Book Resource: Imaginative Prayer

I’ve been looking forward to Jared Patrick Boyd’s release of Imaginative Prayer: A Yearlong Guide for your Child’s Spiritual Formation for months now as my older sister (who lives and breathes theological conversation) has been gushing about how the project provides a resource for parents and teachers to connect children’s active imaginations with solid theology and spiritual formation.

It’s no secret that I believe the Holy Spirit works in the lives of childrenimagination is important for children’s faith formation, and children’s formation is vital to congregational health.  It’s also not a secret that I’m generally not a fan of devotional books, much preferring that families struggling to figure out how to worship and learn together start with reading the Bible. 

Imaginative Prayer is a much-needed exception to that rule- in fact, I think it provides a framework for the whole family to learn how to engage the Scriptures with hearts open to the Holy Spirit’s transformation. I’m quite sure that after a year of practicing imaginative prayer methods, parents and children will have re-learned how to wonder about the text with excited curiosity, seek knowing God and God’s character more fully, and want to pursue knowing God through Scripture more regularly.

Occasionally people tell me that their child can’t possibly keep track of Bible stories or theological concepts… and then a few weeks later this same child proceeds to talk at me for 30-minutes of set-up about their research into black-holes or galaxy formation, Ninja Turtles or Nemo, complex book series’ with sequels and prequels and spin-offs. These many and varied things that capture children’s imaginations prompt their curiosity and self-propelled learning. Shouldn’t we seek ways to connect that imagination-driven curiosity with studying Scripture and seeking to know God?

Imaginative Prayer Book

Imaginative Prayer is organized in 36 lessons that follow six sections of Boyd’s Creedal Poem: God’s Love, Loving Others, Forgiveness, God as King, the Good News of God, and the Mission of Christ. Each lesson will take about 30-minutes and includes imaginative listening, thoughtful guided response, creative engagement ideas for the parent or mentor, and a journaling prompt for the child to write or draw a reflection. You could do it as a family after dinner, one-on-one at bedtime or after a parent-child date once a week, or it could be easily adapted for a mentoring program, Sunday morning or mid-week ministry.

My congregation has been talking consistently over the past year about how our habits and life rhythms inform our longings, and this book helps parents and mentors use Scripture reflection to help guide the formation of longings from childhood. I could not be more thrilled that one book- no supplements or memory cards or plastic figurines or laborious workbooks- is focusing on the Christian formation of children in the context of their family or church communities rather than their acquisition of knowledge, behavior control or entertainment.  And, I’m thrilled that I finally have a book I can hand out to families!

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The Holy Spirit in the lives of Children

Over my last five years working in children’s ministry, I’ve found that I often enter into two seemingly contradictory conversations stemming from our cultural confusion about the Holy Spirit.

The first conversation usually goes something like this:

“Children’s ministry- how fun! You must do a lot of crafts. I helped with children’s ministry for awhile. The kids are the cutest!”

Me: “Yes, it’s a joy! Sometimes it’s tricky to find things that are engaging and meaningful, but it’s a really fun challenge. I’m fascinated by the spiritual formation of children.”

“Yeah, it was fun, but I prefer to work with junior high and high school now. When they’re older,  they’re able to actually consider what God is saying to them and respond and stuff. Children’s ministry is fun, but I’m the kind of person that needs to see the actual effectiveness for life choices.”

The second conversation stands in stark contrast:

Me: I’m studying children’s spiritual formation, how the Holy Spirit works in and through children, and how this shapes church congregations.

“That’s really interesting. I think this is kind of uncommon, but I remember really knowing that God listened to my prayers when I was a child, and I remember praying during recess that God would help me find friends to play with…”

I’ve had some variation of these conversations probably close to a dozen times each, revealing that the way we view and perpetuate children’s ministry often contradicts the actual spiritual experiences of many people in childhood.

The work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of children.

As I’ve thought about it more, I believe that both of these stem from an under-estimation of the work of the Holy Spirit. In my tradition (Anglican-ACNA), our understanding of the Holy Spirit is summed up in the questions 81-88 of the To Be A Christian catechism. This co-equal, co-eternal Person of the Holy Trinity is named by Jesus “paraclete”- a “Comforter, Guide, Counselor Advocate, and Helper” (82.). In question 83, What are the particular ministries of the Holy Spirit, the catechism states:

The Holy Spirit imparts life in all its forms throughout God’s creation, unites believers to Jesus Christ, indwells each believer, convicts believers of sin, applies the saving work of Jesus to the believer’s life, guides the Church into truth, fills and empowers believers through spiritual fruit and gifts given to the Church, and gives understanding of the Scripture which He inspired. (2 Peter 1:21; John 14:26; 15:26; 16:7-15)

If, as Christians, we believe in the actual, effective, and supernatural work of the Holy Spirit, it makes sense that we would also trust that this Holy Spirit is at work in the lives of the children who are loved by God to many of the same ends that the Spirit is at work in the lives of teenage and adult Christ-followers.

This Pentecost, as we celebrate the gift of the Spirit to spread the good news of resurrection life with all the world, I hope that we will also celebrate how that same powerful and present Spirit makes God’s good news apparent to the young people of the world and that we would seek to be partners in these Spirit-guided moments, recognizing their validity and responding with encouragement.

Hymns on the Train: Christian Vocabulary, Generations, and an Amtrak

This morning on the Amtrak to Chicago, I shared my car with a group of Amish families including about a half-dozen children. A four-hour drive starting at 6am, most of the car stayed quiet for the first few hours with just a little murmuring and a few stories read aloud on the seats in front of me. During the last hour, though, the children began to sing. Whispery voices sang 3, 4, 5 verses Fairest Lord Jesus, O for a Thousand Tongues, and Amazing Grace in imperfect harmony.

