LCI director, Helen Reid, challenges us to hear children’s voices this Christmas.

Anne Richards, an advisor for mission theology in the Church of England, has written a great book on ‘Children in the Bible’. It was shortlisted for the Michael Ramsey Prize. It didn’t win, but it gets my vote for a book that makes you think again about God and children in the light of considered reflection on biblical texts.

In one key chapter, Anne Richards argues that God commissions children, and children speak prophetic words to their families, communities and wider society. God calls them as children, not to be precocious children aping adults but with their own age-related integrity. Too often in churches we love to hear from children because they are young and well meaning. We must remember, though, that they are commissioned by God and bring their own perspective – and that is why they are called.

Children’s vocation is possible because God is with them…

God called Jeremiah when ‘only a boy’. Although he feels unprepared, the point is that God is with him as he seeks to live out his call, and supports him in the tasks set before him when he struggles. This call narrative offers a partnership between prophetic vocation and God. It is not unfair to commission children and nor is it asking too much. There is a strong biblical precedent for it.

Children say things we find it hard to hear…

Consider the child Samuel called to service by God in the temple. He is given a hard message to pass on to his priestly mentor. Samuel has to tell Eli that because Eli has failed to stop his sons from breaking temple laws, they will be punished. How hard it must have been for Samuel. Eli already knows that he is allowing wrong things to happen. As a priest, he knows that God sees all things and that he will be judged; but it is a child who is called to speak words of truth to him so that he cannot ignore them any longer.

Perhaps there are echoes of this role in the voices of children who speak out about abuse that they or others have suffered. They speak out knowing that a person who has power over them will be challenged. They speak out to ask for protection; they also speak prophetic words to the community. They call us to keep all children safe, to not overlook unsafe practices, and to not fail to see abuse because an individual has an important role in the community. They have a commission to seek their own salvation and the welfare of the community.

God’s commission has to be seen in context…

David uses his child-like skills to defeat Goliath. If he had been given adult tools of war, such as armour or a sword, he would not have succeeded. As a shepherd boy, he already had all he needed to fulfil God’s calling. God does not expect children to be capable of adult behaviour. In fact, God calls children because they are children. Children can blindside us and surprise us. If we impose adult rules, we can crush their calling and make them grow up too soon. We must trust them to be children and also find ways to build a kingdom fit for children where their prophetic voices are heard.

So if you are attending a nativity play, listening to children at a Gift Service, or as part of a project like Kidz Klub, be ready to hear what is really being said…

 

This article draws on Children in the Bible by Anne Richards and published by SPCK; and a discussion with the Leeds North and East Circuit Preachers Study Group.