Capturing the 4/14 Vision & Child Theology: It’s Time!
Dr. Jessy Jaison
God cares for children not just because they are lovely;rather, they are His choicest masterpieces in and for His Kingdom! Child is a concrete biblical theme. In ‘Precious in His Sight: Childhood and Children in the Bible’ the author Roy Zuck presented thousands of specific Biblical references on children. We may wonder if the church ever had an open door for children to come to Jesus Christ in their own right. Has our theology been so long at fault in neglecting to identify child as the essence of God’s Kingdom? Critical self-evaluation seems inevitable. However, the past two decades have witnessed tremendous awareness in this direction and ‘child theology’ has been impacting the church as a cutting edge missional focus. Simultaneously, this has steadily disseminated into the training in theology schools, where prospective leaders are shaped in mission. Being involved in Holistic Child Development training in theological education for the past five years, I seek to present this article
as a basic introduction (in no way a comprehensive treatise) to the two major directions of thinking namely, the 4/14 window and Child Theology to trigger further deliberations on church’s practice discussions and reflective learning on God’s heart for children.
The 4/14 Window
“4/14 Window”refers to the demographic frame of the 10 years between the ages of 4 and 14 in human life, which is also termed as the “season of awakening”.The term was initially introduced at a conference at Compassion International in Colorado Springs and was published by Dan Brewster in 1996. Luis Bush, who coined the term 10/40 Window, hosted a conference in NY with more than 300 leaders from 70 countries, with the purpose of reaching the 4/14ers and equipping them to be agents of transformation for their generation. Children and youth in this age group make over 1.2 billion of world’s population today, which signifies the intensity of the task for the believing community. India is estimated to have children below the age of 14 form about 32% of its total population. Children in the 4/14 window are identified not only as the most receptive group for the gospel, but the very theological motif for the mission of God in the world of 21st century and a powerful force in the advancement of the Kingdom of God. The church’s pertinent need today is for leaders who understand the significance of a holistic ministry to children, and who can influence others at all levels on behalf of those children.
The Global Summit on the 4/14 Window in 2010 recognized the ministry challenge to this age group in encouraging and equipping them to use their gifts and potential as agents in transforming the world. They represent an enormous untapped pool of influencers with sensitivity to the voice of God and willingness to do His bidding. The missional query in this has been, Are we ever able to use the prayer, insights, gifts and the energy of children for the mission of God? The 4/14ers have been recognized as persons with great capacity to understand the faith and great courage and effectiveness as they share their faith. Adults will fail the 4/14ers if they fail to equip them with the vision and opportunity to do something beyond themselves. There is a growing conviction that children need to be integrated into mission teams because they can be efficient bridge-builders. Ideally, children can interact directly with a wide variety of people around them in spite of socio-religious differences. On the other hand, we realize that this is an age of vulnerability as most children are neglected, in insecure living conditions, not-cared-for, and not guided well by the people of affinity at home and around.
Dan Brewster’s article titled, “It’s Time” sets the high call on churches and seminaries to take the 4/14 window seriously, lest we fail ourselves in God’s mission. The paper advocates that,
• It’s time for the church to take children and youth seriously
• It’s time to read the scripture with the ‘Child in the Midst’
• It’s time for meaningful theological reflection on children
• It’s time to think strategically about children and their mission
• It’s time for high level reflection on children in seminaries
• It’s time to harness the clean energy of children and youth
Children and youth are the ones who represent an enormous untapped pool of influencers with sensitivity to the voice of God and willingness to do His bidding. God can and does use children and young people—their prayers, their insights, their hands, and their feet—in changing the hearts of humankind. They represent ‘clean energy’ to transform the world. Shaping, tapping and directing their strengths in the paths of God is an essential mission of the church. As we affirm this as God’s will for humanity, we approach the call with utmost intentionality.
Child theology, in its simple definition, is an endeavor to place the child in the midst of theological discussions and biblical explorations for the church. It is an organized theological endeavor that provides new insights on the child as a theological topic and seeks to develop the whole Christian theology in the light of the child and thus establishes a strong theological grounding to our holistic child development mission. Matt. 18 is a focal passage for the church to reconsider as it exposes Jesus placing a little child in the midst of the disciples while teaching them the mystery of the kingdom of God. Child theology respects and values the voices of children and their divine calling. It offers a fresh and more accurate readings of the scripture and a reformation of systematic theology. It uncovers the meaning of the Kingdom of Heaven as both the children and the Kingdom are NOW and NOT YET. Child Theology sees children as God’s favored ones and as the hermeneutical key for concrete learning of the Kingdom plans of God. Discovering God’s vision of children makes life changing impacts not only on individuals but on churches.
