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/ 11 February 2019

When the children blow your mind

When children's work can be really profound.

Working with children you have to accept that in the world of Bible studies there are going to be mixed results. There will be some good stuff that interests you, there will be some mad stuff that make you wonder if they have listened to a single word you said and there will be many points in between.

One of the most demanding aspects of is that all of this will be happening at once. You’re trying to listen to it, sift it and ask some good follow up questions to draw more out. All while making sure you’re ready to seamlessly re-emerge during the Peace with children looking happy enough for the parents to think they had a good time but not so happy that they run amok.

However, every now and then a child will blow your mind and say something so profound that just for a moment the room will go quiet as everyone has to take it in and wonder how on earth they got to that. These are rare moments; I only bring this up because this happened in one of my groups the other week.

I lead a congregation of our church that is a fresh expression for children and families. We were talking about the parable of the pearl of great price. Quite a tricky one as it goes as frankly it’s rather short; we just about managed to get enough story from it and then talked about it. I asked a few questions to the group and we had an interesting discussion. ‘Is the merchant crazy?’ is a good one as it allowed lots of discussion about whether selling all your possessions to buy a pearl can ever be a good thing. It then developed when people realised that he must know a bit about what he’s doing as he’s a pearl merchant and not some chancer who got dazzled by something he didn’t understand.

Then I moved the conversation on a bit and asked if people thought Jesus was making a point with the story. Was anything in the story perhaps representing Jesus? An 8-year-old boy put his hand straight up. I try and let the kids go first as we are more likely to hear what they really think (once an adult has spoken, children can find it hard to disagree with them). ‘I think Jesus is the merchant and we are like the pearl because he found us and when he did, he gave everything for us.’

There was silence as people tried to take that in. Finally, the silence was broken by an adult who’s just begun a theology course. They turned to me, saying, ‘Wow, they’ll not teach that in seminary.’ Then people one by one begin to develop it, unpack it and work with the idea; they all began with the same opening phrase: ‘I’d never thought of it like that before but…’

It was a magical moment, sacred I suppose is a better word for it. It certainly is not the norm in our groups. In ten years of working with children in that group I can probably only think of a few times like that. That’s not to say we don’t have moments of great depth it’s just that every once in a while they are just even more special.

In a separate blog, I’ll try and unpack some of what we do as a group that allows those moments to happen, because I think there are things you can do to help. But for now I’m going to leave it here to encourage you. Always remember that the children in your group have insights for you that are deeper than you imagine, we just need to be ready to listen.

About Sam Donoghue

Sam Donoghue is Head of Children and Youth for the Diocese of London, a keen cyclist and a supporter of Everton FC.

Read more from Sam Donoghue

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