What if I said to you “Ikinagagalak akong makillala kayo! Would you know what I meant? Likely not! What if I said it more slowly, enunciating each syllable clearly? Or perhaps more loudly? Or I could have some dancing armless vegetables sing it to you in a clever rhyming song? No matter what I did, unless you were Filipino and spoke Tagalog, the native language of the Philippines, you’d have no idea that I just said, “Nice to meet you.” It wouldn’t be your fault. It would just be that I wasn’t speaking your language. I’ve been to Manila, Philippines a few times. In fact, it’s where I met my wife. She grew up there as a missionary kid. While I was there, I quickly discovered I had to adapt my American ways.
Luckily for me, they spoke English, so I only learned a few phrases in Tagalog for fun, but I did have to learn some things about the culture in order to more effectively minister to the kids there. I had to change my humor because my jokes fell flat. I had to adjust my stories so they could relate to them. I had to eat some things that otherwise I would have never even tried. I had to apologize a few times for things I did that are normal in my culture but offended them. It was both exciting and challenging. I’ve been to many countries since, and each time, I’ve had to observe, learn, ask questions, adapt, change, and occasionally apologize again. But my hosts have always been patient, gracious, and thankful for my effort and message.
We call that cross-cultural ministry. A missionary learns the culture, food, and customs of the people they seek to reach in order to effectively reach them with the Good News of the Gospel. It requires changing how they do things in order to succeed. Well, guess what? Children’s ministry is also cross-cultural ministry. Therefore, we also must learn the culture, food, and customs of kids in order to effectively reach children!
The Apostle Paul told us so! In I Corinthians 9:22-23, Paul writes, “To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” And of course, every children’s leader knows Matthew 18:3 where Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Don’t confuse being child-like with being childish. There is a difference, of course. It’s not a matter of immaturity or silliness (though we are known for being silly at times). It’s a matter of learning the culture of kids and ministering to them from within that culture! We use references to their toys, books, films, and games in our teaching, and learn to understand how they talk. That’s what “Kidology” is all about – the study of kids and their culture, and ministering to them from within that culture. Just as Jesus humbled Himself and became a man to reach men, we become like children to reach children. (Phil. 2)
So here’s your assignment: how will you be a missionary this week? Buy some kids cereal? Get a Happy Meal? Build a Lego set? See a kid’s movie? Read a popular kid’s book? How will you enter the culture of kids so that you can better minister to them this coming Sunday?