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Introduction Chapter 1: The Millennial Child and Beyond Chapter 2: Spiritual Formation Chapter 3: Community Chapter 4: Family: Center of SF Chapter 5: Bible Chapter 6: Children and Worship Chapter 7: Conclusion Introduction Over the last 25 years the role of the Children's Ministry professional has come of age. The Minister to Children is often the second or third staff person a church hires. North American churches take seriously the need to provide spiritual nurture and care for their children and families. This is a good thing. In the last 15 or so years the discipline of children's religious education has developed gradually into a respected discipline of church ministry. Graduate schools of religious education have developed Masters or certificate programs in childhood religious education. Lay programs and conferences for the continuing education of children's ministry professionals have proliferated and compete with one another for attendees. Para church organizations designed to support the children's minister have sprouted all over the continent. This is a good thing. Church curriculum publishers, representing both the evangelical and mainline streams of American protestant churches, help to mold this trend by putting more and more of their design and development dollars into publishing children's religious education material and resource books. The shelves of Christian bookstores are lined with books designed to help adults teach children the Bible and many larger or chain stores have "Christian education" departments and "Christian education" specialists whose sole job is to work with the resources coming from these publishers. This is a good thing. I have been an eyewitness to and a benefactor of this rise in respect and prominence of the church's ministry to children. I've worked in large evangelical churches as the Director of Children's Ministries. I've worked for several of those curriculum publishers editing and marketing these new church curricula and resources. I've spoken and taught at those national and regional children's ministry conferences holding workshops on everything from establishing class room discipline to helping adults understand the emotional ins and outs of 10 - 12 year olds. And I've seen good things happen both in my own church ministries and in others. I rode the wave of this children's ministry growth trend for all it was worth. Now, I think it's time for a change. Toward the end of my tenure in the Christian publishing world I heard many children's ministry professionals talk about the need to make their children's ministries "fun." One of the publishers for whom I worked briefly marketed their children's curriculum as "Funday School Curriculum." Please believe me, I'm not against fun. I like to have fun and I don't want children to grow up viewing church participation as a dour experience. The learning experiences we provide for children should be appealing, engrossing, and creative. But, I am concerned that all this emphasis on making our programs fun is eclipsing what I think the church should be about in its children's ministries, the spiritual formation of children. When I left the publishing world to head back into local church ministry I thought this trend might dissipate, but instead it only becomes stronger. On a website for churches that want to become big churches by following a specific plan for church growth I frequently read the message board specific to children's ministry. A completely flummoxed church planter posted a question about what to do with all the children who were coming to his new church. The children were almost equal in number to the adults who were attending. An apparently more experienced church planter advised the poster to find two volunteers to watch the children and to instruct the volunteers to think of children's ministry as "a birthday party with a Bible." At a meeting of large church children's pastors a woman commented on the pressure she felt from her church leadership to continually provide bigger, better, and glitzier programs for the children. I commented that perhaps that was not really what the children wanted or what was needed to facilitate spiritual formation. She said in response that if she didn't provide those kinds of programs no one would come. Families would choose to attend churches that did offer these types of children's programs. Somewhere in our sincere quest to help children know and love God and live a life in the way of Jesus we lost our way. Somehow, in spite of all the good things happening in the church's ministry to children over the last two decades, we forgot what spiritually shaping these young lives is really all about and how to do it. It's time for a change. Not only has the church lost its way in its quest to spiritual form its children, it is also facing monumental cultural change. With that comes the need to think seriously about changing how churches help families form their children's souls. I left the helm of a mega church children's ministry because I couldn't hold it all together any more. I needed to do something different for a while. So I worked in the Christian publishing industry. I attended and spoke at Christian conferences and conventions all over North America. At one of these conferences I heard the phenomena of postmodernism talked about positively. It was at that conference I first heard really smart people grappling with ideas about the church's response to this seismic cultural change. With my intellectual curiosity piqued I set out to educate myself on postmodernism. I read everything I could find both in books and on the Internet. The more I read the more convinced I became that postmodernism was a not an enemy