Teaching youth and children about the Holy Spirit
By Ruth Lukabyo, Youthworks College Dean of Women
When I was a teenager, I didn’t think about the Holy Spirit much at all. I knew in my head that Jesus had died for me and I knew that the Father loved me deeply. But the Spirit didn’t get much of a look in!
It was during confirmation classes that I was first encouraged to think about the Spirit. I thought I knew all the answers, so that when the assistant minister asked the class, “If you died and stood outside the gates of heaven and God asked you, ‘why should I let you inside my heaven?’ What would you say?” I quickly declared the answer: “Because Jesus died for me!” I thought I had passed.
But then I had to get through a one-on-one interview. The minister asked: “Are you aware of the Spirit at work in your life?” Despite my knowledge, I had to say “no” because I wasn’t sure that I felt anything. He told me that I should go home and pray for the Spirit. So that’s what I did… and felt nothing. But I was worried that if I told the truth, I wouldn’t be able to get confirmed. So, the next time I saw my minister, I said, “Yes, I have definitely experienced the Spirit”.
Because of my experience, I am keen to think deeply about how to teach young people about the Spirit, and I am certainly not the only one! In May, around 120 youth and children’s ministers attended Youthworks HOUSE Conference from across Australia. Before the conference, delegates were surveyed and many expressed a nervousness when answering questions about the Spirit, especially in SRE. The most common questions asked by youth and children were: “Who is the Holy Spirit?” (49%), “What does he do?” (22%), and a big concern for leaders when answering these questions was how to explain the Holy Spirit when all analogies have flaws.
To help us unpack our ideas about the Spirit, the main talks at HOUSE were given by David Hohne from Moore Theological College, and they were mind-blowing! He argued that for many Christians today, our view of the work of the Spirit focuses on our own experience in a culture influenced by Romanticism.
David argued that, “ordinary Christians want some real evidence that God’s Spirit is with them and that God’s Spirit is for them—they want to feel that God’s Spirit is genuinely active in the world.” The Spirit is God’s agent at work in our world, particularly in salvation, and the evidence of his work is not so much in me feeling close to God, but in testifying to the promises of God. The promises that God is with us in Jesus Christ, that he is ours and the we are his, and that Jesus will be victorious over sin, death and evil. What life transforming promises!
David also talked about how the Spirit is at work in the Church. Through the Spirit we are adopted by the Father and have the same relationship with him that Jesus does (Romans 8:15). For young people this is revolutionary; their identity and belonging are no longer based on performance or the approval of others. The Spirit unifies us in the body of Christ, breaking down barriers like age, gender, ethnicity and marital status (Galatians 3:28). He empowers each believer with gifts of service for the benefit of God’s Church (1 Corinthians 12:12-14). And finally, he sends us out to tell others about Jesus (Matthew 28:18-20).
During the papers and subsequent discussions, there were many useful applications for ministry:
We need to appreciate the work of the Spirit in young people, and as a response we should be faithful in prayer. Amy, a children’s minister, shared the story of one of the girls in her Sunday School class. She had taught her kids the story of the walk to Emmaus and encouraged them to share the story with their friends at school. Amy was surprised and delighted when a mum reported that her daughter read the story of Emmaus with all her friends. Amy says, “In the power of the Spirit, this little girl was testifying to the hope we have in Christ.”
The gifts of the Spirit are given to all within the body of Christ, including young people. This means that it’s important to work out ways that kids can serve. Mark, a youth minister, talked about his own attempts to facilitate this in his Church. At Easter he organised an event in the park and tried to get as many people of all ages serving. “As I walked around there was a kid helping other kids fire balls out of a massive slingshot, there were others throwing and collecting wet sponges, kids and adults playing music and others walking around handing out flyers and talking to people about Jesus.” Mark says seeing this intergenerational serving “was awesome.”
We need to teach young people about the Holy Spirit. On the last day of HOUSE, we focused on this in different group activities. We made up teaching programs and posters (see one of the posters below) and role-played answering questions like, “In what sense is God three in one?” and “What does the Spirit do?”
To help us think practically about our learning the Youthworks Ministry Support team introduced us to a great resource called The Ology by Marty Machowski¹. This book is helpful for expressing deep theological ideas very simply. For example, see Machowski’s consideration of the question “How do I know the Spirit lives in me?”
Well, only the Holy Spirit can help us turn away from our sin and believe in Jesus. The Holy Spirit is the one who shows us that we are sinners who need Jesus. Once we come to Jesus, he makes us more like Jesus. Because of the Spirit we have God’s power to love even really annoying people and to share the good news about Jesus with others. We can tell that the Holy Spirit is in us because we think and do things that are different. And best of all, down deep inside, we want to follow God and get to know him better. Once we have the Holy Spirit, nothing can take him away from us.
I think this is the book I needed to read when I was getting confirmed!
Overall, HOUSE provided me with a new confidence in understanding and talking about the Holy Spirit with youth and children. I would encourage you to consider how you currently talk about the Spirit with young people, assessing if it is clear and faithful, as we ultimately aim to shepherding young people to Christ.
¹ Machowski M 2005, The Ology, Ancient Truths Ever New, New Growth Press, Greenboro, NC.
Youthworks HOUSE Conference is for youth and children's ministers seeking to theologically reflect on ministry in a community of peers and leaders. In 2020, HOUSE will be exploring freedom and identity, and discussing how you can disciple young people to live for Christ in the current age. Super early bird registration for HOUSE 2020 is now open!