My seat-mate, whom I had just met at the luggage rack, turned toward me

 “When was the last time you heard children sing?”
“Well, my career is with children at church…”
“It’s just so beautiful, so simple. We don’t have any children at my church.”

I lost my words at that last bit. What is a church family without children?

While she reflected on the presence of children, I considered the community that formed them.  I don’t know a whole lot about Amish communities, and as much as I enjoy living simply in some things, I enjoy the connection, efficiency, (and even simplicity) technology brings to my life. Young children (I’m guessing the oldest here was 7 or 8) don’t learn all the verses to hymns by sitting in a church service once a week with a hymnal, their little impromptu concert purely for their own enjoyment grew out of continual exposure to hymns over time.

Songs on the Train (1)

I’m not really interested in putting together a curriculum for “8-Weeks to Teach Kids Hymns”, but my observations challenged me to reconsider the preemptive vocabulary children from my congregation are equipped with through song, memorization, and story. These children sang songs they enjoyed, and these songs included verses about trials, death and eternal life. Even if they don’t know the depth of these truths now, the lyrics equip them with the words and art to express the depths of joy and pain of life.

In Teaching Godly Play, Jerome Berryman teaches extensively about the goal of the storyteller to equip children with Christian language to express their experienced spiritual formation. Many people carefully, imaginatively consider and reform the ways this works its way out in churches across the globe. As we move forward with new ways, the children on the train encourage me to also hold on to traditional ways, like singing. No children’s ministry program can sing with children as they complete chores, meals, and train rides, but congregations together can equip families and communities across generations to reconsider the role of music as a great catechetical tool.

Pentecost Celebration: Lesson Plan

PentecostSince holidays and celebrations are naturally exciting events for kids, special events on the church calendar are easy connection points between even young children and the church year. My goal in planning our celebrations is to engage children without resorting to passive entertainment.

Here are a few of my goals for our Pentecost Celebration this year:

  • Celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit- God with us!
  • Celebrate the Church’s Birthday- God gave us a community!
  • Learn the story of God’s miraculous gift from Acts 2
  • Respond to God’s good gifts with worship & prayer

Story: We’ll read the story from Acts 2:1-12 and talk about how God used a miracle to spread the Good News all over the world. God didn’t just make the disciples a little stronger- God came with them in the form of the Holy Spirit! God didn’t leave them, God came with them! Check the lesson page at www.worshipwithchildren.com for updated details on how we’ll tell the story and reflect on the good news.

Decorations: Red, orange, and yellow streamers, table cloths, and balloons to represent the Spirit coming like a fire, plus these cardstock globe cut-outs to represent how the Holy Spirit enabled the church to spread all over the world.

Snacks: It’s not a celebration without feast food!  I’m planning on making strawberry muffins (chopped strawberries look like little red flames!) with a birthday candle on each one as a reminder that Pentecost is the birthday of the church!

Craft: Pentecost begin’s our congregation’s time of focusing on serving our city and our world. To integrate the kids into this, our older elementary class will be coloring a large map poster, writing the Great Commission on it, and inviting our congregation to join them by writing their own prayers on it in Sharpie.

Party Favor: I’ve ordered bubble wands like those handed out at weddings, and I plan to attach red streamers and the Scripture reference to the wand. Bubbles allow us to see the direction of the wind. Sometimes the Bible compares the Holy Spirit to the wind- you can’t see it, but you can hear and feel it!

What are your plans for celebrating Pentecost with children?

 

Easter: 7-Weeks of Celebration

Easter- 7 Weeks

It’s no mistake that Lent lasts for 6 weeks, but Easter lasts for 7. The church calendar is designed to invite us into celebration, not just repentance. Celebrating for small ways for seven weeks gives congregations and families an opportunity to engage with the joy of resurrection transformation and hope over almost 2 months!

Consider celebrating through a few of the activities below:

Nature Hikes
Easter celebrates the new life we have in Christ and the redemption of the world through Christ. Celebrate by spending some extra time in creation, noticing the signs of God’s renewing the earth in springtime.

Egg Re-Hunt
If you haven’t scheduled an Easter Sunday hunt yet, consider waiting a week or two and hosting your family Egg Hunt on a different Sunday in Easter. Small children will enjoy re-hiding and hunting the eggs for weeks. You can even portion out the Easter candy for re-hiding throughout the next seven weeks.

Plant Something
Head to the local nursery and choose a new flower for your table or porch. Spring time flowers are a symbol of new life. Tending to a new flower through regular watering serves as reminder of our call to tend to our new life in Christ through continued spiritual formation.

Special Cereal Sundays
Throughout Lent, I talked with the children at church about fasting. Now that it’s a feasting season, we’re going to celebrate with Sunday morning snacks that we don’t have any other time of the year- sweet cereal. We rarely serve a snack at all on Sunday mornings, so the excitement of sugary cereal for seven weeks connects with an elementary-school understanding of feasting.

Art Project
The 7 weeks of Easter are a perfect time to create art projects in advance for remembering the Ascension (Thursday, May 25, 2017) and Pentecost (Sunday, June 4, 2017), especially if you wait to hang them up until the holidays.

Decorations
As a mobile church in a rented space, my congregation doesn’t have a whole lot of flexibility for wall decorations, but we can make things look more cheerful with bright table cloths, streamers, and a “Week _ of  Easter” sign counting all the way to week 7.

Justice Activity
Throughout Lent, we talk about giving up something to pray for and serve others. Easter doesn’t mean that we forget the causes we act on behalf of, though! Share the excitement and hope of the Easter celebration through serving in your community.