In some of the courses I have taught at various times and in various places, I look closely at the character of the pastor. Now, the way pastors see themselves and what persona they choose to project has always fascinated me. Various sources counsel pastors to adopt various characteristics, ranging from distant, formal and commanding to meek acceptance of everything. Most pastors tend to be drawn towards the more powerful and dynamic end of the spectrum, as were many of the students I was teaching at that point.
And so I generally introduce students to what I call “The Kid Test” for pastors. I did run into a bit of a problem when I taught the test Kenya–I had to spend some time helping the students understand that the English word “kid” didn’t just refer to young goats but could also be used for children before I could actually explain the test.
The Kid Test is simple–we look at how people react to children–or more properly, we look at how people in leadership and children react to each other. Some people in leadership ignore children, even their own, completely. It is as if the kids don’t exist. They are non-beings who might have potential but who aren’t worth the bother right now. Kids soon learn to ignore such leaders in return.
Others might notice the kids but only to make sure they aren’t doing something they shouldn’t be doing, like breathing or smiling or worst of all, laughing and making other noise. These leaders require that if children are present, they must be controlled by others. They might see value in the children (after all, children are the future of the church, they say) but the children must behave. Children respond to these leaders in one of two ways: their either run from them or they purposely set out to irritate these leaders.
And there are a few leaders who love having children around, who love the noise and confusion and who might rather be playing with the kids than doing whatever grownup stuff they are doing. Kids love these leaders and want to be with them and even offer to share toys and snacks with them.
When I taught the basics of the test, I then asked students to think of pastors they knew and look at how these pastors responded to kids. Then I asked them to think about how the kids responded to the pastors. To protect everyone involved, I always insisted that no names be used as we discussed. The third stage in the test was to ask the students to think about how they and the rest of the congregation responded to the pastor. The process generally revealed that the way pastors treated kids mirrored the way those same pastors treated the rest of the congregation.
There is a point to this story–most of the time, I am not a preacher (or writer) who uses stories just for the sake of using it. I developed the kid test a while ago, after reflecting on some of the stories of Jesus from the Gospels. Jesus had significant interactions with children and the stories indicate that there was a mutual respect and like there.
In one story, taken from Matthew 9.13-15, the disciples want to save Jesus from being interrupted by children, only to have Jesus stop what he was doing and welcome the children. He blesses them and everyone is happy. In other places in the Gospels, we find Jesus telling people to develop a child-like faith or we won’t become a part of the kingdom of God (Luke 18.17). As well, he tells us that welcoming a child is like welcoming him (Luke 8.47-48).
What was Jesus like? He was a warm and welcoming person who cared for children and to whom children responded in a positive way. I think we can easily extend this obvious care for children to a wider care for all who are weak and vulnerable. It may be that when we get so concerned about our own position and authority and dignity, we have missed the point.
If we are too important or scared or uncertain or whatever to open ourselves to children, we will likely be to whatever to open ourselves to anyone else either. We will have failed the kid test. Being Christ-like is hard work, especially when His example challenges some of our deepest personality traits.
May the peace of God be with you.