(Or, Thoughts During Camp Season)
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Camp season is one of my favourite times of year (even though, let’s be real-it’s exhausting). I love spending time seeing kids get away from their everyday life routine and build friendships, grow independence, and experience God in a very hands-on way.
As I’ve been reflecting on a full week at our provincial camp, and while I’m spending this week speaking at another – I’ve been thinking about this simple question:
How can kids experience God?
If you’ve been around this blog for long, you’ll know that I am a huge advocate of teaching our kids theology in creative, age-appropriate ways. I believe it’s essential for our kids to have solid teaching and a strong foundation to build their faith in God on.
However, as I’ve sat through many camp services over the past couple of weeks, I’ve found myself asking – how do we take that good teaching and pair it with a chance for kids to have a firsthand experience with God?
While some of these thoughts are still pretty fresh, here’s what has been swirling around my mind lately.
Experience really matters.
When it comes to the way we do theology, I am a huge fan of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. I have a full post about what that means here, but simply put, this method that finds its roots in John Wesley says that good theology doesn’t come from knowledge alone. Experiencing God – and the truth of who He is and what He does – is important to forming a true and accurate picture about Him.
I believe that this is nowhere more important than in the lives of children. Our kids can – and should – be armed with biblical knowledge and an understanding of tough concepts, but we can’t just leave it there! Instead, we need to give them opportunities to experience these truths.
We say that God is worthy of worship – and explain to them why He is. We can’t just tell them though – we need to give them opportunities to worship Him for themselves.
We tell them God’s presence is everywhere – and that we can never get away from that. Beyond just believing that though, they need to experience His presence in their lives.
We explain to our kids that the Holy Spirit is at work in our world and in their lives – and we can break down those truths in simple, and powerful ways. However, we also need to provide opportunities for them to experience that closeness, conviction and power – while they are still young.
Experience is not a one-size-fits-all.
One of the most powerful lessons I’ve learned during this camp season is that we cannot mandate that kids experience God in a particular setting or way.
Some kids are very emotional – and so when they are given a chance to pour out their heart to God, they will do so in a very powerful and emotional way.
Some kids are very logical – and so when they are given a chance to respond to a message in a particular way, they will ask a lot of questions first.
Some kids are very expressive – and so when they are given a chance to worship God, they will dance, raise their hands, sing, shout and love doing that.
Some kids are reflective – and so they will sit quietly in prayer, thought and meditation.
And all of that is okay. I believe our God has created each of us very uniquely, and part of that uniqueness is the way we respond when we experience God. So every kid may not race to the front in response to a message about giving their all to God – but some will. Some kids may be very expressive during worship – but some may be reflective. And there is nothing wrong with that.
Experience needs to be made a priority.
While I believe that teaching kids the truth about God needs to be central in what we do, I also believe that making space for kids to experience God needs to be a priority in kids’ ministries (and our parenting!) too.
Kids need to be given opportunities to experience God in safe, kid-friendly environments.
They need to be given space to awkwardly worship, cry if they want to, learn how to pray, and practice listening to God’s voice.
We live in a generation that is looking for genuine connection with something bigger than them – and that can’t be found simply in good teaching. This generation also needs time and space to encounter their Creator and what He can provide for their lives.
So the question then becomes:
How do we incorporate space for kids to experience God in our camps, our midweek programs, our Sunday services and our family devotions?
The good news is that there’s no formula for this – I believe it can look different in each church and family. However, I do think it’s important to start making space for kids to experience God. Here are a few practical ways:
- Set aside some time in whatever setting you minister for kids to intentionally worship God. I believe short periods of worship can be significant for kids as they learn to enter into the presence of God. Here’s a playlist I use in our kids’ ministry to get started.
- Use different methods to allow kids to experience God! I love providing reflective space for kids to encounter God. One of the ways I love to do this is through this prayer journal I created at Deeper KidMin.
- Incorporate “response times” into your kids’ ministry on a regular basis. These can include salvation responses, times of prayer for kids’ needs, small group discussion and prayer, or reflection and worship time following a message. These allow real ways for kids to experience God’s presence in their lives.
- Use hands-on ways at home to help kids go deeper! One of my favourite parts about my Conquering Fear devotional is that kids actually get to use a variety of hands-on activities to reflect on the truth that they’ve been learning. Another cool resource that does this is the Pray Like This devotional and journal for kids.
It is so important that we provide opportunities for our kids to experience God. During this camp season, I’ve been reminded that it’s not always perfect or as we pictured in our heads, but it is always worthwhile. God is faithful to show up with His presence when we are faithful to provide opportunities for kids to reach out and experience Him!