Child-friendliness of Jesus becomes a major theme in Child Theology and this informs and transforms theology and practice. Even beyond that, the Son of God born as alittle child becomes the core of the matter. Jn. 1:14 says, Jesus’ Incarnation, God in the form of a helpless babe among human beings, reveals God’s character and the nature of His Kingdom. The Scripture shows how people in general and his disciples in particular failed to grasp its nature. Their own familiar earthly understanding of kingdom was so strong that Jesus had to use the child to put their established understanding of the Kingdom of Heaven in crisis. He made them to comprehend it differently. The child in the midst is the window through which they could understand the Kingdom of Heaven.Psalmist proclaims, “You have established a stronghold from the mouths of children….to silence the enemy and the avenger.” (Ps. 8:2). We see children are rising up to pray about and speak to the nations in faith. Shouldn’t we pray that children around the world would discover and celebrate God’s plan about them? Then and there, we partner with Him in the mystery of His Kingdom in a more tangible way.
‘What Child Theology is not’ is correspondingly significant. It is not about doing something for the child. Traditionally, we have been trained to see children at the receiving end of our mercies e.g., education, care homes and even Sunday Schools. Seldom do we seek if there is something beyond that in God’s plan for them. Child Theology guides our thinking in this vital direction. The emphasis is not merely on valuing and nurturing children, rather, it is to see them as the signs of the Kingdom of God, to affirm them as the representatives of God Himself. This, however, is done without idolizing the child, because the core of Child Theology is not the Child, but God Himself.
Why Pay Attention?
One of the distinctive nature of Child Theology is that it draws from both practice of the church and academic theology. It brings church and theology school on the same platform for reflection and change by reconsidering that ‘why and how we serve our children’ is equally vital to ‘what we do for them’. Both the church and schools need to review the fixed formats of thinking and get opened up for the hidden possibilities in the way theology is done about children in our midst.When churches neglect, other ministries step in for children. Has this done good to the church?is a matter of closer evaluation. It is getting more evident that many congregations now tend to depend more on para-church organizations to serve their children, while increasingly neglect their own mission with and for children. Has this done good to the children?-we need to review. When the church fails her children, she ultimately fails in her calling. When theology schools fails to cast the vision and passion, they too fail in shaping the next generation of leaders for the church. Today’s child is tomorrow’s adult and, tomorrow’s leader.
Being part of a society and faith community where children are often relegated to a receiving end and a not-so-vital role, I see the following factors play a crucial part in shaping our attitudes.We err often with our attitudes and practices for children. A few attitudes for instance,
1. We assume children are insignificant because they are small.
The case is just the opposite. Children are significant to God because they are small. Our God is an expert in making the small great. The little Moses in the basket, daddy’s pet Joseph, the small boy Samuel, the little girl in Naaman’s house, the tiny Jeremiah and the courageous boy David- all are proofs of God’s wonder works. The scriptures show that children in the family were God’s main focus in the Israelite community. We tend to avoid little children because they are dependent, distracting and disobedient. The 4/14 window is a high call to pay highest attention to children when they are small.Evidences from a wide-ranging contexts show that most persons who became Christians did so below the age of 14. Children are capable of understanding God’s matters; they can express concrete faith and trust; they can be active and responsible partners in God’s mission; because they are created in the image and likeness of God and they are the body of Christ.
2. We tend to think adults are the only means of God’s mission because they only are able to understand the matters of God.
The Bible records plenty of evidences of God speaking with children, listening to them, assigning them important tasks and enabling them to fulfil God’s call even when adults fail. God never mistrusts the little children; rather He trusts them that they will perfectly stay aligned to His will.Josiah (II Kings. 22) and Timothy (II Tim.1:5) are examples to us. Children trust their God innocently, with an unwavering heart. Unlike adults, they worry little about ‘what if God doesn’t..’ rather, they focus on ‘God Can and God Will’. Hundreds of incidents where children become mighty agents of God’s gospel in miracles and wonders are recorded. Children are capable of God-thoughts and theological thinking, even though their articulation of those thoughts may not be similar to an adult’s.
3. We knowingly or otherwise limit our time and resources for children, anticipating that Sunday School and Youth Camps will routinely meet children’s developmental needs.
Most churches have their children’s activities fixed for ever in content and style. We are experts in fixing a little amount for this from our annual budget. What do we achieve beyond the conduct of programs? Do we listen to their voices? Are we attentive to the feedbacks on their experience of God? In most cases, we only realize our setbacks at a stage when the child leaves the church not only emotionally but physically as well. If wetruly follow Jesus, wewill love and affirm children in our midst. This presupposes creativity in our designs for children’s holistic development and our intentional use of resources to see them growing in God’s will.
4. We assume we have perfect knowledge of God’s plan for our children.
This is not always true. For most of us, there is a long way to get there. We need to grow in humility in which grace can uncover God’s mysteries to us. While humans fell in sin in the garden of Eden, they fell holistically-spiritually, emotionally, physically and mentally. God’s response too had holistic effect on their lives. Therefore, the redemption was also holistic in Christ Jesus. Human beings have multiple needs and challenges in development.It is obvious that many families including the highly educated ones neglect the emotional, mental and spiritual dimensions, while overly focusing on food and schooling alone.
Many churches wait for children to grow into adulthood so that they can be full participants in the church. It is disheartening to realizehow much we missout in God’s plan for children all through the years of their development in our communities of faith. Closer evaluation of our practices and teachings make it evident that just like disciples of Jesus, we too hinder children from coming to the full participation with Jesus. Neglecting the child is neglecting God’s primary plan about the formation of humanity.