Tuesday, March 11, 2008

listening to the children

In January I helped facilitate a team building event in Gothenburg, Sweden with Janet Morris.

Our mission (Christian Associates) has a team in place there now, and, since the team is on the front end of their project, they thought it would be a good idea to start off on the right foot.

At a team building event, we do many exercises designed to help the team articulate vision, helpful work practices and strategies for managing conflict.

At the beginning of the time, we always ask the team members what they "hope to gain" as a result of the team building retreat.

This time around, someone chimed in: "I hope that by the end of this retreat our kids will have a sense of owning the vision."

That was a tall order, because many times teams will develop vision and strategies through adult-centered exercises. In fact, many times the kids are not even present at a team building retreat.

Fortunately, this time, the Gothenburg team planned to have some team building interaction with the kids on the final Saturday between lunch and dinner.

So...during that time we broke the kids up into two groups. Each group was given three sheets of flipchart paper and a stack of sticky notes with some pens. Up to that point, the team of adults had narrowed down their vision to three words that were represented with three simple pictures. The pictures were a heart (love), a cross (healing) and two interlocking rings (community). Each piece of flipchart paper had the iconic shape drawn on it, in large fashion.

Then, the children were asked:

"How would you go about this 'healing' thing? If you had to do it, what would you do?"


"How about the community thing? What kinds of things could we do to promote community?"


"If you had to show love to your friends and teachers at school, or to your neighbors, how would you do that?"

These questions were posed to the children and the adults listened. As each child came up with his or her own ideas, they were written down on sticky notes and fastened to the matching flipchart paper.

You know something...those kids came up with some great (and really surprising!) ideas. Everything they said was refreshing in its simplicity. Somehow the kids knew what really mattered and what did not matter. In fact, the ideas were so great that the team decided to implement many of them. At one point, it was suggested: "Why not let the children plan when these things are going to be done and you, as the adults, follow them in what's on their hearts?"

And, minds started rolling with possibility: "What if?" What if we actually did this? What if we took the time to ask the children what God would have them do as co-laborers for Christ? What if we asked them to lead us?

Imagine a church where children are not thought of as interruptions in the business of what the adults hope to accomplish. Imagine a church where children are put front and center, where adults actually learn from the children.

And to think: all of this is possible if we will but stop--and listen to the children.

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