CHILDREN’S NEEDS: a Biblical Perspective
In Philippians 4: 19 we read these words: And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus
BUT WHAT DO THOSE “NEEDS” LOOK LIKE when it comes to children and young people? Indeed, ALL of us…
Various ways of describing our needs (young & old) have been suggested
For example, Abraham Maslow proposed the following order of things…
First, basic life needs: air, water, food, warmth etc
Second, protection and safety
Third, affection, friendship and a sense of belonging
Fourth, achievement, status, self-esteem
Finally, PERSONAL GROWTH and FULFILMENT
Others suggest slightly different categories…
Physical Needs: These needs are the basics. The need for air, water, sleep and exercise.
Emotional Needs: This is the need for praise, love, trust, security, feeling OK inside and being self-fulfilled.
Social Needs: This is the need for companionship and friendship. This is usually gained from within a peer group. (Friendship is vitally important for children)
Intellectual Needs: This is the need for challenging thoughts, reading, learning something new and stimulating the mind.
Creative Needs: This is the need to be expressive in any manner that seems right. This can include the arts, dancing, acting, and writing – almost anything that provokes imagination and inspiration.
Spiritual Needs: This is the quiet need inside that wants to know and believe in a higher spiritual power than ourselves. This need increases our awareness and sensitivity to the more profound aspects of life.
How many of these needs can/should we satisfy?
And what ADDITIONAL elements do we need to consider in terms of overtly Christian work with children and young people?
- Love in its richest sense of unconditional acceptance
- But also discipline, especially self-discipline
- And training in righteousness…”doing what is right!”
- And knowing what to do in times of trouble
- And having adults to demonstrate and model God’s love in action and godly character
BUT I’M GOING TO USE MASLOW’S LIST as a basis for our thinking…
First, basic life needs: air, water, food, warmth etc
The Bible perspective is clearly sated by Jesus: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matthew 6: 25, 26)
How do we get across that God is concerned about our basic needs, especially in recession? How about the ‘designer clothes?’
Perhaps we can encourage children to say ‘thank you’ to God regularly for everyday things… to care for God’s world in practical ways… to learn about the natural world that GOD MADE… not environmentalists!
Second, PROTECTION and SAFETY
“You are a hiding place for me; You, Lord, preserve me from trouble. You surround me with songs and shouts of deliverance” (Psalm 32: 7)
How do we help children to understand that God is with us, even though awful things happen in life?
- Perhaps we can speak more about the existence of the influence of the Holy Spirit and the work of angels…and that God doesn’t prevent us from experiencing hardship but gives us the strength to survive it…
- It will help to get across the eternal perspective more forcibly and spend less time dwelling on the temporal
- Crucially, we can find peace in the midst of turmoil when we know that God is with us
Third, social needs in the form of AFFECTION, FRIENDSHIP and BELONGING
“A man of many companions may come to ruin but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18: 24)
How do we speak about the boundless love of Jesus without putting off most of the lads, in particular!
- Children are surrounded by sexual images and tantalising glimpses into an ‘adult’ world in which sexual activity predominates
- Perhaps we can define “love” with reference to tales of courage and heroism…being very careful not to confuse it with “being in love”
- The Parable of the Good Samaritan is a useful starting point
Fourth, emotional needs expressed through ACHIEVEMENT, STATUS and SELF-ESTEEM
“I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness. I will build you up again and you will be rebuilt“ (Jer 31: 3-4)
How can we convince children who have been brought up to believe that success can only be achieved if we are brainy or dishonest that we are all precious in God’s sight?
- Perhaps through certificates, achievement awards and so forth… but Jesus never gave out a certificate or insisted that only the sweet-smelling children surrounded Him! They just KNEW that he valued them!
- Someone has said that children only ever ask one question of an adult, namely, “Do you genuinely care about me?“
- Well do we?
Finally, PERSONAL GROWTH and FULFILMENT
“We ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing” (2 Thessalonians 1:3)
- How can we help children to understand that real satisfaction in life can only be found through faith in Christ and love for one another?
- The starting point is, of course, “you must be born anew (again)”. The second element is working out their faith through obedience and practical acts of loving-kindness.
Two of the “needs” that I haven’t focused on specifically are (1) creative (2) spiritual
- All of us need opportunity to express ourselves in a variety of ways and many groups have built a strong reputation for giving children opportunities to play, act, have fun, lead and express themselves…so I won’t say much on this score
- Other than to be watchful that “being creative” doesn’t lapse into a reliance on familiar approaches that desperately need refreshing!
- Sometimes it pays to stand back and evaluate what we are doing… the repeated use of the same songs is one such area
Here are some challenging and provocative statements:
- “Their attendance at a meeting does not guarantee that children are growing spiritually”
- “The children won’t grow spiritually beyond the point that you and I stand spiritually”
- “Knowing about the Bible of God is not the same as knowing the God of the Bible”… having factual Bible knowledge is nowhere near as important as having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ
- “The real test of spiritual growth is the way children behave outside the meeting”… this is true for grown-ups, too, of course!
By the way, let’s be careful that we don’t unintentionally present a distorted view of Bible events…
- David and Goliath is not a pantomime scene with a giant and a little boy
- The Great Flood (Noah) is not a children’s story…millions drowned!
- Jonah did not sit inside the whale on a stool! The big fish did not have a permanent silly grin on its face…
- There are two key events concerning the battle of Jericho: the walls tumbling down is the one we emphasise… but the second is the fact that every living creature was exterminated
- And Jesus didn’t walk around with a halo hovering above his head, with a white robe… and never go to the toilet!
In our desire to make a story palatable, entertaining and clear we may be in danger of creating a Bible mythology that children reject as soon as they stop believing in Santa Claus!
For example, in the Christmas story
- There is no mention of a donkey or a stable
- Mary and Joseph were not the only ones having trouble finding accommodation
- A local midwife would have been needed at the birth
- Bethlehem was certainly not ‘still or silent’
We can get our facts correct and still be relevant, exciting and engaging!
Another word about THE NEEDS OF BOYS…
- Have weaker language skills than girls
- Generally more competitive
- Prefer to “do and handle” (kinaesthetic) than to “write and record”
- Prefer action stuff rather than reflective, contemplative stuff
- Assert themselves physically rather than verbally (cf, bullying)
- Cover their insecurities through bravado…boys lack confidence!
- Need heroes
So what sort of things can leaders do to encourage and keep ‘laddish’ boys without scaring off gentle children
- Establish clear routines and keep the room orderly
- Use a lot of visual material (poor literacy children benefit a lot)
- Avoid having too many songs with “Jesus we love you” phrases
- Use stirring older songs
- Use choral speaking (in unison)
- Remember that hyperactive children have poor memory and attention spans…
- Use “footballers” warm-up techniques
- Subdued lights may assist discipline
- Use technology sparingly…human interaction is the priority
One final thing…
- Ultimately, we want children to know of the love of God in Christ Jesus… but He is, of course, invisible to them
- The only immediate reference point that they (and others) have is YOU and ME…we are the embodiment of Christ in the world as far as they are concerned!
For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.
(Ephesians 1: 15-23)