The Lausanne Consultation on Children at Risk took place from 17-19 November, 2014 in Quito, Ecuador. More than sixty church leaders, theologians, missiologists, and representatives from child-focused non-governmental organizations gathered from five continents. The event was held in response to the Cape Town Commitment (CTC), which emphasizes ministry with the poor, enslaved, and oppressed. It also calls the people of God to engage in study, training, and action on behalf of children-at-risk. Our goal was to better understand what it would look like for children-at-risk to be meaningfully incorporated in the mission of the Church.
We first defined the term.
Children-at-risk are persons under 18, including the unborn i, who experience an intense and/or chronic risk factor, or a combination of risk factors in personal, environmental and/or relational domains that prevent them from pursuing and fulfilling their God-given potential.
While it is possible to argue that nearly every child falls within this definition, our key purpose was to highlight situations where children experience significant unmet needs, and where outside engagement is most urgent. The definition is designed to include unmet needs everywhere (poor and non-poor; non-west and west) across all aspects of human experience (spiritual, physical, social, emotional, mental, linguistic, environmental, etc.).ii
At the same time, our discussions benefitted from an emerging change in adult understandings of the active and vital roles that children play in mission. As a result, in order to expand our vision for mission with children-at-risk our call to action must also describe mission with all children in new ways. At the same time, we contend that the statements made in this document about children apply equally to children-at-risk.
A High View of Children
We give thanks for how the Bible presents children, and especially for the life, actions, and words of Jesus Christ. It is because of his example that we affirm a high view of children as whole human beings created with dignity. This view also asserts that:
- All children should be holistically nurtured throughout childhood.
- The supreme story of history and life is God’s. God uses whom God will, including those on the margins of life, where many children find themselves.
- Children can be called by God and hear God’s voice.
- Children can be active participants in worship and service to God.
- The people of God are to respect, listen to, envision, and empower children as vulnerable agents of God’s mission.
- Each of these claims must also be true of children-at-risk.
Our Call to Repentance
We recognize we have often failed to fully understand and practice mission to, for, and with children. In light of these convictions we are driven to lamentation, anger, and repentance.
We lament the ways and times the Church has not fulfilled its responsibilities to children by:
- Failing to recognize the capacity of children to know, love, and serve Jesus from a very young age.
- Overlooking the work of the Holy Spirit in and through their lives.
- Using children as tokens or decoration in worship and mission, or only sharing stories about them to illustrate immaturity and error.
- Failing to recognize and respond when children have been spiritually manipulated or abused within churches.
- Overemphasizing discipline as punishment and correction and neglecting roles as nurturing shepherds and loving guides.
We are angry about the suffering and exploitation of children-at-risk around the world. We grieve the ways and times that Christians have failed to act for children by:
- Failing to meet children’s most obvious needs when we see them only as souls to be saved. Sick children deserve healthcare. Sad children deserve comforting. Lonely children deserve caring community. They also need to be introduced to Jesus, but not at the cost of neglecting these other needs.
- Blaming the painful circumstances that children-at-risk face solely on their own choices and the choices of their families. This ignores the larger political, social, and economic systems that create risk factors for children and families.
- Resisting collaboration with others in our advocacy efforts, perhaps because we disagree on unrelated concerns. This can even involve failing to consult or fairly represent the children themselves.
We ask forgiveness for the ways and times that our mission efforts have undervalued children as co-laborers with adults in God’s mission by:
- Entertaining children-at-risk with a gospel message that does not address the suffering they face.
- Manipulating children into adult forms of evangelism and service.
Our Call to Action
We commend families, churches, denominations, mission organizations, non-governmental organizations, schools, and individuals to join us in mission to, for, and with children.
Mission to children means that we turn toward them, offering what is needed to them and their families for healthy and abundant living in all areas of human development, including introducing them to the gospel of Jesus in meaningful ways. Specifically, we will:
- Develop churches and denominations where children can flourish and be seen and served as whole people. We will partner with complementary organizations to ensure their needs are met.
- Strengthen parents, caregivers, and families to nurture children with hope and a sense of their identity in Christ. We will respect the diversity of family structures and communities in which they grow.
- Value children as kingdom representatives and learn from them as Jesus instructed when he placed a child in the midst of the disciples.
Mission for children means that we will stand at attention, placing children behind us to shield them from harm as we engage the abusers, exploiters, and systems that hurt them. Specifically, we will:
- Identify risk factors for abuse and exploitation wherever children are found—including within churches, organizations, institutions, communities, and families. We will promote good practices in reducing or eliminating those risks.
- Protect the vulnerability of all children, especially those who suffer and those at greatest risk.
- Join with others—and especially children-at-risk—to denounce all injustices against children’s dignity and advocate for change in societies. This may involve working with a wide variety of different groups—whether they are Christian, secular, or civic—with openness and sensitivity.
Mission with children means that we will stand side-by-side with them, welcoming them as full church and mission members. At the same time we must understand and empower their engagement in ways that respect their changing and developing capacities. Specifically, we will:
- Include children appropriately at all levels of family, church and denominational life.
- Embrace mission together, seeing children as vulnerable agents of God’s mission.
- Recognize that the young can minister to each other and to people of any age, and that they can advocate for themselves and for others who are abused and exploited.
- Respect the unique contributions a child can make at every stage of development. We will research and empower the ways that children offer their Christian witness with others and learn from children’s examples.
- Give greater attention to the roles that children play in the mission of the Church and throughout the history of Christianity worldwide.
In order to achieve these commitments, we will exchange ideas, models, case studies, and good practices for effective holistic mission with children-at-risk. We invite all Christians to help us explore and develop theologies and practices that will help us to live out these actions.
We intend this document to be an advocacy tool to educate, unify, and mobilize the global Church to mission to, for, and with children-at-risk. We, the Church, must take children in mission seriously. We must respect their important roles in the Kingdom. Our ministry practices must be biblically-informed. We call ourselves to action to address children’s life-threatening injustices and abuses, empowering them as vulnerable agents of God.
i We have no desire to engage in divisive political rhetoric, yet we join with many international agencies—both secular and Christian—in identifying the importance of maternal health care in the wellbeing of children, and know that many children face great risks before they ever take their first breath.
ii For further details on this definition of “children-at-risk” please see the operating definition that was used at the Quito Consultation on Children at Risk <insert link>.
Editor’s Note: To cite this document, please use,
Lausanne Consultation on Children at Risk. Quito Call to Action on Children at Risk. Quito, Ecuador: Lausanne Movement, 2015.