Child Theology

Kids of the Kingdom

This post comes from my wife:
A lifetime ago I arranged for a photo to be taken of all the children in the church we attended. All kids under the age of fifteen or so were gathered in the church hall and the photographer stood on a trestle table to take the snap, while proud Mums, Dads, and the rest of the congregation looked on.

It wasn’t until later, when the photos arrived on my desk, that I noticed the banner hanging high on the wall behind the children. It read: Christians are different.

A baptismal font in Karlskrona, Sweden


We used to laugh about that. 

But the truth is, that when it comes to our children, Christians aren’t different enough.
We don’t see our children through God’s eyes. We are like all those adults watching the photo shoot and not seeing the bright yellow banner behind. 

We go about the busy-ness of child rearing; the milestones, the school fees and homework, the music lessons and little athletics. We stress over mixed parties and drugs and driver training, just the same as our unsaved neighbours are doing.
However God has different plans for our children, and He calls Christian families to BE different. One Christian put it thus: 

The Christian family must define Christ to the world, so that the world may find Christ.
May we scoop up that delightful toddler,

May we be caught up with the excited third grader who has won a ribbon for running,

May we hide a secret smile while our lovesick teenager mooches around the house,

But may we never forget that they are part of God’s plan for Gospel-spreading.

Categories: Child Theology, Children, Church | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Bible Black Holes

Another blog post from my wife.

Did you know there are black holes in the Bible? There are mud puddles, canyons, and prickle bushes as well.

I know about these because I tell Bible stories to kids.

Have you ever noticed how many empty spaces there are in Bible stories? For instance, what did Jesus and Zacchaeus discuss over lunch? And what was happening on Easter Saturday?

Try telling these stories to children. They’re not afraid of black holes. They will launch straight into them.
Slimy mud puddles that most Sunday school teachers avoid, such as how Mary got pregnant? Kids will take a running leap into that one.
Tricky prickle bushes that college theologians won’t venture near? No problem for the minds of 5 year olds. A group of preschoolers once explained the Resurrection to me.

Grownups can read the signs at the top of a cliff that say “Don’t go too close to the edge” or “Danger. Unstable cliff edge”, but kids only see an opportunity to explore.
Burning bushes, talking donkeys, floating zoos, miracles…
And the best part is that they will joyfully take the grownups by the hand, if we are willing to let them lead us.

Next time you’re reading your Bible and you find a black hole, find a child to tell the story to. Sit alongside them and wonder together. No space suits, flack jackets, parachutes, or safety harnesses required.

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Burying Our Children

The following is a challenging and uncomfortable reflection from my wife.



Burying our children?
What if the talents of Matthew 25 were the children in our churches? What if the servants were the adults, and the elders?

How would the parable look in your church? How would it end?
How many children has your congregation been given?

Does it matter how large or small the original number is? Did the master give the greatest number of talents to the best businessman?
Some churches have very few children or even none at all. Did they bury them a long time ago?

Some churches have children who might as well be buried. There is no sign of them in the liturgy or the worship place. There are no signs that they may occasionally be present, no expectation that some children might appear one day. (That reminds me of a church service we attended with our kids while on holidays. Ours were the only kids in the church and the preacher could not have known that we would be coming, but he had a children’s talk ready.) 
Our services are designed for those aged 20 to 60 years old, of average intelligence, good at listening, reading and singing. (As opposed to being good at looking, watching, drawing, wriggling, dancing, jumping or running.)

  

We conveniently don’t see the rest. We have buried them.
The Master gave children to churches. He expects to get a return on his investment. What does that return look like? 

What will it take to make the investment grow?

How exciting it will be when the Master returns to find his talents have grown a hundredfold!

Categories: Child Theology, Children, Church | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

A Boy, a Camera and a Church

The following is an observation by my wife: 

 There he was, a boy of 5 or 6 years, standing alone in front of the altar. He danced a little, twisting this way and that, and then he stood perfectly still and raised the camera to his eyes and snapped. His parents quietly moved around the cathedral as the dozens of other visitors were doing. They must have been watching him, but they never interfered with his discoveries and his picture taking.
The cathedral was nothing but the usual Spanish Catholic variety; we had seen many like it. But it was new for this lad and whatever his eye saw was quickly recorded with his camera. The altar table, the decorative railings, the statues, the windows, the tourists.
I wondered and pondered on this for a while. 
A child discovering the church in his own way. 

A child finding the gospel in a language he knows and understands.

A child making memories and questions.

Parents letting go of their child enough to facilitate this.

A church full of images and symbols and furniture to capture a child.

A camera. Technology that a child can use.
How can we – parents, and faith communities – symbolically give our children a camera in the church?

What does it take to open their eyes and hearts to the Gospel?
  

Categories: Child Theology, Children, christian | Tags: , | 3 Comments

Children’s Talks in Church

Here is another post by my wife whose passion is worship that involves all ages – especially children

Why is it that preachers look elsewhere when they speak with children about the things of God? Elsewhere than the Word of God? 

