“Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.”
When I was a little girl growing up in what is now “The Burbs” (we called it the country), my parents always reminded us of the importance of being hospitable. I will have to say that there were times when I found this annoying, especially when I had to give up my bedroom to an older relative or share a favorite dessert. But, over time it became a natural way of being. I couldn’t imagine NOT sharing or offering my toys to visitors. At times it seems that the best part was knowing how much it pleased my parents to see me offer hospitality to others.
As I look at the meaning of hospitality in the Christian perspective, it seems that there are some parallels with what my parents modeled and expected. Live in a way that people will know that they are welcome. Bring people together to form deeper and more intentional relationships. Seek out those in need and serve them with a joyful heart. Proclaim the word of God. Hospitality offers us many opportunities to grow in faith. With hospitality comes sacrifice. With hospitality comes community. With hospitality comes mission. And with hospitality comes sharing Christ with others.
It is our responsibility at disciples of Jesus Christ to “proclaim the gospel, seek, welcome and gather persons into the body of Christ”. How will we offer this to our children? First, offer children hospitality. Search the scriptures with children. Take children with us when we serve those in need. Welcome children in worship. Serve children who are in need. It seems to me that like my actions as a little child pleased my parents, our efforts to extend hospitality to others as we carry out mission to make disciples is pleasing to God.
The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church is “…the instrument for setting forth the laws, plan, polity, and process by which United Methodists govern themselves…” Discipline is “to train by instruction and exercise”, and we owe it to our children to offer them a little instruction book of their own. We are their instruction book!
Children may come to us with an innate sense of who God is, but we are blessed (or tasked) with the responsibility of being living, breathing examples of how they develop spiritually, emotionally, cognitively, and ethically. Children are surrounded by influencers that will form them, so if we want to live into our responsibility, then we must be present with them…truly present.
We can help our children develop a set of behaviors the will help them live into the amazing people God created them to be. A few tips:
- Model Holy Living
- Set expectations
- Set healthy boundaries
- When talking with children, use body language > get on their level, smile, nod, engage
- Listen attentively to children > ask them the who-what-when-where, and then LISTEN for understanding
- Offer empathy
- Help children reframe a negative situation
- Respond to the needs of children
Alexander and the Horrible, Terrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
The 5 Love Languages of Children
Let There Be Peace in the Classroom
Keeping the Peace in the Preschool Classroom
Today I Feel Silly: And Other Moods That Make My Day
Children’s Defense Fund
Robert Coles, author of the award-winning The Spiritual Life of Children, spent several years talking to and asking children of all ages about God. When Coles asked children to “draw a picture of how you would represent God,” the response from many children was that God is “beyond.” They found it difficult to draw God, but found it much easier to draw those things or people who represent the characteristics of their understanding of God. We see through their responses that how God is communicated to them is more important than what God “looks like.” One way to help children of all ages to think about and to understand God is through our own Wesleyan heritage.
Children love stories.
The primary way that we teach children about God is by telling our story, which comes out of the Bible. We are a people of the story, and we possess a specific type of language. Take time to not only read Scripture to and with children, but give them the opportunity to talk with you about their understanding of what they hear and read. Be open to their thoughts and responses.
Children learn through experience.
They are not born as “empty vessels”; as children grow and develop, they collect experiences that shape who they are as people and as members of the community. As their teachers, it is our responsibility to guide them in living out their lives through Scripture – holy living. Listen to and respect their stories, while helping them to see how their choices and actions reflect upon who they are as children of God.
Share Our Story
Rituals speak to children.
Children look forward to and anticipate celebrations like birthdays and life’s other milestones. Teach children about the traditions of our church community. Our forefathers and foremothers of the Christian faith committed to spiritual practices, including gathering as a faith community, offering prayers of thanksgiving and supplication, helping the “least of these,” and sharing our stories of faith. Supply children with ongoing and relevant ways to participate in these and other acts of mercy, piety, and means of grace.
Children are naturally curious.
While memorizing Scripture should be respected and expected, we can guide children in interpreting Scripture and the impact it has on their lives as children of God. As Bishop Scott Jones reminds us, reason helps us to see if our interpretations of Scripture “make sense” in everyday life. Take the time to relate Scripture to the real life occurrences that our children experience and to support them in navigating life’s challenges while deepening their connection with God.