Updated: Feb 11
One of the greatest challenges in children's ministry, I believe, is creating an environment that facilitates all that you want it to. This is a challenge that many builders in the bible have faced themselves. In 1 Kings 7:49a we read that Solomon decided to place in the temple:
49 'lampstands of pure gold, five on the south side and five on the north, before the inner sanctuary'
I don't know about you but there are often details, like here with the number of lampstands, that I can easily gloss over and find hard to apply to children's ministry but I believe that there are some interesting challenges that we can pull out from this small detail found within these eighteen words.
Challenge #1 - Having high expectations
What is fascinating to me in this passage is the number of lampstands that Solomon chooses to include in the temple. In the tabernacle there was a single lampstand but in the new temple Solomon placed 10 times that number. Light is often drawn on to signify God's presence and power over darkness as well as flames being associated with praise and prayer. For me there is something hugely prophetic in the ten lampstands, it is as if Solomon sees all that God has done in the past and is asking for and anticipating ten times more of the presence, power, praise and prayer. For me, the challenge here is in Solomon's conviction and expectation of God to deliver more to him and his people than had been seen or experienced previously. It was so strong that he displayed this for all to see in the temple he created.
When we are setting up our children's ministry spaces, I wonder if we fully think about how this space can demonstrate what we are expecting God to do? Just as Solomon sought to model to the Israelites high expectations through the physical environment with the tenfold increase in the number of lampstands, our challenge is to consider how can we curate a physical environment that seeks to model our expectations of what we believe God is looking to do amongst the community we are serving in. What has God called you to? What are you believing him for? How can you set reminders in your physical space to keep both promises and the prophetic alive where you are?
Challenge #2 - Creating environments that teach
The original lampstand in the Tabernacle carried with it many stories; not least God choosing a people for his own, the creation of the Tabernacle and the freedom from slavery for the Israelites. This simple object taught God's people so much.
In the Reggio Emilia approach to teaching and learning the environment is viewed as the 'third teacher'. The idea is that a carefully constructed environment can help build a community that explores, communicates and collaborates through play. There is huge potential for this idea to make an impact on children's ministry. The construction of the temple and the selection of it's contents by Solomon required a significant level of careful planning. Our challenge in children's ministry is to carefully consider what is to be taught and how the environment can create opportunities for children to talk, explore, play and reflect upon this.
Challenge #3 - Remembering that God is always with us
I love the detail about there being 5 lampstands to the left and 5 lampstands to the right When I am in a new space I can't stop looking around. I particularly get caught up in the built environment with my eyes roving around areas of architectural interest and impressive design. However, you can quite easily be overwhelmed by all the different and new elements in a space that it is hard to take in or remember all of the unique facets of the room. It would have been hard to miss the 5 lampstands to the left and 5 lampstands to the right. No matter where you looked in the temple it would have been hard not to see the lampstands and the light that they cast. They were a constant and very present reminder of God's promise to always be with his people. At the dawn of a new Sunday when we seek to set up our children's ministry spaces, it is so comforting to know that God is with us and is looking to fill every aspect of our time together. As we seek to create spaces that will enable encounter and exploration, the challenge is to consider if it truly enables children to encounter the promises of God.