Lynn Alexander, Children and Families Pastor at Morningside Baptist Church, shares some key ideas and resources for helping us nurture children in faith.
Children are everywhere
Children are the largest unreached people group in the world. They are found everywhere. They make up 21% of the UK population (2001): that's one-fifth of the population; yet they often get the least amount of the church's time and resources. As a result, they are leaving the church in droves. The work of Scripture Union offers an unparalleled opportunity to reach out to children who in turn become a conduit to ministry to whole families. But where do we start? What resources are there? We need to be realistic - sadly, in many churches, children's spiritual growth and development rarely figures in any forward planning or practical action. And yet this was the group of whom the Lord Jesus said: if you welcome one of these, you welcome me. (Luke 9:48).
A bit of theology...
Much of Scripture Union's work with children has made use of a (legitimate) "separatist" model - children come to groups, clubs or residential events. Currently in Scotland, there is a strong tradition of SU and the local churches supporting each other; it would be good to see that partnership develop and flourish. This is particularly relevant where a local church maintains strong links with local SU groups (e.g. church members run the school's SU group; the minister is chaplain to the school and known to pupils). Gordon Wenham analysed the pattern of family life in the Pentateuch and described a large body of people: social order is demonstrated where everyone cares for the other and lives in harmony with the other, in larger units rather than as individual families. Could we not emulate this pattern of inclusivity? Just "working together" is not enough. Deliberate and sustained exhortation and encouragement to teaching those younger in the faith is absolutely necessary. The academic Edesio Sanchez states that no other book in the Bible gives more teaching to children and young people as Deuteronomy. There are key principles in Deuteronomy for SU staff and volunteers, church leaders and families today as there are countless references to the people of God in the past, present and future along with the exhortation to "impress these commandments upon the children" (Deut 6:7). This was done communally as well as within the family. Did this change in the New Testament? Not as far as we know. So the fulfilment of Deuteronomy 6:7 provides an exciting but challenging opportunity for Scripture Union in these days.
No matter what theological viewpoint practitioners, authors and Bible scholars come from, there seems to be a repeating theme: children need to experience God, not be told about Him. This is best summed up by Ivy Beckwith in her book Postmodern Children's Ministry:
"Generation Y is experience-oriented. These kids find meaning and value in immediacy and in living in the moment. Their mantra for life and learning is "I want to try it". Only then will they decide if they like the experience or not. They've grown up with theme parks stimulating every imaginable experience and event and with virtual reality computer games that transport them into fantasies and scenarios they could never access in real life. They want to use all their senses as they learn, and they want their learning environments to provide experiences, not just facts and formulas. They want to DO in order to learn. And when it comes to experiencing a spiritual life - and they are spiritual people - they want to experience God, not just learn about God. They don't just want to be entertained."
Just think how children could grow in faith if we ensure all our ministry with them has a focus on helping them experience God for themselves and not simply on acquiring knowledge.
Words by Lynn Alexander.