Reflections on Kids and Race

Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. --Colossians 3:12-15 ESV)

It’s been an emotional several months in St. Louis. Over the past couple of weeks, passions have boiled over to the international stage as the grand jury announced it’s decision regarding Officer Darren Wilson. I’ve been surprised by the emotional toll it has taken on me, my family, and my community. It will take a long time to process all that is happening. I didn’t realize how this unrest was affecting my kids until my young daughter wrote on a whiteboard in our house, “no more riots, peace please.” She wrote that in response to what she has seen on the news. She doesn’t understand all the issues, but she understands our city and it’s people are in distress. The problems plaguing my city won't be solved in this generation, but I want to pass on something different to my kids.

How can we help future generations have compassionate hearts, show kindness, and forgive others as Christ has forgiven us? How can we raise our kids to love people of all races and experiences? Here is a start.

  1. Listen. I have strong brothers and sisters at my church who are African-American, Asian-American and Latino. They’ve shared stories about their difficult experiences growing up…..experiences I did not have. It was difficult to hear my friends' struggles with how people perceive them. They've told me stories about how people who don't even know them have made judgements. Sure, all of us have had people make snap judgements against us. But my friends' stories eclipse anything I have experienced. It is heartbreaking to hear what they have had to endure. It's difficult to hear, but I need to listen. I want to grow in understanding how I can love people better. Friends who are willing to have hard conversations and who care enough to point out my blind spots are a grace to me. God created us to rely on others and their experiences to help us better understand God and ourselves.  

  2. Acknowledge privilege. Prepare for suffering. I'm a white guy with white kids. I have to acknowledge that I'm privileged. Things are easier for our family. Things are more difficult for others. I need to acknowledge this before our kids, because I recognize the fact that they'll be tempted to judge others. In children's ministry, it's important that we prepare kids to deal with hard things. They're growing up in the real world. They'll know injustice, prejudice, racism, and bullying. So we can't shy away from it in our teaching. The Bible speaks to these concrete realities. We do kids a disservice if we avoid the topics in Sunday school. (More on this in a future post.)

  3. Celebrate diversity. God loves diversity. The Bible tells us that we are all created in God's image. God knit us together in our mothers' wombs. Every person is fearfully and wonderfully made. Each person has worth and we should strive to help our kids see the value of people who do not look like us or act like us. Kids notice people who are different from them. Some of us have had the awkward experience in a store when our kids look at someone who is different and loudly exclaims, “What happened to them?” Something as simple as having having dolls of different nationalities in a classroom can help children process and ask questions about differences. It helps with breaking down some of the barriers of us versus them. In a racially polarized culture, we must seek out opportunities for kids to ask questions and better understand how God is calling a diverse people.

  4. Love your city. Do justice and love mercy. I want my kids and the kids of my church to love St. Louis. I want them to grow and be invested in changing our city. In our kids ministry, we have used the landmarks of St. Louis to decorate and theme our classrooms. It's important that the kids in our ministries learn to pray for our city as well. More specifically, Jesus loved the poor and pursued the marginalized and oppressed. He still pursues them. We see Jesus speaking to the woman at the well, dining with sinners, and touching lepers. He sought out people who were rejected by society and faced constant injustice. Injustice isn’t new. Jesus shows us how to enter into people’s pain and love them in spite of our differences. I want my kids to empathize with others experiences and have compassionate hearts. I want them to seek out those who are rejected and serve them. Beyond decorating classrooms, we need to think intentionally about mobilizing our families to serve the poor and oppressed. I want my kids to love others like Jesus.

  5. Preach and demonstrate the gospel. We need to be active in fighting injustice and speaking for those who need a voice, but we must remember that it is Jesus who saves the world. In children's ministry, our primary task is to create environments that are conducive for learning about HIm. Children’s ministries need to be aware of the way they teach, manage classrooms, and set up their classrooms. Ministry leaders must be aware of how a diverse group of kids learns. We must be sensitive to meet kids where they are when they come to gatherings. That ranges from having handicap accessibility to having toys that look like the kids who are playing with them. We need to have a place where kids of all backgrounds can have fun at church and learn about Jesus. Because He is our only hope.

My prayer is that our kids will love Jesus, love the people around them, and help bring lasting change to our city. May they be a part of God’s plan to bring all things together in perfect harmony.

What has helped break down dividing walls in your children's or youth ministry?