Whether you are a minister who has kids or a minister that works with kids, then you know that kids aren’t always easy. They have meltdowns and big feelings, they struggle to think logically, and they are messy. But kids aren’t just those things; kids are huge blessings (Psalm 127, John 16:21, Psalm 139, Proverbs 17:6, Matthew 18:10, Mark 10:14) and part of God’s design for families (Ephesians 6, Colossians 3:20-21, Proverbs 1:8-9, Genesis 1:28).
In raising kids or teaching kids, it’s easy to get frustrated. Schedules get disrupted, meltdowns occur at inconvenient times, and sometimes you just can’t seem to reason with a child. Dare I mention that plans rarely go as expected. Even in all the messiness, kids are not a disruption to our work; they are part of our mission and part of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). God has called us to witness to the ends of the earth, and that starts with the children in our homes.
Witnessing to others and loving others requires much sacrifice on our part and a great amount of grace; kids are not an exception. Here are several reasons why kids need grace, and a lot of it.
Kids’ Brains are Still Growing
Kids struggle with emotions, in part because their brains are still “under construction.” A large part of the brain that is still changing is the frontal lobe, which helps regulate and understand emotions, problem-solving, social interactions, and impulsivity. Additionally, children do not develop the ability to think more abstractly until the later middle school to early high school years. Thinking concretely can hinder a child’s ability to process information and situations on a more sophisticated level. Abstract information can be confusing to them. Children also lack the language acquisition and understanding needed to communicate feelings or solve conflict fully. Children should not be chastised for their developmental stage or lack of understanding.
Kids are Learning
Kids have many things to learn: Math, reading, manners, feeding themselves, dressing themselves, toilet training, etc. Their brains are hard at work. But they are also learning rules, and rules have lots of nuances.
- “You can throw the ball, but you can’t throw it in the house.”
- “Wrestling is fine, but not if you are angry.”
- “Being loud is okay, but use your inside voice when in buildings.”
So many rules for kids to learn and grasp. They are bound to mess up and need redirection.
Ordinary Experiences are New to Kids
Adults have life behind them. We have experienced heartache, grief, severed relationships, bullies, and mean teachers. We often know what works and doesn’t work simply because we have lived through similar situations already. However, many of these experiences are new to children. Children don’t have the benefit of knowing what works (or doesn’t work), so they try out new responses and behaviors, which can result in poor outcomes. Adults can continue to teach and train in these situations while also allowing natural consequences. These are opportunities to walk kids through big feelings when things don’t go well.
Kids Possess an Innocence to Them
While all humans are born in Adam’s image, Scripture is also clear that children seem to possess a level of innocence that adults do not have (Matthew 18:10, Matthew 18:2-5, Psalm 8:2, Mark 19:14). It is unknown at what age a child can fully grasp his/her sin and understand salvation. Their abstract understanding of right vs. wrong is limited by their development. As a parent, our job is to teach and train them in the way of the Lord’s instruction. This command implies that our kids are unaware of God’s instructions and thus, struggle to live them out. Recognizing this helps us to discipline and give grace accordingly.
Kids are Either New Believers or Unbelievers
Recognizing our kids may not yet be believers in Christ is important. If a child is yet a believer, then they are still a slave to their sin and don’t have the Holy Spirit to fight against sin (Romans 6:20, John 8:34). It’s the job of loving adults to help rescue that child by pointing the child to the grace and forgiveness in Christ. In these situations, adults are not fighting against the child (Ephesians 6:12) but are fighting for the child.
If the child is a believer, he or she is likely a new convert. These kids are learning the elementary teachings for Christ; essentially, they are still drinking the milk of Scripture (Hebrews 5:12). The newness of their walk in Christ means they will stumble. They need a guide, not a judge.
Correction of Sin is Done in Love
Kids will sin. Kids will make mistakes. God has given authority to the adults involved in the children’s lives to gently and kindly correct them. Scripture is clear that correction of others’ sins should not be judgemental but done with humility and love (1 Peter 4:8, Galatians 6:1). Humility reminds parents that we have similar heart issues, and we also need Jesus Christ.
As I close, I want to speak specifically to ministry families. In the ministry, there can be external or internal pressures for our kids to set an example in behavior. It can sound like this, “We are in ministry, so our kids should behave better than other kids.” This pressure can create unrealistic expectations for kids and families and focuses on behavior modification instead of heart change. Perhaps the better narrative to utilize is, “Let’s show radical grace to our kids and others.” After all, isn’t that what Christ does for our kids and for us?