I hope you are doing well. These past couple of weeks have been full. I’ve been part of a spiritual formation retreat for leaders and I’ve been pluggin’ away at school work. (If all goes to plan, I graduate from my MA program in June!). Although May feels busy, I am leaning into it with joy.
I hope you are finding joy as we move closer to summer (well, for us Seattleites, summer doesn’t start until July 1 in most respects, haha).
If you haven’t had a chance yet, both The Paulcast and Rapture Drill about at the midpoint for this season. We’ve taken a two week break on each of them, but next week you can expect fresh content! So, catch up on past episodes and more are coming.
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Today, I want to introduce you to my Canadian friend, Natalie Frisk. We run in the same denominational tribe and she pastors at a church called The Meeting House. Natalie is the Curriculum Pastor at The Meeting House in Ontario. She is married to Sam and mom to Erin. She loves Jesus, tacos, and musicals.
I asked her if she’d share some thoughts on kids and God. Let me tell you… she delivered! I hope that this is super encouraging to you today… parent or not… to lean into love, which looks like Jesus.
Preschool Pneumatology (Natalie Frisk)
As I kid, I remember reading an abridged version of Oliver Twist. I was in the second grade. For those of you who may have lost familiarity with grades and ages since your own childhood, I would have been 7-years-old. I know that there were some mature themes. I know that some of the language was inappropriate, but the storyline, the challenge, and the classic nature of the book drew me in.
I know this probably isn’t “normal,” but consider this, the average kid begins to dive into complex comic universes and story worlds such as:
- Harry Potter (ages 6-7)
- Chronicles of Narnia (ages 7-8)
- Star Wars (ages 7-8)
- Lemony Snicket: A Series of Unfortunate Events (ages 8-9)
Even toddlers can name the characters of their favourite storybooks and cartoons no matter the absurdity of the name nor the vastness of the cast of characters. As a four-year-old, my daughter knew the names of each of the My Little Ponies. She knew the characters, however minor, from the cast of Dora the Explorer. A friend of mine’s child was hearing the stories from Greek mythology at age four. Most three or four-year-olds that I know (and I know quite a few) know the characters and catchphrases for each of the characters of Paw Patrol.
As we grow, we can navigate more difficult concepts, story worlds, settings, and topics. In the third grade, I read Black Beauty, Little Women, and Anne of Green Gables. In the fourth grade, I read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Hiding Place. In the fifth grade, I read The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Number the Stars, The Diary of Anne Frank, and many other biographies of missionaries, explorers, and more. I don’t say all of this to toot my ten-year-old-self’s horn (though she would be so proud), I simply say it all to get to this: our capacity, at any age, for story, characters, and detail is infinite.
And yet, people will make comments to me like this:
Random church lady: “Why do you try to teach kids about God: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Isn’t teaching our kids about God enough?”
Me: “No.” Sighs and shakes head.
Trust me, in this situation, I had more grace than I may express in this post, but I will say, the lack of value this gives to kids is horrible and the lack of understanding of the nature of God is equally as deplorable. I realize you may think this is just one person, but this person represents a not-so-small group of individuals who think we need to dumb things down for kids, more specifically in regard to the Holy Spirit. But this just isn’t the case. I’ve said before (specifically in this blog post), “Child-like faith is simple, not stupid.”
We aren’t doing kids any favours by dumbing down theology to a point of meaninglessness. And, just in case you are wondering if kids need to really understand the nature of the Triune God, I would say a resounding yes, and here is why: we believe God is love. Love is communal – it is something experienced between persons. God in his very being is love, and we know God is communal his mysterious and wonderful 3-in-1 way. To take away from that reality and attempt to “simplify it” is to remove something so significant to the character of God.
And, perhaps you wonder, why a lack of value? Because if we are unwilling to take the time to accurately and honestly (though, at a level of developmental appropriateness) help kids know who God truly is – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – we are withholding a beautiful and fundamental element of who God is from them. And, while it is most wonderful to help our kids know who God the Father is, and that we know that through the Son, Jesus, we are omitting a major aspect of who God is when we don’t explain the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is 1/3 of the Godhead.
I believe we don’t often discuss the Holy Spirit with kids because we struggle with understanding who the Holy Spirit is for ourselves, and so we leave the Holy Spirit out of the conversation. But as we leave the Holy Spirit out of the conversation, we are also leaving out the characteristics of the Holy Spirit, and the beauty offered to us in the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is mysterious (and kids love mystery!), the Holy Spirit gives us the power and presence of Jesus always (that’s absolutely unreal, and something kids should absolutely know!), and the Holy Spirit is well, kind of hard to explain or understand. And if we are honest with kids about that, we are opening them up to a huge reality of faith: we don’t completely get it all the time, and that’s okay.
So, you may ask: when do you start to teach kids about the Holy Spirit? I would respond with asking, when do we start teaching kids colours, or numbers, or words, or letters? We do it constantly even before they are quite ready. And so, I include the Holy Spirit in the conversation from the earliest of ages, and use God, the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit in discussing God in ways that are relevant to what is being taught. In fact, in The Meeting House Kids and Youth Curriculum, we introduce the Holy Spirit to kids right from the beginning. (Pssst…We even have a new fun kids song about the Holy Spirit!)
Even though kids have a difficult time with abstract ideas, they do understand that there are people in our lives that they may not be able to see right now. Kids have an amazing ability to pick up on who people are as we speak about them often. And while we sometimes think the HS is a “concept” to teach, we don’t do the same with Jesus. We just start talking about Jesus. We just start talking about the Father God. We can do the same with the HS. Just start talking about the Holy Spirit and the understanding of who the HS is will develop with them. And with us, too.
Author: Kurt Willems
Kurt Willems is a pastor, author, and spiritual director. His first book, Echoing Hope: How the Humanity of Jesus Redeems our Pain, releases in March 2021. Kurt is also the host of the Theology Curator podcast. He has a master of divinity degree from Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary and a master of arts in comparative religion from the University of Washington.
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