Children are curious. Some may read this statement and hear that children are strange and tend to do funny or peculiar things. Others may interpret it to say that children are inquisitive and eager to learn. I believe both of these observations are true.
My husband, Ben, was a curious kid. In elementary school he was a novel-reading, dinosaur-loving boy who liked to learn. He quietly listened to the lesson and waited patiently for the teacher’s magic words: “Are there any questions?” Ben had a lot of questions and, much to his teacher’s disapproval, was not always pleased with the answers given. His teachers had a difficult time navigating their agenda with his disruptions and eventually overlooked his raised hand.
In the church, we, too, tend to overlook the raised hands of our children. Teachers and leaders in youth and children’s ministries can get overwhelmed by the amount of questions our students ask. Adults want to give correct answers, which can be difficult to do with the mysterious aspects of our spirituality. Many lesson plans don’t include an opportunity for children to ask questions and instead fill time with facts to learn and verses to memorize.
As a way to overcome fear and unbalanced curriculum, the third through sixth grade teachers at North Fresno Church devoted two weeks of class time to asking questions. We handed out index cards and gave our students the chance to ask whatever questions they had about God, the Bible and life in general. Our students had a myriad of inquiries:
“How was God created?”
“What does heaven look like?”
“How did Jonah not get digested when he was swallowed by a fish?”
“Why are bad things happening in the world still?”
“Is his name really Jesus? Or is that the American pronunciation?”
The teachers could not answer a single question with certainty. We explained that we as a group could read Scripture and talk to our church leaders and learn from our own experience, but sometimes there is not an obvious answer. Surprisingly, our students happily agreed.
We are committed to exploring with our kids and encourage them to ask more questions and to share their concerns and doubts. Our students enjoy having a space to process and discern together.
David M. Csinos and Ivy Beckwith address this idea of inquiry in their book, Children’s Ministry in the Way of Jesus: “When we embrace honest, thoughtful and even challenging questions, we can guide children as they deconstruct their faith and reconstruct it in ways that allow that faith to seep into their bones, to form the core of their identity, an identity that won’t fall apart when doubts arise.”
Our children are not always looking for the correct answer. They are looking to be heard, to be told that their raised hands are worth calling on. By encouraging questions in our church communities—and not being offended when people doubt our answers—we can teach our young people that being curious is a spiritual act.