18 March 2020

For such a time as this….

Mel Lacy

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How to care for children and young people in the midst of a global pandemic

These are certainly unusual times, as the patterns and familiar structures of life are gradually being altered or removed for many. Of course children and young people will be aware of the global threat and potential impact of COVID-19; there will be much chatter about it at school, on TV and on social media, so even if it’s not being discussed at home they are being informed by someone, somewhere about the virus. This is a critical time for those entrusted with the precious privilege of caring for young people in the nuclear and church family to prepare well to steady and steer them through these rough waters. The world will emerge from this pandemic changed; world-views are being forced seismically to shift day by day, particularly relating to the value of human life, the fragility of existence and the idolatry of wealth. The cry of the church must be that it might be ‘changed from glory into glory’ through this period of communal suffering and sadness and in order for young people to be loved, discipled and sanctified in the coming months careful thought and commitment must be given to how best to engage with them. So where to start?

1.

Share don’t shield

The temptation may be to shield children and young people from the devastation that COVID-19 is delivering, which is of course entirely understandable! However sharing honestly and wisely about the realities of living in a fragile and fallen world will not only aid their understanding of this current situation but also shape and prepare them for future struggles with sin and suffering of either a communal or personal nature. Engaging with young people about the present reality will wonderfully facilitate many opportunities to speak about the Christian hope of an eternal future that will never face such adversity. The new creation is often an abstract concept that is hard for children to comprehend, but one that – should they get it – will orientate and direct their lives powerfully. In these circumstances any engagement with children and young people must be conducted with great sensitivity and gentleness, and by avoiding platitudinal piety at all times.

2.

They're watching you!

Children ordinarily learn much about the Christian life by observing those around them, this is especially so with Gen Z, who are longing and looking for authentic expressions of faith. So, they will be carefully studying the lives and witness of those they are in regular contact with during these uncertain times. Unsurprisingly this should cause parents and leaders to consider carefully whether there are personal idols presently being exposed in their own lives; perhaps things like health, wealth, freedom or comfort? As children observe the significant adults in their lives they will be looking for a clear correlation between their confessional theology and their functional theology. In other words are they living in accordance with what they say they believe? Are the grown-ups saying that God is sovereign, good and present but then living in ways that contradict those truths by panic buying, being selfish with financial resources or expressing extreme anxiety and fear?

3.

Acknowledge fear and anxiety

Gen Z are increasingly known as an anxious and insecure generation and this pandemic is only going to exasperate that. It is incredibly important to allow children and young people the space and opportunity to express their emotions and more than that for them to be heard and understood. Some children may struggle to clearly articulate their feelings and the temptation to put words into their mouths must be resisted. They may never even say that they’re fearful or anxious but instead their behaviour indicates that something is up. Work slowly and patiently to exegete their hearts and understand how this tragedy in pressing in on them. Remember though that whilst emotions are real they are not always necessarily right and this is especially important for the Christian to realise. As children emote it will provide an opportunity to reorientate their young hearts to God, reminding them of the character and nature of God and of His beautiful promises to His people. In scripture we see both people clearly expressing anxiety and fear to God and also constant reminders from God that there is no reason to be anxious or fearful (the fact that this is repeatedly present in scripture indicates how quick humanity is to forget this and turn in on itself!). Consider how to help children cry out to God and to recognise his voice, through His word, as they seek solace and comfort. Prepare to do this over and over again; this is not the content of a onetime conversation but an ongoing process.

4.

God’s still here

As with any time of suffering people are asking where is God is all this? Young people are questioning God’s omnipresence and omnipotence and the church must be ready to engage with this well in order to avoid leading children into a sort of belief in a deistic God. God is powerful and present; and that has not changed because He has not changed. There are a myriad of ways Christians are seeing God’s intimate involvement with His people at this time; in providential provision, in answered prayer, in protected and healed lives and so on. Whilst it may be impossible to know the larger plan of God at this time, it is very possible consistently to tell children where and how God is seen to be at work in his world, amongst His people and through His common grace. Ironically, the secular world appears to be much better at doing this kind of thing, highlighting for example the resilience of humanity or the power of community. But even these things must be reclaimed for God though as they are simply stories of image bearers bearing THE image well.

5.

Help them serve

Gen Z are inclined to individualism and that, coupled with the under developed ecclesiology present in many young people, is going to allow them potentially to further distance themselves from the body of believers as they encounter the force of social distancing and isolation. This is a pivotal opportunity to instruct young people about the purpose and nature of the church, with a significant emphasis on the role and opportunities that they have to serve the broader church family rather than keeping their (most likely digital) interaction to their programmatic silo! Every effort must be made to enable young people to flourish as church family members. Imagine the impact on the church if a generation of young people really grasped the call to be servant hearted church members at an early age and stage in their lives!!

6.

Take them seriously

Apologetically there will be many and varied questions emerging during the coming days for children and young people and these must be taken seriously. For many young people this period of questioning and wrangling with the tenants of the Christian faith could see them transition powerfully from an assumed family faith to a dynamic personal faith in Jesus; that is if their questions are engaged with in a rich, winsome and detailed theological manner. It is worth trying to consider what the nature of the questions might be in advance of them arising and therefore enabling a high degree of preparation and thought.

Wonderfully, as the young people ask questions it will be possible to train them, in turn, to be apologetically effective among their friends. Gen Z is particularly responsive to peer influence as opposed to the influence that may come from older generations or those in authority over them. This is another amazing opportunity to help young people mature and develop in their Christlikeness and to assume a significant role in the body of believers.

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