by Marcus Dip Silas
In August, I participated in a children intercessors’ conference, held in Taiwan. Yes, you read that right: children intercessors. They do exist, gathering in numbers greater than most adult prayer meetings. The meeting was organized by local churches and houses of prayer in Taiwan, featuring a renowned minister involved in children intercessory ministry.
On the first night, I walked in and saw about a dozen children – ages six and above – standing on the stage. One of the children, possibly about eight-years-old, took up the microphone and started praying. What came out was no simple self-focused, as-I-lay-me-down-to-sleep prayer. This little child prayed an eloquent, sincere, and well-worded prayer of invocation.
As the children began to lead worship, I was brought into my own journey with the Lord. In the process, I began to realize that I had a lot of internalized beliefs about the role of children in ministry. I encountered a resistance in my spirit to submit, because I was unable to perceive being led into the presence of God by children. My rational brain tried to offer various explanations to justify my hesitance to submit to the leadership of these children:-
Do they really know what they are singing about?
What if they are just repeating what they heard in Sunday school?
Worship is a serious matter! What if this child blasphemes against God, and I become a co-conspirator because of my compliance?
The more my mind attempted to reason, the more absurd I sounded. It was then that I heard a still small voice raising the question that I was avoiding: what are you really afraid of?
What was I afraid of? Well, for starters, these were merely children. They do not possess the necessary theological understanding nor spiritual maturity to lead others. We hardly trust the inexperienced to lead us in church - what more, the children? Could I actually learn of anything useful from a child? As I began to search deeper, the Lord led me to the heart behind all of my questions.
I felt threatened, because if a child who was 6 or 7 was able to hear the voice of God and lead others into His presence, it means that I have competition. Having started my own journey of leading worship at 16, and still working my way up the “ladder” of worship ministry – I was not okay with being surpassed by elementary school children. This fear of being ousted had managed to mask itself as some form of “righteous” indignation, but before the Lord all hidden things were being exposed.
Then, God began to remind me of the times that I had prayed along the lines of, “raise up the next generation,” and, “let them surpass me and go beyond all that I can achieve.” I had often prayed that my life would be a platform for younger ones to raise up on. My prayers sounded noble and self-effacing at the time I had prayed them, but there I was at the conference reacting negatively at the thought of a child leading me into a place of worship.
The truth is, the majority of the Church has relegated children as less important in our gatherings. In our culture of accomplishments and achieving, the children belong only at the back of the line. They don’t have much to offer in terms of experience or knowledge. In this culture of doing and having done, the ones with the shortest years of existence have done the least and are therefore, last. The global body of Christ have assigned children to a formula and prescribed process of spiritual growth and therefore have missed out on some of the most innocent and baggage-free insight and voices. Maybe it is the fear of losing significance, or power? Children hardly add sophistication to important things.
While we have poured much resource into developing Sunday school curriculums that are fun and relevant for children, we have forgotten that children are capable of so much more than just having fun. We say that we believe children can hear God’s voice, but do we really give them the opportunity to contribute? Do we even understand that God reveals to them more than just what toys they should or should not play with, or what TV program to watch?
Standing there, my folded arms started to fall to my side as I realized what a contradiction I was to my own prayers. Didn’t Jesus often speak of fervency and innocence in terms of children and child-likeness? Didn't He regard the first as the last, and the last as the first? Isn't it true that for one to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, one must become as a child? We interpret these through our theological lenses and conclude that Jesus was merely talking about the characters of a child and not actual children, but we would be foolish in forgetting that these character traits are embodied by children themselves.
I believe that when God reveals His heart as Father to us, it is not just for our own benefit, but also for the generation after us. Whether they are children in a literal sense, or children by position of spiritual maturity, the heart of a father always seeks the well-being of his posterity. Children should walk in the legacy and inheritance left to them by their parents’ generation. If we would begin to father and mother the generations to come - not with prejudice of what they can and cannot do, but with the heart and intention of preparing them to receive their inheritance - our perspective of them will shift considerably.
It was in Taiwan that God began to really speak to me about legacy and spiritual posterity. As a spiritual leader, I have the privilege to father the next generation into the position of receiving and carrying the fullness of what God has prepared for them. It all starts right here and right now. My perspective and opinions on children do not change the fact that they are capable of hearing God’s voice. The culture that we cultivate in our gatherings will determine how we involve children in our ministry. In a culture of doing, children have the last place, but in a culture of honor that values presence, there is nothing more refreshing than the innocence and enthusiasm of a child.
God is the one who has ordained praise from the mouths of infants and babes and we have the privilege of both witnessing and participating in the fulfillment of this great endeavor. He is the God of Abraham, Jacob, and Isaac; the intergenerational God, and He sees to it that none are excluded in spiritual leadership—not even the little children.