Somehow I missed Alan Hartung talking about Childrenâ€™s Ministry in the Emerging Church last month in response to his own question. Oddly enough, I’ve had a couple of recent about this lately as well… how the emerging church doesn’t talk about kids all that much, with just a few exceptions. Sometimes it seems to me that I talk about it more than most, and I would say I don’t talk about kids all that much. Alan’s post has a few comments with links to an item or two worth looking at, but Ivy Beckwith and Margie Hillenbrand should probably be added to the list.
Within the last week, Justin Baeder is asking questions, his about what he calls “The Disappearance of Sustaining Structures”, which includes for him things like VBS and Sunday School, plus a list of others. Of them all, he says, “I donâ€™t know if a single one of these institutions will be around for my kids.” I wouldn’t attack his post for calling Sunday School a “sustaining structure,” as he’s asking good questions. He says,
Without any of the supporting structures we have known, though, what will happen? Two possibilities come to mind.
- First, we could screw the whole thing up and raise kids who, despite our best intentions, donâ€™t give a rip about God. Lulled into complacency by in loco parentis religion, we could fumble badly and not pass on the faith at all.
- Second, and more optimistically, parents could take more responsibility than was necessary in the past for their childrenâ€™s faith formation, eliminating the need for many of these structures, while pursuing and creating whatever structures appear necessary.
He goes on to close with that ever-persistent question, “Where do we go?”
A sample of my own past considerations of kids in the emerging church, oldest-to-latest:
- Rending the Veil: Letting the Kids into the
Holy of HoliesGrownup Meeting
- Chick Bloggers, Dude Bloggersâ€¦ Kid Bloggers?
- Contemplative Kids & Emergent-No (includes the “accusation” and a Lawrence of Arabia quote)
- Couch Church
- Easter for Simple Church Kids and Easter Mnemonics
- Memory Lane & the Ongoing Life of a Church-Leaver
- Emerging Kids & Communion: The Kidsâ€™ Table (one of my finer moments, perhaps)
- Church does not mean Sunday, and Vice-Versa
There are others (some of which are linked from these), but these may be some of the best of them.
The question does still tend to hang in the air… so far nobody is out there saying what works exceptionally well, either in the home church crowd, the simple church set, or the emerging church movement. There is conversation about this for the institutional (established, inherited, pick your term) church, but I’m less interested in that since it’s less applicable… I’m not talking about re-vamping a program for 100 kids. In the smaller contexts, people tend to talk about family, about including the kids as part of the life of the church, and about many related concepts. They’ll tell you the kids are in the meetings, the kids are in a separate room, or there’s a separate meeting. My observation is that no matter which of these is taking place, there’s a kind of realization that it’s not all it could be, that it’s mixed with strengths and weaknesses. So far nobody’s come up with a good, “If I was doing this over…” kind of reflection or even a “We haven’t perfected this, but so far we’ve learned that…” I include myself in the list of people who don’t have a good answer, but perhaps it’s a separate conversation that needs to come to the fore among those to whom it matters most. What works, what doesn’t, what ages are best suited to what, that kind of thing. Any takers, I wonder?
I’d like to be part of the conversation if and when it ever happens. We’ve got nothing … and I’m beginning to be just a little worried about my 13 and 10 year old on one hand. On the other hand, just growing up in our house they have so much more faith education than I was ever exposed to and God still got hold of me, so perhaps it will be okay?? I’m not comfortable, but I don’t like the specialized, segregated kids program idea either. Bleh …
I followed you over from Alan’s blog. I’m so excited about the links you included above! I’ve felt isolated, wanting to talk about these issues with people but not knowing where to join the conversation.
As far as people talking about what works exceptionally well, I have several thoughts. I am not part of an emerging church, so if this conversation should be restricted to those who are, then I’m happy to butt out. I explained more of my background on Alan’s blog. I’d love to dialog about this with you though, and I think there are some answers to what you’re looking for.
Other churches exploring alternate models for children’s ministry have talked about what worked for them. Lorna Jenkins in particular describes how her church worked in Shouting in the Temple. Doesn’t matter if it was a church in Malaysia with small groups instead of a U. S. emerging church. You take your good ideas where you can get them. I also think good ideas can be gained from the progressive homeschool movement (unschooling particularly). They’ve been pursuing alternate ways of rearing kids for years.
The other thought I had was that maybe one model for kids working “exceptionally well” in church is the wrong way to think about it. The needs of each group and each set of kids will be different. We had to do this. One group followed our own version of Lorna Jenkins’ model. But some small groups couldn’t do that because of various factors. I’d love to talk more in detail about all the stuff we tried and the system we created. Of course some of the particulars of implementation were different for the age groups, but maybe not as different as you think. For instance it takes a whole lot less to get young kids talking about God than it does many adults. I’m not saying the process is simple, but that the results will be varied among groups.
One basic guideline we used was that a believer of any age needed basically the same thing. So if the church was pairing up discipleship partners to help them grow in the faith, then the same should be tried with the kids. If some teaching about basic Christianity was offered to adults, then it should be to the kids too. If adult believers grow healthiest when serving the church, then child believers will too. Why wait until they are older? A two year old can pass things out. Some children have prayed for healing and God granted their request. Whatever pattern and values a church upholds to help adults grow into mature believers can be extrapolated for and/or include children.
The emerging church highly values authenticity, true intimacy, and service (right?). How badly our children need that! Those values are the things then that you should be striving for with your children. As much work as you put into developing those relationships with adults in your community should be put into developing relationships with the children in your community. And when they are our own kids, then developing that authenticity and intimacy should be an even higher priority. It feels to me that with your values you are well on your way to rearing kids to be heartfelt and foot-moving believers.
