Creating an authentic relationship with a child can be extremely difficult. Relationships are built on common ground, and common ground is fairly difficult to find with a 2nd grader. However, in the church, those lifelong authentic relationships have to be built across generations.
Be authentic without being completely transparent
It is OK for a kid to know that life is tough. They need to know that everybody struggles with sin. It’s OK for kids to know that everybody has a bad day or that bad things happen to everyone. In fact, just last week I made sure that our group knew that I have bad days to emphasize a point. However, I have to operate under a great rule. Leave your junk in the parking lot. The kids need to know that bad things happen. They absolutely don’t need to know about how horrible your co-workers are. They also don’t need to know how bad of a day you had at your job because your boss keeps micromanaging you. They definitely don’t need to know specific sins you may struggle with.
Invest, invest, invest
A former worship pastor of mine recently passed away. Don was a great guy, and he and another worship pastor named Harry invested a ridiculous amount of time in me. Don was always careful to differentiate between the words “spend” and “invest” when talking about time spent with us. He used to say that spent time is gone. Invested time, like invested money, grows and is used to change the future. Don’t just spend time with kids. Invest time in them.
Don’t assume you have the right to speak into their lives
This one is probably the most important. Just because you’re older doesn’t mean you automatically gain their trust and respect.
Reach into their world, don’t expect them in yours
I don’t expect kids to walk into my office and want to talk hunting, fishing, Braves baseball, Gamecock football, or Red Wings hockey (hoping to get some ad placement money from my favorite teams). Likewise, they don’t expect me to walk into their school, read their favorite book, and then talk to them about it. So that’s exactly what I do. This year, I read all 10 of Rick Riordan’s books about Percy Jackson. Would they have been on my reading list normally? No. But, one of our kids loved them. So, instead of educating them about why the Wings are probably the greatest hockey team to ever roam the ice, I instead approached on their level.
Don’t do it out of obligation
Kids are smart. Kids can tell when they are cared about and when they are just an obligation.