This week I’m attending a conference run by the Methodist Church for its Lay Workers (ie. those of us whose name doesn’t begin with Rev.) One of our keynote speakers is Dr. Rebecca Nye, an expert in the field of Childhood Spirituality. She’s given us a lot of great things to think about, and one question that has really got me mulling over our own practices in our churches—
Is all child-friendly practice necessarily friendly to children’s spirituality?
Dr. Nye outlined six key things to reflect on as we evaluate our ministry with children and young people and how we communicate spiritual concepts to them.
What influence does the space we’re in have?. What is the language of our space? Does it tell children to run and shout? Or does it remind them of being in school (and for some, the feeling of being clever or dumb?) Does it invite children to play with toys- or, for some in the same space, ‘I’m too old for this.’? Does it communicate that God is here? Or that this is a holy and safe space to be yourself?
Not product. Spiritual life is an ongoing work, not something which is completed. Prayer and worship are ways in which we grow, not things we achieve. Do we need to shift the focus of our time spent with children from learning outcomes to reflecting on the feelings and thoughts that a bible story bring? And how do we avoid turning prizes into a game of ‘guess what the teacher wants us to say. ‘. Do we give uninterrupted, unrushed time to creative response like arts and crafts? And do we acknowledge the children whose work reflects their journey with the story- or just those who complete the best ‘product.’?
Children- particularly older ones- have to be given permission to use their imagination. Too often they get the impression that spiritual knowledge is a lot like maths, with clear and correct answers. And when I tell a Bible story, is it about my imagination- or about enabling the children to use theirs?
Are we attending to the quality of relationships we have with one another? Are we evaluating how to make children feel like equals in the group, when we as leaders are a lot bigger and may have a lot more ‘answers’? Also (and here’s a concept that got my imagination whirling)- relationship is not just about affecting one another, but about the quality of space between us as well. How was the space between us this week- Was it holy? Friendly? Imaginative? Questioning and learning?
Dr. Nye didn’t get time to go into detail about the final two…
…but perhaps that gives us space to explore and work out our own values on these things. Are the ways we communicate with our children and young people fostering in them a sense of intimacy and trust- with ourselves? With God? With their church family? With the world around them?
She finished the seminar with a thought which, I felt, empowers and encourages us as Sunday school leaders, local preachers, and volunteers:
Spirituality in childhood is not an ‘extra luxury’- it is an essential! Without it our kids won’t have real nourishment.
What do you think?? Share your comments below!