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.
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.