Sunday, September 26, 2010

Children and Family in the Book of Acts

Time for some theological posting.

I am aware I haven't blogged for a bit, for a few reasons. Its been a hard month, I've been working away very hard on my own missing my compatriot who worked with me a few days a week (so I had someone to talk work stuff over with and giggle with) - therefore, head down and get on with it. Any spare minute I have had has been with family and not blog :-)

It also gets gets harder to be motivated to blog without comments (which is not a criticism, by the way, it's a reflection of the world-wide state of blogging just now - people are preferring the instant fb/twitter rapid response without waiting for comments to be moderated. I am going to take comment moderation off for this reason, so that if you comment it will be immediately visible)
More about the worldwide lack of comments on blogs here. Interesting read.

Here are some notes from my recent reading from The Child in the Bible edited by Marcia Bunge.

Important themes in the book of Acts:
1.the importance of narrative (story) in developing and forming the human person
2.Luke’s theology of the Holy Spirit
3.Luke’s interest in caring for the needy

Hope the following might be helpful. I'm finding it makes so much sense for my current and previous situation.

1. The Importance of Narrative (Story) in Developing and Forming the Human Person
Underpinning this is the belief that the shaping of our identity and practices are “storied”.
Consider your church community in this section.
•Most of our experience, our knowledge, and our thinking is organised as stories – what demarcates the experiences of the child or teenager in your church?
•These stories shape character e.g. gang violence and abuse affects developing human persons.
•Human beings are always in the process of formation. Particularly formative periods, according to neuroscientists, are the first years of life and late adolescence.

Q: What does the Book of Acts narrate for us, the reader?
A: It prioritizes conversion as the (re)orientation of a person’s life towards God shown in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

This is confirmed in what the NT scholar Joel Green called “community-nested” practices that demonstrate this new allegiance and open the way to transformation for family life, community and society.

These thoughts made me think of some reading I did 2 years ago from a book called Nurture That is Christian, and I wrote a post on it here.

For the Vision and Training Day that I ran on Saturday, I wrote some reflective questions for teams to talk about together:

•What does your church community look like compared to the book of Acts?

•When are children and teenagers present i.e. what shape do their meetings take?

•Are there opportunities for children and young people to participate in story/testimony/prayer and ministry?

2. Luke’s Theology of the Holy Spirit
•There is no escaping the inclusion of children in the “all flesh” of Acts 2:17
•Acts 2:39; promise for you and your children (teknon)
•Acts 2:17; prophecy and visions for sons and daughters
•Acts 21:9; Philip’s four unmarried daughters prophesy (parthenos); a female of marriageable age: reckoned to be a young girl c 12 years old, just before or at puberty.

These texts show that children and young people are participants in God’s kingdom being built here on earth.
Luke 18:16: Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.

Here are the reflective questions I wrote for this section:

•Are we Trinitarian in what we teach our children and teenagers? i.e. are children and teenagers taught about the Holy Spirit in your programmes? (in my experience most churches are strong at teaching about God as Father and Jesus as friend)

•Are they given opportunities to be filled with the Holy Spirit and to use gifts?

•How do you work this out in practice?

3. Luke’s interest in family and caring for the needy

•In the Acts church no-one needed anything. From this we can assume very need of every member of the community was important and was met.
•This was so counter culture – see Acts 16:16 – a young slave girl was a commodity.
•The importance of family and home – Acts 10:33; in Cornelius’ home, all have gathered in the presence of God. This is a very significant verse “house” and “presence” always referred to the temple in Jerusalem up till this point.
•Implied all through Acts: the need for family transformation in order to impact the city.
Cicero: “the household is the seedbed for the state”.
•Rejection of a separatist model of children and adults. Joel B Green states that Acts forces us to reflect on the need to practise community as all ages together otherwise we are left with:

“Generations of children who are provided with less and less contact with faithful agents of Christian mission, fewer and fewer models of relationship-building, and so for whom faith becomes so personalized that it need not even find expression within one’s own family.”

