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.





Music

15 08 2011

Csinos recommends to use a variety of music to introduce children to many different styles of worship and to show them that the world is much bigger than their immediate world.  This allows kids to experience different eras, cultures, and traditions.

I think that this provides children the opportunity to be exposed to a wide varity of forms of worship.  Perhaps this will prevent the Worship Wars that will come around again 20 years from now when these kids become leaders of their churches.  Also, perhaps, it can help children to see that another style of worship might be far more appealing to them than the one they are already engaged in.

Although he wants them introduced to different styles (130), he wants the material to have concrete lyrics that teach God’s truths instead of abstract ideas or content that lacks depth (131).  Although he acknowledges the difficulty that this possesses, he still wants to see that extra effort put into the children’s worship experiences to touch the lives of the “Emotion-Centered” child.





Content with content

11 08 2011

Are you content with the content of your Sunday school curriculum?  Csinos branches out to what needs to be taught.  He goes beyond presenting a story to presenting theology, social issues, church history, saints, etc. being taught in Sunday school (126-7).

This is not a subject that I have ever heard discussed at a children’s conference.  The content usually referred to consists of whacky games or a simple story.  This is taking things to a whole new level.  It is expanding what kids are learning into the area of theology.  This is expanding what they are experiencing to engage in social issues.  This is taking a story and tying it into God’s story through church history.

All of this is very valuable and often overlooked in Sunday school.  So…are you content with the content?  If not, what can you add to fill in the gaping holes which could exist in your current Sunday school so that these other areas of the Christian faith are also being emphasized alongside the Bible story?

I don’t have the answers.  I’m just looking for feedback.





His Story

10 08 2011

One important lesson that can be emphasized with children is that we are not teaching history but His Story.  The story that we are presenting to children is a part of the Heilsgeschichte which is German for “Salvation History.”  This story that God has been at work on since the Fall of man continues right into today.

Csinos writes against breaking up God’s narrative.

This practice of chopping God’s narrative into pieces robs the wider story of its profound trans/formative influence.  Churches seeking to help children find their identities within their faith communities and traditions begin to put God’s sotry back together, explaining how God was at work from creation to the covenant, from the cross to consummation.  Furthermore, children can begin to understand that this isn’t just a story about other people  It’s their story and they can have a hand in shaping how it continues to unfold.  Churches can present the story in ways that encourage children to adopt it as their own and affirm with Brueggemann that “this is my story about me, and it is our story about us.”  Offering God’s story to children starts them down a good and fruitful path. (112)

I think that this is a very typical problem in the church and particularly in children’s ministry.  We will teach the children the story of David and Goliath (a wonderful story) and forget to include Heilsgeschichte in that story.  We forget to remind them of the salvation history that God is accomplishing through that story.  Salvation for the nation of Israel and eventually for all of humanity through Christ (through David’s line).

Or we’ll tell the story of Noah and the flood (another wonderful story) and forget to include that this was God’s means of providing salvation for Noah and eventually all of humanity through Noah through Christ.  We must remember the bigger story!  We must remember that as we tell biblical history, it is truly His Story of how God has been at work amongst his people for all time.

For the Action-Centered children, this is particularly helpful because they can then enact what they have learned and seek to continue that salvation story by going out and doing something to seek to expand God’s kingdom here on earth.





The Power of Stories

3 08 2011

Everyone knows that story telling is a key aspect of Children’s ministry.  Teachers are constantly seeking training in being better and more effective story tellers.  I believe this to be a key skill in children’s ministry as they share the story of God’s love and interaction with his people throughout history.

Csinos agrees.  “Stories can be a wonderful way of tapping into children’s inherent spirituality and helping them to have profound, creative, and unique experiences with God” (109).  He continues with, “The power of stories transcends the boundaries of spiritual styles and touches the lives of all children” (110).

This story is more than just the biblical stories although those are extremely important.  This story also includes what God is doing now.  The story that the children’s teachers or leaders can tell is where they have seen God at work in their lives and their families.  The story could be what they have done recently in service to God which helped them to experience him on a deeper level.

All of these stories are important and all of these stories can work together to develop the spiritual lives of children.  We are participants of this story because God is still at work amongst his people.  The children are also participants because God is certainly at work amongst them.

So as a leader tells his or her story, that leader must also stop and listen to the children’s story.  This mutual telling of stories will develop both spiritual lives deeper than one doing so on his or her own.





Church-wide Traditions

2 08 2011

Continuing along, Csinos encourages his readers to have children participate in church-wide activities.  These faith community activities can be baptism, communion, preaching, corporate worship, etc.

What other traditions do churches do community wide which children are involved and touched by spiritually?





How to embrace the different spiritual styles…

1 08 2011

Csinos provides insight as to how to embrace the different spiritual styles in children’s ministry and to show value to each one.

For Word-Centered children:

  • They need Bible stories taught to them through lessons, devotions, and personal conversation.
  • They need teachers who will profess truths about God.
  • They need access to Sunday School classrooms and libraries.
  • They need to focus on the Bible as the central aspect of their lives.

For Emotion-Centered children:

  • They need to experience the Bible and God through unique, intimate, and personal ways.
  • They see the Bible more as a “love letter” than a storehouse of information.
  • They need music which will touch their hearts and allow them to feel the presence of God.

For Symbol-Centered children:

  • They need to be able to embrace the mystery of God and the the un-understood areas of the Bible.
  • Silence and solitude are important allowing kids their “special spots” which they can spend with God.
  • Be careful of overfull classrooms where these children can feel claustrophobic.
  • They need to have times to engage with nature as a form of prayer.
  • Allow ample space and time for prayer.

For Action-Centered children:

  • They need to express their faith through social action and social justice.
  • They will enjoy the Bible and learning about the stories, but they will want to see these stories put into action.
  • Give them opportunities to be with others who are in need and less fortunate.
  • Create service projects and international missions projects for these children to minister to the larger world.

These are a few creative ideas to help children’s ministry transition from a one size fits all approach to a specialized ministry that seeks to embrace the different spiritual styles our children have been graced with.  If you see that your children’s ministry tends to embrace one style over another, seek to create balance through some of the ideas and steps mentioned above.  This will allow all of the children in your ministry to flourish.