Finally (and sorry this is so long) I think the best place to start is with what Daphne Kirk recommends, Repent. We need to repent of prioritizing the adults in a community before the children. We’re all the body of Christ and no member should be left out. We need to repent for prioritizing a child’s felt needs above his/her real needs. We need to repent of our society’s devaluation of children and their role in community on one hand while also repenting of the ways in which children are given inappropriate power. The church needs to repent of the ways we violate the family’s unity by treating each as separate individuals and not also as a whole.
We fall on our faces and cry for mercy. God will change us and show us the way.
Haven’t read all the links (yet) or even all the comments, but I definitely am interested in this conversation.
Question 1. What are people doing?
Question 2. What isn’t working? (and why?)
Question 3. What else could we do?
Question 4. ????
I’ve kind of stumbled on to your discussion. I’m a part of an intentional community/church that functions within an urban community. The children of our neighborhood make up a little less than half of the church. These are not the children of the community members thay are the children of the neighborhood. Our Church meets in a cabin in a local park, while the kids all meet together in another. We’ve kind of been winging it as we go. The ages vary from 4 to 13 with variations on any given week. While the older kids sit in the “Big People” Service. It’s been very hard to communicate biblical concepts in an understandable manner to all of the kids. The younger kids are bored and uninterested, the older kids feel talked down to, or just apathetic, the 1st and 2nd graders are so distracted that it’s impossible for them to pay attention. Dispite all of that there have been a number of times when the kids have left learning what we taught. We’ve been using a commercial curriculum for Children’s Church. It often doesn’t seem to clearly communicate what it desires to , but our whole congregation is so maxed out that it seems like the only option from a time/preperation standpoint. We practice welcoming the kids into our homes, but this is basically whenever they come over, usually we don’t seek them out. Some of us have taken on mentor relationships with particular kids or families of kids, so we don’t only practise our “christian example” on Sundays. These aren’t the typical white suburban church kids, these are children with first hand experience with prostitutes and drug addiction. When my wife told them she was pregnant their first response was “Does Pat know?” and “Do you know who the Daddy is?” Their energy level is such that it makes any sort of listening or discussion rather difficult in a church gathering, and we have thought that it would be good for them to have a time to themselves. So we began with a seperate Children’s Church. However the age differences have made that difficult. What we’ve recently decided to do about that is to have a seperate meeting time with the older kids to include them in teaching the younger kids. When we’ve done this in the past the older kids have stepped up to the challenge, modeling good behavior, and creativly interpreting the teaching in a way that catches teh younger kids attention. What we hope this seperate time will achieve is a more “at their level” conversational time in the word, and critiquing the messages that the kids are recieving from their peers and culture. We have yet to institute this part though. The thing I’m concerned about is that this may just teach the kids how to play church, and not how to live a life following Jesus. Know what I mean? I like that mentorship Idea. It could be a natural transition for our congregation. The problem that I have with it is that I believe it is important for younger folks to have a time learning together. It’s really easy for kids to act a certian way in a one on one situation, but it’s more difficult when they are in peer situations without adult supervision (a common thing in our neighborhood). It seems important to develope supporting peer relationships — an alternative peer culture, like you and I have, that will support them in good decision making, and thinking. Perhaps this could happen on a weeknight or something? It’s easier as far as scheduling to make it on a sunday morning though. Gimmie some feedback.
SaintP: Praise God for the work you are doing! You have discovered so many of things I’ve heard others discover, especially about putting older children in charge of younger children and mentoring in general. It sounds like you really feel the weight and importance of what you’re doing for these kids and are struggling with how to best impact their lives. Your thinking sounds solid and Spirit led just by what you have briefly described.
I pray for your community that you would see keenly how to minister God’s love into each child’s life and how to craft their environment so that they may glimpse the true God in spite of all the garbage around them. Your solutions will be individual for your situation and God will lead you there. Kids can absorb what the true life of a believer is from all of the above, time with peers, mentors, and with adults where everything seemingly goes over there head.
I remember from my youth that those who poured into me, teacher, youth pastor, etc… rarely had any idea of the significance of what they were doing. In one case it was just a Christian teacher who let me eat lunch with her instead of in the cafeteria. In another it was a pastor and his wife whose way of being married spoke to me. In another it was older Christian friends who took me and my questions seriously. Later when I realized the impacts these people had on me and sought to thank them, it became clear that none of us realized the hugeness at the time. So it will be with your kids. There may be many who remember your name and praise God for you well past the time you remember your brief encounter with them. Keep it up.
Chris: I like your questions and also hope people who are doing this come and describe more about what they are trying.
My current teaching pastor says about his days as a youth pastor that the usual style of entertainment youth ministry doesn’t work. He became so frustrated with the attitudes of the youth that they stopped doing all the fun trips, engaging youth type activities, that were really based on keeping the kids entertained and maintaining their relationship to the church as “takers.” Instead he said something like, “This might be hard for you but we’re going to switch tactics and start learning some real theology.” Then he began to teach them hard core stuff, expecting a lot from them, and pursuing opportunities to help them be “givers” instead of “takers.” (Sounds like some movie about teaching in the inner city, huh? Nah, these were just suburbanites. :-))
Of course he wasn’t saying all fun activities are bad, just that he found great success in treating the kids like they too were members of the body, needing sound teaching, mentoring, and service outlets. The church has changed all of their youth programs 5th grade up to reflect this model. I am awaiting the day when they see that this model can and should be used from birth up. There is no magic reason why suddenly at 5th grade children should switch from being “takers” of ministry to “givers” of ministry. We need places where all believers can do both and higher expectations for all our children. (Caveat: Not that little believers have to look like adult believers, but the principles are the same.)
I just read your post. Thanks for the example you’re setting and for trying out new ways of relating adults and children/youth.