Playground Discipleship
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Playground Discipleship

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Words by Jennifer Harris

There are many times I’ve taken a book with me to the playground hoping for a small window of quiet time as the kids run off to play. If you are like me, you may be longing for that first sip of the already half-melted iced latte you brought along. We moms at the playground all long for a few moments of uninterrupted quiet time. But understandably, there are interruptions: a scraped knee in need of a bandage, a thirsty child in need of a water bottle, or a little one with sweaty, disheveled hair asking for snack after snack after snack. That quiet moment usually doesn’t last for too long, and that iced latte often gets sipped up by four little ones, but I still always bring along a book, just in case.

I expect these needs to arise and so I try to plan accordingly. But then some moments surprise me and leave me asking the Lord for a desperate download of wisdom. Have you been there? Like the moment another child hits your own and you run to scoop your child away from the one that attempted to annihilate your offspring? Or the moment your son and his friend step away from the fort they’ve meticulously built and come back to see that older boys have dismantled it piece by piece? We need wisdom in these kinds of moments for what to say and how to approach these types of situations. 

One day, my kids and I were at our local playground. Three other neighborhood kids were there. I asked one of our little friends about her family and church. A young eight-year-old boy named Abraham overheard us and wanted to know what we were discussing. He sat on the bench beside us and listened to our conversation. He asked questions like, “What is a cross?” and “What is Heaven?” which followed with many more questions. I recognized this God-given opportunity and shared the Gospel immediately with him! I also told him that his name, Abraham, is the name of a man in the Bible who was God's friend. Then, after a while, I told the kids it was time to leave for dinner. Abraham asked what we were having and seemed like he might be hungry. He asked if he could come too and so we invited him over. He had a few glasses of milk and two helpings of cooked oatmeal with milk, honey, and apples. He gobbled up his food. After dinner, we all went to the playground again. Later that evening, we heard knocks at the door. Abraham and a bunch of kids came to ask for water!

Another time, I was at the playground with my children. Kids were busy running around in the cool, evening air. Moms were visiting, and suddenly, one young girl came up to me and asked smilingly, “Do you think I’m popular?” I was taken aback. I didn’t know how to respond, and yet my heart immediately grieved. It was a moment He called me to. With gentleness and compassion, I said, “You don’t need to worry about that. All you need to worry about is loving God and loving others.” With a satisfied smile, she ran off again to play.

I could have brushed off that comment or answered with some platitude but this little friend had a real question that was coming out of a place of identity. These are moments when God opens up an opportunity to speak His truth to children. . . moments that can change the course of their thinking, and even their lives. This is playground discipleship. 

God calls us to speak truth into little hearts, whether they are our children or someone else's. As Christians, we are called to be salt and light to the world wherever we go, including the playground. It's easy for me to get frustrated with other people’s kids on the playground. Sometimes I want a moment to myself and don’t want to be bombarded with more questions from more children. I’m tired, emotionally spent, and in need of a few quiet moments. But God may not always have that for me. Ah yes, the cost of discipleship. It is a daily dying to self and daily dependence on Christ. God gives the strength that is needed to answer one more question, give one more cup of water, share one more truth that can change one child’s life. 

Maybe one day, you will meet a boy like Abraham, who wants to know more about God, and all he needs is someone to sit there and tell him. Or maybe you will meet a girl who is struggling to find her identity, and all she needs is for someone to remind her what she already knows. The playground is a mission field too, and the Lord calls us to be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks, even a child (1 Pet. 3:15).

Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” (Col. 4:6)

“. . .but Jesus said, 'Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.’” (Matt. 19:14)

". . .preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” (2 Tim. 4:2)