Rachel Roche is an Area Leader for the Northern Baptist Association.

This article is the fourth in a series about Faith Formation in Children. Let us wander deeper into the discussion on children’s involvement in church life.

Children’s contributions to the church and the spiritual formation of others are often dismissed. However, theologians like Goodliff[1] and May[2] have highlighted a child’s value, status, and equality. Studies on cognitive development have quashed previous assumptions that one needs to be able to talk to comprehend or contribute.[3] Fiddes states that children are integral to church life as they cry, giggle, and question, and “the faith of all cannot grow without listening to their witness.” [4]  

In recent decades, some churches have tried to include children and have provided them with “‘children’s worship kits,’ which constitute a kind of ecclesiastical Happy Meal.” [5] These kits are packaged and given to families with young children as they arrive for church services. Although nothing is wrong with this, it does emphasise a multigenerational meeting rather than intergenerational engagement. All ages can worship together, share, and be discipled together. All-age worship arises out of a need for each other. Part of the character of the church is to be an intergenerational community participating together in the regular rhythms of church life. Adults can benefit, and children can be exposed to the breath of liturgy.

According to the limited research available in the New Zealand context, the New Zealand church favours a culture of age-separated gatherings.[6] Yet, without meaningful engagement in the core practices that shape congregational identity, we may fail to pass on formational practices, faith, traditions and values. Yes, children may have limited ability, comprehension, and contributions, but if they are not participating in our core practices, we are limiting their meaningful participation both now and in the future. By apprenticing children in the faith, their identity as a community member is established. 

Children are made in the image of God and have gifts to share. Their views, mess, and noise all reflect the means by which God’s character is revealed. A child’s contributions appear crucial in faith formation, but churches can “rob children of roles that only they can play.” [7] Young people most commonly feel a sense of belonging when interacting with others rather than being recipients of a ministry or programme. Church communities need to shift focus from seeing themselves as a child’s programme provider to a community that shapes a child’s experiences and is shaped by a child’s participation, as we are all formed in faith together. 

Are you passionate about seeing children involved in church life? 

Learn more in the ‘Faith Formation in Children’ block course with Carey Baptist College, semester two! This course looks holistically at what forms, nurtures, and shapes the spiritual lives of children, providing robust foundations to inform our ministry for, to, and with children. You can join as an audit or credit student. 

A student’s experience

“The quality of content with speakers and discussions was both inspiring and, at times, challenging. It made me think about how we were doing things and what we could do better within our ministry. A really good variety of topics made me feel like I was learning more than just about children but also about scripture, families, the whole church, and more. It was also fantastic to be in the room with other people passionate about children’s ministry, to feel connected to the greater body of Christ.” – Rachael Witheford, Kids Ministry Director at Village Baptist Church, Havelock North.

For more details about this course, visit the Carey website or contact Jan Ozanne (the National Points Person of Children and Families) at [email protected].


More in this series:

Faith formation in children – Jan Ozanne

Parents at the centre of faith formation – Raewyn Moodie

Children in relationship with God – Steph Wood


Photo: Franklin Baptist Church. Supplied by Jan Ozanne


Endnotes

[1] Goodliff, Andrew J. “To Such as These”: The Child in Baptist Thought. Vol. 4. Centre for Baptist History and Heritage Studies. Oxford: Regent’s Park College, 2012.

[2] May, Scottie, Beth Posterski, Catherine Stonehouse, and Linda Cannell, eds. Children Matter: Celebrating Their Place in the Church, Family and Community. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005.

[3] Gopnik, Alison. The Philosophical Baby: What Children’s Minds Tell Us about Truth, Love & the Meaning of Life. New York: Random House, 2011.

[4] Fiddes, Paul. Tracks and Traces: Baptist Identity in Church and Theology. Vol. 13 of Studies in Baptist History and Thought. Cumbria: Paternoster Press, 2003.

[5] Lindner, Eileen W. “Children as Theologians.” Pages 54–68 in Rethinking Childhood. Edited by Peter B. Pufall and Richard P. Unsworth. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2003.

[6] Scripture Union in New Zealand. He Waka Eke Noa: We Are All in the Waka Together, Children’s Ministry in Aotearoa, New Zealand 2018. Wellington: SUNZ, 2018.

[7] Csinos, David M. Children’s Ministry That Fits: Beyond One-Size-Fits-All Approaches to Nurturing Children’s Spirituality. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2011.

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