Picture this: It’s a summer evening, and you’re sitting near a campfire with friends. Children are playing nearby, and their giggles drift toward you. You’re staring hard at your lap, willing your muscles to relax, and praying fiercely, “Lord, help!” As you sit there, your friend asks you a question, and you feel like you’re answering through a fog. Ministry and seminary deadlines are looming, stress is weighing heavy on your mind, and you think “I should be doing something productive.” Has this ever been your story?
The old adage, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” is fitting for these moments. The implications can tend to hit our souls like a ton of bricks. As pastors, have we forgotten how to play?
With “burnout” still topping the lists of ministerial buzzwords these days, it’s safe to say many others have lost this healthy habit, too. Children hold practical knowledge of a skill we have neglected and lacked. Their giggles can beckon us away from our ministerial task lists and back into vital, life-giving, light-hearted relationships with God and others. So, together let’s consider what a childlike posture toward faith and life might do in realigning the health of our souls and our ministries.
- “Let the children come to me.” The gospel of Mark records a beautiful and puzzling scenario. Crowds were bringing children to Jesus so He might touch them, but the disciples stopped them. In fact, the text says they, “rebuked them” (Mk 10:14). Jesus was “indignant” at the disciples’ behavior and said, “Let the little children come to me; do not hinder them” (Mk 10:14). He continued, “Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (Mk 10:15). What does childlike faith mean to you? How are you putting childlikeness into practice in your ministry? What might childlike faith teach us about playing—in general, and with God?
- Know God as Father and yourself as His child. The psalmist David remembers correct posture and humility before God in Psalm 131:
O LORD, my heart is not lifted up;
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me. Toddlers in their father’s arms trust with every fiber of their beings. They are not worried about anything, fully trusting their daddy to provide. As ministers, we must remember that our first role is not Pastor, but a child of God. When did you last lean into God’s presence with a child’s trust? How might you trust God as your Father with the most complex parts of ministry?
- Our God knows how to play. G.K. Chesterton has a brilliant quote from his Christian classic, Orthodoxy: “Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, ‘Do it again’… It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon. It may not be an automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them” (Chesterton, 68). Where are you currently tired? What parts of ministry feel like a task or chore instead of fun? What does it look like to co-create with God and have an attitude that says, “Let’s do it again!”?
- Play is a spiritual discipline. Artistic activities can help us pay attention to the Spirit more easily. When our hands are busy and our minds are relaxed, we may find it easier to be present and undistracted from God. This can happen with building blocks or legos, bread dough or frosting, colored pencils, or photography. It can also occur when running or hiking, musing over the stunning colors of a sunset, or watching animals play. When did you last truly delight in God’s presence on a personal level? What were you doing? What specific activities can you practice that will increase unstructured time with the Holy Spirit and simple enjoyment outside of ministry leadership?
- Play helps us learn. Early childhood educators call children’s play their “work.” They emphasize the importance of play in helping kids learn problem-solving, cause and effect patterns, conflict resolution, and the development of gross and fine motor skills, creativity, and imagination. Similarly, the psalmist, David, utilizes music to work out complicated issues with the Lord. We know this through the evidence of his poetry. We also know this through his self-disclosure: “I will solve my riddle to the music of the lyre” (Ps 49:4 ESV). This sounds a lot like songwriting—and songwriting is an absolutely fun creative play! When was the last time you observed a child role-playing or figuring out a problem through play? Where might you find a child to teach you how to play? What activities help you bring your puzzles to the Lord as you navigate the details of ministry?