Monsters and Mission: How God’s View of Children Shapes the Ministries of the Church
One of my favorite movies of all time is Disney Pixar’s Monsters, Inc. It’s a clever story of how a little girl changes the world of monsters forever. If you haven't seen the movie, there’s a city full of monstrous creatures called “Monstropolis.” These monsters live and work much like humans do, but there is one thing that makes their way of living unique: their fuel source. Instead of using gas or electricity, everything in Monstropolis is fueled by screams (children’s screams to be exact), and these screams are collected by monsters known as “scarers.” These brave monsters perform the dangerous job of teleporting to children’s rooms, scaring them, and harnessing their screams as fuel to empower their city. I say “brave,” because the monsters believe children are toxic. They are convinced that one touch from a child can lead to illness or even death! That’s the comedic irony of the movie. The monsters are just as scared, or more so, of children as they are of them.
Now I hate to spoil the ending, but through a crazy string of events, the monsters come to discover a better fuel source than a child’s screams. A little girl accidentally teleports to the monster’s world, and through all of the excitement and dread of her presence, the monsters come to learn of the greatest power-potential children have to offer- their joy. They find that the laughter and joy of children has 10x more power than their fear. This ending has all the makings of a happily-ever-after you come to expect from Disney. It’s a great movie that’s fun to rewatch, but after a recent viewing, a question struck me. As the credits rolled, I wondered, “Why did it take so long for the monsters to discover the power of a child’s joy?”
Throughout the movie, you see intelligent monsters in lab coats and business suits studying the power of fear in children. You see employees hone their scare-tactics and receive rankings for the best scares that receive the loudest screams. In all of this studying, research and practice, why hadn’t the monsters ever stopped to consider that something other than fear could fuel their city? Why wasn’t laughter given a second thought? I know I’m over-analyzing an animated movie, but I actually think the answer is given throughout the story. It’s stated several times that the monsters are afraid of children. In fact, there’s a special unit dedicated to decontaminating an area or monster that has been touched by a child. With such a staggering fear of children, no wonder they couldn’t see the positive impact their joy could have on their lives. Their fear was blinding them to the true identity and potential of children in their world.
This shows the power of perspective. How we view someone influences the way we treat them. It’s a significant truth, especially for those who claim to be followers of Christ. For the believer, God is upheld as the creator of all things. This means that He both owns and sets the standard for everything in existence. He determines what is good or bad, making His perspective of people and the world the only one that counts. With this in mind, I think it’s expedient for churches and ministry organizations to ask themselves, “What is God’s perspective of children?” This question may seem restrictedly narrow, but its answer has more bearing on the church and it’s mission than many might realize.
Again, perspective is powerful, because perspective determines purpose. Just consider the slogan for Monster, Inc. “We scare, because we care.” Why do the monsters scare? Because scaring is necessary in retrieving screams. Why does the retrieval of screams show care? Because the monsters are willing to scare dangerous beings known as children to keep the lights on in their city. Do you see the connection between perspective and purpose? The monsters’ view of children not only shaped their treatment of them, it also shaped the mission of their organization, and I believe this is the case for children in the church as well.
Perspective is powerful, because perspective determines purpose
Typically, children are defined by a few key characteristics, and these characteristics tend to shape how children are perceived, treated, served, and commissioned within the church. For example, children (especially younger ones) can absorb and remember incredible amounts of information. They are like sponges in the way they soak up facts and recall stories. This is a wonderful quality, but it can be overemphasized and become the only lens by which children are seen and understood. Another characteristic that can be overly stressed in children is their excessive energy. If you have been around a group of kids for any length of time, you know they are like high-volt batteries that never tire or run low on power. This understanding of children is often associated with another characteristic… their short-attention spans. Children can easily get distracted and change subjects, making them seem like puppies on a walk whose attention is ceaselessly diverted by squirrels. While there is some truth to this, it too can be overdone.
Now don’t get me wrong. Acknowledging these characteristics in children is helpful and good. There’s nothing wrong with recognizing these attributes and keeping them in mind as we disciple our kids, but if we’re not careful, we can take a characteristic and become so narrowly fixated on it that we only relate to and serve kids through its lens. This is why perspective matters. If kids are only seen as sponges, they will be treated as people to be taught but not as people who teach. As high voltage batteries, their energy is seen as something to exhaust and not as something to enjoy. And if they are primarily viewed as distracted puppies, then they will be seen as people to entertain but not as those who proclaim the gospel to the world. Perspective matters. The identity a church gives its kids will shape its mission with and for them. So I ask again, “What is God’s perspective of children?”
According to scripture, every believer is commanded to “go and make disciples.” It’s the purpose statement of the church and applies to every one of its members. However, despite the all-encompassing call of the Great Commission, there are Great Conditions that can unknowingly be attached to it. These conditions might include size, age, stage of life, or ability. While these constraints may not be expressed outright, they can be inferred by the way ministries in a church are assigned, structured, and carried out.
Despite the all-encompassing call of the Great Commission, there are Great Conditions that can unknowingly be attached to it.
