Teaching children to pray

16 08 2011

For children with an inclination toward a “Symbol-centered” spirituality, prayer will be a key focus for them.

Usually when we teach children to pray, we teach them to fold their hands and close their eyes in order to focus on God.  These are good things.  We usually teach them to pray for whatever they are asking God for (someone is sick, their pet is not well, safety in upcoming trips).  Although I believe in these, I also think that their prayer life needs to be deeper than that (especially for symbol-centered children).

Prayer needs to be focused on the spiritual life of children as they focus on their creator.  Csinos writes, “Children can be given opportunities to lead prayers in manners they prefer, including quiet, inner prayer, centering prayer, breath prayers (short, one-line prayers repeated during long, soothing breaths), or call-and-response prayers” (134).

This form of prayer goes far beyond prayer for “mom who is sick and Fluffy who has a hurt foot.”  This is deep spiritual work being conducted by the child as they interact with God.  Rarely do we get to see this in today’s Christian faith.

He goes on to write,

Although a flashy, fast-paced ministry may entertain young people, it can do so to the detriment of mystics.  This doesn’t mean, however, that the entirety of a ministry or program must be slow and calm.  It’s certainly appropriate to engage children in activities involving movement and energy, like dance.  But without opportunities to encounter God in slow, cal, and reflective ways, children with a symbol-centered spirituality are at risk of being left behind. (136)

This speaks in contrast to the trend of children’s ministry over the past twenty years which is to make the children’s program “flashy, fast-paced.”  This is the “Nickelodeon” approach to ministry.  It seeks to make the church a fun and attractive place for kids to come.  Being fun and attractive are not inherently bad, but using these techniques to provide entertainment to the children without encountering God is not right, especially in light of the mystics amongst children’s ministry.

These children will not be able to encounter God on an intimate level.  These children will not have the space and the quiet to do the spiritual work they feel God is calling them to do.

So how do we teach children to pray in light of this?  We must teach the children to pray what their heart is burdened with.  We must continue to use prayer as a time for the children to engage with God in active dialogue.  Prayer is very valuable in the children’s ministry because how they develop their prayer life when children will affect how they pray as adults.

Provide children space.  Provide children quiet.  The program can still be exciting and fast paced, but the children need to have times of quiet reflection to contrast with the loud excitement.

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