Over my last five years working in children’s ministry, I’ve found that I often enter into two seemingly contradictory conversations stemming from our cultural confusion about the Holy Spirit.

The first conversation usually goes something like this:

“Children’s ministry- how fun! You must do a lot of crafts. I helped with children’s ministry for awhile. The kids are the cutest!”

Me: “Yes, it’s a joy! Sometimes it’s tricky to find things that are engaging and meaningful, but it’s a really fun challenge. I’m fascinated by the spiritual formation of children.”

“Yeah, it was fun, but I prefer to work with junior high and high school now. When they’re older,  they’re able to actually consider what God is saying to them and respond and stuff. Children’s ministry is fun, but I’m the kind of person that needs to see the actual effectiveness for life choices.”

The second conversation stands in stark contrast:

Me: I’m studying children’s spiritual formation, how the Holy Spirit works in and through children, and how this shapes church congregations.

“That’s really interesting. I think this is kind of uncommon, but I remember really knowing that God listened to my prayers when I was a child, and I remember praying during recess that God would help me find friends to play with…”

I’ve had some variation of these conversations probably close to a dozen times each, revealing that the way we view and perpetuate children’s ministry often contradicts the actual spiritual experiences of many people in childhood.

The work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of children.

As I’ve thought about it more, I believe that both of these stem from an under-estimation of the work of the Holy Spirit. In my tradition (Anglican-ACNA), our understanding of the Holy Spirit is summed up in the questions 81-88 of the To Be A Christian catechism. This co-equal, co-eternal Person of the Holy Trinity is named by Jesus “paraclete”- a “Comforter, Guide, Counselor Advocate, and Helper” (82.). In question 83, What are the particular ministries of the Holy Spirit, the catechism states:

The Holy Spirit imparts life in all its forms throughout God’s creation, unites believers to Jesus Christ, indwells each believer, convicts believers of sin, applies the saving work of Jesus to the believer’s life, guides the Church into truth, fills and empowers believers through spiritual fruit and gifts given to the Church, and gives understanding of the Scripture which He inspired. (2 Peter 1:21; John 14:26; 15:26; 16:7-15)

If, as Christians, we believe in the actual, effective, and supernatural work of the Holy Spirit, it makes sense that we would also trust that this Holy Spirit is at work in the lives of the children who are loved by God to many of the same ends that the Spirit is at work in the lives of teenage and adult Christ-followers.

This Pentecost, as we celebrate the gift of the Spirit to spread the good news of resurrection life with all the world, I hope that we will also celebrate how that same powerful and present Spirit makes God’s good news apparent to the young people of the world and that we would seek to be partners in these Spirit-guided moments, recognizing their validity and responding with encouragement.


3 thoughts on “The Holy Spirit in the lives of Children

  1. Well said and puzzled! I see three very salient and consistent ways children sense the Holy Spirit: in moments of delight (which may be play, outdoor beauty, or making/ tending/ fixing things with a loved one or teacher), doing a Daily Examen at bedtime (the Jesuit app Pray As You Go has beautiful ones for all ages), and having a regular, sacred space to talk about where they notice the Holy Spirit.

    In the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, this space is the prayer table in the Atrium. I find that children often bring up their dreams in that space, and often in direct response to my invitation to notice and wonder about where God might be at work in their lives. This is not surprising, as they are already working with the infancy narratives of Christ, where dreams and prophecy often happen as part of the story. But it is always a gift when they honor that time with their deepest musings on what their dreams meant.

    Often, without any help from adults, they will tell you they felt comforted after a bad dream, connected during a good one, and they readily draw parallels to these to waking experiences of connection and comfort, facing their fears, becoming braver, and realizing they are beloved by God.

    When I forget to do the Examen with my kids, or forget to invite kids in the Atrium to “notice God,” they always remind me that I have *almost* quenched the Spirit’s fire. These “near misses” always remind me how the inner lives of children already make space for the Spirit: they bear His image in their desire for invitation, reflection and holy brooding.


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