How we talk to Kids matters: Do they hear what we think they hear?

Conversation | Karen Mitchell Lambert | 8th February 2021

This week at the Gospel Yarning Conference, Stacey Wilson from Intergen, who has been researching the Theological implications of the Royal Commission into Institutional responses to child sexual abuse, came to share what the research had found out about how theological understandings informed and created cultures of which abuse is able to occur.

Let that sink in for a moment…

The way we talk to kids about faith and God can create cultures that make children vulnerable to abuse.

This totally freaked me out!

In this discussion, we explored how often what we think children are taking away from our experience and words is not what we think it is. When we say “God loves you and he died for you and your sins”, often it is not the God loves you part they hear but the part about dying for you and all your sins. This has consequences in how they feel they can relate to God. Imagine if the understanding you had from another person is that you are only doing things wrong all the time, you would very quickly shy away from engaging with them or be forever working hard to make God happy because you were worried about what would happen if you didn’t.

Stacey talked about how many of our theological forefathers have a terrible understanding of children and that children are things like “wretched beasts that need to be tamed”. Thinking like this can still influence how we treat children now in ways that we don’t realise.

Marcia Bunge offers us some alternative ideas that are found in the Bible to help us move forward in a powerful way.

Children are gifts, expressions of God’s life-giving and blessing.
Children are lights and prophetic agents, symbols of the kingdom among us.
Children are bearers of the Imago Dei, the image of God.
Children are moral agents and inheritors of a fallen world.
Children are marginalized, the image of the poor and vulnerable in the world
Children are developing persons, in need of guidance and care.

How do you see children? How do you think God sees children? How does your congregation see children? Is what you think, shown in your practices with how you engage with children?

I have found myself since Stacey’s lecture reflecting on how what I want to say could be misheard by children. How the way we set up churches and how we treat children could be misunderstood. It is a good thing to wrestle with as I prepare for my kids’ chats.

“How are my words Good News in their world?”

If you would like to hear Stacey’s presentation check it out here.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Photo by Joyce Panda on Unsplash



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Karen Mitchell-Lambert is ordained in the ministry of Deacon and is the team leader of PULSE.