As part of a church with Mission Shaped Communities (MSCs)/ Missional Expressions (MEs) - different churches use different terminology but basically these are outward-looking small grops - I found what I read next to be deeply stirring.

“The disciples have it as their mission to reach the city; but if the city is to believe, the home must be converted. But if this is so, then likewise, the unenviable place of children in household and community must undergo metamorphosis. Those transformative values that take root in the household will propagate transformation beyond its boundaries. More simply, to change the household is to change the world.”

If you ever feel that you've to do your thing with kids, teenagers and families away from other areas of church life, never overlapping and not communicating much with other areas of leadership/other ministries - is not just unhelpful (it breeds isolationism) but could possibly be one of the most insipid, evil techniques of the enemy to prevent missional growth and fruitfulness.
It's too big a risk to ignore the theological significance of households in Acts - the evidence of children and young people's life-saving and lifechanging appearances throughout the Book of Acts - and their full participation in Holy Spirit-empowered life - undoubtedly had a mighty part to play in societal transformation.

Reflective questions:
•Your church will have missional and outreach activities and strategies. In these, have you considered the need to see families within your faith community bring their children and teenagers on in their faith?
Or is all of your activity focussed on busy adults doing activity entirely separate from the rest of their household?

•How well do you support parents in the task of seeing their families transformed?

•How busy are church member’s lives? Could you encourage people to make room to be family together and in smaller groups with all ages present?

And yet in many parts of the world similar things are being said/taught and heard.

I've been hugely encouraged in three or four places/events where I have taught this over the last year, but I've been really disappointed with the response to the teaching pack I wrote on this for my own place. I have provided a whole bunch of material to be used, as I did in the last church I worked with and was used by four small intergenerational small groups - perhaps I need to just find a publisher and take it out wider than this side of the country?!

Or am I missing the point? More recently I have been questioning why things that are important to me seem not to be to others - holding all of this in tension is making me feel quite fragile. Got some great words of hope delivered by others at the Vision and Training Day - God always provides an uplook!!


  1. Dan G9:55 PM

    Hey. Sad to hear you've been feeling discouraged with blogging (and maybe other things?) - just for the record, I personally love your ministry and I love your blog, and I will absolutely be praying.

    Obviously this should all apply to the wider church too, but this got me thinking - my own church especially really needs to focus on church unity right now, particularly when so much "environment" is about to change (we're about to get a new building, there are new staff, it's a new year etc) - without wanting to sound too melodramatic, I definitely feel that a wider sense of WHOLE-CHURCH purpose and commitment and mission (rather than just an exclusive, individual focus) is the only thing that will keep it strong in what could be a turbulent, although hugely exciting, time.

    I know that sounded deceptively like spraffing, and I'm sure there are many people (yourself included) who would be able to phrase it so much better than me, but I felt it needed to be said.

  2. As ever, you are an encourager....thanks for your comment and your thoughts.
    They key to unity comes with a "face-down-ness"
    We need you
    we can't do it
    we mess up
    come and have your way

    which means that sometimes other things have to go on pause for this to happen.

    a challenge for me but one which always, always, always yields fruit and sees the thing I have asked for be provided. Want to be at that place!

  3. Once again I empathise. I'm sitting wondering tonight as I have done for a couple of years now, wondering the exact same thing. Especially after spending 2 nights in a row serving and worshipping God free of the feelings of being suffocated or having to fight my way into God's presence to do so.

    I feel like maybe I've got it all wrong, and have praying at the moment to ask God what to do about it...

    At the same time, I know what God has given me is not for everyone. Not everyone is called to reach out to teens, students, families or vulnerable women. And sometimes it feels like people are just 'humouring' me when I share about God's heart in this area. I wonder do you feel the same when you are passionately sharing about God's heart for children and their role in the church?

    I've had to accept there are other people doing what I feel called to already, and that I'm not needed here. That is not an easy thing to take graciously, and we have to remember we are to further God's kingdom together as a team each with different gifts, skills and roles.

    And do so with humility.


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