How do we guide children and young people?

Guidance is a big deal because there are differing understandings of what this looks like. For some churches this appears to be an approach that involves ‘telling’ – instructing young people in what they must do to behave. 

Telling them what is right – and then expecting them to just do it. An approach that often struggles with questions, then gets exasperated if they are asked and finally responds when challenged with ‘because I said so!’

Then, there is the guidance approach that encourages children and young people to discover for themselves, work stuff out, learn from their mistakes and maybe clarity is missing . . .

There is also the kind of “guidance” I am beginning to see in the church which has almost no boundaries or parameters and appears to be a free for all based on what children and young people want to do.  

Somehow we need to find balance – guidance is essential – but what does it look like? 

Let’s start here,

Train a child in the way they should go – even when they are old they will not turn from it.

Proverbs 22:6

“Train” is sometimes translated, “Start off”, but we can still miss the nuances and the implications of the Hebrew. Here, the word, “chanak” is used. There are four main ideas associated with the word and I think they hold the keys to how we might nurture, guide and disciple children and young people.

#1. To Dedicate. Often accompanied by sacrifice, this was serious stuff – a dedication to the Lord – think of Hannah bringing Samuel to the temple and dedicating him to the Lord’s service and you get the idea.

#2. To Throttle. OK, calm down! This was about constricting or narrowing in order to discipline, like – a bit in a horse’s mouth for example. Reigns on a toddler might be an equivalent as they learn to walk for themselves.

#3. To Introduce. In discipleship terms we are introducing children to “The Way” – not just the path or journey of Christian faith, but “The Way” himself, Jesus.

#4. To Initiate. I love what this means! It’s about creating an appetite for something. In order to get a baby to suckle, it was the habit in the Middle East to put oil or crushed dates in the roof of a babies mouth so they could begin to get a taste for food.

Psalm 34:8 put it like this,

taste and see that the Lord is good.

Psalm 34:8

And, Psalm 119,

how sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!

Psalm 119:103

This is ALL from that one word ‘train’! There is so much in this verse of scripture, we can read it and miss the depth, the range and scope of what is meant here. Also, we can feel (I certainly do as a parent) overwhelmed with the responsibility – what if we stuff it up?

As children and young people grow, their abilities and their talents, their sheer gobsmacking range of choice; their engagement with a world that is now available at the swipe of a finger 24/7; their presence in a virtual world visiting places and interacting with people their parents have never met . . .

We can feel overwhelmed and out paced with the changes that are happening that we can’t keep up with – but, also, the shift in the way our culture perceives the young – whether that is marketing products; encouraging young people to buy this, go here, watch this, download that. 

How – in the midst of a world we do not understand – can we hope to ‘guide’?

I am reminded of the first Spider Man film from a few years ago – and the wise words of uncle Ben to Peter Parker,

with great power, comes great responsibility

Uncle Ben, SpiderMan

Uncle Ben was watching Peter grow up – and he didn’t know he was Spider Man, but could see, as he was becoming a man, the struggles, challenges and temptations that lay ahead. Yet, at the same time recognising the incredible power that Peter had as a young man with his destiny laid out in front of him – just waiting for him to step into it!

There is incredible strength and vitality and energy and passion and zeal and desire amongst young people – yet, such responsibility to use what we have been given – the gift of life and the gift of our talents and abilities wisely. Our young people need our help – we must dedicate them, sometimes reign them in, introduce them to the truth found in who Jesus is and initiate them in the ‘way’.

Young people want and need boundaries and clarity. Clear guidance. I was once speaking to a group of young people in a class in school – one boy asked me, ‘how far should I go with my girlfriend?’ There are some ‘pat’ answers that are expected in a school context for this kind of question to do with being safe, being comfortable together – but, I realised he actually wanted me to tell him. Seriously, TELL ME what is OK? Nobody is telling our young people what is ok!

I think about the changes in society, the overwhelming pace of things, the world of young people – and then – MY guidance? Really? BUT – absolutely – yes, we must guide – maybe using those four ideas associated with that word in Proverbs as a steer. We need to not panic, we have a remarkable wealth of amazing stuff to train our young people in. The BIBLE is – obviously – incredible, and there is SO much in it – as exploring one word in one verse shows!

The kind of guidance we need is that which draws our young people into an incredible joinery of discovery and transformation as they come to know Christ. Our EXAMPLE in this is the greatest guide – FOLLOW me, as I follow Christ – guidance is about us, BEING a guide – showing them around the magnificence of scripture, the rich heritage of faith, the stories of incredible love and sacrifice found within the Bible and throughout the history of the Church.

The word ‘tradition’ literally means to ‘pass on’ it is what we should fundamentally be asking ourselves as we seek to train and Gide the next generation – WHAT must we pass on? What is essential for faith to take root and for life in Christ to grow and blossom.  Coming back to the ‘power’ thing and responsibility and feeling overwhelmed – this verse has always encouraged me,

I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe in Him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated Him in the place of honour at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms.

Ephesians 1:19-20

Download the “Chanak” Discipleship Tool [here].

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