of the church to be defeated, but something that could lead the church into a new way of thinking and being. Responding to these ideas and worldviews could lead the church into a new place of cultural relevancy. And I became convinced that if the church did not grapple with postmodernism and those whose thinking is shaped by this culture then the church was going to be in deep trouble. At about the same time I decided to return to local church ministry. I accepted a job as a Minister to Children. I found myself in a church that was taking these issues of culture and change seriously. I found myself surrounded by new and old friends who were having exactly the same thoughts and discussions I was having. This led me to think pragmatically about all I'd been reading and thinking. In what ways does the children's ministry of the church need to change in order to meet the needs of the emerging culture of the 21st century? What does it mean for a community of faith to take seriously its responsibility to spiritually nurture its children and families? The genesis of this book flows from my thinking, reading, discussions with others having the same sense of things, and experimentation in my own congregation and others. This is very much a work in progress. But, when I share these ideas with pastors and children's leaders around the country they are met with a positive and thoughtful response. The time has come to open this discussion to a much wider audience and what follows is an attempt to do just that. The broad theme of this book is the spiritual formation of children in our emerging and changing culture. What is it and how does it happen? How do families and churches spiritually form the generation currently on its way to adulthood? It's a book for any one concerned about the way the church views its children and its programs for children. In the next pages we'll look at postmodernism - how it's shaping our culture and shaping those who we attempt to introduce to Jesus. And we'll look at its implications for children's ministry in the emerging church. We'll characterize the current and coming generations of children and look off into the future to see what kids might be like in 10 to 15 years. We'll look at how a child's developmental stages influence and are influenced by spiritual growth. We'll explore the role of the child's family in her spiritual formation looking at practical ways to help families see themselves as the seat of spiritual nurture for their children. We'll look at the church, the child's community of faith, and discuss what communal means are helpful for facilitating the spiritual nurture of the child. We'll spend time talking about worship of God as a component of spiritual formation and explore ideas for helping children experience both age-appropriate worship and intergenerational, community worship. We'll talk about the Bible. We'll have a fresh discussion about what the Bible is and how we should use it with children. We'll talk about the role of Bible teaching and learning in the spiritual nurture of our children. But because people interested in ministry to children are not just thinkers, but always doers, this book will offer positive, real-life examples of fresh ways of thinking about and doing children's ministries. We'll talk to people about their ideas, and their experiments. We'll see what other communities of faith are doing to meet spiritual formation needs in this changing culture and new generation. We'll offer you ourselves and our dreams and hopes for new, vibrant, and meaningful ways of leading children down the path of the Gospel. At a plenary session of a large convention I spoke about ministry to children - its current state and the need for creative and thoughtful paradigm change in how we love and nurture our children's souls. The words I spoke that evening have much to do with what this book is about. The church's ministry to children is broken. A cursory look doesn't reveal its brokenness. From the outside children's ministry looks healthier then ever. But it is broken. It's broken when church leaders and senior pastors see children's ministry as primarily a marketing tool. The church with the most outwardly attractive program wins the children and then the parents. It's broken when we teach children the Bible as if it were just another book of moral fables or stories of great heroes. Something's broken when we trivialize God to our children. It's broken when we exclude children from, perhaps, the most important of community activities - worship. It's broken because we've become dependent on an 18th century schooling model forgetting that much of a child's spiritual formation is affective, active, and intuitive. It's broken when we depend on our programs and our curriculum to introduce our children to God - not our families and communities. It's broken when we've come to believe that church has to be something other than church to be attractive to children. It's broken when we spend lots of money making our churches into play lands and entice children to God through food fights and baptisms in the back of fire trucks. And perhaps most importantly it's broken when the church tells parents that its programs can spiritually nurture their children better than they can. By doing this we've lied to parents and allowed them to abdicate their responsibility to spiritually form their children. A church program can't spiritually form a child, but a family living in an intergenerational community of faith can. Our care for our children is broken and badly in need of repair. Let's imagine together a new way, a new future. The following pages take those tentative steps into the future.
Library of Congress Subject Headings for this publication: Church work with children