We interrupt this transmission from Spring Harvest for the following……
I’ve been doing some work in the afternoons on research on mission expressions and children and also on children and the charismata – the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
I have just read something which has had me pounding the table (in a public place as well. Not a good look)
Right at the moment of typing this blog entry, the speaker from the live feed from The Big Top has just said: one thousand young people and children a week are leaving the church. He’s just said: “the church is only one generation away from extinction”. Please, please, if you are just passing by this blog and don’t usually work with children or have much to do with children’s leaders and pastors, please do read on.
I face an uphill journey in changing attitudes and practices in the church towards children. Well meaning as we are, the attitude “out of sight, out of mind” pervades the church in Britain. When new initiatives/church plants/plans are made, don’t just consider the resourcing of the under 18s (though that is a great first step!), but consider putting their needs high, high, high up on the agenda. If the church is statistically one generation away from extinction, then we need to pour our time, effort and money into the younger generation. Don’t just assume that good leaders in that area mean that is all OK. They need YOU! Your interaction. Your prayers. Your talk about The Walk. Please hear me out in what I am going to outline below and which has flavoured this blog from the moment of its inception back in 2006.
I am, at heart, a discipler. I have pastoral training and background. I didn’t start out as someone who works with under 12s – God called me into this out of a more general pastoral context. I have now discovered that when I write about issues for children, like teaching about why we worship and how we worship, I could just as easily use the words “new Christians”. And yet…..sometimes in our churches it feels as if new Christians are more important than children. (are we helping our new Christians grow? Are we meeting their needs? Have we found them mentors? Are we welcoming these new baby Christians into the church?) Do we ask those questions at a strategic leadership level about our children and young people?
I have been refreshing my ex-teacher knowledge of Vygotsky’s theories. Len Vygotsky is a developmental psychologist who has examined the connections between growing children and their culture (or community). He wrote that children’s development occurs in their culture and in turn TRANSFORMS THE CULTURE.
I’m reading about how this relates to a faith development context i.e. the church and I am relating this to the work of Urie Bronfenbrenner who has proposed that the growing human person is influenced by what he calls “a series of nesting structures, each inside the next, like a set of Russian dolls”.
(please bear with me!)
A child’s immediate setting – the home, the classroom, the church, is called a microsystem.
The second level is called the mesosystem; which refers to the interconnections between microsystems (for example, the connection between church and home). There are two further levels but as this is a blog and not a research paper I’ll not outline them further here.
It is proposed by secular developmental psychologists that children grow and develop in all of their Microsystems under the influence of all of the persons within that microsystem. Cynthia Neal writes that the Microsystems contain the building blocks of faith development and I agree. Ongoing, lifelong commitment to Christ is made or broken in these Microsystems.
Therefore, we ignore the child in context of the faith community at our peril. Is at any wonder children are leaving the church in their thousands?
She writes: “children are to be part of a faith community and share in its life”.
Share in its life.
What does that mean to you?
“When we leave Christian education to solely a Sunday school setting, we remove faith from context”.
“The separation of the Christian faith from relationships and dynamic life gives [children] an artificial understanding of the Christian walk”.
Which is why I have set up intergenerational cell groups in the past. Which is why I want occasional interaction between adults and children and teenagers in the same gathering place for a few minutes sometimes. Not to make people feel uncomfortable at having to be starkly open but because children’s FAITH and COMMITTMENT to this amazing God is cemented when they hear and see adults and older teenagers talking of him, praying, encouraging.
When a child hears an adult praying for God to help them, they learn that its not a sign of weakness to ask for help from this God they have learned about perhaps only from books.
When a child hears an adult thanking God for his faithfulness in x or y, they learn that God is a God who can be trusted and who looks after his people.
When a child sees an adult worshipping, they learn that God is worthy of worship no matter how old one is.
I’ve banged on about this final point in many other posts which you can find by looking back through this blog using labels if you like, but I am going to end with this quote from Cynthia Neal (in “Nurture that is Christian”):
It is a sad commentary when Christian education is relegated to the Sunday School teacher; thereby relieving the rest of the congregation of the responsibility for the faith development of the children of the church. It is someone else’s job (get on with the job, Lynn!)
That is in DIRECT contrast to the scriptural understanding of faith. Fostering an evolving faith community (or microsystem to use Bronfenbrenner’s terminology) requires us to unite the learning of biblical doctrines and creeds with the collaborative sharing of our faith experiences.