Consider the young believers in your own church. What role do they play in fulfilling the Great Commission? What steps are taken to ensure they are equipped to serve the least and the lost in your community? What opportunities are afforded them to disciple their peers in the way of Christ? Churches can have high quality children’s ministries that teach the Bible in theologically rich and engaging ways, but if they aren’t commissioning their kids to edify believers and evangelize the lost, then what is being offered to them isn’t biblical discipleship. I say this because the call of the Great Commission is to make disciples. To make followers of Christ who make followers of Christ. While sitting under and absorbing biblical teaching is an essential part of this, it’s not the end goal. Disciple-making is more than the transfer of biblical information; it is the on-going process of heart transformation. To disciple others means to form them in the way, truth, and life of Jesus by helping them grow in their love and likeness of Him. This calling includes both evangelism (proclamation of the gospel that leads to a new life of following Christ) and sanctification (growth in the truths of the gospel which leads to greater faithfulness in following Christ). If children aren’t being built up in both of these areas, then they are not adequately being equipped to live out the mission they were given to fulfill.
Disciple-making is more than the transfer of biblical information; it is the on-going process of heart transformation.
This life-long endeavor of growth and proclamation is the same for every believer, whether they are middle-aged adults or middle school students. There are no caveats, loopholes, exceptions, or restrictions. This means that every born again child in your church is a co-laborer in the gospel. Now let that sink in for a moment. When was the last time you looked at a 10-year-old believer and thought, “There’s a co-worker in the Lord”? How would it shape the mission and ministries of your church if every believer was seen this way?
What would happen if we saw the children in our churches, not as batteries to be spent, but as disciples to be sent? What would happen if we saw the children in our churches, not as sponges to soak up information, but as co-laborers in gospel transformation? What would happen if we saw believing children, not as mere spectators in the church, but as co-players in God’s work? What would happen if we saw children, not as distractions to the kingdom, but as living examples of how it is entered? It would completely change the game! Not just for the church… but for the entire world.
What would happen if we saw the children in our churches, not as sponges to soak up information, but as co-laborers in gospel transformation?
The impact of perspective and identity in the church’s mission cannot be overstated. If believers truly are co-laborers in the gospel, then not only is their God-given identity diminished when Great-Commission-opportunities are withheld from them, but limits are being placed on God’s mission that were never meant to be there. If every believer is called to make disciples, then the church has to structure its ministries in a way to make this a reality.
But how do we make this a reality? While it will require thoughtful conversations and shifts within a church’s ministries, it can begin with very small, practical steps. It could be as simple as giving your kids some time in Sunday school to share what they are learning, or better yet, giving a child the opportunity to teach a portion of the lesson. The Sunday School teacher would probably have to help or fill in gaps, but the extra effort is worth it. Why? Because in that moment, a child is fulfilling the Great Commission by discipling his peers. Outside the walls of the church, children should be encouraged and expected to share their faith with others. Leaders can help children in this effort by involving them in outreach opportunities in the community, keeping them accountable to share their faith with their friends, and practicing gospel conversations with them.
Another simple step is to ask before you act. If a child comes to a pastor and says he wants to know what it means to be saved, instead of the pastor immediately jumping in to share the gospel, he could stop and ask another child in the church if he would like to share the gospel with him. Will the pastor or the child’s parents need to prayerfully stand by to offer clarity or guidance? Yes. Would it be easier for the pastor to do it himself? Sure. Would it take less effort and focus? Most likely. But if our purpose is to make disciples, then the goal isn’t efficiency, it’s fruitfulness. It’s spiritual growth and maturity, and these things don’t come easily. Creating discipleship moments among children takes work and a shift in perspective, but here’s the beautiful thing. When we begin to see children as God sees them, we not only become aware of their God-given identity, but we also become aware of the opportunities He has for them.
Children were never meant to sit on the sidelines of God’s mission. In fact, there are no sidelines! Every believer, including children, is called to be an agent of reconciliation and an ambassador of the King. God has even appointed kids as kings in the past to bring spiritual reformation to wayward people. What we have to recognize is that in God’s hands and in God’s plans, the littlest and the least can accomplish the most for His glory. This perspective should change how we view ministry to children. Kid’s ministries aren’t merely storehouses of information to fill children with knowledge, nor are they silos of entertainment to keep them occupied while the church fulfills its mission. Kid’s ministries serve as training grounds of purpose that equip children for mission.
I know that inviting children to participate in God’s mission of reaching the world and discipling others comes with many challenges. It typically involves more helpers, longer hours, extra training, and new metrics of success. While the cost is great, the calling is greater, and God’s point of view doesn’t leave room for compromise. Children can be hyper and will undoubtedly lose focus from time to time. Nevertheless, we cannot let the fear of what a child might do blind us to the power and joy they can bring in Christ.
After the events of Monsters, Inc., several things changed within the company. New leadership was put into place, different strategies were implemented, and a renewed vision was cast for the organization. These changes came from the corrected perspective of the monsters. Imagine if their perception had been corrected sooner. The movie would have been totally different. It wouldn’t have been a story about fearful monsters scaring kids for the sake of survival but a story of cheerful creatures bringing children joy in a thriving world. What a difference! Now, I know this is just a movie, but consider the body of Christ. Imagine the stories your church could tell if it allowed God’s perspective of children to shape its ministries. Imagine the joy that would be shared and growth that could be experienced. I believe it would change everything, and do so for the better. May God’s perspective shape your view of his people and His mission for the sake of His glory.
This article is a follow up to another post entitled, "What Restless Children and Church Decline Have in Common."