They spend a great deal of time conjuring “likes” out of their box of tricks. The church is like…. being a Christian is like…. forgiveness is like….

And there are a lots of objects in their magician’s kit as well. Namely objects for object lessons.  Unfortunately this sleight of hand only confuses the children who are before them.

Today we had a real magic trick performed for the kids. Three pieces of string of varying lengths were produced for the audience of a dozen preschoolers up to first graders. We heard about the tall people (longest string), the middle sized people (medium string), and … “babies” one child suggested for the shortest string, and we all laughed. More examples of varying things were suggested by the pastor, before he brought all six string ends together in one hand and said “watch this”. (I thought the correct word was abracadabra.)

Sure enough, he turned them into three pieces of equal length. Amazing!

Photo: Courtesy Domino the Jester

Photo: Courtesy Domino the Jester

Then he did another trick.

He turned the trick into an object lesson.

“We all look different, but Jesus has made us all the same.”

Maybe I think too deeply, or too literally about these things. I suspect some  children do too. Perhaps they’re thinking, “I don’t want Jesus to make me look like my brother. I don’t want my Mum and Dad or my baby sister to all be ‘middle sized'”. And that’s if they’ve managed to draw the connection between the strings and ‘us’.

Whichever way you choose to tackle this concept of Colossians 3:11, one thing’s for certain. Little children aged less than eight years old will probably not understand the abstractness of it.

This is when parents need to grow these concepts into their children as they walk along the road together, when they lie down and get up, when they eat and play together. This will be when the abstract becomes concrete for them.

And the pastors who are sitting with the church’s little ones at their feet?

Perhaps they should tell a story. A Bible story.

Categories: Child Theology, Children, christian, Church, Faith, Family | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Including Children in Church Community

There is a small but growing group of Christians who are eager to see the children of the church integrated into the life of the Church body and not just pandered to by programs. Although programs, in and of themselves can be quite useful, they can also stymie the discussions that churches and families need to have about faith formation in the life of their children. Programs by themselves often focus on knowledge (cognition) and what is missed is the beautiful mystery of faith and the excitement of disciple development.  I have written on previous occasions about the importance of the child’s vocation in the church. (Here is just one example).

Last night I heard David Csinos, who describes himself as an author, speaker, practical theologian, husband, researcher of children’s spirituality, and former children’s photo 4pastor, speak in Geelong. This was encouraging for a variety of reasons. It reminded me that there are more voices and often more articulate voices speaking out on this issue and it also caused me to reflect that this is not “rocket science” but requires families, churches and church leaders to engage in a prayerful discussion of how faith is developed in the most vulnerable and important members of our church communities.

If you wish to explore this important notion I have included some websites and books to explore:

  • David’s blog:   http://davecsinos.com/
  • The Journal of Family and Community Ministries (which is free to subscribe to): http://www.familyandcommunityministries.org/
  • A wonderful book is :  Children’s Ministry in the way of Jesus by Ivy Beckwith and David Csinos. This is a good place to begin your reflections if you haven’t started already, or to continue your journey.
  • Is it a Lost Cause: Having the Heart of God for the Church’s Children by Marva Dawn.
  • And if you look under Child Theology you will encounter more of my thoughts/musings on the issue.
  • Another worthwhile approach is taken by the Child Theology Movement.

 

 

 

Categories: Child Theology, Children, christian, Christianity, Faith, Family | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Telling Bible stories to young children

Once again my wife reflects upon one of our passions – how to present gospel stories to children.

 

The story of Jesus washing His disciples’ feet. (John 13:1-17)

 

Traditionally, we concentrate on Jesus, the teacher, humbling himself to wash the feet of his disciples. However, to a young child, this would not seem unusual at all. Their experience is normally one of adults caring for them; teachers and childcare providers, parents, and grandparents. It would be strange to them if the disciples had washed Jesus’ feet!

 

So how could we tell this story?

 

Often Bible storytellers try to interpret the stories. We want to be sure the child understands the meaning and the lesson. In short, we tell the child what they should think.

I’m wary of this approach.

I believe that when we impart God’s Word to young people the Holy Spirit is present and active in their hearts and their heads.children 1

We need to trust that He will guide them as they hear our stories.

Our aim should be to facilitate worship in children.

 

The lives of children are full of friends, family gatherings, travelling, food, and identity. This story has it all. Jesus plans a meal together with his friends. They all travel to an upstairs room in a house. They probably walked along dusty roads to get there. When they arrived there were probably hugs and kisses all around. The table had an array of food and drink, lovingly prepared by others in their circle of friends.

Most importantly, Jesus was with his friends: they identified themselves (and the community recognised them) as His followers.

 

So, as you tell this wonderful story, touch on these points of contact.

