The questions, “Will our children have faith?” and “Will our faith have children?” have been actively discussed in children’s ministry circles ever since John Westerhoff raised them in his classic critique of Christian education in his book, Will Our Children Have Faith? in 1976. These questions provide important guides for the health of the whole church as we consider its future.
As Anabaptists we have often stressed learning the facts of the faith; on understanding which leads to active discipleship and believers baptism. As our future grows more uncertain many of us have begun asking questions about children and the future of the church with new urgency. We wonder if emphases on understanding and discipleship are adequate for nourishing and nurturing faith among the young in our church families. We wonder if our belief and discipleship approach be effectively supported by a ritualized, contemplative practise of faith in our homes and congregations.
When I practice silence after singing and signing “Be still and know that I am God” with 3-5 year-olds something holy happens among us before I tell the Bible story. This fall preschool children experiencing the Shine curriculum will spend several weeks with the Good Shepherd, a story that has been shown to be especially formative for preschoolers. They will engage contemplative spiritual practices like carefully pouring water over stones as they pray, “Loving God, we listen for your voice.” This is not returning to what some consider ‘meaningless ritual’, and which our ancestors railed against. These spiritual practices give vocabulary and kinaesthetic expression to children’s intuitive awareness of the divine.
By providing spiritual nurture for children’s hearts and bodies, as well as informing their heads and inviting them to follow Jesus with us, we invest in the faith of our children as well as the future of our church. And, those who are blessed enough to accompany them on this integrated spiritual journey, at home, in Sunday school, and in congregational worship, will be nurtured into a more holistic faith as well.
Will our faith have children? Practice faith holistically with a child near you and God’s answer will grow in your heart.