In this series we are examining five principles for effective ministry to children. In the first article, I summarized all five using the acronym B.R.I.N.G. to remind us that our purpose is to bring children to Jesus. Each principle adds to our effectiveness in living out this responsibility. We turn now to examining each principle individually—starting with principle number one: Bless children with Jesus’ love.
In the Gospel accounts, Jesus acknowledged the great value of children. In a culture that tended to ignore and otherwise devalue children, Jesus made it clear that he viewed children as people with great value in God’s sight. Jesus reached out to children, welcoming them into his presence and blessing them (Matthew 19:14-15). On several occasions Jesus went out of his way to heal children (Luke 8:49-56). He was willing to be “bothered” in order to minister to children.
Five love languages
How can we reach out with Jesus’ love to bless the children in our homes, neighborhoods, churches and communities? Love is like a language—it must be spoken (expressed) and understood (received). Learning how a child perceives and receives love is essential for those who seek to bless children with Jesus’ love.
Not every child speaks the same love language. In The Five Love Languages of Children, Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell identify five love languages for children: appropriate physical touch, words of affirmation, gifts, acts of service and quality time. The book explains how an adult (such as a parent) may liberally extend love to a child using one love language, only to find that the child does not feel loved because he or she does not “speak” that particular language.
Perhaps a child’s dominant, or preferred love language is appropriate physical touch, but the parents, though liberal in gift giving, are physically distant with the child, and as a result he or she feels unloved. We have to figure out how a child receives love and then reach out using that love language. One of the ways the authors give to discern a child’s dominant love language is to observe how the child expresses love to others.
When working with a group of children, we will need to speak love in multiple love languages. While spending extended, quality time with them we’ll offer words and actions that convey this vital message: “we care about you—you are accepted and loved by us.” We can provide the children with snacks (the love language of gift giving). At times we can involve them in service projects (the love language of acts of service). We also can extend careful and appropriate physical affection (the language of physical touch), such as a pat on the back or shoulder or an appropriate, non-sexual hug. In various ways, using multiple love languages, each child can receive the blessing of Christ’s love extended from a safe, caring and supportive adult.
Of course, such Christian love has to be given unconditionally. If the only time children receive attention and affirmation is when they have done something to please us, they quickly learn that our love is conditional, based on their performance. In The Gift of the Blessing, Gary Smalley and John Trent point out that affirmations should be given to a child based on who the child is (a valuable and worthwhile person whom Jesus accepts and loves) rather than on what they have done, or not done. It is particularly important not to withhold our blessing when a child’s performance is disappointing. In this way we model God’s unconditional grace and love that is in Christ.
Author: Ted Johnston