Children and the Future of the Church

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.


About Elsie Hannah Ruth Rempel

As a young senior whose life could easily have ended in a nasty car crash in 2012 I live with an extra dose of gratitude to God, humanity, and the wonders of our human bodies. I am a passionate advocate for ministry WITH children and seniors in the life and ministry of the church. I started working in Faith Formation with Mennonite Church Canada in 2002. Thinking and writing about faith helps me see God at work in all kinds of surprising places. I'd like to be remembered as one who encourages others to live into God's good dream for our world. My book, Please Pass the Faith: The Spiritual Art of Grandparenting, is one big way I'm trying to share that encouragement with my peers. This blog is another way I'd like to engage people who care about growing in faith across the generations.
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One Response to Children and the Future of the Church

  1. I love the image of pouring water over stones as we pray. How beautiful that you work at ways to engage all the senses in worship – while I am a visual worshipper, it is always helpful to note that some people experience God through their other senses.
    Thanks Elsie, for another fine post!

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