 

Children will also visualise the story as you tell it. They will “see” it using their own experiences. Therefore a table full of food will be their family’s dining table.

Enrich the story for them by telling them the colours, the smells, the icky ness of the dirty feet, the warmth of the water in the basin, the gentleness of Jesus hands, and the softness of the towel.

 

When we tell stories in this fashion we help a child take it into their heart. The story will resonate with them.

 

And finally, give the child a way to respond to what they have heard. Wonder with them, sit quietly and ponder, provide art materials, sing. Follow their lead as they follow the Holy Spirit.

 

Categories: Child Theology, Children, christian, Faith, Family, Hetty's Devotions | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Jesus Unicorn

Today my wife, Hetty, is presenting a guest blog on the topic of children and worship.

Jesus Unicorn

Courtesy Google  images

Courtesy Google images

A young girl was given a notebook and some colouring pencils and pens while she sat in the pew with her family.  After a few weeks, her parents suggested that she listen to the sermon while she drew. By the end of the sermon she had drawn some pictures of a unicorn with the words ‘Jesus Unicorn’ above them.  Her parents were amused.
 
Some questions:
 
  • What did her parents believe children should be doing in a worship service?
  • Did they give her any guidance about what she could do with the writing and drawing materials?
  • What was the underlying message the child got concerning how she should behave in the worship service and from her parents’ subsequent suggestion?
 
Some ideas:
 
If you were her parents, how might you encourage her to participate in the worship service?
How would you begin a discussion with this child about ‘Jesus Unicorn’ which could lead her to a fuller experience of worship?
 
Paper and pencils are fine to keep a child’s hands busy, to keep a child quiet, and even as a stepping stone to taking notes of the sermon but it should never stop there.
Children can draw the stories they hear (and they should be hearing God’s stories, not just theological concepts) or their feelings. There should be a clear understanding of when they can draw/write and when they should be participating in the singing, praying, etc.  Parents should follow up with the child later. It may help if the parents also occasionally used paper and pencils during the sermon, and the family shared their pictures afterwards.
 
A warning:
 
Be careful not to let this become another kind of ‘school’ activity.
Help the child to use the writing and drawing, as well as the words they’re hearing and the images they’re seeing, as a way to explore their understanding of God, and the worship of Him.
 
 
Hetty Stok
Categories: Child Theology, Children, christian, christian education, Christianity, Church, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 8 Comments

Some People Get It!

photo 4

Excited by the view

It was a rainy day yesterday as we were walking around the Port of Echuca.  It is the home of the largest collection of working paddle steamers in the world. Daily they paddle up and down the Murray river. At one point along the dock you can walk onto a section that looks out over the river. There is a protective fence where the designers have simply, but cleverly, placed glass panels at “little children” height so that they can look out too.  We were there as two small boys, fresh from jumping in puddles, saw these windows, raced up, looked out, and were thrilled by the sights.

If only churches could see this wonderful metaphor. Too often in worship the fences are that high that only the adults can “see” or experience what is going on. For children the service is an hour and 30 minutes of tedium, or they are sent out to “jump in a few puddles” while the adults do the real thing.

Too many churches, in my experience, either ignore the fact that there are children in church or send them out to be entertained elsewhere. There are no “windows” to enable them to participate and adults are often unable or uwilling to hold them up to see over the fence. So the implied message children receive is that there is nothing here for you. In other words, the view, or real worship, is essentially for adults only.

Children are people of God too. Children are called by Jesus as well. Children are in fact a model for us to follow. “Unless you become like one of these …” Too often however, children are left behind a windowless fence and not included and left out of the worship dialogue altogether.  They are not given a position from where they can be part of, experience and participate in the worship of the whole family of God.

Picture 011

The Port of Echuca on a sunnier day with some of its paddle steamers.

What can we do to give children kid high windows from which, they too, can be part of the worship by the people of God? What can we do as worshipping communities to reduce the walls which prevent children from being part of the singing, listening, praying, reading. giving and hearing that is our dialogue with God on a Sunday?

Churches are losing young people in droves.  What are we doing to make worship an unmissable part of their lives?  One part of the answer is to ensure that the child’s place in the community of worshippers is real and appreciated as well as age appropriate – that they can see through the fences. This does not mean that the worship service needs to be “dumbed down”, but it does mean that the worshipping community needs to think of genuine ways in which children, in fact all ages, have a meaningful encounter with their God when the community gathers for public worship.

I would even suggest that if we as adults are more intentional about including children, that is, giving them “windows” and holding them up, that we too will be enriched by the process. Moreover, and most importantly, God will be honoured and worshipped with greater integrity, as all His children gather before Him.

Categories: Child Theology, Children | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Words Jesus Didn’t Say

Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them.

Jesus replied, “Send the children around the corner to a children’s program that one of my lesser disciples is running. She will look after them.”

Categories: Child Theology, Children, christian | Tags: , | 7 Comments

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