6 October 2022

Children’s discipleship: ‘Prioritise the relational love of God’

Austen Hardwick

Children running in the park with balloons

Austen Hardwick highlights the importance of the relationship between young people and leaders.

We have each emerged at different speeds from the cocoon of the Covid-19 pandemic, sifting the positives and negatives from a digitally connected world. Until March 2020, any reference to ‘Zoom’ was confined to a 1982 hit by Fat Larry’s Band from Breakin’ Out, but it is no surprise that the album’s cover features inmates tearing through a red backdrop – some of us couldn’t wait to get out again.

In exploring children’s discipleship, let’s commence with a primary school classic, The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Eric Carle’s picture book follows a voracious caterpillar before it pupates and emerges as a butterfly. Eric’s tale and Fat Larry’s cover are both about transformation and a biological and emotional emergence.

How did you awake from your isolation?

The call for children to return to corps post-pandemic has been complex, with changes in weekend routines and the maturing of age groups over the past two years. This altered landscape requires a recalibration of how we disciple.

I’m wrestling with it too, but I believe that we have been gifted a line in the sand to re-think meaningful investment, and Jesus often drew lines. Of the 694 uses of the word ‘child’ in Scripture, probably the most quoted is Luke 18:16, where Jesus corrects a disciple: ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.’ This must be aligned with other significant Kingdom inclusions such as tax collectors, prostitutes and lepers, for they all made Jesus’ team sheet.

In his 1942 paper Conspiracy and Imprisonment, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote: ‘Jesus’ acceptance of children like that of the blind, lame, poor, signifies an eschatological event of salvation... the miracle of God, who humbles the lofty and raises up the lowly.’

Perhaps this line prompts us to confront previous agendas and diminished relationships. In achieving the best children’s work we can, this is a time for us to prioritise the relational love of God ahead of transactional exchanges. Being saved means being taken up into acceptance, into relationship. Bonhoeffer’s place-sharing theology reflects God in Christ, a cruciform love that comes alongside humanity in this world as opposed to being a bridge to an unseen other. It is a shared solidarity in a world of danger, suffering and death.

In a recent feedback session from the Online Children’s Leader’s Network we heard first-hand about the impact of children’s teams who stood at garden gates each week during the pandemic, maintaining relationships and physically place-sharing in the only way possible.

We also connected with a leader in Pakistan who joined at midnight to tell us about 51 junior soldiers currently swimming against the tide of opposition and religious disputes. Over Zoom, we shared her place as best we could.

These inspiring leaders and volunteers are journeying alongside their children, telling us of a transformed approach after a line in the sand. I don’t believe that the headline here is of better children’s discipleship through feasting on resources like a hungry caterpillar. It is about breaking out, transformed and invested in place-sharing.

Written by

Austen Hardwick profile

Austen Hardwick

Children's Specialist (Discipleship), Youth and Children's Ministries Unit

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